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(if time is money then) i'll spend it all for you

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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 wish…”

“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.

“Oh definitely.”


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?”

“I hoped.” 

“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.” 

Chapter Text

“Uh, Tiadrin? Do you have a moment?”

She turned, moving still strange, even if it was day three… out of the coin. Callum hovered on one of the Sun Palace’s many balconies, rubbing his wrist, where stairs set along the sunlit wall spiralled downwards into courtyards and lower levels. Rayla was going to be giving them a proper tour—Tiadrin would have to ask just how often her daughter was at Lux Aurea in the first place to be able to do so later—but Callum had declined. Something about mage work.

“Uh, yes,” she said, quickly recovering once she shot Lain a surprised glance. She stepped towards the boy. “What is it?”

“I had a favour to ask,” he said. “Of you, or of Lain, I suppose. We’re releasing the last trapped elf today, and I thought it might be helpful to have someone there, who’s been through what they’ve been through? The other ones are sleeping and aren’t as comfortable here, so…” 

Tiadrin didn’t have to ask why he didn’t want to ask Runaan. Besides, being understanding had never been Runaan’s strength. Reassuring and comforting maybe, but not understanding . “Is there anything specific you’d like us to do?”

“ there for them. You’ll know better than us what they’ll want or need, especially on the first day.”

“Alright.” There was no reason for Lain to miss the tour as well, though, and he remembered directions and maps better than she did. “Are you leaving to release the last elf now?”

“Something along those lines. Galan would normally be there, but some order from Janai got him at the last minute.” Callum gave her a grateful smile. “You’ll come then?”

“Of course.” She followed him back inside, down the hallway to the main atrium. “How many were there before? Between Runaan and us, and…”

“Not many, thankfully. I think I was able to release five more? Viren had… quite the collection.”

Her stomach churned at the thought of having been part of that collection . “Are they still in the Palace?”

“A few are already preparing to make their way home, actually. I don’t blame them.” He glanced back at her. “If I may ask… what was it like, in there?”

Her face went blank. “Like waiting for death,” she said, “but it never comes. Yet still, you know you are no longer alive.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I wish we could have gotten you out sooner.” 

“You did what you could. And we have each other back, and our daughter… We don’t normally have a bright side to look on.”

“Life makes it hard to,” he acknowledged. They stepped out into the atrium, the sun bright in the clear blue sky, then walked up stairs to a tall tower. He pulled out a small cloth bag from his pocket, then carefully pulled out the coin. The last one. Tiadrin had to swallow to stop herself from flinching at the sight of it, and Callum winced. “Right. Sorry.”

“Is that what we looked like?”

He nodded, his expression grim. “Yeah it’s… not great.”

Understatement, she thought dryly.

He set the coin on the ground before them, near the window, before he stepped behind it. “Is it okay if they tumble out facing you? It might be easier for them if they see someone… familiar.”

Tiadrin nodded. “That might be best,” she agreed.

Callum took a deep breath before drawing a sequence of runes into the air. Some looked like combinations between Moon and Earth, although she could only properly identify some of the former. Callum chanted quietly under his breath, his pronunciation of Ancient Draconic surprisingly good, and when his eyes opened one was a pure moon white, the other a deep lively green. Veins lit up in his hands as the coin glowed and spun on the ground, mimicking the shaking of his hands. He gritted his teeth and squared his shoulders, as though it was taking a little longer than it should have, but then—there was a bright light and the sound of metal being torn apart, and Tiadrin had to shield her eyes before—

The soft thud of skin against solid ground was what made her open her eyes. She saw the antlers first, arching, and then the brown skin and dazzling brown eyes, long green hair streaked with brown pulled back in braids. A gasping breath. A green tunic and belt beset with emeralds. Golden earrings.

“What—” the elf choked out, a shaking hand rising towards his head. One antler was broken, not unlike Runaan’s left horn.

“You’re alright,” said Tiadrin, watching carefully. “You are in Xadia, Lux Aurea. You are free.”

“Free? From—?” The elf turned around, stiffening when he saw Callum, who had a hand curled over one wrist. “You—!”

“It’s alright,” Tiadrin began, but the elf lunged at him.

Callum dodged and held up his hands. “Whoa—I’m not going to hurt—” He ducked another swing, making his way back toward Tiadrin. “Hey— elpa , right? Un elpa .”

The elvish word for friend. She would have to ask how he'd learned it later, but for now, it made the Earthblood elf pause.

“He’s a friend,” Tiadrin confirmed.

Slowly, the Earthblood elf’s shoulders loosened. Lowered. “Friend?”

“I’m Callum,” he said. The veins in his wrist were still pulsing with light. “This is Tiadrin. Can you tell us your name?” The elf hesitated, and although Tiadrin couldn’t make out why, it seemed Callum could. “Do you remember your name?” he rephrased.

The elf’s expression splintered, the answer clear as day. “I was in the coin for… so long.”

“You’re not there anymore,” he said gently. “You’ll never be there again. The mage who put you there is dead. I made sure of it. Look, just—” Callum gestured a little. “Just sit down. Would you like some water?”

“Water,” the elf said, distant, and Tiadrin helped him sit down as Callum went to fetch some water from the pitcher on the table. 

“Are you hungry?” Tiadrin asked. The elf let out a wheezing, broken laugh.

“I don’t remember what that feels like,” he croaked. His expression then shifted to one of alarm, as he turned to Tiadrin and asked, “Where is Eleby?”

Her brow furrowed. “Who?”

The distant, broken look entered his face again. “I...I don’t…”

Callum came back with a goblet, and after a moment to scrutinize it, as though looking for poison, the elf took it. “Were they with you when you were captured?” Callum asked.

The elf set down the glass without taking a sip. “Sleep spell,” he mumbled. “I don’t—”

“The spindly purple instrument, right?”

“How did you—?”

“I’ve seen it used on other elves. It’s destroyed now too.” Callum’s eyes focused. “Eleby. Are they an Earthblood elf too? But with green eyes? Rusty golden markings?”

The elf shook his head. “Earthblood, but… she wasn’t with me. She has her mother’s eyes.” 

“Her mother… She’s your daughter?”

“Why do you want to know?” the elf demanded, suddenly sharp.

Callum didn’t react much. “Because I’m in charge of making sure you get back home, and right now, she’s the only clue we have.” He sighed. “Look… who was the King of Katolis when you were taken? Do you remember?”

Who knew, after all, Tiadrin realized, if Viren hadn’t inherited some of the coins. Or stolen them from somebody else. How long could an elf or anyone survive being in there before there was nothing left?

“King… Harrow,” the elf said after a beat.

Callum’s eyes darkened. Another elf taken by his father’s High Mage, and right under the king’s nose. “Okay. So that’s a nine year window. Do you remember anything else?”

“His… queen had just died?”

His Adam’s apple bobbed. “Okay,” he said carefully. “So that was… thirteen years ago.”

The elf’s face contorted with rage, which looked as though he wanted to take it out on Callum. “ Thirteen— ” 

“I’m so sorry,” Tiadrin said, and the elf looked at her instead. Calmed. “I lost nearly five years. I can only imagine…” She knelt towards the elf. “My daughter grew up without me, too. It hurts. But it’s not too late. You can see the new parts of her life. I came back and found my daughter as Captain on the Dragonguard. She’s engaged. Isn’t that nice?”

“Nice,” the elf echoed weakly, but he seemed to mean it.

“The war is over ,” Tiadrin continued. “The human wouldn’t be here in the heart of Lux Aurea if it wasn’t. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.” 

“There’s so much I don’t remember,” he said, his voice breaking. “My wife’s name…”

“It’s okay,” Callum said. “I can try a memory jogging spell later. For now, just focus on getting used to being, uh, not flat, anymore.” 

“We’ll take you to your room,” Tiadrin said. “And we’ll see if you can eat something—”

“My room?”

“The Sunfire Queen has been housing the freed elves,” Callum said. “While you’re here, we’ll try to find your family. We promise.”

The elf looked at him, confusion clear on his face. “But humans… are liars.”

Callum smiled. “Well a lot has changed in the past four years alone. Now come on, get up. Can you walk?”

The elf pushed himself up, but wobbled when he was standing. Callum went to help him but backed off when he glared, and Tiadrin came to help him with a sigh. Then felt strange for already being exasperated on Callum’s behalf. Still, Callum led the way as they helped the elf hobble down the stairs, across the atrium and courtyard and into the immediate palace, down to the hall where Lain and Tiadran’s room was, and Runaan and Ethari’s too, she guessed. They stopped by the second to last door on the left, and Callum opened the door for them. It looked similar to the one she shared with Lain, though this one was a little smaller, with an extra little window.

“Would you like anything else?” Callum asked.

“I’d recommend something to eat, before some rest,” Tiadrin said to the elf. “You may not feel it yet, but you will.”

“I don’t know what to eat,” the elf admitted to her. Tiadrin looked at Callum.

“Could you bring up what you gave Lain and me, our first day? And more water?”

“Of course.”

He left quickly but didn’t close the door, out of respect for someone who had been trapped in an enclosed space for so long. An awareness for unspoken fears. It was utterly unMoonshadow like, which assumed no fear in order to make it come true, but not unwelcome. 

“Do you remember what your daughter looked like?” Tiadrin asked. The elf’s eyes were distant, but began to water.

“She was so small,” he said, almost whispering. “Six years old. But Garlaf, she’ll be nearly twenty, now…” 

“I wasn’t imprisoned till later, but… I joined the Dragonguard, and it meant I hardly ever saw my daughter. Last time I saw her, she was ten years old. She’s nearly twenty now, too. Engaged to the mage who saved us.”

The elf’s brow furrowed. “That human?

“I was confused, too. But he’s a good man.”

“They all lie.”

“Maybe not all of them. Not all elves are honest either.” Her lips twitched. “Moon magic specializes in illusions. I would know.” 

“Then how do you know that this one can be trusted?”

“My daughter has trusted him all these years. And I trust her.” She sighed. “I’m not saying that you need to trust him. But have faith that you’ll see your family again, for your sake if nothing else.”

“I will… try,” the elf relented.

“Good. Now drink more water. Your goblet is still half full. You’ve barely had any.” 

He took another long sip, the goblet nearly empty when Callum came back with a tray. It had some traditional Sunfire food on it, warm flat bread and sauce and hummus, thin crackers and some green beans. 

“If you want anything else, just ring one of the bells hanging on the walls, and someone will get whatever you need.”

The elf gave a stiff nod.

“Alright, well.” Callum swung his hands at his sides. “That’s it, then. I’m pretty sure I know the route Rayla’s taking for the tour,” he said to Tiadrin. “I could probably get you caught up to them?”

Tiadrin looked back at the elf, who was already eating. “You’re alright here?” When he nodded, she left with Callum, both still deliberate in keeping the door open.

“I’ve never seen one of them that’s been in that long before,” he said. “If I’d known—”

“He would have been out a week earlier, at best. It’s better this way; you and Rayla might have had to handle that on your own.”

“I guess.” He dragged a hand down his face. “I keep thinking that I’ve seen the last of how much Viren hurt people, and then… He’s not the only one with memory loss. I just haven’t been able to find the right spell and—” He broke off in frustration. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to vent to you.”

“Humans are… more open with their emotions, then?” Tiadrin said slowly. It wasn’t as though she had minded it. It was just a little different. Most Moonshadows didn’t open up much, and even less without prompting.

“Some humans,” he answered. “I think I do it more than most. My family had this thing called ‘big feelings time’ when I was a kid. I’ve tried to pass it on to Rayla. Get her to stop bottling stuff up.” 

Tiadrin smiled a little. “And how has that worked out for you?”

“It was...not easy, at first. There were a lot of empty threats in the beginning, to get me to stop trying to get her to open up. But she made it there on her own, eventually. She’s gotten good at it now.” He smiled softly. “I...I don’t know how you envisioned her being, but she’s come a really long way, in that and in other ways. I’m just really proud of her, and...I hope you and her dads are, too.”

“Of course we are. She made it this far without us.”

Callum shook his head. “She carried you with her. All of you, every day.” 

Something in Tiadrin’s chest tightened. “She did?”

“She was the last Dragonguard during the war,” he said. “And she did her duty the way Runaan would have wanted her to, despite himself. In going off the Pinnacle. She wove the braids into her hair at your funerals in the Silvergrove.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, Ethari and I helped with the one in the back—it was hard for her to reach. And then she tied little ribbons around the ends, when we realized you were in the coins. That we could get you back. I guess she’ll have to take them out now.” 

“She could make new ones,” Tiadrin said. “There are some that are meant for weddings, so when…”

Callum smiled a little. “She told me. I think we were fifteen or sixteen when we wove little braids into each others’ hair.” He touched the small braid by his ear; she’d hardly noticed it before. “She said it was kind of like… promising ourselves to each other. Of course, I wanted to do it as soon as she told me what it meant.”

Tiadrin chuckled. “I’m glad to hear it.”

Callum lit up. “Really?”

“It’s… sweet.” She smiled a little. “Lain and I did something similar when we were about sixteen. His family didn’t like me much, but they came around.”

“Why didn’t they like you?”

“I always aspired to be part of the Dragon guard, but Lain considered a different path at first, one that would’ve kept him closer to home.”

Callum’s brow furrowed. “Rayla never talked about her grandparents,” he said uncertainly. 

“They were never a close part of our family, afterward,” Tiadrin admitted. “And I’d drifted from my parents for similar reasons. It’s… difficult, to have such high aspirations and a family at the same time.”

“That makes sense.” He paused. “There was a lot of time in the castle growing up where it was just me and my brother, because the king was too busy. He did his best, but… running a kingdom that had to be constantly aware of the threat of war must’ve been hard.” He let out a soft sigh. “I never really felt like I quite fit in as a prince, so I’m glad I went through the journey of connecting to all the arcanums before we start our own family. Things are more settled.”

Her curiosity won over. “How did you connect to them?”

He winced. “You’re uh, not gonna like the start of it very much.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And why is that?”

“Um…” Callum looked anywhere but at her. “We were still in Katolis at that point. Some humans had downed a dragon and were going to well… you know. I didn’t have a primal stone anymore and I was hopeless at sword fighting then, and Rayla… decided she was going to defend the dragon or die trying? So I kinda…” His voice fell away into a mumble Tiadrin couldn’t detect.

“You’re going to have to repeat that,” she said, a tad impatient.

Callum sighed. “I used Dark Magic.” 

Her eyebrows shot up to her forehead. “You what ?”

“I was fourteen and didn’t know what else to do. I just… I couldn’t just let her die. Even if she hated me for using it for forever. So I stole the book of the daughter of my father’s high mage, took a slug, and uh… just did it. And promptly passed out and fell into a coma and almost died. My conscience then was a messy place. I knew that magic was my destiny, but… I turned my back on Dark Magic. And somehow connected to the Sky primal? I think… my mom helped. Somehow.”

Tiadrin softened. She couldn't approve, but she couldn't quite find it in her to hold it against him, either. It had been for a good cause, her daughter's life. She couldn't begrudge him that. “Well, Rayla very clearly forgave you for it.”

“And I’ve never done it again,” he said quickly. “But, um… connecting to the rest was a little harder. I mean, bright side, I didn’t have to nearly die every time, which was nice. It was a kind of a fifty-fifty actually. Earth was probably the hardest, just because of how connected it is to… family.” 

“And Sky was the first one you connected to. That makes sense.”

“And I’ve been trying to learn how to use all of that ever since. I want to do good, and I want to do that without needless consumption or shortcuts.” He frowned. “My parents all died because of Dark Magic one way or another. I found more notes my stepfather left behind for my brother, as king, warding him against it. That even if the blood price was delayed due to Dark Magic, it would be paid eventually.” 

“And… you know of the only other being to connect to all six Primal sources?”

His expression darkened. “I know. I’ve seen him. I faced him, once. He nearly tore me apart.”

“How did you survive?”

“I’m still not totally sure,” he admitted. “I just… decided that I wasn’t going to die. I decided that I wasn’t going to leave her and my brother. That we’d lost enough.” He smiled faintly. “I’m still surprised just thinking all that worked, though.”

“I also think you’re a more powerful mage than you give yourself credit for. Magic takes a mental load and strength of will, just as much as it affects one’s physicality.” 

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m just glad I’m still here.” 

They walked on, when Tiadrin, indulging her curiosity again, asked, “How did you manage to combine different Primals together? Like when you did the spell on the coins?”

“A lot of trial and error, mainly. I got the idea after Rayla and I had been travelling together for a few years. My teacher at the time—a Tidebound elf named Sarla—confirmed it was possible. All the Primal Sources are connected to the same Magic, so to speak. I just had to figure out that connection. At first I mostly just fried myself from the inside out.”

“What do you mean?”

“I tried Sun and Ocean together first. Lightning is conducted by water. It wasn’t very smart. Then I started with complementaries—Earth and Ocean, Moon and Stars, that sort of thing. Worked my way back to the opposites and learned to balance them. You have to conduct each in your body, but uh, you can’t cross the streams.” 

“What happens if you do?”

“You usually need an Xadian cure of some kind, to help stitch yourself up afterwards. Earth and Moon in particular is a bad time. Something about body and death being too close together.” 

Tiadrin’s brow furrowed. “So getting us out of the coins…?”

“I just had to be careful.” He smiled faintly. “Aunt Janai and Galan kept trying to get me to slow down, take one maybe every week. But the idea of leaving everyone in there any longer… Especially when some were taken right under my father’s nose…” 

“You were a child. How could you have known?”

Callum frowned. “I always thought that Viren got worse after my mother died. That there was a time he was something other than… twisted. And maybe there was. But it was gone by the time I knew him, even during the time I loved him like a godfather. I don’t know if he ever loved me or my brother. But I don’t think love is something you stop doing once you start, so...maybe not.”

“It must have been difficult for you, when you…”

“Killed him?” Callum smiled blithely. “No. It was easy. I think that was the worst part of it all. It’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed so staunchly away from Dark Magic. I don’t think I could ever be like him, but… I don’t know. I don’t think he expected to end up where he did, either. He served my father faithfully for years - as faithfully as Viren could, anyway. And then he ordered his children to kill my brother and I so he could assume the throne, and orchestrated an attack on Xadia. He’d convinced himself so firmly by then that he was doing the right thing, and I… He’s still in my head and I hate it.” 

Tiadrin hesitated. “Are you… worried that you might become like him?” she asked softly.

“It terrifies me.”

She slowly reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Considering you’ve been risking your life these past few days to free the elves he imprisoned, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

His expression lifted a little. “That’s very kind of you to say.”

“It is the truth. The fact that you are scared of what he was shows that you have better awareness than he likely ever had. He saw magic as a tool to conquer and control. You see it as a way to heal and protect. And it does not seem like you have ever chosen the easy way out. Even if killing him was not hard, carrying him with you afterwards was your burden to bear by cementing his end, and you took it upon yourself willingly. My daughter and Ethari are right. You are a good man, Callum.” 

The words flowed unbidden before Tiadrin could question them—and well, weren’t they true as well? They hadn’t been perhaps, when she’d said it to the newly freed elf, reassurance for someone lost and afraid, but then just a few more conversations had made it true. How unexpected. Then again, she hadn’t expected these cracks in this young man’s soul either, let alone that she would be allowed to see inside. Callum was the opposite of a Moonshadow elf in so many ways, open and clear as day, but perhaps that was part of why Rayla loved him, why she’d needed him. 

King Harrow’s son, a good man. Tiadrin supposed after being trapped in a coin for four years, she should be used to strange realities. 

His smile grew, the light in his eyes finally returning. “Thank you. You have no idea how much it means to me, coming from you.”

“You are welcome.” They continued walking after a moment, and she leaned in as though conspiring. “And I will not tell Runaan about your stint with Dark Magic.” 

Callum laughed softly. “Thank you,” he repeated. “But Ethari already knows, so I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before Runaan comes for my head.”

“You don’t sound worried.” 

“Rayla won’t let him kill me.” He turned cheeky. “Some things never change.” 

Tiadrin snorted lightly. “Well, neither will three out of four of your future in-laws.”

“Seventy-five percent. I’ll take it,” he grinned. 

They stopped when they come upon one of the back courtyards and heard the sound of clashing, and his grin turned proud. Ethari, Runaan, and Lain were standing in one corner under the shade of a tall, golden apple tree, with the Queens of Lux Aurea and Rayla sparring in the middle, the latter up on the golden fountain, a blade in each hand.

“Taking a detour I see?” Callum called over, and she spared him a grin before she parried Janai’s strike. 

“I couldn’t decline a royal request.” 

He laughed as they walked over to stand with the three men under the tree, standing comfortably close to Ethari (with Runaan on his husband’s other side). “My aunts always ask her to spar when we come to visit. They say no match is a challenge otherwise.” 

Lain looked slightly concerned. “Both of them against one?”

“Rayla says it’s not a challenge otherwise,” Callum said. They watched as Rayla struck a mock-blow. “And it’s a threeway fight, actually.” He cupped a hand to his mouth. “C’mon Rayla, you got this!”

“Callum,” Janai admonished, dodging her blow. “We are your aunts —does that mean nothing?” She was trying to hide a smile though, as she ducked to avoid her wife’s blue shield next. 

“Sorry Aunt Janai, but I gotta take her side. She is my fiancée after all.” 

Amaya threw him an amused snort. “Hopeless,” she signed quickly to her wife, before repositioning her shield to block another swing of Rayla’s blades. 

In the end things were drawn to a stalemate, as he’d expected. The sparring matches rarely had any victor other than a good time for all three, and a way to assure themselves that they weren’t growing rusty. He greeted Rayla with a kiss on the cheek once she’d stowed her swords away and walked over to the rest of the group.

“You could give our imperial guards a run for their money,” Amaya complimented, Callum translating for her parents’ benefit, his smile wide. They’d had a rocky start, but seeing two of the most important people in his life get along so well would never not make him happy. 

Rayla laughed and bowed her head. “Thank you,” she signed back, speaking too. “But you may have to convince the Dragon Queen to let me go first.” 

“How much leave did you get?” Lain asked.

“A month,” she answered, as the Queens walked off after a wave goodbye to attend to other business. Perhaps whatever task Janai had given Galan earlier that morning. “More than enough time to get you settled back in the Silvergrove.” 

Tiadrin and Lain shared a look. “Did they ghost us?” Tiadrin asked. 

Rayla look struck, then she didn’t meet their eyes. “Well… yes. We’d just heard the Dragonguard abandoned station, so we assumed…” She tried for a smile. “But it was a mistake, and the spell’s been undone. The Dragon Queen pardoned all of us, once the truth came out.” 

“How did it?” Lain said.

Rayla’s smile grew genuine and in size. “Callum.” 

He rubbed the back of his neck, a little sheepish. “I mean, I’m sure she was gonna do it anyway, I just… wanted to make sure she remembered. None of you did anything wrong, so…”

“Callum,” she said fondly, a gentle correction. “I’m not talking about when you went to Queen Zubeia on my behalf. I’m talking about—” She sighed and took his hand, turning back to her family. “Callum did the spell in the Queen’s antechamber to see what really happened.” 


“Oh. Yeah. I forgot to mention—” He looked at Ethari, bashful. “I broke your moon opal. I’m sorry.”

The corner of Ethari’s mouth lifted. “That was sort of what it was for.”

“O-oh. I just—wasn’t sure?”

“It was four years ago Callum.”

“Right.” He rubbed the back of his neck and Rayla squeezed his hand, deciding to swoop in and save him.

“Anyway, it all got cleared up. Everyone will be really happy to see you.” 

Tiadrin frowned a little. “Have you seen them since they un-Ghosted you?” she asked.

“Oh. Um, a little. Mainly when we’d go back and stay with Ethari during smaller missions. Why?”

“It’s a little awkward, isn’t it?”

“Well, yeah, but… they didn’t know. And they’re finally used to having Callum there.”

“It took two years,” he said after a beat. “I’m pretty sure there’s still one old lady who wouldn’t mind stabbing me, but…” he shrugged. “Can’t win ‘em all. And she’s pretty frail.” 

“I told you, she just doesn’t like anybody.”

“Yeah, but she doesn’t gesture at everybody with her cane like she’s going to stick it up their—” He caught himself and cleared his throat. “Anyway, the Silvergrove will treat you like heroes. And Runaan’s flower has likely risen up in the pond again.” 

Runaan looked mildly miffed that Callum had seen the pond, but he didn’t say anything. 

“While we’re here in Lux Aurea, though,” Rayla said. “I may as well finish the tour. Mum hasn’t seen much and I didn’t mean to let the queens pull me into a match.” 

“I guess I’ll see you when you round your way back to the library, then,” Callum said. “There’s some scrolls I need to look at.” He kissed her cheek before he left, crossing to the opposite side of the courtyard. 

“Him and his magic,” Rayla said fondly, even if there was a trace of concern in her eyes. “Come on. We should be able to finish the tour before dinner.”

The cool air on his face was still refreshing, after an eternity in the coin. Runaan closed his eyes as he leaned out on the balcony of his and Ethari’s room, dinner having been a cluttered fair due to the boy’s… presence and his family. 

“I told you, I’m fine.” The voice was distant, but very distinctly the human prince’s, on the balcony perhaps a level below. Runaan glanced down before he could stop himself, the couple oblivious to him in the shadows.

“We promised each other we wouldn’t hide anything.”

“I’m not hiding , I just don’t want you to worry. Everyone is freed from the coins. It’s fine now.”

“Callum.” Rayla took her human’s face in her hands, cradling his cheeks. “I can see how tired you are, no matter how much you try to pretend you’re not. And you only get this tired when you use a lot of magic. You woke up this morning looking like you hadn’t slept at all. What’s this about, really?”

A pause. Runaan saw him swallow. “I’ve been… casting moon magic the past five days.”

“And Earth,” she said, puzzled. “With the coins.”

He shook his head. “No. Illusions, on myself. I just didn’t want you to worry, and it’s really not that bad, but I knew if my aunts saw they’d make me stop, and—”

“You’re rambling,” she cut him off gently, and he paused again, this time to breathe. “Take off the illusions. You know it’s not good to do magic for that long. Whatever it is, it—”

“It’s ugly.”

“Callum,” she said firmly.

He sighed quietly, before murmuring a spell. There was a slight shimmer, the glow from their room illuminating the balcony, with the added bonus of elven sight, so Runaan could see quite clearly when the illusion receded.

Rayla gasped, a hand over her mouth before she took it away and held him gingerly by the wrists. “Oh Callum.”

Bruises covered his arms, over his runes, running down to his wrists. The veins in his hands looked like thick green and purple vines. They looked fresh, a few bruises overlapping. Any skin that wasn’t black and blue was pink and tender, as though the blood had rushed to the surface. 

“Told you it was ugly,” he said with a weak chuckle.

“That’s not— this is what breaking open the coins did to you?”

“We knew Earth and Moon were tricky.”

“Yes, but love—you should’ve gone to a healer days ago.” Rayla’s face was pained, as she held him by his elbows instead, where the bruising stopped. “When did this start?”

“With Runaan. It was smaller then. But two a day pushed it, I think.”

“You should’ve paced yourself,” she said, frowning. “Everyone would have understood. Callum, do you know how much damage has to be done for Primal magic to do this to your body?”

“Look, it doesn’t matter, everyone’s out and—”

“That’s not the point, you—you can’t keep pushing yourself over the edge for everyone else like this and—” Her eyes were shining with tears. “Please tell me you’ll see a healer in the morning.” She hesitated. “I promise I won’t tell your aunts if you do, but I will tell them if that’s what it takes.”

“Okay,” he relented, bowing his head. He let out a loose sigh. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Unbelievable,” she muttered. “You pass out and do this to yourself saving my family and my people, and then you apologize to me for it.” 

“You do similar things for me all the time,” he said softly.

“Doesn’t mean I have to be okay with it when you do it. You’re not okay when I do it, are you?”

“Guess not,” he acknowledged.

Rayla pursed her lips. “We can at least try to ice these or something, but you really shouldn’t fly until these bruises have faded.” 

“Well I wasn’t planning on taking a moonlit flight, but now that you mention it—joking, I’m joking,” he added when she shot him a glare.

She let out a long sigh. “You dumb, brave human,” she muttered.

“I love you too.”

She leaned up and kissed him softly. “Just… actually rest tomorrow, now that you’re able? I know you were doing research earlier, but it can wait for a day. I can even do it. Or try to.” 

Runaan’s brows rose. Rayla had certainly never volunteered to do scholarly work as a child. Hadn’t cared much for learning about magic either. Being able to turn invisible and use her Moonshadow powers under the full moon had been about the extent of her interest. 

“It’s okay. If I have to rest, I’d kind of just like you to be there with me.”

“I can do that.” She took his hand. “C’mon. We’ll try cold water first, and then heat it up if that doesn’t work.”

He slipped his fingers between hers; they enveloped them, and made her hands look so small. Protected, in a way Runaan had never seen Rayla look before, even if the boy was the one in pain. “Thank you,” Callum said. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner.”

“Just promise me you’ll tell me right away next time. I’ll make you add it to our vows if I have to.”

“Like I made you add it to our vows?”

“Now that you’ve reminded me, you absolutely are adding it on.”

Callum chuckled, pulling her closer. “Okay. I promise I’ll tell you next time.”

“Good.” She placed one hand on her chest. “No secrets, remember?”

“No secrets,” he echoed, and then kissed her briefly on the lips. “Although…”

She moved her hand to his chest instead. “What is it?”

“The only secrets we’ve ever really kept now is about our own pain, I guess. I haven’t kept something about you from you, and… you only kept…” 

Rayla smiled sadly. “You miss him.”

“Another one of the elves came out with memory loss today,” Callum said. “But my stepfather was King when he was taken. We narrowed down the timeline. It was right after my mother died… it was their wedding anniversary the other day. Or it would’ve been.” He sighed. “I never asked my mom when she married my birth dad. I don’t even totally know when he died, it’s so fuzzy, and… Harrow never even heard me call him Dad either. I just… Gods, I’ve been a mess lately.”

“You’re tired,” she said. “And draining yourself. And at least a little nervous around my parents. It’s okay to not be okay, Callum.”

“I really hoped that Runaan wouldn’t… every time I look at him I just wonder how he did it, but I don’t even want to know . I don’t want to think about—I don’t know. I just—we rewound the clock for your family. And I’m so glad we did. But everything, and planning the wedding that they won’t be there for, and now that Ez really has grown into being king and I know it’s not just—temporary—and I guess it’s just finally—setting in. I’m never going to see any of them again. My parents are just… gone.”

Callum moved away and braced his palms on the balcony, his shoulders bent. “Our kids aren’t going to have grandparents. And Ez only had dad until he was ten. I barely remember anything from before I turned eleven. How long is that going to last him? It was the one parent he knew and… I can’t… fix it. I’ve learned everything there is to know about magic and there’s nothing. Nothing but Dark Magic that I can’t justify. And Aaravos knows it. Knows I’m…”

“Callum. Love. Look at me.” He did, and she cupped his cheek. He leaned into her touch. “You are not weak, and Aaravos knows it. You scare him, and for good reason. He tried to tear you apart and the stars stitched you back together. You were so young, so young, when you lost your family. And even if you’d been older, I don’t think their absence would hurt less, but I’m not surprised you notice it more because of how you had to grow up largely without them. And using real physical pain to ignore your emotional pain isn’t going to do anyone good, least of all you. Whatever you feel, it’s okay. We’ll handle it together, like always.”

Something on the prince’s face shattered, and he held her tight, burying his face in her neck. Rayla pressed a kiss to the top of his head and held him. Even from his balcony, Runaan could see him shaking. 

Something stirred in the assassin’s chest. Pity, perhaps? Sympathy, or was that too strong? Something. 

“If you don’t want to spend time with my family,” Rayla said softly. “Or at least not right now, I understand. I can take them back to the Silvergrove myself.” 

Callum drew away and wiped at his face. “No, it’s not that. Your mum and dad are really nice and Ethari’s always been easy to get along with. I just need to adjust. We all do."

“Okay. If you’re sure.” She had to lean up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his forehead. “I love you.”

He smiled wearily, but it was genuine. No one could fake the look of love in his eyes. “I love you too.” He wrapped his arms around her. “Thank you. You know that right?”

“I do,” Rayla assured him.

“You know I’d do anything for you?”

She smiled a little. “You already have.” 

She kissed him again, more firmly this time, and he melted into her. It quickly became clear that this wasn’t going to be a brief kiss, and Runaan awkwardly turned away, shrinking in on himself. As much as a man his height and width could shrink, anyway, stepping back into the shadows of his balcony. Catching sight of Ethari on his way back from their room’s ensuite.

He caught his eye like a deer blinded by a sun spell. 

Runaan strode towards him swiftly. “You do think I was being unfair to the boy, don’t you?”

Ethari’s face settled and then turned rather flat. “What gave it away?” he asked in a deadpan. 

He sighed. “Does he carry… weight on his shoulders?”

To somehow who wasn’t a Moonshadow elf, the meaning of his words would perhaps have been lost. Or perhaps Ethari just knew him so well even after their time apart that he could tell immediately. 

“He’s currently the only mage on par with Aaravos in terms of being connected to all six arcanum,” Ethari reiterated. “Another war is coming and he likely feels like he has to end it. How do you think he’s doing?”

“Can you blame me for my apprehension?”

“That’s a generous word for it.”

“Surely you needed time, too.”

“Not much.”

Runaan let out a frustrated huff. “Love.”

Ethari reached up and cupped his jaw. “The boy was in some sort of ridiculous elven disguise when they first showed up at the Silvergrove. Earnest and well meaning in general, if a tad dim. Although his pun was… endearingly bad. But I had more pressing matters to contend with, like Rayla’s Ghosting. It was another month before they came back. He was far more nervous. The humans don’t say courting the way we do, so he was introduced as her boyfriend. A description of a partner usually in reference to a relationship between younger humans. I was… hesitant, at the importance she gave him in her life. But they were living in Xadia and he was learning magic. And he clearly loved her. It wasn’t what I expected, but that didn’t make it bad. He’s been kind to her, and to me. So has the rest of his family. They’ll return what they receive from you, Runaan. And even sometimes when they have no good reason to, they’ll try.” Ethari smiled a little and cleared his throat. “I have learned that is one thing that humans are very good at.” 

Runaan pursed his lips. “I still don’t know what to think of it all.”

“You don’t have to. As long as you finally try to be civil to that boy and support our daughter. All that matters now is her happiness and security. He provides both.”

Runaan lowered his eyes. “It’s easier to hate him.”

“I know.”

Because if he didn’t hate the boy, then… would he have to regret what he’d done? Even he had limits to how much he could compartmentalize. How many humans and elves alike had he killed, that he would now have to question? More than that, how much did the new world even need assassins? Unless against Aaravos’ forces. 

Ethari smiled a little when Runaan stayed silent. “Did he show his spine to you, too?”

Runaan paused. “What do you mean?”

His husband’s smile grew. “I told you he was a little nervous when he came back to the Silvergrove with her, and that was true enough. Now that I had time to spend with him, I had more time to evaluate. But that was only the half-moon of it. It was a strange moment when I realized he was also evaluating me . Deciding whether I’d made up for my hand in her pain. You wouldn’t look at him and expect that side of him, but it’s there.”

Runaan chuckled faintly, even if it lacked humour. “You can say that again.” 

“So I take it he did?”

He sighed. “It is not a… comforting thought, that someone might be justified in wanting to protect your own child from you. Even under less complicated circumstances.”

“You make it sound so much more dramatic,” Ethari said, a soft, teasing smile tugging at his lips. “Besides, I have a feeling that if Rayla did not have a partner with that mindset, of someone who bowed to you too much, you would worry about their loyalty to her. Isn’t there an odd comfort in knowing he will always pick her over us?”

“I… suppose so.” There was certainty that Rayla would be protected to the fullest extent of Callum’s power, that there were very few lines he wouldn’t cross in order to keep her safe and fight by her side. He supposed, given that they were in a time of new war, it was what he would’ve hoped for.

Runaan had never doubted Rayla’s abilities, but he had still lost things due to her fallibility. His horn and nearly his arm the least of them, the binding pulsated in the coin and torn off in the spilling out. But at least he wouldn’t have to lose her. Not again.

“Do you think he can do it?” Runaan asked. “Defeat Aaravos?”

“By himself? No,” Ethari said. “But he will not have to. Whatever happens, he and Rayla will face it together, with his brother, too. They will not let anything tear them apart.”

And that, if nothing else, Runaan could believe.

Chapter Text

“We don’t have to do this today.”

“He’s all alone, and he has a family out there. We can’t leave him like this any longer.”

“Didn’t you say he lunged at you?”

“Rayla, so far Ethari and Aunt Janai are like, the only elves I met that didn’t try to kill me when I first saw them. It’s fine. And a memory spell isn’t that taxing.”

She pursed her lips. “What if...what if the memories aren’t good , and he...lashes out again?”

“Then we’ll deal with it.” Callum finished pulling on his jacket, the morning bright and early as it filtered through their windows. It was hardly ever dark at Lux Aurea. It was sort of nice to wear the garment for once, since he wouldn’t be using his wings for a bit (and he had spares, just in case). “But he deserves to get his family back.”

She softened. “If he tries anything, you know I’ll have to act.”

“I know.” He helped her adjust the belt at her waist as she secured her breastplate. “Are you sure this is all necessary?” he asked as he helped her put on her shoulderguards. She didn’t walk around the palace in her uniform very often; it took a long time to put on and take off, even with his help, and youth had made her accustomed to lighter apparel. Still, she smiled, edging more on a smirk this time.

“If I intimidate him a little, maybe I won’t have to act.”

He let out a soft snort. “Fine.” His hands fell to hers. “Either way, I’m glad you’re coming with me this time.”

Rayla smiled a little as they exited their room. “You told him where to meet you?”

“The courtyard outside the library,” he said. “But I’m not sure if he’ll be able to find it. Lux Aurea is big after all.”

“I’m sure at least one of my parents will help him find it.” 

He beamed, a little proud. “I think they’ve really warmed up to me.” 

“They better,” she said, smiling slightly. “Moonshadow elves are particularly susceptible to your heartfelt speeches, so just keep doing that and you’ll be fine. I should know.” 

“Is that a scientifically-proven fact now?”

“Might as well be.”

Callum leaned in, grinning. “I guess the first case study did land me a gorgeous, amazing, incredible fiancée.” 

“Shut up,” Rayla smiled, flushing, but she obliged him when he leaned in for a kiss. “If I’m gonna be a distraction to you—”

“You wouldn’t leave, but you would remind me every second after?”

“Dummy,” she said affectionately, their joined hands swinging lightly between them. They grew quiet once they passed the library, not letting go of one another once they stepped out into the courtyard. Tiadrin and Lain were already waiting with the Earthblood elf. The bags under his eyes had decreased significantly, and his skin was less pallid, but there was still the same panic in his eyes from the previous day.

Callum tried for a smile as he approached them. “Did you have a good rest?”

“They say you’re going to do a memory spell on me?”

No pleasantries yet, he supposed. “Yes.”

The elf’s eyes shifted to Rayla, then back to Callum, as they released hands. “Why is a guard here?”

“She’s my fiancée,” Callum said, a little short. “Now, could you please close your eyes?

The elf pursed his lips, but complied, the most cooperative he’d been in the past two days. Rayla took a stand by her father’s side as Callum began drawing runes along different parts of the elf’s head, chanting quietly in Draconic.

“It’s fascinating to watch, isn’t it?” she whispered to her parents. 

“...This is an easy spell?” Lain asked. Rayla chuckled.

“Just as far as the energy consumption. But he has an amazing memory, so he remembered the placement real fast.”

Callum placed his hand on the elf’s head once he was done, a light seeping into the elf’s scalp as he finished the spell. For a moment, the elf was still, before his eyes flew open and he began gasping for air. Callum immediately let go, leaning down to talk to him.

“It’s overwhelming, I know,” he said, his voice gentle. “Just take it slow. Would you like some water?”

“Elgan,” he gasped. “My name.”

“Elgan? That’s a good name. It’s nice to meet you.”

“My wife—our village was called Thalas—she was sick, I was with my daughter—”

“Eleby?” Callum prodded gently.

Elgan buried his face in his hands. “We were on a fishing trip. Humans… found us, somehow. I tried to hold them off. I told her to run, but I don’t know if—”

“She wasn’t in any of the coins,” Callum assured him. “She must’ve made it.” 

Elgan let out a shaky breath. “Do you know where…?”

“We’ll send word to Thalas,” he said. “And other nearby settlements, if we need to. We will bring you back to your family.”

He looked at him, his expression stricken, but still somehow more open than before. Like he wanted to hope. “How can I trust anything you say?”

“You don’t have to,” he said, just as gentle as before. “But hope is worth holding onto, if only for yourself. And I know what it’s like to lose family in the war, too. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. There’s an elf named Ethari who can send a shadow hawk arrow for you, if you don’t want me to do it myself. I’m admittedly not the best with elven writing if you want to include a scroll with it. Ancient Draconic is a little easier.” 

“I want to write it myself,” Elgan said, after a long pause. “But you can… send it.” 

He smiled a little. “Okay. Let me know when you’re ready.”

When Elgan didn’t say anything else, Callum made his way back over to Rayla and her parents. He didn’t miss the way Rayla looked at his wrists, but he didn’t need to cast any illusions, this time.

“Looks like we can go to the Silvergrove soon,” he said. “Maybe just another day to get everything wrapped up here. Although I could always catch up.” 

“We don’t mind waiting,” Tiadrin said. “None of us except for you two have been in Lux Aurea before. It’s beautiful.”

“We usually try and come every year for the summer solstice,” Callum said with a grin. “The city is even more beautiful then. And my aunts insist we have to visit them once a year. Holidays at the Banthor Lodge in Katolis count in Ezran’s checkbook, not theirs.”

“We may have to come with you, one year,” Lain said, with just a trace of hesitance.

“We would be happy to bring you along,” Callum beamed. 

“Next summer, then,” Tiadrin said.

It made Rayla’s heart fuller than she could describe, to stand there and see it play out like this. Her parents—elves—and the love of her life—a human—making plans now that they had time to. She slipped her hand into his, his fingers easily slipping through hers.

“We usually take a month off in late June anyway, up until the end of July,” she explained. “Callum’s birthday is only two weeks before mine.” 

“That’s so nice,” her mother said. “Do you usually celebrate together?”

“We typically end up visiting Ethari over my birthday, and visiting Ez over hers,” Callum shrugged. “But it’s fun, and it’s always good to see them.” 

“Speaking of which,” Rayla said with a happy lilt. She couldn’t help but tease him a little. “This time when we go to the Silvergrove, Ethari has a surprise for you.”

Callum’s face lit up. “Really? What surprise?”

“Do I have to keep reminding you what a surprise is?”

“Right, right.” Rayla softened further, practically glowing with fondness as she basked in the excited curl of his lips and the happy light of his eyes, his mind racing to try and configure all the possibilities as he fought to stay silent. 

“You’ll find out soon enough,” she promised.

“Can we know what it is?” Lain asked, and Rayla’s smile grew.

“Dad,” she warned, but couldn’t quite keep out the fondness in her voice either. “How do I know you won’t just go behind my back and tell him? You’ve never had to resist his puppy dog eyes before.” 

“You should try growing having to say no to Ezran’s,” Callum said dryly, even if he also seemed a bit pleased with himself.

“I may tell you later,” she promised her parents. “But you’ll all know soon enough. It’s only a few days to the Silvergrove from here, with a steed.” 

“We all rode Shadowpaws here,” Callum considered, counting himself, Rayla, and Ethari. “Each one will just have to carry a pair home.” He was rather expressionless when he said, “So I’ll ride with Runaan, obviously.”

Rayla laughed. “I think you’d have to fight Ethari on that one.”

“Well I clearly am Ethari’s new favourite, since he has a surprise for me and all—”

“Pfft—” Rayla gave him a light shove, doubling down on her giggles, and Callum looked utterly pleased with himself, this time. “Come on,” she said, composing herself. “We should get to breakfast. It’s been quite the morning.” 

And he still needed to see a healer, after all. Which made another thought occur to her.

“Mum, Dad,” she said suddenly, “have you been to see the court physician yet?” 

“Just once, for a migraine,” Tiadrin said. “We wanted to see if it had anything to do with… adjusting. Why?”

“I just thought it would be smart, as we still don’t know what all the after effects of being decoined,” Rayla shrugged. “Was it hard to find?”

“Just up in the north tower. We asked a guard for directions, too.” 

“Good.” She turned to Callum. “Do you know if any of the others…?”

“Most of them just wanted to go home,” he said. “I don’t blame them. I told them to see their physicians at home, but I took a few up there, so hopefully…”

“And I doubt Runaan’s checked in yet,” Rayla frowned.

“I’ll let you and Ethari pick that fight.” 

“Well they should be at breakfast, so we can bring it up then. Walk them over too. Make sure Runaan goes if he hasn’t already.”

And if her parents noticed her shoot Callum a rather pointed look, they chose not to comment on it (nor show any possible confusion). 

As predicted, the pair were already at the breakfast table in the smaller dining hall. Ethari smiled when he saw them, and Runaan acknowledged them by looking up. 

“Glad you all could join us,” Ethari said. “Everything went well?”

“He remembers his name now,” Callum said, sitting down. “It’s Elgan, and he’s writing a letter to Thalas.”

“That’s not too far from the Silvergrove. Maybe a few more day’s journey. It’s right near where more Earthblood territory starts, off to the east.” 

“Maybe once we get word back, we could bring him over on the way?” Callum wondered aloud. Then he looked up at the others. “I mean, you can all go home whenever you’d like, I just figured while I’m on my way…”

“We’ll both meet you all there,” Rayla finished for him. “But Runaan, I was wondering if you’ve checked in with the court physician yet?”

Runaan’s brow furrowed. “Why? I feel perfectly fine.”

“You were in a coin for four years,” Rayla said tersely. “That is like the definition of not fine. My parents got checked out.”

“I don’t need to see a physician,” Runaan insisted.

“You haven’t felt anything?” Tiadrin asked. “No… side effects?”

“What do you mean?”

“Migraines, strange appetites, even just… adjusting to having physical form again?”

He stiffened. “No.”

“Well too bad,” said Rayla. “You should still go.” 

“If I’m fine, why should I have to go?”

“Because you’d make me go if the situations were reversed,” said Rayla flatly. Runaan let out a quiet huff.

“We’ll only be inconveniencing the physician,” he said curtly, but it wasn’t a No this time, and that was what mattered.

“I’m pretty sure it’s their job to look at patients,” said Callum as he reached for the syrup jug.

“Unwell ones.”

“Don’t check-ups exist in the Silvergrove?”

Runaan scowled. “I am fairly certain—”

“That it would be nice for you to get through a day without arguing with your husband and daughter?” Callum set the syrup bottle back down. “Yes. Besides, the palace physician here is nice. Aunt Amaya greatly appreciates their cure for the common cold.” 

Runaan looked at him nearly in disbelief, and then to Rayla.

She shrugged, barely holding back a grin. “He hasn’t had his hot brown morning potion yet. He’s always a little cranky.” 

Callum didn’t seem perturbed by her assessment as he looked over his plate of pancakes. “Can you pass the berries, love?”

“Of course, darling,” she said pleasantly, passing the dish, and it seemed there was no more room for discussion on Runaan’s part. 

They headed up toward the north tower without much further ado. “Come on,” Ethari was murmuring to Runaan, a hint of a smile toying at his lips in the face of his husband’s continuous scowl. “It can’t be that bad.”

The palace physician was a spindly, but still strong shouldered, elderly elf named Dormus. They pushed up large, gold rimmed spectacles up their nose as they surveyed Runaan when he walked in, and then glanced at Callum.

“Ah. Another de-coined, I take it?” Runaan started, as though irritated that someone could know, amid wanting to know how. Dormus waved him off. “You have the hunch in your shoulders. It’s quite common. Your body isn’t used to being fully decompressed yet.” 

Runaan stood a little straighter. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t have to wait with us for this,” Ethari said to Callum and Rayla. 

“Callum actually needs to see Dormus as well,” Rayla said. “Just a quick checkup, since he’s been doing so much magic lately. Dual wielding is always difficult.” 

“Oh,” Dormus blinked, as they forced Runaan to lift his arms. They examined each one. “Any difficulty with casting, Prince Callum?”

“Just… sapping some energy,” he said. “The usual.”


Runaan bristled but held still at Ethari’s look when Dormus pushed up his chin. “How much longer will this… examination take?”

“Not long.” Dormus tutted. “I’ll just prescribe you some herbal tea—it’ll help your lungs adjust to needing to breathe again. Make sure you eat at regular intervals, even if you don’t feel hungry, rest at proper hours, and drink lots of water.” 

“So I’m… fine?” he asked, shooting Rayla a pointed look. She rolled her eyes.

“Your body is adjusting,” they said gently, “and you will need to take some precautions as you transition back to living at normal. But, yes, if you do as I say, you will continue to be fine, and will feel even better. There’s not too much written about the side effects of being coined at all, let alone for years. Some unexpected ones may rear their head in the future. But for now, just give yourself time.” 

Runaan pursed his lips, but nodded. “I… suppose I can do that.”

“You’ll feel better in the long run,” Ethari said with a soft smile. 

Dormus handed him a small phial of golden liquid—“Two drops in your tea per day”—and then turned to Callum. “Any symptoms beyond fatigue, Your Highness?”


Rayla tugged at his coat sleeve. “Just take off your jacket,” she said, done.

He sighed, slowly shucking off his coat. Dormus frowned deeply when they saw the damage done, the pink skin soothed but the bruises still clear. Neither of them turned back to see Ethari and Runaan’s faces; Callum hadn’t wanted them to know, much less have to know what they thought about it. 

“Your Highness, how often—”

“Two a day, except for the first and last. I know,” he said when the physician’s eyebrows shot up, “it was too much. But everyone’s out now, so…?”

“They look almost inflamed. Have you been doing magic since then?”

Callum’s expression grew sheepish. Maybe even a little guilty. “Just illusions to cover them up.”

Dormus frowned at him. “Then refrain from magic entirely the next few days, if not a full week. I’ll see if I have some healing paste to help the bruises fade. And you should take a checkup potion just to make sure you haven’t internally damaged something either. You didn’t cross the streams?”

“No,” Callum said, as Rayla placed a comforting hand on his back. “I mean, I did a little the first time, getting Runaan out—figuring out how much to conduct. All I did was pass out. But I was fine for the others. The last one took a little longer than it should have, but I also think Elgan had been coined the longest, and I was tired by then, so…” 

“Not that I do not enjoy your company, Prince Callum,” said Dormus, examining their shelves of phials and potions, “but you need to stop ending up here in my office. Should I be thankful this is not as bad as when you were Purified?”

Both Callum and Rayla grimaced. 

Ethari’s eyebrows shot up when they turned to face him, as he asked, “Wait, you went through Purification ? When did that happen?”

Callum rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh, two years ago? It was how I ended up connecting to the Sun Primal. I thought I told you.”

Ethari gave him an unimpressed stare. “You told me that you connected, you didn’t tell me how . Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? It’s a Sunfire elf punishment, not—” He rounded on Rayla. “Why in Xadia did you let him?”

“His Ocean primal was getting clogged up,” Rayla said apologetically. “Healing magic wasn’t working right, and… Janai didn’t like it, but she knew it wouldn’t kill him. Dark Magic’s barely touched him.” Her brow furrowed. “So I didn’t know it would be that bad.”

“It’s not your fault,” Callum assured her. “I chose that, remember?”

Runaan crossed his arms over his chest, his face flat. “Is this a regular occurrence for you? Risking your life and worrying my daughter?”

Rayla took Callum’s hand. “In his defense,” she said, “I tend to risk my life far more often. He’s just does so far more dramatically.” 

Runaan’s eyes narrowed. “Well it still seems foolish. I’ve never heard of anything that could clog the Ocean primal.”

“Not much can,” Callum admitted. He’d done the readings. Elves had obvious reasons for not dabbling in it much, but those who did tended to be very extreme. First because of the morality required for it, and second because of the subsequent social ostracization. “Except…” he lowered his voice. “Dark Magic.” 

“Which he did a long time ago one time , to save a dragon and protect me,” Rayla said before Runaan could respond, although fury was already etched onto his face. 

Slowly, stiffly, he looked at Callum. “What spell did you— use ?”

“A chain breaker,” Callum said, surprisingly calm. “They had the dragon chained down and Rayla couldn’t break them with her swords. She was surrounded. She was ready to die. I couldn’t just let that happen and I didn’t have a primal stone anymore. So I turned to Dark Magic as a last resort.” Then, before Runaan could open up his mouth, Callum continued, a tad indignant, “What else was I supposed to do? You can’t judge humans for doing things with the resources they have, especially when we were denied Primal magic for so long.”

Runaan was still stiff. “Humans should have to pay the price for—”

“Even if that price would’ve been Rayla’s life?” Callum demanded, incensed now.

“That is not what I meant and you know it—”

“You think I haven’t paid those prices? I nearly died. Then I got Purified. My parents all died because of Dark Magic. What more do you want? Because I don’t think I have anything else to give.” He softened a little when Rayla’s hand slipped into his. “Humans didn’t have magic for centuries and we suffered for it. Why else do you think I’m working so hard to change things?”

Runaan was quiet for a long moment, before he said, eyes still dark, “What did you have to kill to use it?”

Callum’s mouth was a thin, firm line. “My morals.” 

“Prince Callum,” Dormus puttered, looking as though they would rather be anywhere else. They pushed two phials at his chest and Callum scrambled to catch them. “Here’s the paste and the potion—instructions on the label—and please remember to take it easy. Even in daily life.”

“Of course,” Callum said, turning away from Runaan. He offered up a half hearted smile. “Thank you, doctor. I’m sorry for dragging you into all of this. We’ll get out of your hair.” 

“It’s no problem at all,” Dormus said, even if the uncomfortable smile on their face said otherwise. They shut the door behind the small, dysfunctional family when the group left, as though to make sure the arguing elf and human wouldn’t double back. 

“I cannot believe,” Runaan muttered under his breath. 

Callum bit back a nasty remark for a slightly nicer one. “And why’s that?” he said as they went down the tower stairs, Rayla and Ethari exchanging glances.

Runaan frowned at him. “I thought you better than that.” 

“Runaan,” Rayla snapped, but Callum shook his head.

“No, now that I’ve disappointed him, maybe he’s finally part of my family after all.” His fingers fidgeted, and Rayla could tell he wanted nothing more than to get out and go off for a flight, but of course he couldn’t. 

She took his hand and halted them, and then looked at her fathers. “Go on without us,” she told them. “We’ll catch up later.”

Runaan looked as though he wanted to disagree, but Ethari took him by the elbow and they left without another word.

Callum sighed once they were gone. “Rayla,” he said, strained, “I don’t want to—”

“I know.” She squeezed his hand and stepped closer. It was rare that he didn’t want to talk about his feelings, and she’d learned a long time ago to give him some space. “There’s something I want to show you.”

He glanced at her. “There is?”

“Mmhm. I found it when I was giving my parents’ a tour, but I’d never stumbled across it before. I don’t think you have either.” She gave his hand another squeeze. “Come on.” 

He’d sketched out half the city—half the view, from the flat plateau of one of the towers, overlooking the castle and its various courtyards and pinnacles, extending to the regular dwellings outside the Inner Sanctum itself—before he spoke.

“I’m sorry.”

Rayla opened her eyes, having closed them while waiting him out, the breeze low and warm on her face, hair lightly swaying. He didn’t mind her watching him draw, but it was different when he was upset and she knew it.

“You don’t have anything to apologize for,” she said softly.

He set down his charcoal. “I figured Runaan and I still wouldn’t get along. I just—didn’t want us to hash it out in front of you.” 

Rayla pressed her lips together. “Yes, well given that I’m the reason for you two having to interact at all, I’d rather know what sort of disagreements you’re having than live in the dark.”

“I just…”

“What’s actually bothering you?” she said. “Because I know it’s not the fact you used Dark Magic. It didn’t bother you then and hasn’t for years. It’s not bothering me.” 

Callum sighed. “I don’t like being judged.”

“Being with an elf may not have been the right path for you then,” she said, but she was smiling.

Callum loosed a small chuckle. “You know what I mean. Being with you would be worth anything. It is. It’s just… on any side, I can never just move on from what I’ve done, or what people think I’ve done, and I wish they would just let us be , sometimes. Without knowing that people thinking I should be regretting whatever decisions I’ve made, because they’re wrong . I never regret what they think I do.” 

“I know, love.” She took his hand and laced their fingers together. “What’s that rhyme you always say? ‘Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind’?”

“Not really a rhyme,” he said, but he smiled, and it widened when she swatted him in the arm.

“You know what I mean. You’re a good man. Anyone worthwhile will realize it if they haven’t already.”

“Even Runaan?”

“He’s stubborn. Even more than the rest of us. At the very least, he knows I care for you. It’ll be enough, for now.”

He squeezed her hand gently. “I know.”

“But…” Rayla reached up to toy with the tiny braid she’d woven into his hair, years ago. “That’s not actually what I wanted to talk about.”

Callum’s brow furrowed. “Oh?”

“The comment you made. About disappointment.”

She could see the way his stomach dropped on his face. “Oh.” 

“Have you really felt that way? From... all of us?”

“Not... constantly,” he tried. 


“You least of everyone?”

“That’s not exactly reassuring. Why do you think we’ve been disappointed with you?”

“With you, it was only when we were trying to free the dragon. I… saw it in your face, before I even said anything, and at least you weren’t going to…” He took a breath. “That’s the only time with you.”

“And the others? Ezran?”

“I don’t know. I told you, it’s not constant, and not really a big deal.”

“It’s clearly bothered you.”

“I...I know I probably disappointed my parents. My mom fit in perfectly into royal life, like she’d always been queen, and I was...the only one that didn’t quite fit. That got even worse with my stepdad. I know Aunt Amaya loves me, but I was never a fighter, not like her and Mom. And Ez…” He took a deep breath. “He hardly needs me anymore, he hasn’t needed me for years and I am so proud of him but what if… I know I don’t live up to what… what I’d need to be, as next in line. I can barely provide counsel because I’m constantly away, and after everything I still don’t fit into the ‘royal family’ and I just… Sometimes, I wonder if I’ve let him down. That’s all.”

“You could never let Ez down,” she said soothingly. “And yes, maybe you weren’t what your family expected, but they love you just the same and wouldn’t change anything about you. If you fit perfectly into being a prince, you wouldn’t be the amazing man or mage you are today, and I wouldn’t trade you for anything. Neither would they.” She stroked her fingers through his hair. “I’m not trying to invalidate your feelings, either, but… none of us see you that way. I hope one day you can believe that, too.” She sighed softly. “And you saw wrong, with the dragon.”

He looked at her. “What?”

“It wasn’t disappointment. It was anger, and… I was only angry because I was worried. Worried that you were there, that it wouldn’t work, that it would and I’d have to reconcile with that, because I knew I wouldn’t really be able to hold it against you, with how much I cared about you, and… There have been moments you didn’t give me what I wanted or needed from you, I’ll admit—just like I’m sure there have been moments where I couldn’t give you what you wanted or needed from me—but you have never let me down . Not ever.” 

“You’re sure?” he said softly.

She pressed her forehead against his. “I promise .” She smiled a little. “Do you want me to add that to our vows, too?”

“I don’t think we have to. I’m always gonna remember this.”

“You do have an amazing memory.”

He smiled and kissed her, soft with gratitude. “Thank you. For everything.”

“I mean, I’m kind of in it for the long haul.”

“Never would’ve guessed it.” 

Her hand stayed in his hair, softly stroking, her slight grin falling away, face turning sympathetic. “You okay?”

He closed his eyes at her touch. “I will be.”

“Okay.” She took her hand away to brace her arm along his back, guiding his head to rest on her shoulder. She took his sketchbook into her lap, flipped to a new page and started doodling, small and silly. Callum kept his eyes closed. Maybe got some well deserved rest, when his breathing evened out, but she would’ve been just as content if he’d watched her draw, or kept his eyes closed and just didn’t want to look at anything for a while.

She’d stay with him regardless.

“You knew.” 

Ethari didn’t look up from the tea he was brewing for his husband. “I did,” he said calmly. 

“You knew he’d done Dark Magic and you still—”

“He saved our daughter’s life. It was a slug, Runaan.”

“It’s the principle—” 

“You would have killed his younger brother. An innocent boy of ten.”

“That was—”

“Different?” Ethari frowned. “‘We don’t choose right or wrong. Only life or death.’ But now you’re trying to say that one was right while the other—”

“It was payment for the Dragon Prince—”

“And would you have killed the boy even once you saw the Egg and knew there was no payment necessary?”

Runaan frowned at him. “You’ve changed,” he muttered.

“And you’ve stayed the same, and not for the better.” Ethari sighed heavily. “Can you at least admit flaw in the world you left behind? In the code you swore yourself by? Stretch your sympathy a little further? What else was the boy supposed to do? He chose the smallest payment possible, and it seems like he was the one who paid the most in the end.”

“This ‘world’ you refer to, far in the past…” Runaan’s voice broke, and he hated it. “That was mere days ago, to me. What else do I have to leave behind?”

Ethari softened. “I don’t know. I know you are trying your best. But change came swiftly over Rayla and didn’t leave her. I expect she is having as hard a time being understanding towards you as you are toward her. Even if she is doing better.” 

Runaan had to admit that was probably true. “How did you find out then?”

“He told me, one day. Fairly early on. They were discussing their adventures—you will not believe the amount they went through, that first month—and Rayla got quiet at one point, so he explained. After the dragon was freed, he fell incredibly ill. At first she brushed it off, but they decided to wait it out when his legs gave way. Then his breathing started to get shaky, and… I believe that was the first moment she was terrified she might lose him.” 

Ethari brought the tea over to him, with two tiny drops of from the golden phial. “Callum is a flawed but good man. Same as you, and same as me. I know you wanted to believe perhaps he was the exception of his people. The only one like him. And in some ways he is, but then he shocked the mindset you were building, because he is like his people. They are just not the liars and monsters you thought them to be. That I considered they might be, in my most fearful moments.” He smiled a little sadly. “I know it’s a lot to change after… what was only a few days, to you. It’s not fair on any of you. By all rights, we should have lived in a world that would have allowed them to be together without war and its aftermath. But they’re doing the best with what they have. I know you want to do the same.”

“It’s just…” Runaan didn’t touch his tea. Not yet. “I spent so long in the coin, trapped by Dark Magic. Mulling it over in my mind. What the mage had done to me, what he may have done to the bodies and weapons of my troupe. Could have done to Rayla, as I didn’t know where she’d gone after I left her on the roof.” His breath caught in his throat. “I already hated Dark Magic before I suffered from its hand. And it is still easier to be angry with the boy, but… I know that if he did use it—although I could never support the use of it—it would only ever be for the best cause one could use it for. That he would never cross the line into the worst unnatural.” 

Not like the high mage’s daughter. Claudia, Ethari thought it was. Killing someone to bring her father back from the dead. What a poor thing. Poor girl, to be that driven. That lost. 

“Then feel your anger,” Ethari said. “And then let it go.”

“Letting go is difficult,” Runaan mumbled.

Ethari brushed his husband’s hair back behind his ear. “I know. We have both always been rather stubborn.” Ethari’s hand moved to Runaan’s cheek. “I am glad I waited. That I did not have to wait as long as I thought I would, to see you again.”

His eyes softened, and he leaned into his touch. “I promised I would bring your heart back to you,” he said softly. “I am just sorry it took this long.”

“I am glad it did not feel like four years for you.” Ethari smiled. “There are still small mercies.” He kissed him softly, lingering, before Ethari rested his forehead briefly along Runaan’s. “Drink your tea before it gets cold.”

Runaan lingered longer still before drawing away to sip his tea. “Thank you, my love.”

Ethari kissed his forehead. “Some things,” he promised, “will never change.”

Eleby arrived in Lux Aurea the following day. She’d taken a skyboat—a complicated and expensive Skywing contraption that ferried elves across Xadia through the clouds—and had set off as soon as she’d received her father’s letter. She looked like Elgan, Callum thought, as he waited with the elf in the courtyard as she approached. She had the same long green hair, pulled back in braids and deep brown skin, and stood tall at close to twenty years old. She wore simple but sleek attire and blacksmith gloves that looked as though it was made out of shedded dragon scales, and she had what must’ve been her mother’s flaxen eyes.

She stopped when she saw them, Callum hanging behind. Freezing up at the sight of someone she’d probably long thought dead. “Father.” 

It was the first time Callum had seen a real smile on Elgan’s face. “Eleby—” He strode forward, his face falling when she didn’t move to meet him in the middle.

“How…?” Something in her face twisted. “You’ve barely aged a day,” she said faintly. Then tears welled in her eyes. “Like you were never gone, but—Mother—”

“Where is she? Did she stay home?”

Eleby’s bottom lip trembled, before she steeled herself. “Mother died. Seven years after you… disappeared. The blacksmith took me in.”

“No,” Elgan choked out. “ Ila …” For a second Callum thought he would drop to his knees, before he looked up at his daughter, and then swept her up in a tight embrace. “Eleby, I am so sorry I left you.”

Eleby buried her face in his shoulder. Both of them were shaking. “So am I.” 

When she didn’t pull away, Callum let out a quiet, relieved sigh. He couldn’t fix every family that had been broken from the war. No single person could. But at the very least, they wouldn’t have to be alone anymore. 

The journey had been long, so the duo decided to stay in Lux Aurea another night. The timing worked about better than Rayla had hoped, honestly. She and her family could leave the following morning, too, now that most of Callum’s responsibilities—the elves, the coins, the memory spells—were finally taken care of. 

“You should be proud of yourself, my nephew,” said Janai at their last dinner. It was a little awkward, as Runaan and Callum weren’t speaking, but it wasn’t as though they had spoken much before, and Tiadrin, Lain, and Ethari helped make up for it. “You have done a lot of good here.” 

Callum cracked a weary smile, quiet. “I’m just glad it’s over.”

“I am glad to see you heading home soon,” Amaya said, Janai translating. “But know that we will miss you, until you visit again.” 

“It won’t be too long,” Rayla said, signing. “We promise.”

Amaya grinned broadly. “Good. The sparring ring is boring here without you. Even my darling wife is not too much of a challenge—we are too accustomed to one another’s fighting styles by now.” Janai glanced sideways at her wife once she was done translating. 

“It was either romance or swordplay that we had to keep alive, my love,” Janai drawled, and Amaya laughed. Callum glanced away, looking uncomfortable, and it was all Rayla could do not to snort. Clearly the two queens had rubbed off one another (in more ways than one) over the past four years.

“Either way, I’m sure your Shadowpaws will be glad to leave our stables in the morning,” Amaya said. “I do not think they are very well acquainted with the heat.”

“Summers in Lux Aurea are something else,” Callum agreed.

“It will be strange to go back again,” Lain considered.

“The Silvergrove has not changed much,” Ethari assured him. “The best thing we can do tonight is to get a good night’s rest. It will be a few days through Earthblood territory before we reach the Moonshadow meadows.” 

“It’s been years,” Tiadrin said quietly. With the additional five of still serving on the guard. Rayla supposed they’d be nervous of eventually seeing the Dragon Queen again too, if they ever had to. 

The feeling of failure lingered long after you’d come to terms with the fact you hadn’t actually done anything wrong , Rayla had learnt. 

“It’ll be alright,” she said. “Callum and I will be staying for a while, so we’ll all be together while you… adjust.”

Janai finished her wine, cleared her throat, and then stood up. “It is late,” she said. “My wife and I will be retiring, but know that you are all welcome in Lux Aurea anytime.” She inclined her head towards Callum and Rayla. “Nephew, kysikin , we look forward to seeing you again soon.” 

Amaya came around the long table to sweep both kids up into a bone crushing hug, and each signed I love you back to her before she departed hand in hand with Janai, out the golden doors towards the wing of the castle reserved more so for the immediate royal family.

It was a little awkward, maybe, to be in the royal dining hall without the queens, but Rayla had gotten used to it. Callum was royalty, after all. She’d be Katolis’ princess once they were married.

“I’ve never heard that word before,” Ethari said with interest.

Callum grinned. “It’s part of a Sunfire-specific dialect. It means ‘beloved of my kin.’” His grin softened. “Aunt Janai lost a lot of her family in the war, too. She understands how important it is to build a new one.” 

Rayla slipped his hand into his. “And now our family keeps growing.”

Tiadrin shared a quick look with Lain. “You do want children, then?”

The young couple flushed suddenly. “I meant with you coming back, and everything,” Rayla said quickly.

“So you don’t want children?”

“I never said that .”

“We haven’t had a lot of time to… plan it out,” Callum said, his ears beet red.

Tiadrin’s brow furrowed. “But you have discussed? You are engaged, after all.”

“A little? I mean—”

“Look, Mum,” Rayla said, saving him. “There’s more than just that type of family to have. There’s Ez, and his crownguard Soren, and his council, who are like family to us. Aunt Amaya and Janai. You and Dad and Runaan and Ethari. Even Zym and the Dragon Queen, in a way. But… yes, we are hoping to have children. Someday. But not anytime soon. Not until the war is finally over, at the very least.” 

Callum sank down in his seat, looking thoroughly relieved, even if he pulled his scarf up over his mouth and scarlet cheeks. “What she said.”

“So we’ll have time before we become grandparents?” Lain smiled, and Rayla relaxed a little.

“Yes, Dad, you old elf. You only just got back, we’re not about to dump some new kids on you yet.”

“Nothing can be harder than keeping the Dragon Prince alive when everything was out to kill us,” Callum said, a tad brightly. “At least our kids won’t be able to fly away.”

Rayla grinned at him. “Unless they get your arcanum.”

“I wasn’t born with mine, so,” he shrugged.

“But there haven’t been many records of elf-human children, so we never know,” she said cheerfully.

“Do you want our kids to be constantly flying away from us?”

“It’ll be interesting.”

“Life with just you is already never boring.” 

Rayla’s smile softened and she leaned over to boop him on the nose. “Finish your wine, sappy prince. We have an early start tomorrow.” 

It was maybe another fifteen minutes before they wrapped up dinner, each couple heading to their room, none of them having much to pack; Tiadrin, Lain, and Runaan hadn’t been able to bring anything to begin with.

Rayla just hoped that everything would indeed be brighter in the morning.

“You sure you’ll be alright from here?” Callum hovered by the outer gates of the palace, Shadowpaws at the ready. Elgan and Eleby had been given a tanned horse smart enough to find its way home once they were done, with a firetail of some sort. 

Elgan was currently getting the saddlebags ready, and Eleby regarded Callum for a moment. She trusted him, she supposed.

“We’ll be fine. I can take care of my father now.”

“We’ll send a message in a few days, just to check on everything.” He paused, before he asked, “Also, I was just wondering—and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but—you reaction, when you saw him, it was…”

Eleby gave him a rather sharp look. “It was what , exactly?”

“Nothing bad,” Callum said hastily. “You just… didn’t seem happy.”

She lowered her head. “I left him to die.”


“When he was… put under that curse. I was with him, but when we were attacked, I ran. My mother grew worse when we heard he was dead.” 

“It wasn’t your fault,” Callum said. “You were a child.” 

“If I hadn’t run, or at least stayed long enough to see, maybe… I don’t know why he was so happy to see me. I still don’t.” She took a bracing breath. “But maybe now, I can make up for it.”

“You have nothing to make up for. He was so relieved when he remembered that you got away. It was all he cared about. And you did what you had to do, what he told you to do.” Callum pursed his lips. “I hope you can see that someday.”

Eleby narrowed her eyes, even if she seemed unsure in her anger. “Why do you care so much?”

“Because running when your father needs you? I get it. I was fourteen. I had a choice to make. I don’t regret the one I made. It was for a good cause. But I still think about it all the time. If I could’ve done something different that would’ve… changed things.” He managed a small smile. “It’s okay to think about it. But we have time. You have time, with your father. It’s better to spend that time with the people we have, than to...worry about what we could’ve done when we were too young to know any better. You don’t have to carry around that guilt.”

She gave him a once over, and then a very small, soft smile. “You are a strange human,” she decided. “But thank you, Prince Callum. For everything.” 

“Anytime. I hope you have a safe journey home.” 

Eleby looked at him a moment longer. “You too.”

She made her way back over to her father, and Callum watched them mount and ride off before he walked back over to Rayla. 

“That’s it, then,” he murmured. After almost four years of searching and spellwork, the coin mission was over. 

“Got any ‘big feelings’?” she teased gently, but her expression was open, the offer genuine as she patiently waited for him to answer, to see which way the chips would fall.

“Relief. Mostly I just feel… really tired, to be honest.” 

“Well you’ve been pushing yourself hard the past week in general. The spells, looking after the freed elves. My family. And travelling here was tiring too.” 

“I’ll make sure to rest while we’re staying at the Silvergrove.”

“You mean it?”

“Yeah. I don’t like seeing you worried. Besides, we’ll be someplace safe and familiar, and it’ll just be you and your family, mostly. And after that, it’s back to the Spire.” 

“Only as soon as you’re all better. You’re going to see the top and insist on flying us up no matter when we get there.”

He smiled at her. “Thank you for taking care of me.” 

“Of course.” She combed her fingers through his hair. “It’s what partners do.” Her fingers lingered at his braid before she let go. “You ready to go?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

Callum fell asleep on the shadowpaw. Rayla couldn’t blame him, adjusting him slightly and making sure his arms had a secure hold on her waist before she picked up the reins with both hands again. She smiled a little as he buried his face in her shoulder, letting out a sleepy grunt as he settled. He’d worked so hard these past few weeks. He deserved all the rest he could get. That, and Callum usually fell asleep first, except on nights he knew she’d had a bad day. 

“It really took that much out of him?” Tiadrin asked, her mount catching up to theirs. Lain was still awake, just barely, already having switched spots at the front with Tiadrin on a recent stop.

“He’s surprisingly stubborn,” Rayla said fondly. “And almost always falls asleep first anyway.” 

Tiadrin smiled a little. “We’re glad you weren’t alone all these years. After we realized how long it had been…”

“I was fine. Really. You saw how much his family has taken me in, and we had Ethari too.” Rayla smiled, equal parts happy and sad. “I think Callum has made it one of his missions in life to make sure people don’t feel alone.” Rayla glanced back; Callum was drooling a little on her shoulder guard. “He’s certainly done it for me, ever since we first met.”

Tiadrin’s smile grew. “He’s good for you.”

Her smile lifted. “Yeah. He is.”

“I know your father and I weren’t… always there—”

“Oh, Mum—”

“—and we did all we could, to make sure you weren’t lonely, and… I’m just glad it all turned out alright.”

“More than alright.” Rayla looked at her. “You know I don’t blame you for what happened to you?”

“It didn’t feel like any amount of time,” Tiadrin said, “but I had a lot to think about, when I was… stuck. Mostly about what I wish I’d done. And about you. We’d given up the joy of raising you—and I am glad Ethari and Runaan got to do so, because they’ve done a wonderful job—for doing our duty, and yet… we still failed.” Her face soured. “Perhaps it would have been better for everyone if we had never joined the Dragonguard.” 

“You honestly think that?”

“The Egg was stolen, only saved by a miracle.”

“Yeah, by you . Your quick thinking was the only reason it wasn’t destroyed . The reason I started on that mission five years ago. Who knows what would have happened if it really had been gone. If Callum and I would have…” Rayla’s smiled twitched a little. “You and Dad being on the Dragonguard was one of the best things that has ever happened to this world.”

“Oh, Rayla,” Tiadrin smiled. “But I still look back, and… We could have been part of your childhood.”

“You’re part of my adulthood, now. You’ll get to be part of what I know will be some of the happiest parts of my life. I didn’t even think we’d get this time together. And now…”

Tiadrin’s eyes were shining. “Even if I had a very small part in it, I am so proud of who you have become.”

Rayla’s voice grew a little thick, breaking around the words she’d never thought she’d get to say, much less to her actual mother and be heard. “Thanks Mum.” 

Lain coughed. “I too am very proud,” he said with a slight quirk of his lips, and father and daughter laughed. 

Her chest felt warm. “Thank you, too, Dad,” she added with the last trace of her laugh. 

It was quiet in the woods, but it was safe, too. 

Or at least, it had been. 

They made camp for lunch in the late afternoon, sunlight streaming in through the tree leaves. It always made Rayla fairly nostalgic to go camping, especially with Callum by her side. It didn’t happen as often as it had during the first war, and less so now in the second, as his wings made trips much faster and they could actually stay in inns, so nights when they did sleep on the ground were decidedly softened by memories. 

Runaan and Callum were still quiet, but she supposed, once again, that it was better than them fighting or bickering. Everyone was awake, though, her father tugging Callum into some sort of conversation about magic with Ethari chiming in, when they set off again for the afternoon stretch.

Then the Earthblood elves found them, when they’d passed into the Green Region maybe an hour before. Xadia didn’t have clear cut borders, the Sunfire elves coming closest with hidden away Moonshadow villages second, but there were regions with landmarks where you knew you were passing, largely, into one select elves’ typical territory. Freely, and without issue, but crossing into it all the same. 

They didn’t tend to take the main paths, mostly because there weren’t many — Earthblood elves had the uncanny ability to never trip over roots or foliage — but Rayla did think it was odd when six riders on unicorn mounts came into view. The Green Region was one dense, massive forest. She and Callum had crossed it more than a few times and had days or even weeks, when they’d been travelling East instead of South, without coming upon anyone else, yet six now appeared out of nowhere?

Then they rode closer and she saw they wore royal green and gold, the sigil of their local regent — some snide diplomat Rayla knew she’d met once at a party in Katolis, memorable only because of how horrendous he’d been — stamped across each uniforms left side.

“Halt,” said the lead elf, with gold streaks under his eyes. “You are in the territory of Lord Taelin. State your business.”

Rayla glared at him as Callum’s arms tightened around her waist. Did her dragonguard armour mean nothing? “I am Rayla,” she said, knowing that elves knew her name. As the Dragon Prince’s favoured protector, among other accomplishes and honours the Dragon Queen has bestowed upon her. “We are travelling south to my home village. A journey my family and I have made any times without being stopped.”

“We are at war,” the lead elf said pointedly, “and you bring a human with you.”

Rayla bristled. “Humans are allowed into Xadia.”

Not all of them, and not without Zubeia’s approval, but they were allowed. And it was illegal now to attack or accost one on charges of trespassing; at the very least, it would have to be taken up with the Queen first.

“What is his purpose, then?”

“He’s my fiancé, coming home with me.” Not all the elves had heard about the engagement the way the citizens of Katolis had, after all. “You can see his seal, if you really need to.”

The elf stared at her, as though deciding he didn’t like her tone. “Oh yes, I believe I need to.”

Callum sighed but got off the Shadowpaw, taking papers out of his bag. He held them up to the lead elf. “Here,” he said, only a tad terse.

The elf took it and overlooked them with a frown, even before he finished and spoke. “You would think a Prince if Katolis would know better than to be travelling with expired papers.”

Expired ?” Rayla demanded, dismounting.

“The Dragon Queen has put out a new order for paper, magically enchanted to be impervious to forgery. These papers are henceforth expired.”

“We were just in Lux Aurea with the Sunfire queens,” said Rayla, growing more and more incensed. “We didn’t hear of these new orders, and I am the captain of Her Majesty’s Dragonguard. You will let us pass."

“Watch your tone. If you become difficult, we’d have more than enough right to take him into custody—”

Callum’s voice was cold but calm. “You really want to start a political incident like that? I know your regent has been bickering with my brother as of late, but given the debt the Dragon royal family owes mine, and my residence at the Storm Spire, do you really think she’ll side with him over me? If anything, a political transgression like that may be exactly the push she needs to remove your regent outright. Does that sound like a reasonable risk to take, for whatever leverage taking me into custody may bring?”

The leader elf gulped a bit. “We apologize for the misunderstanding,” he managed.

“I would hope so,” said Rayla, still glowering. 

“You May pass through on your way, Your Highness,” he said to Callum, who snatched back his papers.

Each of them climbed upon their shadowpaw and Rayla snapped the reins. It was a relief to disappear among the trees again, even as her parents exchanged uneasy looks with Ethari.

“I cannot believe,” she hissed, gritting her teeth.

“We’ll get our papers renewed and talk to Queen Zubeia later. It’ll be okay.”

“We never should have had to deal with that in the first place. Expired? Really?”

“I mean, the enchantment is a good idea,” he considered. He sighed. “I know it’s frustrating. And it honestly might be bullshit anyway. I know Ez has been getting in Taelin’s way a lot lately, politically. They probably thought they could use him trying to get me pardoned to make him pass one of their bills, or something.” He tried for a smile. “Too bad they didn’t think about the other logistics of that plan.”

“I just wish everyone would get past this. Every time we fix something it either gets messed up again or some new problem happens and I really don’t need it right now.”

Callum pressed a kiss to her shoulder. “We got through it. And we’ll work out anything else along the way, and then we’ll rest once we’re home.”

“I just hope they aren’t doing that to other humans who don’t have the connections we do,” she sighed, still scowling. 

Callum’s brow creased at the thought. “Well we can look into that, too.” He rested his chin on her shoulder. “At least we know the years of navigating diplomatic dinners and parties have paid off.”

“For you, maybe,” said Rayla, her frown lessening by a fraction.

“Defending you to dumb politicians on my side was good practice,” he said with a slight smile. She let out a soft snort.

“I’ll just be glad when we’re home,” she said, resting one hand over the ones he had against her stomach. Stroking her fingers over his engagement ring.

But to her parents, in some ways, and to Ethari’s eyes, it seemed as though they already were.

They stopped near the outskirts of the Green Region, away from any settlements that might try to bother them again. It was secure enough, the trees not so dense that they couldn’t all settle down with some extra blankets and sleeping bags. Callum lit their fire with a quick fulminus before Rayla curled into his side. She pushed his coat off his shoulders and ran her fingers up his arms, checking his bruises. They were a little smaller now, the more recent bruises now purpled along with the rest of them, but they still covered most of his arm. 

“How does it feel?” she asked.

“Not as bad as it looks. I promise.” 

“Hm. I hope not.”

Ethari frowned slightly. “You know you shouldn’t be pushing yourself to those extremes, Callum.” 

Rayla could tell by the look on her fiance’s face that he’d just been waiting for Ethari to talk to him about it, even if he’d hoped it wouldn’t come to pass. But there was no hiding what had been seen in the physician’s office; now, not even from Tiadrin or Lain either. 

He sighed. “I’m fine. I’m not doing anything strenuous now, and I’m following all of Dormus’s instructions.”

“How did this happen?” Lain asked, scooting closer to look at his arms.

“It’s fine, really. I just… kinda overdid it, freeing everyone from the coins. It’s fine.”

Tiadrin’s brow furrowed. “That did… this , to you?”

“He insisted on doing two at a time. I’m sure he would’ve done more if he had thought he could get away with it without passing out,” Rayla said, giving him a look.

“I know, I know, I won’t do it again. I’m fine, really.”

“You better be.” She slipped her hand into his, lacing their fingers together. “But no more magic, remember? Not even small spells."

“Right, sorry.” He gave her a sheepish but genuine grin. “Forgot.”

“Mmhm.” She softened a little. “I know it’s hard to remember. Just till we go back to the spire, okay?”

“I know.” He squeezed her hand gently. 

“I swear,” she said with a smile and a shake of her head, “imagine how peaceful our lives would be if I’d never called you a mage.” 

Callum bumped his head against hers. “Nope. Not giving my wings up for anything.” 

Her smile softened. “I know.” 

Once they’d finished taking out the folded packages tied together with twine that Amaya and Janai had given them, the sandwiches kept warm by thin paper holding them together, ingrained with small Sunfire runes, Rayla settled back against his side. Just like old times, in some ways.

It had been a long time, she’d reflected, since her mother and father had gone camping. Runaan had, on the journey to Katolis along with the rest of her troupe, but it would still be his first night without a real bed. Being de-coined was likely already uncomfortable enough.

Lain’s temperament didn’t seem to be tampered, though, as he said, “There has been something I’ve been wanting to ask the two of you.”

She perked up, cautious, but some of Callum’s curiosity had rubbed off on her over the years. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too bad. Or at least not as embarrassing as her mother asking if they were going to have children. “Oh?”

Lain took a bite of his sandwich and rested one arm on his leg. “How did you two meet? I know it was during the attack on the castle, but…” 

A crease formed in Runaan’s brow, but he didn’t frown. “I wouldn’t mind knowing the details myself,” he admitted.

She supposed when she’d brought the boys onto the roof with her, he’d seen them only as targets to get rid of to try and contain the situation and what he perceived as her mistake. A literal shoot first and ask questions later, type of thing (or so Callum would have said).

She and Callum exchanged a look before she glanced back at her parents. “Ethari,” Rayla said slowly, “you wouldn’t by perchance want to take this one, do you?”

He gave her a slight, sly smile. “It’s not like you to be shy, Rayla,” he reminded her.

She sighed, shoulders slumping. “Fine.” She turned to her mother and two fathers, and then gestured back to Callum with a pointed thumb. “I tried to kill him.” 

Tiadrin’s brows rose. “You mean that diplomat you mentioned wasn’t just making a snide comment?”

“In Rayla’s defense,” Callum said, although she could hear a stammer coming on, “she threatened and attacked me first. And then also tried to spare me. I… She was bound to kill my stepdad and my brother, not me.” He coughed. “But I told her that I was my brother.”

Rayla gave him a fond, exasperated look. “I’m just glad he stalled me long enough. Started getting me into an ethical debate and everything.” 

Runaan looked at him with a squinting expression. “You took your brother’s place?”

“I tried to. I thought, maybe… If someone had to die, they’d at least be getting one of the princes, right? And it wouldn’t have to be him.” He let out a breath. “And he was so young back then.”

“So were you,” Rayla said quietly. 

“It wouldn’t have worked,” Runaan said. “The binding wouldn’t have come off.” 

“I didn’t know that at the time,” Callum said. “But it wouldn’t have mattered to me anyway. He’s my baby brother. I’d do anything for him.”

“Yes,” said Rayla, resting her hand over his. “Ez and I have our hands quite full keeping you alive, you dork.” 

“You say that like you aren’t a handful,” he said, lightening, and then coughed. They had to finish the story. “Anyway, my plan wasn’t going that poorly beyond the—imminent death thing—when Ez did show up. He’d found the egg of the Dragon Prince and came to get me, and we managed to get away from Rayla for a bit, but she followed us back down to the dungeons. Then Ezran showed both of us the egg, and we realized what it could mean. After that, we were all pretty much on the same side, and…” He looked at Runaan. “You were there for the next part.”

“I remember thinking you had a surprising amount of bravery,” Runaan said, “bordering on foolhardy.” 

The corners of Callum’s mouth twitched. “Do all Moonshadow elves usually compliment people while also insulting them?” he asked Rayla. 

She wrinkled her nose at him. “I give you plenty of just compliments; you don’t have to fish for them, dumb prince.” 

Callum settled and smiled. “But yeah, that’s how we met. Pretty crazy, all things considered.”

“Not the craziest thing we’ve been through, though,” Rayla remarked.

“Oh, not by a long shot,” he agreed. “We just knew what to expect, after that. I think in the first war, the Spire and the Pinnacle and Sol Regem were probably the hardest things.” His eyes softened with the memory of concern. “And your binding.” 

“We would’ve survived that.”

“I know. I just would’ve missed getting to hold both your hands.”

Rayla did her best not to melt. “You hadn’t held both my hands by that point, dummy.”

Callum grew a bit more solemn. “Either way, it wasn’t fun to see you in pain.”

Runaan rolled his shoulder; Rayla suspected it was the one that had worn his old binding. “How did it come off, then?”

“The Dragon Prince,” Rayla said. “After he hatched. I think dragons may be the only ones who can, or because he was part of the royal family. It’s fitting, though, isn’t it? Since his death didn’t have to be avenged in the first place.”  

Runaan didn’t say anything, but he still held onto his arm. She knew it would be a while before it felt fully normal again. Even after all these years, sometimes Rayla felt a dull ache in the wrist she’d nearly lost and she didn’t know exactly when Viren had coined him. It could have been days, maybe even a few weeks, after Zym had broken her binding in two.

“Maybe that’s why yours came off after you got out,” Ethari said, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Maybe,” Callum said. “There isn’t a lot known about spells using multiple Primal sources, so we don’t know if it was that, or…”

“You mentioned that you passed out to Dormus,” Runaan remembered. “Although I was the only one you freed that day?”

Callum nodded, then considered. “I did cross the streams a little bit—Earth and Moon. Maybe because the binding is death connected to the body, have the two streams enact similarly let it come off?” His brow furrowed. “I’ll have to do more research on it later.”

“Carefully,” Rayla added pointedly and he gave her a dutiful nod. 

“Right, right, of course.” 

She gave an exasperated shake of her head, already resigned. “Well I don’t know about you,” she said, leaning towards him, “but since I am going to have a very long day tomorrow keeping you alive, I’m going to head in for the night.” 

Callum then seemed to realize that if he didn’t follow her over to their sleeping bags for the night, he’d be left alone around a campfire with all four of her parents, and then promptly said, “Goodnight,” to said family. He faintly recognized Lain and Ethari’s voices wishing him a goodnight back, but didn’t stay long enough; it was awkward enough being left alone with all four of them.

He nestled into the sleeping bag with her, draping an arm around her from behind and resting his forehead against the nape of her neck, and she took his hand and tangled their fingers together. Squeezed his hand three times; a silent I love you . He squeezed back. 

It was easy after that to fall asleep.

Runaan woke up to the sound of screaming. His eyes snapped open, body shooting up from its place beside Ethari as he reached for the dagger the Sunfire elves had gifted him, Lain, and Tiadrin, their weapons stolen by the Dark Mage, and he was moving upward even once the scream—high, female, Rayla’s—stopped and his eyes adjusted to the dark.

They weren’t being attacked, no figures lurking in the night. Ethari roused beside him, Lain and Tiadrin across him on the other side of the fire. Lain was dragging a hand down his face, watching. Runaan followed his gaze.

Rayla was sitting up and shaking, eyes bright in the moonlight with tears, Callum by her side, his arm braced along her back.

Nightmare. The tension bled out of Runaan’s body, even if he stayed transfixed, staring, trying to gauge the situation. Figure out what he should do.

Callum didn’t seem to have any question of what to do, as he looked at her too, his eyes steady and concerned at the same time. “Rayla,” he was saying, firm but gentle. “Ray, look at me.”

She placed a hand over her mouth, choking back a shuddering sob that Runaan only heard a trace of, as she wielded her eyes shut. Callum shifted in front of her, taking her by the shoulders and pressing his forehead against hers.

“You’re safe,” he murmured. “You’re okay. We’re okay. You’re not back there. He’s dead. I promise he’s dead.” Her hands were shaking as she slowly uncurled from herself, her fingers finding his jacket, and Callum pulled her closer. He caught her eye and seemed to understand exactly which dream she’d had before he leaned up and kissed her forehead. “We’re safe,” he continued in that same soothing tone. “We’re together. It’s okay, love.” 

Rayla buried her face in his scarf, but she stopped shaking. “Y-you’re okay?” she checked, her fingers grasping at the back of his coat. As if she was making sure he wouldn’t disappear.

“I’m okay. I’m here. We’re okay.” Another kiss to her brow. “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

Runaan heard her take a long, slow breath. Her head dipped down into a nod as she drew away slightly. “Okay,” she said, reaching up to wipe at her eyes until Callum used his jacket sleeve to do it for her. 

“D’you need anything? Water?”

She shook her head. “No.” She gave a great sniffle, and then finally caught sight of them over his shoulder. “Oh no,” she mumbled. “S-sorry, I didn’t mean to wake everyone up.” She suddenly stood up, taking a bracing breath. “I’m gonna go get some air,” she mumbled to Callum, before turning and walking away.

Callum glanced back at the others—two pairs of parents she still hadn’t fully learned to drop her guard around—and winced, looking between them and the trees she’d disappeared in. “I—” Then he sighed and stood up, readjusting his scarf. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and then went after her.

The silence that followed was as loud as anything Runaan had ever heard, before his husband broke it.

“It’s usually one of three,” Ethari said, catching his question before it could be asked. “From the sounds of it, it probably had to do with the Dark Mage.”

“She’s had nightmares like that before?” Lain asked.

“Both of them. Different ones, but usually about losing each other, in some capacity.” Ethari’s face fell further. “They’ve been through a lot. Callum explained it to me, one night, a few years ago. It was on holiday at the Banthor Lodge. I came down for a glass of water in the middle of the night to find them sitting at the kitchen table holding hands. Rayla didn’t want to say a word.”

Runaan frowned. “She wasn’t like that before.”

Rayla had always been a Moonshadow elf in many ways—had hated water and relatively conquered her fear—but there had been a few times as a child she’d had a nightmare and sought comfort and hugs from him and Ethari. He hadn’t been quite sure what to do, but they had let her nestle in between them until she fell back asleep.

Ethari pursed his lips. “I hadn’t Ghosted her before.” 

Runaan’s stomach dropped. There was no reason for her to go to any of them, now. He’d stood against her on that tower. Tiadrin and Lain had left, choosing duty over their daughter, and unintentionally brought unearned shame upon her. Ethari had Ghosted her. They were all supposed to have raised her, to have been the safest places to go, and yet…

“How long do they usually go off together?” Tiadrin asked.

“I never asked. The one time I saw them, they were still there when I checked after about two hours.” Ethari gave them a small, sad smile. “Callum is… very good at not letting her push him away.” 

“He goes after her often, then?” Lain asked quietly.

“All the time.”

A crease formed in Runaan’s brow. “He hesitated,” he remembered. “To leave her on the roof, when she told them to go. When she faced off against me.” 

“After everything, I think he’s resolved to make sure she’s never feels alone again.”

Runaan bent his head. “Then I hope he succeeds.” 

“So do I.”

The moon was high in the sky by the time they came back, and Runaan had heard the others drift off one by one when they’d settled back down for sleep. Ethari, because he knew how this type of situation typically went, and Tiadrin and Lain still recovering from being coined, but Runaan could find no such peace, resisting his fatigue. Not until Rayla came back.

She did, hand in hand with her human prince, Runaan watching them through barely open eyes. Callum had given her his scarf as a sort of comfort, he supposed, her fingers curled into it as he tugged her along back over to their sleeping bags.

“C’mon,” Callum coaxed softly.

“I just feel silly,” she mumbled once she was settled in his arms, their sleeping bags and blankets bundled up around each of them. 

Callum tucked her hair behind her ears and pressed a kiss to her markings. “You wouldn’t be saying it was silly if I’d had a nightmare.”

“Well yeah, but…”

“But what?” he said patiently, if still unconvinced. 

Rayla let loose a small sigh. “Fine, you’re right, I…” She curled further into him. “Thank you.”

He kissed the top of her hair when she tucked her head under his chin, careful to avoid her horns. “I’m always here for you. You ready to try and go back to sleep, now?”

At her nod, she let his scarf rest more against her cheeks, her head against his chest and collarbone. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” 

Runaan was still awake even after they’d fallen asleep, Callum’s breath evening out after Rayla’s slowly did, staring up at the clear night sky. He’d been slowly accepting that he’d missed a lot, but this…

Maybe he’d been missing things even before he’d been trapped away in that coin.

He turned on his side, shutting his eyes. 

Things would be brighter in the morning.


He turned, looking up from where he was collecting water by the closest river, so they could boil some for breakfast. Rayla was only a few steps away from him, her hand on her wrist. That, and willingly getting close to water, meant nothing good. He stood up, corking their flask.

“What is it?”

“I know it might seem a little redundant,” she mumbled, “to go so close to home without going home, but…” 

“Uh, Spire-home or Silvergrove-home?”

“Spire,” she clarified quickly, still strangely bashful. He thought how’d quiet she’d been this morning had been a result of her nightmare last night, but… “I just think—I know we’d have to handle a bit of the Desert, but—I think my parents are still tense.”

“Okay?” he said slowly. Sometimes, Rayla explained things just as well (poorly) as she had when trying to tell him about Soren making the trap for Ezran back at the Moon Nexus.

“I was talking to them at Lux Aurea about it—” Because she did, after all, Callum thought, have plenty of interactions with them without him around. “And I think… seeing Avizandum would help them feel better about going back to the Silvergrove. Even Zym, too. So they can see what happened with their own eyes and trust that it wasn’t their fault.” 

Callum smiled softly. “And I thought you said no more detours,” he said with a light tease. He stood up fully, taking her hands as he walked them away from the river, the decision already made. “And you’re okay?”

“I’m better,” she replied, and he squeezed her hand. “It just feels… weird, when it happens around them.”

“You don’t have to be ashamed.”

“I know. And it’s not entirely that, it’s…” She sighed. “It’s fine.” He kept his eyes on her, patient, before she pursed her lips and said, “I got used to not having them, so I made sure I wouldn’t need them. And now… I’m not sure how to let myself need them, again. Even Ethari. I know he’s sorry about the Ghosting, and it was the first week after Runaan—but it still hurt to… to see him turn his back on me, however briefly. So I’ve done my best to let him back into my life, and to make him a part of our family with Ez, and I have, but… it’s not—it can’t be the same. I—I don’t know what to do now.”

He ran his thumb over hers. “You’re right. It won’t be the same, but maybe it doesn’t have to. No one expects you to just be okay with everything now that they’re back. You need time to process and adjust too, just as much as they do. There’s no shame in needing space for that.” 

“It just feels like I have to be the one handling it better. Three of them were in some kind of special Dark Magic hell for years, the other spent that time thinking his husband was dead, and…”

“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard on you.”

Rayla’s expression twisted, before she said, “I feel ungrateful.”


“I never thought I’d see any of them again. Now Runaan, my mum and dad, they’re—I get them back. I get time, more time than I ever thought—I didn’t think—” Alarm rose in his chest when her eyes welled with tears. “I get them back , because of you. I can’t give you your parents back. Every time I’m with them, and I’m happy, I just—I know more than ever what you lost, and you gave it back to me, and I can’t give it back to you.” 

“Rayla,” he said softly, even as his throat tightened. He pulled her into a firm embrace. 

“You shouldn’t even be the one comforting me right now,” she said, her words muffled in his shoulder, and he held her tighter.

“You’re allowed to have a hard time with this,” he said, “and you of all people deserve this second chance.”

“So do you.”

He pulled away slightly, resting his forehead against hers as tears spilled from his eyes. “I know. And I miss them. But I never want you to feel guilty over it. Or like you owe me something.” He took a deep breath. “There’s no price to pay, Rayla. Or repay, I guess. Not anymore.”

Her bottom lip trembled. “Even so,” she said, her voice shaking, “I wish I could give it.”

“I know. But—listen, don’t you remember that part of our vows? ‘Your happiness is my happiness’?” He pressed closer. “It’s true. Every time I see you happy with your parents, I get a piece of it. That’s not nothing, Rayla. It’s more than enough. So don’t take it away from yourself on my behalf. I want you to keep it. I want us to share it.” 

She closed her eyes, and Callum caught a fresh tear on his thumb, wiping it away. “I love you,” she croaked, and he knew it didn’t feel like it was enough. Like even those words paled in comparison to all she felt. 

“I love you too,” he said and kissed her brow. 

He held her and didn’t let go.

Chapter Text

They made it to Avizandum’s statue after another day of travelling, on the outskirts of the Midnight Desert. Callum turned away from the statue, not wanting to get any closer than he had to. Ethari planned to hang back as well, and although Runaan lowered his head in reverence to the great statue, he choose to stay behind too.

“We’ll meet you back here in a moment,” Rayla promised before she departed with her parents, and Callum watched her walk away before he turned his back on the statue for the day.

It was strange, sometimes, to be at the Spire—to learn from Ibis and to protect the Dragon royal family, in some ways—and then to look out at Avizandum. To know and see just how closely the violence of their families were intertwined.

“How is the young prince?” Ethari asked in an attempt to lighten some of the heavy silence around them. It didn’t quite work—that was Zym’s dad out there, after all—but Callum managed a tiny smile.

“Almost as big as Rayla now,” he said fondly. “Still just as prone to knocking people over for hugs. Last I heard, Queen Zubeia was trying to instill a little bit of decorum in him, but he’s family, so...”

“Family?” Runaan looked at him, his head tilted. His brow wasn’t so furrowed, and Callum took it as a good sign.

“I know. It’s strange to think about for me sometimes, too. Especially… here.” He sighed. “But we all went through a lot together. The pain all our parents inflicted on one another doesn’t have to change that. I’ll always be sorry for what happened here. And for what happened to my mother, and my stepdad,” he looked evenly at Runaan, “and you.”

Runaan’s expression was stiff. “Even when we… caused, all that?”

“Maybe especially because of that.” Callum chanced a glance towards the statue; Rayla had her arms around her parents, their heads bowed. Lain had a hand on his face, but Callum couldn’t tell why from here. It was better this way; they deserved this private moment. He turned away, looking between Ethari and Runaan. “We don’t want to spend the time we have dwelling on the pain our parents inflicted, and ultimately suffered,” he said softly. “Especially when we have the chance to change things that they either couldn’t, or refused to.” 

Runaan didn’t say anything else when Rayla and her parents walked back toward the group. Tiadrin was quiet, more so than usual, and Lain’s eyes were rimmed with red. 

“We’re ready to continue on,” Tiadrin said softly. 

“You’re sure?” Callum asked.

“Yeah,” said Rayla, gently rubbing her father’s back. “I think this was good for us. But we’re ready to go home now.”

“You’re alright?” Ethari asked Lain, and he nodded, smiling genuinely.

“Enough of looking back,” he said, straightening a little. “It’s time to go home.”

It was when Callum had gotten roped into going fishing with Lain for dinner that night, once they got far enough away from the outskirts of the Midnight Desert for there to be streams, that Runaan asked Rayla, “What happened to Callum’s family?”

Rayla gazed into the fire, her soft smile fading. “His birth father died first,” she said. “He’s still not sure how. I don’t think his Mum ever got the chance to tell him, because she…” She poked at the fire with a stick. “The Dragon King killed her.”

“What? Why?”

“Their Dark Mage convinced the king to trespass into Xadia for the heart of a Magma Titan to try and rejuvenate their land. Two of the human kingdoms were starving, Katolis included. They thought it was the only way. His mother disagreed, but she went with them anyway. She was felled on the way back. Callum was five.” She didn’t look at Runaan when she added, “And then you know what happened to the king.”

Runaan frowned. “They shouldn’t have invaded,” he said, but even he knew how unconvincing his tone was this time.

“Doesn’t matter,” Rayla said, curt. “We left the humans to struggle on their own without magic. They shouldn’t have killed the Magma Titan, and King Avizandum acted within his right as a regent, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t… senseless and unnecessary. All of it.” Her throat tightened, her voice beginning to crack. “When I learned that Mum and Dad hadn’t run away, I was so happy. But in the weeks, in the months that followed, I… I mourned them. And you, now that I had time too. It was… so awful, and I was sixteen. I can only imagine what it would be like to lose a parent—the only parent you felt truly comfortable around—as just a little boy, with a father who couldn’t be there for you the way you needed, and a baby brother who would never know her.”

Rayla wiped hastily at her eyes. “When we met, I said that the humans had attacked us unprovoked, and Callum didn’t even correct me.” She nearly smiled, sniffling a little. “He roped me into an ethics discussion instead. Talked about how this whole thing would become a cycle of hurt. Maybe it was partly to stall me, but… He was right.” She drew her knees up to her chest. “And then I found out about his Mum, and…” She let out a shaky breath. “He’s lost so much. I wouldn’t blame him if he had decided to let that pain consume him. But he didn’t. He always believed, so strongly, that any one of us could stop that cycle. No matter how lost he was, no matter how many times he was nearly broken, he never lost sight of that.” She was able to manage real smile, this time. “I never admitted it back then, but he inspired me, probably from the moment we met. He still does.”

Runaan pursed his lips, then took a deep breath. “Rayla, I—I know I have been… a bit stubborn, since learning of your relationship—”

“‘A bit’?” Rayla’s smile lifted a little, and Runaan cleared his throat.

“I can’t say I’ll understand everything right away, if ever,” he continued. “You have changed so much, yet stayed the same in all the ways I didn’t expect. He… is different, than what I thought he was. And you… you are happy.”

“I am,” she confirmed, her expression softening. 

“I don’t understand,” he repeated, “but… I am glad for you. You are good for each other.”

“Almost as good as an apology,” Rayla said cheerfully. She snorted when he frowned indignantly. “Really, though, it’s nice to hear it from you.”

“And I am… sorry, for any distress I’ve caused in all of this.”

Rayla’s brow rose. “Seriously?”

“Don’t make me repeat it.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, still a little unimpressed. “I guess I’ll take it. But I’m not really the person you should be apologizing to.”

“I know,” Runaan sighed. “One thing at a time, little Ray.”

She smiled slightly, softening despite herself. “You haven’t called me that in a long time.” 

He didn’t smile back. “I thought a lot about you, when I was… in there.”

“Runaan, you don’t have to—”

“Let me finish, please?” He took another breath when Rayla nodded. “I was angry, at first. I thought… Your hesitancy, your decision, nearly cost us the mission and I… should have at least been given the bare minimum of dying with the rest of them, especially when I made the effort to spare you from the same fate. And I did blame you. Until I blamed myself. And none of it mattered, because I still missed you. I loved you. I still do. You have always been my daughter and you always will be. No matter how much you have changed… although it does seem that you have changed… largely for the better.” He grew more stoic. “I am still withholding judgement in regards to the rest of the world.” 

Rayla smiled a little, brushing up against his side. “It’s a start,” she said softly. “Runaan?”


She wrapped one arm around his torso. “I love you too.”

“D’you mind helping me catch some?” Lain asked as he looped string through a fresh fishing pole. 

“Um…” Callum said. He’d thought his job was done with helping to carry the equipment, as they crouched by the thin river. Tiadrin and Ethari had been put in charge of the fire and setting up camp alongside Rayla and Runaan. He’d expected at most he might fry them with fulminus later, till Lain had handed him his own pole before preparing one of his own. 

Lain glanced up when Callum still hadn’t cast his line into the water. “Have you gone fishing before?” he asked.

“A few times, with my stepdad. I… wasn’t much good. Even if I had been, it’s been… a really long time.”

Lain smiled a little and shrugged. “No harm in trying if you’re up for it.”

“Even if I don’t catch anything?”

“Even so. At least we’ll have caught the river at sunset.”

Callum smiled, copying the way Lain cast his line. He didn’t get his out as far, but it wasn’t so bad, as they sat by the river, waiting. “Rayla would hate this,” Callum remarked, and Lain snorted.

“Yeah. She would. Of all the things to stay the same, that…?”

“Yeah. I think the last time we were in a boat was two years ago, and she still got sick. We had to stop and walk around anyway.” He glanced at Lain. “She can swim, though. How…?”

Lain snickered. “Runaan threw her into a river when she was six.”


“It was on the shallow end, and I went in to get her, but she managed to swim to me anyway. Paddled those little legs right into my arms. She didn’t talk to Runaan for a week.” His smile softened. “Feels like yesterday, sometimes.”

“It’s nice that you can remember all this stuff,” Callum said.

“Tia and I talked about her every day while on the Dragonguard,” he said. “We didn’t get many chances to write letters, but Runaan and Ethari and Rayla all wrote some, when they had the time, so we got glimpses of her childhood and young adolescence, at least.”

Callum’s brow furrowed, even as an idea snapped into place—he’d have to chase after it later. “Are there any embarrassing stories I should know about?” 

“I feel like I could be asking you that, actually. There’s still so much about your adventures I don’t know.”

Callum lit up. “We could trade,” he offered. 

“I won’t have nearly as many as you do.”

“It’ll still be something I haven’t heard yet.”

Lain smiled. “Alright then. But you have to go first.”

He puffed out a slight chuckle. “Alright, um… how about the first time I managed to get Rayla on a boat? It was day three. Day two? We were just coming back from making a detour at my family’s winter lodge, and…”

They were finally on their last day of travelling when she saw the sketchbook. Of course, Tiadrin had seen it—the prince carried it around everywhere—but it was only when they camped early, planning to get up at dawn to travel the final stretch to the Silvergrove to reach it by tomorrow’s nightfall that she finally saw Callum open the book across his knees, a piece of charcoal between his fingers. It smudged a little between his thumb and forefinger as he began making light strokes across the page, his expression focused. Rayla was leaning against his side, watching him. He didn’t seem self-conscious, but he wasn’t so focused that he wasn’t aware of her presence, glancing at her every so often as they spoke quietly, her free hand entangled with his. 

Tiadrin had never seen him look this concentrated yet so at peace before. Decidedly different than his focus when freeing Elgan from the last coin. It suited him better, too. They must have spent many evenings like this, from how natural it seemed. Tiadrin saw Rayla’s eyes follow the stroke of Callum’s pencil, a soft smile on her face. 

Tiadrin felt torn between wanting to know what he was drawing and not wanting to interrupt either of their peace. She decided not to ask, instead gently stoking the fire before settling into her shared sleeping back with Lain for the night. Rayla and Callum were still up when she closed her eyes; she wondered if they’d gotten much sleep at all.

She couldn’t blame them. After growing up amidst so much war and chaos, they probably took as much time as possible to themselves.

Still, they seemed rested enough the next morning as they helped pack up and feed their mounts, and were their usual selves—or what Tiadrin thought their usual selves were, anyway—even as the day wore on, dusk softly falling over the land as they reached the Silvergrove. 

Coming back to the familiar wide, arching branch, seeing the glen alcove where their home lay hidden, brought more emotions rising in her chest than Tiadrin was prepared for. Not only because she’d had to leave it, and her daughter, behind to be part of the Dragonguard, but also because she’d more than accepted that she’d never see it, or her family, again. But now they were back, relieved of duty, to stay as long as they wished. Her other old friends. Her estranged parents. What would they think of all this?

They’d Ghosted her too. 

“Tia?” Lain said quietly from behind her.

She loosed a breath. Together. They’d do this together. She placed her hand over the one he hand on her stomach, lacing their fingers together, before she pressed her shadowpaw on. 

They all stopped and dismounted, and she watched with some bemusement as Rayla and Ethari took their places at the rune circle that would soon be revealed. 

“So you don’t have to dance this time,” Rayla shot a teasing jab at her fiancé. 

“Hey, I’ve gotten better over the years.” When she stuck her tongue at him, he crossed his arms over his chest. “Y’know, if I’m still terrible, that more so reflects on your skills as a teacher, don’t you think?”

Rayla rolled her eyes and smiled at him before she glanced at Ethari, and they raised their arms at the ready. The dance was as graceful as Tiadrin remembered, although it had been so long since she’d performed it. Every Moonshadow elf had a slightly different key, certain steps changed here and there, but family units keys were designed to be complementary. Her chest filled with warmth as a soft glow surrounded them, spreading, light revealing the entrance to their home.

It had hardly changed. Soft dusk still shrouded the town, the houses domed and low to the ground or else built into rocks and trunks. Moonlight still glimmered off the tops of trees, reflecting off leaves that never fell. Large roots of trees glowed with luminescent moss and protection runes, and the entrance to Ethari’s home shone just as bright on that thick tree, the way it had so many years ago.

“Is it like you remember?” Rayla smiled. Tiadrin could only nod, taking Lain’s hand as they all made their way down into the heart of the town.

She felt everyone’s eyes on them immediately. Well, at least that was proof that they really had been pardoned, but… Her fingers itched, even as Lain held one of her hands tightly. It didn’t help all the faces were familiar. But they’d Ghosted her, and Lain, and their daughter, and… 

It was a relief to walk the short distance to Ethari’s house, speeding past the now unused enchanted pond, although Rayla and Runaan’s flowers both glowed now, and to shut the door. Tiadrin could only imagine what was running through Runaan’s head too, as he stepped into the kitchen that looked utterly unchanged from when she’d last been here, to get Rayla settled before she and Lain left. All three of them having days they’d accepted that they could never come home again, but it’d been an illusion.

This, standing here, was the reality. Her throat tightened.

“Would anyone like tea?” Ethari asked, already putting on a kettle. Callum bustled beside him, pulling down mugs. So he was familiar with the house, too. “We’re a little low, but I think we still have some if we check in the cupboard.”

“Tea’s fine,” Lain said weakly, and Tiadrin squeezed his hand. 

Callum set six mugs down on the table, two at a time as they all took a seat. “You get used to the staring eventually,” he said. 

Tiadrin managed a weak smile. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this place,” she said quietly. 

Rayla helped guide Runaan down into his chair. “That’s alright,” she said, her voice gentle and understanding. “You’ll have time to get used to it again, if you want to.” 

“What did they say,” she asked, “when they got the message from the Dragon Queen?”

“There’s not much they could say. They just undid the spell for me, at first. Then when we suspected that you might be alive… Well, just unbanishing me was enough trouble, according to the council. A Ghosting hadn’t been undone in over two hundred years, and I was making a fuss about two people who might not even have made it, but…” She shrugged. “You’d still been pardoned, so eventually we convinced everyone to do it out of principle. Some of them must be real embarrassed now.”

“It… will be good to see everyone,” Lain said slowly, “but this hasn’t been our home in years.”

“I know. If you both decide you want to go back to living in the Spire, I’m sure Queen Zubeia would be more than happy to let you live out retirement there. It’s up to you.”

Tiadrin bowed her head, her brow furrowing. “We’ll have to think about it,” she said, her voice quiet. Ethari came over to pour the tea.

“That’s alright,” Rayla assured her.

How had this happened, that her once decade old daughter was now twice that, and the one reassuring her , rather than the other way around? 

“It’s nice to be back, though,” Lain said after a few minutes. “Just, all of us. Here.”

Rayla took Callum’s hand as he took a seat next to her and smiled. “It really is.”

Shady dusk turned to night, dinner winding down, before they heard a knock at the door. Ethari stood to answer it. He pulled a robe over his nightclothes before opening it, a brisk wind slipping into the room. Rayla shivered a little in her nightgown.

“Lilen! We didn’t expect your company so late.”

“Didn’t you?” An elderly elf with long, silvery-green robes entered without invitation, her back stiff and straight. “After I’d heard about who you’d brought back, it should be a surprise that I didn’t call on you sooner.” She looked on at the table, all its occupants caught off guard in their night clothes. She snapped her fingers. “You. Mage boy.” 

Callum shot to his feet, his face nearly as red as the scarf he still wore. “Um. Yes?”

“You walked them back from their graves. Moon mages have pursued that for many centuries without success. I would not advise you to continue stepping on their toes.” The corner of Lilen’s mouth twitched. “Thank you for bringing our community back to us.” 

Callum rubbed the back of his neck. “They weren’t really dead ,” he began, but Rayla took his hand. “But, um. You’re welcome.” 

Lilen only gave a slow nod, before turning her attention on Lain. “Your mother’s been asking about you.”

Lain winced. “Has she?”

Callum sat back down. “Wait, your mother’s been here the whole time?” He looked at Rayla. “Your grandmother’s been here the whole time?”

Rayla wrinkled her nose. “I didn’t really grow up with her,” she said carefully. Before Callum could ask any more questions, she asked Lilen, “Is there anything else you want from us?”

“The council wants to have a celebration at week’s end. As community head, they had me invite you personally, as honoured guests.”

Tiadrin drew her hand to her chest, glancing between her husband and Callum. “All of us?”

Lilen nodded, her wrinkly chin wobbling slightly. “Yes, all of you,” she said, just a touch exasperated. 

“Oh. Um… Thank you, then.” 

“Just make sure you’re not late.” She gave them all a stiff nod. “Well. Goodnight.”

Rayla didn’t know who spoke first.

Grandmother —?!”

“Mum’s nerve —”

“A celebration at week’s end —”

“You’ll wake up the whole of the Silvergrove at this rate!” Ethari yelled over the noise. Callum was the only one who looked sheepish when he clamped his mouth shut.

“Oh, let them wake up,” said Runaan, throwing up a hand. “They’ve had four or more years to be rid of us, they can bear one night.” 

“They can’t seriously think this is a good idea,” Tiadrin said. “We just got back and they’re going to pretend they didn’t Ghost us—”

“I bet Mum talked them into it,” Lain muttered.

“Yeah, can we circle back to that?” Callum piped up. 

“Look, all of you,” Rayla said tersely, “it’s really not that big of a deal. They did a similar ceremony for me when I got back in. It’s a welcoming and somewhat of an apology. We’re the first Ghostings they’ve reversed in centuries . Yeah, maybe they need to alleviate some guilt, but…the gesture is there and it matters. We all know we Moonshadow elves don’t usually come outright and say sorry , now do we? As for Grandmother, she hasn’t wanted anything to do with me, same as always, and you won’t have to speak with her if you don’t want to, Mum.”

Tiadrin pursed her lips. “It’s just awfully convenient that this is all happening at once, and so soon.”

“Mine was a week after my first visit back here.” She didn’t look at Callum, although he hadn’t looked away from her, as she said, “Fine, Grandmother is old lady Lynara. The one who always looks like she wants to stab you.”

Callum blinked owlishly, and then looked at the table. “Huh. Well that makes more sense now.” He frowned. “So you technically had family here this whole time and she didn’t even try to get to know you?”

“She never approved of Mum. She was bound not to approve of me. I expect when I got Ghosted, that was exactly where she’d figured I’d end up.”

“Yeah, but—”

“It’s fine, Callum. I never grew up really knowing her, anyway. It’s always been like this. If she wants to be cranky and hate me, that’s her decision.”

Callum’s frown deepened and he crossed his arms over his chest, staying in his seat, but he didn’t say anything else.

“The ceremony won’t be too bad,” said Lain. “A little awkward, maybe, but we’ll get to see a lot of people we also missed. Old friends. They’ll be relieved and happy to see us.” 

“Even if they Ghosted us?” Tiadrin asked.

“They’ll be relieved that they were wrong?”

Rayla sighed and rested her cheek on her hand. “Mum, if you can forgive me, Runaan, and Ethari for Ghosting you, and I can forgive Ethari and the village for Ghosting me, than you can forgive the village.” 

Tiadrin frowned, but softened a little. “Fine. But I won’t like it.”

“You’re sure you’re not just upset that you’ll have to be the center of attention for a night?” Ethari asked. Tiadrin shot him a look.

“Just think of it this way, Tia,” Lain said. “It’ll be split three ways rather than just on you. Poor Rayla had to endure it all on her own.”

“I think they spent an equal amount of time staring at Callum, to be honest,” Rayla offered up dryly, and she shared a smile with her father. “If not more.”

“Really?” Callum said. “I thought it was just the kids.”

Her lips twisted into a teasing grin. “I’m sure a few of the elves my age thought you looked very interesting and rather dashing.” 

He smiled a little. “Well no wonder I didn’t notice, then, since I only have eyes for one elf.”

“I know.” She reached over to toy with the little braid in his hair. “That’s why it was so fun watching them all stare at you.”

Runaan looked at Ethari as though he’d rather be anywhere else—more so because his daughter and her betrothed were shameless flirts and less so because one was a human, now—and then stood up and cleared his throat.

“I’m going to bed,” he announced. Ethari unsuccessfully tried to hold back a snort.

“See you soon, then,” he said. 

Callum’s grin was a little bashful once Runaan left, as he looked at Rayla’s similarly coy and pleased look, but it was a grin all the same. “You’re shameless.”

“Do I need to remind you that you were the one giving heartfelt speeches before each of our first kisses?”

“You haven’t told us that story yet,” Lain said, resting his chin in his hand and propping himself up with his elbow. Rayla glanced at him.

“You seriously want to know?”

“I remember what it’s like to be young lovers. It’s sweet.” 

They both flushed, and Rayla rolled her eyes. “It’s weird when you say it.”

“I’m gonna ask later on anyway.”

“Fine.” She glanced back at Callum, smiling. “It had been a hard day,” she began, “but he wouldn’t let me be lonely…”

The weekend came far too quickly for Tiadrin’s tastes. She adjusted her tunic for the millionth time, the garment folded away for so long that the wrinkles wouldn’t quite come out.

Lain took her fidgeting hands, slipping his fingers through hers. “You look fine, love.”

“That wasn’t exactly what I was worried about,” she mumbled.

“I doubt Mum will make much of a scene. And you and Rayla can just slip away if she approaches us. It’s alright.”

“This is just so much,” she said, sitting down next to him on the guest bed. “I… I think I miss the Spire.”

He ran his thumb over hers. “Yeah?”

“It was quiet, most days. It was just us and the Guard. We had a duty and a purpose. Now… there’s so much time and so little to fill it with.” No, that wasn’t quite right. She had so much in her life. Her best friends back, her husband, her daughter and new son-in-law. A world to adjust to. She paused, trying to figure out how to rephrase. “There’s so little direction,” she settled. “I always knew what I wanted, even as a young girl. Where I was headed.” She glanced at him. “Except perhaps for you.”

Lain smiled softly. “Yes, because me saying I wanted to marry you was such a curveball.”

Tiadrin softened. “Because I was thinking I’d have to make do in my life without you,” she corrected. She leaned against him when he brought one of her hands to his lips, kissing the back of it. 

“Never,” he said quietly.

“I know.” She looked at their joined hands. “I’ve never not known what I wanted to do with my life.”

He pursed his lips, a smile tugging at him. “Couldn’t your new direction be figuring it out, then?”

She gave him a light push on the shoulder, even if she lightened. “How are you always so measured about things?”

“I have you. And someone has to balance you out, too.” 

Her eyes brightened. “You were the one thing I didn’t have planned,” she said. “And now you’re the only thing I’m sure of.”

“Maybe not the only thing,” he said gently. “We have our friends back. Our daughter has her own partner in life now. Not the family we expected, but…”

“I never could’ve planned something like this,” she agreed. 

Lain squeezed her hand. “Feel better?”

“A little, yeah.” She played with his fingers for a moment. “And how are you… balancing all this?”

“Just… trying to think about all the people I haven’t seen since we left,” he said, “and how nice it’ll be to see them again. I know it hurts, what they did to us, but we’ve all made mistakes. We missed out on watching Rayla grow up, after all. All we have now are stories.”

Tiadrin’s brow furrowed as her husband’s smile faltered. “Do you feel guilty?”

“A little. Not as bad as before, but… I don’t regret the work we did. I just wish we’d been able to have both that and our family.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Mostly I’m just glad we get a second chance.” 

“And you want to offer that too, when we’re out there with everyone else,” she realized quietly. She squeezed his hand when he nodded. “I think we can do that. Besides,” she said, brightening, “I can’t imagine what kind of small talk they’ll try with us, after everything.”

Lain let out a soft snort. “‘How was the weather in there?’ ‘From a personal perspective, what are human economics like?’”

“Stop that,” Tiadrin said, swatting him in the chest, but she was laughing now, too. 

“Moonshadow elves need to have a morbid sense of humour if nothing else,” he persisted.

As much as she loved seeing him smile, she knew he was dodging something, though. “Does that second chance extend to your mother? Your parents?”

“I… don’t know,” Lain admitted. “But I do not plan on wasting time thinking about it. I shall wait to see what my mother does before deciding how to respond.” 

“Alright, then,” she said softly. “I know that was never easy on you.”

Lain’s head lowered, just a little. “They made their choice, before we were old enough to make ours. And I made mine. Every day.” He squeezed her hand again. “It’s still the best choice I’ve ever made.”

Tiadrin’s eyes shone, and she leaned up and kissed him softly, her hand cupping his cheek, lingering before she drew away with a soft smile. “Thank you,” she murmured, “moon of my heart.”  She drew away just a little, not letting go of his hand as she stood up. “Are we ready?”

He stood with her, the way he always had. “Ready whenever you are, love.”

Callum only vaguely remembered the celebration that had been thrown in Rayla’s honour, just a couple of years ago. It had gone by in such a whirlwind back then, and he’d mostly kept to the side, watching the community welcome her back into the fold, there to be a touchstone whenever she was overwhelmed. This time wasn’t much different; there was still a group dance around the fountain as a symbol of the celebrants taking their role back in the community (he still couldn’t get all the steps right) before an open dinner and more optional dancing. 

The young elf children ran around, just excited for a more lighthearted celebration, some asking Callum if they could feel the top of his head or the tips of his ears, and he occasionally let them. For the most part, he stayed beside Rayla, now as much of a support figure as him as they watched her three formerly missing parents be swarmed with old friends and questions. 

“How many different levels of stiffness does Runaan have?” Callum whispered to her, as said former assassin gave awkward smiles to old friends, Ethari doing most of the conversational navigating; Runaan seemed to be on at least a level six stiffness level, if Callum was gauging right. 

“I want to say thirteen, but there’s always room for him to surprise us.” She smiled when Callum bit back a laugh. “Ethari says Runaan and Mum have always been like that. But especially Runaan.”

“They must’ve gotten along as kids, then.”

Rayla chuckled. “Nope. Hated each other. They were in the same year for a lot of our combat classes and were always either beating each other or coming in second to one another. Had quite the rivalry.”

“Oh. Then how did—?”

“Dad and Ethari were childhood friends.” They watched Tiadrin and Runaan share a panicked look as a more boisterous elf came with endless questions, and Rayla smiled. “Once Dad and Mum were together, and then Runaan and Ethari, they couldn’t avoid each other. They’ve been best friends ever since.”

“That’s kind of sweet.” Callum cracked a grin. “And it sounds like exactly the sort of way Runaan would end up making a best friend too.” 

They watched Runaan stiffen again—a seven this time, easily—as Tiadrin’s hand went to her forehead and Lain smiled uncomfortably. “What do you think was said?”

“It could be anything, depending on who said what. Should we go save them?”

“Not yet.”

Callum grinned. “This is entertaining for you, isn’t it?”

“Maybe a little.”

They watched Runaan’s shoulders ease once the number of well-wishers began to subside, Tiadrin patting his shoulder sympathetically without even having to look at him. Ethari said something they couldn’t hear, but it must have been some bad joke, and Lain guffawed, Runaan rolled his eyes fondly, and Tiadrin’s hand went to her forehead.

Rayla smiled. “It’s nice to see them all together. I didn’t actually get a chance to much as a kid.”

“Your parents… stopped coming around when you were ten, right?”

She nodded. “I think they’re going to be okay, though. All four of them.” 

He took her hand, their fingers locking easily. “All six of us?” 

She gave his hand a squeeze. “All six of us.”

The night had almost been fine. At least, Tiadrin had survived all the welcomes and questions and awkward pauses through the knowledge that these people had Ghosted them, and it seemed like it would be fine. She danced when Lain pulled her in, got to watch her daughter and clumsy future son-in-law attempt what she assumed was a slower, less intricate human dance, and the night had seemed… almost nice.

And then Lynara had approached them.

“Can I run yet?” Tiadrin asked under her breath.

“If I can come too,” Lain replied. This almost made her smile, and at the very least, it was enough for her to stay. (As if she’d ever leave his side.)

His mother hadn’t changed much since the last time Tiadrin had seen her, over twenty-five years ago, now. Wrinklier, with stumpy shoulders and a wooden cane almost as knobbly as her hands, but still the same intelligent amber eyes of her son and shocking white hair, cropped close to her chin, with a similar swoop. 

“Son,” she said, rather stoutly. “It’s good to see you.”

Lain managed a weak smile. “It’s good to see you too, mother.”

Lynara frowned, her eyes flickering over. “Tiadrin.”


“And it’s so good to see Tia, too!” Lain tried, wrapping his arm around his wife. “Isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s a relief that you both going off didn’t have to be your downfall, after all,” Lynara said crisply, and Tiadrin resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Although I see you haven’t kicked the human out.” 

Tiadrin’s jaw clenched, and she stepped forward. “Why would we?”

“You can’t honestly approve,” Lynara said. “After everything they’ve done. And what will be said of your daughter?”

“You mean by bigots like you?”

Lynara’s nostrils flared. “I beg your pardon?”

“Don’t pretend to care for your only granddaughter now. You’ve always hated me and you’ve always taken that out on her, I doubt your ‘disapproval’ of her relationship will be important at all. She’s seen us deal with it, and she’s even stronger. They’ll be fine, even without the love and support you should have given her and them this entire time.” She took a breath, taking Lain’s hand and pressing a quick kiss to it. “I’ll see you later.” She walked away, her chest still burning, only softened when she felt Lain’s fingers against hers again only a few seconds later.


They stopped beneath the stairway back up to Ethari’s. “You didn’t have to come with me.”

“Of course I did.” He sighed. “She shouldn’t have said those things.”

“She only said two things,” Tiadrin said with a weak smile.

“That was enough, clearly.” His hand slipped back into hers. “You’re okay?”

Tiadrin frowned. “I guess there’s no hope for some people,” she said.

“Maybe. But it doesn’t mean there’s no hope.” He smiled a little. “We get to give Rayla something we never had.”

“I suppose that’s true.” 

They glanced back towards the crowd. “How do you think they’re doing?”

It was hard to make out, at first, but then she saw Callum’s distinctive mop of brown hair in the crowd. He was bent down in front of some children, using Moon magic to create starry illusions of various animals. They looked like silvery, moving constellations, taken out of the night sky. Rayla was next to him, her mouth moving and her gestures animated. The tightness in Tiadrin’s chest eased.

“I think they’ll be fine. No matter how many enemies they make, maybe they’ve changed the world enough for it to be ready for them.” She smiled a little. “I’m just glad we can give them the support we never had. At the very least, we can try to.” She grinned when she noticed him watching. “You wanna see what story they’re telling?”

“Other than my mother, there’s no reason for us to leave early.” Lain beamed when Tiadrin took his arm. “Shall we?”

“Lead the way.”

It was late when they all finally retired to Ethari and Runaan’s home. Rayla and Callum went to their bedroom as soon as they were inside, the latter drained after both socializing and using magic when he was supposed to be resting. (None of them had the heart to stop him; it had made the children so happy, after all.) The others had some late night tea, Ethari and Lain preparing mugs at a slow pace.

“So… You saw your mother,” Ethari said.

“I did.”

“...How was that?”

Lain let out a soft snort, leaning against the counter. “Pretty short-lived. Took her maybe two minutes before she was casting her judgment and disapproval.”

“Rayla or Tiadrin this time?”

“Callum, actually.” He sighed. “Tia got upset and told her off. I don’t blame her. I told Mother to mind what she says about our family before going after her.”

Ethari smiled a little. “‘Our family’?”

“Well, he is. He’s marrying our daughter, and… He’s already done so much for this family. More than she ever did.”

Ethari took the kettle off the heat before it could whistle. “Must be hard,” he said, “seeing your mother try to do the same thing she did to you and Tiadrin.”

“Maybe?” Lain shrugged. “She was never part of Rayla’s life, not really. Just avoided us as much as she could in such a small town. ‘M just glad Rayla gets a mother that sticks up for her and her relationship.”

“You should’ve had that too.”

“I know.” 

Ethari began pouring hot water into the mugs, the small bags of tea leaves rising to the top of each cup. Tendrils of steam escaped into the cool air before disappearing into nothing. “I still remember the day you told her,” he said, “like it was yesterday.”

Lain smiled a little. “Do you?”

“I thought you’d gone mad when you came storming into my family’s home. You spend six years with eyes for only one girl but make no moves towards any proper courting and suddenly you come in telling me you’d confessed everything you felt to her. That you didn’t care what your parents said.” Ethari’s smile softened. “That you loved her.”

“I was more surprised she didn’t already know.”

“And then you’re begging for a place to stay for the night, because her mother came back before you could get a reply, and you’re not sure you can handle seeing your parents after all that.”

Lain took a mug, pulling the teabag out. “I thought it was the hardest thing, back then,” he said. “Just having the judgment and disapproval of family. I never would have been able to imagine it from total strangers.”

“Well… They don’t have the judgment and disapproval of their family, this time.” Ethari glanced back into the dining hall, where an exhausted Runaan and Tiadrin were chatting, leaning back in their chairs as if after a long battle. “Even if one of us won’t quite admit it yet.”

“Just strangers, then.” Lain smiled. “We can handle that.” He chewed his bottom lip next, eyes shifting. “How was it when Rayla came back?”

Ethari’s smile faltered. “I think out of all of us, I failed her the most.”

Lain’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“She was still Ghosted, when I first saw her. Only saw her reflection, at first. I was...angry. I’d just lost Runaan, and… I blamed her. I thought we were all the other had left in the world, and I still turned away from her.”

“Not for long.”

“Only for a few minutes,” he admitted, his expression twisting. “But I shouldn’t have done so at all.” 

Lain sighed. “I’m sure she forgives you. I know she does.”

“Even so. Sometimes I wonder, if Callum hadn’t been there, if she’d been alone and run off before I could start to make it right…”

“Callum was there?”

The corners of Ethari’s mouth twitched. “I didn’t know he was there, at first. I only saw him after I did a small spell, to see her again. Wearing some kind of ridiculous elf getup I suspect he’d made himself, too. It turns out he’d shouted at me earlier, on her behalf.” Ethari’s smile turned sad. “He didn’t think Ghosting was a fair practice.” 

“I can’t blame him.” Lain looked at Ethari. His oldest friend, who’d Ghosted him years ago. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know. We always said it was to protect our community. To keep it free of corruption and self-interest. But…” Ethari looked back at him. “It broke our community and our family apart.”

“I don’t know the answer, either,” Lain said with a faint smile. “And I was on the other end of it. I grew up my whole life thinking it was necessary, because… I never thought it would happen to my family.”

“We regret doing it,” Ethari said. “Every day.”

“I know. But family doesn’t hold grudges. Don’t hold it against yourselves.”

Ethari smiled. “I know. Thank you. I’m just glad we all get a second chance.”

“Me too.” 


He looked up as Ethari approached the breakfast table, the rest of them settled in and just beginning to wake up with a cup of morning tea. “Yes, sir?”

“Your surprise is ready.” 

“My…? Oh!” He glanced at Rayla. “Right now?”

“Your toast isn’t gonna run away while you’re gone,” she smiled. “Go on. I’m sure you’ll come rushing back to show it to us soon enough.” 

Callum quickly pecked Rayla on the lips before getting up and following Ethari out to his work station through a narrow hallway near the back of the house. “Thank you,” he said as they approached the room. “You really didn’t have to do all this.”

Ethari opened the door, his eyebrows raised as he smiled. “You don’t even know what it is yet.”

“I know you must have worked on it for a long time. And that…” Callum hesitated. “The only people you really make things for now is… your family.” 

His smile softened. “Well, you’re not wrong. Now come along and close your eyes when you step inside.” 

Callum bounced a little on the balls of his feet, before stepping inside and closing his eyes. “Okay. I’m ready.”

“Hold out your hands, palms up. It’s a little heavy.”

He did so, bracing himself for the weight as his hands closed around cool metal. It felt like a pipe or a rod, most of the weight at one end as he tried to keep it upright. 

“Open your eyes,” Ethari said, and Callum did just that, before they widened as he looked at the staff in his hands. 

It was long and silver, intricately crafted, with thin spirals all along it, mimicking the ones on Rayla’s horns, and yet something entirely unique, too. There were grooves for where he was supposed to hold it and two hollow rods with tips that curved upwards, seemingly built for when he needed to channel two arcanums, deliberately built not to cross the streams. On the face of the staff were small jewels, sapphires and rubies for his mother’s family crest—how Ethari had learned that, Callum didn’t know; Amaya, maybe?—and for his brother and Katolis, respectively. His throat tightened.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said softly.

“I know the past few months have been hard on you,” Ethari began. “Harder than you’ll say. You’ve had to slay your ghosts, both literally and figuratively. And in all of that, you’ve still spent so much of your energy taking care of others, of my daughter. Of… your family. Elves and humans.” Ethari placed a hand on Callum’s shoulder, his eyes shining. “You brought me back my love, and a joy I haven’t known in years. I can sit at that table by the kitchen and not dread its emptiness anymore. This place… feels like a home again. And I know that even if I were not the father of the woman you love, you would have done all you did for me anyway.” 

Callum’s voice grew a little weak. “Ethari…”

“I know you lost your first father when you were too young to know him,” Ethari said, eyes still shining, even if he seemed a little more unsure now. Not meaning what he said any less, but nervous of how to go about saying it. “And that your relationship with your second was complicated. Largely thanks to my husband. And I do not know if you would even want a third, but—know that I think of you, in that way. As my son.” 

Callum set the staff on the table and hugged him, his eyes burning. Ethari slowly hugged him back, feeling his shoulders shake alongside his scarf, before Ethari reached up and cupped the back of his head, and they stayed like that for a while. His hand fell away when Callum drew back, mopping at his eyes with his scarf, and Ethari looked momentarily worried, before Callum beamed at him. 

Thank you ,” he said. “So much. For—for everything.” He glanced back and picked up the staff, turning it over in his hands again, marvelling at it. He looked up at Ethari, brimming again. “It’s gorgeous. You really didn’t have to do this.” 

“Tell me how it is, when you’re able to use it,” he said. “I’ve never made mage staff before, but Ibis was very helpful in the notes he sent.” 

Callum let out a soft chuckle. “I’ll have to thank him then, too.” He set the tail end on the ground, his fingers settling into the grooves. The head was level with his shoulder, his arm bent comfortably as he held it. Everything about it felt exactly right, and his eyes began to sting again. “You know,” he said softly, “there was a time I thought I would never feel quite right, or like I belonged, anywhere. That time is gone now.” 

Ethari smiled. “It suits you,” he said. “And if I have had some small part in it—”

“You have.”

“Then I’m glad.” Ethari squeezed his shoulder gently. “You will always have a home here.”

“I know. Thank you.” Callum rocked back and forth on his heels slightly.

Ethari’s smile grew amused. “You want to go show Rayla the staff, don’t you?”

“She hasn’t seen it yet?”

“She knew I was making one, but no.” 

“And… staves are allowed at the kitchen table?”

“I’ll make an exception today.” Callum turned and moved towards the door, quickly, before he looked back and purposefully slowed himself down, but Ethari just laughed and waved him off. “Go on. I’ll catch up.” 

Callum beamed, before heading back to the kitchen, a lightness in his chest. The warmth inside him only grew as he showed it to Rayla and the others, everyone’s comments and questions overlapping in a symphony of sound. Even Runaan smiled. He couldn’t wait to show it to Ezran later.

He’d almost forgotten what a normal family felt like. Now he’d never have to forget again.

Chapter Text

It was their fourth night staying at Ethari’s, once they’d been welcomed back into the Silvergrove properly, that made Tiadrin more anxious to make a decision. 

“It’s just Ethari,” Lain said, but Tiadrin shook her head.

“It’s not just that. If we stay here, it’s a non-decision. We can’t just stay here and put off trying to figure out where to go. If we get our own home again, here, it means we’re… not going back to the Spire. Not as a home, anyway.”

Lain sat down beside her on the side of their bed. “What are we gonna do, then? What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. I thought you’d have a preference?”

He smiled a little. “You know I’m happy being wherever you are. You’re the one that always talks about missing the quiet and the purpose back at the Spire.”

“But we wouldn’t have that same kind of purpose,” she said. “We’re not joining the Dragonguard again. I mean, I suppose we still could, but…”

“It feels like it belongs to a new generation,” Lain agreed. “But you still like it there?”

“Yeah. But I like it here too. We have our friends again, and… It’s been a long time since we’ve been a part of a full community.”

“You really can’t decide?”

Tiadrin shook her head. “I hate not knowing what to do,” she muttered, and Lain chuckled, kissing the side of her head.

“We have time to decide.”

“Too much time,” she continued, drifting off into a mumble. 

“Enough time for you to not have to worry about it.”

She pursed her lips. “Rayla and Callum are going back to the Spire in a few weeks. We should decide by then, so if we do decide to leave, we can go with them.”

“Okay. That sounds like a good plan. And I’m sure you’ll be making lists of pros and cons till then?”

Tiadrin glanced at him. “You’re really not worried about this?”

He shook his head. “We’re with our family, Tia. No matter where we go, we will always be with family. There are pros and cons to staying here and pros and cons to going somewhere else, but it’s best not to dwell and worry about something until we have to, isn’t it?”

“I suppose not.”

He searched her face. “You’re going to worry about it anyway, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.” She smiled a little when he pressed a quick kiss to the tip of her nose. “Slightly less now.” 

“And if it helps, we can surprise Ethari and Runaan by making dinner tonight. How does that sound?”

Tiadrin’s smile grew. It had been too long since such a simple, domestic thing had been suggested. “That sounds perfect.”

Runaan brought in the weekly Summons after lunchtime. They were pieces of paper, enchanted, carried usually by shadowhawks or silvery wisps from fellow neighbours. Moonshadow elf villages were secretive even from each other, and always on the smaller side, but there was some business best conducted private, or not in person, either way. He handed the Summon over to his old friend at the table.

This one, silver mist rising off a rolled up scroll of parchment, bore the imprint of Lain’s key. Or his old one, anyway. His brow furrowed as he opened it, his eyes scanning the page. The silver mist had dissipated by the time he finished reading it, but there was still a slight crease in his brow. Tiadrin sat down beside him.

“What is it?”

“My mother.”

Tiadrin looked over his shoulder. “What?”

“They want us to go to dinner,” he said slowly.

“They didn’t even apologize to you, I can’t believe—what do you mean, us ?”

Lain took a breath. “Me. You. Rayla.”

Rayla frowned over her bowl of soup. “What about Callum?”

“I mean, am I upset about being excluded from a likely very awkward and angry family encounter?” Callum said. “I think I can live with it, Ray.” 

“After everything, they’re inviting us over?” Tiadrin asked flatly. “Incredible.”

“Maybe this is their way of apologizing for everything?” Callum suggested.

“Could I just not go?” Rayla asked. “Say that if they don’t want my fiancé, then—”

“Rayla, they might be trying to make things better. You should go.”

She sighed at him. “I haven’t seen my grandmother since I was four years old. She could’ve reached out to me at any time, but didn’t. I’m only being invited now as an accessory, same as Mum.” 

Callum’s brow furrowed. “What happened when you were four?”

“She called me a little snotty nosed brat for jumping on the sofa, and that was the last time we were ever over for tea.” 

He considered, squinting. “Alright, maybe she doesn’t deserve you.” 


“Rayla.” Lain’s face was slightly torn. “Please?”

Rayla pouted a little. “If they say anything offensive, I’m leaving. The older generation can’t get away with saying whatever they want just because they’re older.”

“That’s fine,” Lain said tiredly, and Rayla softened.

“I’ll be there, Dad. Mum and I will be there.”

Lain gave her an appreciative smile. “Thank you.” He shared a glance with Tiadrin, before he said, “Callum should come, too.”

Callum’s mouth dropped open. “I—”

“Only if you want to come,” he added quickly. “My parents are… a lot to deal with. But you are also part of this family.”

Callum pursed his lips and looked at Rayla. “It’s your call, love. You want me there?”

She smiled softly, nodding as she took his hand. “I do.”

He smiled back, before turning back to Lain and Tiadrin. “Alright. I’ll go.” 

Lain and Tiadrin were beaming. “Thank you.” Lain said. “We’ll do whatever we can to make this as easy on you as possible.”

“Ah,” Callum shrugged, “what’s one more battle?”

Nearly over at the door, it turned out. Lynara opened the door, took one look at Callum, and Rayla half thought her grandmother would slam the door in their faces, as her expression soured. But Lynara didn’t and merely frowned heavily, and opened the door further by a crack.

“Come in,” she grouched, keeping her eyes on her son.

Lain’s smile was a little too tight as they walked in, and Rayla kept her arm firmly in Callum’s. She only held on tighter when she saw her grandfather in an armchair. He was as old and grumpy as his wife, grizzly and his white hair greying, which was unusual but not unheard of for elves. Not for the first time, she wondered how someone as sweet tempered as her father had come from parents like these. She’d met him once as a child, for maybe five minutes. As far as she could remember, he’d always been this lined and miserable looking.

The room itself was an open concept kitchen, although the large wooden table in the centre of the room had only been set for five, not six, and with chairs placed accordingly.

“We don’t have enough chairs,” Lynara began, but Tiadrin took a seat in one of the nearby empty armchairs.

“I’ll be just fine here,” she said evenly. 

“And the, ah—” Lynara looked back at Callum. “Human?”

Lain sighed. “He has a name, Mother. Callum, this is my mother, Lynara, and my father, Orian. Mother, father, this is Prince Callum of Katolis, and Rayla’s intended.” 

“He’ll sit next to me,” Rayla said simply. “Like always.” They sat together at the dining table, Lain taking the seat next to his mother. If he was uncomfortable, he didn’t show it, likely for Callum’s sake; she’d have to thank him later.

Lynara pursed her lips. No one made a move to grab any of the food at the center of the table till Lain slowly reached for a bread roll. After that, everyone followed, even if Rayla had to nudge Callum to take something. Tiadrin and Rayla’s grandfather got up from their seats closer to the living room to take something, and they way they avoided one another wasn’t missed.

“We were surprised when we received the news of your pardon from the Dragon Queen,” Lynara said, “even if all it resulted in at the time was an honourary funeral.”

Rayla resisted the urge to cringe. Really? She was starting with that?

“Oh, that’s… awkward,” Lain said. “Thank you, Mother, for the reminder.” 

“You’re quite welcome, dear.” 

“We were relieved that you hadn’t deserted after all,” Rayla’s grandfather added. (She couldn’t quite remember his name, even if it was on the tip of her tongue.) 

“It must’ve been hard, though, when you thought they were gone,” Callum said. There was an uncomfortable silence as they looked at him. “I mean,” he continued, his voice wavering a little, “he’s your child, it… I know how hard it is to lose family. And I’ve heard it’s worse for parents, and um...” Rayla could practically feel him struggling not to squirm. “It… must be nice to have them back?”

“It’s been wonderful,” Rayla said, swooping in to save him and laying her hand over his. She didn’t trust her grandparents to speak appropriately. She fixed a stern eye on them. “And it’s thanks to Callum that you got them back, isn’t that lovely?”

“Considering the fact it was his father’s fault they were taken in the first place,” her grandfather said snidely, “it really is just a debt repaid.” 

Callum went incredibly still. Rayla’s jaw clenched, but before she could say anything, Lain said, “We don’t have debts in our family. Callum has done nothing wrong.”

“But his father—”

“Isn’t it exhausting, keeping people accountable for what their ancestors or parents did?” Tiadrin snapped. “Especially when their children have done everything they can to rectify it. Rayla spent years having to carry something that both wasn’t her fault and didn’t even happen because Moonshadow elves like you judge too harshly and too quickly.”

Lynara’s expression turned stony. “Yes, well, you’ve always been one to abandon your own kind, haven't you?” 

“Mother,” Lain said firmly, “that’s enough—”

“What? I am merely saying—”

“Yes,” Callum said flatly, now glaring, “because it is not as though the unprecedented time of peace and prosperity for both of our peoples, the state of the world better than it has been for hundreds of years, isn’t in large thanks to Tiadrin and Lain carrying out their duty to the very end, and allowing us to have a chance at healing the world that’s been broken for too long. I am not saying that you are wrong to be mistrustful of reasons. You think I trust every elf I see? So you sit here, bitter and prideful and angry, and looking for someone to take it out on, even though you haven’t lost everything, like some people, like me ,  because it’s easier than looking at yourself. The rest of us have changed. Maybe it’s time you did too.”

Rayla’s grandfather rose to his feet. “How dare you come into our home and—”

“What, and defend your own family from you?” Callum said, rising across the table. “Why did you invite them here if you’re just going to insult them? She’s your son’s wife—they died together—and she’s your granddaughter, and you just left her for years—what sort of parent does that? My stepfather was a flawed man, but at the very least, he loved us. I can hardly say the same for you.” 

Rayla looked around the table at all the slack-jawed faces, except for her mother’s; if she didn’t know any better, Tiadrin almost looked like she was smiling. She took Callum’s hand but didn’t try to pull him down or hold him back. 

Then, after blinking a few times, Lain cleared his throat. “That was… very well said, Callum.”

He looked away from her grandparents to her father, his face softening. “Thank you, sir.” 

“He does raise an interesting question,” Rayla said slowly. She looked at her grandmother, a woman who had always been little more than a stranger. “Why did you invite us over? You never have before; you certainly have never wanted anything to do with me or Mum before. You could’ve invited just Dad, but you didn’t. So why? To convince yourselves we deserved how you treated us, after all?” 

“I thought I lost my son,” Lynara snapped. “Years ago. Before you were ever born.” There was a slight tremor in her chin. “And then I really did lose him. Our only child.” She turned her glare on Callum. “You think we don’t love our child? We spent years losing part of him every single day, till we thought he was gone for good. And now, when we open our doors to his family, they bring a human, the son of the man who took him from us, with them, the woman who did too?”

“Mother,” Lain said, his voice a little more gentle. “They’re my family too, now.” He sighed. “I had no idea you felt that way.”

“We wanted what was best for you,” Lynara said, and Rayla swore she heard a crack in the old woman’s voice. “You were always too soft. Too trusting.”

“No, he’s not,” Tiadrin said, getting up from her seat. She stood by her husband, taking his hand. “He’s perfect. He always has been.”

Lain smiled a little. “She never took me away, Mother. I chose to go. I didn’t want to have to choose between the both of you. But when I married someone different that what you wanted for me, had a family different than what you wanted for me…” He sighed. “The fact that you invited them along. You want to try. I know you do, deep down.”

Lynara and her husband shared a glance, and she let out a shaky huff. “If you hadn’t brought that human along—”

“This is what I mean,” Lain said tiredly. “Now your granddaughter is marrying someone other than who you would have wanted, and this is how you’re acting, instead of seeing how well she chose for herself. She chose for herself better than any of us could. And I am so proud and happy for them,” he smiled, and Rayla’s chest filled with warmth. “Why can’t you do the same? For me and her?”

Lynara remained stony. “Your father and I will never accept a human into our family.”

Rayla’s chest burned. “Callum, we’re going.” As they turned to leave, Lain and Tiadrin followed. It no longer surprised Rayla, but was a comfort all the same.

“I am very disappointed in you,” she heard Lain say to her grandparents, before he shut the door behind them. “Sorry we missed dinner,” he said, catching up with them. He looked at Callum. “And I’m sorry about them.”

Callum smiled a little. “Don’t worry about me. I just… can’t believe they would rather lose all of you than…” 

Rayla softened. Her good, kind human, always thinking of everyone else. “It’s their loss, not ours.” She glanced up at her parents. “How about we grab a Moonberry surprise on the way back?”

“That sounds wonderful,” Tiadrin said. “I don’t think I would’ve eaten any of your grandmother’s food anyway.”

“Poison?” Rayla asked.

Tiadrin’s lips twitched, and so did Lain’s. “Something like that.”

Lain squeezed her hand. “Moonberry surprise it is.”

Still, whatever happiness they’d mustered up at supper was gone by the time they got back to Runaan and Ethari’s. They stayed up with some quiet late night tea before Callum and Rayla retired to their guestroom early, the parents left in the living room.

“So I take it the dinner didn’t go well?” Ethari said finally.

“Well, no,” Lain said, “but that wasn’t the surprising part of the evening.” He flopped down into a chair at the kitchen table, less graceful than Ethari had ever seen him. “Callum has a spine . I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone render my mother or my father shocked into silence before.” 

Ethari looked at Tiadrin. “He really…?”

Tiadrin grinned. “Went after each of them, actually. Oh, it was amazing to see the looks on their faces.” 

Lain looked up at her. “Wait, you knew?”

Tiadrin nodded. “Caught him chewing out Runaan back at Lux Aurea.”

Runaan crossed his arms over his chest. “He did not chew me out, Tiadrin, he—”

“Had you shaking in your boots? Because I remember very clearly—”

“He… discussed some matters with me,” Runaan said. “Regarding our interactions around Rayla.”

“If I’m doing my math right, then,” said Ethari, smiling a little, “then the only people he hasn’t chewed out of our family is Lain and Tiadrin. You two better watch your backs.” 

Lain looked up. “Ethari, you too?”

“Before you got out, but yes. It was the first thing he ever said to me, actually.”


“Well, I didn’t hear it, but he admitted it later. He, uh,” Ethari’s smile faded, “was speaking up in regards to Rayla’s Ghosting, at the time.” There was no point in dwelling on that for long, though, at least not tonight. Not after so much had already happened. “I trust he was chewing them out on your behalf, too?” At Lain and Tiadrin’s nod, Ethari smiled again, wider this time. “Welcome to his family, then.” 

Lain smiled a little. “It’s good to know the feeling is mutual, then.” 

They didn’t fall asleep. Not for a while, instead cuddling up under the covers as they stared up at the ceiling, feeling the other breathe.

“You’re really okay?” Rayla checked. 

“I am,” Callum replied. “Are you?”

“I am.” Her fingers ran along four of his. “They would’ve found some other excuse to reject us in the end.”

“I know you’re trying to make me feel better, which, again, I’m fine, but that isn’t exactly comforting.”

Rayla let out a soft snort. “I’m just saying, they’ve always been like that. I can’t even remember my grandfather’s name, that’s how distant they’ve always been.” She tilted her head up, her chin resting against his shoulder as she looked at his face. “Besides, we’d much rather have you than them.”

“I just feel bad for your dad,” Callum admitted quietly.

“He made his choice years ago with my mum. My grandparents are the ones who decided to have swords up their asses about it. It’s nothing new, love.” 

He couldn’t quite manage a smile. “It’s just not fair. To any of you. I just… I can’t believe there are people who give up on their family so easily, especially when, you know, their family is like, good . Some people have to fight so hard for love, and their only obstacle is themselves, and they still won’t change. Or even see that they need to.”

“It is a shame,” she agreed quietly. “But it’s not your problem to fix, or your fault.” 

“I know it’s not my fault, I’m just… a little used to better outcomes, I guess.”

She reached up to rest her hand on the far side of his jaw. “You can’t win ‘em all, Callum.” 

“I sort of hoped that they’d turn around for you guys.”

“They won’t. And that’s their fault. Not yours.” She smiled softly, running the pad of her thumb along his cheek. “A family never has to stop growing, I know that. You taught me that. But our family is also complete, as it is now. My grandparents can’t ever change that. We were fine without them, and we’re still fine now.”

Callum looked at her intently, searching her face for any faltering. “Actually fine?”

“Actually fine,” Rayla confirmed. “I promise. It went about as well as I thought it would. A little bit better even.”


“The looks on their faces were priceless .” 

Callum tried and failed to bite back a grin. “Chewing out your grandparents isn’t exactly what I was hoping for.”

“No, but it was entertaining.”

“Ah yes, why else would you keep me around?”

“Your dashing good looks? The cute little lip bite you do when you laugh very hard? How you’re the most compassionate and wonderful person I know—next to Ez, that is.”

His smile softened peacefully, spreading across his face as she gazed up at him, a fond and loving smile on her own face. “I love you,” he said softly. It still amazed her that nearly four years later, he could still give her butterflies.

“I love you too,” she murmured. 

His lips curled and he leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose. “Then we’ll be just fine.” 

Her eyelashes fluttered against his cheek as she smiled, leaning up a little to press a quick kiss to his mouth. “I know.” 

One of the good things about being back in the Silvergrove, Tiadrin did find, was that it allowed for some privacy. Lux Aurea had been strange and unfamiliar, the road winding and lovingly occupied by family, but it was nice to sit with Lain and have the sort of private conversations they’d grown so accustomed to at the Spire. Back before it had become the resting place of their king.

Callum isn’t coming? She’d barely seen the boy leave her daughter’s side, much less to choose to spend that time with Runaan (and alright, Ethari was there too, but still) instead. But he showed no interest in walking to the statue with them. 

Rayla’s smile had been sad. Once was enough for him

“Tia?” Lain’s fingertips gently touched hers as she looked up at the sound of his voice.

“We can’t go back to the Spire,” she said softly, “can we?”

His fingers slipped between hers, and he held her hand gently. “It’s not the same,” he agreed. “But… nothing is.”

“But when we look out, we’ll always have to see…” Her eyes stung and she took a steadying breath. “Besides, it’s… regardless of how long they stay there—” After all, eventually their daughter and future son in law would settle down somewhere, properly, or perhaps travel, but… the Spire was no place for raising children, and she had a feeling they were meant for more, anyway. “It is Rayla and Callum’s place now. They’ve made it their own.”

Lain smiled a little. “If I have to give it to anyone, I’m glad to give it to them.”

“And we can make our own new place,” Tiadrin continued, even as her heart-rate quickened. “Right here. Where it’s changing, but doesn’t have to keep us stuck in the past. Where we can build a stronger foundation for the new family we’re making, the family they’re making. We never got to, before, but now…” Her expression was set. “We can have a place near here built. Closer to the ground. Somewhere near the adoraburr meadow. We can help Runaan and Ethari adjust, too, and then whenever Rayla and Callum want to come back, we’ll all be right here. And whenever they have little ones, they won’t have to climb all those stairs, and they can all visit the meadow together. And after everything, the both of us having a place that’s small and simple and quiet…”

Lain squeezed her hand. “It sounds perfect, love.”

“Perfect…” Tiadrin’s gaze drifted away from their window to his face. Hope was so quiet in her throat it almost felt like fear. “Do you really think we’ll get to have it?” 

“I think we’re already building it.”

Something in her chest trembled. “We’ve already made so many mistakes.”

“And maybe we’ll make more. But we did our best, and it all got us here. And if it is any consolation… I am nervous too.”

“You are?”

Lain nodded. “I did not expect any of this either. But all we can do is appreciate the time given to us, and I intend to. We’ll figure it out. We always do.” 

Tiadrin rested her head on his shoulder. “We do,” she agreed. She smiled a little. “So… it’s decided?”

“It is.” He kissed the side of her head. “I’m proud of you, Tia.”

Her lips twisted wryly. “You were just waiting for me to get here, weren’t you?”


Whatever had been trembling in her chest stopped, and eased. Her heart, maybe, beating in sync with his. “Because you knew I had time,” she said softly.

“And I’ll be here to remind you as often as you need.” He pressed his lips to her hairline. “It’s like I told you when we were young: I’ll wait till you accept the gifts you deserve. Always.”

She smiled a little. “I still have trouble accepting good things sometimes, don’t I?”

“Good thing those things aren’t going away.”

Tiadrin leaned into him. “We’re not already dead,” she whispered.

“We’re not already dead,” he echoed. “We’re alive.” 

Tears sprang to her eyes as she let go of his hand to wrap her arms tight around his waist. She wasn’t sure she’d ever let go. “We’re alive.”

They were settled into their own place within a week, thanks both to having very little to bring with them and having a family so eager to help. Callum used some of what he knew with sunforgery, alongside the moon arcanum, to make sure their lanterns would always be well lit at perfect brightness. Rayla helped them hang twine and Ethari lent old furniture which Runaan aided in carrying in. The Silvergrove always had old family homes and places to shift and move into with little concern, the village adapting as members came and went. Most never left for long, and always with the expectation of a return, but…

Going back to the house they had lived in before leaving for the Dragonguard would have felt like a step back, Lain thought. It was nice to have a true fresh start, even if they would have to adjust to it.

They all sat down in their little living room when they were finally done, Ethari already in their kitchen making everyone tea.

“It’s really nice,” Callum said, not for the first time that day, as they looked around at their handiwork. 

Some enchanted twine twinkled with bits of glowing moss, and it hung from the top of each wall, shining like stars. There was minimal decor, but a few things were displayed on shelves and table tops, including some sketches Callum had made of their family recently, a few faded pictures from their youth, and a couple of old wooden carvings Rayla had attempted as a child that Ethari never had the heart to throw away. Even if Rayla had grumbled about displaying them, it really did add a sense of comfort to the new place, feeling at home amongst the polished wooden floors and walls.

“It’s not like anyone visiting isn’t going to be someone who didn’t already know you as the adorable, precocious kid you were, Rayla,” he’d pointed out, and she’d only stuck her tongue out at him a little. In the end, she’d been the one that had set a particularly sad-looking adoraburr carving on the top shelf.

“I’m sure there are also embarrassing souvenirs Callum has from childhood?” Tiadrin asked, passing over one of the cups of tea Ethari poured.

“Mostly some very old, very bad drawings,” Callum said with a slight smile.

“Which we’re definitely bringing back from Katolis,” Rayla grinned.

He waved her off and wrapped a hand around his mug. “Fine, fine,” he said, his annoyance ruined by the fact he was smiling more widely. He looked back at all her parents, his smile softening. “We’ll try to visit before the holidays, and then… if you’re all willing to meet us halfway at the Banthor Lodge then?” He faltered a little when his eyes met Runaan’s.

Runaan was quiet for a moment, rubbing the arm that had been bound. “Ethari’s already been participating in this tradition,” he said slowly. “What kind of family would we be to not continue it?”

Callum’s smile widened. “Ezran’s gonna be really excited to meet all of you,” he said quietly. “I mean, he already is—he was disappointed he couldn’t be in Lux Aurea for when we, uh, y’know, de-coined you, but things were too busy in Katolis and—he’s a good king. A good kid.” 

“He is,” Ethari agreed. Runaan stiffened a little, his eyes glancing down as if looking for the right words.

“We can’t wait to meet more of the family,” said Lain, saving him. “He’s how old now?”

Callum and Rayla exchanged a look. “Fourteen,” he said, and they both smiled.

“Callum’s age when we met,” Rayla explained, grinning. “It’s still weird for all of us.”

“Yeah,” Callum grouched, crossing his arms over his chest, “he’ll be taller than both of us pretty soon.” 

“Please, I’m going to have to deal with the both of you being taller than me, you big baby.”

The corners of his mouth lifted. “So you finally admit I’m taller than you?”

“What do you mean, ‘admit’? We’ve known it as an unfortunate fact for the past two years.”

“I remember a lot of arguing about how ‘horns do count’ that indicates otherwise.”Rayla threw her crumpled up muffin wrapper at him. He attempted to dodge it, but it hit the side of his head anyway as he laughed. “Listen, love,” he said, “at least my coordination is still a little terrible.” 

Rayla smiled a little. “It really is,” she said fondly. She let him take her hands, pulling her into his arms as they all continued talking about future plans, and Lain sat back and listened and sipped his tea peacefully. 

It was day one in the kitchen, in some ways, but it already felt like home, Lain thought, and he knew that they had earned it.

Runaan should have known that it would be hard to say goodbye. It turned out they were only getting their daughter back for another week, once Tiadrin and Lain were settled in, and Callum and Rayla announced it at dinner. He couldn’t blame them, he supposed. They had jobs and lives and duties to get back to, and had been devoting themselves to finding the coins and freeing them and helping through recuperation for what seemed to be at least a month in total, if not more. (They hadn’t broached the exact details of everything that finding the coins had entailed yet, but that would come in time, when the real world felt stable and well, real again.)

And while Runaan knew he and Callum had brokered… some kind of strange peace, it was one not tread nor spoken upon. So it was a surprise when the young man came into the kitchen and looked up at the sight of him, clearly having found exactly who he was looking for.

Runaan slowly set down his mug of tea. Rayla was at Lain and Tiadrin’s, he knew, Ethari upstairs and grabbing old mementos to bring over as well; he hadn’t realized that Callum had stayed behind.

“Can I… help you?” he said, feeling rather stupid.

“Ah,” Callum rubbed the back of his neck. Well, at least this was vaguely uncomfortable for both of them. “Yes, actually.” 

Runaan nodded at him to go on, but the boy didn’t seem to pick up on the silent cue very well, merely patting his sides awkwardly, and Runaan sighed and said, “Go on.”

“I came to ask you for a favour, of sorts? I guess? Not for me,” Callum said quickly, as though that mattered. Runaan was not… fond of him, but he wouldn’t refuse Callum something just because it was for him, or being asked by him. Runaan wasn’t that uncaring. “It’s for Lain and Tiadrin, here—” The prince reached for the sketchbook he kept by his side, opening it and taking out a thinner bout of bound paper from within and held it out.

Runaan found a drawing—expertly done, too—of a young Rayla in the adoraburr field, Ethari laughing alongside her on a clearly sunlit afternoon; although the drawing was not coloured in, Callum’s finessed shading made it undeniable. Runaan held onto the paper and blinked. How Callum had gotten everything exactly right, when there were no portraits ever done in the adoraburr field, and per his knowledge, very few portraits of Rayla that young at all, he didn’t know.

“I do not understand,” Runaan said simply, arching an eyebrow.

Callum gave him a quick, slightly nervous grin. “Lain said something while we were travelling here, and he and I went fishing. He and Tiadrin feel like they missed a lot of Rayla’s childhood, and well, I am pretty good at art, and so I thought—it might be nice for them to have sketches of it? Drawn from memories and stories you and Ethari and Rayla have.” He pointed to the page Runaan was looking at. “I got that one from Ethari yesterday. I’m hoping to have more done by the end of the week, as a sort of… parting gift, for when we have to leave.” 

Runaan’s eyes widened with understanding. “Oh.” His voice was softer than he’d meant it. “Yes, I… I think they’d like that.”

“Thanks,” he said. “Um… Do you have any?”

Runaan thought for a moment. “She was eight,” he said quietly. “She’d gotten in trouble at school. Again. But she was crying, and… when she was a child, she was usually so defiant after getting in trouble. But not this time. A few other children had been picking on her.” The slight clenching of Callum’s jaw wasn’t lost on Runaan either. “So I took her to the adoraburr field afterward, and we sat among the grass. It took a little while for her to perk up, but I wove a chain of flowers into her hair, and then she turned around and truly grinned at me—a few teeth missing, and… it’s one of my fondest memories of her.”

Callum’s eyes were soft, a gentle smile on his face. “I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t love her,” he whispered.

“I know the feeling.”

“Did she come up to your shoulder yet then?” he asked.

“A little below.”

“And the flowers?”

“Similar to melodaisies, just without the music—you’re familiar with those, correct?”

Callum nodded as he sketched. He did a few more strokes, before holding up the piece of paper. “It’s a rough sketch,” he said, and there were a few straight lines and guiding curves, but otherwise, Runaan thought… 

There was little Rayla, beaming up at him with a crown of flowers in her hair, and the double markings over and under her eyes she’d worn when she was young. His silhouette was more like a shadow in the corner, but friendly, sitting amongst the grass with her standing in the spotlight. He smiled.

“You are talented,” Runaan remarked, glancing up at him. 

Callum gave him a small smile back. “Thank you. I thought Rayla would appreciate it, too. It’s… important to have something, or someone, that remembers your childhood.”

Because, after all, Runaan considered, three of those figures—perhaps more, given the fallen Dark Mage and his daughter, former friend turned enemy—for Callum were gone.

Runaan cleared his throat. “I understand,” he said.

He, after all, was an orphan too, but now wasn’t the time to reveal that. Not yet. At least, that was what he convinced himself.

“I’ll clean this up before I ask you for more,” Callum said. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Runaan said after a long silence—after Callum had stepped away—and looked back at him. “For taking care of her.”

Callum blinked in surprise, before a slow smile spread across his face. “Oh. Um. It’s… probably the best thing I’ve ever gotten to do, to be perfectly honest. Her and Ez, and our family, they’re… my whole world.”

“Well,” Runaan said, “I know I don’t have to tell you to cherish them. Now go on, and catch up with her. Ethari and I will be there in a moment.” 

Callum let loose a slight chuckle. “Alright. I’ll see you then, Runaan.” 

He smiled a little, and it didn’t feel strained. “See you soon, Callum.”

Maybe it would never be… easy. But it would be enough.

Chapter Text

The last few days were tinged with melancholy, as they began packing supplies for Rayla and Callum’s journey back. It wouldn’t be an awfully long one, but it was always better to be prepared early; it left room to remember things they might forget. 

Part of Lain wanted them to stay a bit longer, but they were long past having trouble letting Rayla go. She was in the best hands, and she knew her way. She was strong and secure and confident, the way he’d always hoped she’d be. He’d just miss her, again.

“I’ll miss them too,” Tiadrin said, sitting down next to him on their bed. Their own bedroom, in their own house again. This time with no baby to take care of.

“Am I that obvious?” Lain asked, and Tiadrin smiled as she nodded. He let out a quiet chuckle. “Dad always did say that I was the only Moonshadow elf that couldn’t keep anything in.”

“One of the reasons I fell in love with you.” She placed her hand over his, giving it a gentle squeeze. “They’ll be back soon. And now we have Ethari and Runaan to bother. And I’m sure Rayla and Callum will be sending us letters all the time, so we won’t have much room to miss them too much.”

“I think it felt like we were making up for lost time,” he said. “Or, it was the closest thing we could have, now that she’s grown. And now we’re facing the reminder that we… that the time of her life where we would’ve spent everyday together is over. Has been for a while. I guess we gave that up too, when we joined the Dragonguard, but I don’t know, I thought we would have… more pieces of it?”

“Our plan was to take leave in time for her sixteenth birthday,” Tiadrin remembered. “We were going to ask for a year off while new recruits were trained.” Her smile turned bitter. “Some plans don’t pan out. But… They’re here now. They’ll be here for two more days. And then they’ll return. No one is leaving anyone for good, okay? Not this time.”

Lain’s throat tightened, even as he smiled. “I know. Thank you.”

“They should be having lunch at Ethari and Runaan’s now, if you’re ready.” Tiadrin slipped her hand into his, and they both rose to their feet together.

“Maybe the universe is kinder than we give it credit for,” he said, as they walked out towards Ethari and Runaan’s. “It’s given us a few more days to cherish before we wait again.”

Tiadrin smiled, squeezing her husband’s hand. “Maybe it is,” she agreed.

It was after lunch when Ethari came in with a fuller pile of mail than usual. He set it down on the low-legged tea table. “There’s one for you, Callum,” he said, pointing to one scroll with the golden seal of Lux Aurea. 

He grinned and grabbed it. “It must be from my aunts,” he said, Rayla leaning over his shoulder. “Probably checking up on all of us.” 

“That’s very sweet,” said Rayla, smiling as he unfurled it.

Per usual, the first half of the letter was in Aunt Amaya’s handwriting, the second in Aunt Janai’s. They hadn’t written anything unexpected, giving them updates on some of the kingdom’s rebuilding process, well wishes to him and his brother and Rayla, and—

Callum’s fingers tightened. Apparently some of Aaravos’ followers were on the move again. Not uncommon, exactly—too small for anything other than guerilla warfare, letting peace largely continue, although they knew it would only be a matter of time before it was properly threatened —but never good. No location was given, however, so he tried to let the information slip through his brain like rainwater, and away from the drains of worry.

“ much of your mail is mixed up with ours,” Runaan was complaining when Callum looked up, and he saw the parents all trying to sort through which was theirs.

“We only got an address a few days ago,” Lain said, even as he and Tiadrin shared a quick smile. It faltered a little when he picked up a letter, his brow furrowing at the seal. 

Tiadrin rolled her eyes. “What more could they have to say?”

“Grandmother and grandfather?” Rayla guessed and Lain nodded.

Lain opened it, read a few lines, and then winced, his eyes flickering over to Callum before he could catch himself. “Well, they’re ah, phrasing their distaste for humans a little bit more… pleasantly now.” 

Rayla made a noise of disgust in the back of her throat. “What exactly does it say?” Callum asked carefully.

“They say… They want another chance to have Tiadrin and Rayla as family. And they are willing to… ‘put up’ with… her human,” Lain winced, “as long as he is… ‘accompanied at all times.’”

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” Rayla said.

“It’s not great,” Callum agreed, “but they’re trying.” He looked at Tiadrin. “Have they ever tried reaching out to you this much before?”

“Well, they didn’t try at all,” Tiadrin muttered. “Mostly just avoided me or gave me dirty looks, especially once we were accepted into the Dragonguard.”

“She’s trying. I know it’s not much, or even enough, and I don’t expect any of you to accept it, but… isn’t it a little encouraging?”

Tiadrin didn’t smile. “I thought you said they were horrible parents.”

Now it was Callum’s turn to wince. “I just… I don’t want to be the reason things don’t work out. And it took other elves in the Silvergrove time to get used to me, and—sometimes it’s easier to make peace with the dead than the living; I get that. But you’re all still alive, and—I don’t know. I think, if they’re willing to apologize, and try again, for real…” He took a breath. “But it’s up to you. I just don’t want you to feel like you have to keep them out for my sake.”

“They chose to not be a part of our family when Lain married me,” Tiadrin said, “and they’re barely willing to take that back now. You’re a part of our family now. Of course we’ll shun those who disrespect you. That is what family does. We protect one another.” 

“And I appreciate that,” Callum stressed, “but—” He had never fought with Tiadrin—or anyone other than Runaan, he supposed—but this felt heated and he didn’t want it to escalate. That would completely destroy his point. “I just—” He let out a long sigh. “All of my parents made a lot of mistakes, but if they were here, and willing to make amends—even clumsily, or poorly—I… I would give it more of a chance before I closed that door for good, when I never thought it would be open again.” 

He realized everyone was staring at him now, and his throat felt rather tight, and Callum stood up and cleared his throat. “I’m just—gonna get some air,” he mumbled, and went out to the front porch. 

Nothing indicated that Rayla had followed him until she slipped her hand into his, the floorboards uncreaking as he leaned against the railing and closed his eyes, their corner of the Silvergrove still rather pretty secluded. 

“You know that their parents aren’t yours, right?” Rayla said softly, lacing her fingers through his.

Callum hung his head. “I know,” he said. “I just…” 

“I know. And I… don’t think that you’re wrong, either.” 

He glanced up. “You don’t?”

“They are trying more than they ever have,” she said slowly. “And I think it comes from a genuine place of missing my dad. But I know, at least for myself, that I don’t have any interest in having a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you, at the very least, because I—you’re my best friend and my future husband and I love you, and that’s why I’m very glad that Runaan is coming around because—you’re kind of a big part of my life and a pretty non negotiable one, love. And you’ve gotten to know my parents. They don’t give up on anything, so they’re not just going to let anyone talk poorly of you. And if that costs my grandparents a relationship with them, then it’s my grandparents’ prejudice getting in the way. Not you. Okay?”

Callum turned to face her, letting out another sigh as he took her other hand. “Okay.” He looked at her hands in his, running his thumbs over her fingers. “I love you so much,” he said quietly.

Rayla smiled, pressing her forehead to his. “I love you too. And anyone who wants to be part of my life had better love you as well.”

He chuckled softly. “I don’t know if Runaan will ever love me, but… it’s a lot better.” 

Her smile grew. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Callum’s eyes crinkled. “He loves you. I can’t fault him too much.” 

Rayla’s eyes traced his face. “You think about it, don’t you? What it would be like if your parents came back.” 

There was no point in denying it. “I didn’t know my blood father well enough to know—but he was a Dark Mage, and my mother suddenly having two husbands? But she would love you, and take everything pretty well I think, and… my stepdad had a lot of regrets. I think he’d like to know he didn’t doom us. But he’d need a lot more time to adjust, too.” 

“I would’ve been okay with waiting,” Rayla said. “You’ve been so patient with my family. And they loved you.” She released one of his hands to cup his cheek. “Your parents never would have been like my grandparents. They loved you, and that’s already enough for me.” She ran her thumb gently over his cheek. “You miss them.”

“Yeah. As we get closer to the wedding…” He leaned into her touch. “It’s not like I thought about my wedding growing up, and I got used to the fact that my mom wasn’t there, but at the same time, I—I dunno. I was there when my mom married my dad. I guess I just thought they’d—they’d somehow be there, y’know?”

“I know. I wish I could’ve met them. Watched them fuss over you while they prepare for the ceremony in Katolis,” she smiled. “Your mother trying to get your hair lie flat. Eating as many jelly tarts as Ez? Aunt Amaya says he inherited her sweet tooth. And your father has a very nice smile, from the portraits I’ve seen. They would’ve been so happy. They are so happy, and so proud of you. I know I am.” 

His eyes were shining as he smiled at her. “I know. Thank you.” 

She pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. “Anytime, love. Wanna come back inside? Or we can wait out here…?”

“Let’s go back in. We’re not gonna see them for a little while after, so…”


She didn’t let go of his hand even once they walked back inside, and no one chose to comment on their brief absence, even if Tiadrin looked a little apologetic and the conversation turned to other things. If it still bothered Callum, he didn’t show it, genuinely laughing with the parents as they got lost in another story about their young adulthood, his expression thoughtful instead of sad.

She wondered if he was committing it to memory; he’d finally told her about his latest project a few days ago, wanting to add some of her own stories to it, and she’d nearly cried. His sweet and considerate nature never failed to amaze her.

Maybe someday her grandparents would be ready for them, but it didn’t really matter; her family was already complete.

“I’m here to talk to the mage.”

Runaan rolled his eyes as he let Lilen step through the door. “Good evening to you too, Master. My family just finished up dinner.”

“And the boy is with them?”

“I—” Runaan shot her a quizzical look as she waited for his answer. “Yes, of course he is.” 

“Finally let him in now then, did you?” she said, and then strode forward toward the kitchen without waiting this time. Runaan moved to catch up with her, catching Ethari’s eye when they entered. “Ah good, you’re all here.”

Lain and Tiadrin looked up. “Oh, hello, Lilen,” Lain said politely, if unsure.

Lilen just looked at Callum, who now seemed rather nervous. “I have something to discuss with you.”

“Ah, um, well—”

“Should we go, then?” Tiadrin said, glancing between them.

“Actually,” Lilen says, “although it is ultimately the young couple’s decision, it works that you are all here.” 

Rayla and Callum exchanged a glance. “We’re fine with it,” Callum said. “Uh, but what exactly is this about?”

Lilen cleared her throat and Ethari jumped to get her a chair, and she set down her cane once she was sitting. “Your key,” she said. 

“My key,” Callum repeated blankly.

“It is traditional for new couples or families to make a key to share, one that binds them even when entering the Silvergrove separately. You’ll need to settle on one before the wedding, and given that it will likely be a while before you return, it would be wise to start thinking of one now.”

“Oh, um. We knew that,” he said. “So…” he glanced at the two couples sitting on either side of him and Rayla.

“Lain and Tiadrin, and Runaan and Ethari, each have their own couple’s keys. Rayla’s key has shifted over the years, but has largely been linked to Runaan and Ethari’s. Now that your family has changed, you have a decision to make, about whether you want to incorporate factors from both families’ key, just one, or from neither.” 

Callum nodded slowly. “We’ll come back to you before we leave.”

Lilen nodded back at them. “Be sure that you do. You’ve done well to earn your place here. We don’t want to give the council any reason to mutter.” 

Callum pressed his lips together. “Of course,” he said. “Thank you.”

Lilen pushed herself up onto her feet with her cane. “Goodnight to you, then.” 

“Goodnight, Master Lilen.” Callum bowed his head quickly as she left the room.

Runaan frowned heavily once she was gone. “The council is still giving you a hard time?”

Callum said, “No,” at the same time Rayla said, “Sort of,” and he shot her a look, sighing.

“No,” Callum repeated. “They… pretty much accept me being here? At least, they know there’s no point in trying to get rid of me. But if, say, they heard from Rayla that the wedding was off and I was never coming back? They wouldn’t really care. Or they might, in a… relieved kind of way.”

Runaan’s frown deepened. “Well that seems rather unfair.” 

“It is,” Rayla agreed. “I still can’t believe how ungrateful they are, after everything he’s done for this community—”

“I didn’t do much, and not for their gratitude,” he said gently.

“You helped end the war, stop three unlawful Ghostings, and brought back three of the Silvergrove’s most formerly beloved people. They could at least try to genuinely accept you.”

“Well it’s not like my kingdom does much better with you, and you’re going to be their princess .”

Judging by the look on Rayla’s face, Runaan got the feeling that this was an old—perhaps not argument , but an old dispute, anyway. “Yes, but your courtiers at least hide their disdain far better.”

“Yes, because they know Ez will have their heads otherwise. You don’t have the same sway here. It’s fine. I’m fine.” 

Rayla let out a huff. “I know you’re okay with it, but it’s not fine .” 

Callum pursed his lips, and then leaned over and pressed them to her cheek; she softened. “It’s fine,” he repeated, softer this time. “Because I have you.” 

She smiled a little. “Fine,” she relented and then turned to Runaan. “But yes, the council does still like to mutter, sometimes. Luckily, Lilen is on our side and she’s the one who matters the most when it comes to our situation, so.”

Runaan nodded slowly. “They’ve always been… rather immovable, on some fronts.”

Callum nodded so seriously Runaan couldn’t tell if he was making fun or not. “It seems like a common factor for Moonshadow elves.” 

“Well… I suppose sometimes, we could stand to move. For the right people.” He stiffened when the other parents looked at him, smiling knowingly. “Hypothetically.”

Callum smiled. “Of course. It also made me appreciate how much easier it actually was to become friends with Rayla too, in retrospect.” He poked her in the side, his grin wide and teasing. “Only took three days.” 

“Speak for yourself, Mr. Heartfelt Speeches one morning in,” Rayla said dryly, trying not to smile. “And you’d already saved my life twice by that point, anyway. Could you blame me for trusting and liking you a little?”

“Mostly I was pleasantly surprised,” he admitted. “Especially since I couldn’t actually tell that you liked me till later on.”

“Well I was being very obvious for a Moonshadow elf,” she said. “Unintentionally, in the beginning. Gifts, favours…” 

“I can guarantee you weren’t as dense as Runaan,” Ethari piped up. Runaan elbowed Ethari, flushing.

“I was trying to express my feelings carefully because someone was giving very mixed signals on purpose,” Runaan said stonily.

“I had to have a little fun, didn’t I?”

“Everyone could tell, so that’s kind of on you, Runaan,” Lain grinned.

“I don’t think you have room to talk,” Runaan shot back, “considering you barely even courted Tiadrin at all before you were proposing to her.” 

“We didn’t exactly have the chance to court properly, in our defense.”

“Besides, I’d known his intentions for years,” Tiadrin smiled. “It was kind of a relief when it came together, all things considered.”

“You know,” said Lain, sipping his tea and looking at Rayla and Callum, “I don’t think you two have ever said just how you got engaged, either.” 

“Callum ruined it,” Rayla said immediately, a mischievous smile on her lips.

“Hey!” Callum exclaimed, unable to hide his laughter. “Technically Ezran ruined it.”

“Still! I had my entire speech planned, I’d spent nearly a year trying to find a ring, I practiced over and over with Ez, I knew exactly when I was going to ask—”

“Wait,” Lain said. “Start from the beginning. You’d both had it planned?”

Callum and Rayla exchanged a smile, before he nodded. “We had our own proposals ready, but we’d been working on it with Ezran, who decided this was the perfect time to get revenge on us for how we first told him about us…”

“Wait, hold on.”

Callum paused in front of the guest room’s vanity, halfway through disrobing—or at the least, taking off his coat and scarf when Rayla came up behind him, already in her silvery nightgown, and turned him around. He couldn’t quite read the look on her face. “Uh, Rayla, we are in your parents’—”

“I should touch up your braid, silly. It’s coming a little loose.” 

“Oh.” He flushed; every so often, she could still make him feel like that same flustered fifteen year old boy, during every milestone they’d sweetly fumbled their way over. He eased as she carefully combed her fingers through his hair, before redoing the three strands near his earlobe, now perpetually crimped from nearly four years in a thin braid. 

“There,” she said, finishing. “Much better.”

Callum caught her hand before she could draw away, and leaned down and kissed her. “Love you,” he murmured against her lips and he could feel her smile.

“Love you too,” she returned, before drawing away. She fetched him his usual sleepshirt while he took off his tunic and then went to sit on the edge of their bed as he pulled on new pants too. “You know, we should probably talk about the Key thing.” 

“Oh. Right.” They’d all gotten so off track after Lilen had left. “Um, did you have anything in mind?”

“Well traditionally, each partner would bring some of their family’s Keys in. But… you’re not a Moonshadow elf,” she said, rather obviously. “We don’t tend to marry out.” Rarely married outside of their immediate village too. 

“I don’t mind only having your families’ traditions,” he said. “I’m marrying into your community, after all. We’ll be having a human ceremony in Katois later.”

“I know, but…” She played with her own braid. “Remember when you taught me how to waltz for my first party in Katolis?”

Callum came over to sit beside her. “‘Teach’ may be a strong word, seeing as I still mostly have two left feet, but yeah, I remember.”

“And you said you watched your parents do it a lot, when the ballroom was empty? Well… what if we could include something like that?”

“Human dances, you mean?”

“Why not? A… small way, I guess, to have your parents there with us.” 

Callum’s eyes turned bright. “They’d really like that,” he said, his voice soft. “I’d really like that. Okay, so… some waltzing, from my side. What else?”

Rayla bumped his shoulder with hers. “The jerkface dance?”

Callum laughed and they shifted to sit back against the headboard, tucking their bodies under the covers. “Let’s keep that one on as a last resort. And then… something from each of your parents’?”

“Ethari definitely,” she said. “And you’ve seen how Lain and Tiadrin have taken to you now. And… Runaan?”

“If he’s alright with it, then so am I.” 

Rayla hesitated. “Even with us including your… father’s dance?” The Wouldn’t that be a little awkward? went unsaid, even if he knew she appreciated the answer he’d already given.

“Well… maybe we could break our circle—cycle—first,” he suggested. Most Moonshadow elf dances were performed in a circle, but they were never broken, as far as he could tell. Usually to symbolize completeness of the community and of a couple’s partnership, ideas he didn’t want to throw away entirely, even if they ever stayed too close to tradition, however? “And then make a new one.” 

Rayla smiled. “That’s perfect,” she said. “We can talk to some of my parents later, get some ideas. The way our runes will arrange might be a little different, but I’m sure you’ll know how to handle that.” Her hand cupped his cheek. “It’s a lovely idea.” 

He leaned into her touch. “It was kind of both of ours, you know. You deserve some of the credit too.” 

“I suppose we can share.” 

They were going to share their lives together after all. Sharing credit for their uniquely them wedding dance ceremony and Key wasn’t too much of a stretch.

Her other hand found his and tangled their fingers together. “Isn’t it crazy,” she continued, “that this time next year we’ll be married ?”

“If by crazy, you mean wonderful in a good way, then yes.”

She puffed out a laugh. “You know I mean it that way, dummy.” She tugged him closer and leaned up to kiss him, wrapping her arms around his neck as he melted into her. It was only the fact he’d pointed out earlier—that they were still, unfortunately, in her parents’ home—that made her pull away. As much as she would be sad to leave them, it would be nice to be at (Spire) home again and have their own space back fully for more reasons than just one. 

Rayla swore he could read her mind sometimes, as he asked, “Would you wanna have our own place here, someday?”

“You’d want to live full time in the Silvergrove?”

“It’d be nice to be closer to your family, and we’d be way closer to Ez, too.” His hands settled at the small of her back. “It doesn’t have to be right away. I know we have things we still want to do for the next few years, but… maybe when things are a little more settled, we could start our family here?”

Rayla smiled and curled into him. “Have those couple of kids?”

“Yeah. Live close enough for their grandparents to dote on them. Bring them to the adoraburr meadow every weekend.” His expression grew wistful. “Plus, I feel like the community accepts me enough that they wouldn’t really get crap for being half-human. We don’t know what the situation may be somewhere else.”

“And the castle might feel…”

“Big,” Callum acknowledged. His free hand curled into their covers. “Heavy, maybe.”

It was always nice when he got to go back to Katolis to see his brother, but the castle held too much for him to want to stay for longer than a month. Ezran had no memory of their father’s assassination, but Callum did, and he still had shaky steps whenever he went up the tower. That, and the castle holding memories of his mother, and the emptiness of her loss… The hallway where he’d met Rayla was the castle’s its brightest spot now, but… Childhood had ended the first time he’d left it, even if he hadn’t quite known it at the time, and he knew going there to live his adulthood would just make it harder. 

“My mum and dad had to make a new space for their life now,” she said, squeezing the hand he was already holding. “We’ll get to have that in common with them.”

He smiled a little. “I see bits of us in the future, when I watch them,” he said. “Even in Runaan and Ethari too.”

Rayla’s eyes crinkled as she looked at him. “And? How does it look?”

He met her eyes. “Bright.” 

Her free hand tilted his head down and she pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “I think so too. Now, let’s get some sleep, shall we?”

It was easy in the dark to curl up in one another’s arms.


He glanced up at the sound of Rayla’s voice, setting his new bow down. There wasn’t much use for it anymore, but he could never get quite out of the habit of early morning practice. There was something reliable in waking up before nightfall turned to gentle dusk—morning in the Silvergrove—and it reminded him of what he still had. What he had almost lost.

“Rayla,” he greeted, resisting the urge to rub his left upper arm. He smiled a little. “It’s been awhile since we trained together.”

“Not exactly why I’m here,” she said, smiling slightly back at him. “But I suppose we could go for a spin for old time’s sake.” 

Sparring with Runaan though, with all their practice and how much he’d trained her, was more like dancing than sparring, blades parrying through familiar motions, even if he had to keep his focus. He was rusty and she’d improved, and had already been brilliant even four years prior. She was sharper, more precise. There was no hesitation now as her sword struck against his blade. His left arm quivered a little as he held his blade against hers, his attention only nearly dropping when she said, “Callum’s open to having a part of your key in our dance. If you are.”

Still, she found an opening, and might have knocked him to his feet if he hadn’t dodged last-minute. “In your wedding?” he managed to ask, thankfully not as breathless as he’d anticipated.

“And our own Key.” She easily parried his next strike. “I had my hesitations, too, but… He’s Callum. He’s naturally compassionate and forgiving.” Rayla threw out another blow and he blocked it. “So, what do you say?”

He paused, and Rayla’s stance remained solid as she waited for his next move. Instead, he set his blade down in the grass, taking a breath. “Of course you can have part of my key in your dance,” he said, and Rayla blinked, slowly setting her blades down as well. “I… I can even help you both put it together, if Lilen hasn’t already.”

“We haven’t talked to her yet. We were waiting to see if you were okay with it.” She raised an eyebrow. “And you say this knowing that we’re also including parts of a human dance? One done often by his parents?”

Runaan pursed his lips, but said, “It is tradition. I would… have to see what it is, and how it could be incorporated seamlessly, but, yes.”

Rayla was quiet for so long he thought she wasn’t going to say anything, when she asked, her voice trembling at the corner of every word. “Do you still think it was justified?”

Runaan shut his eyes. “No.” It almost made his lungs collapse, how easily it came out. “But I cannot take it back.” 

Her brow furrowed. “What finally changed?”

“I do not know.” He looked at the grass, at his new bow, untouched by blood. “I did not think the boys could be trusted to return the Egg. I thought… they were humans, and they are, but I did not understand what that meant. Not truly. I do now. Or at least, I believe so. I still have much to learn but… Callum did not deserve to lose his father. Perhaps none of them did. I did not think a world at peace was possible. I…” Runaan’s throat grew thick and he cleared it. “I am glad you proved me wrong.” 

Rayla softened, walking closer to pull him into a tight hug. “Me too. I’m proud of you. I know this wasn’t easy. Especially saying any of this out loud.”

Runaan tucked her head under his chin, resting between her horns. “You deserve to hear it. I let too much remain unspoken before our mission. I don’t want to make that mistake again.” 

“I wasn’t perfect either,” Rayla said slowly, pulling away.

“No,” Runaan agreed, “you weren’t, but you were also a child, and so the weight falls on my shoulders.” Their gazes locked. “And you have been patient with me, I know.” 

She smiled up at him. “You’re my dad. And I know you love me, no matter what. It’s been an adjustment for all of us… And I knew why accepting Callum was so hard, even if I was angry at you for it. Because it wasn’t just about him, was it? But also everything that he represented?”

Because if Callum was good, if humans were good, that meant any and all that Runaan had slain had likely been similarly senseless. Because his assassin’s code had been wrong, or at least in need of major reform. Because he had sworn himself to not to think of the people left over, of families at funerals, until one had been staring him right in the face. Because the world was greyer than he had wanted it to be and he couldn’t live in the black and white faces of the moon any longer. 

“Yes,” Runaan said quietly. “It was difficult.” He placed his hands on her shoulders. “One day I will be able to say more of this to him, too, I just…” 

“One step at a time. I’m still really proud of you.”

He smiled faintly. “Thank you.” He glanced at her blades behind her. “And I’m proud of you.”

“For what?”

“Winning our match, for one.”

Rayla snorted. “Only because we kept talking.”

“You compelled me to fold first.”

She grinned, going back to pick up her blades and flicking them out fully. “I mean, I’ll take it,” she said. “But this time, I plan to beat you fair and square.”

Runaan couldn’t help his own smile from growing as he picked up his bowblade. “If you say so. You are on the Dragonguard now, so I have very high expectations.”

“Good. You can raise them a little higher.”

And this time, when she beat him, Runaan even smiled . Somehow, his little girl had grown up, and he could only be proud of the young woman she had become. 

Having everyone crowded in their little living room area only made Lain fonder of the small size of their new house. It was a little bittersweet, with Rayla and Callum leaving in the morning, but he was glad to have it all the same. It had only been a week and he and Tiadrin’s house would already be full of memories, and Runaan and Ethari were still here. It would be like their youth, in some ways.

He and Tiadrin were on the smaller couch, Tia tucked into his side as they basked in the lively chatter that filled their home, when Ethari placed a very large, very heavy book in Lain’s lap. It was leatherbound and human made, judging by the unfamiliar stitchwork of the spine. 

Tia placed a hand on the cover and looked up. “What’s this?”

“A bit of a group effort,” Ethari said, smiling and stepping back. “But it was Callum’s idea.” 

Callum rubbed the back of his neck, smiling. “You mentioned that you didn’t get to see a lot of Rayla’s childhood, growing up. I’m pretty good at drawing, so I thought I could… show you.”

Tiadrin looked between him and then back down at the book in Lain’s lap, before she opened it and started slowly turning the pages. A little Rayla stared up at her from every one, most bright and beaming, with cramped handwriting near the drawing, each segment mostly written in what she could only assume was Callum’s handwriting, but some seemed to be in by Runaan, Rayla, and Ethari’s handwriting too too. There were many drawings of the meadow, one that looked like Rayla getting ready for her first day at school and assassin’s training as she grew a bit older.

“Rayla, Runaan, and Ethari all told me stories,” Callum continued. “And I even included some stuff from when we were fifteen and sixteen. I drew them so you could be part of it, too. So you both could… know you were part of it, in your own way, this entire time, and have it with you while you make new memories.”

Tiadrin’s eyes filled with tears, mouth still slightly agape, and Callum panicked. Perhaps he had done nothing more than rub salt in an unhealed wound.

“I just thought—” he stammered. “I-if I overstepped—”

Tiadrin got up from the couch and pulled Callum up and into a tight hug. He froze for a moment, before hugging her back, almost like a little boy again as he buried his face in Tiadrin’s shoulder.

“Thank you,” Tiadrin whispered. She pulled away a little to look up into his face, beaming. “This is absolutely wonderful.”

Callum’s eyes were shining as he beamed back at her. “You’re welcome.” 

“Can you tell me more about this one?” Lain asked, holding the book up for everyone to see. It was on a relatively new memory, the Banthor Lodge covered in snow. Ethari and Rayla were outside with a young human child, Ethari in the middle of getting smacked with a snowball. The young human was mid-throw, Rayla’s hand clutching a snowball, her mouth open in a laugh.

Rayla smiled. “My first holiday at the Banthor Lodge,” she said. “That’s Ezran.”

“He has quite the aim,” Ethari recalled fondly. “And it was a good holiday.”

“It was the first time peace felt real ,” Rayla admitted. “Something that was here to stay.” 

Tiadrin look from the book back to Callum. “I can see the resemblance,” she said, and Callum smiled sheepishly.

“Most people say he looks more like his dad,” he said. “But he has our mom’s smile, more.” 

Lain flipped through more of the book, pausing to drink in every page before he looked up at Callum, soft wonder in his eyes. “This must’ve taken ages,” he said, slight awe in his voice.

“I draw pretty quickly,” Callum said and Rayla nodded in confirmation. “But…” Ethari also knew he’d wanted to get all the details right and drawn more slowly just to ensure it, and poured his heart and soul into every sketch. “It did take time. About a week and a half?”

“That’s almost the entire time you were here,” Tiadrin said, as she sat back down next to Lain. Callum took a seat next to Rayla on the adjacent couch.

“I draw before sleeping anyway. And I spend most of that time drawing Rayla anyway. It was kinda nice to have some variety.” 

She snorted and swatted at him. “Hey, I thought I was your ‘muse’.” 

Callum rolled his eyes and smiled. “You act like I still don’t draw you at least once a week.” 

“I don’t know,” Rayla drawled, mock-serious. “It sounds like you may be getting bored.” 

Callum tried to muffle his laughter and his fondness. “You are ridiculous. Now I don’t regret drawing Runaan throwing you into the water. Very flattering depiction, too.” 

“You included that one?” Rayla whined, looking between him and Runaan, who was smirking now too. “Great. Am I mid-air and mid-scream, or just very grumpy in the water?”

Tiadrin chuckled and patted the space on the sofa next to her. “Come see for yourself.” 

Rayla slipped her hand out of Callum’s and went to sit next to her mother. Rayla groaned as Tiadrin laughed again. “Did you have to make me look so horrified?”

“I wanted to stay true to the emotion of the moment,” Callum grinned, and Rayla shot him a look.

“He captured it perfectly,” Runaan said, his smirk growing. It was the most Lain had ever seen him smile in such a large group.

“I can’t take all the credit,” Callum said. “Runaan helped me get the details just right. There had to be a certain elegance, you know, of the throw. The splash.” When Rayla glared at him, he just flashed her a sweet smile and she softened in spite of herself, grumbling.

“You’re lucky I love you.” 

Callum got up and kissed her forehead. “Yes, yes I am. Now flip to the end. I think you’ll like that one.” 

She turned the page for her mother, and the room went silent. Lain carefully touched it, afraid to smudge the image. It was all of them, each pair of parents with Rayla in the middle of a tight embrace, tears in their shut eyes as they smiled. 

“The first time we were all together,” he said quietly. “After…”

“It’s an important moment,” he said quietly. “Not part of her childhood, technically, but… You can look back at it and remember all the new memories there are to make.”

Tiadrin smiled, and then frowned when she glanced back at the drawing. “You forgot something.”

Callum blinked. “I did?”

She laid a finger lightly over the far left corner of the drawing, near where the sketch gave way to blank page and one of the pillars of Lux Aurea was half drawn. “You were there too, off to the side. Around here.” 

“Oh. I didn’t think… it’s not really the focus.” 

“You were there,” Tiadrin repeated. 

“That’s important,” Lain said. 

Callum turned a bit pink. “I-I just…”

Rayla slowly took the book from her mother. “We’ll give this back to you later,” she said. “Before we leave.” She looked at Callum. “If a small revision is okay.”

He rubbed the back of his neck, but slowly a sheepish smile spread over his face. “I guess I can pencil myself in.” 

“Thank you,” Tiadrin said. She glanced back at the book, smiling softly. “It’ll be so nice to have both of you in there while we wait for your next visit.”

Callum breathed good and proper. “I’m glad you like it.” He took another deep breath, something warm, yet heavy in his chest. “I… I think I need to check on something, but I’ll finish it before we leave, I promise,” he said, before quickly leaving the living room and heading outside.

He stopped underneath the stairs leading up to Ethari and Runaan’s home, taking slow, steady breaths. “Love?” Rayla’s voice was as soft as her hand as it reached for his. He turned and looked at her, at the soft, gentle concern in her face as her fingers slipped between his. “Did we say something wrong?”

Callum wrapped his arms around her and held her tight, burying his face in her neck. “No.”

Her fingers combed through his hair. “Then what…?”

Callum slowly pulled away and tried to work his jaw. Opened his mouth to speak, then stopped, then started, and then stopped one more time. He loosed a long breath.

“I guess…” His lips twitched even as his tears fell from his eyes. “It hit me first the other day with Ethari, when he gave me the staff, but then sitting with everyone, I… it’s been so long, but—I think—it feels? Like…” His bottom lip trembled even as he smiled. “It feels like I have parents again.”

Rayla broke into a wide smile. “If you want them,” she said softly. “They love you so much already, you know that?”

“I know,” he said, his voice cracking. “I’m so sure of it and I—I haven’t felt that since my mom , and—” He took another shuddering breath, and Rayla reached up and wiped a tear from his cheek. He took her hand before she could pull it away. “I said you didn’t have to give it back to me. And you didn’t. You never did, I was happy to give your family back to you and watch you grow with them again but—” He let out a tearful laugh. “You did it anyway.”

“Yes well,” Rayla laughed and rested her forehead against his, “I’ve never been good at listening to you, now have I?” She wiped a few more of his tears away. “It’s like you said. We get to share it.”

“Yeah.” He exhaled shakily, his tears fading, as did any remaining heaviness in his chest. “And you know what?”

Rayla smiled, lips twisted wry, and not for the first time, he saw his future in her eyes. “What?”

“I think I could get used to it.” 

Chapter Text

It was quiet in the Silvergrove without them. Tiadrin and Lain found a routine they were happy with, spending most of their days with Ethari and Runaan, and seeing little ways in which the Silvergrove had changed. The most exciting had been seeing that their favourite dessert place had started making Tideberry Surprise, but it would never beat a classic Moonberry Surprise, after all. They took walks around the town together, saw familiar faces. Met the children of some of Rayla’s older former classmates, the idea of grandparenthood nearer than ever before.

Lain’s parents made a few more attempts at conversation, perhaps counting on Callum’s absence to make a difference, but even Lain snubbed them. Tiadrin made an inquiry to Lilen about the whereabouts of her older brother, but received no answer that was different than it had been years ago, before Rayla was born, “Out of the grove, seeing the world, I suppose,” so Tiadrin let it be. She, Lain, Ethari, and even Runaan wrote to and received letters from both Rayla and Callum, the latter often including quick sketches of their day. Something in Tiadrin’s chest had eased when she first saw a picture of the Dragon Prince, just a hair shy of Rayla’s height. His great, hairy head was tilted inquisitively, his tongue hanging out of his open smile. The choice she’d made all those years ago really had done more than just some good.

And whenever she missed Callum and Rayla too much, she flipped through the sketchbook and lingered on the few that were Rayla and Callum together, trekking across Katolis and Xadia on their adventure, holidays at the Banthor Lodge, the figure Callum had drawn for himself in the family hug sketch. 

She and Runaan sparred too, like old times, working out their rust together. The four of them had dinner every night, rotating which couple’s turn it was to host next, slowly remembering their old favourite recipes. It was quiet, in a way that was different from the Spire, and maybe once upon a time, Tiadrin would have found it boring.

But it wasn’t. Not anymore. Maybe it was small, but she’d found a new purpose here. One that changed a little every day, centred most of all on figuring out how to make a home. And Lain, always, steady by her side. After two and a half months of settling into their new life, they had more than made up for lost time.

She curled up on the couch, tucked into his side as they read their latest letter from Callum and Rayla together. All was well at the Spire even as Callum took on a few more apprentices to teach alongside one of his old masters, named Ibis. The Dragonguard had recently taken on a new trainee, just a couple years younger than both of them, and one of Rayla’s new responsibilities. They wrote about Zym and his mother, Queen Zubeia, and how Zym had started taking watches with some of the Dragonguard. He couldn’t speak yet but he grew bigger and stronger every day, and able to fly faster and longer distances alongside his mother, too.

But part of Tiadrin couldn’t help but wonder about the parts of their world that weren’t at peace. They were still squabbling elf lords and disagreements amongst the Pentarchy. The northernmost mountains housed Aaravos, somehow, and those who called themselves his followers, the shadowstalkers. 

Lain wrapped an arm around her and drew her close when she mentioned it. “I worry about it sometimes too,” he murmured. 

“Callum had to face him once,” Tiadrin thought aloud. “D’you think…?”

“I don’t know.” She knew from the pensive look on Lain’s face that they were thinking along the same lines too: that whatever horrible nightmare Rayla had had that night in the woods, it had involved the Dark Mage, and likely Aaravos too. 

“They’d write to us about it if they were worried, right?”

“I think so. I hope so.” Lain tried for a smile, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “Maybe we’re just the ones worrying. We’re not used to being the ones sitting at home.”

“You’re right. We’re not.” Tiadrin smiled a little. “But it’d be pretty ridiculous to go running over on a parent’s whim, wouldn’t it?”

“A little. We still could, if you wanted to,” he added, and Tiadrin laughed. “Bring fresh blankets and a Moonberry surprise on the way.”

“We’re all a little old for that, unfortunately,” Tiadrin chuckled. “And the Spire is a tad too far, I think, now.” 

“We’re definitely not as young as we used to be.” 

Although the coins had messed with their ages, slowing it down slightly, the toll it had taken on their bodies was likely at least double. They would be examining the after effects for years, Tiadrian was sure, sussing out different possibilities and consequences.

But instead of worrying, she took his hand in hers. “We’re still young enough,” she said, smiling softly as she kissed him. Lain smiled as he kissed her back, lingering before she pulled away. 

“I love you,” he murmured.

Tiadrin smiled. “I love you, too.”

That, at the very least, would never change.

Runaan looked up when Ethari set the mail on the low tea table, his eyes flitting to names under the scroll seals. He picked up the one with his, carefully breaking the seal. 

Dear Runaan,

It’s been quiet over here, which is probably for the best, all things considered. Zym’s starting to come into his own anyway, even if he does still act like a baby dragon a lot of the time. It’s finally beginning to sink in that he’s much too big for cuddling in our laps now, at least, which is good. He nearly squashed Callum the other day. Callum was ready to take it, too as tragic as it would be to lose my fiancé to a four-year-old dragon, I can’t blame him. Zym was sort of our first baby, in some ways. It kind of helps me understand how you and Ethari feel about me.

It’s starting to get colder at the Spire here too. We have a new trainee—extra precaution given everything going on—to help take my place whenever I’m gone. Zubeia understands why Callum and I had to leave, but it still makes her a little nervous, I think, to have us gone. At least without having anyone here to really take our place, so hopefully this’ll help with that. I can’t imagine we have more than another three or five years at the Spire, anyway.

As good as things are here, we’ve been looking forward to seeing you again. I think you’ll really like the Banther Lodge. It’s what humans call a wooden cabin—different than most of our buildings but not unpleasant at all. It’s quite cozy, actually. It’s huge, too it’ll be nice to fill all the rooms now. Aunt Amaya and Janai might even try to come down for a few days, if they can manage. Ezran always said he thought it was intended for a bigger family. I guess maybe the king and queen planned on having more kids, but didn’t get the chance to? It’ll be nice to put it to its proper use again. 

I think you’ll like Ezran. Mostly because it’s hard to imagine anyone disliking him, but he really is a sweet kid. And excellent at helping me defeat Callum in snowball fights; they haven’t been fair since he learned snow magic through the Ocean arcanum. Just don’t take the last jelly tart and he won’t have a problem with you.

Runaan found it hard to believe that the boy-king he’d nearly murdered, and the son of the man he really did murder, would have zero reservations about him, but he supposed if Callum could… perhaps not come around, but they could reach some sort of understanding, then perhaps anything was possible?

He looked up at the sound of Ethari snickering. “What is it?” Runaan asked, and Ethari held up his own letter. Another one of Callum’s sketches, featuring Rayla just barely managing to carry the young Dragon Prince after presumably bounding into her arms. 

“Nearly crushed Callum too,” Ethari smiled. “The poor little thing.”

“Oh. Yes, Rayla told me.” Runaan scanned Ethari’s page; it seemed like both Rayla and Callum had taken turns writing in their own little paragraphs. Ethari’s smile faltered when he saw the slight crease in Runaan’s brow.

“Is everything okay in your letter?” he asked.

“Hmm? Oh, it’s fine. Erm, she told me some of the same things, anyway.”

Ethari took a seat next to Runaan. “You know Callum would write to you too if he knew you wanted him to.”

“I don’t—” He pursed his lips. “We’re not there yet. It’s fine.”

“Do you want to be?”

Runaan was quiet for a moment. Most of their more recent interactions had been more… civil, even positive. He didn’t dislike the boy. As complicated as things were, it was better than he could have ever imagined. He liked how he treated Rayla. He liked that he was considerate and kind to Ethari and Lain and Tiadrin. On some days, he could even believe he cared about the boy, to some degree. Enough to feel some indignance towards the council and Lain’s parents over it.

“Someday,” Runaan finally replied. “I… wouldn’t know what to say, right now.”

Ethari placed a hand on his shoulder. “If it’s any consolation, I’m sure the feeling is mutual.” 

Runaan pursed his lips. “Could you ask if they’d send a drawing with mine, too? No obligation, of course, but...”

After all, if anyone had to make the first step, it was him, this time.

Ethari smiled. “I’ll ask. I’m sure they’d be happy to.” 

“And… tell them I say hello to… both of them?”

Ethari chuckled a little. “Sure.” He pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I’m proud of you.”

Runaan let out a little huff in reply. “Thank you,” he mumbled, letting a tiny smile peek through. 

It took less than a week for the next round of letters to come through, and when Runaan found a sketch of Rayla and Zym sitting peacefully on the edge of the Spire on the back of his letter from Rayla, he could admit just the tiniest bit of fondness bloomed in his chest. Just a little bit.

Rayla flopped onto the bed after her evening shift, not bothering to take off her armour as she reached for the pillow resting beside a sketching Callum.

“Long day?” he asked, setting down his charcoal. 

“Zym got to go hunting on his own for the first time. Tracking a dragon in the woods is harder than you think.”

Callum smiled, reaching over to brush her hair from her face. “I mean, it already sounds pretty hard.” 

Rayla softened a little and closed her eyes. “How was your day?”

“Good. I’m working with my newest student—”

“Dior,” Rayla remembered and Callum nodded.

“Kid really wants to connect to the sky arcanum, but I don’t know. I think Sun may suit him better. That, and Evindal still really wants to be the first elf connected to two primals. I told them it might be more likely to try Ocean, since they’re already an Earthblood, but they’ve got their sights set on Moon anyway.”

“It’s not a good combination,” Rayla murmured.

“No, but so far everyone’s still alive, so…”

She opened her eyes and found him leaning a little over her. She smiled at the happy look on his face. “Cheery, you are,” she said. 

“Yes well, seeing you always makes everything better.” 

Rayla softened, leaning up for a kiss. “You’ve had dinner yet?” she asked, drawing away. 

“Not yet. You?"

She shook her head. “Come on. I think it’s Gael’s turn on kitchen duty anyway. There should be something lying around.” 

“You don’t wanna rest?” he asked as she pushed herself up onto her feet.

“More hungry than tired,” she said, taking his hands and tugging him up. “Besides, we can pass out after we eat.” 

“Aren’t we not supposed to fall asleep right after eating?” 

“Naps are fine. Come on.” She led him out, smiling when he adjusted their hands so his fingers were interlocked with hers. 

She’d missed this. She missed her parents, but this strange little home they’d made for themselves here… She’d miss it even once they outgrew it, the way her parents had. It was a space they’d made for themselves just shy of fifteen and sixteen, their safe haven after every mission. Maybe it had been like that for her parents, too.

Then one day they’d build another home for themselves, maybe in the Silvergrove too. 

Her eyes flickered over to her betrothed as they lay down to sleep that night, heads on their pillows and facing each other. Callum’s eyes were patient. “Whatcha thinking about?”

Rayla took his hand. “You’re happy here?” she murmured, rubbing her thumb over his engagement ring. He smiled, his eyes bright.

“Yeah. Are you?”

“I am.” Her lips curved upwards. “I never thought I could be this happy, actually.”

“Me neither.” He drew closer, till their noses were almost touching. “A lot of that is thanks to you, you know.”

Her eyes crinkled at the corners. “I know.” She tangled their fingers together. “You and me and Ez. Your aunts. All four of my parents. Whatever… Soren is,” she said with a gentle tease. They were each fond of the crownguard and they knew it. “And Zym and Zubeia and Ibis. I like our little family.”

“Not that little anymore.” 

“You know what I mean.” Her eyes grew thoughtful. “And… when we start… increasing our family…?”


“You’ll be happy in the Silvergrove, too? Even if it’s not… totally ready for us?”

“Rayla. I’ll be happy wherever I’m with you. Besides,” he said brightly and his free hand gently cupped her cheek. “If we waited until other people were ready for us, we’d be waiting for the rest of our lives.”

She smiled a little. “True. I just know it hasn’t been easy there. There will always be people like my grandparents, and some of the elves on the council.”

“I know. And we’ve never let those people stop us before. I’d rather be in Xadia now anyway, until things are fully… have fully calmed down.”

Aaravos. Rayla frowned slightly. They each knew that if the conflict escalated, if Aaravos grew strong enough, he’d march on Xadia first with the shadowstalkers and then turn his attention to conquering the Pentarchy. 

She reached up and brushed the hair back from Callum’s brow. “Has he been in your head again?”

“Not lately,” her betrothed admitted. Being bound to all the same arcanums, especially the Star primal, had bound them to one another in a way she suspected even Aaravos didn’t totally understand, even if he sometimes tried to exploit it. The same stars whispered to him and Callum; it must have driven the elven archmage a little mad, that a human prince had achieved what was once solely special and solely his. 

“You’ll tell me if it starts again?”

“I will,” he confirmed. He managed a smile. “But hopefully I don’t have to deal with it for a long time. It’s been nice, having my only worries be issues with future in-laws, and small town politics. And getting to think about happy things without all that in the back of my head. It’ll be autumn soon, then winter. We’ll get to see Ezran for something other than court politics.”

Rayla smiled at the second mention of Ezran. “I’m sure he’s getting tired of court politics, too. I miss him. And Bait.”

“You want to visit him before the winter holidays then?”

“You’d be alright with taking the time off of training?”

“If you’re okay with a little break as well.”

“It would be sort of nice,” she considered. She’d left her shifts and he his students to finally have the coins and to get her parents out of them, but it hadn’t exactly been relaxing

“Alright. I’ll let Ibis know, and I think at this point you could take time off and the queen wouldn’t even mind.”

Rayla snorted. “I’m not about to test that theory.”

“Oh come on, Zubeia loves you.”


“Do you think she’ll give us a wedding present?” he continued and Rayla laughed and nudged him away. “Maybe stop in the Silvergrove for a slice of moonberry cake—”

Rayla cackled. “You’re ridiculous.” She curled into his side. “I do wish they could be at the Silvergrove ceremony,” she considered.

“Me too. It’s been a while since Ez and Zym have been able to spend time together, too.”

“Don’t they talk every day through the Bond?”

Callum cracked a grin. “You know what I mean, though. It’s good for best friends to see each other.” 

“I guess we are kinda spoiled, getting to see each other every day.”

His eyes twinkled. “We’ve always been pretty lucky,” he said, his voice soft. He touched his forehead to hers. “I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you too.” She kissed him softly, cupping his jaw as he shifted closer.

They didn’t do much talking after that.

For a few more weeks, everything was perfect.

Perfection could never last, not really, and in retrospect, Callum should have expected it. But he’d been so comfortable with their little version of perfection that when he’d gone to sleep that night, he’d nearly forgotten what it felt like to have his dreams invaded.


The words weren’t spoken; nothing was really spoken aloud, in this dark, hazy dreamscape he was pulled into. Even the elf himself wasn’t clear, but he was still the most solid thing in this place, and maybe that was what Callum hated about it most of all. It felt and looked far too much like the nightmares he’d had after using Dark Magic, only this time without the temptation; just rageful resignation. 

You again, came Callum’s voice in his own head, and he knew Aaravos could hear it too. Voices and noises were echoey and heavy, here, as if they were underwater.

You’re not happy to see me?

Is anyone?

Aaravos’ chuckle, cruel and sharp, moved like ripples in his mind. Pounding at the recesses. You know why I’m here, don’t you?

What, to mess with me again? You’ve been slacking, by the way. I don’t need to deal with this. Bye.

Another chuckle, somehow even more derisive. Yes, you’ve been busy haven’t you? Freeing the elves from the Infinity Coins. I don’t know how my old inventions fell into human hands, but let me assure you, I was not impressed at Avizandum stealing my own idea to create my prison. You freed some interesting elves, didn’t you?

Callum paused. He should leave. He should wake up and get some water and do whatever he needed to get Aaravos out of his head, but— No one you’d be interested in, probably.

Ah, but they’re important to you, aren’t they? Even if one is your father’s murderer. If you’re so forgiving, perhaps you will join me one day after all, with the right encouragement. You’re an awfully rare specimen. I’d hate to kill you.

Can’t say the feeling’s mutual.

Aaravos’s lips curled. You’re dodging again.

Dodging what? If you came here just to taunt me about my family

That would be rather pointless, wouldn’t it? You barely have any. Unless… Aaravos’ eyes glittered. Humans, always too loving. 

Callum snarled. What do you mean by that?

I can’t give away the surprise—where’s the fun in that?—but you’ll be saying goodbye to the Silvergrove soon enough. And give Rayla my well-wishes, won’t you? She’ll need a new family, too, in three day’s time.

Aaravos winked out of existence like a dying star in a faraway sky and Callum woke up in a cold sweat. He pushed himself out of bed faster than his sluggish limbs would allow, pulling on a fresh tunic and rummaging through the drawers for fresh trousers.

“Callum?” Rayla’s voice was sleepy and soft. “What’s happened?”

“We have to go,” he said, his voice trembling. Rayla got out of bed, shivering in her nightgown.

“Callum, what’s going on?” she asked, reaching for his shoulder. He turned back to her, frantic.

“Aaravos. He came back.”


“Silvergrove. We don’t have time. We have to send a message and we have to go—” His voice broke. “They’re in trouble.”

Rayla’s eyes widened. “He didn’t—?”

“Not yet.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Go get dressed. I’ll have a message sent.”

Rayla nodded quickly before pulling out some clothes and shoving them into a knapsack, and Callum changed into his trousers and pulled on his coat and scarf before she was done. Grabbed the staff Ethari had made for him by the door before he headed out to the antechamber. The fastest route would be for him to fly on his own, and he’d be able to get into the Silvergrove on his own by now, but—

He ran into another corridor, down the hall, and stopped at Ibis’s room, knocking frantically at his door. To Ibis’s credit, he answered fairly quickly, even if he looked less than pleased to be awake. “What—”


Ibis’s eyes widened. Well, that was a way to wake up the Sky mage. “What is it?”

“Send a message to the Silvergrove. A warning. Rayla and I are leaving, hopefully we’re—” His voice broke. “Hopefully we’re not too late.”

“I’ll send more than one. Make sure there’s no risk of interception. Now go.”

“Thank you,” Callum breathed, before rushing back down to his room. He’d barely gone in through the door when Rayla tossed him a packed knapsack—only barely caught it by one of the straps as it fell—and she took his hand and led him out, her knapsack already on. 

“How are we getting there?” she asked, her voice level and calm.

“I could probably fly us,” he said.

“That much weight over such a long distance?”

“We’d have to stop for breaks—either that, or wait for the dragons to arrive here at dawn and convince one to fly us there.” Nightly migrations for hunting were common; only Queen Zubeia and Zym stayed at the Spire on a semi-permanent business. 

Rayla pursed her lips. “And if you flew by yourself?”

Callum caught her eye. “I’d be pushing it, but two days, maybe.” The Silvergrove was much closer to the Spire than Katolis, and without detours—being able to fly directly over the Midnight Desert—then maybe… 

They stared at each other, before she said, “You should go. Pace yourself if anything feels like too much, but…”

“I know.” His voice was quiet. “Rayla—”

She grabbed him by the scarf and kissed him. “I’ll leave with a dragon in the morning,” she said, resting her forehead against his, and tried for a smile. “We may even catch up to you.”

He couldn’t quite manage a smile back. “I love you,” he said. “I’ll see you soon.”

“I love you too.” Another brief kiss and then she let him go. “Stay safe.”

“You too.” He let himself look at her for one more moment before he turned, exited the antechamber, and launched himself off the nearest cliff, his wings forming on the way down. They fanned out on either side of him before he swooped up and he worked his shoulders tirelessly already to build altitude, and then glide to conserve energy.

There had to be enough time. 

It was a stroke of luck to find ripe moon-peaches so early in the morning, Tiadrin thought, the market in a slow crawl as whatever sort of morning the Silvergrove could sustain firmly dawned. The perpetual dusk was something she had missed at the Spire; getting used to a regular day cycle had taken some time. She supposed Callum and Rayla were enjoying it now. Lain was still asleep back home; he’d always been a semi-late riser.

She would have to give some of these peaches to Runaan and Ethari when they saw them at lunch. They were probably just starting breakfast now, if that; they were both far more used to late mornings and nights than she’d ever been, particularly now that Runaan had to take things far more slowly than he had in his youth.

She bartered with the merchant, in the end able to complete the trade with the promise of some old knives she never used anymore; the arrangement was made to have them picked up after lunch, and she went on her way, satisfied with her market findings. Retirement, strangely enough, suited her. 

Soft snow drifted into the Silvergrove from afar. The elements were to an extent kept out by the illusion too, only letting the minimal enter until the Council changed its bounds. It meant there were no hail or storms, although it was otherworldly back in autumn to watch lighting and rain dance outside their safe little sphere. Nothing could touch them here.

When she got back to the cottage, Lain was already up, his hair still messy as he sat in the armchair, quietly sipping tea. His smile was sleepy when he looked up at Tiadrin coming in through the door, setting down her basket of moon peaches. 

She kissed him on her way over to the kitchen, feeling him smile. “Good morning,” he greeted. 

“Good morning,” she hummed as she pulled away, before pouring herself a cup of tea from the kettle he’d left over the fire. “When did you get up?”

“Maybe an hour ago. You went to the market?”

“I wanted fresh moon peaches,” she said, tucking them away in a bowl next to the kitchen sink. “Maybe I’ll make pie this morning to bring over to Runaan and Ethari’s.” 

“Do you want some help?” he asked from the living room. She smiled a little; he loved cooking and baking, and was good at it, but not quite as good with presentation. 

“Sure,” she called out anyway. 

Lain was halfway to the kitchen when there was a knock and he doubled back to the door to answer it. Tiadrin peeked around the corner to see, but she didn’t have to; she heard Ethari’s exasperated but fond voice as he said, “Mail got mixed up again.”

He and Runaan came in, sitting down as Ethari set some of the mail down at the tea table.

Tiadrin turned and wagged a finger at Runaan. “If this is your plan to finally steal my secret moon peach pie recipe, then you’re losing your touch.”

The corners of his mouth twitched. “I think your mistake was revealing that you were planning to make it at all.”

“Because you’ll embarrass yourself trying to get the recipe out of me again or because I’ll have two squatters in my house until we share?”

Lain and Ethari shared a look. “We all know you were planning to bring some over anyway,” Ethari said. 

“Speaking of which,” said Lain. “The mail?”

Ethari smiled and held out the envelopes. “Letters from Rayla and Callum.” 

Tiadrin looked up, leaving her washed peaches in the kitchen and joining the rest of them in the living room. She sat down by Lain as he opened the first letter from Callum. 

She didn’t even get a chance to read the first line before the door flew open. “ Callum ?”

He looked awful , windswept and panicked, face as red as his scarf, eyes exhausted and wild. Ethari shot up and grabbed his arm, steadying him when he stumbled. “Callum, what is—”

“We need to go,” he said, his voice raspy. “Right now.”

Ethari brought Callum to one of the armchairs. “Breathe. Do you need some water?” Lain was already up and went to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

“No time—Aaravos is coming—”

“What? What do you mean?”

Callum’s breath hitched. “He’s in my head and we need to get out—Rayla is on her way but she sent me ahead and—you didn’t get any of the messages? Ibis sent three and—”

Callum ,” said Tiadrin, taking him firmly by the shoulders. “Slow down and explain, son. What is going on? We’ll—go with you, once we know why.” 

Callum’s eyes began to water. “He—he shows up in my head, sometimes. We’re the only two beings in the world connected to all six arcanum and it—it screws with me, I guess. He knows it. He uses it. He used it two nights ago when I was asleep and—he said we would be saying goodbye to the Silvergrove, that Rayla would need—” His voice broke. “He said it would happen in three days. Two of them are gone now. She sent me ahead because I can fly faster on my own—she should be following with a dragon, but—”

“If the Silvergrove is in danger,” said Lain, “we can’t just leave it.” He set the glass of water on the tea table, but Callum didn’t take it.

“He specifically threatened you, and Runaan and Ethari.”

Tiadrin and Lain exchanged a glance. “Still,” Lain said, and Callum swallowed hard.

“If you leave the Silvergrove, he may leave it alone, and at the very least—”

“And if he doesn’t?” Runaan weighed in. “How do we know he’s coming at all? Perhaps it was just to mess with you. And if he does come to the Silvergrove, how will he know we aren’t here? He’ll simply tear the place apart.”

Callum grit his teeth. “Listen to me, he—”

Ethari pressed his lips together and went to place a hand on his shoulder. “Callum—”

Callum threw him off. “I won’t let Rayla lose her family again ! She doesn’t deserve to mourn you again !”

“Callum.” Ethari’s voice was quiet and calming. “We are listening, but that doesn’t mean we are going to agree. Although you’re right. Rayla doesn’t deserve that. But if you truly think the Silvergrove is in danger, then the Council should be notified. Unfortunately there are decisions to be made that’s bigger than just the five or six of us.” 

“We don’t have time . It’s not like the Council would listen to me anyway, you know what they think—”

“We’ll talk to them,” Runaan said. “We’ll call for an urgent meeting, just—you’re in no state to go anywhere.”

“I have to go,” Callum said, rubbing at his face. “They’ll want the details of the dream.” He frowned. “Taredd in particular.” 

“Just five more minutes,” Lain said, holding the glass of water out to him. “We still have a day. Ethari and Runaan can go get them while we wait. It’s okay. They’ll need a few minutes to collect the Council anyway and can bring them back here—they’ll want to keep matters private until they’ve reached a decision.” 

Callum looked at him for a moment, before taking the glass. “Okay,” he said quietly, and Runaan and Ethari took it as a cue to leave. Callum took a sip, and Lain gently rubbed his back.

“There you go,” he soothed. “You flew all the way here?”

“Had to,” the kid croaked. 

“You must be exhausted,” Tiadrin said. 

“I couldn’t stop,” he said, his voice cracking.

“I know,” she said, “it’s okay.” She gently squeezed his forearm. “Are you sore anywhere?”

“My back and shoulders,” he said, and Lain got up to go back into the kitchen for some ice. He came back quickly with a couple of bags, gently setting them against Callum’s back. Callum let out a shaky breath, but began to relax.

“That’s alright?” Lain asked, and Callum nodded. Tiadrin could see the bags under his eyes once the frantic energy began to fade, his usually warm complexion pallid. 

“Did you eat anything?” Tiadrin asked. Callum smiled faintly.

“No, but Rayla packed me extra moonberry juice. It’s probably the only thing that got me here this quickly.” Tiadrin watched him brighten, the way he always did with anything concerning her daughter. “She’s good at keeping me grounded and getting him—me, out of my own head.”

Tiadrin smiled softly. “I’m glad. I know you do the same for her. And I’m sure she would also want you to eat something.”

Callum let out a quiet chuckle. “She would.”

Lain propped the bags of ice carefully between the back of the seat and Callum’s back before heading into the kitchen. “Is toast alright?” Lain said, turning on the burner.

“Toast would be great,” he said. “Thank you, Lain.” 

Lain gave Callum a reassuring smile in reply, before going to take out some slices of bread. “It seems Rayla was right,” he said. “Humans really do like bread.”

Callum snorted and Tiadrin’s heart eased. “Are you feeling a little better?” she asked, and Callum nodded slowly.

“I’ll feel better when the Council gets here, but…” He looked at Tiadrin. “Thank you.”

“Of course, son.” She squeezed his shoulder gently. “How did Rayla handle the news?”

“Worried, but rational,” Callum said, “so admittedly the usual. I just… miss her.”

Tiadrin smiled a little. “I’m sure she misses you too.”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “We’re usually better at being apart, but—”

“You’re very stressed,” Tiadrin said. “It’s understandable.”

He nodded, fingers curling into his scarf. “Everything just feels more manageable, with her.”

“That’s how the steady type of love usually feels,” said Tiadrin with a tiny smile. Lain came out with a few pieces of toast, and Callum took one gratefully, chewing slowly. Colour was beginning to come back into his face, and even if he still seemed pale, he no longer seemed as sickly.

“I just hope she’s alright.” 

“You said she was getting a ride from a dragon here?” Tiadrin asked and Callum nodded. “Then I’m sure she’s just fine.” 

“I think so too. She’s Rayla, she’s more than capable, I just…”

“I know.” She sat down in the seat nearest him, adjusting an ice bag so it would get more of his shoulder. “I’m sure she’ll be here soon enough.”

He gave her an incredibly tired smile. “Thank you, Tia.” 

Tiadrin’s smile grew; if anyone other than her husband could be allowed to call her that, she didn’t mind it being her future son-in-law. “Anytime, son.”

The Council were huddled awkwardly in the house’s doorway, once Ethari and Runaan let them through, but honestly Callum was just glad (in a way) that all of them actually showed up. There was Lilen, looking concerned amid her usual grouchiness, as Master of Community. Young Master Goren of the Mage Guild; Master Orym of the Assassin’s Guild and Runaan’s old mentor; and on and on it went, all six members stooped and making way for the head of the council itself, and by far Callum’s least favourite, Master Taredd of the Silvergrove itself. 

He was a wizened old elf with a thin, wispy white beard and dark grey eyes, dressed in robes of dark green. A knobbly hand was curled over his cane.

Callum tensed at the sight of him, not out of fear, but out of dislike and a general lack of energy. Even if it was interesting to see the way Rayla’s parents, save Ethari (who was used to it), stiffened when Taredd grouched, “What do you want now, boy? You look an inch from death. You know we won’t help you there.” 

Callum pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m aware, Master Taredd.” He took a breath. “I called you all here to warn you. Aaravos is coming to destroy the Silvergrove, likely by tomorrow evening at the latest.”

Goren’s eyebrows shot right up his smooth forehead. “What? How do you know that?”

“He speaks to me, sometimes,” Callum said and then swallowed. He always hated telling anyone this, although he didn’t have to do it often. “In my dreams.”

“You called us here,” said Orym, sounding just as unimpressed as Runaan usually did, “over a dream?”

“They’re more than that,” Callum said. “We’re the only two beings in the world connected to all six arcanum and they only started happening after I connected to the Star primal. He can’t see into my head necessarily, but… he uses it to mess with me. He told me about his planned attack on the Silvergrove himself.”

“Why would he do that?” Goren asked.

Callum knit his fingers together. “To… torment me. He knows I care about this place. This community.” 

Lilen stepped forward. “What would you have us do in preparation, then?”

“Leave. Evacuate everyone as quickly as possible.”

Taredd gaped at him for a moment and then glared. He stomped his cane on the ground. “This is our ancestral home for generations, we cannot just leave! Least of all for our home to be destroyed. Besides, it is impossible for anyone to see past our illusions. We are quite safe here.”

“You’ve never seen what Aaravos can do. He devastated Lux Aurea and that’s when he was still inside his mirror,” said Callum, his temper rising. “You have no idea the carnage he can cause.” 

“He may be right, Master,” said Goren slowly. “Archmage Aaravos would have had centuries more than most mortals to learn Moon magic. And Dark Magic.”

“Assuming we take the boy at his word,” Taredd said. “After all, humans are liars.” 

Tiadrin nearly stepped forward and slapped him, but Runaan got there first, although with a glower instead of a raised fist. “I have been where you are, Master Taredd, and you are mistaken . Humans and elves lie in equal measure. And that human does not lie. If you are willing to risk the lives of this village on your own poor judgment, when he is actively trying to save your life, by extension… then you show shameful weakness, Master.” 

Taredd’s jaw clenched, his thin nostrils flaring. “Your time away from the Silvergrove has changed you,” he said coolly. 

“It has,” Runaan acknowledged. 

Frustrated, Taredd glared at Callum. “I thought you weren’t an archmage. Can’t you just stop Aaravos?”

“If I could stop him, don’t you think I would have already? Or do you think I let the war go on just for fun? The only way we’re ever going to stop Aaravos is if we can destroy his base, but we don’t know where that is, and until then—” Callum let loose a long, low breath. “We need to leave the Silvergrove. Not forever. But we can’t stay here.”

“For a decision of that magnitude, we need to hold a meeting with the whole village,” said Orym thoughtfully, after a glance Runaan’s way. “It would have to be unanimous, like a Ghosting.”

“Yes, because those have worked out so well lately.” Callum could feel the cold glares pointed at him, and he couldn’t find it in him to care. 

Lilen barely suppressed an exasperated sigh. “I side with the young mage. He has never led us astray before and is marrying into our community. He has no reason to lie—if the Sunfire stronghold can be brought down so easily by Aaravos, we should not underestimate the threat.” 

“Master Lilen,” Taredd began reproachfully, “all this based on some human’s nightmare?”

“This entire situation is unorthodox,” she acknowledged. “But we are living in changing times. The world is not what it once was. And the fact remains that the fate of the Silvergrove rests in our decision here today.”

“You believe it?” Orym asked.

Lilen’s gaze was even. “I do.”

“And what about all the trouble that will go into evacuating everyone within a day if the threat turns out to be false after all?”

“It’s not false. Aaravos never makes empty threats,” said Callum, his voice hard.

“Even if it is,” Lilen said, “do we really want to take that risk? Think rationally, Master Taredd. What do we lose other than a day if it’s false? And if it’s true, as I believe it is…”

Taredd let out another huff. “And what of the rebuilding that will need to be done after? Lux Aurea is still picking up the pieces.”

“We’ll all be alive to figure it out after everyone’s evacuated,” Callum snapped. “You act like you didn’t send assassins to slaughter my father in his bedroom alongside the guards I grew up with. Get over yourselves. A village can be rebuilt. People are not that expendable.” 

Orym looked at Runaan and then back at Callum. “I side with the human,” he said, almost as if he’d been holding a breath.

“We’ve all heard the stories about Aaravos,” said Goren worriedly. “I side with Prince Callum.” 

The remaining two council members looked at one another, tassels from their horn cuffs dangling, before nodding and murmuring their assent.

Master Taredd looked extremely put out at being outnumbered. Callum was just relieved. “We—we still need to hold a village meeting,” the old elf sputtered like a broken faucet.

Callum gestured towards the door with one arm, ignoring the soreness in his shoulders. “Then what are we waiting for?”

The village meeting was a barrage of voices and although Callum looked attentive throughout most of it, Runaan suspected the boy was only listening to half of it, his mind wandering to Aaravos, most likely, or Rayla. Runaan himself found the meeting hard to sit through, as the same sorts of arguments and rebuttals that had played out at Lain and Tiadrin’s home were just repeated here in the council’s tree building. But, eventually, the council and village alike came to a verdict: they would, at Callum’s warning, leave the Silvergrove and go to the nearby meadows for at least three day’s time, possibly longer and further if need be. Lain, Tiadrin, Ethari and Runaan would be ushered away somewhere farther away—something called a Banthor Lodge—once the Silvergrove was evacuated and secure.

As the elves disbanded and left the mighty trunk, Callum stayed in his chair, and the speech he’d given to the village encircled Runaan’s thoughts, each word ringing with impassioned conviction. Every story you’ve ever heard about Aaravos? Is true. He levelled Lux Aurea, murdered their queen, and stole the source of their primal. He masterminded the battle of the Storm Spire and nearly consumed the Dragon Prince. He orchestrated the murder of half the Pentarchy’s monarchies. And those were when he was still inside his mirror. And since he’s been out, he felled the grand council of Earthblood lords, has waged war in the North, and his shadowstalkers are only growing in number. If they are all coming to the Silvergrove, you all need to run. Aaravos is worth your fear. 

Runaan watched Callum drag a hand down his face, the bags under his eyes a little clearer, though not as heavy as they’d seemed when he’d first arrived. His shoulder heaved as he let out what must have been a long, heavy breath. He’d accomplished what he’d come here for, so far. 

Runaan could remember what that feeling was like, after a mission. The anticipation of what would need to be done, the tireless focus. The exhaustion that would take over after.

But when he glanced over again, Callum didn’t look tired. If anything, he looked jittery, one leg bouncing in place. He kept twisting his engagement ring around his finger. Runaan’s chest clenched; he remembered that look. Not from himself, but from the first time he’d come back to Ethari after a mission. Maybe less jittery, but still…

He sat down next to Callum before it registered that he’d walked over to him at all. “Rayla is going to be alright.” 

Surprise replaced concern on the boy’s face, but only for a moment. “I don’t know when she left,” he mumbled. “She said she’d be on her way as soon as one of the dragons could take her but that shouldn’t have taken more than a few hours after I left. And she would’ve been travelling on her own, and the Spire is fairly North, and Aaravos and his mages have to be coming from somewhere , so—” Callum’s jaw clenched. “I hate it. I hate that he’s in my head, I hate that he knows her, knows that she—I hate him. ” 

Runaan was quiet. This had never been his strong suit, but Ethari, Lain, and Tiadrin were speaking with some of the other council members and remaining elves, beginning to organize the evacuation. He’d hardly thought about having a son-in-law someday, being the least enthusiastic of the parents about the subject, and had certainly never expected one so open, who wore his heart on his sleeve and let it spill from his mouth. That, and it was strange to see hate in Callum’s eyes. Even if it was sort of relieving, as a kind of confirmation, that he had never looked at Runaan like that. Somehow. 

“She’ll be here soon,” was all he could find it in him to say. “I… can wait here with you.”

Callum glanced up at him, with that same surprised expression on his face, before puffed out a laugh. “Thanks,” he mumbled. 

“And you can, er… vent, more, if you… need to.”

Callum’s mouth twitched. “It’s okay, Runaan, really. I’m fine. You can go.” 

Runaan tried to not look as relieved as he felt. “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. I’ll catch up with you and Ethari and Lain and Tiadrin in a minute.” 

Runaan, for once, hesitated. “We’ll come back,” he said. “We’ll wait with you.”

Callum looked at him again, though there was something new in his eyes this time. “Thanks,” he said, his voice thick. He let go of his ring fully and smoothed out his scarf. “But we should probably get going. We don’t have a lot of time.” He stood up a little too quickly, and Runaan steadied him. 

“You alright?”

Callum winced slightly. “I will be.”

Runaan opened his mouth to say something - perhaps to protest - when Lain popped up. “Ready to go?”

“Ready,” Callum said, straightening. “Let’s go.”

Already packing again, Tiadrin thought glumly. They didn’t have many valuables, so they only packed away clothes, some food, and the trinkets that were valuable only to them and their family—some old wood sculptures Rayla had made as a child, some decorations gifted from Runaan and Ethari, and the scrapbook from Callum—before closing up their packs and heading back to the living room. They found Callum sitting there on the couch, staring at nothing.

“Callum? We’re ready,” Tiadrin said, but he didn’t budge.

“I’m just gonna… wait till Rayla gets here,” he said. 

Lain and Tiadrin exchanged a look, before she frowned and stepped forwards. “Callum, you can’t wait here on your own. Aaravos—”

“Is on his way to the Silvergrove, and I need to make sure I catch Rayla either before he gets here, or that I find her after he gets here. I can’t just let her walk into an attack. Someone needs to be here. That someone is me.” 

Lain was the first of them that set his bags down. “Then we’re staying too.”

Callum finally looked up at them. “What? No, you need—”

“To be here with our son-in-law to make sure our daughter is okay,” Lain finished. Tiadrin set her bags down too. “Should we wait here? Or by the entrance?”

Callum’s lips pressed into a thin line. “She’ll see us at the entrance first,” he said. “But so will Aaravos. We should go somewhere… we should send a shadowhawk and try to catch her on the way, if she is on her way, and let her know what’s going on. Then we can go somewhere only she—only her and I know.”

Tiadrin and Lain exchanged a glance, but they didn’t ask any questions. “Alright,” Lain said, and they followed Callum out of the cottage, their knapsacks stowed away into a corner.

Ethari and Runaan caught them on the way over, the former assassin with his bow slung over his back, Ethari holding a bag in each hand. “Where are you three going?” the latter asked. 

“Callum has decided he has to wait for Rayla to arrive,” said Tiadrin. “So of course we have to stay too.”

“You couldn’t tell us before we packed?”

The corners of Tiadrin’s mouth lifted a little. “It was kind of a last-minute conversation.”

“You don’t all have to stay,” said Callum. “I’ll wait for Rayla, I can fly her out to our rendezvous point, and—although Ethari, we do need a shadowhawk.” 

“I can repurpose one of the ones the council received,” Ethari said before he dashed back to his workshop. That had been one of the moments Tiadrin thought Callum might lose it in front of the village, when Taredd had admitted they had received all three shadowhawks Ibis had sent, read them, and then just dismissed the warning anyway. 

Elves flooded the pathways around them as they prepared to leave, bringing bags, cradling babies and canes, weapons and cloaks, magical pendants for protection hung around necks. It was rare to see the whole village out like this, Tiadrin reflected. Since there was no real day cycle in the Silvergrove, plenty of elves worked and fulfilled their duties at odd hours, various stands at the market open at any time. It was only for the hours on either side of midnight when the Silvergrove grew especially dark that everyone was actually sleep all at the same time. Now here they were, bustling, and maybe even a little panicked. 

Callum took the arrow from Ethari and started transcribing immediately, his fingertips growing blue with his own flair of the Moon arcanum. He seemed to be halfway through when light—a bright, dusty orange—flashed. 

Tiadrin looked up. What the—?

The sky was crumbling in. The Silvergrove’s illusion was breaking, lightning like cracks running down either side of the dusky, dome-like spell. There were several gasps, even some screams, but the rest of the Silvergrove just hurried on faster to the evacuation route. Callum looked up, his expression set as he reached behind him, pulling out a long cylinder. It extended out to fully reveal his staff, and he set the tip on the ground. 

“He’s here early,” Callum hissed.

Tiadrin grabbed his shoulder. “You are in no condition to fight.” 

“No, but I’m the only one that has faced him before. I’m the only one that can.

He stepped forward as the barrier broke, shattering like glass before disappearing into the air.

Helplessly, Tiadrin followed. She couldn’t very well let him go alone, and not in this state. She drew her new sword. On her left, Runaan already had his bow at the ready, and Lain already had his war scythe, the polearm not yet extended. Callum stood in front of them, his grip on his staff tight as they all looked ahead, the mist of the broken barrier fading.

A figure stepped out, holding a staff, but it was smaller than Tiadrin had expected, with long white hair. A young woman she didn’t recognize, the girl’s eyes already glowing black. Aaravos was nowhere to be seen.

Callum’s grip tightened on his staff. “Claudia.”

Chapter Text

Everything was blurry, for a moment, and he couldn’t quite remember where he was. A searing pain shot up his left arm, burning along the path of the scar that went down the middle of his rune tattoos. There was a voice, but it was muffled and distorted, and he tried to blink the light out of his eyes.

Claudia had cast a spell. Claudia had cast a spell and hit him with it. What was she doing here? He hadn’t seen in her months, since he and Rayla had stolen the small sack of coins back, and before then, since—

“Dad, maybe this isn’t a good idea—”

Callum forced his eyes open. Breathe. In and out. In and out. He used his staff to help push himself to his feet. Tiadrin was grabbing his arm, her face concerned. The sound of clashing was noisy up ahead. Lain and Runaan had taken on the Dark Mage, but the shadowstalkers—elves and humans alike, but predominantly the former, who had fallen prey to Aaravos’ will—marched on. Panic rose within him as pain flashed in his arm again.

The villagers were running, but not fast enough. He needed a blocking spell, something. Earth and Moon could probably do the trick, maybe even a bit of Sun, like the spell needed for the fire ring prison in Lux Aurea, but two arcanums was difficult. Three was risky. 

The shadowstalkers in their dark blue hoods marked with the stars under Aaravos’ eyes advanced anyway, and Callum let Tiadrin help him to his feet. “Is—does the Silvergrove have a moon primal stone?” he asked weakly.

She nodded, only a furrow in her brow betraying her confusion. “Yes, but—”

“Go get it for me. Please.” 

She looked reluctant to leave him—elven warriors were stepping up around him, the Silvergrove rising to defend their home, to give others time to flee—but Tiadrin let him go. She turned and ran, flying down the cobblestone paths that led to the Silvergrove’s old library by the school Rayla had attended as a child and Callum turned his eyes to the battle ahead.

Rage built in his chest as he rushed forward to join Lain and Runaan, his voice as sharp as their blades. “ Claudia !” 

She threw up her arm, a purple shield emitting from it to block Runaan’s latest arrow. “Long time no see, Callum,” she called over, grinning. 

She looked worse, somehow, than the last time he’d seen her, but also more sane. She’d been a little unhinged—desperate to hold onto the coins as the last piece of her father, still reeling from Viren’s death—but she seemed more calculated now. Like when putting together ingredients for a Dark Magic spell the way she had in their youth and he’d doted on her. Still a little desperate, eyes darting around—scrambling to hold onto Aaravos’ favour, maybe, after losing the coins, or something else?—but there was the same burning feeling in his chest whenever he looked at her. His enemy. There were barely any streaks of black left in her hair.

She’d burned any affection he’d held for her years ago, and looking at her felt like coughing up ash.

“Claudia, where is he ?”

Her lips curled. “Getting his hands on your little girlfriend, I suppose—”

He drew a rune into the air with his staff and released it with an angry yell. Claudia’s shield with the old broken Sunfire staff deflected it. Cracks formed in the shield but it still held. 

“Of all the days to leave her alone,” she continued, seemingly unfazed. “And now her home and her family are going to be destroyed—I guess what goes around comes around, doesn’t it? And now you’re here all on your own—”

Callum drew up another rune and blasted it at her. Her shield cracked some more. A few more blasts should do it. “Yes,” he snarled, “didn’t want Soren to see whatever you’ve become.” 

Claudia flinched; her grip on her staff slipped slightly. That was new, Callum thought. Soren didn’t always strike her, the wound often closed even as it festered. So the fact that it fazed her this time, when it hadn’t in the past few years, even after Viren’s death, was interesting to say the least. Callum didn’t dwell on it for long though. 

He took the opening, drawing up another rune and releasing it. Claudia buckled with the impact this time, the shield beginning to fall apart. Her white hair fell in front of her face as her balance shifted, but she just let out a low, cold laugh.

“You’re still the scared little boy that used to come to my room about nightmares, aren’t you?” Claudia snapped. “Useless at everything —scared to go to your own mother’s grave—will you be scared to go to Rayla’s, I wonder—”

Callum screamed, her shield shattering, and he swung his staff right at her head. Claudia dodged it, but not Runaan’s arrow that caught her in the shoulder, and she tore the shaft out with a murderous glare of her own. Lain came up on her other side and Claudia drew up a flashing fire spell he only just dodged, the flames tainted blue around the edges, Dark Magic still corrupting the old primal. 

Runaan fired another arrow but she turned it to ash and took something out of her pocket with her free hand. It was some kind of spindly spider, large and alive in her hand until she crushed it in her gloved palm. Her fist unclenched and bright blue flames burst in her palm, burning neither the glove nor her skin. She shot it up into the sky and whatever remained of the Silvergrove’s silvery blue enchantment turned black instead, burning rapidly along the edges, another ring of fire moving through the ground until it encircled the grove, blocking most of the fleeing elves in.

“What can I say?” said Claudia, her smile manic and gleaming white. “They make for excellent parts.” 

Callum swung at her again, tears forming in his eyes. He over-reached and she turned a palm near his chest, the black in her eyes not receding before she chanted another spell and something large and heavy, constricting, threw him backwards, the wind knocked out of him. Runaan and Lain moved to cover him, more elves fighting around them, those who weren’t panicking, and Callum rubbed at his chest, trying to determine what had happened, when—

“Callum.” Tiadrin was crouching beside him, hair windswept from running. She grabbed his arm and helped him up, her other hand cradling a silvery white primal stone, filled with pure moonlight. “Are you alright?”

He took the primal stone from her with thankfully steady fingers as the chaos raged around them. Trees were being felled, houses too. No elves seemed dead—yet, anyway. His throat burned . The sun primal itched at his skin. Earth tingled at his feet. And now he held Moon in one hand, able to give his body a marginal break. 

He had long since learned, in combating Aaravos’ slew of Mages, Dark and Primal alike, that sometimes the most useful thing wasn’t to destroy the magic being thrown at you, but to transform it instead. 

“Stand back,” he said to Tiadrin and after a moment’s hesitation, she did so. 

He drew the rune carefully, having to swap in some streaks, combine not just two Primals, but three - almost messed up and then had to start over - but soon enough he had it, the Ancient Draconic coming to his tongue as he pulled his energy together, channelling it forward, up, and outward alongside his arms.

Incensis praesidium !”

The fire snaking along the edges of the Silvergrove shot up in a steady wall, and then turned to solidified moonlight. It glowed bright and white, almost blinding, and he forced it in between every elf and every shadowstalker, pushing the latter back , sealing the dome shut. His arms shook, beads of sweat dripping down his brow. The Moon primal stone nearly slipped from his grasp as he dropped to his knees. The stars were screaming at him, his head pounding.

But he waited until the barrier was finished, the attackers out, the elves safe, sensing it before he saw it, Claudia disappearing in the last glimmer of the forest before the wall finished entirely, turning transparent once it was done.

White spots danced in his vision even once he looked at the grass, nearly keeling over. 

He could still hear Tiadrin’s voice when the Silvergrove went black.

Everything hurt, but not in the usual way, when consciousness came to call again. He hadn’t felt this awful since maybe Purification, Callum thought dimly, struggling to open his eyes. He was lying on something soft, the woodpine scent in his nose vaguely familiar, and then —a soft, warm hand on his cheek, the gentle press of a pleasantly cool wedding band.

“Hey, sad prince.” 

For a moment, he wondered if he was dreaming. Then his eyes fluttered open, Rayla’s caring face staring back at him once the blurriness faded. She stroked her thumb over his cheek, a soft light in his eyes. He examined her quickly, best he could without moving his head, which hurt too much to move at all. She was here and she was okay. Relief made his bones sag.

Then more panic. “The village—” he tried, but his voice was soft and hoarse.

“Everyone was evacuated just in time. You did it, Callum.”

He blinked, once, twice. “Oh.”

A fond smile twisted her lips as she brushed his hair back from his brow. Part of him didn’t want to look away from her, but he looked at his surroundings anyway, finding them immediately familiar, too: Runaan and Ethari’s living room with him lying on the couch. They’d been closer to their home in the attack than Lain and Tiadrin’s.

“You’ve only been out for a day and a half,” she answered before he could ask. “I got back after…” Her smile faded, her brow furrowing. “Mum told me what happened. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. The dragon and I got caught in a storm, and they didn’t want to fly through—not a talker, and I’m no translator, so—”

“I’m glad you weren’t here,” he said quietly. Then, angrily, “Claudia said Aaravos was going after you.”

“Yes, because Claudia never lies.” 

Callum let out a long sigh through his nostrils, closing his eyes. “I hate that I let her get to me.”

“You didn’t let her do anything. You were exhausted and desperate, and… you knew each other for a long time. I’m just so glad you’re alright.” 

Callum smiled faintly, opening his eyes to look at her again. He went to open his mouth too when there was a flurry of movement behind her and they both went to look.

“Rayla,” Tiadrin said, almost a complaint, “why didn’t you tell us he was awake?”

Rayla looked up, smiling a little. “He just got up and I wanted a few moments alone with my future husband?”

“Even though we’ve been worrying about him too?” Tiadrin asked, although she had softened. 

“Sorry,” he said, smiling sheepishly as Tiadrin sat down on the other side of him. 

“Shush, all that matters is you’re alright. How are you feeling?”

“Eight on a scale of one to ten?” Rayla guessed and he nodded. She leaned over and kissed his cheek, pulling away with a sigh. “What are we going to do with you?” she murmured. 

“Your fathers are in the kitchen,” Tiadrin said to her. “I’ll let them know Callum’s awake—we can all eat dinner in here, if the noise isn’t too much?”

Callum managed to push himself up slightly, into a sitting position. “That would be great, Tia. Thank you.” 

Rayla’s brow raised as Tiadrin only smiled before heading back in with the rest of the parents. “You know, only my dad is allowed to call her Tia, usually.” 

“Yeah, she… just kind of started letting me call her Tia.”

“She really has basically adopted you. Runaan tried once as a joke and he almost didn’t make it.”

Callum blinked owlishly. “Wow, really? It just kinda slipped out one time, and she didn’t say anything.” At Rayla’s nod, he smiled weakly. “Yeah, I guess it’s… kinda nice.”

“Callum,” Ethari’s voice had a cheery cadence. He sat down in the chair closest to the couch on the far end, with Rayla staying closer to Callum’s head. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m alright,” he said, “I’m—” Distracted by Runaan putting down a tray with six bowls of noodles in a white cream sauce, and a glass of water in front of him. 

“You should eat something,” said the former assassin. Lain brought in another pitcher of water and glasses for everyone else. 

Callum eased himself up, swinging his legs off the rest of the couch and onto the ground. It felt good to feel solid again as he reached out, hands steady as he took a sip of water that soothed his throat. 

“I did want to ask,” Rayla said, “what primals you used for that spell? Mum described the incantation to me, but it must be one of your own?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “I kinda made it up on the fly, but I’ve done similar spells on a much smaller scale before. But I only channelled Earth and Sun directly. I used the Silvergrove’s moon primal stone for the last one.”

“Minimize the risk you were taking,” she translated and he nodded. She took his hand and squeezed. “Well, that’s very thoughtful of you, love. Thank you.” 

He ran his thumb over hers. “I already told you, I plan to be around to bug you for a very long time.” Then he looked at Tiadrin with a small frown. “I hope nobody’s too upset that I used the primal stone? I know it’s pretty sacred and that not all villages have one.” 

Lain and Runaan shared a glance. “Actually,” said Lain lightly, “even Master Taredd admitted that you behaved admirably.” 

He blinked at them. “He did?”

“He’s not enough of a fool to deny that much when you single handedly saved the entire village in front of everyone,” Tiadrin said. “We all owe you a debt.” 

“No, you don’t owe me anything,” he began, sitting up a little straighter.  

“...Which is why the council is officially letting you into the community early.”

Callum’s brows rose. “Really?”

“Really,” said Tiadrin, smiling, although Callum couldn’t quite return it.

So, that was the price then. Advocating for their safety above his own, draining himself to the point of passing out, and now they wanted him. There was some warmth and happiness—he wouldn’t be brought in with the same sort of resignation he had expected at the wedding, to a degree—perhaps there would even be a real welcome , now. But even when he had spent so long floundering in his own family, he had always known on a certain level that Harrow had loved him unconditionally, even if neither of them were good at showing it. 

“Callum?” Rayla’s voice was soft. “Are you alright?”

He rested his hands on either side of the warm bowl. “Yeah,” he said, looking at her because that always made smiling a little easier. “It’s just been a long couple of days. And we’re going to have to figure out what Aaravos was actually planning, since Claudia came here and—oh gods.”

Rayla grabbed his arm when he went to stand up, his legs unable to hold his weight. “Callum, what is it—”

“The Spire,” he said hoarsely. “We both left the Spire —”

Rayla’s eyes widened. “If something went wrong,” she said, although there was a trace of uncertainty, “Ibis would let us know—”

“Not if he’s still in the thick of it, or—” He went to stand up again and this time Rayla firmly pulled him back down.

“You are in no condition to travel. On a shadowpaw, a dragon, or otherwise.”

“We both left Zym and Zubeia, I can’t just—”

I’ll go.”

“No, we’re lucky that Aaravos didn’t go after you last time you travelled on your own—”

Rayla’s eyes hardened. “Callum—”

“Why don’t you,” said Runaan, cutting across them, “consider sending a message to the Spire first ?”

“The last time—”

“—was Master Taredd’s fault. You know Ibis will take you by your word.”

“But the Dragon Queen—”

“Is her own force to be reckoned with, when she’s awake,” said Lain.

Callum scowled. “But if Aaravos is attacking the Spire, he will have planned for that. Viren and my father alone killed Avizandum. If he’d actually been here at the Silvergrove, we would all be dead, right now.”

“Callum,” Ethari tried, but he was too agitated by that point, even when Rayla lay a hand on his arm.

“I know him better than anyone,” Callum snapped. “He’s in my fucking head , isn’t he?” 

“Callum.” It was only when the room had gone quiet, save for Rayla’s voice, that he realized how fast and shallow his breathing had gone. She took both his hands in his. “ Look at me.” 

He did, and his eyes began to sting. “I was so scared when I thought he’d gotten to you,” he whispered. “I don’t—I can’t go through that again, I can’t risk you going alone again, I—”

“And how do you think I felt when I finally caught up and saw…” Her grip on his hands tightened. “We’ll go send a letter to the Spire, and let’s just see, alright? If I have to go, I’ll bring at least one of my parents with me, okay?”

His throat was tight with words he couldn’t say as he finally nodded. “Okay,” he said quietly. 

Rayla brushed his hair back, down and over his ear, her fingers lingering at the small braid woven nearby, and Callum felt himself soften. He wasn’t actually mad at her, after all. Frustrated and upset and tired about the whole situation, maybe, but not at her. They didn’t have to say anything as the the rest of the parents left—Ethari or Runaan would be sending the message, Lain and Tiadrin penning the message, then—as her fingers lingered at the end of his braid, and he eased himself back down at the nearest seat.

“I’m sorry,” he finally whispered and Rayla shook her head.

“You don’t have to apologize.”

“I shouldn’t have snapped.”

“Maybe not, but I understand why you did. Everything that has happened so far… And you must be so exhausted. My parents told me about when you arrived. And then dealing with…” She frowned. “I hate that she keeps hurting you.” Rayla rested her other hand over his chest. “Our local healer took a look at you. That Dark Magic spell she hit you with wasn’t too bad, luckily—not for her lack of trying though, I’m sure.” 

“I just…” A lump rose in his throat. “I keep thinking we’re finally safe, but we’re not .”

She opened her arms, holding him close when he leaned into her. “I know,” she said quietly. “It scares me too. It never gets any easier, wondering if I lost you. I thought it was already terrible when we were kids, but—” She bent her brow against the side of his head, her voice dropping to a shaky whisper. “It’s so much worse now.” 

He buried his face in her neck, tears leaking out. “I know.” He felt her shoulders shake and he clung to her. 

“When does it stop?” She hardly ever sounded so resigned.

“I don’t know. But… it will, someday. It has to. Right?”

“Yeah,” she said slowly. She pulled away to look at him, smiling sadly. Her eyes were rimmed with red. “Still doesn’t feel fair.”

“It doesn’t,” he agreed. “I think I might look forward to when we argue about normal things, like, who was supposed to lock the door or whose turn it is to wake up and check on the baby or something. Not…”

“They’ll hardly be arguments. After worrying so much for each other’s lives, I might just be glad that you’re still around when you do something annoying.”

Callum smiled faintly. “Like what?”

“I dunno. Like when you get so caught up in drawing you run late for something?”

“Oh yes,” he said, “and you know how much I love your snarkiness.” 

Rayla grinned and rested her fingers in his hair. “We’ll make it through this,” she said softly. “We always do.” 

He held her tighter and didn’t let go. “I know.” 

Lain stayed with the rest of the parents in Ethari and Runaan’s kitchen, all of them deciding that Rayla and Callum would need a little bit of space for the moment. Perhaps all going in for dinner had been too much, too soon. They drank their tea in silence, and Lain kept his eyes on one of the walls; the pictures they’d left up were crooked, some of them smashed on the floor from the chaos that had shook the Silvergrove. From Callum’s fight with that Dark Mage. Not Aaravos. A girl. Not much older than Callum or Rayla. Maybe just another shadowstalker, but… The way they’d spoken to one another had seemed personal.

She’d known things. A former friend turned enemy, he thought distantly, but he didn’t know enough about Callum or Rayla’s past to really know

Lain looked over at Ethari, once Tiadrin drifted after pressing a kiss to her cheek; she and Runaan said something about helping the Silvergrove fix the damages and go on patrol. Lain had never known too much about magic. Enough to know the basics of his own primal, and he and Tiadrin had known the Sky mage Ibis, a nice enough elf even if he was a little strange and eccentric (which, no wonder he’d gotten along so well with Callum, apparently). But even he knew that no one, really, whether elf or human, was made to channel three arcanum at once and survive. 

“Callum is very lucky to be alive,” Lain said quietly when Ethari put the teacups in the sink. “Isn’t he?”

Ethari turned to face him. “Honestly, I don’t know anymore. It seems, sometimes, that there’s nothing he can’t do when he puts his mind to it, or to save the people he loves.” 

Lain nearly smiled. “He’s a talented young man. I’ll admit, you’ve always been the most mage-like among the four of us, but…” 

Ethari rolled his eyes goodnaturedly. “I work in enchanted objects and metalworking, not real magic.”

“You still made all of our horn cuffs.” 

“Not exactly magic.”

“Isn’t it? Magic of true love.”

“That was sappy, Lain, even for you.” 

Lain laughed, the first time he’d been able to for the past several hours, his spirits lifting when Ethari laughed too. “Maybe. I did have something more serious I wanted to ask you.” At Ethari’s nod, he said, “Who was the Mage girl?”

His expression fell. “You remember the Dark Mage that imprisoned you in those coins? That Callum killed?” Lain pressed his lips together in a tight line, nodding. “That was his daughter.”

Lain’s eyes widened. “His…?”

“You have to remember that Callum grew up with that family. Lord Viren was once King Ezran’s godfather. And Callum and that Mage girl, Claudia…”

“...They were friends?”

“They were,” Ethari said. “And he was infatuated with her, as a youth, before…”

Lain’s mouth formed a silent, Oh . “What happened?”

“As far as I understand it, Lord Viren sent Claudia and her brother Soren to hunt down the boys. Soren at the very least was ordered to kill them. I don’t know if Claudia was given another mission or not, but she did not initially know what her brother had been told to do. When they caught up with the boys, they thought Rayla was a threat. Callum pacified the situation; he didn’t listen to the siblings’ pleas to get him and Ezran to go home, but Claudia still tried to convince him and—I think she used his feelings against him. Lied about wanting to help them on the mission as well and tried to kill Rayla and take them back by force.” 

Ethari cleared his throat. “Soren has since changed, and serves Ezran as a loyal crownguard. Claudia was still loyal to Viren the first time he… died. She reanimated his corpse with Dark Magic and blamed her brother, Callum, and Rayla for his death. She was there when—when Aaravos and Viren had Callum and Rayla within their grasp, and Callum killed the Dark Mage for good this time. But they were children together. No amount of bad blood can erase that.” 

Lain stared at the table. “No wonder they all hate each other.” 

“Yes. She’s also the one who decided—” Ethari’s lip curled into an uncharacteristic sneer. “That there were more ‘practical purposes’ for my husband after the assassination mission. On the one hand, it kept him alive. On the other…” 

Lain’s brow furrowed. “That must… be hard, seeing her again. For both of you.”

“More for Callum. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to protect those you love from someone you no longer have any love for.”

“Was she his first love?”

Ethari shook his head. “No. But she was his first heartbreak.” 

Lain nodded. At the very least, it meant Rayla and Callum really had been each other’s first everything and had spared one another any possible pain as a result of past romantic endeavours. At least real love wouldn’t be connected to heartbreak. 

“And she and… Rayla?”

“They only knew each other as enemies. There’s plenty of bad blood, obviously—Rayla is the one who tackled Lord Viren off the Spire, and how the girl treated Callum and Ezran, of course—but it’s less personal. Less biting.”

“I see,” Lain said, his voice low. “I can’t imagine.”

“Me neither,” said Ethari, and they looked at one another.

They’d grown up together too, in old neighbouring houses. Gone to school and had chosen each other on their first day when all the other kids wanted to play with knives and Ethari had been more concerned with climbing a tree. Lain had helped him reach the first branch. Lain couldn’t imagine ever hating him—couldn’t imagine someone as typically gentle as Ethari—as Callum—genuinely hating him back. 

“We have to look after them,” Lain said quietly. Callum and Rayla. Garlaf knew they’d been without parents for too long, that they still didn’t quite know how to have them. Even just in that first month travelling with the Dragon Prince, alone and scared and almost dying every other day, mourning and just trying to figure things out. It was amazing they hadn’t flat out fallen apart. 

“I know,” Ethari said. “And we will, for as long as we live. But we have to remember that they’ve been used to looking after themselves. Sometimes I wonder if they remember what it is to have parents again.”

“Isn’t that just more of a reason?”

“Oh, we’ll look after them no matter what. You just have to be prepared for them to not see it.” 

Lain smiled slightly. “I know Tia and I didn’t get much time to know, so tell me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s too different from just being a parent ordinarily.”

Ethari smiled back at him, light in his eyes. “No,” he agreed, “it really isn’t.” 

“Then we’ll figure it out. And if anyone ever tries to hurt either of them like that again, then we’ll do all we can to protect them from it. And if we can’t, we’ll be here, when they need us.”

Ethari clapped him on the shoulder. “You do realize you’re kind of preaching to the choir here, right?”

Lain ducked his head, his smile turning a bit bashful. “Saying it out loud makes it easier, somehow.” The smile faded a little. “I should have been here more, back then.”

“Don’t do this to yourself now—”

“I know, I know. But I see them, and I can’t help it sometimes. I don’t regret serving the Dragon King and Queen. But I also wish we’d been here more. We lost time we’ll never get back. We left Rayla.” Lain looked up. “We left you.”

Ethari’s face fell. “You didn’t—”

“We did. We can say all we want about duty or honour but we all left you, whether we did so with awareness or intent of it or not. I can’t imagine how it was, to lose and Ghost us and then four months later, lose your husband and seemingly your daughter in one fell swoop.”

“But I failed her too . The moment she needed me most, I turned away. I’ve had years to reconcile with that and sometimes I still can’t.”

“You turned back .”

“And you came back.” Ethari’s eyes were rimmed with tears now. “So don’t go blaming yourself for the past, because then we’d all have to, or we can never look forward to what we still have. And we have so much more than I ever dreamed. The Silvergrove may have been attacked, yes, but it was saved—by a human mage—and above all else… we do live in peace times , Lain. Who ever would have thought that would happen, let alone in our lifetimes?”

“It’s a new world,” Lain agreed quietly.

“A better world. And we owe it to the youth.”

The corners of Lain’s mouth twitched. “We’ll owe much more to them by the time this is done, won’t we?”

“We do.” Ethari grasped Lain’s shoulder, squeezing it. “You’re alright?”

“I am,” Lain said. He stepped forward and hugged him anyway, arms tight. “Thank you.”

“Always, my friend. It’s good to have you back.”

Lain gestured towards the small stack of teacups and plates in the sink. “Do you need any help with washing up?”

“Need?” Ethari smiled. “No. But I won’t say no to some help.”

Lain pushed up his sleeves to his elbows. “Let’s get to it, then.”

There were small mercies and smaller beauties in the little things, after all.

It was a struggle to get Callum up the stairs, Rayla’s arm braced along his back, but eventually she eased him into a sitting position on the edge of their bed, brushing her fingers through his hair. “Agitate anything?” she asked. 

“Just my patience with myself,” he mumbled, and Rayla smiled a little.

She kissed his forehead. “I think considering the circumstances you can give yourself a bit of a break.”

“I don’t wanna,” he pouted, and Rayla laughed in spite of herself.

“I think my whiny prince needs some rest,” she teased. “Come on, arms up. I’ll get you a fresh tunic.” He let out another long sigh, but raised his arms anyway, allowing Rayla to pull his tunic off over his head. She folded the fabric under one arm before leaning down to press a brief kiss to his mouth, her other hand giving his cheek a gentle pat. “Still my handsome prince.”

Callum’s face lifted. “Alright fine, you win.”

Rayla tossed him a smile over her shoulder as she moved to put away his tunic, opening one drawer and then another to take out a new one. “Don’t I always?”

“You won my heart,” he said, his grin widening when she let out a long groan.

“Alright, now I know that you’re definitely fine.” She tossed his tunic over and Callum caught it with an awkward cradle of his wrist. “Shoulders still sore?” she guessed as he pulled it on. 

“Kind of. I should probably lay off flying for a while.” He rolled his shoulders back slightly, wincing. Rayla sat down next to him again, gently rubbing a spot between his shoulders. He let out a slow breath.

“This good?” she asked, and Callum nodded.

“Thank you.”

She smiled softly. “Of course, love.” She pecked his cheek. “How’re you feeling?”

“People have been asking me that a lot lately.”

“Because you’ve been dealing with a lot.”

“I told you, I’m fine, my shoulders just ache and I’m tired.”

Rayla pursed her lips. “You know that’s what I’m not actually asking about, don’t you?”

Callum sagged. “Don’t you think we’ve had enough Big Feelings Time for one day already?”

“Just checking if there’s anything else you wanted to talk about,” she clarified, rubbing at his shoulder again. “But it’s okay if you don’t.”

“There’s just too much . It was easier when I just had mainly one thing to focus on and process, but I was scared for you, and your family, and the Silvergrove, while also angry with the community in some ways—mainly just the Council, but still—and…” He took a breath. “Seeing Claudia again, in the midst of all this, and how angry seeing her always makes me—” He let out a little breath. “How sad too, because—and when I thought it was Aaravos, I was so scared because I know I can’t beat him on my own, but I don’t want to leave you and Ezran alone —”

She slipped her fingers through his. “I don’t want you to leave us either,” she said quietly. “That’s why you’ll have help.”

“No one but me can—”

“—face him as an equal, I know. But I’m pretty sure if I stab him real good with my blades, he’ll still feel it, won’t he?”

Callum didn’t smile. “He knows how much you mean to me. He uses it to get to me every time he’s in my head, I—”

Rayla wrapped her other arm around him, looping under his arm, and resting her hand on his chest. “I’m right here, love. We’re okay. We’re together. And we’ll be leaving for the Banthor Lodge soon with my parents as an extra precaution.”

He blinked. “We will?”

“We talked about it while you were asleep. My parents… don’t love the idea, but Ethari knows the Lodge. They’ll be safer in Katolis, closer to Ez. We’ll stay with them for a bit and figure out when we want to go to the Spire, if we need to. We should be getting Ibis’ reply in the morning, if he had time to send it. And at least it will be a safe place for all of us, physically and mentally. And I’m sure the Council will never doubt you again, otherwise they wouldn’t be admitting you early.”


“I know it probably feels cheap,” she murmured, “but just remind yourself how stubborn Moonshadow elves are, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Callum was quiet for a while before he squeezed her hand and closed his eyes, resting for a moment. “And how are you doing? I know it’s scary for you to see me… like that.” Among the threat being directly against her people, home, and parents.

“It is,” she said quietly. “I know why you pushed yourself so far. It’s… one of the things we’ve always had in common, I guess. But it’s still hard, coming back and… hoping I’m not too late.”

Callum brought her hand up to his lips, pressing a kiss to the back of her hand. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.

“But thank you for keeping my family safe,” she said, “ including you.” 

He smiled a little. “Of course. We all plan to stick around for a very long time.”

“I know and I love you for it.” 

He craned his neck to kiss her lips. “I love you, too.” He felt her smile as he pulled away, resting his forehead against hers.

“We should get some rest. You’ll need as much of it as possible.”

“Fine,” he mumbled, smiling a little when she giggled.

“You’re lucky you’re so cute even when you’re being pouty.”

His smile softened and he didn’t let go of her hands, stroking his thumb over her engagement ring. “I mean it. I love you. I really do.” 

Rayla smiled at him and met his eyes. “I know,” she promised. “I love you too.” She squeezed his hands. “We’re okay?”

He squeezed back, breathing . “We’re okay.”

Tomorrow, after all, was a new day.

The dancing ceremony was beautiful. Rayla had never seen a welcoming one before; granting entry to new community members was rare, and although a few had happened since the war had ended and Moonshadow elves become slightly less secluded, she no longer lived in the Silvergrove full time. Callum stumbled a little over the steps, but they’d practiced, and no one would hold it against him, either, not when he was technically only on day three of his recovery.

Ibis’ letter from the Spire had come that first morning, a thick scroll with details. Aaravos had staged an attack but hadn’t gotten too far—the mage himself hadn’t even been seen, although a fierce force of shadowstalkers had been deployed—with a few casualties and no fatalities for residents of the Spire. The new trainee she’d been in charge of had proved his worth, the other Dragonguard and Ibis pulling through in their absence, as well as the dragons who had stayed congregated around the Spire just in case once Rayla had left. And a wakeful, vengeful Zubeia, of course, was always something to be reckoned with. 

It was with a mixture of relief and perhaps mild surprise that Rayla had relayed the news that everything was alright to her family. The Spire, it seemed, didn’t need them as much as she had thought… 

So would it need them to return at all?

They’d been away from the Spire so much this past year—finding the coins alone had taken weeks trekking across Xadia searching for Claudia—would continue to be away for at least another couple of weeks. Was it fair for her to continue to be Captain of the Dragonguard when she was barely there? When a new life was calling and growing more tangible than ever back here in the Silvergrove, once it was safe? Or was there a point in settling down at all with Aaravos out there? 

“Will he, er,” said Tiadrin, tugging her out of the moment to where her mother stood beside her, as they watched her betrothed, “be better prepared for the wedding dance?”

Rayla smiled, letting out a soft snort. “Hopefully. He didn’t get much time to practice, to be fair.”

“Moonshadow culture is quite different from his own?” Tiadrin guessed, mind already seemingly on the winter lodge.

“Yes, but he’s a good sport about it all. Ezran cannot dance at all . Besides waltzing with Bait, maybe—his pet glow frog,” she clarified for her parents’ benefit. “Although I should see if he’s asked Ellis to dance anytime lately…” 


“The castle veterinarian. We all met when she was a kid, she’s a year older than Ez. She helps Lujanne look after the Moon Nexus sometimes soon—Callum helped her connect to the arcanum and everything, although I think part of her wishes she’d chosen Earth instead, afterwards. She has a pet wolf,” Rayla said cheerfully.

“Oh.” Tiadrin was quiet, as if mentally filing names and information away.

“She’s a very sweet kid,” Rayla said, “if a bit eccentric.” 

No wonder she and Lujanne got along so well. The old moon mage had left Ellis in charge of the Nexus when she’d left to help Ez escape Katolis on Phoe-Phoe, the bird now happy and reformed with almost full grown again with all of her feathers back, last Rayla had seen her. 

Tiadrin hesitated and then asked, “Is she a human or an elf?”

Why that mattered, Rayla wasn’t sure, but she saw her mother was simply trying to piece things together and prepare herself for whoever she might meet. Going to Katolis and being relatively surrounded by humans, even just on the other side of the border at all, was going to be a new experience for all of her parents except Runaan, and even then he didn’t have the best history with it. 

“Human,” Rayla said. “One of the nicest ones. We met her close to the beginning of our mission and she was always really nice to me, even back then. Barely blinked at the fact I was an elf or that a week before I’d been trying to kill Ezran and Callum.” She smiled a little at the memory, the young girl flopping over Ava’s back without a care in the world. People meet in so many interesting ways!

“Ah. And… you see her often?”

“Only when we visit the castle. Though it sounds like Ezran’s been seeing her more often,” she said with a slight smirk. 

“You think they’re…?”

There was something nice and normal about talking about two teenagers with a mutual crush with her mum while her betrothed navigated welcomes and well-wishes from other residents with a fatigued but genuine smile, not so discreetly wiping the sweat from his brow. “They do spend a lot of time together whenever we see them. And they’ve always gotten along really well, better than they get along with others their age.”

“And they’re around the same age that you and Callum were when you both met?”

Rayla’s smile softened. “Maybe that factors in too. What can I say? Callum’s turned me into a hopeful romantic already looking for nostalgia.” 

Tiadrin smiled a little. “I think that’s normal,” she said. “Especially since you two are approaching a big milestone.”

“Did you…?”

“It was more your dad pointing it out to me,” Tiadrin said. “Mainly it was him waiting for Runaan to finally say something to Ethari and rambling to me about it. Something about being Ethari’s best man, too.” 

“That sounds like Dad,” Rayla smiled. 

“How far is the royal family’s castle from the winter lodge, anyway?” asked Tiadrin.

“Really close, actually. Less than a day’s walk.” Rayla tilted her head at her. “Why, would you want to go see the castle?”

Her eyes widened. “What? No! I mean—” Tiadrin cleared her throat. “Not yet. I just… Maybe we could be there for the ceremony in Katolis, too. If you’d like. Assuming it’s at the castle.”

“We likely would have it in the Katolis ballroom,” Rayla said. “After the one in the Silvergrove—but it would be a much more public, political affair. And while Ez would extend the invitation, I’m not sure it would… necessarily go after well with the rest of his delegates, if you accepted.” She pressed her lips together. “Considering everything with Runaan.” 

Tiadrin pursed her lips. “Yes, that makes sense.”

“You could visit sometime before or after? It would be far less crowded.”

“It’s alright. I don’t know if any of us are ready yet, either. I…” Tiadrin swallowed. “The king. Was he… a good man?”

Rayla’s eyes softened. “Callum and Ezran always talk about what a good father he was. How much he loved them and their mother. They also talk about how flawed a king he was. And that he would be proud of them, for making the choices he wouldn’t have.”

Tiadrin swallowed. “Sometimes I forget how complicated it all is,” she said. “Sometimes Lain will say something about wishing we could have met his parents and then we’ll remember , and…”

“It’s okay. It gets to me sometimes too. Callum was nervous about de-coining Runaan.” Rayla lowered his voice. “Worried that if he thought about it too much, his emotions would cloud the spell, and well—things wouldn’t turn out right. I still remember when we went to Avizandum’s statue for the first time and Callum said he hated him… and he meant it.” Rayla sighed. “But he also loves Zym, and has grown to love Zubeia, just as she’s grown to love us and Ezran.” She smiled a little, even if it was tinged with melancholy. “It’s both really complicated and really, really simple at the same time.”

Tiadrin managed a tiny smile. “It is,” she agreed. “I think we just aren’t used to thinking about it that way.”

“And, for what it’s worth, from what I know of his parents… They would have loved us, eventually. They would have loved me almost right away, especially his mum. And you, and dad, and Ethari, and… I think they would have come around on Runaan eventually, too.”

“You think so?”

“It’s like I said. Family’s simpler than we think it is.” Rayla smiled when she saw Callum finally able to make his way to them, the dance over and only the actual celebration left. “See,” she grinned at him, “I told you you’d survive the dance.” 

“You didn’t warn me about how friendly everyone was gonna be,” he said, smiling a little when she leaned up and pressed a kiss to his cheek.

“Eh, nothing makes Moonshadow elves sweep their stubbornness unsaid under the rug like a life debt.” 

“They don’t owe me anything, and I don’t want them to—”

“I know. It’s just easier for them when they feel like they do. Gives them an excuse to soften a little, I suppose.” Rayla wrapped her arm around his waist. “A lot easier for them to see their kids want to become like the new saviour of the Silvergrove, you know? Most powerful mage ever?”

“No pressure at all,” said Callum dryly and she laughed, pressing another kiss to his cheek.

“Cheer up, would you? C’mon, where’s that smile?”

He smiled a little. “You sure I don’t have to dance for the rest of the night?”

“I’m sure,” she promised and then poked him in the chest with one finger, “unless it’s with me.”

Callum wrapped his arm likewise around her waist, his smile widening. “I guess I can live with that.”

There were, indeed, worse things than being welcomed into the community they wanted to build their lives in someday, after all. 

There wasn’t much left to be said as they packed their things up and dressed their mounts for the trip to the Banthor Lodge. Like when they left with Lux Aurea, they rode three shadowpaw, a pair to each saddle. Callum fell asleep with his face buried in Rayla’s shoulder within the first few minutes, and they kept their pace slow and fairly steady.

It didn’t surprise her even though they left in the morning. It was still early but the trip to the Lodge wouldn’t be as long as the one from Lux Aurea to the Silvergrove, and he would be catching up on sleep for days. If anything, the thirteen or so days till they reached the Banthor Lodge would give him enough time to fully recover so that he could enjoy himself while they were there. And get nostalgic along the way with her, as they retread the paths they had taken years ago, this time in reverse. 

That first morning under the tree, him so wrapped him with his primal cube, and her cautiously curious about what the prince was doing, Ez still fast asleep. Her making sure she remembered his name before she meandered over. That’s your name, right, Callum? Clem? Or was it camel?

They’d gathered up the pieces of their lives before, she thought, and made something new, many times now. This one wouldn’t be any different.

Chapter Text

The Banthor Lodge was… interesting, Runaan decided. There was no better word for it really. Not bad, but different than elven structures, and nothing like the stone castle that he had once invaded, which while still held back from a lack of magic, had had a sort of magnificence to it all the same. This, while still very spacious and fit for the comfort of royalty, was comparatively simple. It had the scent of freshly cut wood even though the structure had been standing for years, and reminded him more of Lain and Tiadrin’s home than anything else. Though the structure was decidedly different, there were similarities in its decor—some children’s games were stacked on a table, and there were several hand-drawn pictures lining the walls. Callum’s art from when he was younger, perhaps?

“The rooms are all upstairs,” explained said young man, arm pointing up the nearby staircase. “Rayla and I usually take the one at the end of the hall, but help yourselves. Ez’s is marked by a plaque.” 

Runaan nearly stilled at the mention of the young king. “And… when is he arriving?”

“Tomorrow, most likely, with some of the others from the castle.”


“A member of the crownguard that’s like family, plus some of the council that he’s close to. You’ll like Opeli. She’s a traditionalist too.” 

“Oh.” Runaan paused. “She served under your father?”

Callum’s lips quirked as he dropped off one of his bags. “I won’t let her kill you.” 

It took a moment for Runaan’s head to process that he was joking. “Ah.” That passed enough for a meagre, chuckle didn’t it? “Very funny,” he said, equal parts awkward and deadpan. Rayla passed through one of the other rooms, letting out a snort as she walked by. Callum smiled.

“Opeli had to get over some of her original hangups when my father married my mother,” he elaborated, “and then tossed the rest in the trash when I told her I was marrying Rayla—not that she was surprised. She’ll be fine.” 

“I just… understand that things are complicated, with me being around.”

“It was always gonna be kind of complicated no matter what,” Callum shrugged. “Seriously, all of them are pretty used to big changes in short amounts of time by now.”

Runaan nodded slowly. “And… the young king.”


“I killed his father. I was supposed to kill him.”

Callum’s expression fell, and he sighed. “Ez is the kindest, most forgiving person I know. He never held any of it against Rayla, and even I struggled with how much to trust her at the start. Or… how to figure things out with you. Ez isn’t going to have a problem.” He almost smiled. “And… if anything, hearing that you might regret it now kind of convinces me even more that it’ll be okay.”

Runaan bristled. “I didn’t say I regretted it.”

Callum threw him a sharp look and he realized his mistake almost immediately. “Oh, good,” Callum said, rather coolly, before he let out a heavy sigh. “Runaan, we don’t need to talk about it, and you don’t have to worry about it. I can care enough for both me and my brother, don’t worry.” 

And he went upstairs without another word, bringing his bags with him. Runaan bit down on the inside of his cheek. Why had he said that? He could have just let that rest, but…

Regretting that two young boys had to lose their father was different than regretting a job he’d had to do. Knowing that perhaps the assassination hadn’t been, strictly speaking, necessary was another thing. But that it, his work, his code, had been flat out wrong? That was something he hadn’t quite wrestled with yet, nor did he think that he needed to. It hadn’t been wrong. It had been justice. Hadn’t it?

Ezran arrived in the morning. He was flanked by Opeli, Soren, Corvus, and Barius, all a little distracted by attending to the young king, but Ezran ran up to hug Rayla immediately. She let out a joyful laugh as she hugged him back, having to reach higher than before to ruffle his hair.

“You’re getting so tall!” 

“Rayla,” he mumbled, whining a little, and it was in moments like these that she could see the resemblance between the two brothers more clearly. “You sound like all the delegates I’ve had to deal with. Or Aunt Amaya.”

She smiled. “All the nice delegates I hope?”

“Well, yeah, but they still always start by commenting on how tall I’ve gotten or how big I am now, or something.”

“Maybe we’re all just jealous that you’re definitely gonna end up towering over all of us.”

Ezran let out a little laugh. “Maybe,” he agreed, and then looked around her. “Where’s Callum?”

“On his way down I’m sure.” She and Runaan had been out training when she’d seen the Banthor tracks, Corvus petting the nose of one, but Callum would’ve spotted his brother from the window soon enough, and brought her other three parents down too. “Your trip was okay? The banthors still nice?”

“Yeah! We actually got to meet some of the cubs that were born in spring and they’re already so big—and talking, too, already. This one,” he gestured to the one Corvus was unloading bags from, “Big Teddy, is an uncle, I think. And that one,” whom Opeli and Barius were disembarking from, “is his mate, but she didn’t want a name.”

“Huh. Well, give them our best.”

Ezran grinned, then turned back to the banthors. “Rayla says congrats!” he called after them. The mate let out a gruff snorting sound, and Rayla assumed it was some kind of thanks. “She says thank you,” Ezran confirmed.

“Yeah, I could hear it in her tone,” Rayla smiled and Ez beamed back at her, before his eyes drifted to the stoic elf beside her. She turned slightly. “Oh, Ez, this is—” 

“Ezran!” Callum’s voice echoed in the cold air before she could finish, and he rushed over from the front door of the Lodge, faster than she’d typically seen him, sweeping his little brother into a big hug.

“Callum!” Ezran laughed, his legs swinging in the air a little as they did a little spin. 

“No scarf?” Callum teased as he set him down, their eyes bright.

“I did my best to make sure he was bundled up,” said Opeli, falling in step beside Corvus. “But His Majesty was more concerned with having jelly tarts for the road than proper winter wear.”

“You’re one to talk,” Ezran retorted, but all in good nature as he looked at his brother, barely having to look up anymore. “You’re not even wearing a coat.” 

Callum grinned down at him. “Reunion hugs with my baby brother come first.” 

“So this is the famous Ezran,” came Tiadrin’s voice, warm and mildly amused as she and Lain followed them onto the snowy pathway, Ethari close behind. “We’ve heard a lot about you from your brother and Rayla.” 

“What am I?” said Soren, holding his horse by the reins. “Chopped liver?”

“Yes,” said Callum dryly—Rayla snorted—while Ez shook Lain and Tiadrin’s hands.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said, polite but not the political one he used for kingly introductions, now. “Rayla and Callum told me a lot about you too—I think you would really like jelly tarts, Lain.” 

Lain’s eyes lit up; Rayla knew she’d inherited her father’s sweettooth in some ways, for things like Moonberry Surprise. “I will certainly be happy to try them,” he promised. 

“I don’t get a break, do I?” Barius piped up, Bait in his arms and wearing a little booties on each foot.

“I think that’s why he brought you along,” Rayla quipped.

“Figures,” he said, shaking his head, but he was smiling as he set Bait down in Ezran’s arms before heading up the stairs once they entered the Lodge.

Rayla smiled as she rubbed Bait’s cold, dry head. “Hey there, old friend.” He let out a low croak in reply.

“Ha, now you’re chopped liver,” Soren said to Callum, who rolled his eyes and scratched Bait under his chin, and Bait let out a happy sort of burp noise. 

“Hello Ezran,” said Ethari, stooping down to pat Bait on the head as well, “and Bait,” before he hugged the boy king. “You’ve gotten so—”

“Tall, I know,” Ezran said, but he was smiling. “I’ve heard it’s been eventful for you, lately. I’m really happy for you.”

The corners of Ethari’s eyes crinkled. “Thank you. I hope things have been quieter on your end?”

Ezran groaned. “Endless meetings. I’m trying to get Evenere into a modified trade agreement with Xadia, but both them and Lord Taelin are being stubborn—clearly the reprimand he got for trying to arrest Callum didn’t go very far.” 

“That’s not surprising,” Callum said. “Clearly he’s not scared of me enough, if he’s still willing to arrest me and give you a hard time.” 

“We’ll keep working on it,” Ezran said. “You have other things to worry about.”

“As much fun as it would be to see Callum scare the shit out of someone,” Rayla said, and Ezran turned his eyes on her.

“We also maybe don’t want to scare people if we can help it.” Then his eyes drifted back to the one introduced party, and Ezran stuck out his hand cheerfully. “Oh, you must be Runaan.” 

Runaan was stiff for a moment, and Rayla almost thought he’d stopped breathing, before he slowly took Ezran’s hand. “It’s… good to meet you,” he said slowly. Rayla pressed her lips together to keep from snickering.

“Good to meet you too! Well, officially.”


“Yeah, I… technically saw you before on that tower, but uh…” Ezran’s smile grew a little sad, but he didn’t let go of Runaan’s hand yet. “That wasn’t a great day for any of us.”

“Oh. Right.” 

Ezran let go and Runaan seemed to try and hide his relief. “Well, we also met Rayla that day, so it was still good in the end. And Zym—well, Zym in the Egg.” Bait gave a deep grunt and Ez made a noise of thoughtful consideration. “How is Zym anyway?” 

“You talk every day through the Bond,” Callum reminded him, smiling.

“Well yeah, but I’m sure there’s loads of embarrassing things he forgets, or chooses, not to tell me.” 

“I do have a good one,” said Rayla, pressing a gentle elbow to Ezran’s side, “but it’s also rather embarrassing for my beloved—”

“Wha—? Oh, that one,” said Callum, who then sighed. “Fine, tell him how Zym wandered into the middle of my lesson.” 

“Callum was trying to teach some of the new mages how to fly, you know, and Zym decided to come along,” said Rayla with a grin, leading the way to the kitchen with everyone else, for snacks and warm drinks after travelling in the cold. “But young mages don’t exactly know how to fly, and Zym’s quite a bit bigger than he thinks, sometimes, so you can imagine how well that went—”

Things were always ten times better—funnier, brighter—she thought, when Ezran was around.

The lounge area of the Lodge was always active after that. Most people would be milling in and out of different rooms, but at least a few would always congregate in the open lounge area, sitting on the floor or on long sofas as they talked and laughed. Barius had already baked everyone several dozens of jelly tarts, Ezran just a little more willing to assist now than he was as a little boy (even if it was still ultimately an excuse to steal some). As predicted, Lain loved them, already having lost count of how many he’d had by the time the sun had begun to set.

“No, that wasn’t the first time I came here,” Rayla was correcting Ethari. “First time, Amaya knocked my lights out.”

“It’s too bad she and Aunt Janai aren’t here yet,” Callum said. “She loves telling that story.”

“Yes, because it’s the one and only time she ever beat me in a fight,” said Rayla. Nowadays it seemed they just always came to a standstill. 

“Does that count as a first visit?” Ethari asked.

“I’m counting it,” Rayla said. “I didn’t even want to pick up the cube, but he’d already started growing on me.”

“I was sketching,” needled Callum, “ you’re the one who came over to me.” He turned conspiringly towards Lain, Ethari, and Tiadrin. “She’s been courting me ever since.”

Rayla lightly swatted him on the arm. “Three weeks too early, love.” 

“But you did court me first,” Callum persisted. Rayla rolled her eyes fondly.

“Yes, and we all know how it turned out, so.”

“Wonderfully once I stopped putting my foot in my mouth and had a chance to process?” He took her hand and laced their fingers together, pressing a kiss to her knuckles. “Yes.” 

“Sap,” Rayla said fondly, leaning into him as he wrapped an arm around her.

“I almost missed how gross you guys are,” Ezran smiled. He looked at Lain, Ethari, and Tiadrin. “Have you guys been putting up with this the entire trip here?”

“You were the one who insisted on being best man a week into our relationship,” Callum said. 

“In my defense, you’d already jumped off a cliff for her at that point, so I’d figured you were in it for life.” 

“I mean,” Callum considered, “you weren’t wrong.”

“You didn’t even consider being my best man? I’m hurt,” Rayla said, grinning.

Ezran beamed, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Well—”

Callum poked him in the cheek. “I changed your diapers, so you owe me.” 

“Diapers?” said Lain, looking between them, as though trying to gauge whether the age difference was bigger than he thought.

Rayla pursed her lips, glad when Callum saved her from answering. “Ez was just under a year when Mom passed,” he said quietly. “And our dad was involved but busy as king and clearing up things politically, after a loss of a queen and… I dunno. Ez never liked our nanny much, and I was six by that point, and had two working hands, so,” he finished with a shrug.

“When we were little, Callum used to join me in sneaking down to the bakery to steal jelly tarts,” Ezran remembered brightly, seemingly unfazed. Small mercies, Rayla thought. “He’d be look out while I stuffed them down my shirt.” 

“I’m sure the castle laundress was pleased,” said Tiadrin dryly, and everyone laughed.

Or, almost everyone. Rayla caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye, Runaan standing against one of the lodge’s support beams, lined up but set apart with where Ethari sat at the table or couches with the rest of them, arms crossed over his chest. Brooding or thinking, Rayla couldn’t quite tell, but she thought one of her other parents likely would be able to. And at the very least, she was confident he’d been listening to the entire conversation; his eyes wouldn’t have flickered between Callum and Ez, arms swinging to his chest for the surly pose he took on now, if he hadn’t been paying attention. There was something in his expression that she couldn’t quite place, the furrow in his brow not quite angry or even really displeased. Just discontented. 

She supposed if Callum’s presence in her life was a hard pill to swallow, Ezran presented even more of a challenge, with none of Callum’s snark to act as a defense for Runaan’s choices. 

Something else Ezran said made the rest of the group laugh, bringing Rayla back into the warm bubble they’d created. One Runaan might not totally be comfortable in, yet. Gods knew she’d been baffled at how easily Ezran had trusted her, annoyed at the time by Callum’s reservations, even if in hindsight they were extremely understandable.

She let herself become immersed in some new story Ezran was telling, one she’d heard before, watching her other parents listen intently. She smiled a little as she watched Ezran captivate everyone the way he always did, with warmth and kindness and trust.

If anyone could get Runaan comfortable within this new little family, it was Ezran.

He couldn’t sleep.

It had been over an hour since he and Ethari had gotten into bed, and Runaan couldn’t get his mind to rest, a dull ache in his upper arm (one that he was sure by now would never fully go away). He looked over at his husband, sleeping peacefully, a slight snore with every slow inhalation, his arm draped over Runaan’s stomach. Runaan smiled a little, softening, even as the ache in his arm pulsed.

He sat up slowly, careful not to dislodge Ethari, even as he pressed a quick kiss to his brow before getting out of bed. He padded quietly out of the room, shutting the door gently behind him.

A glass of water would work wonders, he was sure, and it wasn’t too late. He and Ethari had retired after Tiadrin and Lain, leaving only the trio of kids and the bulky crownguard left awake, so still probably late enough they’d already gone to bed as well. He made his way down the wooden stairs, skipping over one that creaked—they should probably get that fixed—and took only a moment at the bottom of the steps to remember the way to the kitchen. The Lodge really was one built and big enough for a royal family… 

He stopped at the entryway when he saw the young king and his strange yellow frog at the dining table, papers spread out in front of the former. A glass of milk and a plate of jelly tarts were sitting by the frog creature who was providing the main light alongside a candlestick, the crown set aside on the table. Brought along as a formality more than anything else, it seemed. Runaan nearly turned to leave, but the young king looked up with a sleepy smile. “Hey. I didn’t realize you were still up.”

“I didn’t know you were—I should—”

“It’s okay. Do you wanna sit here with us for a while? I’m just looking over some last-minute stuff so I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week.”

“I don’t want to disturb your work.”

“I’m almost done.” The boy king lifted up the plate. “Do you want a jelly tart?”

Was it bad manners to refuse? Runaan doubted the young teen could take offence to anything, but the glow frog was eyeing him unhappily. Then again, Runaan had never seen the thing look anything other than grumpy, either. After only a momentary pause, Runaan said, as naturally as he could, “Yes, thank you.” It still felt very stilted. 

Awkwardly, Runaan moved into the chair opposite, ignored the glaring frog, and picked up a jelly tart, gingerly taking a bite. Lain was right; they were good. 

“So,” said the young boy, “what are you doing up?”

“Oh, I just… was going to get some water. Maybe go for a walk.” Runaan did not know why he was telling him this.

“Nightmare?” he guessed, sounding empathetic.  

“No. Couldn’t sleep, that’s all.”

“Hm. Well, insomnia is another sign of PTSD, so it shouldn’t be too surprising. Callum gets like that sometimes too.” 

Runaan blinked. “What?”

“PTSD? Post-traumatic stress disorder?”

“I’m aware of what it is,” said Runaan shortly. “I just don’t understand your implication.”

“You were a prisoner of war and then trapped inside a coin.” The king raised a levelled eyebrow at him. “I don’t understand why you’re trying to deflect. We all have it.”

“I’m not, I—how would you know?”

“We all went to see a therapist after… everything,” Ezran said. “We all came out with that and some other things. Apparently I’m really good at compartmentalizing. My grief counselor had to work hard to knock that down, even while I was running a kingdom.” He tilted his head when the confused expression on Runaan’s face didn’t go away. “Have you… seen a therapist yet?”

“Why would I need to?”

The young king let out a long sigh. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to assume, I thought after… I don’t know. Viren almost killed me too. It took awhile for the shaking to stop.” 

Runaan was quiet for a moment. “I know your brother and Rayla have nightmares.”

Ezran nodded. “We all used to stay up together most nights, right after the war, when we could. The first few months away from them were the hardest. I would stay up really late writing letters to them. We’d all been through so much and hadn’t really had time to process, so once peace was there, a little, it… it took a good year to untangle everything. We’re all still working on it.”

“Is that why you’re up working so late?”

He smiled faintly. “Kind of. It’s easier now, but some nights can be harder. Opeli wants to hold the traditional five year ball—an annual thing that each kingdom of the Pentarchy hosts, to encourage good relations. Everything’s been such a mess we haven’t had one since Dad died, which Katolis hosted, and it’s technically our turn again, so it’s my first one. We have time—it’s in spring—but Evenere’s being stuffy about me wanting to go beyond the Pentarchy and invite some elven leaders too. I don’t know what Queen Fiona expects. Aunt Amaya and Aunt Janai have to be there at the very least, and the Earthblood lords will get competitive and childish if I don’t invite them, too.” He took another jelly tart, taking a bite and chewing thoughtfully. “What do you think Bait?”

The glow frog rumbled, and Runaan could swear Ezran somehow took it into consideration.

“Hm, maybe. I think Lord Taelin is kinda scared to see Callum face to face again, but I don’t know if he and Rayla will be able to come to the ball or not—they’ve been away from the Spire a lot lately.” Bait rumbled again and Ezran’s lips curled. “No, it’s not ‘what’s one more,’ Bait,” he chided. 

Bait’s tongue landed over his own eye, before latching onto a jelly tart and pulling it into his mouth in one fell, chompy swoop. He let out what sounded to Runaan like a burp, till Ezran laughed and said, “No, you know we can’t do that!”

“Um,” Runaan said, feeling strangely like he was interrupting something. “You said Rayla and Callum wouldn’t be attending?”

“They have a lot on their plates already,” Ezran said. “The coins took most of last spring, and Rayla is still Captain at the Spire, and Callum is still teaching magic. Besides, they’d have to get permission from Zubeia. She’d give it to them, I’m sure, but I’m not sure they’d ask.” Ezran made a face. “There’s still one advisor in my court trying to convince Callum to go for a more ‘politically beneficial’ marriage. Well meaning old man, I think, but old fashioned. Still sees him as a bit more of a bargaining chip, leftover from when Mom and Dad married. Not that Dad would’ve made Callum marry anyone he didn’t want to, either.”

Runaan did not know if he was grateful the younger human seemed to talk more than his brother or not. Apparently it ran in the family, and while… much more than he was used to, at least it saved him from having to say very much.

“I… trust your advisors are not talking about your marriage, yet?” he tried. He couldn’t very well say anything about the boys’ father. 

Ezran chuckled. “Some of them would love for me to start thinking about it, but I just turned fourteen. They’re not getting me yet. And I’m the king, so they kind of have to listen. One of the few perks. Dad was lucky like that too, he got to marry for love.” 

Finally, Runaan couldn’t hold his tongue any longer—nor could he look at the boy sitting across from him. “Don’t you hate me?”

“What?” He sounded genuinely surprised, his developing voice cracking just a little.

“After what I did. What I was going to do. I killed your father, and...” Runaan reached up to his upper arm, now tight with pain.

“I know,” the young king said, his voice soft. “I remember.”

“Then why...?”

Ezran pursed his lips. “Because you were just doing what you thought was right,” he said quietly. “Even if it wasn’t. Even if it was violent. And if I held it against you without forgiveness, then I wouldn’t be able to sit in my father’s throne in good conscience, either. He did terrible things. He thought they were the right things to do, too. Even now, I see Rayla and Callum, and myself, have to make choices. We’re informed by our ideologies as anyone else. God knows we’ve made mistakes. But we can’t look back if we want to move forward and be better. At least, not to do anything but remember, rather than resent.” 

Runaan glanced at his upper arm, the muscle tensing under phantom bindings. “It can’t be easy to have me here.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I know it’s not easy for your brother to have me here.”

“Callum is a different person with a different experience,” said Ezran patiently but firmly. “And a different relationship to our Dad, too. Is it hard for you to be here?”

Runaan’s brow furrowed. “Maybe,” he said.


“I... I do not belong here. This is your family’s lodge. I do not properly… fit.”

Ezran was quiet for so long Runaan thought he wasn’t going to speak at all, when he said, rather thoughtfully, “Callum felt like that for a long time, too.” 

Runaan finally looked up. “He did?”

“He was four when our mom married my dad and became a prince by extension. It never suited him. I think he and my dad had a better relationship when Mom was alive—that’s what Aunt Amaya says, at least—but I was too little to remember. But what I do remember is Callum never being quite sure of where he fit in or how much he was wanted, and not for Dad’s lack of trying with him, either. I don’t think either of them knew how to approach it. Dad wanted to give him space because he’d lost two parents, and I think Dad felt guilty, that he’d taken Mom away, and…” Ezran frowned, blue eyes cloudy. “Even on the day Dad told us he was sending us here—the morning before we found the Egg—Callum called him sir.” He smiled sadly. “It was only like, six months later, when we were both in Katolis that we actually got to hold a funeral for him, and I think Callum finally understood how much Dad had always loved him. Letters and stuff. He left us things in his will, y’know.” 

Runaan shook his head and closed his eyes, his voice trembling ever so slightly. “I made you a child king.” 

“And my dad nearly did the same to Zym,” Ezran said. “Why are you trying to get me to hate you for something you did years ago?”

“Because someone has to.” Runaan clamped his mouth shut, swallowing, thick in his discomfort, but Ezran’s face was so round and open and earnest that he couldn’t keep the words from coming. “I’ve relented that perhaps it was not necessary. There is no reason for me to be an assassin any longer. And you and your brother love my daughter, and she loves each of you. I know that. But it has taken time for me to understand all this, and you take only a day? Your brother resents me still, which he is entitled to. I have not apologized for what I have done. I do not think I need forgiveness for it.”

“Callum would come around, if you met him halfway, but…” Ezran trailed off, seemingly mulling over his words before he spoke again. “Are you sure it’s his forgiveness you’re concerned with, and not your own?”

“I…” Runaan coughed. “I don’t know.”

“You keep trying to get me to hate you but I don’t think that would fix anything. Not if you hate yourself for it.”

“But I don’t.”

Ezran looked at him, raising his brows. “Don’t you?”

“I—I did what I had to, I—” The phantom binding felt as though it would cut into his skin. The way it had felt before he’d gone into the coin. “I did not take it lightly,” he said weakly, staring blankly at the table. Hollowed from the inside out.

He barely registered Ezran hopping out of his chair and padding over to his side of the table, giving his shoulder a little pat. His hand was so small. “I’ll go get you a glass of water,” Ezran said and then left to do just that.

He would have had to kill him. If Rayla hadn’t thrown the mission and tried to stop him, hadn’t stalled him long enough for the princes to get away... He would have killed a child in an effort to right a wrong. Callum would have had no family left. The one he’d raised as his own, gone. A ten year old child dead at his feet, slain senselessly, to right a wrong that hadn’t even happened. That wouldn’t have been right even if it had. And their father… 

His arm pulsated with a dull, sickening ache by the time Ezran set a full glass of water in front of him on the table. “Thank you,” he said numbly and then managed to take a sip, before he blurted, “I am an orphan, too.”

Ezran looked up. “O-oh. I’m sorry. That must’ve been hard.”

All Runaan could do was shake his head, because Ezran wasn’t understanding—because he couldn’t fully understand it himself. “My parents were killed in a skirmish near the border. I was seven. The leader of the assassin’s guild, Orym, took me in. I was talented, I revelled in it—I did not grieve, I thought when I submitted others to the same fate, they would be made stronger, as I had been, but I was not strong—I was weak. I was nearsighted. I—I was a fool.” 

Ezran’s eyes were sympathetic as he reached over and laid one of his hands over Runaan’s, trembling on the table. “In the letter my father wrote, he said that there was a lie; that strength is power. That for a long time, he believed history, and he believed that lie. But then he knew better, too. That true strength is found in vulnerability, in forgiveness. That history can be a narrative of love. It was a lesson he didn’t learn till he was close to the end of his life, but he passed it onto me and my brother. I see no reason why we can’t pass it onto you, too.” He gave Runaan a sad smile. “You didn’t get to learn that when you were a kid. You didn’t get the chance to grieve, and I’m sorry no one gave you the space to do it. But it’s not too late, to believe in those things. Maybe it’ll take time, but you deserve to believe in a better story for yourself, too. You’ve certainly been given another chance at a happy ending.” Ezran’s smile grew. “You should take it. I have.” 

Runaan blinked rapidly, a lump in his throat, but he didn’t pull away. “I…” He cleared his throat, only a tad desperately. “I will… try.”

“Good.” Ezran patted his hand and then went back around the table, blowing out the candle and picking Bait up in his arms. “Well, I’m off to bed. Goodnight, Runaan.”

“Goodnight, Ezran.” His voice was thick as he said it, but Ezran just smiled, before walking back up the stairs. Runaan downed his glass of water before pushing himself onto his feet, back to his guest room, walking almost haphazardly if not on autopilot.

Ethari was sitting up when Runaan got back, his hair messy from sleep as he rubbed at his eyes, but he was otherwise mostly awake as he smiled patiently at Runaan. “I was about to look for you,” he said, but his face fell when he saw Runaan’s expression. “Love?”

Runaan raised his head, a shaft of moonlight streaming in from their window and illuminating the stricken look on his face and his glistening eyes, and Ethari wordlessly understood and held out a hand to him. 

“I’ve been waiting for this,” Ethari admitted, and Runaan knew it was true, that this had been months in the making, and tonight—Ezran—was simply its breaking point. His breaking point. 

Runaan took Ethari’s hand and let himself be tugged forwards into Ethari’s arms with all the relief of a ship finding safe haven of a harbour after being lost adrift at sea. They curled up in bed, half tangled in the sheets and his head tucked under Ethari’s chin. His husband ran nimble fingers through his long white hair as Runaan scrunched his eyes shut, tears trailing down his cheeks. “Ezran finally got through to you, didn’t he?”

“I was wrong,” Runaan said, his voice trembling. “I—I shouldn’t have—” He pressed his face further into Ethari’s chest, his whole being shaking as badly as his voice. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Ethari pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “I know,” he said simply, and held him until morning. 

Chapter Text

“Where’s Runaan?” Rayla asked Ethari at breakfast, and Callum looked up from his pancakes as the elf sat down.

“He went for a walk.”

Rayla arched an eyebrow. “More like a patrol.” 

“No,” Ethari said with a soft smile. “Just a walk.”

Callum and Rayla exchanged a glance. “Okay,” Rayla said slowly and Callum decided not to push it. After yesterday— I didn’t say I regretted it —and with Ezran now at the Lodge and Runaan reverting more to his stiffer self, it wasn’t too bad that he was okay with not constantly being around one of his future father-in-laws, right? Especially since Ethari didn’t seem concerned. 

Ezran was next to join them, still yawning a little as he took a plate of pancakes and sat down, feeding a piece to Bait before he began to dig in. Callum smiled a little.

“Long night again?” he asked sympathetically before taking a sip of his juice, and Ezran nodded. 

“Runaan and I talked,” he said, and Callum nearly spit out his drink. “It was nice.” 

“You and Runaan talked alone?”


Callum had to reel himself—and the vivid pang of panic—back in. “What—what did he say?”

“Not much,” Ezran shrugged. “He couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t either. I talked to him about the party plans? He asked a few questions about it. That’s all.”

“So you... had small talk with Runaan?”


“And he wasn’t… weird?”

“No? But you’re being weird,” Ezran said, feeding another pancake piece to Bait.

“No, I didn’t mean—” He glanced at Ethari, who still had a contented smile on his face. “So… it was okay?”

“Yeah. He’s nice. I dunno how long it took after I left for him to go to bed.”

“It’s okay, Callum,” said Rayla. “You wouldn’t leave me alone with Ezran the first two days, either.” 

His cheeks heated. “That was mostly circumstantial.” He’d spent the first day with Ezran in the Lodge, and the second in the boat or on the shore. There hadn’t exactly been places to go, although... part of him thought he wouldn’t maybe let Ez and Rayla wander off their own, too, once she closed up about her binding and set him on alert again. That wariness had faded soon after the events on the ice, and had completely gone away after he’d tried to tell Ezran about their father. After she’d become a real confidant. It’d been different.

This was different. This was peacetime with a stiff, intimidating elf who would become even more rigid every time he seemed to start to bend. Because even if he trusted him not to kill his brother, it didn’t mean he trusted what Runaan would have to say to him. Or that, if Runaan said something incredibly dense, Ezran’s kindness and compassion could run out (Callum had seen it do so before, with some other politicians) and once lost, it would be another wedge between Rayla’s old family and her new. Callum, had least, had gotten used to jumping over it.

He stiffened when Runaan walked in from outside, walking over to his husband to press a kiss to his cheek.

“Good morning!” Ezran said before even Rayla could say it, and Runaan smiled. 

“Good morning Ezran,” he greeted, settling down at the table.

Callum had to work furiously not to keep his jaw from dropping. Yesterday Runaan could barely be in the same room as his brother. How had this happened?

“How was your walk ?” Rayla asked carefully.

“Fine. The surrounding forests are quite nice.” 

“I think we’re getting more snow soon,” Ezran said. “You should see them when there’s a fresh layer of snow on everything.”

“I’ll remember that,” Runaan smiled. “And… Ethari mentioned you build… snow-men?”

Ezran brightened. “Yeah! And snow-elves. There’s not enough snow on the ground yet, but…”

Rayla and Callum exchanged a look as Ezran went on about their usual holiday traditions. She gripped his hand under the table. Ethari was the only onlooker who seemed completely unperturbed, even delighted, Tiadrin and Lain each taking a moment at the conversation unfolding in front of them when they came down for breakfast, followed by Soren and Opeli. Runaan left once the table was more crowded, but left with another smile for Ezran before heading back upstairs.

Had they been thrown into an alternate universe overnight?

Callum could barely pay attention to the conversation surrounding him, full of details and tentative plans that felt as though he’d blinked and missed them. A picnic in one of the nearby meadows if it didn’t rain. A joke about building dirtmen. Corvus offering to take Ezran’s paperwork to the nearest town so it could be mailed, Opeli offering to accompany him. Rayla and Soren agreeing on a competitive sparring match, each inflating their independent egos. All he could focus on was the fact that Runaan and Ezran had somehow become actual friends literally overnight, over what Ezran insisted was late-night small talk. He wasn’t so surprised that it was Ezran—despite having trouble making friends as a kid, he’d grown into his own and was more than capable of befriending even prickly adult politicians—but Runaan ? Really ?

He must have still been stunned after they left breakfast and went back up to their room to get properly dressed for the day, because Rayla sat down next to him and said, “Still thinking about it?”

“What?” Callum asked, and she let out a soft snort.

“About how weird it was to see Runaan be that pleasant.”

“I… never said it was weird.”

She smiled. “You didn’t have to, love. It was all over your face all through breakfast.”

“But—okay, but it is weird , right? Like I’m not losing my mind? It’s weird enough sometimes to see Runaan smile, let alone be genuinely cordial, and to Ezran? Ezran? With Runaan? 

“Yeah, but also… It is Ezran ,” Rayla said. “If anyone can get through to someone that stubborn, it’s Ez.”

“Yeah, but Runaan? It took him weeks with me and I wasn’t even a target and I brought him out of the coin.”

“You were also the human engaged to his daughter.” It seemed like Rayla was trying very hard to keep a straight face. “You’re not jealous, are you?”

No ! I just—” He didn’t know what he was feeling. Confusing. A surprising amount of anger? “I just didn’t think… Nothing is that easy with him. It took forever for us just to be… okay, with each other, but a day after meeting Ez, whom he wanted nothing to do with in the first place—I’m not saying I don’t trust him, or that I don’t believe he genuinely is on good terms with Ezran. Mainly because I don’t think he’d put any effort into lying about something like that. But I also… I don’t know. I don’t get it. It’s like—he’s awkward, maybe, but he doesn’t even care , that we lost our dad? Everything’s just fine for him, apparently—”

“When did he say that?” Rayla asked, her brow furrowing.

“Well, he said—he said he ‘didn’t regret it’, when I thought for a minute some of his apprehension would be from feeling guilty like a normal person—” He took a breath. “Sorry. I know he raised you—”

“Yeah, he did, which is why I would know that he can say things he doesn’t quite mean to save face. Especially as a Moonshadow elf.”

“Okay, but he literally said he didn’t regret killing our dad, how—and then suddenly he’s fine with Ezran? I barely had a relationship with my dad, how am I the only one who has a problem with this?”

Rayla blinked at him, now frowning. “So you... want things to be more difficult?”

Callum turned away and shut his eyes. “You know what he put me and Ezran through. And no matter what I did in spite of whatever apprehension I had, he always closed up or pushed it away, but then he and Ezran are just genuinely okay and I don’t get it.”

Rayla placed a hand between his shoulder blades. “Love… Tell me if I’m wrong, but maybe part of it is that you’re still not totally okay with him. But Ez is.”

“Well, yeah. It’s weird, Ezran actually got to be close to our dad—”

“And you keep expecting yourself to be okay with Runaan by now?”

“Well, yeah, if he’d stop being so…”

“...If he’d admit that he’s sorry for what he did?”

“I guess?”

“Because it would be easier to take that step if he told you that he was sorry, or that he regretted what he did. But instead it feels like he’s not holding him accountable, so someone has to? And that someone is you? And maybe, you’ve spent so much time trying to make things work for my sake, you forgot to give yourself time to work on your own feelings about it, deep down?”

“That...” Callum deflated, shoulders slumping. “May be accurate. You’ve been waiting for this?”

“On the lookout, maybe. You had regret for Avizandum on Zym’s behalf, but you still hated him.” 

“I don’t—I don’t think I hate Runaan,” Callum said carefully. 

“I’d understand if you did,” she said. “I don’t think you do, either, but I’d understand if you did all the same. I would, if he wasn’t...” Her own father. Callum sighed, taking her hand.

“I just don’t know what to think,” he said. “And I wish I could just be glad that at least my baby brother and future father-in-law get along, but…”

“I know.” She squeezed his hand. 

“I’m glad you don’t hate him,” he said. “In spite of all my doubts, I want you to have a good relationship with all your parents. You know that, right?”

“I know,” Rayla repeated with a small, sad smile. “But he still took away yours, and it’s not fair. And the very least he could do is show some remorse over it. I don’t know what he and Ezran spoke of last night, but it couldn’t have just been small talk.” She lifted her chin. “Wouldn’t surprise me if they talked about you. You’d be their bridge, just as much as me.” 

Callum smiled listlessly. “Even if I haven’t crossed my own?”

“Maybe especially then.” She laced her fingers with his, pressing a kiss to the back of his hand. “You don’t have to rush yourself, love. You have time.” 

His smile softened into something more fond as he pressed his forehead to hers. “I know. Thank you.”

She squeezed his hand again. “Anytime.”

They woke up to fresh snow in the morning. Just a light, white, dusty covering—certainly not enough for either snowmen or snow elves—but beautiful and glittery in the early morning sun all the same, the yellow dot bold and bright. By Ezran’s admission, it was good enough for snow angels, and he was out there now, crownless as he laid in the snow next to Lain, both of them laughing as they formed angels in the snow. Callum watched them from inside, seated at one of the couches by the window with a mug of hot cocoa. It was always nice to see Ezran act more like the kid he was than the king. 

“It’s sweet to see them having fun, isn’t it?” said Tiadrin, settling down beside him with a mug in her own hands.

“It is,” he agreed, his smile widening. “I hardly ever seen Ezran like this anymore. I’m really, really glad you and Lain are in his life now.”

“We’re glad, too,” Tiadrin smiled. “I think Lain’s missed being a parent to a child. It’s a little harder to convince you or Rayla to just lay down in the snow for fun.”

Callum chuckled. “I mean, I would. Maybe not as enthusiastically as Ez, but…”

Tiadrin’s smile softened. “You must miss him, when you’re apart.”

“Yeah. He’s doing well as king, and I have my own things to do. Katolis is the best place for him and Xadia is for me. I guess I always expected that one day we’d have our own lives, but I didn’t expect it so soon. And he’s always so much more grown up, every time I see him. Even starting to have some attitude, apparently.” He snorted and smiled. “I’m so, so proud of him. But it’s also… a little weird that he’s starting to grow up without me.”

“Well, you raised him. That’s a normal feeling to have.”

Callum blinked at her. “I didn’t raise him. I helped out as his big brother, but I didn’t...” 

“Didn’t you, in a way? A pseudo parent and a brother in equal measure.” Tiadrin hesitated. “I don’t mean to make assumptions, but you and Rayla especially have told us a lot about your travels. I know you’ve often thought of him as your responsibility.”

Callum couldn’t argue with that. “Yeah, I—” His throat grew a little tight and he looked out the window. Lain was watching Bait lope through the snow with a delighted look on his face, Ezran laughing alongside him. “The last thing our dad ever said to me was to take care of my brother.”

“And you have,” she said. “And I know there’s no choice, because what else can you do but take care of your family? But I also know it can be difficult.” She smiled. “You and your parents did a wonderful job with him.”

Callum smiled. “He’s a lot like Mom, even if he can’t see how much. A lot like Dad, too.” Callum’s voice grew softer. “He really is the best of both of them and something else all his own. He’s certainly not perfect—he can be finicky and distracted and stubborn—but... he makes me want to be better, too. I certainly see why the rest of the world followed suit.” 

“I’m very glad fate dealt another hand that night, then,” said Tiadrin quietly. “Irregardless.”

Callum stared into the contents of his mug. “I knew Ez wouldn’t have a problem with Runaan,” he admitted. “Sometimes he even still acts like Claudia is going to wake up and come home one day like nothing ever happened.”

“And?” Tiadrin pressed gently, sensing that wasn’t the end.

“And he’s wrong,” said Callum stonily. “Everything’s changed, just about. Except for his faith, I guess, and someone has to protect that, so... I guess it’s me.”

Tiadrin placed a hand on his shoulder. “Brothers can be complicated.”

He looked back at her. Right. Rayla had an uncle on her mother’s side. She’d mentioned him once, two years back, and hadn’t said much. Not like her still sometimes present habit of bottling things up, but because there wasn’t much to say. I never met him and he hasn’t lived in the Silvergrove for years. “Rayla… mentioned you had one.”

Tiadrin’s smile faltered a little. “I do.”

“We don’t have to talk about it, I just—”

“It’s okay. Once we were both adults, he was never really around. Didn’t even come to the memorial ceremony when our parents passed, let alone when Rayla was born.”

Callum frowned. “He just left everyone as soon as he could?”

“He came back once,” she said, “when he was trying to get back on his feet. He left shortly after he got what he needed, and it might be for the best that he hasn’t come back. Lain refuses to play host to him again.”

Callum glanced out the window to where Lain, Ezran, and Bait were playing some version of tag with snowballs. That Lain, not immediately welcoming someone into his life? “Why does your brother stay away?”

“He’s never told me, but… I have theories. There have been a few people who have left the Silvergrove for good. Not many, but some… Might feel stifled by growing up with and living around all the same people. I don’t blame them; part of the reason I wanted to join the Dragonguard was to experience someplace else for a while.”

“But you didn’t just leave your family,” Callum said. “And you still cared .” 

“I don’t know if he just stopped caring, or…” She shrugged. “I guess that’s just it. I don’t know. But whether it’s harder to deal with someone’s presence or absence... feels like it depends on the circumstance.” 

“Is that your way of saying it’s okay if I still don’t know what to do with Runaan?”

“He’s my brother in many ways; Moon knows he can be difficult. We grew up arguing and competing more often than not, but when it mattered, he was always there. Even when we were still rivals, he always made sure our matches were fair. When my parents’ health declined, he was there. He knew what to do when I had to prepare for the memorial. Lain did everything he could to help, but Runaan was the person that made me feel like I didn’t have to be alone in that time. Because he understood.”

“I… never imagined that Runaan would…”


“Be emotionally supportive,” Callum said, and he winced. Tiadrin let out a soft snort.

“That was still more of Lain's territory back then, but… It was another complicated layer, not having my brother there. Runaan knows what it’s like to have to stand on your own in a place that’s otherwise so tightly knit. And he knew that the last thing I needed was for anyone to treat me like I was going to break.”

“Yeah.” Callum thought of the aftermath of the war, when plenty of people had tiptoed around him and Ez and Rayla. “I guess I can understand.”

“Runaan was the only person I knew at the time, too,” Tiadrin remembered, “that knew what it was like to lose parents.” 

Callum’s brow furrowed. “Runaan’s an orphan?”

Tiadrin nodded. “His parents died in a skirmish at the border. He was seven. Master Orym took him in.” 

“I… I never…” He sighed. “I don’t get how he can do the things he’s done, then. How many other orphans he’s probably made.”

“It’s not easy being raised by the leader of the assassin’s guild. You already know we all view death differently. That doesn’t make it right, but… We all grew up believing things that weren’t quite right.”

Callum’s eyes hardened. “Yeah. I guess I did too.”

“And we have a lot to learn from your generation,” Tiadrin said. “You learned more quickly than we did.”

“We had less to hold onto.” 

“I know. But you, specifically, had almost more than anyone. Most of the family and friends you have now would have been your enemies if you hadn’t let it go.”

Callum pursed his lips. “Well I had to adapt somehow, since basically all the people I called family either died or betrayed me.” He didn’t mean to sound so bitter and immediately pulled himself back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—I have Ezran and Rayla, and my aunts and a lot of people in my life who love me, I don’t regret how things turned out, I just—it would have been... nice. If things could have been different.” 

“You miss your parents,” Tiadrin said quietly and he nodded.

“I keep thinking I’m going to stop. Or that they’re going to show up. This was our family lodge. But they’re not. And I’m not. And nobody else really gets it. Because Ez didn’t even know her, and I never knew where I stood with Dad until he was gone, and— someone still has to care.”

“It’s okay to miss them,” she said gently. 

“But it doesn’t do anything.”

“Feelings aren’t about productivity or results,” she said. Maybe a little ironically considering she was a Moonshadow elf, he thought at first, or maybe exactly why, when she finished. “They’re just our responses. Our reactions. We can only control them so much. And Garlaff knows they aren’t always rational, even if they’re what we feel.”

“I thought Moonshadow elves were against letting your emotions rule you.”

“We are,” she said. “Because it’s about controlling how you respond in the wake of your emotions, but we cannot make ourselves totally unfeeling. No matter how much we may wish we could, sometimes.” She smiled sadly. “But we do sometimes work too hard to control how we respond, to the point of shutting them down. Some of us are better at that than others.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” he said, his lips twitching upwards. “I’m engaged to Rayla .”

“Which is why if you can’t control it—if you miss someone, in spite of everything—maybe it’s okay. I’ve seen your fear and aspects of your grief rule you, Callum. I’ve never seen you treat anyone worse for it.”

“Yeah, well...” He turned back towards the window. He thought of losing his temper with Ezran at Katolis, or the Caldera; Rayla at the Nexus after Claudia (a grimace tugged at his mouth) told him about Harrow. “I’m a lot better at that than I was when I was a kid.”

“Except perhaps towards yourself,” Tiadrin finished. Callum glanced up.


“Here you are grieving your parent and beating yourself up for it.” 

“Well, yeah, but that’s—I should have moved on by now.”

“I lost my parents as a grown woman close to fifteen years ago, discounting the coin. I still miss them.” 

“Okay, but it’s not making things weird with the family you have now.”

“Do you think any of us hold your feelings concerning Runaan against you?”

“I—” Callum caught his tongue, nearly biting it. The only one who, really, would’ve been able to come close was Ethari, and... He thought of the mage staff upstairs. Know that I think of you, in that way. As my son. “I guess not,” he mumbled.

“Then what’s the problem?” she said patiently.

Callum was silent for a long time, folding his arms on the windowsill and resting his chin on top of them. Letting his scarf ride up to his nose. In many ways, he had hated that Ez was so young when everything had happened. How was any kid supposed to recover and have a real sense of self outside of trauma when so much had happened so young and so fast? But Ezran had thrived, able to understand things in the aftermath with tools and resources available. Not in the middle of the storm itself with clarity as terrible as a lightning strike and no real time to properly work through it in the happening itself. He’d barely been able to think about Runaan as an assassin or as a person among just trying to process his father was dead, and then Claudia and Soren and Viren had—and everything—

“I always knew Runaan was the one who killed my dad,” Callum said quietly. “And ZubeIa was the one who ordered the hit, but I—I also understood her. Because I would’ve been her, the last one of my family left, and Viren probably whispering in my ear, and—if I had been the boy king, I would have retaliated. Maybe, at least. But Runaan—” One hand curled into a fist. “You can’t stop a monarch from giving orders, but you can choose to not follow them because you know they’re wrong. Rayla knew they were but she was trying to go through it. Runaan... Runaan’s never shown any indication that he thought they were wrong, and I think that’s worse, somehow. Rayla would’ve killed me and thought about it for years, if she could’ve brought herself to do it. Runaan would’ve destroyed my whole life and barely spared it a second thought.” 

Slowly, hesitantly, Tiadrin placed a hand on the back of his head, lightly stroking his hair. Her voice was thick. “I can’t say it’s not true,” she said softly. “And even though I know why he thinks the way he does, I’m not going to defend him, because… There’s nothing with the ability to defend. And I’m sorry that this still weighs so heavily on you. You are all so young .”

Callum let out a soft snort. “Wish the world could wake up and realize that.” 

“But I will say,” she said, and something in Tiadrin’s tone made him look at her, “that I know my friend, and Runaan is not the same sort of person he was before he went into the coin. He’s changed and is continuing to change. Don’t trap him in the past with your anger. I know you don’t want to be angry with him.”  

“I know,” he said quietly. “It’s just—every time I feel like we’re getting somewhere, or like I’ve given him a chance, he doesn’t…”

“I know. And it’s his responsibility to bridge that gap with you, this time. You gave him his life back, but you can’t control how he lives it.” She smiled a little when her fingers brushed the small braid near the nape of his neck. “All you can do now is choose how you forgive, if you want to forgive. And if that has to be from a distance for now, that’s okay.” She took his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You’re doing the right thing, Callum. You just need to breathe, and give yourself the time and space to figure it out.”

His smile softened. “Okay. Thanks, Mom.” They both froze before he had fully processed what came out. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to, I-I—”

“It’s okay,” she said, but his throat was already tight. Tiadrin leaned over and kissed the top of his head. “If anything, I’m honoured.” 

Callum took a shaky breath, even as he managed to smile again. “It’s um, been a long time since I’ve had one.”

“I know. And she will always be your mother. But you are rather a handful for Ethari to parent alone, you know.” Tiadrin’s eyes twinkled. “I think he could use the help.” 

Callum laughed, even as his eyes watered. “Yeah, I… She would have liked you. She would have been so happy to be a mom with you, I…” He wiped at his eyes. “I think all the time about how she would have loved Rayla immediately, and…”

Tiadrin pulled him into a hug, and he rested his head on her shoulder. “I know.” She stroked his hair as his shoulders began to shake. “I know.”

Runaan had not often seen Callum be in a bad mood. Stressed or fearful, maybe, when touching down in the Silvergrove. Tired in Lux Aurea. But not moody. It reminded him of Rayla’s early teenage years, specifically the months following her parents’ Ghosting. The search for some way to let off hostile steam. She had thrown herself into her training and it had done little to help. It didn’t seem as though Callum had found any way—other than avoiding him. There was finally enough people and rooms in the Lodge to allow it.

In some ways, it left him disconcerted. Soren was surprisingly easy to get along with, the blonde crownguard boy quietly amusing and blatantly daft in equal measure, although Runaan preferred him in small doses. Corvus was quiet but good natured, Opeli having taken to Tiadrin, somehow. Watching Ezran and Ethari interact with twin mischievous grins made Runaan’s heart swell now rather than ache, and Lain was incredibly fond of the boy too. Rayla got to bask in the middle of it all, surrounded by the majority of the family she’d built for herself. Tugging Runaan over to sit at the table too.

It would have been cautiously nice, if it hadn’t meant Callum was now the one at the outskirts of every room and conversation as a result. His guilt—yes, now he could properly identify it as guilt—had shifted, twisting in his chest every time he noticed Callum slip away from group activities or leave meals a little too early. This was the boy’s family, and the boy’s family lodge, far more than his.

Runaan didn’t know quite what he had done to cause the reaction, either. He had been thoughtless, for sure, their first day at the Lodge— I didn’t say I regretted it —but Callum hadn’t seemed that closed off. Was it Runaan’s new friendship with his younger brother, perhaps? Part of him wanted to ask Ethari, because he was sure his husband knew—Ethari always seemed to know, and he still knew Callum much better than Runaan did—but his beloved would likely only have that knowing look in his eyes, soft cheerful smile on his lips, and say it wasn’t his place to tell, that Runaan would have to figure it out on his own.

Bullocks, honestly. The only thing Runaan had ever had patience for was stakeouts. 

Still, the Lodge was only so big with only so many rooms. He and Callum couldn’t avoid each other forever. What he didn’t know was why it had to be in the kitchen, alone, with everyone else getting ready to head in for the night. But last time this had happened with one of the members of the royal family of Katolis, it had led to him and Ezran’s understanding. Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad.

Callum didn’t say anything as he filled up two cups of water—one presumably for Rayla—and turned to carry them up to his room. 

Hastily, Runaan cleared his throat. “I—see that Ezran and Soren are quite close.” The crownguard had carried the king up to bed when Ezran had fallen asleep on one of the couches.

Callum raised one eyebrow. “Yes. And?”

“He is a good crownguard?”

His green eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “I really don’t think I want to discuss the king’s security detail with you, Runaan.” 

“I didn’t—”

“It’s late, I should be heading up—”

“Wait. Please.”

Callum set the glasses of water down, frowning. “What do you want, Runaan?”

“I—” Runaan fought to keep his hands still at his sides. Assassins—former assassins didn’t fidget . “I know the past few days you have been melancholy, concerning me, and I am not quite sure why, but—I do not want to make you a stranger in your family’s own Lodge.”

Callum sighed. “It doesn’t matter, Runaan. It’s my own shit to deal with.”

“But it is—about me?”

“Why would you think that?”

“Ever since I became more friendly with King Ezran, you have been distant—”

“As opposed to?”

Runaan let out a little huff. Why did Rayla’s partner have to match his daughter’s stubbornness so well? “Well forgive me if I made a mistake, but I was under the impression that back at the Silvergrove, we were making progress.”

Callum’s eyes hardened. “If you made a mistake—”

But Runaan didn’t feel like picking a fight for once. “Callum. You were a child who had to grow up very quickly. You had to take care of your brother, and you know better than anyone that sometimes in life there are changes that we don’t expect. I know we did not expect one another. But I do not want to be another weight on your shoulders. I do not want you to be unhappy.”

Something strange shone in Callum’s eyes for a moment, and then he scoffed. “Since when did you care about my happiness?”

“Since you became a large part of my daughter’s, and my husband’s. And Lain, and Tiadrin. They all adore you.”

“And you?”

“I have a feeling there are limited answers that you would accept.” 

“If you’re trying to get me to admit that sometimes I don’t know how to be around you, then yeah, I don’t. Can I go to bed now?”

Runaan pursed his lips and let his sigh rattle through. “Very well.” He watched as Callum picked the glasses back up again. “Goodnight, Callum. Don’t stay up too late.”

The prince didn’t say anything as he headed out of the kitchen and up the stairs, but Runaan didn’t expect him to. What was there to say, after all, to your father’s killer?

He couldn’t get to sleep.

Callum turned over onto his side for maybe the fifth time, Runaan’s words still ringing in his head. I do not want you to be unhappy. What the hell was he supposed to do with that? And what was that speech about him having to grow up quickly, like most of that wasn’t Runaan’s fault even if the damn man still wouldn’t say it out loud—like Callum hadn’t sometimes felt like a stranger in the Lodge or in the castle, growing up.

You know better than anyone that sometimes in life there are changes that we don’t expect ... I want to talk to you about life, and growing up, and how sometimes there are changes you don’t expect.

Callum shut his eyes, Runaan and Harrow’s voices overlapping in his head. What was with him and his dead parents, lately? First Tiadrin and Sarai. Now this, even though Ethari was far more like a father figure, and Runaan was nothing like Harrow—

Except for a moment, he had been. The awkward late night discussions that Harrow had often attempted, neither of them sure what to say, particularly at the Lodge when it was just them and Ezran. Reminders not to stay up too late. Runaan’s stiffness not unlike Harrow’s more kingly, stern persona for serious political matters.

Tears burned under his eyelids.

“Callum?” Rayla’s voice was soft and sleepy, and it was when she placed a hand on his shoulder that he noticed he was shaking. “Love?”

It felt wrong. He felt all twisted up inside, like when his body had responded to Dark Magic. He sat up. “Sorry,” he began, but his voice broke, and Rayla sat up with him, pulling him into her arms.

“Hey.” She cupped the side of his face; her thumb caught a stray tear. “Was it a nightmare, or…?”

Callum shook his head. “I never fell asleep.”

“Oh, Callum.” She brushed his hair back from his brow. He knew she’d noted he was a little quiet that night when he’d come to bed, but hadn’t pushed it. He hoped she wasn’t kicking herself for it now, as she softly requested, “Talk to me.”

“I don’t wanna say it out loud,” he mumbled. “It’s awful.”

“I can take it,” she insisted. “Do you want to write it down instead?”

Another shake of his head, before he took a breath and steeled himself. “I... I think I need to talk to Ezran.” 

Rayla ran her thumb over his cheek. “Okay,” she said. “Do you want me to go get him, or —?”

“I’ll tell him in the morning. Just...” Callum swallowed hard. “Can you hold me, right now?”

She wrapped her arms tight around him, and he buried his face in the crook of her neck, taking slow breaths in sync with her own breathing as she rubbed tiny circles into his back. It was a long time before he uttered, “Runaan reminded me of Dad, tonight, and I just don’t know what to do with it.” 

Rayla was quiet for a moment, the motions of her fingers against his back not ceasing. Then, “You don’t have to do anything with it right now.”

“But my dad’s killer is—” Callum broke off in a shaky breath. 

“I know,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Callum held her closer and tried not to think of how Runaan would’ve carried her on his shoulders too, growing up. How messed up this whole thing was, and how it snuck up on him, sometimes, even more so than she had. “Yeah. Me too.”

It was a little bit easier and harder to breathe, now. Just a bit.

Chapter Text

It had been too long since he’d gone on a walk with just his brother, and Callum kept wishing they’d taken one under different, better circumstances a little earlier into their stay at the Lodge. It wasn’t like they always took walks together only to talk about something serious, but they were starting to set a precedent. 

At least the woods were still beautiful, the winter air perfect to get into the holiday mood.

“Hot cocoa’s gonna be so good after this,” Ezran smiled. “And Barius said he was planning to make stew for dinner tonight! I think he’s saving all the fancy things for Festival night. It’s gonna be fun, having such a big group to celebrate with.”

Callum swallowed. “Uh-huh.”

Ezran glanced up at him, suddenly wise beyond his years. “Rayla told me what happened.” 

He loosed a breath. At least that took some of the pressure off, but… “Yeah. He… reminds me of Dad, and it’s… weird.”

“Actually, it kind of makes sense.”

Callum looked at him. “What makes you say that?”

“Well you kinda treat him the way you treated Dad.”

Callum’s stomach dropped. Fuck, had his relationship with Harrow been that awful? He winced. “Jeeze—”

“Not as mad, but… No, actually, a little bit, sometimes. More after he was gone, but...”

He looked at him. “What?”

Ezran raised an eyebrow at him. “Didn’t you talk with your therapist about your unresolved anger towards Dad for leaving?”

Callum stopped walking. “My what?”

Ezran sighed. “You were never sure where you stood with Dad, even though he was our primary parent, and he couldn’t save himself from the assassins even though in your eyes, he was the king and should’ve been able to. Following so far?”

“Yeah, but I know it wasn’t his fault —”

“And then you needed him and he wasn’t there, and you realized that he’d loved you all along, but you didn’t really get to feel that way too much when he was around, and you got older, and realized how much of a difference there is between a teenager and an adult, and that he had better tools for figuring out how to show it than you did, right?” 

“Well yeah, I guess, but—” 

“Even if you also became more aware that you were both doing the best you could, even if it wasn’t enough.”

Callum finally sighed. “When the hell did you figure all that out?”

“I go to therapy and rule a kingdom at the same time. I had to process all my grief at one point, too. And my anger at you and Rayla for not telling me.” 

Callum faltered. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry about that, again, I—”

Ez held up a hand. “Not what we’re talking about right now. I think you and Runaan are both working with a lot of displaced anger, you most of all.”

“You think I’m wrong to be angry with him?”

“No,” said Ezran. “But I also don’t think that’s really who you’re angry with—at least not entirely.”

“Well since you’re so wise, give it your best guess.”

“I think you already know.”

“I mean, I’m certainly angry at the world for taking our dad away from me, and putting all of us in that situation. And I know...” Callum’s throat tightened. “At Dad, a little, yeah. But mostly at myself. For not calling him Dad sooner, for leaving the tower, for—for caring about Runaan and wanting him to be a part of our family anyway.” He couldn’t stop the tears either. “For being able to bring Runaan back but n-not Dad—”

Ezran hugged him tightly. It was strange, that he was already past his shoulder in height. That after years of being carried, Ezran was the only person who could help him carry this now. “He would be really proud of you,” Ezran said quietly. “ I’m really proud of you.”

Callum sniffled and managed the tiniest of smiles. “Even though I’m a mess?”

“Oh, especially then,” said Ezran. “That just means you’re growing.” 

He let out a tearful laugh, gently ruffling Ezran’s hair. “No one told me you were gonna become so smart on your own.”

“I’ve never been on my own. I have the council, and I talk to Zym all the time, and even when we don’t write, I carry you and Rayla with me.” Ezran hugged him a little tighter. “You spent so long taking care of me. Let me return the favour sometimes, now that I can?”

“Begrudgingly,” Callum bargained. “I’m still your big brother after all.” 

“I guess I can live with that.” Ezran pulled away a little, looking up at Callum. “Are you feeling a little better?”

“Yeah,” he said. “A little.” He let out a breath, wiping at his eyes. “Thanks, Ez.”

“I’m glad I could help.”

They began walking back towards the lodge, Callum’s shoulders feeling a tad lighter. “So you knew this entire time when you asked me if I wanted to go on a walk?”

Ezran shrugged. “You’re not exactly subtle when you’re upset, Callum.”

Callum smiled sheepishly. “Right.” It softened when he thought about Rayla filling in the details, probably early in the morning when he’d been making some hot brown morning potion for himself, worried after last night. 

Ezran nudged him in the stomach. “That’s your ‘wow-I-love-Rayla’ face. What is it this time?”

“That has a face?”

“That’s most of your faces the past few years.”

Callum let out a soft snort. “Just… lucky to have her, after everything. I assume she told you everything this morning?”

Ezran nodded. “She was worried. And wasn’t sure if you’d be able to tell me everything, so if I knew, I could try to get you to talk about it.”

“Wait, then what was the point of me telling you if you already knew?”

“Well, she didn’t know the other stuff you said. I think she just knew that you had to tell me the stuff about Runaan, and then hoped that the other stuff she didn’t know about might come out.” Ezran looked down. “She wanted to help you, but she never got to know Dad, either.”

Callum was quiet for a moment. “Being at the lodge— their lodge, with everything that’s happened this year—I just think about how much they would have loved her. I wish she got to know Mom. I wish you got to know Mom.” 

Ezran gave him a small smile. “Zym and I talk about it sometimes through the Bond. He didn’t get to know his dad because of my dad. I didn’t get to know my mom because of his dad, but I knew he had to go back to his anyway. We can’t change what happened... we just have to do our best to make sure it won’t happen again. To keep looking forward. And I know you probably feel like you have to remember, but —you can do that without looking back, too, you know.” 

“I guess,” he said quietly. Ezran stopped them before they could reach the front door.

“You don’t have to decide now,” Ezran said, “but I think, when things are more settled… It might be good to go back to therapy sometime.”

Callum frowned. “But I got better.”

“The point of therapy isn’t going so you no longer have to go, Callum,” said Ez, a tad dryly. “I still go sometimes. So does Soren. I know you went a few more times after Viren, but—”

“Seeing Claudia again always fucks with me?”

“Something like that, although don’t let Opeli hear you swear like that.” He placed a hand on Callum’s shoulder when he didn’t smile. “And a lot of the time, we have to process things from our past later on, when we’re finally safe enough to. And it’s good to have help with that. Just think about it, okay?”

He sighed. “Okay.” 

Ezran swung his arm towards the door. “You ready to head in?”

“Yeah.” Callum smiled slightly. “I think Lain was going to make moonberry pancakes.” 

Ezran’s eyes widened. “He is?”

“Oh, maybe that was supposed to be a surprise. Whoops?”

Ezran ran in ahead of Callum, and he smiled to himself. Even if Ezran was growing up more and more before his eyes, some things wouldn’t ever have to change.


Tiadrin looked up at the sound of her daughter’s voice, setting down her mug of hot cocoa. “Rayla,” she smiled, as her daughter sat down next to her on the couch near the window. She seemed at home here, in a green handknit oversized sweater, enveloping her like a blanket. At home, but… “Is everything alright?” she asked, noticing the pensive look on her face.

“What? Oh, it’s fine,” she said. “Well, kind of.” Rayla glanced down at her mug. “So, you and Dad decided not to go back to the Spire,” she said. “And… you’re happy?”

“Of course we are,” Tiadrin said. The Silvergrove was even more wonderful than it had been in her childhood, now that she could appreciate being there, rather than trying to get out. She and her brother had always been unusually flighty... She looked up at her daughter. “Why do you ask?”

“I’ve just been thinking,” Rayla said. “Callum and I are hardly there anymore, and the people we’ve trained seem to be doing fine without us now. We’ve been carrying out other missions for the past couple of years, and every time we go back it’s always to leave again, and I’ve just… I don’t know. I don’t feel quite right holding onto my captainship when I’m hardly there to actually be captain. And I know Zubeia understands and wants us there, but...” 

“...It doesn’t feel quite like home anymore?” Tiadrin guessed.

“Something like that,” Rayla shrugged. “I know home is wherever we both are, but it’s different now. And we can only rebuild and fix so much, it makes me wonder when we’ll ever get to just… enjoy what we’ve created together. I know it’d be complicated, because he has his students there too, but...”

“You think it may be time to leave the Spire?”

“Maybe.” Rayla chewed on her bottom lip. “How did you know it was time to leave the Silvergrove?”

Tiadrin glanced at her hands. “It was… a hard decision to make,” she said. “We’d been planning the day we’d finally be accepted into the Dragonguard for years, but when the time finally came, life was so different than we thought it would be.”

“How so?”

She smiled faintly. “We didn’t realize we’d be having you so soon,” she said. “And then we did, and we were so happy to have you, even if it was sooner than we’d planned. And then a couple years later, the thing we’d always been hoping for falls into our laps, but we’d already started a family. We spent so many nights just talking about it. Trying to see how to fit both. The Spire was no place for a child. But we were chosen for a duty that only comes along every thousand years...” Tiadrin’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know if we would make the same choices we did, if we had to do it all over again now,” she said. “But we’d decided that we still had a duty to fulfill, and we didn’t want to spend our lives wondering ‘what if’. So we arranged with Runaan and Ethari, and swore to ourselves that we would visit as often as we could. And we hoped it would be enough. We knew they wouldn’t be perfect parents—we wouldn’t have been, either—but we knew they would be good ones.” She sighed. “We were young, and we’d been wanting this for a long time. We knew we wouldn’t be as mentally present as you needed if we stayed, so…” Her smile faltered. “We still wonder if it was the right decision, sometimes.”

“It was,” Rayla said. “None of us would be here otherwise. And you made sure I was with parents that would be able to be there. It’s okay, Mum.”

Tiadrin rested a hand over one of Rayla’s, giving it a squeeze. “Thank you. But what we would give to have had a little more time with you when you were growing up.”

“None of us are ever done growing up,” Rayla said. “So it looks like we’re in luck.”

Tiadrin chuckled. “Whatever choice you make, we’ll support you.”

“Thanks, Mum. We’re still figuring it out. We still have so much that we need to take care of after the holidays, and…” She swallowed. “I just… I’ve been thinking about it more these past few days.” She fiddled with the end of her sweater. “My period was late, recently. It came,” she said hurriedly, “but it was about a week late, so I thought—wondered, if—” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I didn’t hate the thought. Even if now overall would be a bad time for a baby.” 

Tiadrin stared at her daughter, stunned. “Oh, Rayla…”

“The circumstances are horrible for it,” she said, “but inside, I… I felt like we would have been ready. Scared, but ready. At the very least, we would have figured it out. Both of us would have had to put some things on hold for a little while, but they’re things we’ve already been doing, and after everything, I just thought… I want it, someday. And I never thought I’d ever be ready for it, but I think I am.”

Tiadrin squeezed Rayla’s hand. “You’ll both be wonderful parents,” she said. “Wherever you choose to raise them.”

Rayla smiled softly. “Thank you. But you’re also right, about the Spire not being the place to raise a child. And we’ve already spent a good part of our lives there. We won’t wonder ‘what if’.” Her brows knit together in thought. 

“So that means…?”

“That we might have already answered our question. But we’ll see.” Rayla leaned against her mother’s shoulder, her smile growing when she wrapped her in a warm hug. “Thanks, Mum. I’m... really glad we can talk about stuff like this, now.”

Tiadrin’s eyes shone. “So am I.”

Lain was busy putting away the leftover pancakes when Runaan came in to make a cup of tea a little too forcefully. “It’s only one in the afternoon,” Lain remarked. “It can’t have been a long day already.”

“I think I messed up.”

Lain looked up, smiling a little. “You’ll have to be more specific.”

Runaan glared back at him. “I’m serious—”

“Fine, fine.” Lain sat down next to Runaan. “Okay. I’m listening.”

Runaan let out a long breath. “I don’t understand why the older prince has to be so much more difficult. He’s stubborn and snarky and—”

“Like you, a bit?” Lain supplied. Runaan’s frown deepened.

“That’s different—”

“Is it? And you haven’t made it much easier on him, either.”

“I extended the moonberry branch last night.”

“And he rejected it? The way you did numerous times before? You weren’t exactly kind to him in Lux Aurea.” 

“We were… getting somewhere back at home, I thought.”

“Okay,” Lain said slowly. “Did anything happen that you think could have contributed to the change?”

“No. Well.” Runaan faltered. “He has to know I didn’t mean it—or I meant it at the time, but since—”

“Oh, what did you do?”

“Nothing!” Runaan grumped and sank in his chair. “I... told him I did not regret killing his father.”

Lain looked rather as though he wanted to smack him. “Oh,” he said flatly, “is that all?”


“It is one thing to feel that way privately , Runaan, but to say that to the kid himself is dense and insensitive, even for you—”

Runaan’s eyebrows shot up. “I didn’t—I was apprehensive about meeting Ezran. And he started saying things and I didn’t know what to do and…”

“So you told him you didn’t regret killing their father?”

“Well he was working under the assumption that I did, and—” Runaan faltered. “The correction slipped out. Although I am not sure how correct it was. I… I know now that I feel differently.”

Lain pursed his lips and took the kettle off the stove when it whistled. He poured them each a cup of tea before bringing them back to the smaller breakfast nook table. Runaan didn’t touch his.

“Have you told him that?” Lain asked patiently. “That you made a mistake, in more ways than one?”

“It hasn’t exactly been easy to find the opportunity. This Lodge is full of so many damn people. I tried last night, but—”

“Did you say it?”

“Well, no—”

“I think you might want to start with that. Just… tell him you made a mistake. That you’re sorry. Start with that, and if he doesn’t want to hear you out, then you did what you could.” Lain took a sip of his tea. “He’s a good kid, Runaan.” 

“I know that,” Runaan bristled. 

“Then trust that he’ll let you state your piece and work his way through it. And if push comes to shove, Rayla says the easiest way to Callum’s good side is to be kind to Ezran; you can wear him down like that, if need be.” 

“I already have. Not for that reason,” Runaan clarified. “But it just seemed to bother Callum more.”

“You are in a unique situation,” Lain pointed out. “You and him both know you would have killed Ezran that night, too, if things had gone according to plan.”

Runaan nodded solemnly. “And that was wrong of me,” he acknowledged. “And I’m trying to… be better.”

“I think he needs to hear it right out,” Lain said. “For him to know, after all, since you corrected his assumption. And for him to want to be able to jump that hurdle, because... you can become better all you want, Runaan, but that doesn’t mean he has to forgive you.”

“I—I don’t think he has to.”

“But you want him to.”

“Yes.” Runaan looked at his teacup. “I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

“There isn’t. As long as you know that it might not happen. Just... imagine if your situations were reversed. If someone had tried to kill Rayla and Ethari, and you knew that they would have, or did, and then whichever one was left became incredibly close to them. Wouldn’t that torment you, at least a little?”

Runaan’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “It would,” he admitted.

“And no matter how much they’d changed or how far they’d come, no one would expect that you forgive them. Because that’s still a kind of pain no one should experience. One that they’d played a part in bringing upon you.”

“I can’t take back what I did,” Runaan snapped, “even if I wish I could.”

“I know,” Lain said gently. “War and fear and hate makes people do terrible, questionable things all the time. I don’t hold it against you. But if you truly want to help Callum in any way, you need to give him space to.”

Runaan’s shoulders drooped a little, and he rubbed his upper arm. “So... what should I expect, when I tell him? That I regret it.” 

“I don’t know,” Lain said. “Mostly because I don’t think you’re the only thing that’s bothering him right now. But just be prepared, if it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. Him knowing that you regret it may, perhaps, be the first step in a journey where he can actually heal. And right now, that’s what matters.”

Runaan nodded. “I know.” But his brow remained furrowed, his lips curled in a slight frown.

“What is it?”

“I hope I haven’t thrown away the chance we had at… being family.”

Lain clasped his shoulder. “If not now, there’s always a chance someday. As long as you keep trying.” Lain’s lips quirked upwards. “After all, you’re nothing if not stubborn.” 

“So is he.”

“Well, that just runs in the family, doesn’t it? Maybe you two can bond over that someday.”

“Yeah,” Runaan snorted, “ someday .”

“You two will figure it out,” Lain said. “Because at the very least, you do care about each other, and more than that, you both care about Rayla .” 

Runaan thought of just how much those two doted on each other, how quick they were to reassure and forgive. None of this could have been easy on Callum and Rayla and yet they’d only fought once, as far as he could tell, and that had come down to wanting to protect one another rather than any real disagreement. He hadn’t been able to see it before, in Lux Aurea. Maybe he hadn’t wanted to. But he could perfectly picture Callum tossing himself off the Pinnacle now, for the girl he loved.

“That is one thing we’ll always have in common,” Runaan agreed, and then stopped and started. “I suppose I should tell him I officially approve, shouldn’t I?”

Lain’s lips twitched again, fondness in his eyes for his old friend. “It can’t hurt.”

“Should I apologize first, and then…?”

“I think you’ll figure it out.”

Callum couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t an uncommon problem these days, even if it was an annoying one. He was always shaken whenever Aaravos used him like that, and sleep just meant maybe Aaravos would again , and—Callum gripped the edge of the kitchen counter, while he waited for his tea to boil. Rayla had recommended a herbal mix that usually helped set him at ease, on nights like these. Hopefully it would at least calm him down enough that Aaravos wouldn’t be able to cut through the drowsiness. Or was that when he was most effective?

Nope. He couldn’t go down that route. He’d take the tea because Rayla would worry if he didn’t and just suck it up and hope for the best. That was enough for now. That had to be enough for now.

“I didn’t realize you were still up,” came a voice seemingly out of nowhere, and Callum nearly jumped.

“Gods, Runaan,” he hissed, a hand flying to his chest. Stupid stealthy former assassin in soft looking, silvery pajamas. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to.” Runaan’s brow furrowed. “I thought I was walking quite loudly? I noticed that Rayla cannot sneak up on you anymore.”

Callum softened. “Well, I had years to learn how to tell when she was trying, so.” He cleared his throat. “Do you want anything? From the kitchen I mean?”

“Just a glass of water.” Callum got a glass from the cabinet and filled it under the faucet. “You’re having trouble sleeping?”

“I’m fine, just making some tea.”

“Your brother mentioned that you stay up, sometimes.”

“While he was presumably up late himself? Yes, sometimes.” He held out the glass to Runaan. 

Runaan took it but set it down on the counter. “I also wanted to speak with you.”

Callum barely stifled an eyeroll. This again? Because last time had gone so well . “Runaan, we really don’t have to—”

“Yes we do.” Runaan swallowed and then looked him in the face, wearing an expression Callum had never seen on him before. “I’m sorry.”

Callum stared at him blankly. Sorry for what? For how awkward everything was? For being hostile in the past? For whatever weird friendship thing he had going on with his former target?

Runaan seemed to get that he didn’t understand, because the elf gritted his teeth and tried again. Something in his eyes wavered. “I’m sorry . Killing your father was a mistake.”

Callum’s throat tightened. “You…” He turned away sharply, blinking rapidly. Oh gods. His whole body felt like it was shaking. He laid one trembling hand on the counter, gripping the edge again. Runaan was sorry . He regretted it. It felt like someone had just hit Callum in the stomach or chest or maybe both, and knocked all the air out of him. 

“I’m sorry I did not understand before,” Runaan said quietly. “But I do now.”

“Didn’t understand ?” His voice trembled, dry in his throat. “You can’t just say sorry and—”

“You—don’t want me to be sorry?”

“You don’t just get to say sorry and make it okay,” he said, his voice rising even as it grated inside his throat. “‘Sorry’ doesn’t make up for all the time you spent making it harder on us or pulling away every fucking time I thought we might be able to—do you know how hard it is to try to be family with your father’s killer? And you somehow made it even harder and being in this fucking place is hard enough because it was theirs , and they’re gone and they’re never coming back, I can bring all of you back but not my own parents! I can’t do it, not for me, not for my baby brother, and Ezran— Ezran —” Callum coughed out a hoarse sob. “Sorry doesn’t bring our father back. It doesn’t give Ezran his childhood back. It doesn’t— Harrow never even heard me call him dad because I was insecure and stupid and—”

“Yes he did.” Runaan’s voice was firm.

Callum looked up, his eyes burning. “What?”

“He heard you. We both did. He tried to step towards the door but another one my troupe blocked his way and forced him back.” Runaan took a deep breath. “We didn’t think about the significance, because we would have hesitated. We should have. I’m so, so sorry.”

Numb to the bone, heart rattling, Callum managed to sit down in the closest chair. “He heard me?” His voice sounded small and echoey in his own ears. 

Runaan nodded. “Yes. I’m sorry we can’t bring him back. Him and your mother. I know how unfair it is. You save me and Lain and Tiadrin from a fate worse than death. Claudia resurrects her father. Zym goes home to his mother. And you just lose more.”

Callum bowed his head, unable to keep from crying hard. “I did,” he said softly. “And I didn’t. I got Rayla.” A tear leaked out in spite of himself. “And half the time I think about them, it’s about how much I wish they’d met her. How much…” His voice wavered. “And you make me think of him too. Harrow didn’t know how to parent me either. He tried, he tried so damn hard, but we didn’t have time, and then it was too late—” Callum wiped at his face. Hesitantly, Runaan stepped forward. “But— but maybe ,” his voice broke with every syllable, “it’s not too late for us.”

Slowly, Runaan reached toward him, taking his shoulder. “Callum.” Turned him towards Runaan and Callum let him, the elf’s brow furrowed, eyes shining with sympathy. “It isn’t,” he said. “If you’ll give me one more chance, and if you’ll let me finally give you one.”

Callum’s chin trembled, and when he let himself fall apart, Runaan caught him, his arms tight around him as he sobbed into the soft silver of Runaan’s shoulder. “ I miss him ,” Callum croaked, shoulders shaking.

Runaan cupped the back of his head. “I know.”

When Callum had left the kitchen last night, the last thing he had expected to leave with was closure . Something had been both severed and pieced back together, and the emotional exhaustion paired with the tea had been enough to get him to sleep soundly through the rest of the night. Rayla was awake in bed when he finally roused a little later in the morning than usual, and she smiled, reaching over to trace his face when he blinked sleepily at her.

“Hey,” she said. She gently brushed away some crusty residue from his eye. “Sleep well?”

“Yeah.” His voice sounded a little rough, but he supposed he had cried a lot last night, too. “Did we miss breakfast?”

“Maybe, but we can just steal some leftovers.” She pressed a soft, brief kiss to his lips. “I have to use my assassin stealthiness for something these days, don’t I?”

His lips twitched upwards, his mouth following when she gave him another kiss before she went to slip out of bed. His fingers caught her wrist once she was standing, and he stroked his thumb over the curve. “Hey. You know I really love you, right?”

Rayla smiled, the corners of her eyes crinkling as light danced in her eyes. “I know.” She shifted his grasp to give his hand a squeeze. “I love you, too.”

Callum shifted, lifting her hand to press a kiss to her knuckles before letting go. “Good.” He watched her as she headed into the bathroom to freshen up and change, and he let out a little sigh, his chest feeling lighter.

He couldn’t change his past, but he would make sure every day to be grateful for how his future slept beside him.

It was snowing lightly when Ezran asked if he wanted to go for a walk, for once just taking a walk for the sake of it. Callum took the offer immediately; it would be nice to have a break from so many serious conversations. Even if a light wrench was thrown into his plans when Ez said, “Runaan, do you wanna come? I don’t think you’ve seen the lake yet.” 

Runaan and Callum exchanged an uncertain glance across the living room, and Runaan glanced away. “It is kind of you to ask, but—”

“The lake’s not far,” Callum said. He smiled a little. “We’ll be back before you know it.”

Runaan blinked slowly, before smiling back. “Let me put on my coat, first.”

Chapter Text

The next two weeks at the Banthor Lodge passed rather peacefully. Soren and Corvus brought in a thick evergreen tree and set it in the living room, and they all decorated it with old ornaments in storage. Callum and Ezran and Barius baked more traditional flavoured jelly tarts to honour Sarai’s side of the family, and Amaya and Janai promised they would come for a visit soon .

Rayla knew that Callum and Runaan still didn’t always know what to make of each other, but something had changed, and for the better. She wasn’t going to look a gift moonstrider in the mouth. Especially now that they both finally seemed more at peace, as the Winter Solstice approached. It really felt like the holidays, as she sat down in front of the fire with a mug of hot cocoa on one side and Callum on the other, a blanket draped around them. It had quickly become her favourite way to enjoy the holidays (and the cold) and it must’ve shown on her face, because she caught Callum looking at her fondly.


Her fiancée’s smile softened further. “Nothing.” He pressed warm lips to her cheek. “You’re just cute.”

Rayla couldn’t quite manage an eyeroll, nor keep from smiling back at him. “Sap.”

“We both know I’m right. Besides, this is the last Solstice we’ll spend unmarried. It’s special.”

She mock-pouted. “Isn’t every Solstice with me special?” 

She grinned when he laughed though, before she quieted under his lips. They lingered. Everyone else was elsewhere in the Lodge right now. Soren and Ezran had left for a long walk in the woods a good hour ago. It couldn’t hurt to kiss a bit longer. A bit more firmly. She hummed quietly against his mouth as he pulled her closer, her legs shifting into his lap. One of her hands went to his hair. Next Solstice they would be married , husband and wife. Everything in her grew warm. “Gods, I love you,” she murmured, slightly breathless and chasing his lips when he pulled away.

Callum smiled before kissing her again. “I love you, too. I can’t wait to be your husband.”

She looped her arms around his neck, scooting closer. Pressing her mouth to his. “I can’t wait to be your wife.” She didn’t think she’d ever get tired of kissing him, their lips parting, her hand lightly gripping his hair now—

The front door to the Banthor Lodge opened with a bang. They both looked up, Rayla quickly getting off of him, her face hot. But when she looked up to see who had intruded on them, her vision went red rather than her cheeks.

“Yeesh,” said Soren, and then to the two people behind him, “you should be glad I walked in first.” 

“What is she —” Callum began, his voice cold, but Ezran looked up at both of them with big, worried eyes.

“She’s hurt,” he puffed out, bearing most of Claudia’s weight on his thin shoulders.

“So what?” Callum retorted, glaring. “Why the hell is she here—”

“Nice to see you too,” Claudia rasped. The hem of her black tunic was frayed and torn. A few golden buttons had fallen off her matching coat. Her hair and face looked ragged. “And contrary to what you believe, I’m here to help .”

Rayla glowered at her. “After you just attacked our family?”

“That was a month ago,” Claudia said. Ezran and Soren helped ease her down into one of the arm chairs. Rayla couldn’t tell what was wrong with her, but the veins in her hands seemed more vibrant than usual. Twitchy fingers. Everything else was covered by cloth.

“Oh and so much can change in a month,” Callum said, dripping with sarcasm.

Claudia scrunched up her brow, scowling. “Isn’t that your entire relationship?”

“Kids?” Tiadrin from the upstairs flight. Coming down the stairs—and from the sound of the footsteps, with Runaan, Ethari, and Lain too. “Is everything okay?” They all stopped short when they saw Claudia, all moving to take out their weapons.

“Wait!” Ezran yelled, and Rayla suspected that he was the only reason Claudia hadn’t yet been kicked out or stabbed by something pointy. “Soren and I were out walking and we found her in the woods—”

Runaan made a noise of distaste in the back of his throat. “So you brought home a stray?”

“She was hurt,” Ezran said, almost sounding reproachful. “And we weren’t gonna leave her out in the cold. Besides…” Ezran glanced back at Claudia. “She said she wanted to help.”

“Oh, because she hasn’t spent the past five years lying to us,” Callum said. 

Callum ,” Soren said. Claudia, after all, was the only family the crownguard had left.

Rayla grabbed his arm and Callum looked away. “Fine. We’ll hear her out.” He looked at Claudia and saw the small silver snake bracelets on her wrist. His eyes hardened, perhaps remembering when she used them against him. He drew a rune and muttered the trigger word under his breath. The snakes shifted and stretched to be thick handcuffs around her wrists. “For now.” 

Claudia let out a snort, seemingly unsurprised at the cuffs around her wrists. “I told you they wouldn’t like it,” she said, not looking up at any of them.

“Just tell them what you told us,” Soren said, his voice gentle. 

Claudia bowed her head, white hair falling over her cheeks. “Aaravos hasn’t been happy with me since Dad... since Viren died. Being the distraction at the Silvergrove was kind of my last chance and well, we know how that went. He stopped letting me in on more of his plans. But he’s gearing up for his last one.” Claudia rubbed one hand over the other. “He wants to put his mages at each of the six Nexuses, with himself at the Star Nexus—”

“The Star Nexus collapsed,” said Callum sharply. “I destroyed it when Viren died.”

“Well Aaravos has plans to rebuild it. That’s what he’s been doing. He went to the Spire to get supplies—magically inclined mountain rock, fit for dragons—not to attack the draconic royal family themselves. He wants to take magic out of the east, too. Remove it from the elves and dragons and sever their connections. And to stop any practice of magic that he doesn’t authorize.”

Rayla arched an eyebrow. “And you started having a problem with this when...?”

Claudia raised her head and glared at her, green eyes flashing. “I wanted a better future for humanity. I wanted the freedom to practice Dark Magic and have actual resources. Not an end to magic itself. Not mass genocide .” 

“It lines up with Aaravos’ actions,” Ezran pointed out. “And with what he’s put in your head, Callum.”

His brother flinched. “Okay, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t left out there as another distraction.”

“So what?” Ezran said. “That still means she’s telling the truth. Don’t you have a spell or whatever that can check her memories?”

“Whoa,” said Claudia, raising her hands, “I am not letting Callum into my head.”

“I don’t want to go into your head!” Callum pinched the bridge of his nose. “And I’m sure Aaravos can make fake memories, anyway.”

“I mean, he can,” said Claudia, “but I’m hardly worth that much effort to him now. The last place he’d ever expect me to come is here. I mean, not here like the Lodge, because he doesn’t know where you are right now, but like here, as in to you guys.” 

“Doesn’t matter, I don’t want—wait, so he doesn’t know where we are?”


“And there’s no way he can figure out where we are?”

“I mean, probably, but it’d be a lot more work than he’s probably willing to do right now. He’s kind of busy with his ‘let’s-take-over-the-world’ plan right now. You’re not always number one on his priority list, you know. Especially since he knows you won’t be a mage for him no matter what.”

Callum let loose a harsh breath. “And how did he finally figure that one out?”

Claudia’s eyes widened even as her gaze narrowed. “Because you wouldn’t use your magic for him to save Rayla’s life.”

Rayla’s gut dropped. The Star Nexus. Viren and Aaravos and Claudia. The ropes and chains around her wrists, around Callum’s.

Callum’s whole body went rigid beside her. She knew her parents and Ez and Soren were staring at them, before he stepped in front of her. “Yes,” Callum said, sharp and quiet, “so you know exactly why I will never trust you ever again.” 

“Like I didn’t have to sacrifice everything to come here,” Claudia spat.

Sacrifice ? You just admitted you were on the outs with Aaravos anyway.” 

“I had to realize who and what I was helping, that I lost my father for nothing, that he was terrible, that—” Her eyes flickered over to Soren and Ez. “That I hurt all the people I cared about.” 

Callum rolled his eyes. “Oh that is such a load of bullshit—”

“Callum,” said Ezran, almost sternly.

His brother whirled back to him. “No,” said Callum, deadly quiet even as his voice trembled, “you weren’t there, at the Nexus—on the mountain—Viren walking over with a knife, with Aaravos just overlooking, smiling. I couldn’t—they were going to make me watch. She was going to let Viren use Rayla for parts!”

Then his moved from their friends to her stricken parents before eyes landed on her and Rayla realized she was barely breathing. Her fingers were fumbling when Callum grabbed them, his other hand grabbing her arm. 

“Hey,” he said softly, guiding her hand up to the base of her horns. Her fingers brushed the smooth silver of her engagement horn cuff and her throat loosened. She took in a shaky breath. “We’re okay.”

She swallowed, taking his hand when they fell from her horns. “I-I know.” She watched him cast a dirty look at Claudia over his shoulder, and then at Soren and Ezran.

“We’re done with this conversation.”

Soren winced and Ezran spoke again. “That may be so,” he acknowledged, “but you’re still the only healer we have, and Claudia is still injured. We have to heal her somehow.” 

He frowned. “But—”

“Callum,” Rayla said quietly. “It’s okay. Let’s just get it over with.”

He squeezed her hand. “I don’t want to leave you right now.” And they both know she couldn’t stay in the room with Claudia.

“We’ll stay with her,” said Tiadrin, placing a reassuring hand on his back. “And we’ll wait up for you. Okay?”

Callum softened, then slowly nodded. “Okay.” He turned his head to press a kiss to Rayla’s temple before letting go of her hand, watching as she and her parents quietly went back up the stairs. His eyes hardened when he turned back to Claudia. “So,” he said, “what’s the problem?”

Ethari got her a glass of water. No one said anything for a while as they sat in the game room, Rayla only taking small sips of water. Finally,  Ethari cleared this throat. “Do you want to talk about—”

No .” Rayla set down her glass on the nearest table. “I just want...” She sighed. “Callum.”

“He makes you feel safe,” Ethari translated.

Rayla gave a tiny nod. “He’s the reason I’m alive and not...” She shuddered. “And we’ve talked about it. It’s… He’s the only person I can talk to about it.”

“That makes sense,” Tiadrin said gently. 

She wrapped her arms around herself. “It was so awful.” Ethari sat down beside her, carefully rubbing her back as she took another sip. “I still can’t believe she came here. I hope he’s okay. Ez and Soren always stayed more sympathetic, but Callum... and I can’t blame him.” 

“We’re not too fond of her either,” said Runaan stoutly, sharing a look with his husband.

At least the nightmares they had witnessed Rayla having made sense now, Runaan thought, trying not to scowl. It had been about the Dark Mage, like he’d suspected, but also the daughter. There are more practical uses for this one . And for the second time at least, Runaan knew he utterly owed his daughter’s life to the boy she’d given her heart to. Thank Garlaf for Callum. 

Everyone looked up when the door opened, and Rayla set her glass down and was already up before the door was fully opened, there in time to wrap her arms around Callum. He hugged her back just as tightly, burying his face in her shoulder. 

“What’s wrong with her?” Rayla’s voice was muffled.

His arms tightened around her waist. “Nevermind her. How are you feeling?”

She drew away but kept her hands on his shoulders. “I’m okay. And you—?”

He gave her a half-smile. “I’m fine.”

Rayla sighed, placing a hand on his cheek. “We just can’t catch a break, can we?”

“Eh, keeps things interesting,” he tried and they shared a small smile. She pulled away but stayed beside him as they looked back at her parents. “You’re all okay up here?”

“We’re alright,” said Lain.

“Soren and Ez are staying with Claudia for now,” Callum relayed. “Claudia’s taking one of the extra rooms while she recovers, and Soren and Corvus are gonna take shifts guarding the door. Hopefully she’s out of here soon.”

“What is Ez thinking?” Rayla asked. Callum could give his opinion as much as he wanted, but Ezran was still king— his king—and could overrule the council and Opeli’s verdict if he wanted to.

“I don’t know,” said Callum. “But I’ll be giving him a piece of my mind later, believe me, if he tries to just pardon her again.” 

“He didn’t know what she’d done,” Rayla said.

“Okay, but he knew all the other things—”

“I’m not defending her. But he has his own relationship with her, just like you do.” Rayla pressed her lips together, a tad hesitant. “You know she was there for him after he found out about your dad.”

Callum frowned. “Rayla—”

“And you’ve spent a lot of time making sure he could keep his softer heart, you can’t blame him for having one now.” 

Callum sighed heavily. “I know.” His brow furrowed. “He’s probably thinking about Soren, too. Soren understands, especially after everything with Viren, but…”

“Yeah.” She sighed. “What a mess.”

“Is there anything we can do?” Tiadrin asked.

“Not really,” he said, “but thank you. Just... watch yourselves while she’s here. We all know what she thinks of elves.” 

“We won’t let our guard down,” Ethari promised. “I don’t think Runaan knows how, anyway.” 

The tiniest sliver of a smile peeked through on Runaan’s face. “He is not wrong.” 

Callum smiled a little, before it faltered again. “We were all supposed to have a relaxing time here,” he said. “Solstice is in a few days and we have… this to deal with.”

“Well,” said Lain, “I never thought I’d see a Solstice again, so this is still a big improvement.”

Callum caught himself quickly, although Rayla had to admit the thought had crossed her mind. “Right, of course. Sorry.”

“Hey.” Lain got up, clasping Callum’s shoulder. “Don’t apologize. We get to see another Solstice, with a bigger family. What more could we ask for?”

“Other than a former childhood friend-turned-enemy to not be under the same roof?”

“There’s always a hitch in holiday plans,” Lain grinned and Callum nearly laughed.

“I can imagine. Our first solstice at the castle, Barius used the wrong sort of jam for my mom’s jelly tarts. She was understanding, but not pleased. I wanted to make some the right way to cheer her up, so Soren and Claudia helped me—” Callum clammed up again, clamping his mouth shut. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, hopefully this’ll be over in a few days, and we can focus on what really matters.” 

“Everything will be fine,” Ethari said. “And we’re all here if you need us.”

Callum squeezed Rayla’s hand. “I know.”

“Thank you,” she said to her parents. She looked back at Callum. “Wanna take a walk for a bit?”

“Yeah. That sounds… really nice.” 

Runaan just hoped that Claudia no longer sat in the lodge’s main room as the young couple went down.

She didn’t. Ez and Soren must have taken her to the kitchen, Rayla figured, as she and Callum pulled on coats and her mitts and they headed out the door. She drew close as he wrapped an arm around her, and for a little while, neither said anything, only the sound of birds chirping and the crunching of fresh snow beneath their feet once they’d disappeared into the woods. 

Then Rayla asked, without looking at him, “Are you okay?”

Callum rested his head on top of hers. “I don’t know. I just... never expected this.” His breathing hitched. “ Every damn time I think I know who Claudia is I find out I don’t.” 

She stopped, turning towards him. Sun shone through the trees, warm light scattered along the clearing. “That’s not your fault,” she said softly.

“But I grew up with her,” he said, his voice shaky. “When my mom and I came to the castle I didn’t know anyone, and I was even more nervous around Harrow and Ez wasn’t born yet. Soren just wanted to play swords. But Claudia... she’d read to me in the library before I learned how. She was the one who got me interested in Xadia. And sometimes after Mom died Dad would leave us with Lord Viren as a babysitter sometimes, when he was really busy, and Claudia would convince Soren to play board games with me and Ez and…” His eyes grew too bright. “She was my first friend. She was the first girl I ever—and I love you , and I almost chose her over you, and—” 

“But you didn’t.”

“But I almost did. If everything hadn’t changed the way it had—”

“Well, we’re here now.” Rayla turned to stand in front of him and place her hands on her shoulders. Sometimes she wanted to shake him or kiss him until he saw how wonderful and good he was. “And I know you love me, Callum. That isn’t detracted by the fact you loved people in your past who didn’t love you properly back.” 

“She would’ve used you for parts,” he whispered brokenly.

“I know. And you made sure she never got that chance.”

“She attacked the Silvergrove.”

“And you stopped her.” Rayla tilted her head at him a little, her eyes searching his face. “Love... what is this really about?”

Callum ducked her head to avoid her eyes. “I don’t think I could have killed her.” 

“But you have the skill—”

“Maybe, but… I could have, but I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it.” 

“Love.” She took his face in her hands, making him look at her, a slight, soft, knowing smile on her lips. “Not being willing to kill someone is not a bad thing.”

“But if I’d had to, back in the Silvergrove—”

“We both know by now that there’s always another way. And that, if given no other choice, you would’ve done what you needed to.” Rayla’s smile saddened, even as it grew. “You can’t make me hate you, love. It’s not possible.” She brushed away a tear from the corner of his eye before it could fall. “You’re the strongest person I know, and not just because you’re the most powerful mage I’ve ever seen. I’ve known that since you stepped up to take Ez’s place when I came to kill you.” She pursed her lips. “We know that people can change. Maybe Claudia really can change for the better. You didn’t give up on me.”

Callum smiled a little, leaning into her touch, even if he let out a slightly annoyed huff. “You were my ‘enemy’ for like, maybe three hours. And I hadn’t trusted you at that point. And once I did, you never let me down.” He kissed her thumb. “You’re nothing like Claudia.” 

Rayla smiled, her eyes twinkling. Time to pull him out of this funk, if this was as far as this conversation could (or should) go right now. “I seem to remember you saying something very similar to me back then.”

That did it, as he blinked in confusion. “I did?”

“At the Nexus, I think, when we talked about Claudia and your dad, once we knew Soren had lied. You tried to win me over by pointing out how Claudia and I had both wanted to tell you, she’d just beaten me to it. And I pulled a face, because I didn’t appreciate being compared to a Dark Mage, and you back-pedalled hard. Swore up and down that I was nothing like Claudia, no way, no how.”

Callum drew away with a little groan. “And you were already crushing on me by that point,” he remembered. “I’m an idiot.”

She followed, placing a hand on his arm, before she leaned up to kiss his cheek. “You caught up eventually.” 

“And I mean,” he said, now smiling, “it’s not like I could control the fact that you started crushing on me so early —” 

She swatted him in the chest, laughing. “Shut up.” His eyes were still shining, but with laughter this time, his hands catching hers. 

“I’m just glad you could forgive me for being dense.” 

“Nothing to forgive,” Rayla said. “It’s not as though I wasn’t also dense and stubbornly in denial. I don’t know what I would have done if you had made a move before we reached Xadia.” 

“Been extremely flustered, probably.”

“Well, yeah. But there were some times you got flirty with me before Xadia.”

He wrapped his arm around her waist. Reminiscing was always a good distraction and they both knew it. And they were getting married in another eight months. Rayla thought they were allowed to be sentimental. “Oh yeah, like what?” he prodded. 

“Don’t play dumb,” she chided, grinning and coaxing one out of him too. “You know exactly what you were doing that night in the cave, Mr ‘I enjoyed it’.” 

“About you explaining your moon powers in a very nonsensical but cute manner? I may remember that.” 

She wrinkled her nose at him, but it smoothed when he kissed her, soft and brief. His lips were just a little cold. “I love you,” she said. “You know there’s nothing you can do that could change that?”

“I know. I love you too.” She took both his hands into hers, rubbing her mitts against his bare fingers, before lifting them to her mouth and blowing warm air on them, and his engagement ring. He was smiling when she drew away. 

“And we’re going to figure this out,” she promised. “We’ve come this far, haven’t we? Six arcanums down. Three parents rescued. Not bad, I think.”

“Can’t be that bad,” he agreed quietly, “since I have you.”

After all these months and years and moments, he could still make her melt. “And you always will,” she said, squeezing his hands gently. They stood in silence a little longer, before she asked, “Are you ready to go back inside?”

“In a bit.” He didn’t look away as he said, “It’s beautiful out here.”

She smiled up at him. “Yeah. It is.”

Soren was given the first night shift. Rayla had heard him offer to just sit outside the room with Claudia, and no one said anything about it; they knew he’d do whatever he needed, if it came to it.

Claudia must have known, too, because she didn’t take him up on his offer, her bedroom door still closed as Soren sat outside. Rayla paused on her way to her room back from the bathroom. There was something melancholy about seeing him standing outside her door, expressionless, but still enough to the side, in case Claudia wanted to join him. He’d found her and she’d told him and Ezran everything, but some things weren’t so quickly or easily fixed, she supposed.

Just as Rayla considered going over to stand with him, at least for a bit, Claudia’s door opened, and Rayla stepped back into the shadows. They’d purposefully put Claudia as far away from her parents’ rooms (and her and Callum’s by extension) so there was plenty of room to maneuver in. 

Soren turned towards Claudia, his smile hesitant. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Claudia didn’t smile back. “I have questions.” 

Soren rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh, uh. Yeah, sure.” 

“What’s the hierarchy here?”

His brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Who’s trust matters the most, Soren.”

“Oh, um. Depends. Ez is king, right, so for matters concerning Katolis, that’s his jurisdiction. Rayla oversees stuff for the draconic royal family. Callum’s kind of a rogue card? Not totally beholden to either. But I guess he—he usually gets the final say when it comes to stuff about Aaravos.” 

“Hm.” Claudia was quiet, her eyes downcast as she seemed to process the information. Then, rather stiffly, “Callum’s different, now.” 

“Oh. Yeah. He’s really grown up. So has Ezran.”

“Yeah,” Claudia drawled, “but Ezran’s not angry , now.” 

Rayla watched Soren frown in the dim light. “Callum’s not either,” the crownguard amended. “Not really. He’s just... been pushed to his limits a lot the past few years. Some of that due to you.” 

“So you’re still on his side?”

“That’s not what—” There was a pained expression on Soren’s face. “There was a time when we were all on the same side,” he said. “And then you stayed with Dad, and you probably would still be, if he was alive and hadn’t left Aaravos. Because how much of this is because you think what Aaravos is doing is wrong, or because we’re the only place you have left to go?”

Claudia frowned at him. “I know it’s wrong—”

“But would you have just hidden yourself away, somewhere, if you thought you could? Evenere or Del Bar or something—”

“Maybe I should have if I’m just going to be treated like a prisoner—”

“You should be thankful you’re not being treated like a war criminal.” Soren frowned at her. “You tried to kill Callum, multiple times, then Ezran, again. You crossed the line with Dark Magic. You attacked the Silvergrove. Just one count would be enough to be charged with treason—Ezran could have his pick, really, if he wasn’t so forgiving. I’m sure he and Callum will have plenty of arguments about it, given what you did to Rayla. The politics involved, with attacking the crown prince’s fiancée.” 

Claudia’s jaw clenched. “You’re always choosing that family over ours.”

“They used to be the same thing.” Soren let out a sigh, heavy with the years and miles between them. “When I left,” he said quietly, “you told me not to make you choose. But you did. And you chose wrong, Claudia. Maybe it’s time you faced up to that. Or you’re just going to keep hurting people and missing out on all your second chances.” 

She was quiet for a moment, her white hair falling in front of her face. “You’ve changed, too.”

“I’ve grown up.” Soren’s eyes were like steel in the moonlight. “I stopped blaming other people for my choices.” 

“Sounds like a drag,” she muttered.

“I can’t help how you hear it.”

Claudia stuck her tongue in her cheek. Then, after a long silence, she said, “Aaravos didn’t tell me they were engaged.” 

“Oh, yeah. Almost a year.” 

Claudia rubbed her arm, her snake bracelets gone. Confiscated. “So pretty shortly afterwards...” Viren and the Star Nexus.

“I think they were already talking about it, but yeah.” Soren leaned back against the wall. “After nearly losing each other a bunch of times, they probably didn’t want to wait any longer than they had to. Though hopefully things quiet down after all this is over.”

Claudia let out a quiet snort. “You really think this’ll ever end?”

“It can.” Soren arched an eyebrow. “You’ve seen what Callum can do.”

“And I know what Aaravos can do.”

“If you think it’s pointless, then why are you helping us?”

Claudia pressed her lips together, her voice turning quiet. “Because I know you would follow Ezran to the ends of the earth, and he would follow Callum, and I don’t want to see my brother be killed.” 

Soren blinked, softening as he uncrossed his arms. “Clauds...” 

Something in her expression seemed to crack at the old nickname. “You’re all I have left, Soren. Literally, this time.”

He smiled, ever so slightly. “I’m surprised you’re not asking me to run.”

Claudia raised her chin. “I would, if I thought you would come.”

He sighed but his smile didn’t leave. “As long as you don’t make me the bad guy.”

She tucked one of her only strands of dark hair behind her ear. “What?” she said, a trace of vulnerability in her voice. “The way you made me?”

Soren stepped towards her then, reaching for her hands. “I didn’t,” he said, firmly but kindly. “Clauds, I always just wanted you to come home. Callum... he saw things differently. I don’t think I have to explain why.” 

“What, because I broke his heart when we were kids? Hasn’t it all worked out for the best anyway? He has his dream girl, I’m sure, even if she is—”

“An elf?” Rayla stepped out of the shadows, her arms crossed over her chest and both Soren and Claudia leapt back, Claudia far more angrily alarmed. 

Soren just placed a hand over his armoured chest. “Rayla, I thought you were done sneaking up on me like that—”

“Old habits die hard,” she said, violet eyes flickering over to Claudia. “We need to talk.” She glanced at Soren. “Could you give us a moment?”

Soren glanced back and forth between the two women, looking more and more uncomfortable by the second. “Are you sure—”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Callum won’t like it.”


Soren sighed. “Fine. I’ll go downstairs for a glass of water. You’re getting five minutes, maybe.” Rayla wasn’t sure if he was speaking more to her or to Claudia as he said, “Holler if you need something,” before heading downstairs.

Claudia crossed her arms over her chest too, fingers tapping impatiently as Rayla let her arms go loose. “How much did you hear?” the ‘mage’ asked.


“You just love sticking your nose where you don’t belong, huh?”

“Still holding a grudge about the dungeon, I see.” With the Egg and the princes. Then Claudia, why is it here? “And I’m not surprised that you’re only here for your brother.”

“Not only—”

“Mostly, then.” Rayla swallowed. “I saw you run to him that day in the rain with the dragon.”

“I saw you run to Callum.”

“I don’t go back on my choices.” Rayla’s hands curled into fists. “So I’m going to tell you what else I’ve seen. For four, almost five years now, you have helped Aaravos tear him to pieces. He trusted you and you used him. But eventually, he’s going to put all the pain you’ve put him through, all of that aside, and hear you out, and trust the information you give him, because that’s who Callum is and there’s nothing he cares more about then defeating Aaravos. But if you ever hurt him, ever again, if you ever give me a reason to think you’ll step out of line, you won’t have to worry about the path you’re headed on any longer. Because I will end it, right there. Understood?”

Claudia’s eyes were hard. “Understood,” she said tersely.

Rayla nodded and pulled away. “Good.”

“But you’re wrong.”

She turned back. “What?”

“Callum caring about nothing more than defeating Aaravos? You’re wrong. He cares about you and Ezran. More than anything.”

Rayla kept her expression even, if only to keep the way her heart softened from showing on her face. “Then considering you’ve tried to kill both me and Ezran, I guess that shows how much you ever cared about him.” 

Claudia opened her mouth to respond when Soren came back up with a mug of hot cocoa. He glanced between them again. “I was just—”

“It’s fine,” Rayla said, keeping her eyes on Claudia. “We’re done here.”

“Oh thank the gods,” he breathed. Rayla turned away and didn’t look back this time, but not before she saw Soren silently offer Claudia the hot cocoa.

Her throat tightened. For Soren’s sake, and for Callum and Ezran’s, she hoped she wouldn’t have to make good on her threat.

Ethari’s hand was gentle on his arm in bed that night. “You’ve been quiet,” he said, just as softly. Runaan turned his head slightly to look at him, otherwise staying in his position with his hands clasped over his stomach and, previously, staring up at the ceiling. 

“I keep remembering that the Dark Mage is just a hallway down from us,” he said. His eyes were stormy.

“I know,” Ethari said, pulling Runaan closer. Runaan let him, resting his head on his shoulder. “I know we’re safe, but… I don’t like it either.”

“I would have died,” Runaan said. “A quick, painless death. But then she…” His brow furrowed. “My arm was so heavy. I can’t remember how long they kept me in that dungeon. I thought I would rot away slowly in there. And then her father… made me wish I would.” Runaan swallowed. 

Ethari swallowed. “Your flower sank after four days,” he whispered.

“I’m sorry I left you alone so long,” Runaan said softly, shifting to look at him. 

“It wasn’t your choice.”

“I chose to go on that mission.” Runaan closed his eyes for a moment. “Even once Rayla showed me the egg, I refused to listen—I drew my bow—”

“Yes, Callum and Rayla told me.” His hand brushed Runaan’s cheek, his thumb stroking the edges of his husband’s markings. “Years ago. You came back to me. You kept your promise. That is all that I care about. And if you hadn’t, it merely would have been longer until I joined you in the next great Cycle.” 

“I don’t know if I would have been able to die in there,” he said, his voice breaking. 

“All magics have their limits,” Ethari said. “Eventually.”

Eventually. After a century or more, maybe, when there was nothing left of Runaan to die. Not mind or body or soul. He curled further into his husband. “The young king brought up... therapy,” Runaan mumbled.

That coaxed a tiny smile out of Ethari. “Ah, yes. Ezran is very emotionally perceptive. He and I spoke a great deal about grief counselling; he found it was very helpful.”

“Did you go?” Runaan wondered.

“I found someone in the Silvergrove who practiced similar sessions,” he said. Not for the first time, Runaan thought about his husband. Best friends Ghosted and declared deserters. Then less than four months later, his husband and daughter leaving on a dangerous mission, possibly to never return. Runaan’s flower sinking. Rayla’s Ghosting and return maybe two weeks afterwards. “She was new to the village, didn’t have many patients. Still doesn’t, but she has a handful of regulars now. I still see her every few weeks—when I told you I go moonberry picking.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were going?” His voice was soft, concerned, and Ethari smiled.

“I don’t know. It seemed silly, and… you know how we are about that.”

“I would never think any less of you for it. You’ve carried so much, for so long. You know there’s only shame in letting our fears control us.”

“And, mostly, I did not want you to blame yourself.”

Runaan frowned but kissed his forehead. “Let me wrestle with that.” 

Ethari smiled a little. “I’ll do my best.” 

“And… Maybe when we go back, we could go together.”

Ethari’s eyes lit up. “You’d like to?”

“I would like to understand the process. And in a way... I am grieving years of my life, too. And...” His brow furrowed. “I think perhaps I did not cope with my parents’ death in the best way either, as a boy.” 

Ethari took Runaan’s hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it. “I’m so proud of you,” he murmured. Runaan smiled faintly.

“It’s a new world,” Runaan murmured. “I think I want to live in it.”

Chapter Text

Claudia knew the interrogation was coming sooner rather than later. Still, there was something kind of funny about having it in the game room, with some of the old board games they’d played as kids seemingly untouched. Funny in a twisted way, as she thought not for the first time about how wrong things had gone. Everything had been twisted up and undone, and she was here, a prisoner in an old holiday lodge she’d once visited with her childhood friends. Both of those childhood friends were standing in front of her, Ezran and Callum and his elf fiancée beside him. Her brother at the side. To guard them from her.

“How did you get here?” Callum’s voice was cold, detached. It was a little deeper now, no signs of cracking. Or maybe it still cracked when he was with the elf. When they were laughing and sharing inside jokes and teasing one another.

“I travelled on foot,” Claudia said sourly. She would have thought the pisspoor state her boots were in, torn along the seams, would have made that obvious.

“Why were you injured?”

“Dark Magic use caught up to me eventually.” She’d seen Callum discussing it with Soren and Ezran. Something about nerves being frayed or worn down. “Usually Aaravos would help me cleanse—” A complicated Ocean spell, but he’d hung her out to dry for a while now. “I had only just reached the edge of the woods. I didn’t know if I would make it to the front door.”

Callum’s face was impassive. “And then you came across Ezran and Soren.”

“Yes, you know this—”

“Just checking the facts,” he said smoothly. “Before we talk about what actually matters.” He stepped closer. “You are going to tell me exactly where Aaravos’ base is.” 

“You’re assuming that’s where I came from.”

“Didn’t you?”

Claudia frowned. Was it petty to purposefully want to be a little difficult? She was already swallowing her pride. “I already told you, I haven’t exactly been his favourite these days. Especially not after Dad—” She swallowed at the dry lump in her throat. “I was at one of his smaller bases. Who knows if he even knows if I’m gone yet.”

“But you must at least know where the main one is.” There was a gleam in Callum’s eyes. He’d always worn his heart on his sleeve; it was clear how much he wanted this. “ Somewhere in the high north.”

“He only took me there once, years ago—mostly I helped train his mages and collected ingredients for my dad. It may have been changed since then.” 

“Well where was it the first time? Describe it. Anything.” 

“Don’t raise your voice at her,” Ezran chided.

“She’s dodging—”

“Then give her space and let her think!”

Callum frowned, stepping away. “We don’t have time for this,” he muttered under his breath, softening when the elf took his hand.

Then she asked, “Where are most of his mages concentrated, then? If you were training them?”

Claudia thought for a moment. “It’s hard to say. Everything is cloaked in illusionist Charms like the Silvergrove, and fixed with Eternal night.”

“Like the opposite of Lux Aurea’s day cycle?” Soren said.  

“Yeah. Like… constant eclipse,” she said. “I don’t know. I remember when I ran, I didn’t know where I was going till I recognized some part of the Xadia-Katolis border. And then I kept westward. That’s it.” Her brow furrowed. “I think I came up from the north most of that time, but…” She shook her head, her throat tightening. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“It’s okay,” Soren said patiently. 

“It’s not okay, Soren,” Callum snapped. “We finally have someone who worked for Aaravos and went to that base and we still don’t have the damn location—the only way we’re ever going to be able to take him down is if we get hit his base at a vulnerable point—”

“She doesn’t know, Callum,” said Ezran sternly.

“Oh, now we can assume she’s not lying? How do we know this isn’t just one big scheme for Aaravos to take us down from the inside, huh?”

The elf frowned. “If that’s the case,” she said pointedly, “then wouldn’t any location for the base she gave us be useless anyway?” 

That tripped him up. “I—” 

The elf turned back to Claudia. “When you say high north, do you mean the lunar mountain ranges, or the solar mountain ranges?”

Claudia blinked. “What’s the difference?”

The elf held out her hand to Callum, curling her fingers, and after a frown, he slung off his sketchbook and handed it to her along with a piece of charcoal. She flipped through to the back for an empty page and started sketching. She didn’t have Callum’s talent, but even Claudia could see it was a sketch of Xadia’s upper continent. 

“The solar mountain range is the first one,” the elf explained. “Producing the magma and lava that helped the dragons create the Breach over a thousand years ago. It’s named after Sunfire rulers of old—Asclepius, Aristaeus, Parthenos. The lunar mountains are beyond them, covered in snow and hardly ever used. They’re named after the old elven gods. Garlaf and his legions.” She tapped the charcoal against her chin. “The Lunaris mountain range is hard to get to, but that might be part of the appeal. Aaravos doesn’t never sends his followers too far out...”

“We’ve sent dragons to check the mountains before,” said Callum. “They never turned up anything.”

“But we didn’t know what to look for. And I don’t think we were ever able to send a dragon connected to the Moon arcanum. They can naturally see through illusions...” 

“It’s the solar mountain range,” Claudia said, and they both looked at her. Claudia pointed to one of the jagged tips, just barely curving to the right. “I recognized the tip of the Breach here. It’s Mountain Hesperides. Deep underground too, maybe... They've been trying to make sunforge blades.” She gave a little snort. “Key word try. But they didn’t want to go too far from Xadia.” 

“From resources for dark magic,” said Callum and she nodded. 

The elf circled the mountain. “We should still send scouts,” she said. “And get the information verified.” 

“But it’s something!” said Ezran excitedly. 

“It might be,” said Callum, but his voice was faint and his eyes looked very far away. Like it was him already considering all the possible plans, all of what this could mean, rather than doubting her word. Then snapped back into reality, as he said, “We should send a hawk to Zubeia. Get her up to date on the situation.” 

“Do you want me to go get Ethari?” Ezran offered.

“Nah, I’ll enchant it myself. But thanks Ez.” He glanced back at Claudia uneasily. “You’re dismissed.”

“You mean the games room isn’t my new prison?” she said, sardonic and dry. 

Callum’s jaw shifted. “I thought the guest room worked just fine.” 

“Callum,” Ezran began, but Callum turned to Soren.

“Can you take her back up to her room? We’re done here.”

Soren’s brow was furrowed. “Okay, but—”

“Thanks.” He left without looking at anyone else, the door shutting firmly behind him. Ezran and the elf sighed and exchanged glances.

“Do you want to go after him?” Ezran said. “Or should I?”

She leaned over and nudged him in the ribs. “It might be time for us to tag-team this one, like old times.” 

Ezran nodded, solemn, before a mischievous twinkle came into his eyes. “If it’s really like old times...” he trailed off, and the elf grinned, bending down so he could clamber onto her back for a piggy-back ride. 

“Oh,” she grunted, “you’re definitely heavier than you used to be.”

“I’m a growing boy,” Ez said before he looked down at a burping Bait near their feet. “You’ll have to keep up this time on your own, buddy.” He glanced back at Soren and Claudia. “You guys can stay here as long as you want.”

“Thanks,” Soren said, still a little deflated. The elf looked back at Claudia, her expression unreadable.

“You too,” she said, though Claudia got the feeling she was mostly addressing her. They both left before she could even consider what to say back.

There was a long silence and then Soren sighed. “Alright, I get what you mean about the angry thing. I think it’s just... he’s too close to this. All of this, y’know? And he’s not always angry.”

“No, just around me.”

“You kind of attacked his fiancée’s village, like, a month ago. He’s under a lot of stress, and you’re connected to a lot of that stress. You both just need time to connect you to… sources of not-stress.”

Claudia rolled her eyes. “Even the elf didn’t seem to hate me as much.”

“Rayla isn’t as close to all of this.” He glanced back at the door. “What did you guys talk about yesterday, anyway?”

Claudia raised her eyebrows, still straight black. “You really want to know?” At Soren’s nod she picked at her nails. “She threatened to kill me if I hurt Callum again.” 

Soren’s eyes darted back towards the door, before he let out a long sigh. “Yikes. Sorry.”

“Like you wouldn’t, too.”

Soren frowned. “What?”

“If I tried to hurt Ezran or Callum again. You’d do the... the right thing , wouldn’t you?”

He paled. “I...” Another sigh. “You know, I’ve spent a lot of nights, thinking about it. Can we not talk about it now that I finally know I won't have to?”

Claudia pursed her lips and looked away. “So you trust me, then?” she said quietly.

Soren didn’t flinch, his blue eyes steady and kind as he looked at her. “Yeah,” he nearly declared. “I do.”

Her mouth twitched into an almost-smile. “Well that makes one.”

“Ez does too.” 

“Ezran trusts everybody.”

“No. He’s grown up too. He’s still very trusting, don’t get me wrong—but not without good reasons.” Soren paused. “You’ve almost killed his brother and his future sister-in-law multiple times. It’s not like he forgives you because it’s easy .” 

“Then why?”

Soren gave her a tiny smile, even as he took his time in mulling over his words. Claudia had never seen him look quite so thoughtful. “Because he’s Ezran, mostly,” he settled on. “Which you’ll have to relearn—see the new model, y’know—but also because he’s seen firsthand what forgiveness can do. He met Rayla when she was trying to kill him. Now look at ‘em, taking care of his big brother together.” 

Claudia’s face turned stony again. “Yeah. Right."

“And he’ll come around eventually, too. Callum’s changed—but not everything’s changed.”

“I...” Claudia narrowed her eyes, glancing at the door. “The assassin. The one we captured, who...”

“His name is Runaan,” Soren said patiently. “He’s—he’s one of Rayla’s dads. That’s why he’s here.” 

Her brow furrowed. Callum and the elf had been desperate to get the coins back. One of them had let something slip about it being Rayla’s parents. But she had assumed it was in the ones who looked to be in Dragonguard armour, not... 

“That’s... loaded,” she said carefully. 

“Yeah,” Soren agreed, scratching his cheek. “But I think they’re working through it. Callum and Ez are pretty close to Runaan’s husband, Ethari. He’s really nice.”

“Nice,” Claudia repeated flatly.

“Yeah. He made Callum’s new mage staff, y’know. To welcome him into the family. It’s not perfect and it’s complicated but... I dunno. I think we’re all just trying to make the best with what we still have.” 

She tucked her hair behind her ears, missing her old earrings. Little gold leaves. Soren had given them to her for her fourteenth birthday. They’d fallen out ages ago. “Is that what you’re doing with me?”

He looked at her, and she noticed that his eyes seemed a little more weary. A little more sad. “Maybe,” he said. “I know we can’t be the way we were. But that’s okay, as long as you figure out someday that you’ve still got me. I left Dad, but I never wanted to leave you . And I know... I know in a lot of ways I left when you needed me the most, and—” Soren’s voice cracked. He blinked rapidly. “You’re my little sister and I was supposed to take care of you. That’s what Mom told me. And now look at us. You nearly died in the wilderness from Dark Magic overdose and if we hadn’t been there at the right time—” 

Claudia’s throat tightened, and she stood up. She still had to tilt her head up to look at her big brother, after all these years. Perpetually a few inches shorter since she was nine and he was eleven and smug. “Soren—”

“So it’s okay if we’re not totally okay yet. If that never totally heals, I just… I’m glad we have more time, I guess. I’m just glad you finally came home, somehow.” 

Claudia’s eyes burned as she reached up and wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly, the way she used to all the time when they were kids. Soren hugged her back immediately and she couldn’t tell which one of them was shaking. Maybe both of them? He’d helped her back to the Lodge but other than that—

“I missed you,” she whispered. 

“I missed you too,” he said, his voice breaking. He tucked her head under his chin, the way he only used to when they’d been very little, after she’d trip and bruise herself or after nightmares. “Welcome home, Clauds.”

“How is it that they’re royalty and don’t have any moonshine?” Tiadrin muttered, looking through the cupboards the next day, while Lain watched on, mildly amused at how she got on her tiptoes to check the top shelf. When she set her mind on something, there was no stopping her—even if it was just in her search for alcohol. But considering the person who had helped keep them in coins was in a room just upstairs, Lain couldn’t blame her. 

“They might not have moonshine,” said Ethari, dropping into the chair opposite him with Runaan on his left. “But I’m sure they have some mead or red wine. Humans have different alcohol than we do.” 

Tiadrin sighed, turning back to face him and putting a hand on her hip. “Is it strong?” she asked.

“What does that matter?” said Runaan with the slightest smile. “You’re a lightweight.”

She gestured with her fist at him. “With a heavy enough punch to knock you out.” 

“If you can still aim it properly after a glass.”

“That’s it, I’m not sharing with you.” She went back to her search, and Ethari and Lain exchanged a bemused glance. A fifteen year old rivalry diluted by twenty years of friendship. They had to find something good in the midst of all the tension, after all.

Tiadrin clambered back down with two bottles tucked into the crook of her elbow. “Are these close enough?” she asked, setting them down in front of Ethari. 

“Well, one is cooking wine,” Ethari said as he wiped the dust off the labels, and Runaan pressed his lips together tightly in a show of trying not to laugh. He picked up the other bottle. “But this one’s red wine, which should work.”

Tiadrin let out a sigh of relief as she grabbed it from Ethari’s hands and yanked out the cork. She set it back on the table as she went back to the cupboard to look for a few glasses.

“Really wouldn’t be the holidays without something to stress-drink over,” Lain said with a wry smile. Tiadrin set down four glasses and poured into them generously, the wine a slightly deeper colour than Moonberry juice.

“Remember when it was just over in-laws or something the council did, or trying to get Rayla to behave in the days leading up to the holidays?”

“She would always try to find her presents early,” Runaan remembered. “You eventually had to get used to making them the night before.”

“Yes, well who taught her how to snoop and be stealthy?” Ethari said. 

“Tia gave her her first dagger,” Lain piped up, “if we want to be accurate about who started it all.”

Tiadrin shot him a look that couldn’t quite manage being sharp. “Family tradition and gift from my parents.” She took a long sip from her glass. “Hm, not bad.”

“Tia, she was three,” Lain said, but he was smiling. “Remember the heart attack Ethari nearly had when we all saw her running around with a knife?”

“He should just be glad she wasn’t able to run faster,” Runaan said.

“And at least she was holding it from the right end,” Tiadrin added.

“What were you going to do if she hurt herself on it?” Ethari asked.

“It was a ceremonial dagger, not much good for anything other than spreading Moonberry jam. Very pretty handle, though.”

Ethari took a long sip of his drink. “I will be curious to see what occupations the next generation turns to. Hopefully something a little less stabby.” Ethari could focus more on jewelry than weaponry, Lain supposed.

Tiadrin’s smile turned soft. “They’ve already started making beautiful things. Stories, communities. I hope it continues.”

Lain tasted his red wine; it was a bit bitter, the aftertaste a little sweeter and headier as it sat on his tongue. It was a nice thought, the idea that one day, even all of the smaller things that still needed to be fixed might be fixed in their lifetimes. That their grandchildren would be born into a world more focused on creating something together. Even if there were a few good years before that happened. 

“Just have to get through this holiday,” Runaan said over his glass, and the mood dipped again. Because this year’s stressor wasn’t family drama or event planning; they’d gotten over all those hills and were stuck at this one, all too aware of the presence of a certain Dark Mage in one of the carefully guarded guest rooms.

“The interrogation was today,” Lain said quietly. 

“I figured. They both seemed quiet.” Tiadrin took another sip from her glass. 

“Soren seems like such a good natured young man. It’s hard to believe his sister is... like that,” Lain finished lamely. 

“It’s complicated,” Ethari chipped in. “But Soren is a very nice young man. I think him and Callum had a bit of a rough time growing up together, but Soren was instrumental in winning the battle at the Storm Spire and protecting Ezran. He and Rayla get along fantastically... so long as they aren’t feeling competitive. Then the stupidity comes out.” 

Lain smiled and Tiadrin snorted over her drink. “Rayla, competitive? I wonder who she gets that from.”

Runaan threw her a look. “She has your genes, Tiadrin.”

“And you were her father, so?”

“As long as you both acknowledge that Ethari and I had nothing to do with it,” Lain said, and Ethari hid his smile behind his drink.

“The moon of my heart crafted her blades,” said Runaan dryly. “It seems that you are on your own, Lain.” 

“No, she gets all her impulsiveness from him,” Tiadrin said and Lain saw her recall the first memory that came to mind. “Charging Dark Mages head on.”

Then she sobered, clamping her mouth shut, a chill going through him as they each thought about how well that had gone. That Aaravos’ forces that the girl had fled from were likely mages just as powerful as her father... and that Lain and Tiadrin, two trained Dragonguard, had been effectively rendered powerless against him. How were elves supposed to train against Dark Mages, anyway, when none existed in their lands? (At least, not anywhere but in the shadows and the dead.)

But Lain wouldn’t let her sink into the silence, either. “Where is our resident mage, anyhow?”

“I think he and Rayla and Ezran went for a walk,” Ethari answered. “But they’ll be back soon. We’re expecting a notice from Amaya and Janai any day now, of when they’re close by.” 

The queens of Lux Aurea had managed to get away from their golden city, leaving it momentarily in the hands of Janai’s brother, to come visit for the holidays. Lain was looking forward to getting to know each of them better now that he wasn’t just adjusting to being alive , again. 

“I expect then we might get to hear whatever the witch knows?” said Runaan with just a trace of hope and exasperation in his voice. He never liked being kept in the dark about things—perhaps ironically enough for a Moonshadow elf.

“Maybe,” Tiadrin said. 


“They could also want to,” her mouth twitched a little, “protect us.”

Runaan huffed incredulously. “From what?”

“They’ve felt the tension in the house as much as we have. And none of us are very equipped to be fighting mages. We’re not young anymore, and don’t have the training.”

“I mean...” Lain traced one of the wooden grooves in the table with a finger. “We could.”

“Exactly,” said Runaan. “I see no reason we could not assist—”

“Have the training,” Lain clarified. “I expect Callum would spar with us if we asked him too. Primal magic is different than Dark Magic, but he’s clearly fought and beaten dark mages before. He could show us what to expect.” 

Ethari’s brow furrowed, although he didn’t look pleased, even as he said, “He and Rayla have worked to make sure she can counter any mage she comes across.” One of the perks of having a betrothed connected to all six primal sources, Lain supposed. “But—”

“That’s settled then,” said Runaan. “When Callum comes back, we’ll ask him, and—”

“You need to give the boy some space,” Tiadrin chided. “We’ll wait until after dinner at least. I believe Barius is still preparing something—Corvus and Opeli are on their way back as well, and General Amaya’s lieutenant—Gren I believe?—is coming up from Katolis with them.” 

Lain smirked. “We can say it’s his wedding present to us.”

Tiadrin reached over and patted his cheek, swiping her thumb along his markings. “We’re supposed to give him and Rayla presents, love.”

“He can’t know all of our customs. I’m sure we can make one up and get away with it.” 

“Oh, don’t spring things on him,” she said, but there was a glint in her eye and Lain knew she’d go along with it.

“You say that like Rayla likely hasn’t already,” Runaan remarked. He turned towards his husband. “Ethari, you must know if she has... are you alright?”

“Fine,” he said quickly, not quite managing a smile. “I think I’ll get some air.”

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“I’m fine.” Ethari kissed Runaan’s cheek. “I’ll see you at dinner. Maybe I’ll even see where the kids wound up.” 

“Okay,” said Runaan, his brow still furrowed in concern. Ethari got up, pushing aside his empty glass before heading toward the door, a slight hunch in his shoulders. The same hunch that would form when one of them would find him up late, working on a project. Especially when it was one he didn’t want to work on.

Part of Lain was tempted to go after him, but if Ethari was removing himself from the situation—whatever it was—it was probably best to just let him be, for a bit. If he wasn’t back by dinner, they’d go after him. Or if the kids came back before he did. 

Runaan would have the final say, either way.

Frowning, Lain made himself lighten as he leaned over to press a kiss to his wife’s cheek. “What primal are you going to try and combat first, Tia?”

Janai and Amaya arrived with the dawn. Everyone was up early to greet them, amid cups of hot brown morning potion (the irony was not lost on Claudia or Soren) and scarves while they waited in the cold. The queens suffered from no such elemental pulls, Janai like a furnace on most days, and their twin-tailed inferno-tooth tiger, naturally warm even in the sky, wings folding as he landed. Some things never changed, Claudia figured, as Amaya pulled her nephews, Gren, and Soren into their own bear hugs once they disembarked. But then again, most things had to change, as Amaya glanced at her warily, and Claudia looked back into her cup, the contents already half-gone. When she looked back up Janai and Amaya were holding hands while they talked to Rayla, who held a normal-sized calico house cat in her arms—Janai and Amaya’s, she figured, from the way the Sunfire elf gently rubbed its head, the creature looking very relieved to be back on solid ground again—and Ezran went to pet hot-cat’s nose.

Amaya blinked at the sight of her, signing something quickly to her wife, whose brow furrowed, before each was intercepted by Callum, speaking in hushed tones. 

“Hey,” Soren was at her elbow. “Wanna go back inside? It’s cold out. We can bring Tiger in with us.”


“The little cat.” Soren pointed to the cat in Rayla’s arms. “The big one is called Sweetpea.” 

Claudia smiled thinly. “Yeah, but they seem busy. And I don’t think their moms like me very much.”

“Okay, but I know that Tiger hates being outside, so as the first people to go back in, we’d be doing them a favour.”

Claudia pursed her lips; the cat stretched out and purred in Rayla’s arms. “Fine,” Claudia mumbled, and Soren grinned, before going over to take the cat from Rayla. Claudia nearly startled when Soren placed Tiger in her arms, but she looked up at her with great big green eyes, before settling into the crook of her elbow, letting out a soft purr. “Friendly,” Claudia observed, unable to help the warmth that spread in her chest. A few years ago, she would have squealed over a moment like this. Now she settled for just scratching him under the chin. “Hey, you.” 

She followed Soren back inside, the lodge a little calmer without so many people inside it. So many people that disliked her, and had every reason to, but still. She poured herself another cup of hot brown morning potion with one hand, keeping Tiger secure in her other arm.

“They bring their cats every Solstice,” Soren said. “Tiger was just a kitten two years ago. He tried to jump into the Solstice tree, broke a few ornaments. It was a big mess but we had a lot of fun.”

“Fun,” Claudia repeated faintly. She hadn’t felt that in... a long time. Tiger pawed at one of the ends of her long white hair.

“Do you wanna take Tiger to your room later?” Soren asked. “She’ll scratch at the door when she wants to be let out, but she’s usually pretty cool with just hanging out in one spot for a while.”

“Amaya won’t mind?”

“Nah. Both cats wander around often enough anyway.” Soren smiled softly. “Besides, I think she likes you.”

Claudia smiled a little, looking down at Tiger. She really was rather small, even for a housecat. “Yeah? Are you gonna be my little buddy for the day?” Tiger let out a soft, sleepy mewl in response. 

Soren took her mug for her so she could properly carry Tiger up the stairs back to her guest room. He held it out for her, but she sat down outside her door instead, setting Tiger on the ground.

“I thought we could just hang out here,” she said. “Since you’re stationed out here, so…”

Soren smiled a little, sitting down cross-legged beside her. “Remember when you were ten and begged Dad for a cat?”

“Ez had just gotten Bait,” she pouted. “It seemed fair.” 

Soren chuckled, even as the mood shifted a little. Viren still seemed to have that effect. “We can get a cat later,” he said, nudging Claudia lightly in the side. “Any kind you want.”

Claudia’s smile faltered. “You’re still Ezran’s crownguard.”

“So stay at the castle. Ezran would probably be happy to have you around again.”

“Because that would go over so well with his big brother and future sister-in-law.”

“Well, it’s Ezran’s final say as king, so.”

Claudia was quiet for a moment. Did she even want to go back to the castle, after everything? They’d all grown up there, her father raising them with a firm but loving hand. Before it had all been ruined. Before Callum had doubted her word about the dragon egg in the dungeons and never stopped. And while that would have led to a perfect peace, if her father hadn’t—Claudia’s nails dug into her palms. 

“I’ll think about it,” she said quietly. Tiger nuzzled at her hand, and she smiled faintly, opening it for her.

“Okay,” he said. “Just… wherever you go, don’t go too far this time?”

Claudia wrinkled her nose at him. “Define ‘too far,’” she almost teased.

“Like, if I wanna visit you and your cat, you’re just a 20-minute horseback ride away from the castle?”

“You really want me to get a cat.”

“I think a cat would be good for you. Or whatever animal you want. I just… I know it gets lonely. And that’s kind of why I think it’d be good for you to stay in the castle. ‘Cause I could be there, and Ezran… But if you don’t wanna stay there, I get it.”

She ran her fingers through her hair, brushing it back from her face. “Honestly, Soren, right now I just don’t know. Up until a few weeks ago I didn’t think I would be coming back at all, and then things went south, and now I’m here, and... there’s so much else to think about first. But I will let you know what I decide, when I decide.” She gave him a tiny smile. “And I promise I won’t go too far away.”

Soren was silent for a while, his brow furrowing. “You don’t think you’ll have to go someplace else first?”

“I’d be surprised if Callum lasts for the rest of the holidays,” she said. “Before he decides to go charging Hesperides as a one man army. You saw what he was like. I expect that’s what he’s telling his aunts right now.”

“Amaya and Janai are pretty level headed, though,” Soren said, as though he was speaking from experience. Claudia had known General Amaya a bit growing up, but had no knowledge of Janai beyond Aaravos’ history with the queen’s family. “They won’t let him get ahead of himself.” 

Even Claudia was unsure of what her tone was, as she noted, “His fiancée seems good at tempering him too.” 

Because in truth she had never seen or known much of Callum and Rayla. Beyond that early morning interruption with Callum running to get between them, messy bedhead and all, and whatever conversation she’d later interrupted, she’d spent most of her time at the Nexus with her brother and Callum. Then with the dragon, Callum following to defend his girl like a good little knight, even with means the elf clearly found abhorrent... She’d seen them fight together in battle, heard Aaravos refer to Rayla and Ezran as Callum’s greatest weak spots, but... 

No, I don’t think of her that way.

Claudia didn’t know what that had changed—if it had ever been untrue in the first place.

“They kinda do that for each other,” Soren said. “Which means they’re extra scary when they’re both mad. Rayla’s usually pretty easy going, but when she gets her mind set on something, or does get mad... That shit stays. First time she ever got really mad at me was—” Soren’s smile faltered, his voice dropping to a mumble. “When she found out how I used to treat Callum.”

“What do you mean?”

“Y’know. Calling him the step-prince. Knocking him down into the dirt on purpose.”

Claudia blinked. She had never joined in on those activities, but she hadn’t thought they were particularly bad, either. “Oh. But that wasn’t… You basically grew up like brothers.”

“Yeah, and if I’d done that to you, I’d be an asshole for doing it, so. Just didn’t realize it when it was him, I guess.”

“We teased each other plenty growing up.”

“But I never bullied you.” Soren sighed, reaching over to scratch Tiger’s head. “Callum usually just seemed to brush it off, but I guess when you hear it almost every day for years, and it’s something you’re already insecure about... Rayla chewed me out for it, basically. I guess she’s seen a lot of how those issues manifested up close.” 

“Like what?” Claudia asked.

“Well this is more something Ez told me, but... up until the day he died, Callum was still calling King Harrow sir .” 


“And I didn’t know that when we were kids. All I saw was that Callum’s stepdad loved him more than our father seemed to love me, and I took it out on him. Imagine if I’d taken that out on you.”

Claudia rested her chin on her knees, drawing them up to her chest as Tiger shifted from her lap to Soren’s. “Dad did always treat me better,” she murmured. “Until he didn’t.” 

Soren glanced at her. “What do you mean?”

“Near the end, I… I don’t know if he was even all there anymore. He was just so angry and desperate, and so drained of magic, he was useless to Aaravos, so a lot of the spells fell on my shoulders, and...” She touched her hair. “That’s how I got most of these. I just wanted to keep us alive and together. Then I almost died on one mission, to get some dangerous Xadian flora, and when I got back, Dad didn’t even care if I was okay or not and... everything with the Star Nexus happened a couple weeks later.” 

“Oh, Claudia…”

“And I wanna say that it wasn’t him , because the dad I remember always loved us. But maybe… Maybe he’d been like that for a long time. He wanted me to save the egg over you, if I had to. I was a kid and he wanted me to choose an egg over my brother .”


She gasped and covered her mouth. “Oh my gosh, Soren, I am so sorry—I didn’t mean to—”

But instead he reached over and hugged her. “So in the rain, with Ez, when I couldn’t move—?”

Claudia nodded weakly against his shoulder. “What else could I choose?”

There was another long stretch of silence before Soren pulled away to look her in the face, although he kept his hands on her shoulders. “I’m really glad you’re back home.”

She smiled a little, glad that she could mean what she said, for once. “Me too.” 

“Tiger?” Callum called. With all the unpacking and getting his aunts settled, it had been too easy to lose track of their smaller cat. Tiger was a bit of a wanderer anyway, but to be gone for an entire morning…

At least she hated snow enough to most likely still be inside. Once a cat got used to the perpetual sun patches to lay in and the warmth of Lux Aurea, it was hard to like the cold.

“Ti—” He stopped when he saw Claudia and Soren down the hall, in front of her room, laughing as they dangled a makeshift cat wand made of a stick and some old cloth over Tiger, who pawed at it eagerly, her green eyes wide and focused. Callum’s gaze shifted back to Claudia; she was holding her stomach as she laughed, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes when Tiger fumbled and fell over in an attempt to pounce. She handed the cat wand over to Soren, no more reservation in her expression as she watched her brother attempt to get Tiger to twirl in midair. Only love and trust.

Callum tried not to think about how he could have easily found them like this five years ago, just walking down an otherwise empty hallway in the castle, playing with cats who had wandered in from the castle stables. Maybe they all could have stayed like that, in a different life. He wouldn’t have ended up with Claudia—for the better, he knew now—but maybe there could have been some lifetime where he would have met Rayla anyway, and they all could have stayed intact. His first real friend could have been with them through it all. Could have been here in the lodge under different circumstances, could have gleefully helped with wedding plans.

But that would have required not knowing what she was capable of. Not having to wonder, if Tiger wasn’t just a normal house cat, if she would use her for parts the way Claudia would have used Rayla and the rest of their family. Janai and Runaan and Ethari and Tiadrin and Lain. Even himself, with his own blood imbued by arcanums. 

Sometimes, you couldn’t go back. Even so, as he watched Soren make his little sister laugh, he couldn’t help but hope that there was still hope for the pair of siblings, if nothing else. That they might still have time after all. If only for what Soren deserved.

And maybe, in time, Callum could forget about all the times Claudia had almost taken Ezran from him, too.

Living in a house with two assassins had meant very few could ever sneak up on Ethari, and his daughter was not one of them. Not that he thought Rayla was trying very hard as she slipped quietly into one of the reading nook rooms behind him. “Are you alright?”

Ethari managed a smile, glancing up as she sat down next to him. “Of course I am.”

“You’ve been quiet the past couple of days. Usually it’s both you and Dad making awful jokes with my fiancé.” She smiled a little when he let out a quiet chuckle, elbowing him lightly in the ribs. “Is everything okay?”

“Just been thinking.”

She gestured to the empty room. “Would you like to share with the rest of us?”

“It’s nothing, really. Just something the others were talking about the other day.”

“Mum, Dad, and Runaan?” Her brow furrowed when he nodded. “What were they talking about?”

“They want to know how to fight other mages, that’s all.”

“‘That’s all’?”

“They were talking about asking Callum if they could train. I told you, it’s nothing.”

“But it’s what we’re talking about, so it must be bothering you for some reason?”

Ethari glanced out the window to the snowy front lawn, where Ezran, Soren, and the mage girl were making snowmen. The latter albeit clumsily, almost, but still smiling. Callum was likely out training with the other three on the other side of the Lodge. Tiadrin had said something about sparring at lunch. Ethari shook himself straight.

“I have never been the fighter among us,” he said quietly. “I craft weapons, I can use them, but I was not... a warrior, the way Runaan or your mother or father were. They are rusty now. And I do not know—I don’t want them going back into the fight so soon, if it is taken to Aaravos.” 

Rayla was silent for so long Ethari thought she might not say anything at all, when she wrapped her arms around him from behind. “I don’t want to lose them again, too,” she whispered.

Ethari turned around to wrap his arms around his daughter, and she tucked herself under his chin out of years of habit. “We just got them back, didn’t we?”

“We did.” She pulled away slightly, looking into his face. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to worry you. And… maybe I’m worrying for nothing.”

“No, you’re not. I understand. I worry about it, too. I worry like that every time Ez, Callum, and I get pulled into something new and scary.” Rayla’s fingers curled into the soft purple of her father’s scarf. “It’s natural to worry about your family.” 

“I just… I wanted to think they would be done with risking their lives by now,” he said. “That we could all just enjoy peacetimes together, and… I don’t know. Let other people do the saving.”

Rayla tilted her head slightly. “I don’t know about Mum and Dad,” she said slowly. Her parents had always been so dutiful . “But I really don't think you’ll be able to convince Runaan. He’ll see taking down Aaravos as a chance to... atone, or redeem himself, I’m sure. Or as a step in that process, anyway.” 

“I know,” Ethari said. His throat felt tight as he looked at the wall past Rayla, his chest tightening too. Like the way it had the night before the mission that had changed everything. “I’m just tired. And it seems like there’s always something that has to be done, and it’s always my family that has to go fix it.”

“I know.” 

“I—I wanted a simple life,” he said, almost frustrated now. “Quiet in the Silvergrove. Easygoing Lain was my best friend—Tiadrin, she was restless, even growing up. I could see it in you too. And I knew what I was getting into when I married Runaan—I don’t have any regrets, not one—but I didn’t think... I didn’t think I was getting into this.”

Rayla’s hand took his shoulder, turning him back to her. Ethari had expected many things, but not the sheer look of understanding on her face. “I know how you feel.”

“You do?”

“I spent my whole life training to be an assassin. It was what I wanted. Then we heard that Mum and Dad had run away and... I went on the mission. I expected to struggle my way through my first kill, not leave behind everything I had ever known, get banished, find friends, fall in love, and deliver the Dragon Prince back home to his mother. And even once the first war was over, Callum was restless too, in a way that I wasn’t. There was something in him that had to go into the unknown, I suppose. To discover. I was happy with our peace. And then that peace was gone in more ways than one... even now, this summer, when hopefully everything is over, I’ll be marrying into royalty. Any children we have will be the crown heir until Ez has children of his own, if he chooses to. It’s not the life I expected at all. I saw one path. One. And it never stretched very far.” Her smile grew in size and sadness. “But isn’t there something beautiful in not knowing, too?”

Ethari smiled back, even as the lump in his throat grew. He’d be here the whole time, but just when had she grown up so much, and so wise? “There is,” he agreed. “I never would have known that my family would be what it is today. A beautiful, magnificent family.” Ethari gave Rayla’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “I just want to be able to keep them.”

She placed her hand over his, squeezing back. “You will,” she promised. “We’ll come back to you. All of us.”

“You’ve always had a self-sacrificial streak,” he said, a bit fond, slightly apprehensive.

“I’m aware,” she said dryly. “Even if it’s... during the first war, I was so at peace with whatever could happen to me. Dying, you know, as long as it was for a good cause. I was sad about having to leave you and Ez and Callum after everything, but when I jumped off the Pinnacle—I guess I didn’t think about what me dying would actually do to each of you, until I saw that Callum had jumped after me. So trust me, I really, really want to come back. I have more to lose if I don’t. Not just all of you, but myself, too.” 

Ethari moved to take her face in his hands, brushing his thumbs over her markings. “I am so proud of you. You know that, don’t you?” He and Runaan perhaps didn’t do the best job of always showing it when she was growing up—or maybe were proud of the wrong things, sometimes, looking back—but he hoped she knew they had all done their best, and that their best was her. 

The corners of her eyes crinkled. “I know. I’m proud of myself too.” She removed his hands, giving them another squeeze. 

“And I’m really proud of you and Runaan, the past few days. You both seem… more at peace. Even if this new thing has come up. And you’re talking to me about it, now. I know having Claudia here is difficult for you for more reasons than one, but... you’re keeping your head above water. It seems, anyway?”

“Had a few nightmares last night,” Rayla admitted. “But I’m doing my best. Someone has to. I don’t think Ez and Soren are even in the water right now.”

“Lucky them,” Ethari said mildly and she puffed out a laugh. “But we’re all keeping an eye on Callum right now too. It’s not just you.”

“He doesn’t get like this often,” she revealed, even if Ethari was the only one of her parents who had known him for long enough to well, know. A bit of speaking out loud, her father supposed. “But these past six months with everything and it was an adjustment for both of us, but I just got Mum and Dad and Runaan back by and large and he had to figure out where he fit all over again. Especially with Runaan, and…” 

“I know.”

“I don’t know what happened this past week,” Rayla said, “but I’m glad at least that they’ve been doing better before Claudia came into the picture.” She let out a huff. “It really is always one thing after the other, isn’t it?”

“That’s what I’ve been saying. Everything just needs to pause for at least a year.” He smiled when Rayla laughed. “Freeze time for just a little bit, so we can catch our breath.” 

“Not too long,” she said. “I’ve already been waiting a year to marry that dork.” 

“Fine. A month?”

“Hm. Deal. You’ll have to find some way to magic it up yourself, though.”

“Ah, well, we’re stuck there.”

“Don’t  look at me,” she said, holding up her hands. “You saw my grades in magical theory growing up.”

“I distinctly remember all your teachers saying something along the lines of ‘brilliant but needs to apply herself’ and for you to do your readings.”

Rayla rolled her eyes. “Why read words when you could just kill the stuff the words tell you stuff about?”


“Kidding. Mostly.”

“Not back then.”

Rayla grinned. “I had other things I wanted to apply myself to. Tree climbing, rock climbing. Climbing all over you to try and get a peek at my blades when you were making ‘em.” 

“Yes, somehow the idea of it actually being more difficult to get work done with you sitting on my shoulders never occurred to you.” 

“I was six."

“And adorable. Maybe we should add that to the list of Callum’s drawings, hm? Get two copies this time.” 

“We’ll see.” She gave him a small smile. “Thank you, Ethari.” 

“Thank you .” He wrapped an arm around her when she rested against him, the way she always had as a little girl. “Sometimes I still can’t believe how much you’ve grown,” he said quietly. “And not just because you’re nearly my height now.” 

“Well, if we get our way, you’ll get new tiny grandkids to bother you in another five years. And hopefully you’ll only be making jewelry and possibly little toys for them, and they’ll be crawling on your shoulders to see if their granddad’s finished up with their gifts yet.” 

Ethari’s eyes were shining as he smiled. “Don’t say things like that around Runaan,” he said. “He may approve heartily now, but I think he’s still adjusting to thinking that far ahead.”

“You mean I should let him have plausible deniability?”

“You already gave him one heart attack when you said you were engaged to a human prince. Let him have this.” 

“Fine.” They were both grinning, though. 

It was sort of nice to have a conversation end on a bit of a lighter note for once, Ethari thought.

Chapter Text

For the first time in probably forever, the table was nearly full at breakfast, with Aunt Amaya there to make sure everybody got their first proper meal of the day in a timely manner. There was something kind of nice about seeing the table with so many chairs filled again; sometimes, Callum wondered how many more siblings his mother and stepfather would have given him, had they had the time. Maybe all that space had been intended for a larger, older family.

At least those spaces were filled now, even if it wasn’t the way they’d anticipated. They were filled with loved ones, with family old and new, blood and chosen, and…

Well, Claudia was there, too.

Okay, she was Soren’s family, and at least, after everything, Soren could get some piece of that back again. But gods was it uncomfortable to see her across the table when he glanced up. Callum knew he would have to get used to it eventually, though. She would be here for a little while at least, until they figured out what to do with her. 

Stranger still, when she asked for the butter and Rayla passed it, all blasé. Callum stared at her, but Rayla just shrugged. 

When the hell had everything gotten so normal ? (Gods, deja vu was the worst.)

He went for a walk after breakfast, accompanied by Janai. His aunt was quiet and didn’t ask questions, seemingly actually appreciating the nature around them, and it was a welcome reprieve. It was still weird to see her in a big red Katolian winter coat — probably the only one she owned — but she still managed to make it look dignified, like everything else. Her expression was peaceful and soft as she looked up at the evergreens.

“You’re not too cold out here?” he asked, because maybe it was just a little too quiet, and Janai just smiled.

“It’s not what I’m used to, but I only get a few days out of every year to appreciate it. If Tiger and Sweetpea can tolerate it, I can too.” Her smile grew. “But your aunt, for all her talk of missing Katolian winters, won’t budge from the fireplace.”

Callum chuckled. “Yeah, I think years of Ez and I dragging her out into the snow might have something to do with that. Does she still make everyone eat breakfast together back at Lux Aurea?”

Janai nodded. “The staff was so overwhelmed by it at first,” she remembered, fondness softening her tone. “I think some of the newer soldiers still aren’t sure what to make of it.”

“She and my mom were always like that,” said Callum. “Aunt Amaya wanted to make sure that no one missed breakfast, and Mom just thought meals were the best time to be together as a family.”

“Our family has changed a lot in the past few years.” Janai eyed him. “Amaya told me about Claudia.” Or from Soren, too, Callum was sure; Amaya and Janai were very fond of the crownguard. “How you all... grew up together.” 

Callum nodded, stiffening. “Yeah. It’s… weird.”

“I… can imagine.” Janai pressed her lips together and then sighed. “Sometimes, I think of how my sister would react to my wife. How she did react, in the brief time they had interacted. Khessa hated humans. Yet an elf killed her. Irony takes no prisoners.” 

He turned towards her; he knew talking about her sister was painful, the way his mom was for Aunt Amaya, sometimes, with sons who were unable to really know her. “Aunt Janai, you don’t have to—”

“She would have hated Amaya, forbade me. Forbade me from loving my wife. And yet I would have loved Khessa still, because I loved her once. Because we were children together and things were once better between us.”

Callum was quiet for a moment. “Do you think you guys would have ever… made up?”

“I do not know. My sister was always… stubborn. So am I. Even if we never would have seen eye to eye, even if there would have always been a rift between us, I still wish she was here.” She smiled sadly. “But that is how I feel. That is why I do not begrudge Ezran and Soren for being glad their sister has come home.” 

Callum bristled a little. “I don’t—”

“You think they are being foolish by trusting her.”

“They—I don’t know,” he sighed heavily, irritation flaring in his chest. “It just seems like yet again I’m the only one who has a problem with what’s going on. First, it was with Rayla about wanting to go after the coins with no planning, consequences be damned. Then it was everything with Runaan. Now this. Why am I the only one who struggles with shit when I’m just trying to keep us—even myself, safe?”

“You are as much of a protector as your fiancée, in some ways. You’ve been doing it for your brother nearly all your life, and then you meet someone who is so busy protecting everyone, you wonder who’s protecting her. And now you have this family, in spite of everything.” Janai’s gaze followed the horizon. “I do not begrudge Ezran and Soren, but I also do not begrudge you, for wanting to keep what you have. It is… difficult to think about what you could lose again. Especially when confronted with someone who has almost taken it from you before.”

“So then what do I do?”

“Do?” Janai’s lips curved. “Who said you had to do anything?”

Callum blinked. “What do you mean?”

“If there is one thing I have learned in my time as queen, it is patience. And that means sometimes, you do not do anything. You wait, for the right time. No one is asking you to trust Claudia right away. Simply see what information she yields and then you can decide what to do with it, once you are in a place to do so. Even if she has provided something valuable, it is not as though you could put it into action tomorrow, correct?”

“Um… yeah. I guess.” They would need an army to bring to Aaravos’ base at least. Supplies, food, medicine. Coats for the cold. The works. 

“Then don’t put pressure on yourself to treat it that way.” Janai looked back towards where the Banthor Lodge lay. “Amaya told me about Claudia as a young girl. She was sweet, if also very much Viren’s daughter from the start. But your own father was a dark mage.”

“I never knew him,” said Callum stiffly. Even if he knew he had his blood father’s eyes.

“You knew her.”


His aunt pursed her lips again. “I’m not the right person for this conversation, am I? Your beloved or brother could perhaps get through to you better.”

He huffed. “Get through to me about what ?”

“Whatever you need to hear now,” Janai said, “to turn this corner.” 

“I don’t need to—I’m fine, I just don’t get why everyone is so okay with this when she hurt all of us, when she hurt them , when she hurt me and Rayla and—even Rayla, who mistrusts most people on sight, is like weirdly okay with this, and it’s like Ezran and Runaan again, and—” Callum let out a long sigh. “I’m tired of forgiveness.” 

“I never said that’s what the corner was,” Janai corrected him  and then steered him by the shoulders. “Let’s go back to the Lodge. It’ll do you good to get out of the cold.” It hardly bothered her, after all, with her heat-mode constantly simmering under the surface; one of the many reasons she was Aunt Amaya’s favourite cuddling partner. “You’re looking a bit pale.” 

Callum only nodded, because, yeah, his fingers were starting to lose feeling. He let his aunt drape her winter coat over his shoulders before guiding him back to the lodge. The coat was still warm, at least. Eating something more, being around people—being around Rayla—always helped clear his head.

The Lodge was warm and inviting when they came back in, the fireplace blazing in the main living area. Rayla, Amaya, and Ezran were all sitting in front of it while Tiger preened, nuzzling against Aunt Amaya’s hand. Soren and Claudia were presumably upstairs.

They all looked up at the sight of him but Rayla was the only one who stood, walking to meet him and take his hand. “Are you alright, love? You look freezing.”

“I’m okay,” he assured her, taking off his coat.

“Sky and Ocean aren’t acting up again?”

Those could be tumultuous when combined and effected by his emotional state, plunging him into reverse fevers in the past. Callum didn’t think that was what was happening now, but...

Rayla’s other hand patted his cheek. “Let’s go upstairs and get you in some warmer clothes, okay?”

He nodded slowly. “Okay.” He shucked off Janai’s coat and handed it back with a quick thanks, before allowing Rayla to lead him up the stairs back to their room.

“Fresh air didn’t help much,” she said, shutting the door, “did it? You were quiet at breakfast. You want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Are you seriously asking me that?” he bit out, sounding more impatient than he’d meant.

Rayla arched one unimpressed eyebrow. “Okay, so Claudia still is bothering you, then.” 

“Yeah, but it doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone else. Including you.”

She frowned. “You want me to be upset and distracted?”

“That’s not what I—” Callum scowled at her. “She almost took your horns—”

“Viren almost took my horns.”

“She’s tried to kill you! Multiple times.”

“You think I’m not aware of that? It’s my life. She was trying to kill me even before she turned on you, remember?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed. “So why is it not bothering you?”

Rayla turned around and put her hands on her hips. “Who says it isn’t? Maybe I just do a better job at hiding than you, rather than letting my emotions run all over the place! Maybe I’m trying to be productive— you weren’t getting anything out of her, being impatient and snappish.” 

“So now I’m supposed to just act like everything’s okay?”

No , but I would appreciate it if you didn’t take it out on me and the rest of us!”

“I’m not—!” He let out a breath. “Am I?”

“Yes! You don’t think it’s been hard on us too? Claudia kept Runaan in the dungeon, my parents were in the coins she held onto! Just because Ezran and Soren are trying to embrace her doesn’t mean that’s easy either! Being sympathetic is not easy.” 

Callum pinched the bridge of his nose and sat down on their bed. “I’m not—okay, I-I’m not mad at Ez and Soren. And I have been thinking about your parents. That’s why I put Claudia’s room as far away from them as possible. Among other reasons. I just—even when you bottle things up I can usually see through it and tell what you’re thinking, what you’re actually feeling, anyway, but with this whole Claudia thing... I haven’t been able to. And maybe it is because I’ve been—too in my head, lately, but—I don’t like not knowing what’s going on with you. And I really don’t think you’re that bothered by her, which is... fine, but I don’t. I don’t get why. ” 

Rayla softened slightly, her hands falling away, one coming to rest on his shoulder when she sat down next to him. Her other found the far side of his face, turning him towards her. “Claudia does bother me, a little,” she said quietly. “But I also know we can handle her in a fight, because we wouldn’t have gotten the coins back if that wasn’t the case.”

“That’s all the security it takes?” he asked glumly, even as he leaned into her touch.

Rayla smiled a little and stroked her thumb over his cheek. “A long time ago,” she said, “someone told me to think about cycles. To have empathy for my enemies. Or, barring that, to at least see if there were any similarities to be had. And at the time, I didn’t want to listen. Because I was angry and in pain and thought I was doing what was right, because my father told me so. And then when I went looking for redemption, I was really looking for people who would give me the chance to try, at a different path, for a better version of myself. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Callum swallowed hard. “Yeah. I just… I didn’t know that someone I knew, someone I cared about could… let us down so much. What if she’s not like you? What if this is another lie? Or... what if it’s not? I’m supposed to let Ez just pardon her when she’s hurt and killed so many people and she doesn’t even seem sorry about it.”

Her fingers gently stroked the hair near the nape of his neck. “Maybe,” Rayla suggested, “you should talk to her, and find out.” 

He gave her a look. “Seriously?”

“Why not? You’ll have to talk to her eventually. It might as well be on your terms.” When he didn’t reply right away, she pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Just think about it?”

“Okay.” Callum leaned against her. “I shouldn’t have snapped. I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” She rubbed his arm. “Do you still want some warmer clothes?”

“Yes please.”

Rayla smiled a little. “You’re sure your arcanums aren’t acting up a little?”

“I don’t think so,” he answered honestly. “It could also just be a little under the weatherness?”

“How about we keep an eye on it for the next few days? Just to be safe?”

“Okay.” He slowly wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her shoulder. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Well the feeling is mutual,” she murmured, kissing the top of his head and pulling him closer. She gave him a slight squeeze, her smile softening. “Kind of why we’re doing this whole marriage thing. You took care of me when Claudia and my parents first showed up. Everything with Viren. And I take care of you.” 

Callum nuzzled into her shoulder and smiled a little. “Still,” he persisted, his voice warm. “Thank you.”


It wasn’t easy to get Claudia alone, but Callum figured that was partially his fault. He had wanted either Ez or Soren (ideally both, but at least Soren) with her at all times. They stayed mostly confined to the Lodge, spending time in the game room playing cards. Claudia seemed to prefer isolated meals, too, rather than sit at the table with everyone after that initial reference.

In the end, he had Rayla to thank, when they came across Claudia and Ezran talking in front of the fire. “Hey, Ez, can I talk to you real quick?” she asked. 

“Hmm?” Ezran glanced between Callum and Rayla, and, ever the wise-beyond-his-years king he was becoming, smiled as he got up. “Sure,” he said, and both he and Rayla gave Callum an encouraging look before turning the corner down the hall.

Well, it was now or never.


She looked up, but she didn’t smile. “Callum.” She brushed dirt off the knees of her pants. “Have you come to yell at me some more?”

He shifted. “Not necessarily,” he said, doing his best not to mumble. “I’ve come to talk to you about some... things.”

“Things?” she repeated dryly. The way she would have when they were younger, but in a different tone, teasing, when he stammered over himself with affection and embarrassment. 

Callum swallowed hard. “It has come to my attention,” he continued, drawing on all his reserves of princely rhetoric, “that we will most likely have to work... together, sooner rather than later, and—why are you frowning like that?”

Claudia’s scowl didn’t lessen. “‘Come to your attention’? Tell me, did the elf vouch for me or something—”

His temper rose. “ Her name is Rayla.”

She waved her hand airily. “Yes, your fiancée .” 

Callum rolled his eyes. “Don’t be stupid, we both know you’re not jealous.”

Claudia stuck her tongue in her cheek and looked away. “So,” she said finally. “What did you want to talk about?”

“Aaravos mostly,” he admitted.

“Ah, yes, of course,” she drawled, scathing. “Because I’m just here to be at your disposal.”

“You came here and said you wanted to help.”

“Yes, and to finally have a life again, for myself.”

He placed a hand on his chest, gesturing empathetically. “Why do you think I want to defeat Aaravos so badly? You think I like having him in my head, giving me nightmares, threatening the people I love?”

Claudia squinted at him. “Interesting, then, that you’re so buddy-buddy with your father’s killer.”

Callum frowned and almost flinched. “That’s not—you don’t know anything about that.”

“He nearly let himself starve to death. Dad had to force-feed him once. Some Moonshadow elf thing. ‘I am already dead.’ Messed up, right?”

Callum closed his eyes and grit his teeth. “Claudia,” he said, as composed as he could, “I don’t want to hear about Runaan’s time in prison.”

“Fine, suit yourself. But at least I’m not being buddy-buddy with you .” 

He opened his eyes and stared at her. “No. You’re something far worse.” 

Claudia pushed herself up into a standing position. “Whatever I am is what you turned me into,” she growled. “ You’re the reason my father died. Twice. And everyone else you loved got off scott free. You’re the one who ran off with the dragon egg and no plan. You’re the one who freed that damn dragon and got Soren paralyzed, you hunted me down and took all that was left of my father—”

“Those coins had people in them!” Callum bristled. “People with families!”

“You left me with NOTHING !”

“Like I didn’t lose everything, some nights, multiple nights, too?” Callum demanded. “You were there on the Star Nexus, you knew what was happening—you hesitated, you knew it was wrong!”

A quieter voice, years ago, in a castle, when a sword had been pointed at his throat. You know this is wrong.

“You’ve known it was wrong a lot longer than you let on,” Callum hissed. “So blame me all you want. We both know it’s just a deflection.” 

“Well aren’t you so high and mighty,” Claudia sneered. 

“At least I take responsibility for myself,” he said coldly. 

Claudia rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say.”

“You think I haven’t?”

“I really don't think it matters. I swallowed my pride and I’m still here, helping, aren’t I?”

“‘Helping’ is a loose term for it.” 

Claudia crossed her arms over her chest. “Fine. What do you want to know about Aaravos?”

“Any sort of weakness you can think of.” 

She thought for a moment, then said, “He hasn’t said it, but I’ve seen him, after he… gets into your head. It takes as much of a toll on him.”

His brow furrowed. “It does?”

“He’s never had an equal before. Never had someone who could see into him, too.”

“But I don’t—”

“But you could . A passage goes both ways.”

“But… He went after the Spire after the last dream—”

“With thousands of his followers. Those followers aren’t there in his head.”

Callum blinked. “Well... does Aaravos even sleep ?”

Claudia smiled thinly. “Very rarely, but yes... And I have always wondered: how did you connect to all the primal sources? I know how he did, but your magicks... they behave differently, somehow. Yours are less powerful but somehow more versatile.”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “I, uh, carved out a connection to each manually. One at a time. Why? How did Aaravos do it?” Any scrolls or books that hadn’t had the words melt right off the page when it came to Aaravos only said that he was connected to all six—that it was possible—not how he had done so.

“He only explained it once, very briefly to me.” The light in Claudia’s eyes when it came to anything magical, similar to when they were children, died. “Near the beginning. When the three of us—” Her, Viren, and Aaravos. “—were straggling through Xadia. He said he had connected to the essence of magic itself and the primal sources flowed through that, as different channels.”

“So I’m connected to the channels, and he’s connected to the source?”

“Something like that.” Claudia picked at the frayed golden hem of her black tunic. “That would explain the differences. He doesn’t have to worry about crossing streams, but because it all feels so similar to him, the way he uses them is different, too.”

“And why Dark Magic doesn’t seem to clog any of his channels,” Callum figured. An old thought experiment, one his teacher for Ocean had taught him, came rushing back. The one that had led him to get Purified to cleanse his arcanum, rather than have it blocked by a dam. “Because he only has one valve open,” he finished and then looked up at her, his eyes glinting. “What if we could close that valve?”

This time it was her turn to look a tad confused. “What do you mean?”

“I have six separate channels, right?” It felt like his brain was on fire, now, but in a good way. “He’d have to close each one for me. But for him, there’s only one connection, and the others flow through it. What if we could close it? He’d lose them all.” 

“That...” Her eyes widened as Claudia considered it. “Could work. Theoretically.”

“I’ve dealt in theories before. I’ll have to do more research on the essence of magic—and we’ll need an army, anyway, but—” He couldn’t help but grin. “This could be it. The key to Aaravos’ downfall.” 

There was something familiar in Claudia’s face that he hadn’t seen in a long time. “Crazy to think it’ll all be over soon,” she muttered. “I am a little jealous you’re the one who gets to end it.” 

His expression scrunched up in confusion. “What d’you mean?”

“Aaravos destroyed my family.” Claudia rubbed at her wrist with the thin snake bracelets. “Most of what my father did was his own choice, don’t get me wrong—mine too—but he—we were both manipulated. I was just lucky enough to see through it, even if it was... rather late.” 



“I never thought I’d hear you hold Viren responsible for what he did.”

Claudia frowned. “He was still my father. And maybe I wanted to believe that the ends justified the means. I think we’ve all learned our lesson, you don’t have to rub it in—”

“No, that’s not what I—” Callum held up his hands. “I just mean that… I don’t know. I guess I kinda thought that, once he was gone, that... you were only here because you didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

“I mean, I don’t,” she said. “Unless I wanted to go hide myself somewhere, and even then, the war would come for me eventually if Aaravos wasn’t stopped. But I also… everything that I sacrificed, all of the suffering, especially of that first year after the fall... was for nothing. Or worse. Was for something wrong. And my father was still sane enough then, so I know—he knew what he was doing.” She sat back down and drew her knees up to her chest. “I always thought we were doing the right thing… until I didn’t. And then I had nothing left. And I wasn’t sure if I’d have anything here, but…” She shrugged. 

Callum slowly took a seat across from her. “I know the feeling.”

“You do?”

“I ran with the egg because I wasn’t sure if I told Harrow that he’d do the right thing. I just had to hope we were. Rayla almost died. Ez almost died. The egg almost died. Then Rayla. Again, and again. Even me. We weren’t sure if it was going to work. We didn’t get to have a funeral for our father. Rayla lost... everything. When she went off the Pinnacle, she wasn’t counting on me to save her, and I didn’t know the spell would work. She wasn’t—”

“My dad said you grew wings,” Claudia said. “But you hadn’t done the spell before?”

He supposed Claudia didn’t know when he’d connected to the Sky arcanum or what his initial training had looked like, either.

“I’d tried,” he reiterated, “but that was the first time I actually did it.”

“How did you know it would work?”

“Like I said: I didn’t.” He smiled slightly. “I basically only work in theory.” 

“No kidding.” Claudia rested her chin on top of her knees. “I guess that means you really can defeat Aaravos. With your brother’s help... and Rayla’s.” 

“Thanks.” Holy shit that felt strange to say to Claudia, of all people. Callum coughed. “And uh, we’ll have to see, and figure stuff out, some verification, y’know, but... we got some time before we march on the base. Maybe uh—might be possible for you to come with. And help. Maybe.” 

“What an offer,” said Claudia, but without the usual bite. “Keep me posted if it turns into a definite one.” 

Callum let out a soft snort. “I will.” 

“Thanks.” She glanced up at the stairs. “Ezran and Rayla left because you needed to talk to me, didn’t they?”

“Yeah.” They both chuckled quietly. “I can get them and send Ez back down, if you want.”

“Sure.” Her eyes settled back on the fireplace in front of them. “It’s kind of funny to think about. Your fiancée had to help you talk to me.”

“It was actually her idea.”

Claudia looked at him front out of the corner of her eye. “What?”

I still don’t think it runs any deeper than surface level,” he said, “but she thinks you guys might have some stuff in common. With uh, mistakes. And redemption. Outside of me.” 


“Yeah.” Then, not quite sure why he was telling Claudia this, but carrying onwards anyway, “It’s weird. Sometimes Runaan reminds me a lot of Dad. And it’s kind of messed up. But it’s also... kind of nice. And it’s always gonna be kinda weird. But that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. And for Ez, and Soren, at least... you may have more family waiting for you, than you think. On the other side of all this.” 

He certainly never would’ve seen any of Rayla’s parents coming, especially Runaan. Or Janai, or Zubeia and Zym. Aanya and Ellis and Lujanne. Ibis and his other teachers.

Sometimes there were good things behind the corner. Sometimes, when you saved people, they saved you right back. 

The corners of Claudia’s mouth twisted. “You’re sure it’s not too late?” she said quietly.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s that it’s never too late. Not for anybody.” He stood up and adjusted his scarf. “I might go get Ez and Rayla. Her and I won’t stay for cards, but... we’ll see you at dinner?”

“Yeah,” Claudia said, quickly. “Um, yeah. Maybe.” He couldn’t quite manage to give her a smile as he turned to go when she said, “Callum?”

He turned back. “Yeah?”

She fiddled with her fingers. “Thank you, I—I’m sorry.”

He let out a slow breath. “Keep saying it,” he said. Not angry or hopeful or bitter or even resigned. Just out loud, as a possibility. “And maybe one day I’ll believe it.”

Then, Claudia smiled a little. “I think I can work with that.”

The Solstice celebration was even more lively than the ones they’d had growing up, and that was saying something. Maybe it was all the people chattering around the fireplace and opening presents under the decorated tree, all the food Barius had made (with Ezran’s help) laid out steaming on the table, and the lit candles decorating the Lodge, but it made Callum wonder if this was what his parents had always been trying to achieve in their celebrations. And maybe after his mother had died, they’d been a little too cracked around the edges to get it completely right. 

Maybe they never would, but whatever this was, it was nice.

He sat down next to Rayla with a cup of hot cocoa for her, and she leaned against him, watching while some of the others laughed over Tiger trying to paw at an ornament. “What a year,” she murmured, taking a sip of her hot cocoa.

“Even last six months,” Callum said, resting his head next to hers, and Rayla let out a hum of agreement.

“At least we’ll get to ring in the new year all together.” 

He smiled. “Does that include a new year’s kiss?”

“You two are gross,” Ezran muttered, sitting down on Callum’s other side. 

Callum kissed the top of Rayla’s head and then poked his brother in the ribs. “Better get over that stage since you’re best man at our wedding,” he admonished, grinning.

“The one day I’ll deal with it,” he grinned back. “It’s still weird to think that you guys are gonna be married by next Solstice.”


“Mostly because it feels like you’ve already been married for the past five years.”

“As long as we haven’t lost our spark,” Rayla said, leaning up to press a kiss to Callum’s lips and lingering.

Okay , I am going to eat cookies with Soren in the kitchen.” 

“Cookies?” Amaya signed, and then tugged Janai off the armchair they were curled up in together. Janai only looked mildly annoyed, her eyes gleaming with mirth and fondness at how excited her wife was.

“Ethari said he was helping Lain and Barius with the frosting,” Tiadrin said to Runaan. Then, very straight-faced, she added, “I bet I can eat more than you.”

Runaan let out a quiet snort. “We’ll see,” he said, and they both walked over to the kitchen, ever the dignified adults that they were.

Callum and Rayla still had a bit of a view of the rest of their family, Claudia having been in the kitchen too—she still liked baking, it turned out, even if it wasn’t with Dark Magic—but it was sort of nice to be on their own and have a little privacy, too, as Callum lowered his gaze back to his betrothed, his eyes catching on her engagement horn cuffs.

The wedding was so close—just five months away—and the happy reminder made whatever lay ahead of them with Aaravos look bright, as she drew away from him and raised her head. “And as future spouses,” she said, looking into his eyes so he knew she was serious, “there’s something I wanted to talk about with you.”

Callum squinted at her. “It’s not about kids, right, cause I thought we’d already agreed to wait a while and—”

She rested her hand on his chest, smiling. “No, it’s not that. Something a bit more immediate, actually. We’ve been away from the Spire so much this year, and with the attack on the Silvergrove, I’ve been thinking... and once the war is over, for good, we could think about new things. Like when we want to have kids.”

His squint didn’t lessen. “Three years?”

Rayla chuckled. “I was thinking two and a half, but sure.”

“I mean,” he said quickly, “I am totally fine with two and a half years—”

She patted his chest. “Callum.”

He caught himself. “Right. Continue, with the actual conversation topic.”

“How would you feel about not leaving the Silvergrove, after the wedding?” she asked. “Or just... leaving the Spire, soon-ish? We’d be closer to my parents, to Katolis and Ez. Still not too far from Zubeia and Zym.” 

Callum’s brow knit together. “Oh.”

“I know it would be a bit of a hassle for your students. We could corral the Council into letting them through the illusion spell so you could still teach, and we don’t have to decide anything right now, mind you—” Rayla stopped, a small smile playing upon her lips. “Why are you smiling at me like that?”

He leaned forwards and kissed her briefly. “Because,” he murmured, not going far, letting his forehead and the tip of his nose rest against hers. “I’m thinking about what our new home could look like.”

Her smile grew. “And what would it look like?”

“Well the master bedroom is obviously the most important room in the house for a newlywed couple like us—”

Rayla laughed and rolled her eyes. “Yes of course, no wonder you want to wait only two and a half years before we start using it.”

He laughed too and tucked her hair behind her ears. “But, in all seriousness, I dunno. A workshop maybe like Ethari’s, cause I would want to keep teaching. Those blinds, like curtains that they have in Lux Aurea could be really nice. I’m sure my aunts would give us a pair. A quieter house like Lain and Tiadrin’s maybe. But not too far. I’m sure you’ll want to teach little elf warriors in training, too. You and Runaan could run classes together—he might need a hobby once there’s no more impending doom. A couple of guest bedrooms for when Ez and Soren visit.”

And maybe, maybe Claudia too, if she decided to come with, one day.

“And a room that can be a nursery,” Rayla added. “A wrap around porch?”

“Wind chimes.” 

“A place to hang my weapons, and your drawings. Your mage staff too.”

“A big kitchen,” Callum considered. “And living room. For when everyone comes over.” 

“And not too far from the meadows,” she said, her eyes soft, “so we can take our family there on weekends. Both the one we have now and the one we’ll make in the future.”

“After we defeat Aaravos?” he said, and she nodded.

“We’ll have the rest of our lives,” she said. At long last.

Callum only glanced away from her to steal a peek in the kitchen. Tiadrin and Runaan were already bickering over whether chocolate chips counted in their consumption competition. Ethari, Lain, and Ezran were laughing about something. Amaya, Gren, and Janai were coaxing a hesitantly hopeful looking Claudia into conversation. Corvus and Opeli were overlooking them all with Barius, the cleric holding Bait in her arms.

“Did you ever think it would be this big?” Callum asked softly.

“No,” Rayla admitted. “But I love how it looks.”

Chapter Text

Rayla had always known this day would come eventually. They had packed up many times—travelling to different Nexuses for Callum’s magic, the Silvergrove for Ethari and Katolis for Ezran, and most recently, to go to war against Aaravos—but it was still strange to see their room entirely empty, sheets peeled off the mattress and frame they were leaving here. New ones were waiting for them in the Silvergrove.

She heard a whine at their door, and Callum’s voice right outside. “I know, bud, we’ll miss you too,” he said. “But you know we’ll come and visit, all the time, and you can come visit us! Illusions can’t keep out dragons very well, remember? You can fly right through.” 

Rayla turned to see Callum and Zym in clear view, his ears and hair cut off by the top of the doorway. Even if he was bigger now, his tail was low, like a sad puppy’s, his large eyes wide and shining. Callum was petting his snout consolingly. Her fiancé was only a little better at hiding it, but she could see him quickly blinking tears away even as he smiled. 

Something in her heart tugged. They’d gotten to see him grow so much in the past few years. Even though he had his mum, Zym had always felt like theirs, in a way. He’d brought them together, for starters, and it had just been the three of them in Xadia, for the most part. She’d heard that some families got a pet, usually a shadowpaw if they were Moonshadow elves, to prepare for a baby, and Zym had much higher levels of intelligence and... he’d been like their first baby. And now they had to say goodbye.

She left the bedroom, taking Zym’s large face in her hands. She could still so clearly remember when it had been small enough to fit in her palms, when he’d still been able to fall asleep in her lap. “Hey there, you wee cutie,” she said, and her eyes began to sting. Which was ridiculous, because there was still a proper goodbye waiting for them in the antechamber with Ibis and the rest of the Dragonguard and the dragon queen, but... it was nice, to have this, just for the three of them. “We’re really gonna miss you.”

Zym nuzzled into her wrist, the one that had borne the binding what felt like lifetimes ago. He let out a rumbling purr. Rayla wiped at a stray tear with her other hand. 

Callum scratched behind Zym’s ear. “You’ve grown up so much, and we are so proud of you.” He let out a strangled laugh when Zym let out a mournful whine. “This isn’t goodbye forever. We just won’t see each other every day. But we’re still gonna get to watch you grow up, okay? You’re gonna say your first words in the next few years, and you’re gonna get to make solo trips to the Silvergrove before you know it. And you’re gonna become an amazing king, just like Ez.” He smiled a little sadly. “We were so lucky to get to stay with you even long after we finished our first mission. But we knew we’d have to say goodbye someday. Back then, we thought we’d have to say goodbye just to leave you with your mom. But now you’re so big and smart and strong, and we know you’re going to be okay. We’re just gonna miss you a lot.”

Zym rumbled, as though saying, I’m going to miss you, too.

But maybe it was a sign of how much Zym had grown up that he understood why they were leaving, too.

Rayla pressed a kiss to the tip of Zym’s snout. “You better visit all the time, once you’re able to make solo trips,” she said, sniffling. She leaned into Callum when he wrapped an arm around her waist.

“We should say goodbye to your mom,” Callum said to Zym, and he let out another rumble, a big tear leaking out of one eye as they pressed their foreheads to his scaly brow. “We love you too, bud,” said Callum, his voice breaking. 

They both wrapped their arms around him, for a moment just getting to hold their first baby, now grown, more than ready to be away from them. Gods, was it going to be like this twenty or thirty years from now, when their own children would be ready to leave? Somehow worse, because they would be the ones having to let go?

All three of them headed down the hallway once they let go, and she clasped Callum’s hand tightly. They were all doing the right thing, and the Silvergrove would be the best place for them, especially after everything with Aaravos.

Still, it was never easy to say goodbye.

Saying goodbye to Zubeia and Ibis and the rest of the Dragonguard was only marginally easier. Ibis hugged each of them, but he’d known from the second Callum had first grown wings the kid would never be here to stay, and passed him off to other magical mentors before. Rayla smiled at her new appointed captain, even if it was strange to be back in her old, more assassin-like garb full time.

“I know you’ll keep them safe,” she said, and then she and Callum turned to the dragon queen, whose great blue eyes seemed quite shiny.

She had brought them together, in some ways, just as much as Zym. Her order had sent the assassins to Katolis in the first place. 

“Azymondias will miss you,” Zubeia said, her voice thick, her son curled up by one of her claws and leaning into the pats he was receiving from each of them. The room felt heavy with the shaky breath she took. “You brought my family back to me,” she continued, “and it won’t be the same without you, since you became a part of it. But the least I can do, after everything you’ve given us, is give you my blessing as you begin to grow your own family.” She lowered her head to them, and they both pressed their foreheads against her great brow. 

Rayla smiled at her as they slowly drew away. “Any last orders, Your Majesty?”

“No orders,” Zubeia replied. “Only one request: come back and visit soon, will you?”

“We will,” she promised, taking Callum’s hand. She gave it a gentle squeeze; she didn’t have to look at him to know that he was crying. Her eyes stung and her throat was tight, and she knew she wasn’t holding it together much better. “And we would love for you to visit, when you can.”

“For you, I’ll try.” A large tear leaked out as she drew away, and it splashed by her claw. “Safe travels, my darlings.”

“Goodbye, for now,” Callum said, his voice cracking. They lingered for a moment longer, before leaving the queen’s chambers. Rayla glanced back, savouring one more look at this part of their family.

They stepped out onto one of the cliffs, into the light of day. “Are you ready to go?” Callum asked, wiping at his eyes with his free hand.

Rayla nodded, even as a heaviness settled in her chest. It wasn’t unbearable, and wasn’t enough to make her regret their choice. She held onto the heaviness, almost cherishing it.

“I’m ready,” she said. He nodded, stepping back before summoning his mage wings. She wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him tight as he flew them down to the base of the Spire. A Shadowpaw was waiting for them below; a wagon had already taken most of their belongings. After everything, they’d all decided it was best if Callum didn’t make the trip solely on his wings, this time.

The feathers retracted once they landed, and she mounted first, before pulling him on behind her. They glanced back for a moment, the Spire’s sharp point looking far too much like home. It was still strange to think that they’d actually outgrown this place with how much it still towered over them.

Rayla’s eyes went forward first, and she nudged the Shadowpaw on straight ahead, her heart constricting in her chest. 

Callum kept his arms tight around her from behind. It felt like forever ago they’d come to the Spire for the first time with tired bodies, a baby dragon, and a newly formed relationship (in more ways than one). 

“It’s weird, right?” he murmured.

“Yeah.” She was quiet for a moment, before she asked, “Do you regret it?”

“No.” He rested his chin on her shoulder. “Do you?”

“No. I just miss them.”

He pressed a kiss to her shoulder. “Me too.”

She sniffled quietly and then wiped at her eyes. “This is dumb, we’ve left all the time—”

“It’s not dumb,” he said. “Because it’s different this time, and it’s okay to feel it. Even if we’ll see them again, we know that we’ll see them a lot less, for a long time. Like when I said goodbye to Ez, after the war ended. We knew we were doing the right thing, but it was still hard. Like…”

“Like there was something weighing on you, the further you walked away?”

Callum gave her a gentle squeeze. “I think love feels like that, sometimes,” he said. “When you move away from the places that held it, then you have to. You have to carry it.”

Rayla’s lips twitched. “You have big hands.”

He rolled his eyes even as he pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Yes, which is good, because you can be a handful. And you’re not carrying all your love alone, anymore. And when we get to the Silvergrove, we’ll get to put some of it down. Take shape in that place.” 

She leaned into him and tangled their fingers together. “Like our lives?”

“Yeah.” His voice was soft, and she let herself sink into it. “Just like our lives.”

Aunt Janai and Aunt Amaya were waiting for them in Lux Aurea. With hugs and a warm bed and food after just shy of a week on the road, all of which were very welcome. It was a nice and natural pitstop on the way to the Silvergrove, and most shadowpaws seemed to get along very well with Sweetpea, who was always overjoyed to have a playmate more his size (even if Tiger seemed irritably jealous and curled up in Janai’s lap more often, as a result). The sun was setting outside, even if the light barely dimmed enough for it to register; Lux Aurea was always bathed in light, somehow, which was why all the bedrooms required such thick curtains. It really only felt like evening because of the dinner they’d all just had, followed by a quieter tea and wine in one of the smaller parlour rooms with Janai and Amaya. 

Tomorrow, the four of them would embark for the Silvergrove, bringing Sweetpea and leaving Tiger and the kingdom in the hands of Janai’s younger brother.

“The longest he’ll be taking over,” Amaya signed, and Callum looked at Janai.

“Oh. How do you feel about it?”

Janai smiled a little; as Amaya’s wife, she was no stranger to “big feelings time”. “Apprehensive,” she admitted, signing as well so Amaya could follow along without having to read lips as much. “He’s done well, but I know staying so close to the palace was never something he wanted. We shouldn’t be gone for longer than a month and a half, though.”

They hadn’t planned to stay in the Silvergrove for more than two weeks after the wedding, after all.

“Your brother’s not around as much, is he?” Rayla asked, signing along confidently after years of practice with Callum. She could still remember the first time she’d tried signing to Amaya; she’d fumbled so much, her hands nearly shaking as she tried to remember the modifiers for four fingers. 

“He’s around more often,” Janai said. “But I think some people are less rooted than others. He was always the most flighty of us three. Always travelling. Diplomacy outside of Lux Aurea suited him, but he’s come home to help with the Festival of Light.”

Rayla took a sip of her tea. It reminded her a little bit of something her mother had said about the uncle she’d never met. Hopefully flighty brothers weren’t very common; at least Callum and Ezran had been constant to one another, even as they lived their own lives. Besides, Janai’s brother was still faithful to his family and his kingdom at the end of the day. If Amaya and Janai ever had a child, that baby would at least see their uncle every so often.

She didn’t think Ezran and Callum would mind getting a cousin this late in life, even if it would be surprising. She smiled a little at the thought; they’d both end up doting over the child, as gentle as they were.

“Well, thanks for letting us pull you away from Lux Aurea for that long,” Callum said, and Janai waved it off.

“Shush, you’re family. Besides, for once you are pulling me away to be with more elves, not more humans. Moonshadow elves have always been honourable, like Sunfire elves. I’m sure we will get along.” 

“So am I,” Rayla said, “although our day-night cycle might take some getting used to."

Janai looked at her wife. “Amaya has told me that the night—I believe it is a song lyric?—‘belongs to lovers’?”

Callum covered up his snort. “It is a human song lyric, but it’s not a cultural thing for either of us, um. Moonshadows are pretty private with relationships, unless they’re married.” 

“With certain exceptions,” Amaya signed with a smirk.

“We were still relatively private!” Callum said, his cheeks turning red. “And it only barely counts since I’m not a Moonshadow elf, anyway. Rayla and I have also known we wanted to get married for a very long time.” 

“Anyway,” Rayla continued, as amusing as Amaya teasing her nephew was, “I’m sure you already know that we don’t… get much sunlight, but just to make sure you’re prepared…?”

“We can bring our sunstone,” Janaya said. “It mimics the sun’s light indoors. Nice for cloudy days outside Lux Aurea. My brother always carries one around.”

“That’s smart. We shouldn’t have any rainy days until we reach the Silvergrove, but it can’t hurt, just in case.” She leaned over in her chair at the dinner table at their last night in Lux Aurea and nudged Callum in the ribs. “This one still loves to dilly dally in the rain.” 

“Not like you ever complain,” he grinned. Rayla rolled her eyes fondly; she could never say no to his requests to dance in the rain.

“Well don’t dilly dally on your way to bed,” Amaya instructed, once she’d finished having a sip of wine. “We have an early start tomorrow.”

Callum tried not to pout. “Always with the early starts,” he mumbled, and Rayla held back her snort.

“We’ll let you sleep in once we’re back at the Silvergrove,” she promised. “Moonshadow weddings are at dusk, remember?”

“Technically midnight,” he reminded her, “but the Council made an exception for their new resident human.” And his extended family of elves, dragons, and more humans like him. A few of his graduated students would be coming too, and Ez, Soren, and... After a lot of talking, they’d decided to at least extend the invitation to Claudia, even if they hadn’t gotten confirmation over whether she’d be coming.

She’d had their backs when it came to felling Aaravos. Even saved Runaan’s neck once. War could do miraculous things, too, it seemed, not just terrible. 

Rayla forced her thoughts back to the upcoming wedding. They would make sure to deal with it in therapy afterwards, but right now… They could all use something happy to look forward to.

In the morning, Callum’s back hurt. It woke him up an hour earlier than they’d planned, blinds still blocking out the light of their room in Lux Aurea, and he sat up, trying to roll his shoulders back for some relief. He could feel the tingling along the scar that spanned between his shoulder blades now, from a Dark magic, Sky infused fulminus


“Go back to sleep,” he said quietly, but Rayla sat up beside him, placing a hand between his shoulder blades. Just under the scar.

“It’s hurting again?” she asked.

“Thought I’d only feel this way when we were old,” he joked feebly.

Rayla rewarded him with a small smile. “I think living through two wars balances it out, old man. Look at me. My hair’s already all white.” 

He managed a real laugh this time, mostly at the memory of how amazed she’d been, years ago, learning that white hair was a sign of old age for most humans. He leaned into her, and she gently rubbed the spot between his shoulder blades. “I can’t wait to grow old with you,” he whispered, and his throat tightened. “That’s the last battle we have to fight, right?”


“That has to be the last one. Because we’ve done more than enough for this world so it’s finally going to start being fair and let us live out our lives together, right?” 

“Callum.” Rayla’s other hand turned his face towards hers, her eyes steady but sad. “I don’t know. But we’re together. We’re all still together. And maybe we didn’t get all of Aaravos’ followers, but... I don’t know. I don’t think the world is fair. It gave me you. And you still beat every possible downside every time.” 

The ache in his back tightened, and he curled into her. “I’m so tired,” he mumbled.

Her fingers moved up into his hair. “Me too.”

He reached and caught her wrist. It had never been quite the same after the binding, but it had suffered in the second war, too, bracing hard falls more than once. Once, she’d been able to flip herself over however she pleased. Now she would always have to gauge it. “How is it today?”

“It’s okay. But maybe you should take the reins?”

Callum nodded and kissed her cheek. His hand slid from her wrist to her fingers, and he clasped them gently. “Whatever you need,” he murmured.

“And you’re going to be okay?” she checked.

“Of course I am,” he said. The back pain would fade. It always did. “You’re here.”

Rayla smiled softly, pressing a kiss to his brow. “You wanna try to get a little more sleep before we go?”

“I dunno if I’ll be able to,” he admitted.

“We could just rest?”

He thought for a moment, then nodded. “Okay,” he said, and he laid back down as Rayla wrapped her arms around him from behind, holding him close. Her chest was warm against his back, and for a moment, he was safe. 

They had gotten used to this, of switching whoever needed to be held; she usually woke up with nightmares first and they were both lighter sleepers than they had been years ago. Absently, Callum thought of the kid they might have in a few years—when they’d wake up to the crying of a child when they were good and ready for it, instead of being children too quickly grown.

But Rayla pressed a kiss between his shoulder blades, over his shirt, and Callum settled.

No matter how terrifying or unreal the thought could occasionally be, he knew they had time.

They had time.

The trip to the Silvergrove took two weeks. It almost reminded Rayla of the old days, with all the camping out they did between travel days, even if she was sure they would have felt awkward about travelling with his aunts as teenagers. (They might have felt awkward about it, too, trying to figure out their own feelings with two kids around.) It was also sort of nice to just have time with each of her aunt-in-laws. Once they got to the Silvergrove everything would be decently busy and the whole community was involved with the wedding. There’d be her four parents and then more family and friends arriving over the next four weeks, but still busy overall. Rayla wasn’t going to take this more individual, one-on-one time for granted, as well as a chance to decompress before they would also have to deal with moving into their new home.

They all sat around the fire, roasting marshmallows late into the night. She bit back a laugh when Callum accidentally set his on fire; they didn’t have the luxury of such treats back when they were kids on the run, but s’mores were good . She watched Janai melt the chocolate a little more before giving it to her wife—Janai had never been a fan of most sweets—and for a moment, she could remember that they really were just a family on a trip. No one had to keep watch or an ear out to listen. No one had to set up various traps and other defenses for fear that at least one member of the group would be targeted. Even if some of Aaravos’ followers were still out there…

No. No, she wouldn’t go there. They were fine. She knew they were fine. It was just a little hard to believe that for the first time, things could really be over , once and for all. Viren had stayed dead. Aaravos would too.

Three royals and an ambassador could travel to the Silvergrove with no trouble at all. Rayla had to believe that.

Callum let out a yelp beside her and she looked up, alert, before managing a tiny smile when she got a glimpse of his burnt biscuit. He was shaking out his hand. “You know you’re not supposed to set the entire s’more on fire?” she teased, her heart rate already dropping back down to something more steady.

“Just be glad I’m more immune to fire than I used to be,” he said dryly; a perk of his Sun arcanum.

Rayla leaned over, smirking. “Oh, so you don’t want me to kiss your finger better?”

Callum held out his hand. “I didn’t say that.”

She rolled her eyes but kissed his fingertip anyway. “You big baby.” She wrinkled her nose, smiling when he leaned up to press a kiss to her mouth. His mouth was sweet, still sticky from burnt marshmallow and melted chocolate. He popped another s’more in his mouth when she drew away and Rayla shook her head. “Ridiculous,” she chided fondly.

“Yours,” he reminded her and that made her feel warmer than the campfire. 

The wedding had somehow felt so far away, after the initial engagement had died down, perhaps because being engaged had done nothing but make their commitment to one another for life more official, even if they had already been talking casually of marriage for a year or two beforehand. But now that her parents were home safe, and Aaravos was defeated, and they were heading home to the Silvergrove for good, well... the wedding finally felt real. And it would be real in four weeks no less. He’d be hers, forever. There was a strange relief in it, knowing that it would be official to the rest of the world. There was no good reason for it; he’d been hers since they were kids, even if it had just looked like puppy love to everyone else. Now… Maybe it was just that it would be nice to be married before the world threw anything else at them.

“Part of me is glad we will not be there long once you are newlyweds,” said Janai, her arms crossed over her chest, and Callum chucked a marshmallow at her. 

“You and Aunt Amaya were just as bad,” he said, as Amaya plucked the marshmallow off from where it had landed in Janai’s hair and popped it into her mouth with a cheeky grin when her wife shot her a look.

“He’s not wrong,” Amaya signed back, half grinning when she chewed. Janai shoved her wife in the shoulder lightly, smiling faintly to herself.

“Humans,” she commiserated to Rayla, who laughed. “Yet we love them anyway.”

She looked at her soon-to-be husband, her eyes fond. “We sure do.”

Rayla took a breath, the air around them still warm and smoky from the campfire. They’d be okay.

They didn’t come across many other travellers on their way, and they were already deep enough into the surrounding forest to not expect anyone. It was usually only one or two Skywing elves they would run into—none of them Nyx, and probably for the better, as Rayla could only imagine what she’d say in the presence of two very affectionate couples, one very soon to be married—so when Amaya and Janai went a little ways ahead, she didn’t expect to see them attending to a Moonshadow elf that had collapsed in the middle of the woods.

At the sound of a nearby thud, she’d thought it’d been one of Aaravos’ stragglers, surely, come to try and take revenge, but upon a quick entry into the clearing, she saw the white hair and horns of an elf struggling to carry all his wares and packs. Rayla approached with caution, her swords out and aunts behind her, Callum at her side. Some Moonshadow elves had sided with Aaravos after all—and sometimes those Ghosted were dangerous, too, if this was one who had been exiled from his community—but from the way he strained underneath his largest pack, limbs flailing... he seemed a little pathetic. 

Then he spotted her, long swoopy hair falling over his eyes, and he held up a hand, seemingly unperturbed by her blades or her company. “Eh, lass, wouldja mind giving me a hand?”

Rayla frowned, still not sure what to think when it was Janai who helped him up into a sitting position instead, even if her aunt frowned as well. “Bit off a bit more than you could chew, did you?” Janai said. 

“Brought too many wares and not enough lightweight charms,” he grumbled. “Stupid Skywing elf scammer, and I can’t even remember her name—it was too long.”

“You weren’t crossing the Midnight Desert, were you?” Callum asked. 

“It was the fastest way. Said she could take me across on her ambler.”

Callum and Rayla shared a look and a slight smile. “Yeah,” said Callum, “Nyx can be a piece of work.”

The elf snapped his fingers together and looked up. He had a round-ish face, hair still covering his eyes and markings, pale and broader in the shoulders than he was in the waist, and wearing sleek, dark blue robes. “Nyx! Yes. That’s it. Knew it was short for something.” 

“Anyway,” Rayla continued, “if this is all the help you needed, we should be on our way—” And then the elf lifted up his hair, and Rayla saw her mother’s light blue eyes and markings staring back at her.

“Actually, could you help me the rest of the way?” he asked. “My sister’s daughter is getting married at the Silvergrove.”

Rayla pressed her lips together. “You don’t say,” she said, very carefully.

“Wait,” Callum said, “is your sister—”

“Sure,” Rayla said quickly, taking one of his packs. She turned around and shoved it into Callum’s arms with a meaningful look. “We were headed there anyway.” He gave her a look of his own, but she busied herself with taking one of his other packs.

“Thank you,” the Moonshadow elf said, relieved. “I would have missed the wedding altogether, having to drag this stuff around.”

“What are you selling, anyway?” Callum asked as they all continued on their way. 

The elf—Uncle Kyrus, Rayla thought irrately, a storm swirling in her mind—puffed out his chest, seemingly pleased with himself and his lightened load as Amaya and Janai put a few packs on Sweetpea, each looking very silently confused and signing to each other, the gist of which was What is going on?

“I specialize in magical metalworking,” he said, very self importantly. “Pendants, trinkets, to give enchanted objects a little finesse, a bit of beauty, you know.”

“Oh, that sounds like what—” Callum stopped short, and Rayla’s head whipped towards him before he could say Ethari’s name. “Uh, I mean, I’ve heard of that, before,” he said, and it wasn’t his best save, but Uncle Kyrus didn’t seem to notice. “Oh, also, we never got your name?”

“My name is Kyrus,” he said, and Rayla grumbled internally at the confirmation. “Are you all headed to the wedding, too?”

Callum nodded. “I’m Queen Amaya’s translator,” he said. Which was true, technically. Or true enough. Gren would be arriving with everyone else from Katolis later. Either way, Rayla felt relief that he’d lied convincingly and without her having to say anything. “Her, uh, nephew is the groom. Also named Callum. I mean, I’m also named Callum, just—Katolis born, you know.” He coughed and if she could have face-palmed, she would have. “Royal baby names get popular.” 

Kyrus just laughed, though. “Yes, it is hard to believe a prince is marrying into our little Silvergrove.” 

“So… How close are you to your sister?” he asked carefully and Rayla knew he was ignoring the glare she sent his way. “Or niece?”

“Not very,” Kyrus admitted, his smile fading just a little. “I haven’t seen little Rayla since she was just a baby.”

“Oh. So… why didn’t you visit before?”

“Maybe we shouldn’t interrogate strangers we just met,” Rayla said pointedly, but Kyrus laughed again.

“It’s alright. I was always travelling for work, and then soon enough she was out of the Silvergrove for a while. It just never worked out.”

“But you wanted to visit again?” Callum asked.

“Of course. She’s my sister.”

Rayla scowled. Even though he couldn’t be bothered to help her mother with their parents’ funeral? Or her own birth, or his sister’s disappearance, or her mother’s miraculous return?

“Well, there’s no better time to reconnect with family than at a wedding,” Callum said. 

“That’s what I’m hoping.”

“So long as you do not cause trouble,” said Janai, having left confusion in favour of looking unimpressed. “My nephew and kysikin have been waiting for this day for a long time and I don’t want anything to spoil it for either of them.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” Kyrus looked up at the towering trees, the branches and leaves full, shading the area. “I wonder what little Rayla’s like now? She probably won’t recognize me, eh?”

Rayla clenched her teeth. “She might.”

Kyrus glanced back at Rayla, that oblivious smile still on his face. “And are you travelling with the queens too?”

Rayla pursed her lips. She could say yes, but in her obvious Moonshadow clothing, she clearly wasn’t part of the Lux Aurean guard. “I was on the Dragonguard with the bride,” she said shortly. “I’m a friend.”

“Calypso, my wife Amaya, and I served in the Last Battle together,” Janai interjected. Rayla shot Janai a look, but it was too late now. 

“Calypso?” Kyrus noted. “Strange name for a Moonshadow elf.”

“I was adopted by strange aunts,” she said flatly, and Janai gave her a tiny shrug in apology. 

“Ah, well, I’ve met many different people with strange names in my travels.” He began listing off people and stories, but Rayla tuned it out, glancing at Callum instead. As much as elf-human relations were getting better, couples were still rare. And, for whatever reason, she didn’t need her uncle knowing who she was. Not yet.

So when they finally set up camp for the night, she pulled him aside under the guise of gathering more firewood. Once they got far enough from Kyrus (who was talking too loudly to the queens to notice, anyway) Rayla grabbed Callum’s arm and said, “He can’t know we’re together.”

Callum stared at her. “So I gathered that you didn’t want him to know who we were, but why…?”

“It’ll tip him off.” Maybe, if Callum hadn’t said what his name really was, they could’ve gotten away with it, but Rayla was just glad Kyrus hadn’t recognized her, either.

Callum frowned. “There are more than two elf-human couples in the world—”

“Please?” She knew it was a big ask. They were going to be married in a month and now she was telling him they couldn’t hold hands. “Just for the next five days or so.”

He sighed. “Okay, but you know it’s coming out sooner or later.”

“Yes, but I don’t want to deal with it right now.” She crossed her arms over her chest, glancing at him from behind their tree. “Gods, he looks so much like Mum, but he’s absolutely nothing like her.”

“He seems to regret all the time he spent away,” Callum said, and she frowned at him. “I’m not saying that makes up for it,” he added quickly. “I’m just… Maybe he wants a second chance at a family?”

“He could have come any other time. One time when I asked Runaan about it, after Mum and Dad started staying at the Spire longer, he said that my uncle only shows up when he wants something. I don’t know what he wants, yet, but I’m sure there’s something.” At Callum’s raised brows, she added, “Even my Dad doesn’t like him, Callum.”

Callum softened; they both knew that was saying something when it came to Lain. “Okay, fair enough. What do you wanna do, then? He has too much to carry for us to try to get him to go back.”

Rayla pursed her lips. “I don’t know, but Mum deserves the closure. If we’re lucky, maybe she’ll tell him off and send him back before the wedding.”

“Or he’ll turn out to have good intentions for once and everything will be okay?” he tried, and Rayla gave him a dry stare. “Or not, cool, both are possibilities. And...” He caught her hand and they were far enough away in the trees for it to not matter. “Why don’t you want your uncle to know who you are?” he asked slowly.

“I... don’t know,” she said, softly. She swallowed hard. “Somehow it feels like he’ll be... more honest, this way? And I don’t really know what to expect from him. He’s not really like anyone else in the village and I know him and Mum are complicated, and... you saw what my grandparents on my Dad’s side are like. I don’t know how he’ll really react to everything. And I don’t want to have to explain everything or answer... nosy questions about the war, for once.” 

Callum’s expression softened. “Okay,” he said quietly. “But if he does end up staying for a while, and learning who you really are…?”

“I’ll be ready for it,” she said. “I just don’t want to deal with it now, when I’m the only family member he knows.”

“Okay.” He glanced back at the campfire before giving her a quick kiss. “Since we won’t get to do that much for the next few days,” he said, and she smiled a little. 

She grabbed his scarf and pulled him in for a longer one, lingering before she drew away. “You really think that peck was gonna last me? Now come on, loverboy. We have to actually get some firewood now.” Her heart fluttered at the soft look in his eyes. “And maybe don’t look so in love with me when we’re back with the group?”

“Can’t really help it, but I’ll do my best.” 

Rayla rolled her eyes fondly, her hand lingering in his before she had to let go. “Sap,” she said, already wanting to kiss him again.

It was probably for the best that Kyrus didn’t know who they were for now. But that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be difficult.

At least it was just for five days, Rayla reflected. How hard could it really be?

Incredibly hard, as it turned out. She’d never been in a space where she couldn’t show Callum affection. Even when they’d been friends and tiptoeing around the in between, and she’d been a bit more self conscious of boundaries, it hadn’t stopped her from hugging him or touching his shoulder whenever she thought he needed it, or really whenever she wanted to. 

But now they were supposed to be strangers when they’d barely ever been. They’d slipped into a brisk intimacy a few days into their friendship and had never left it, had only nurtured and grown in over the past five years and two wars they’d fought side by side in. How were they supposed to leave it now? She hated not being able to hold his hand, hated having to keep a safe enough distance from him to avoid suspicion. All because her stupid uncle had to drop in now and they had no way of knowing what he really wanted out of their family.

Even worse because the whole thing was her idea, and the one person she would’ve complained about it to, she was no longer able to, nor was it exactly fair to Callum; he’d agreed to go along with her plan, after all.

So she just snuck him a commiserating smile whenever he would catch himself trying to get closer or take her hand, the disappointment on his face too apparent, even if Kyrus didn’t seem to notice. Rayla had to catch herself too. She couldn’t hold his hand or touch his cheek, couldn’t snuggle up close to him at night or anytime, couldn’t share smiles and jokes. She even had to curb most of her familiarity with her aunts.

They were two days away from the Silvergrove, and all Rayla wanted to do when they set up camp for the evening was sit close to her fiancé and not have to listen to another one of Kyrus’ stories about the travels that had taken him away from their family. 

“Calypso, Callum,” Amaya signed, with Callum translating for her, “could you both gather some more firewood?”

“Yes,” Rayla said quickly, and Callum got up just as fast, but they both tried to walk away as normally and evenly paced as possible. She’d thank Amaya later, but right now she was just focused on getting as far away from the camp as possible, before pulling Callum into her arms and holding him in a tight embrace.

“I missed you,” he mumbled into her shoulder, and she smiled a little. 

“I missed you too,” she murmured, nestling into him. “This plan was dumb.”

His arms tightened around her waist. “Do you want to give it up?” he asked and she could tell he was trying, and failing only a little, to not sound hopeful.

Rayla pulled away slightly. “Maybe we just need to reframe how we’re thinking about it.” 

“Okay,” he said slowly. “How so?”

“I mean... we kind of missed most of the signs we liked each other the first time around, right? This could be an... opportunity to spot them, this time!”

His brow knit together. “So you want us to fall in love again, over the next two days?” he sounded dry.

Rayla rolled her eyes, already knowing what he was thinking. “Yes, that technically could have started three days ago, but—” She quieted and closed his eyes when he kissed her, melting into it until he pulled away and pressed his forehead to hers, a smirk gracing his lips.

“I wouldn’t even need 24 hours.” 

She grinned in spite of herself. “Sap,” she murmured fondly, before kissing him again. She reluctantly pulled away, her hands lingering in his. “We should actually come back with some firewood, though.”

“We can carry firewood with one hand,” Callum pointed out, still holding onto one of hers.

“So we’re starting this right away?”

“Well, we finally got some time alone. And anyone would figure that after spending some extra time out together, with a shared purpose… We’d bond a little.”

“‘A little.’” She laced her fingers through his. “I will hold your hand while we’re collecting firewood, but once we get back, we’ll let go. And I promise ,” she emphasized, “I will make it more than worth your while once we’re in our new house. Alone.”

A light blush coloured Callum’s cheeks, but he nodded, his voice a tad high and soft. “Yeah, I-I think—” He coughed. “I think I can do that.” 

Rayla rolled her eyes again and kissed his cheek. “Now come on, my prince.” 

As they gathered loose twigs and bark, she held onto his hand for as long as she could.

Amaya had known Callum his whole life, and with very rare exceptions, he was a flat out awful liar. It was only because he was generally so honest and good natured that people, like herself, weren’t suspicious more often, and that he’d left his days of mischief behind him earlier than Ezran had (which, whether her younger nephew had left them at all, was quite frankly up for debate). 

He and Rayla had only a few minutes once the elf, Kyrus, had fallen asleep to update her and Janai about the whole, absurd situation that first night around the fire, and she hadn’t been able to stop herself from laughing. For as long as she’d known them as a couple, they hadn’t been able to keep their hands to themselves, even as fairly innocent teenagers just finding every excuse to touch one another’s shoulders and hold each others’ hands. This plan was so, so dumb, and it would be so entertaining.

“And ‘Calypso’? Really?” Rayla had hissed and Janai, and Amaya tried not to snort again.

“It was the name of my first cat! I am not an immovable mountain,” Janai defended. “I can panic. Besides, the timing was more important. It at least explained why you were travelling with us. Callum was far more clever with his cover.”

“To make up for the fact he gave his real name,” Rayla muttered. 

“I was not under the impression you were marrying him just for his brains,” Amaya chimed in, and Callum shot her a look. She raised her hands and then resumed signing. “I did not say you don’t have them, just that you do not always use them to your full capacity. With love, nephew.” 

“Well now I thoroughly feel like I got the short end of the stick,” he had grumbled and Amaya supposed he had. A month out to his wedding and now he had to contend with a sort of sudden uncle-in-law and not being able to openly be with his fiancée. Rayla took his hand in silent support, and for a moment Amaya thought about not being able to hold her wife’s hand and how hard that would be. Largely thanks to her nephews in helping to end the war, not only had she and Janai had a chance to grow and become a couple, but they had never had to hide being one either.

“I guess I’ll have to act like I don’t know you that well, either,” Rayla had said to her two aunts with a slight frown. Amaya considered this. Why would “Calypso” know any of them? The most likely scenario was that she was a friend on her way to the same wedding, and they all decided to travel together, since Lux Aurea was on the way, probably at the suggestion of the couple. 

“This all feels like a lot more trouble than it’s worth,” Amaya signed to them with a slight frown.

“I know, but… I’m not ready for him to know he’s my uncle yet,” Rayla had said.

And although he clearly wasn’t happy with everything either, Callum sent her and Janai an even, centred look of Don’t push it, so Amaya didn’t. 

So instead, she spent the next couple of days watching them try to act like acquaintances, with Callum nearly slipping up nearly every five minutes, either by trying to reach for her before remembering, or getting just a little too close, or catching himself before a pet name slipped out. It was kind of a miracle that Kyrus didn’t notice anything, mostly because he couldn’t recognize how awkward and stiff Rayla was acting, too, trying to pretend the love of her life wasn’t standing right next to her or that they were only sharing “Calypso’s” shadowpaw out of “the goodness of her heart”. 

By the third day of this, she just felt bad for them. Enough to request that they get firewood together. The relief was far too visible on both their faces, but once again, Kyrus didn’t seem to notice. No, he was trying to show them some pendants he’d pulled out of one of his packs, all of them far too heavy and glitzy for her taste.

It looked like Callum and Rayla were going to be gone for a while, and Amaya couldn’t blame them. (When she thought about what they might be doing, she immediately had to shove that image out of her mind. Eugh.) Even without the pretense, Kyrus’ presence was… a lot.

“I think your translator likes the Dragonguard girl,” Kyrus said, and Amaya looked up. So he did notice? Well, barely, but still. She and Janai shared a look, and Amaya tried not to laugh.

“Oh, really?” she signed and Janai translated. “What makes you say that?”

“He looks at her often enough. You all served together during the last battle, yes?”

“Yeah,” Amaya replied, “but we hardly knew each other. He’s… been employed on and off,” she added, glancing at Janai for confirmation. 

Janai nodded, clearing her throat. “You know Moonshadow elves better than I. Is my wife’s poor translator about to get his heart broken, if that is the case?”

“It’s hard to tell right now. Moonshadow elves are usually fairly private about their feelings, and Calypso seems to be no exception. Wouldn’t it be poetic, though, if it was an elf-human wedding that brought them together?”

Amaya couldn’t look at Janai, or else they’d both burst out laughing. “Indeed,” Amaya signed, trying to keep her smile contained. “Although it is slightly hard to imagine.”

It really wasn’t. Even as kids, once Amaya had gotten over the initial shock—she had technically been trying to kill Rayla for “kidnapping” her nephews when they’d first met, after all—they’d always looked good together. But she was never going to have this kind of fun again, so she just nodded when Kyrus said, “Who knows? More impossible things have seemed to happen since the war ended.”

She heard them faintly, at first, giggling quietly between one another, and for a moment she wondered if they’d decided to drop the pretense after all. They both set their firewood down with a furtive, almost shy glance between themselves. 

“I think I’ll head in early,” Rayla announced, but she was looking at Callum with barely-concealed affection. “Talk to you tomorrow?”

“Yeah.” He couldn’t keep the edges of his smile from being soft. “See you tomorrow.” He watched as Rayla tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, her gaze lingering before she headed into her tent. 

Callum looked to Amaya and then bowed, which was still strange for a number of reasons, before he straightened up and signed. “May I turn in for the night too, Your Majesty?”

Amaya pursed her lips briefly, trying to keep herself from snickering. It was so weird to hear him call her that. “You’re excused,” she signed, with Janai translating. He bowed again in thanks before heading into his own tent, about six feet away from Rayla’s. Those poor, dumb spouses-to-be. What were they up to?

“Looks like we might have two weddings after all,” Kyrus said, and Amaya shared a quick grin with Janai. 

“Maybe,” was her one note reply. 

It was a good thing they’d be in the Silvergrove in the morning. And even better that they had all the time in the world for long winded explanations. 

Chapter Text

Rayla looked upon the concealed Silvergrove with an equal amount of relief and trepidation. No matter what weird family drama would be unearthed once Kyrus was inside, it wouldn’t be her problem to deal with anymore, since her mother would most likely kick him out on sight. 

“I have a Key,” Kyrus offered, but she and Callum were already in position for theirs.

“Um… Yeah,” Rayla said, glancing at Callum. “There’s probably something we should tell you.” 

“Oh?” Kyrus blinked, still smiling politely. 

Rayla sighed. “We have a Key, and… we’ll explain later.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize you were that close to the bride.”

The dance was her old one, for now, but she and Callum had done it enough times for it to practically be theirs, too, and Rayla gave Kyrus one last look before she stepped into it. “Uncle Kyrus, I am the bride.” 

It took him a moment till his eyes widened. “Wait, you’re both—”

They began the dance, Callum far more at ease with the movements than he had been years ago (even if he wasn’t that much more graceful, but it was another thing about him to love), soft light enveloping them as the Silvergrove was revealed. Amaya and Janai were enveloped too, as visitors, as was Sweetpea and the shadowpaw, and finally her uncle, still staring at them gobsmacked. 

“Close your mouth,” Janai advised as she brushed past him and started down the trunk, eyeing the Silvergrove with interest. She had never been there before. “Or you’ll catch moonbeam madness. I’ve heard it runs rampant here.” 

“No it—” Kyrus jogged a little to catch up to Rayla. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He glanced at Callum. “So he’s really—?”

“The prince? My fiancé? Yeah,” Rayla said, stiff. 

“But Rayla, I don’t understand—”

“Yeah, that was my thought when I saw you and you said you were coming,” she snapped. She took a deep breath. “We’re taking you to talk to Mum. You have some things to work out.”

Kyrus frowned as they approached Lain and Tiadrin’s house. “What did she say?”

“Enough.” Rayla knocked on the door. “I don’t know why you’re here—”

“To see my little niece get married! I don’t know why you didn’t tell me who you were—”

“Because you could have seen your ‘little niece’ when she was born, or when her parents disappeared and were ghosted, or any other time. But you come now, for whatever reason, and Mum says you never show up unless you want something, and I’m inclined to think she’s right, considering you didn’t come by when you must’ve heard she was miraculously alive again.” 

“Rayla, I didn’t—” The door swung open before Kyrus could answer.

“You made it!” Lain began, with a big smile, before he saw Kyrus, and it dropped completely. “What is he doing here?” he asked, his voice lower and quieter than Rayla had ever heard it.

“According to him, he’s here for the wedding,” Rayla said. Lain’s expression darkened.

“Could the rest of you please step inside?” he said, his tone clipped. Callum rushed in immediately, followed by his aunts. Rayla followed, glancing back when neither Lain nor Kyrus followed them in, but Lain stepped outside, shutting the door behind him before Rayla could see or hear anything.

She’d never seen her father look remotely angry before, until now. 

“Holy shit,” Callum whispered, and Rayla only nodded in agreement.

“I knew he wouldn’t be happy about it,” she said, “but…”

“We should wait in the living room,” Janai said. “Whatever they need to work out isn’t any of our business.”

“But where’s Mum?” Rayla asked. They all startled when they heard Lain’s voice rise suddenly, but it was too muffled for them to hear anything distinct. “On second thought, yeah, we can wait in the living room.” They all filled in, sitting down on the couch. 

“I’m so glad he’s almost never angry,” Callum whispered to her, and Rayla would have laughed if the circumstances hadn’t been so weird. “He’s scary.” 

“It’s a little like you when you’re mad,” she confessed. “You get angrier more often, but it’s still overall rare.” Callum’s ability to by and large keep his patience, or at least not push things too much, was one of her favourite things about him. 

“So long as him and Ez never duke it out,” Callum said, “I think we’ll survive.” 

“Oh gods,” Rayla groaned, leaning into him. “Imagine.” 

“Hard to, actually. They get along too well.” 

She smiled a little. “Yeah. Besides, he never raises his voice with family.”

“And Kyrus doesn’t count?”

Her smile fell. “He hasn’t been part of it for a long time, Callum.”

“I know, it’s just… I don’t want you and Tiadrin to miss out if he is trying to change. You said it yourself: he was more honest when he didn’t know who you were, and he didn’t seem that bad. A little flighty and full of himself, but—”

“Callum.” Rayla pursed her lips. “I know you’re just trying to help, but this isn’t something you can fix. I wouldn’t be surprised if my uncle ends up just like my grandparents, and that couldn’t be reconciled. So just leave it, please? For now at least? My mother doesn’t even know yet.” 

“Doesn’t know what?” Tiadrin’s footsteps weren’t as quiet as Runaan’s or Rayla’s, but quiet enough in the tail-end of conversation. Her hair was wet from bathing, and she was in a long, billowy tunic. “I can’t believe your father didn’t come in to tell me that you’d arrived already,” she smiled, with a wave to the queens. “Where is he, anyway? Did he get distracted catching up with one of the neighbours again?”

“Uh...” Rayla exchanged quick looks with her betrothed and both her aunts. Amaya held up her hands in a Watcha gonna do, kid? kind of way. Rayla sighed and got up from the couch. Nobody was going to bail her out, but she should be the one to tell her mother, anyway. “We kind of... ran into Uncle Kyrus on our way here?”

Tiadrin went very still, her jaw tight, even as colour rose to her face. “ What ?” She turned toward the short hallway leading to the entrance. “Is he—?” She strode down the hall suddenly, and Rayla and Callum immediately got onto their feet after her.

“Mum? What are you gonna do?”

“Did he come here with you?”

“Yes, but—”

“And he knows who you are?”

“Not at first, but we had use our Key, Mum, we couldn’t just—”

“For fuck’s sake,” she muttered under her breath, and she grabbed the doorknob and pulled the door wide open.

“—and if you think you can do the same to our children I swear on Garlaf’s right fist I’ll—!” Lain turned at the sound of the door opening, still a little red in the face. “Tia,” he said, more gently, but she held up her hand.

“Go back inside with the kids, love.”


“I don’t need you fighting my battles.” She fixed her frown on Kyrus. “I’ll take care of this.”

Lain frowned, but nodded. “Fine.” 

Rayla could tell he still wasn’t pleased, though, as her mother shut the door hard and her father put the kettle on for tea with perhaps more force than necessary, the metal plot clanging as he set it down. 

“So I take that it didn’t go well?” Amaya asked, with Janai translating. Lain let out a heavy sigh.

“Sorry I didn’t greet you properly,” he said. “I just… can’t believe he has the gall to show his face here now . Except, wait, I can.” He let out another huff, heading into the living room through the open entryway and sitting down. He glanced at Rayla. “What’d he say to you, when you found him?”

“Just that he looked forward to seeing me. Well, his niece. He didn’t know who I was, and… we didn’t tell him till we had to get through the barrier.”

Lain ran a hand through his hair. “I’m so sorry you kids have had to deal with him.”

“Well, actually, he was… okay? I mean, kind of self-involved and flighty, but he didn’t seem bad ,” Callum said. Lain shook his head.

“You didn’t see the look on her face when she realized he wasn’t coming to their parents’ funeral,” he said. 

“Mum’s?” Rayla asked softly, and he nodded.

“She was so… resigned. So quiet, and not in her usual way. I kept… hoping she’d be angry, but it never came. She just quietly accepted that her brother wasn’t there when she needed him most, and…” Lain’s jaw clenched.

“He said he saw me as a baby?” Rayla said, and Lain nodded slowly.

“Tia let him stay, and why wouldn’t she? He promised he would be around more. He acted like he wanted to help, be around for you.”

Rayla’s brow furrowed. “He never told me that. Neither did Mum.”

“Yeah, well, as soon as he had extra supplies from Ethari, for more of his merchandise, he was gone without so much as a goodbye. It had turned out he’d been nearly bankrupt and needed some place to stay. Wouldn’t have even minded letting him live in, if he hadn’t abandoned his sister again , first chance he got.” He smiled thinly. “And now he just so happens to want to come to his niece’s marriage into a prominent human kingdom.”

Rayla looked down at her hands in her lap. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

“I’m so sorry,” Lain said, his voice softer now. “He should be out of our hair soon.”

“So… There’s no chance that he’s here to make amends?” Callum asked. Rayla looked up. His face was unreadable.

“Very little,” Lain said. “I’d hoped for that once, too.”

The kettle on the stove began to whistle, and Callum got up silently. “I’ll get it,” he said, and Rayla looked back at her father.

“We knew Mum had issues with him, but we didn’t know…”

“You’ve both had enough… family issues,” Lain said. “Kyrus shouldn’t have been something you had to deal with, too.”

“If we’d known…” What would she have done, had she known more of the story? They couldn’t have left him there. “But he’s going to leave now, right?”

“That’s what I was aiming for. I didn’t think he’d show his face again after I kicked him out last time. Maybe it’ll stick this time.”

“Maybe. I hope Mum’s okay.”

“Me too.” Lain looked towards the door and sighed. “She’s tough, though, your Mum. Hard as nails and twice as sharp.” 

Rayla smiled a little. “I know.” 

Callum came back into the living room with a tray full of cups of tea for each of them, and settled back beside Rayla. “They’re still out there?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Lain’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know what they could be—” But then Tiadrin walked in, with Kyrus trailing behind her. Seeing them standing side by side made the family resemblance all the more prominent. 

Lain straightened. “What the hell is he—”

“Rayla, Callum, most of your things are moved into the new cottage, but we’re still waiting on some of it to arrive. You’re alright moving in a bit early?”

They glanced at one another. “Um, sure?” said Rayla. That had been the plan, mostly. Amaya and Janai could come along too, or explore the Silvergrove on their own.

“Good. We’ll help later. Kyrus will be staying in the guest room.”

Lain nearly spit out his tea. “ What?

“We’ll discuss it later,” she said pointedly. Still, her expression was cold as she turned to her brother. “Do you need to bring in anything else?”

Kyrus shifted on his feet. “I have a few more packs we left outside, but—”

“Fine. We’ll get it later, but your room’s just up here—” She left the living room and began up the stairs without warning, and Kyrus ran after her, seemingly eager to get out of the same room as Lain.

Lain shook his head. “What is she doing ?”

Rayla took his arm. “Come on, you can help us get some stuff unpacked and then ask her later?”

He sighed. “Alright.” They both got up, and he tried to smile. “It’s a little empty right now, but I think you’ll both like your new home.”

“Is it alright if we go explore the Silvergrove?” Amaya asked with Janai translating for Lain’s benefit.

Callum grinned. “Maybe go find Runaan and Ethari to show you around? I don’t know how the elves will react to Sunfire royalty.” 

Not badly, Rayla knew, but kings and queens were a far cry from the Silvergrove’s simple but succinct council system—nor did Moonshadow elves serve anyone , really, except for each other and the draconic royal family.

“Plus,” Rayla added, “you’ll need someone to show you the way to our home, anyway, once you’re done.”

Amaya and Janai would be their first guests, in one of the house’s three current bedrooms. And despite finding Runaan too surly, Rayla knew Amaya liked being around him too. She respected him as a warrior and because he didn’t know sign, it was incredibly easy to make fun of him. 

“Hmm. Okay,” Amaya replied. “Have fun, kids.”

“We will,” Callum said.

Rayla let out a soft snort before they headed out in different directions, with Rayla, Callum, and Lain heading out the front door, while Amaya and Janai went out the back. Their shadowpaw was still waiting for them outside, and they directed the mount to the new house carved out of one of the trees near the outskirts of the Silvergrove. It wasn’t too far from either of her parents’ houses, but still enough that they could have privacy and weren’t right in the heart of the village, either. Even if the main meadow would be breathtaking to behold, already in the process of being decorated and having the proper enchantments put in place for the wedding. She’d show Callum tomorrow, maybe. He would love it.

They opened the door—the key would be inside, and in a small community, no one was worried about petty theft—and stepped into the bare cottage, with only some boxes and a covered sofa inside. It was similar to Lain and Tiadrin’s, just bigger, with the promise of a growing family on the horizon, even if for now the second guest bedroom would probably go to whichever new student Callum took on next. They stepped through the different rooms like new chapters of a book, all still shiny and new, waiting to be worn and lived in. She almost laughed at the size of the kitchen; neither of them were amazing cooks, but they weren’t bad either. They’d just have to have her parents over as often as possible, and hopefully one of their future children would pick up the interest as they grew. Either that or they would finally have to put the recipes Ibis and Ethari had tried to teach them over the years to good use.

They went up two levels of stairs to the second story, looking out at a wide, empty landing space surrounded by a few bedroom doors. The one intended as the master bedroom was more obvious, tucked away against its own wall. 

“It’s beautiful,” Callum said. Rayla managed a small smile, grateful for a moment of domestic peace before they’d have to hear about everything else with Kyrus. “It already feels like home.”

Rayla leaned into his side, wrapping an arm around his waist. “Yeah. It really does.”

Then her father straggled up the stairs, his face blocked. “Where do you want these boxes?”

She smiled and drew back to look at Lain and then pointed down the hall towards the patch of wall in between the two guest rooms. “Over here, Dad.”

Amaya and Janai ended up taking the furthest guest room down the hall. They had eaten out for dinner at one of the Silvergrove’s few sort of diners, and Rayla and Callum broke in their new kitchen with Moonberry surprise and pasta. They had the house to themselves till very late that night, and by then they were already curled up in bed, and the only sounds in the night were the distant footsteps of their aunts going up the stairs and slipping into their guest room.

“Do you think they stayed away from the house on purpose?” Callum whispered. 

“Now why would they stay away from the house of two soon-to-be newlyweds?” she replied with a slight smirk, raising her head from where it rested on his chest.

Callum idly ran his fingers through her hair and tucked some behind her ears, their tips still a little flushed. “Can’t think of anything,” he played along. The soft cotton of one of his shirts that she’d pulled on was soothing against his skin. He smiled when she kissed him, her lips soft and still a little swollen, her hand running up his upper arm as she lingered.

“I’m so glad you’re with me,” she murmured. “No matter how crazy things get.”

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.” He smiled up at her when her hand cupped his cheek, her thumb stroking its curve. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” She leaned in to kiss him again and both of them were very, very glad that, in spite of everything, they had an oasis in each other, and that they no longer had to pretend to not be a couple. Rayla grinned against his mouth as she shifted to straddle his hips, and he tangled his fingers in her silver hair.

If neither of them got much sleep that night, no one could blame them.

Eventually, though—or really, the next day—they had to face dinner as a family. 

Callum was convinced by now that life happened not in a line, but in circles, as he thought back to just a few months ago, of a similarly awkward family breakfast at the Banthor Lodge, and before that, in the Silvergrove with Lain’s parents who were now the only people not invited. 

Now, though, he wasn’t the only one that felt awkward about it. In fact, he was probably the least uncomfortable person present, apart from Amaya and Janai. And the silence that came as a result was deafening. You knew a conversation was going to be hard when even Lain sat stonily through any attempts to create one. So could Callum really be blamed for having a shred of pity and to not want to sit in silence the whole time?

“How has the council been?” he asked Runaan; he would know, with Master Orym still as surrogate something to him. “With preparing for the wedding?”

Runaan stared at him, blinking like a deer in the headlights, before he said, “...They’ve been cooperative.”

“I mean, I’d hope so, we’re already here,” he said with a feeble laugh. No one else laughed. Runaan’s face had gone somewhat pale. “So, uh… do you… wanna elaborate?”

Runaan’s eyes shifted. “Um.” He looked to Ethari, who was blissfully having a spoonful of soup, and then back to Callum, like, You’re seriously coming to me for help with conversation? Callum stared back; he couldn’t back down now. Runaan cleared his throat and picked up his knife but didn’t do anything with it. “Master Taredd had concerns about security, with everyone else arriving, but Master Lilen reminded him it was her concern to think of.” 

“Nice to know Master Taredd hasn’t changed that much,” Callum said with a somewhat forced grin. He glanced at Rayla next to him; her expression seemed torn between amusement and irritation. “So Master Lilen’s got security covered?” he continued.

“It seems so.”

“Too bad she couldn’t keep you out,” Lain said to Kyrus over his cup of wine.

“Lain,” Tiadrin hissed. Kyrus shrank a little in his seat, but Tiadrin didn’t offer any apology. And why would she? She had nothing to apologize for, here.

“So Ez will be here in a week!” Callum said, his voice pitching up just a little. “Gonna be nice. We’ll have almost everyone back together! Soren will be with him, and—” Shit, mentioning Claudia right now was still kinda weird. Not nearly as bad, but still—

“I’m not that hungry anymore,” Tiadrin announced and Callum deflated.

“Should we put on tea?” Ethari asked, and Callum shot him a look. Now he wanted to speak?

“I think I’ll just head up and rest for a bit,” Tiadrin said, getting up. 

“Tia—” Lain began, but she shook her head. 

“I’ll see you all later,” she said, giving Lain’s shoulder a squeeze before she headed up stairs.

“I’ll help you put on tea, love,” said Runaan to Ethari, as the former assassin looked very relieved to have an excuse to leave the table. 

Callum stared at his half eaten bowl of soup and sent a miserable look Rayla’s way, and her lips pressed into a tight frown. And it was for his sake, rather than her uncle’s, that she asked Kyrus, “Would you like to help us clear the table?”

“Um.” He glanced at Lain, his in-law’s annoyance rolling off him in waves. “Yes,” Kyrus said, and he got up, but only took a few plates off the table. Most of the bowls were unfinished anyway. Including Callum’s. Great, now he would have to eat again later. Maybe he and Rayla could go get something at one of the little diners in a few hours? “I didn’t realize my arrival would make things so… awkward,” Kyrus said as they carried the plates over to the sink. A weak apology, but maybe one nonetheless?

“Did you even apologize to Mum?” Rayla’s voice was quiet, but not as cold.

“As soon as I could,” he said. “I don’t think it did much, though.”

“Well actions do speak louder than words.”

“That’s why I’m here now.”

“Is it?”

Kyrus sighed. “Look, I just got here. Give me two weeks, I’ll try to prove it. Really. If I don’t, and it’s still uncomfortable, I can leave. If that’s what you want.”

Rayla hesitated. “Why did Mum let you stay?”

“I… may have offered the same thing.”

She closed her eyes, letting out a slow breath from her nostrils. “Two weeks.” She set her dishes in the sink, then turned to Callum. “I’m going to go start on some more of the unpacking. I’ll see you when you’re ready?”

“Yeah. Um, do you want me to come with you right now?”

She smiled a little. “Have some tea with Ethari and Runaan first. It’s okay.” She pressed a kiss to his cheek before leaving.

Callum watched her as she left, deflating a bit. There was less effort to put in now, all things considered, but it still meant he was alone with her estranged uncle who none of his future fathers-in-law liked—or at least Lain didn’t. Even Callum hadn’t faced such dire odds when joining the family officially.

“I really didn’t know coming would cause so much trouble,” Kyrus said, and Callum turned back to him, trying for a smile.

“Well, we’ve got two weeks to turn that around, right? Come on, we can see if Ethari and Runaan need any help with the tea.”

Kyrus smiled a little. “Okay.”

They took their tea outside on one of the benches, the air still a little strange with Ethari and Runaan in the room left behind. They didn’t seem as tense as Lain and Tiadrin, but…

“I didn’t think, when I left, that I was leaving things on such a sour note,” Kyrus said. “I left a letter and everything.”

“But you didn’t say goodbye?” Callum asked patiently.

“I had arranged for an acquaintance to pick me up on short notice, and there was no time, and…” Kyrus sighed. “I was young. I didn’t think about those things, I suppose. Seems like a poor excuse, now.”

“Well, now you know. And you don’t plan on doing it again, right?”

“Of course not! I’ll have to leave again eventually, but my business is doing well, and I’m in no hurry.”

Callum smiled a little. “That’s good.” They were quiet for a moment, before he said, “You must’ve missed your sister a lot.”

“I did,” Kyrus nodded. “She was always the responsible one. Ambitious, and talented. Envied her just as much as I admired her, growing up.”

“I think she missed you too."

“Well… I don’t know. When I heard that they were gone, I… There wasn’t anything else left for me in the Silvergrove.”

Callum couldn’t help but frown. “But your niece—”

“I know, I… I never figured out how to act around children,” Kyrus admitted. “Tiadrin left Rayla with Ethari and Runaan for a reason, and would have even if I’d stayed long enough to be an option. Besides, I was only a little younger than you, at the time. I would have been a terrible caretaker.” He let out a soft chuckle. “No, Rayla was much better off with Ethari and Runaan.”

“That doesn’t mean she was better off without you at all,” Callum said. 

“She doesn’t seem to think that.”

“Well you haven’t been around long enough to learn how to read her.” 

Kyrus ran a finger over the handle of his tea mug. “I heard you two met when she was tryin’ to kill you and dear old dad in your castle? Is that true?”

The corner of his mouth twitched slightly. “Yeah. She thought I was my brother. Then the three of us found the egg, and knew what it could do, so we ran...” Callum shook his head. “Sometimes I can’t believe the three of us were crazy and courageous enough to go through with it.” 

“It certainly is quite a tale. Your brother is coming to the wedding, I’m assuming, if your aunts are already here?”

“Yeah. I think he’s still busy for a couple more weeks, but he was gonna try to come in as early as possible, too.” Callum smiled. “Our age difference is actually pretty close to yours and Tia’s.”

“Oh.” Kyus blinked, then looked up at him. “You call her Tia?”

“Oh. Yeah, um, it just slipped out one time and she let me, so…”

Kyrus smiled a little. “I think I was the first person to call her that. She always hated it, till Lain said it. And now you.”

“Why’d you start? Did you have trouble with her full name when you were little?” Callum guessed.

“That’s the story our parents told us,” Kyrus said. “I just know that I couldn’t remember not using that name.” He sobered a little. “I know she’s probably mentioned that I didn’t come to their funeral. I wish I could say why, but…”

Callum nodded slowly. “I know it was before Rayla was born, so… You guys must’ve been pretty young, huh?”

“I’d only been gone for a few years,” Kyrus confirmed.

“Yeah. I get it. I mean, it sucked that she had to deal with it alone, but I also get it.”

Kyrus looked at him, his eyes suddenly so similar to Tiadrin’s. There was a similar focus in them, as if looking for the answer to their question in someone else’s eyes before they could say it. “You do?”

“We had a small funeral for my stepdad, a few months after the war ended,” Callum said, looking at his nearly-empty mug. “Once everything settled down. I… I loved him a lot, and I knew my little brother needed someone, but… I didn’t really want to be there.” He set his mug down on the bench spot beside him. “So I get why, especially since you were so far away, you didn’t show up.”

“And that’s why you’re not against me being here?”

“I don’t like that Tiadrin had to go through that without the rest of her family. But I also know really well by now that sometimes we hurt people without meaning to. And our family has made it across way bigger rifts than this. Runaan and I are on like, actual good terms now.” 

Kyrus chuckled. “Yes, it was… strange, to see my sister and Runaan so close.”

“Oh, right, you mainly grew up with their rivalry.”

“Yes, and even if he and Tiadrin are good friends now, I don’t think he ever really took a liking to me.”

“But you were one of Ethari’s students?” Callum guessed again. It seemed like a logical conclusion. 

“I was,” Kyrus said, sitting up a little straighter. “One of his best students, too. It was before he and Runaan were officially courting, anyway. Or maybe I finished my studies near the start of it. No one really knows.”

“Yeah, that… seems like a common theme in Moonshadow courtship,” Callum said with a slight smile.

“Oh, not Tiadrin and Lain. They were obvious from the beginning.” Kyrus wrinkled his nose. “It was awkward, growing up with that. But I wasn’t surprised at all when I came back to find that they were married, with a baby.”

“Oh. That’s… kind of sweet,” Callum said. It made him wonder once again how Lain’s parents had been surprised or opposed to the union. “Rayla and I kinda fell in love by accident. Or not by accident, but it was certainly a surprise.”

“Even though I didn’t get to know her growing up, I can tell how much you care for each other,” Kyrus smiled. “Although everything makes a lot more sense than it did when I first met you. Here I was thinking you were just smitten with each other.”

Callum laughed. “I mean, we still kind of are, but—yeah, sorry, we… weren’t sure what to make of you yet. And I’m kind of a bad liar.”

“The day I think you’re both about to confess your feelings, you turn to me and say that you’re the ones having the wedding. You can imagine my shock.”

“Her idea,” Callum defended. “Not mine.”

“Well, I don’t blame you. I just hope I can make it up to them, somehow.”

“They’re giving you two weeks, which probably means they’re hoping for a sign that you want to be here for them.”

“You think so?”

“It’s worth a shot.” He thought for a moment, then said, “Rayla and I were gonna help with dinner another day. You could join us, if you want?”

Kyrus brightened, but it faded quickly. “Will Lain be there?”

“You’re gonna have to face him too, at some point,” Callum pointed out. “He’s just looking out for his wife. As soon as he knows that you really wanna set things right, he’ll probably ease up.”

“You think?”

“Have you ever known him to hold grudges?”

“Yes. With me.”

Callum winced. “Well, that’s just because he doesn’t know what you’re trying to do. He doesn’t hold them if he doesn’t have to.”

“You have a lot of faith in elves not being their usual stubborn selves,” Kyrus remarked.

“Because I’ve seen what they can do when they work through it. Don’t tell me you’re giving up already?”

“I’m not,” Kyrus said quickly. “I just... wish we were already past this stage and things were fine, again.”

“We don’t get to skip parts of our life,” said Callum grimly. “Especially not the hard parts.”

Kyrus nodded slowly. “I see.” He took his empty mug and stood up. “I think I’ll turn in,” he said, “but thank you for keeping me company out here. I… suppose I have a lot to think about.”

“Just don’t prove me wrong,” Callum requested, rising and leaving first.

It was a relief to walk back inside his home and find only Rayla. She had her hair up, a few loose strands falling around her face as she sat in front of an open box, seemingly already empty. She smiled when she saw him, a soft place for his heart to land.

“I got the rest of the books out, and I think we have most of our kitchen stuff unpacked? Still not sure why Ez gave us so many pans last year, but I guess now’s a better time than ever for both of us to get better at cooking.” She stood up, brushing off her pajama pants before she looked at him, tilting her head slightly. “Everything was okay when I left?”


“You sure? You look quiet.”

His lips quirked as she brushed his hair off his brow. “I look quiet?”

“You know what I mean. You okay?”

“I’m fine,” he reassured her, resting his hands over hers when they came to rest on his cheeks. “How are you doing with everything?”

“Um… It’s weird,” she confessed. “I just don’t know what to make of him.”

“Well… You granted him two weeks. Maybe there’s a part of you that’s hoping that his heart’s in the right place?”

“Maybe. I just thought we’d be done with my side of the family being a mess.” Rayla drew her hands away and Callum caught them, curling his fingers over hers. “I thought the dust had finally settled, but... I guess I’ve thought that a lot over the past few years.” With the first war, and then the coins, and then defeating Aaravos. Now this.

“Either that or you’ve been restless as hell,” he teased gently.

She shot him a look and then softened. “I’m just glad I’ve had you,” she murmured. “You’re my rock.” 

She’d been a mess when they’d found out about the coins, angry and crying in equal measure. Ready to rush off and somehow hunt down Claudia all by herself if she had to. Then she’d been worried about how to get them out of the coins, where to let them out, what their reactions would be, especially Runaan. The last time he’d seen her he’d been so angry. The residual guilt that had kept her awake and the nightmares from events, like Viren, that had been even more recent. It had, in some ways, been like that one day after her banishment from the Silvergrove in a cycle with a bit more openness, for a good while. 

Most people had a more celebratory year of engagement, but it had been the hardest months, and the way they could still bring joy and stand by one another, that had convinced each of them they were hardly rushing into things because of an elongated ‘young love’. They were young, but this sort of love was old and went down to their bones.

“And you’re mine,” he said softly. She buried her face in his shoulder, and he held her tight, running his fingers along the nape of her neck. “I’ve told you how much I like the ponytail, right?”

She smiled. “Yes. Many times.” She pulled away just enough to look at his face, her smile growing when his fingers lingered at her neck, gently stroking her skin. “We didn’t get much to eat. Do you wanna get something?”

“Maybe later,” he said, burying his face in her exposed neck. She bit back a giggle as he nosed against her skin, then his lips, and a quick look passed between them before they were rushing up the stairs to their room. 

They had a couple more hours until anyone else would be home.

(And maybe time for a pillow fight, too.)

Though Lain was generally the better cook between the two of them (in spite of how often he nearly burned down the cottage), Tiadrin found herself stress-cooking more often these days. Not even really cooking. Just chopping vegetables. She’d save them for actual cooking later on, but it was 3am, her estranged little brother was in the guest room, and she needed a knife in her hand and something not too destructive to do with it.

In the morning, they would be going flower picking outside the Silvergrove in the surrounding forests. It was a traditional role in a marriage like this, where someone was marrying into the community and family rather than just the latter. The ‘light side of the moon’ that hailed from the Silvergrove was supposed to do this as part of welcoming in ‘the dark side of the moon’ that would be then made known through the marriage ceremony and subsequent community dances. Tiadrin hardly minded; she would do anything for her future son-in-law, even if she hadn’t cared much for tradition. Except... Kyrus would be coming with them. 

He’d been more involved with the family (or had tried to be) in the past week than he’d been in the last several years. Maybe just by virtue of being around. He’d put up with Lain’s remarks, hadn’t wet his pants in staring down Runaan, and had happily shown his improved metalworking skills to Ethari. He had no problem with Callum or the Queens of Lux Aurea, which was more than Tiadrin could say for Lain’s parents, who still shot all of them dirty looks from afar whenever they happened to be in the market at the same time. 

She still wasn’t sure what was worse: being actively despised and possibly even hated, or being taken for granted altogether unless she had something of value. Nor was she sure about her brother. With a decent age gap between them, and one of her friends his teacher, she’d had a hand in raising Kyrus too. They’d had similar goals with completely opposite personalities, longing for something outside of the Silvergrove even if she’d wanted to find a purpose and he’d wanted to find a profit. Different ways of trying to prove their own worth to themselves, she supposed, now that she could look back.

“You’re still up?” Tiadrin stiffened at Kyrus’ voice.

“I should be asking you the same,” she said, not looking back. She continued chopping a carrot, and he let out a quiet snort.

“That sounds like something you would’ve said when we were still kids.” When she didn’t respond, he asked, “Why are you cooking so late?”

“I’m not. This is for tomorrow, or later this week.”

“But why do you need to do it when everyone else is asleep?”

Tiadrin’s jaw clenched as she set her knife down and turned to face him. “Because I can’t sleep, okay? What’s your excuse?”

Kyrus looked sheepish, for a moment still that scrawny boy she would bandage up every time he skinned his knees trying to run after her and her friends. “Just couldn’t sleep either. Do you still have that old type of tea Mum loved?”

She’d given it to them when they were kids and had trouble nodding off. Tiadrin smiled a little. “I may,” she conceded and went to the cupboard to get some. He could put the kettle on himself.

To his credit, he did, at the very least not so much the little boy that needed everything done for him. That was probably why he’d left in the first place. Why he couldn’t find it in him to stay, till now. 

“Do you always… prepare ingredients, when you can’t sleep?” he asked.

“When I feel like it.”

Kyrus smiled faintly. “You always hated cooking. Even the last time I was here.”

“Some things change,” she said. “Last time you were here, Rayla was three.” 

“She was so small,” Kyrus remembered. “Still insisted on trying to run around like her mum even though she’d only just gotten the hang of walking.”

Tiadrin couldn’t help but smile at the memory. She’d been even smaller than most other three year olds, her growth just a little behind most everyone else as a young child. An effect of being born so early, the physician had said. Sometimes it seemed like a hazy dream—the panic when she’d gone into labor months too early, the way she’d held onto Lain’s hand for dear life when she was ordered to push. How when she had come into the world, there had been silence, at first. The sleepless days following as they stayed under a physician’s close watch. Days before she could safely hold her daughter, just a little over three pounds. Even when she was a toddler, they’d watched her constantly, still so tiny in their eyes that they were scared she would break. Some of that fear had only just begun to alleviate when she was three years old, excelling in every way other than physical growth. The local healers had said it would take time for her to catch up to where she would have been if she had been born on time. It still stunned Tiadrin that something so tiny had grown up to be so strong, even at that age.

She swallowed hard. Rayla had understood what it meant to be “already dead” better than anyone, in some ways. Maybe that was part of why she was more alive than most, now.

“Yeah,” was all Tiadrin said. Kyrus had never known about the birth story, maybe never would. The most bitter part of her wondered if Kyrus would have come to her baby’s funeral if not their parents. “It would be good, you know,” she said, almost shortly and turning back to her vegetables. “If you visited Mum and Dad’s graves.” 

“Oh. Yeah.” He was quiet, and Tiadrin’s teeth clenched.

“I don’t understand you.”


She stopped chopping. “I get why you wanted to leave the Silvergrove, I really do. But why them ?” She turned to face him. “They would’ve given you anything you wanted. They always did. And then when they were gone, when I was—you were my brother and I needed you .”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Are you? Because I’ve been back for almost a year now and no letter? You did nothing . You weren’t even here when the Silvergrove Ghosted me.” 

Kyrus’ thin eyebrows rose. “Wait, they Ghosted you?”

“You didn’t—?” Her eyes were stinging now, and she looked away. “They thought Lain and I deserted. Not that it really mattered to us in the moment, we were imprisoned by dark magic, but all anyone else heard was that the Dragonguard abandoned their duties. And how would they have known that we stayed? We failed before anyone could learn the truth. I’m just glad the princes and Rayla brought the egg home and that the damage was relatively contained.” 

“I… really didn’t know,” he said. “I thought—”

“It doesn’t matter. Because no matter what, you wouldn’t show up, and… I still don’t know why you’re here now. I know what you say, but I don’t believe you.”

“I know.”

Tiadrin stared at him. “That’s it? ‘You know’?”

“When I got your letter, after Mum and Dad died,” Kyrus said, his voice soft, “I didn’t… All I could think about was how little I’d spoken to them in the past few years. How I kept thinking, ‘I can visit for Winter Solstice next year,’ except… there wouldn’t be a next year.”

“So you decided to cope with barely seeing your parents by not showing your face at their funeral?”

“We were young, and I was an idiot. Still am. I don’t—” He sniffled. “If I don’t visit their funerals, it’s like, it didn’t really happen, you know? Like I don’t… have to say goodbye yet.”

In spite of everything, especially herself, Tiadrin softened a little. He’d been young when he’d left home to work, still a teenager when their parents had died. “You’ve spent so long avoiding saying goodbye that you’ve missed out on the rest of your family for years, you know.”

“I know. And I want to do better. Selfishly, I thought that a happier occasion, like a wedding… now I see I’ve just made things painful and difficult instead of happy.” 

She sighed. “Staying away for so long in the first place is what made things difficult.” She paused, then turned back to her vegetables, pulling out another knife. “Help me chop this carrot.”


“You heard me.” She smiled when he joined her, his cutting slower and more clumsy, his carrot pieces uneven and a bit too big. “We can visit Mum and Dad’s graves after we pick the flowers tomorrow.” 

“Oh. Um. Alright.” He sawed through the thick end of the carrot.

“I know it won’t be easy,” she said, her tone gentle with him for the first time in years. It was one of the only ways she used to speak to him. “But I think it’ll be good for you. It’s… a start, anyway, a necessary one if you want to be more present. Do you understand?”

“I do.”


Kyrus was silent again for a moment before he ventured, “And we could put some flowers at Mum and Dad’s graves too?”

She nodded. “Yes, we can. I think they’d like that.”

He smiled. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

The wildflowers always smelled best in the morning, the faint sweet scent mixing with the crisp morning air and the dew that had gathered from last night. Rayla’s only trouble with these sorts of traditions was that she and Callum always wanted to do them together. She’d nearly folded early that morning when he’d asked with those big green eyes if she was sure he couldn’t even come along just to see.

“The point is that we welcome you in,” she’d said, holding steadfast even as her heart had melted. “I’ll take you back to those meadows and show you later, okay?”

It made her think of his earnest excitement when she’d taken him to the adoraburr meadow for the first time, and they’d laid down in the grass and she’d spent the afternoon picking the colourful little creatures out of his hair. She’d wanted to kiss him then. 

She did now, a quick peck before they separated for the day. He could spend his time with Lain or his aunts, as Runaan and Ethari were helping to take care of more ‘light side’ traditions. There were more responsibilities for the family welcoming someone into the community, to reaffirm their choice and the trust they were bestowing, than there was for the ‘dark side,’ but Callum’s part would come later once Ezran had arrived. 

“Okay,” Callum had pouted, then smiled, and then let her go. “Say hi to your mom for me.” 

She’d nearly forgotten to when she’d stopped by at her parents’ house and been reminded that Uncle Kyrus was coming along. 

Rayla wasn’t sure what was more strange; Kyrus being here at all, with her parents unwilling to even look at him, or Kyrus and her mum actually kind of getting along. It was all she could pay attention to this morning, and it was weird . She’d seen her mother with Runaan and Ethari, but they acted like older brothers to her; the way Callum and Ez acted in a way. It was strange to see her mother suddenly take on the older sibling role.

“If you don’t take the sweater now, you’re going to complain about being cold all the while,” Tiadrin said, and Uncle Kyrus seemed to fall into his baby brother role easily, taking the old grey jumper from his sister. Rayla wondered how long he had spent shorter and smaller than her, as he tugged the jumper on at his sister’s request.

“Um, Callum says hello, by the way,” Rayla said, once they were in the meadow. It was always sunnier outside of the Silvergrove, and maybe the years of travelling and visiting Lux Aurea had made her fond of bright sunlight in ways she hadn’t been in her youth. “He wanted to join, but…”

Tiadrin smiled. “We’re already breaking enough traditions,” she said. “Maybe we’ll bring everyone else here later on?”

“Definitely. I think Ez would like it too.” The Silvergrove was nice and safe, of course, but while the elves had grown used to Callum, they still tended to stare at the King of Katolis who could visit much less often.

Tiadrin smiled at the mention of Ezran, both of them stooping down to pick some fresh yellow flowers. “Lain will be happy to see him, that’s for sure. Every time he remembers, he won’t shut up about seeing Ezran again.”

Somehow, Lain and the boy king were like two peas in a pod, not that Rayla minded. It was beyond gratifying to see her family getting along, Ezran an easier hurdle to jump even before Callum and Runaan had reached the good terms they were on now. 

“Ezran? Callum’s brother?” Kyrus asked.

“Yeah, he prefers to ditch the title altogether here,” Tiadrin said. “I think you’ll get along.”

Kyrus blinked. “Oh. I don’t know if—I just—”

“He’s Callum’s brother,” Rayla found herself saying. “And the nicest person, who’s been one of my best friends for years. You’ll get along. He never holds grudges.”

“Oh. Right, of course.” He continued picking flowers, listening to his sister whenever she pointed out ones to pick or avoid (mainly trampled flowers, though Rayla figured Callum wouldn’t have minded either way). “The king,” Kyrus said, mostly to himself, with special emphasis on the ‘k.’

“What was that?” Tiadrin asked, glancing up. Her own little bouquet of flowers was looking full.

“Oh, nothing,” said Kyrus as he continued picking. Rayla’s eyes narrowed and she followed him when they wandered towards a cluster of flowers roughly out of earshot of her mother. 

“Yes, I’m marrying into royalty,” she said, almost hotly, but quiet all the same. “Is that of interest to you?”

Kyrus looked up at her, startled. “What? No, I just—monarchy has never been the Moonshadow way, really. Not within our own people.”

They served the draconic royal family, to a point, but they did not have the monarchies of the Sunfire elves nor the feudal hierarchies of the Earthblood lords. 

She bent down, reaching around a weed to pluck a particularly large flower. “I suppose Princess Rayla is fairly hard to imagine,” she muttered, as it was true. Nor did she care very much for the title, but she loved the boys who gave it to her.

“Oh, no, it’s not that, either. Just… strange, that a king is coming.”

“Again,” Tiadrin rejoined their conversation as she tied a long piece of grass around the stems to secure her bouquet, “you don’t have to consider him a king here. He said multiple times over the holidays to just think of it as him visiting family.”

“Yeah,” Rayla agreed. “So technically we don’t have to think about the princess stuff until I’m in Katolis, anyway, thank Garlaf.”

Kyrus’ brow furrowed. “But if Ezran is king, that makes Callum the crown prince? Able to sign laws and all that?”

“Within reason,” Rayla answered. “But—”

“I’m just saying, doesn’t that make your children, if you have them, the heirs to the throne for the foreseeable future?”

“U-um—” Rayla frowned. Technically, yes, but they hadn’t felt pressed to think about that, given the time they would take to themselves before having any children. No one else had tried to talk to them about it. Opeli a couple years ago as a hypothetical, but even that hadn’t felt so… specific.

“I don’t think they have to think about that right now,” Tiadrin said. “Besides, they’re not planning on having children just yet, and Ezran will in all likelihood be married by twenty himself.”

“Yes,” Rayla agreed, trying not to sound too relieved. Ezran wouldn’t wait very long to have an heir, either, having been a young king himself. He’d want to give his children as much time as possible. Her and Callum’s children would likely be the official heirs for only a few years at best.

“Oh. Interesting,” said Kyrus. Rayla wasn’t sure why there was still an uneasiness in her stomach, but she brushed it away as she tied up her own bouquet and they went back on their way to the house. “It’s been a while since we had someone from outside marry in, hasn’t it?”

“I think Ethari mentioned that there was a wedding a couple years ago, someone married from one of the other villages, but that’s it,” said Tiadrin. “There’s a lot we still have to catch up on.”

Rayla slipped her arm through her mother’s. “So do most of us. It’s fine,” she said, and Tiadrin smiled. “Although my fiancé might be the first human married into a Moonshadow village in a few thousand years.” 

“Oh, I’m sure. But that’s probably just another Tuesday to him at this point, primal mage and all.” 

“Maybe more of a Saturday? It's his favourite day of the week and does involve marrying me, after all.”

Tiadrin’s smile grew. “He does adore you,” she agreed. “First primal mage, first human to marry in, he brought us back from the coins. First person to have three Ghostings reversed. Anything else we should add to the list?”

Three Ghostings?” Kyrus repeated. “I know you—and Lain, I guess,” Kyrus considered, “but who else got Ghosted?”

Rayla went stiff even as she raised one hand, her other cradling her collection of flowers. “I did.” 

“What? Why ?”

She raised her brows. “Why do you think? I went on an assassination mission and ran off with one of my targets and fell in love with his brother.” 

“Well yeah, but that led to the Dragon Prince coming home, so—” Kyrus blinked. “How would anyone have known? I thought... the others didn’t make it and Runaan was imprisoned?”

Rayla stuck her tongue in her cheek. “I... we got discovered by a guard on our way to the castle and it was my job to kill him. I couldn’t do it. So Runaan took me off the mission and I went to the castle by myself, and that’s when I ran into Callum.” 

Kyrus pursed his lips. “Well I’m sorry, Rayla. That must’ve been awful.”

It wasn’t the most tactful, but she was willing to let it slide. “It was. But I can’t be too upset about it now, I went along with Mum and Dad’s Ghosting without question when we thought they’d run, and it’s only because of Callum that we found out the truth. He did a spell to see what happened when we were at the Spire.”

“Ah,” said Kyrus and he smiled. “Wanted to surprise you or something?”

“More like he was trying to keep me from throwing my life away,” she corrected, and then caught herself. She cleared her throat under her mother’s bewildered look; Tiadrin had never heard that tidbit before. “Anyway, we should probably get these flowers in water, right? And the whole family presents them once Ez is here?”

“Right,” Tiadrin said, and they walked back in a rather awkward silence through the flower fields to the Silvergrove. But before Rayla could step into her parents’ house, Tiadrin pulled her aside. “Rayla, what—”

“We can talk about it later,” she said quietly. 

Tiadrin frowned but nodded tightly. “Alright,” she said. “But we will talk about it.”

Rayla let out a tiny sigh, but knew she wasn’t about to avoid it. After everything, she’d been long done with running from hard conversations. Mostly, she worried about making her parents feel guilty about what she’d almost driven herself to do on ‘their behalf,” and they had enough guilt as is, for missing her childhood and the four years they were in the coins. Ethari knew, though—she hadn’t kept anything from him—but had he told Runaan, too? Did Runaan need to know?

Lain was waiting for them inside, sipping his morning tea. “Did you have a good time picking flowers?” he asked.

“Yes,” Rayla answered. “Did Callum stop by?”

“For a bit, but he left to show his aunts around the Grove some more.” 

Tiadrin kissed her husband on the cheek as Lain helped her pour some water into a couple of vases, taking the bundle of flowers from her brother and daughter and fitting them in. “And Runaan and Ethari?”

“Still working, but we’ve all been invited over there for lunch.” Lain frowned a little, his eyes lingering on Kyrus. “All of us.”

Kyrus grinned and waved him off. “Thanks, but I actually have a meeting with the Council. I have questions I need to ask.” 

“Oh?” Tiadrin looked up. “What for?”

“Um…” His smile grew timid. “I’m going to see if I can keep business a little closer to home, for the most part.”

“So you’re... staying?” she said slowly.

“For business?” Lain added, his frown deepening.

“I mean, I’m hoping it’ll allow me to stay closer to home.”

“Oh. Well,” Tiadrin smiled a little, even if it seemed stiff, “it’ll be nice to have most of us near the same area, then.”

“Should I go hide the flowers upstairs?” Rayla asked, touching one of the vases. “Then I can go track down Janai and Amaya and Callum and have them here for breakfast if they haven’t already eaten?”

At the very least, if they had, it would still be an excuse to get out of the house while this conversation took place. Callum would take pity on her and maybe take her out for dinner later.

Tiadrin blinked. “I forgot to prepare anything, but—”

“I can prepare something quick,” Lain said, pressing a kiss to Tiadrin’s head before he stood up.

“Great! I’ll go get them,” Rayla said, just a tad too cheery as she left her parents’ house and let out a sigh of relief on the winding porch. 

After the wedding, in-laws would be easy, she reminded herself.

The conversation after lunch, however, wasn’t. Tiadrin had spent most of the morning with Rayla’s words rolling around her head— to keep me from throwing my life away —but unable to press it, with Kyrus and the queens of Lux Aurea around. She glanced at Callum, more than once wanting to ask about it. She’d known he’d been by Rayla’s side through every stage of her Ghosting and in getting it reversed. She knew he’d done Dark Magic for her and had saved Rayla, and been saved by her daughter, on more than one occasion. But this sounded different, somehow. More difficult. Just what had driven him to do the memory spell in the first place? She’d assumed it had been due to his own curiosity, or Rayla’s request, or... 

Amaya and Janai left with friendly waves and smiles to go spend the afternoon around the same time Kyrus left for his meeting. Tiadrin saw Rayla and Callum speaking in low voices by the door as they said goodbye to everyone, a soft look of understanding on Callum’s face as he nodded in response to whatever Rayla was saying before he leaned down and kissed her forehead. Their hands lingered together as he left, before she let go and turned back to her parents.

Lain placed a teacup in her hands as she sat down on the couch and they sat in the armchairs across from her.

“I’m assuming you guys talked, too?” Rayla said quietly, avoiding their eyes.

“Your mother mentioned something,” Lain admitted. Tiadrin had only been able to say something short and quick along the lines of Rayla saying something alarming about her time at the Spire during the war and their ‘disappearances.’

“Something about Callum,” Tiadrin continued, “keeping you from throwing your life away?”

Rayla’s lips twitched. “Yeah.” She sighed. “Um, we had been at the Storm Spire for a few days. Zubeia was asleep and Viren’s army was approaching. We had to figure out what to do and Ibis recommended for us to run and hide with Zym for as long as we could. And Callum and I agreed on that. But being there, at the Spire, thinking what I did—about you, and that you had run, and I—” Rayla bowed her head and tugged on the ends of her hair. “I told Callum I couldn’t go with them. That I wanted to stay behind and protect the Dragon Queen, that I had to pay the price you—that I thought you should have.” She fiddled her fingers next. “Callum obviously disagreed.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Tiadrin started, her throat tight. The image of her little girl, five years younger and facing an army alone, staying behind to make up for mistakes that weren’t hers, over something that had also even been a misunderstanding in the first place... 

“I gave him the moon opal that Ethari gave me,” she managed to continue. “To say goodbye and we had a really awful fight. He said that I shouldn’t let my parents' mistakes drag me down. I thought it was like what he was doing, with his dad’s mistakes. But it wasn’t. He was making things better and breaking a cycle and I was just going to die in one—for a misunderstood principle . So after I ran off, Callum used the moon opal to cast the spell, to learn what happened instead. He just wanted to make sure that whatever choice I made, it was mine .” Rayla wiped at the corner of her eyes. “I think it might’ve been the worst fight we’ve ever had,” she said quietly. “And he was just trying to argue for my life... not for the first or last time.”

“Rayla.” Lain’s voice was tight as he reached for her hand across the table and squeezed it. “We are so sorry we left you with that… that choice.”

Rayla shook her head. “You didn’t mean to. All the wrong things we thought you did… I was the one who carried them with me and let it affect me the way that I did, until I broke out of it. That I didn’t have to pay the price and that I didn’t deserve to be Ghosted. After a lot of therapy.”

“Thank you for telling us,” Tiadrin said through the lump in her throat. “And even though we didn’t mean for any of it to happen, I wish that burden hadn’t been left on you at all.”

“I know. But I think we’re all healing, and... it was a while ago.” Rayla smiled a little. “Time makes things easier.”

Tiadrin pulled Rayla into a tight hug and Rayla melted into it. “We are endlessly proud of you. No matter what.”

Lain wrapped his arms around both of them, resting his head on top of Rayla’s. “And so happy for you and your family. That it gets to grow the way it has. We love you so much, Rayla. Always.”

Rayla squeezed both of them, burying her face between their shoulders. “I love you too,” she said thickly, her voice muffled.

They let her pull away first, all of them sniffling, before Lain wiped at his eyes and offered up a smile. “Come on,” he said. “We’ll walk you home.” Tiadrin was sure Rayla wanted to see Callum soon, too.

Rayla wiped at her face, and Tiadrin reached out, wiping the tears from her other cheek. “Okay,” she said, smiling back. “Thanks.”

The air was a little chilly when they walked out, the dusky blue-grey sky a little heavier as afternoon inched closer to evening. Callum and Rayla’s house wasn’t far and Rayla could see him in the kitchen window as they rounded the bend in the road and he opened the door as she went up the steps. She walked into his arms as soon as she reached the top, burying her face in his shoulder as he held her tight, like it was the most natural thing in the world for each of them. 

Callum wrapped his arms around her waist, craning a little to get a peek at her face. “Hey,” he murmured. “You okay?”

Rayla nodded. “Yeah,” she mumbled. She pressed her forehead to his and closed her eyes. “Thank you.”

Callum kissed her forehead again, letting go when she drew away and he nudged her into their home. “I’ll be right there,” he promised, finally glancing away for a moment and catching Tiadrin’s eye. “Okay?” 

Rayla glanced back at her parents, smiling a little as she looked back at Callum. “Okay.” She slipped into the house, and for a moment, Tiadrin just looked at her future son-in-law, warmth and melancholy and gratitude filling in her chest. 

“I’m sure she told you everything important,” Callum started, rubbing the back of his neck. “But it’s something that’s pretty hard for her to talk about in retrospect, so if you have any more questions you can ask me and—”

Tiadrin hugged him. Callum hugged her back readily, and she found him smiling at Lain, too, when she pulled back with her hands on his shoulders. “ Thank you ,” she said. “For taking care of our daughter when nobody else did.”

“I always will,” he said, his voice soft. “For as long as I live.”

“We know,” said Lain, moving forwards to hug him too. They held him for a little while, fresh tears burning at Tiadrin’s eyes. “We’ll let you get back to her.” 

Callum gave them another smile as he pulled away, before heading back inside after her, and for a moment Tiadrin stood there, her chest still tight.

Lain wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “You’re okay?” he checked. 

Tiadrin nodded, looking up at him. “You?”

“Yeah. Just… grateful.”

She smiled up at him. “I know what you mean.”

After all, where they could have lost family, they only gained more.

As she got older, Rayla still couldn’t quite get used to how tiring emotional conversations could be. Good and necessary, but still tiring. It reminded her a little of the first few weeks of therapy as she curled up with Callum on their couch, taking comfort in one another’s warmth and silence after each session. It had been in some of those sessions that she’d realized just how triggering, in some ways, that fight over her survival was in retrospect. To know she would have died at fifteen years old for somebody else’s choices, when it turned out that hadn’t even been the choice they’d made, had rocked her to her core in the aftermath, of just how harmful some of her mindset had been. Self sacrifice was one thing. Believing that was all she was worth, deep down, was another. And as such, talking about that argument was difficult, and she and Callum had only managed it to Ethari and Ezran and their respective therapists once apiece. 

Thankfully, they’d developed a bit of a routine after difficult conversations, which involved shared warm blankets, a soft couch or bed, and, every so often, something sweet to share. In this case, he’d gotten her favourite moonberry surprise on the way home, with a side of sweetflower ice cream. The dessert was nearly finished, only traces left in the bowl they shared on the tea table in front of them.

“I know you had to unpack a lot,” Callum said, stroking her hair as she rested her head on his shoulder. “But is there anything else you wanna talk about?”

“I don’t think so,” she said softly. “I’m just glad it didn’t hurt my parents too much.”

“They love you. I think just knowing that you trusted them with something that might be difficult for them to hear might have eased it a little.”

“Yeah.” She swallowed. “I think the past year of getting to see all of them, and talk to them about things we were all afraid to talk about before, it… I always knew they loved me. But back then, I wasn’t… I wasn’t always sure if it was really unconditional, sometimes. Or if that even really existed.”

“I think I understand that,” he said quietly.

“But getting to talk to them now, and actually confront all of those things we were scared to unpack, it… it’s been nice. Knowing that all that time, they truly did love me no matter what.” Rayla nuzzled into his shoulder. “I wish you got to have that too. With your Dad.” 

“Me too,” he said, smiling sadly. “I’ve been reading his letter a lot, lately. It’s not perfect, but it’s the closest thing we had, to something like that.” He rested his cheek against the side of her head. “It’s something , anyway. One of the few what if s that doesn’t hurt so much.”

“‘What if’?”

“What if we had been able to have that conversation. I guess I just wish that the letter had been to open that up, instead of… saying goodbye. But it also makes me think that we would have been able to talk about that, one day. That he would’ve said the things I kept wanting to hear. He already wrote some of them down, so…” His smile quivered. “It’s not perfect. But I think I’m at peace with it.”

“Still, I... I knew even when my other parents were gone that I’d have Ethari at my wedding, and he’d be a grandparent, and....”

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting it,” he admitted. “Just like I’ll never stop wishing my Mum could’ve met you because she would’ve adored you.” His thumb touched her cheek. “And they both would’ve been so happy for us.”

Rayla smiled softly, cupping his cheek in one hand. “They would be so proud of you. I know I am.”

Callum leaned into her touch. “And I’m proud of you. I know opening up still isn’t your favourite thing, but you’re so much better at it now.”

She beamed. “It gets easier,” she said. “Especially with you.”

“I’d hope so,” he grinned. “We’ve got a whole lifetime of opening up ahead of us.”

“Lots of Big Feelings Time,” she agreed, teasing. Her smile widened when he chuckled.

“And someday we get to pass it down to our kids?”

“Yeah.” She curled into him. “Kyrus was asking about that, actually. That our kids will be heirs to the throne until Ezran has his own.” 

Callum rested his cheek against her hair with a slight smile. “Can you imagine the heart attack Councilman Carlyle would have? First, he’s horrified I went through with the marriage, and now my half-elf kids are heirs to the throne.” Callum grinned. “You know, Ez would be willing to briefly fake his own funeral if we asked.” 

Rayla let out a snort. “I think we’d be planning Carlyle’s actual funeral before we could even go through with the fake planning,” she said. “He’s not coming here with Ez, is he?”

“Nah. Ez has enough of an entourage already, with Gren, Opeli, Barius, Corvus, Soren, and Claudia.”

“She is coming then?”

“Last I heard,” Callum said. “But we’ll have to see in a couple of days when Ez gets here.” He searched her face. “You’re still okay with it?”

“Yeah. Just...”


Rayla nodded. “She helped imprison him and it’s been almost a year since he got out of the coin, but it’s still not...”

“It’s not like they’ll have to interact much,” Callum said. “But I’m sure Ethari will be keeping an eye on him anyway.” 

“Yeah.” She sighed. “I guess some things have to stay complicated.”

“If that’s the only thing that’s still weird, I think we’re doing pretty okay.” 

“Fair.” She took his face in her hands and kissed him softly. “At least this is never complicated.” 

Callum melted into her, their lips lingering. “I love you.” He rested his forehead along hers, and she leaned into him.

“I love you too.” 

“Well that’s good,” he teased. “We’re getting married in three weeks, it would be a little late to back out now.”

Rayla laughed and shook her head at him. “Shut up,” she said and kissed him. He smiled against her mouth, holding her closer.

This was one thing she would always be sure of.

Ezran arrived by mid afternoon two days later, much to Callum’s delight. Instead of fanfare, his arrival was met with greetings from family and friends, new and old, immediately embraced by the newlyweds. He didn’t wear his crown, making it easier for Rayla to reach up and ruffle his hair like old times.

“Hey,” she chided, catching sight of the person over his shoulder. “You didn’t tell us you were bringing a plus one.”

Ellis beamed at her, her hair pulled back in two long braids at age sixteen. “The king has a lot going on,” she teased. “But I was already in Katolis and Phoe-Phoe will be bringing Lujanne later.” She smiled a little. “Plus, he didn’t technically ask me to be his plus one.”

“Ezran,” Callum said, mock-affronted. “Where are your manners?”

He blinked, his eyes wide as a slight flush bloomed across his face. “I—uh—”

Ellis and Rayla shared a laugh before the former swooped in to save him. “I asked him.” 

“It wasn’t gonna be a boys trip anyway,” Soren grumbled, crossing his arms as Corvus and Gren came up behind him, as did Opeli and Claudia. “Not like the good old times.” 

“You took Callum and Ezran on one camping trip,” Rayla said, frowning, before she stepped forward and they hugged. “It’s good to see you Soren.” 

This was the first time, after all, she and Callum were seeing most of them since the end of the second war. 

“Yeah, and I would ask you along if you and Callum weren’t so mushy .”

“So no chance after we’re married?” Callum said with a slight smile.

“Nope. Just me and Ezran and Corvus.”

Rayla bit back a smile; Ezran and Corvus glanced between one another with a slight grimace. Gren looked both mildly disappointed and quite relieved he’d been excluded, but he was the main ambassador for Lux Aurea-Katolis relations and travelled quite a bit as a result. “Whatever. Come on, I think Ethari and Lain have lunch ready.”

Callum made his way over to Ellis as the party was let in with Rayla’s key, the charm weakened slightly for something as big as the wedding. “How’s your moon magic coming along?” he asked in interest. Ellis was one of the first humans he’d helped connect to an arcanum almost two and a half years ago.

“Really good! Lujanne’s been such a good teacher. I’ve even been helping her make crazier illusions when I go visit—you should come by and see them at some point! Ava loves to chase them.” Ellis patted her wolf on the head. “Don’t you girl?”

“I, uh, think I’m good,” Callum said and Rayla caught his eye. The grubs and initial having his ‘beans freaked’ was more than enough the first time around. “But thank you.” 

“Organization so far has been manageable?” Opeli asked, her white robes lightly rustled in the wind. She would be one of their dual officiators as well. 

“It has. All of her parents have been really, really helpful.”

Opeli smiled a little. “Good. And everything for the ceremony in Katolis should be ready by next week. You’re sure you want to keep it small?”

They’d had the option of going the traditional route, with some huge ball and all sorts of delegates, but knowing the both of them… “Yeah, we’re sure. Duren’s the only country we have to maintain an alliance with anyway.”

“Aanya’s sorry she can’t be here for this one too,” Ezran relayed. “But she’s looking forward to the one in Katolis.” 

“She has her own kingdom to take care of,” Callum said. “I understand.” 

“She did have us bring her wedding present, though,” Ellis said. “A personal one, not the political one you’ll get later.”

“Oh, that’s so nice,” Callum said, his smile growing a little when Rayla slipped her hand into his.

“It’s been forever since we saw her,” said Rayla. Duren of course had gone to war against Aaravos and his mages in the Hesperides mountains like the rest of the elven peoples and the Pentarchy, but between survival and commanding armies, there hadn’t been much time to talk . “She’s doing well otherwise?”

“Oh, yeah,” Ellis said. “I think she said that her being a little busy is probably a good sign since summer is mostly focused on livestock. And it’s just been pretty quiet in Duren otherwise.”

“Good. She hardly ever gets a break.”

They approached the steps to Lain and Tiadrin’s house, the door already open before they even reached the top. Rayla wasn’t sure quite what happened after Lain rushed out to greet Ezran with a bear hug, only that the cacophony of greetings and warm welcomes continued on, somehow all pouring into her parents’ house, the noise and chaos seeming to rise when Tiadrin shut the door behind them. Something in Rayla’s heart melted when, as Ezran walked into the kitchen, she heard both Ethari and Runaan exclaim his name (before presumably hugging him).

Somehow, she found herself next to Claudia leaning against the kitchen table, a glass of diluted moonberry juice in each of her hands. She looked good, better than she had during the siege of Aaravos’ fortress, where she’d had Rayla and Callum’s backs more than once. More of her hair was dyed black, her eyes solid and clear, with new golden earrings.

“It is always this loud,” Rayla confirmed, smirking. Claudia blinked owlishly, before her mouth lifted in a slight smile.

“I guess I’ll have to get used to it?” There was something earnest and hopeful in her voice. 


Claudia took a sip of her drink, as Callum regaled Soren, Runaan, and Ezran alike with some kind of story, a wide grin on his face. His engagement ring glistened as he gestured with his hands. “I’ve never seen Callum this happy.” 

It struck Rayla suddenly that together, she and Claudia held the entirety of Callum’s life. Claudia would join Soren as a keeper of his childhood, while Rayla had held his adolescence and would now hold the rest. That despite the fact Claudia had not seen Callum very happy the past few years for obvious reasons, that didn’t discount her statement now.

Rayla’s smirk grew gentler into a smile. “Yes well, he deserves it.”

“He deserves you.” Rayla looked at her mildly in surprise, and Claudia swallowed, although no one was paying them any mind. “I mean it. You’re good for him. You make him really happy.”

“Thank you,” Rayla said, still a little stunned. “He makes me really happy, too.”

It was so surprisingly easy that for a moment, Rayla didn’t think about the fraught history between Claudia and some of them before she caught Runaan’s long hair out of the corner of her eye, on the other side of the table. She glanced over for a moment, hoping he’d be willing to talk through it if he needed. (He usually was these days, and making strides in therapy, but everything took time, after all.)

Instead, she found him smiling fondly as he looked at Ezran, who was laughing with Lain and Ethari. Something in her chest warmed.

Maybe she didn’t have to hold onto the past either, all things considered. Not when the future was so bright.

It was a relatively simple ceremony, compared to other Moonshadow traditions. They all stood near the edge of the village near dusk the next day, just as the moon was beginning to shine through the clouds. 

Callum stood on one side, facing the inner curve of the village with Ezran, Amaya, and Janai standing behind him in that order, while Rayla stood across from him, her back to the village with her four parents and Kyrus standing behind her. They all had flowers in their hands, the yellow petals glowing silvery white as Rayla glanced down at her flowers and then handed it over to her beloved.

“The House of the Moon welcomes you to a new phase,” she murmured, beaming, “and a new home and community. May your roots be planted and your family flourish as it intertwines with mine.” 

He took the bouquet from her, warmth running up his finger as it brushed hers, the way he suspected it always would, and they stepped aside as her parents and uncle gave their bouquets to each member of his family, doubling up with Ezran and Amaya. 

“My house accepts your welcome,” Callum recited, warmth brimming in his chest, “with equal gratitude, commitment, and love.” The ceremony officially over, in terms of words at least, Callum took her hand and kissed the back of it. “Now, let’s go plant these in our garden.” 

Rayla’s fingers slipped through his as they kept them joined, everyone walking back towards their house together. It was the quietest Callum could ever remember the group being, but with no solemnity this time; only anticipation for what was to come.

Some of the weight of ceremony fell off once they were all in the dirt in the back of their home, planting the stems of the flowers, where they would take root, grow, and eventually multiply. He had gardened a little and grown more used to being around plants when mastering the Earth arcanum, and between the ten of them, the flowers were planted relatively quickly before night had fully fallen. 

They went back inside for some tea, and were back to their normal chatter as they settled in the dining room. 

Callum put the kettle on while Rayla arranged biscuits on a tray, voices floating in from the other room. “Claudia spoke to me earlier,” she revealed. 

He paused for a moment, turning away from the kettle as the stove started to heat up. “Oh?”

“Nothing bad,” Rayla smiled, taking his hand. “She seemed… genuinely happy for us. For you.” She squeezed his hand. “She said she’d never seen you this happy.”

Callum smiled faintly. “I mean, that’s not exactly hard. We sorta figured out a couple years ago that my childhood wasn’t exactly happy . Besides, I’m always happy with you.”

“It’s just... it’s not hard with her anymore, which is also kind of strange, but it’s still... weird.” 

Callum’s thumb brushed the corner of hers. “Is there any reason why?”

“I don’t know. I think the biggest thing is just everything with Runaan.”

“Yeah.” Callum looked away. “Sometimes I think about how if Runaan wasn’t here, my dad might be. Which is... I love them both. You know I do.” 

“I know.” Rayla wrapped her arm around his shoulders. “And you also deserve to have your dad here. It’s just…”

“Yeah.” He rested his cheek against her head. “But I also think it’s... better to feel this way. If I didn’t care, and didn’t miss my parents, that wouldn’t be right, and I wouldn’t be me. And I don’t feel guilt for being happy, either, even if that means I’m happy without them. I know that’s what they would want.”

Rayla turned and pressed a comforting kiss to the corner of his jaw, her hand resting on the far side of his face. “Do you want a bit of a break from having company over?” 

“I think I’m okay,” he said. “As much baggage as it sometimes has, I like the family we’ve made, and I like being around them. And I’m glad that we can all be together like this now. We won’t always get this time with them, y’know?”

“Okay.” She smiled when he kissed her forehead. 

“And you’re doing okay with everything? Kyrus and Claudia?”

“Claudia’s been… okay, other than what I already told you,” she said. “And… I think I’m getting used to Kyrus. I don’t know. At least Mum seems happy.”

“Tia does seem to be happy,” he agreed. “Guess she’s gotta balance out your dad as the cheerful one for once.” 

Rayla laughed softly. “I think they’ll both be the cheerful one now that Ez is here. He has a way of smoothing things over.”

“Certainly helped keep us from killing each other long enough to fall in love,” Callum chuckled, pulling her closer. “Literally, on your part.” 

“Shush,” Rayla smiled and then kissed him. She kept one hand on his cheek as she drew away, still smiling. “But yes, we do owe Ezran quite a lot. Any idea on how to pay him back? I guess we could not tease him about Ellis as much?”

“But it’s so fun.” 

Rayla let out a quiet snort. The kettle whistled and she took it off, pouring the water into a collection of mugs. “Come on, we still have company.” Callum wrapped his arms around her from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder.

“I’m just saying, it’s only fair after all the teasing we got growing up. And he still gets to be best man and officiate part of our wedding.” Opeli had clout as a political official, but Ezran had weight in the Silvergrove community as his immediate next of kin (and through blood, no less). 

“You know, it probably helped nudge Ellis towards asking him to be her wedding date, so I’ll take it.” She turned towards him, wrinkling her nose. “Now let me go before I spill hot water on you.”

“Fine,” Callum sighed, pressing a quick kiss to her cheek before letting go, and picking up the second tray of cookies before following her in. 

“You’ll have to send Barius your recipe,” said Amaya before she grabbed one of the cookies and took a bite.

“We’ll have to trade some recipes with him,” said Rayla. She was adamant, maybe even more so than Callum in some ways, that at least a few pieces of castle life would stay with them in the Silvergrove. Callum brightened.

“Yeah. And we can finally bring Moonberry Surprise to Katolis?”

“If Ethari’s willing to give up his recipe,” Rayla grinned, shooting her father a look. “Isn’t that right?”

“I may be convinced to part with it,” he admitted. “After the wedding. I don’t want anyone else stealing my spot as your wedding’s cook.” 

“How generous of you,” she said dryly, even as she smiled.

It was generous, however, for Ethari to eventually herd everyone out the door and out of conversation. Goodbyes weren’t long when you knew you were likely going to see everyone the next day but Rayla was still looking forward to having the house to herself. Moments of peace and calm would be on the rarer side until the wedding was over. She was just glad that things hadn’t been complicated by having Kyrus around. 

Ethari himself left soon after, taking a surprise batch of cookies from the oven before heading back home, just a few feet away, and it was an extra treat for Rayla and Callum to share while they curled up on the couch to recharge.

“The flowers will look nice in the garden,” Callum noted. Rayla could tell he was already planning on drawing them. The flowers, if they took properly too, would hopefully be part of the wedding bouquet—a more human tradition than an elven one, but the flowers were pretty and it sounded nice, so Rayla was more than happy to carry one. 

“They will. Hopefully we can keep them long enough so that they’ll keep blooming every spring. Maybe our kids could see them, someday.”

Callum smiled. “Yeah. We can at least try to save some seeds from the original patch of flowers, if we have to.” He stroked her hair, lingering at the ends. “We’ll have a lot of stories to tell our future kids.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“You know. How we met. How we fell in love. How we brought Zym back to his mom, how we got your parents out of the coins—”

“Hmm, we’ll have to save the last one for when they’re older, probably,” Rayla said. “And maybe the details of how we met, too.” Her smile was teasing and then it faltered. “We don’t want them to be scared of Grandpa Runaan.” 

Understanding spread over Callum’s features and he exhaled. “Gods, yeah.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “We’ll cross the bridge when we get there, though.”

“And in the meantime?” she smiled.

He pressed a kiss to the side of her head. “We’ll build our life together.”

She took his hand and slid her fingers in between his, brushing his engagement ring. “Yes, we will.”

When they got home, Lain was quiet. This wasn’t common to begin with, and Tiadrin could tell by the furrow of his brow that this wasn’t his usual type of quiet: calm and reflective and content. He was thinking about something perhaps not hard, but upsetting, judging by the way his mouth frowned slightly.

He only had to catch her questioning eye before he sighed, and said, “We let Kyrus join us for the flower ceremony.”

“Yes,” Tiadrin answered, already having an inkling of where this is going. “We did, per tradition.”

“That means he’s family.”

“Well he’s always been family to me.”

Lain frowned. “You know what I mean, Tia.”

She sighed too and then took his hand, guiding them down to the couch. “I do. Look, Lain, I know you’re having a hard time with Kyrus. It hasn’t been easy for me either.”

“I just don’t want to see him hurt you again,” Lain murmured, his free hand coming up to brush his thumb gently over her markings. “How do we know he’s changed?”

“We don’t,” she said, her heart heavy. “I don’t. Maybe he’ll mess up again or maybe he’ll never change. Maybe he will but he’ll never know the true extent of how he hurt me. And I know from your own bravery and our daughter’s that blood isn’t what makes a family, trust me. But if I can have hope and patience for Kyrus changing... then I want to have it. And if it ends poorly, I’ll be okay this time, because this time...” Tiadrin leaned into her husband’s touch. “I built my world around you, instead.” 

Lain’s expression softened. “Even so,” he said gently, “you deserve family that will remain steadfast.”

“I already have it.” She turned her head, pressing a kiss to the light callous of his palm. 

Lain pressed a kiss to her forehead. He drew away and shook his head ruefully. “Can you believe I’m the one cautioning you against hope for once?” he said.

Tiadrin smiled. “It’s hope, yes,” she said. “But I don’t think you have to worry. I’m not holding onto hope that Kyrus can change because he deserves it. I’m holding onto hope that he can change because I deserve it.”

He looked at her with wide eyes, a slow smile spreading across his face. “Yes, you do. And... I hope you can have it. I really do.”

“Thank you,” she said. “So try, a little harder? Please? Just to be civil. I’ll be okay. I promise.”

Lain let out a long sigh, but he nodded. “Okay. For you.”

She pressed a soft, grateful kiss to his mouth. “Now, can we get to sleep? I got up early today, and we’re not as young as he used to be.” 

He laughed softly, taking her hands. “You don’t have to remind me,” he said, helping her off the couch. He seemed a little lighter when they went to bed, still as quiet as before, but there was no more furrow in his brow as they settled in, facing each other. His hand found her cheek again, his thumb brushing her markings. “I love you, Tia.” 

She closed her eyes, warmth blooming in her chest as she smiled. “I love you too, Lain.”

Soren clocked out first, heading upstairs with a yawn and a hair flip and something about how once you reached age twenty-four it was all downhill for your sleep schedule from there. Barius hadn’t even stayed to chat. Claudia followed, promising she’d make hot brown morning potion for everyone in the morning. The castle crew, as it had been called, had been given one of the empty homes in the Silvergrove that was used in the rare times in the past that diplomats or travellers or people who had no one to stay with passed through. 

Now only Corvus and Opeli were left on the couches, Ellis and Ezran sprawled near Ava on the floor rug by the fire, an absentminded game of cards spread out over the wood.

“I might head up too,” Ellis yawned, draping her arms over Ava. The wolf dutifully rose from the floor, carrying her up too as Ellis laid down on Ava’s back and Ezran sat up. She leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Goodnight,” she called, and Ava headed for the stairs. 

Ezran was frozen for a little bit, before he called back, “Goodnight!” when Ellis and Ava were already halfway up. When he looked back down, Corvus was smirking at him, and his cheeks turned red. “Shouldn’t you be going to bed too?” he demanded. “You’re way older than twenty-four!”

“Twenty-six for me looks different than twenty-four for Soren,” Corvus said, getting up with a long sigh, “but if my young king insists…” He went and ruffled Ezran’s hair before moving to the stairs. “Get some sleep, kid.” 

Ezran softened. “In a bit,” he promised. He should pack up the cards first at the very least. He was in the middle of collecting them when there was a knock at the door and Opeli rose to get it. He heard a voice he thought he recognized—Master Lilen, crotchety but nice in her own way—and the only one he really knew, since she was in charge of Community and that included visitors. She’d helped provide this house for them.

“—please refrain from having your mail sent like this in the future,” Lilen grouched and then shut the door.

Ezran sat up, the cards back in their deck as Opeli walked back. There was a thick envelope in her hands and a crease in her brow as she scanned the address. “What is it?” he asked.

She looked especially tired—like, politically tired, not just regular tired—as she held it out to him and Ez took it. “You’ll want to see this, Your Majesty,” she said. “It’s from the palace. It seems that Councilman Carlyle has a few final words to say concerning your brother’s wedding.”

Chapter Text

Morning dawned bright and early in the Silvergrove as Callum woke up with a yawn to see Rayla still sleeping beside him, her silvery hair splayed over her pillow. His back didn’t ache too much from old war wounds as he leaned over and pressed a kiss to her cheek before slipping out of bed and into their shower. The water was cool on his skin and woke him just a little more, his hair still wet when he came out in a comfortable tunic and trousers, ready to start a quiet day with some tea and toast with strawberry jam Ezran had brought from Katolis. It made him think of breakfasts at the castle as a boy, back when his mother had been alive. He’d been there at his mother and stepfather’s wedding of course, too, and back when he was young and at least a little foolish, he’d assumed Harrow at least would be there for a wedding of his own (maybe even to Claudia).

Gods, things changed. In a lot of ways, for the better. In other ways…

He swallowed hard, thinking not for the first time about how happy his mom and Harrow would have been. How proud they would be. How much they would’ve loved Rayla.

“Hey.” Rayla’s arms wrapped around him from behind, her hands settling on his chest. He placed one hand over hers, stroking her knuckles with his thumb.

“Hey.” He turned slightly to face her. “You wanna hop in the shower while I start on breakfast?”

“Are you saying I smell?” she asked, a smirk lifting the corner of her mouth. He chuckled softly, something in his chest lightening just a little.

“I’m saying that you’ll probably feel better if you get a shower in before we start the day. Toast sounds good?” he checked, and her smile softened.

“And eggs, with the yolk still runny,” she said, mock-serious.

“Eggs it is.” He grinned when she leaned up to kiss his cheek in thanks before heading into the bathroom, and something in his heart constricted again. His parents never got to have breakfast with her.

He took a breath, thankfully steady in spite of the slight lump in his throat, and headed downstairs to the kitchen. He needed to stay in the present—he was getting married to the love of his life in eleven days—not dwell on what never was and never could be. 

Besides, they were happy. He was happy. They’d built a family together from formerly fractured pieces of their lives and made something beautiful. The people they were surrounded by were happy for them. All of them. Rayla’s four parents, Ethari’s parents, Callum’s aunts and brother and Soren, Ezran’s immediate council, Ellis and Lujanne and Ava, even the Silvergrove council, some more begrudgingly and others... Whatever Kyrus would be to them, given time.

There was nothing negative to dwell on and Rayla deserved someone present, not stuck in his own head.

He made a mental note to bring it up in the next therapy session, after the wedding. Good things were always just a little bittersweet, remembering who wouldn’t be able to come. It’d be fine. 

By the time he was done making breakfast, and Rayla came down to help him with tea, his chest already felt a little lighter.

“He’s got some nerve,” Opeli fumed, the letter lying on the table with their own little council and Claudia collected on the couches. Soren was also munching on an apple while Corvus partially paced nearby in front of the empty fireplace.

Ezran didn’t have much to say. Councilman Carlyle resigning in a last ditch effort to delay the wedding? The young king could cut his losses. Councilman Carlyle and a few others (Ezran highly doubted the ten people the politician had claimed was accurate) marching to the Silvergrove to give what remained of the royal family a piece of his mind? That was a much bigger thing. And with so many people travelling to the Silvergrove over the past month, the illusionist barrier had largely been taken down—much to Master Taredd’s immense displeasure, or so Callum had written. As far as any of them knew, it was most likely temporary, but it would definitely be down during the wedding. Perfect time for Carlyle’s little “protest,” whatever that would entail. 

Ezran doubted it would result in anything very serious, but it would be embarrassing, and demoralizing. They were already on such thin ice with most of the Silvergrove as it was, the “acceptance” still conditional under Callum’s act of protection, back when Claudia had attacked, and even that was still wavering while Claudia was even present. A few members of the village weren’t even planning to show up to the ceremony, Rayla’s grandparents included (“They weren’t invited,” Callum had said with a bit of a scowl), but to have a sort of community event without the whole community present hadn’t happened since Lain and Tiadrin’s wedding.

He absentmindedly pet Bait’s cool head, a calming action during times of stress. He wished Ellis was here, but this wasn’t really her business and she’d never been in Xadia before, and Aunt Amaya and Aunt Janai had offered to show her and Ava around the parts of the village they’d grown to know. Both of them seemed to like her more eccentric side too. “Does anyone think it’s worth warning the Silvergrove Council?”

“If the Council would even wanna listen to us,” Soren muttered. “Master Poophead—”

“Master Taredd,” Opeli corrected but she didn’t seem opposed.

“That’s what I said,” Soren replied, unfazed. “Anyway, he always looks at me like I’m something dirty on the bottom of his boot.”

“I mean, only half of them are really okay with so many humans being here at all,” Ezran considered aloud. “Maybe it would just make it worse to mention this? Especially since Carlyle probably can’t do much . At most he’ll stomp in and make a fuss to us, but it’s not like anyone is going to listen to him, much less Callum and Rayla.” 

“Though the presence of more humans, especially totally unwelcome ones, might not help the already precarious situation,” Corvus pointed out. He continued pacing, a slight furrow in his brow.

“I still think we should tell Callum and Rayla,” said Soren. 

“I think Soren is right,” Claudia chimed in, a cup of hot brown morning potion in her hands. She seemed a little uncertain at speaking, but carried on anyway. “I know we don’t wanna stress them out, but it is kinda their final say anyway. Aren’t they the people who would know how to handle this best? They’ve spent more time in the Silvergrove than any of us.”

“I just don’t wanna accidentally put them in a weird spot with the Silvergrove Council,” Ezran said.

Soren raised his hand. “To be fair, I think Callum lives in that weird spot.” 

“Soren has a point,” Corvus admitted dryly.

Ezran sighed, glancing down at Bait. He was curled up in Ezran’s lap, his eyes almost fully closed, decidedly out of this discussion. Not that he would be much help anyway, since all his advice regarding Carlyle tended to involve leaving him to swim with the tadpoles. “I’ll take some time to think about it,” Ezran said finally, even if it was his least favourite answer to give. “I’ll probably have a decision by this evening. I just also don’t wanna spring this on them if they’re overwhelmed.”

“It’s their wedding. They’re kind of always overwhelmed these days,” Soren said, and Ezran tried not to let out a huff.

“You know what I mean.”

“I think it’s a wise move forward,” said Opeli and Ezran shot her a grateful look. “Especially since we are going over to their place for a big family dinner, are we not?”

Ezran grimaced. “Do we wanna tell them with the entire family there?”

“Actually, we probably could,” Soren said. “They’re probably gonna wanna do something.”

“But then we’re putting even more people in… that weird place,” Ezran said.

Soren took another bite of his apple. “Isn’t that what family’s about?”

Ezran smiled faintly. “It is,” he agreed. “Alright. I’ll… figure out a way to break it to them at dinner, and Runaan will probably know what to do about the Council.”

Soren grinned. “That’s the spirit, little king. After all, what’s dinner without a show?”

The wildflowers quickly grew roots in the back of the house, the edges of the petals tinged a soft pink as they made their new home. Still, their roots weren’t deep yet, and were watered every morning and evening to encourage their growth. Ethari was also in the garden often, pulling out any weeds that would spring up and keeping the soil nourished. The symbolism went so far back that everyone had a different interpretation by now, but Ethari liked to think that the group effort of maintaining the garden reflected on their own family. A little tumbled-about and not quite rooted, but resilient, and in time, strong beneath the surface. Besides, he just liked gardening, and the little vegetable garden he and Runaan had back in their own house was only just beginning to sprout again. This garden would take more maintenance leading up to the wedding, as Ethari sat in his own.

The former dark mage also seemed to like gardening. Ezran had explained it once that it was therapeutic for her, working with her hands to create and give rather than take life. It was also why she’d started to study medicine, in addition to needing to brew her own remedies to heal from the toll Dark Magic had taken on her body over the years.

So when Ezran brought Soren and Claudia and a young girl named Ellis along to Ethari and Runaan’s dwelling for the afternoon, before they would all head over to Callum and Rayla’s for dinner, Ethari couldn’t begrudge him. Ezran never did anything with malicious intent after all. If Callum had borne Runaan’s presence despite the harm the former assassin had caused, Ethari could bear Claudia’s, who had in large part only been an accomplice rather than the perpetrator herself, even if it was temporary before he remembered his own garden hadn’t been watered.

It seemed that the house was too uncomfortable for Claudia, in sharing a space with Runaan with so few buffers, that the girl wandered out to the front of their house and spotted him amid the moonlace flowers, her eyes wide with wonder.

Ethari bit back his distaste and set down his small shovel as he had been nudging around new weeds as well. “These do not grow in Katolis, do they?”

“No,” said Claudia, rubbing her wrist. The wonder hadn’t left her eyes. Her hair was dyed black now. “They’re beautiful.”

Ethari gestured to one of the flower beds. “You can take a closer look if you’d like.”

Claudia hesitated, before drawing closer, crouching down to get a closer look at the flowers. “They start out white?” she asked, her eyes still tracing the curving patterns within the petals.

“Before they’re planted with intention,” Ethari nodded. “No one’s sure why, but some say it changes when they have a home.”

Claudia blinked. “Wait, so do the flowers know —?”

Ethari almost laughed. “No. They’re just flowers. But there’s a kind of spirit reflected in every living thing, and we see it more obviously in some things than others. It may be a part of Xadia’s magic. Intention is very important in primal spellcasting, and the flowers are connected to the Moon primal as much as I am.”

Claudia sat down in the dirt, drawing her knees up to her chest as she looked at the flowers. “I’d been here before, so many times,” she said quietly. “I don’t know how I didn’t see all the life back then.” She straightened. “Sorry, I always do that,” she mumbled. 

“Do what?”

“Look back. I spent so long making excuses because I wanted things to be like they used to be, instead of looking at where I was, or... how bad things were getting up ahead.”

“Well,” Ethari said carefully, “maybe this time, reflection isn’t all that bad.”

“Yeah.” Her smile turned fond, even if it was a little sad. “Callum always noticed stuff like this, growing up. He belongs here. With her.”

Thinking of his daughter and the boy he’d grown to think of as a son coaxed a little smile out of Ethari too. “He certainly is a remarkable young man.” Ethari’s eyes drifted to the windows, Ezran laughing and Runaan smiling behind the glass. “With a great capacity for forgiveness.” 

“Trust me,” Claudia said, then frowning a bit when she seemed to shrink, catching herself. “You don’t have to tell me that.” She swallowed hard and folded her hands in her lap. “I’m sorry,” she said. “About... attacking your home. Your husband. I didn’t know what my father had done for so long but even once I did, I just—shoved it away, and that wasn’t right. I just wanted something of him to hold onto.”

Ethari pursed his lips. “Grief can warp us greatly, can’t it?” he said quietly. The fact he’d turned his back on his child, even for a moment, and gone along with the Ghosting would always be the biggest regret of his life.

Claudia looked absolved, her brow furrowing. “Rayla says you made her weapons. They’re beautiful.”

“I like to make things,” Ethari said, although complimenting his craftship wasn’t the wrong way to go either. 

“Yeah,” said Claudia. It was better than tearing them down. “I think I like to, too.”

Ethari pointed to her other side. “Pass me that watering can, would you?”

Rayla had sat in Claudia’s place once, in childhood, in many ways. Knees bent in the dirt and helping him in the garden as a chore with promises of the adoraburr meadow afterwards. Alone and frustrated the first thing she’d admitted all she hadn’t been able to do on her mission once her banishment had been reversed—that she’d tried so hard to follow her father figure’s orders until she couldn’t. Claudia had been a child once. In many ways, perhaps she still was—maybe they all were, if adulthood meant answers and having it all figured out.

Claudia passed him the watering can. 

He had already partially adopted one grieving, changed mage child before, under absurd circumstances and heavier hearts. What was one more?

Ezran had been king for five years and two months now, but he hadn’t figured out the trick to starting hard political discussions yet. It was one of many things he wished he had his father to ask for advice, but he figured trial and error was the next best thing, all things considered.

So he requested Rayla and Callum to stay at the table once everyone else had drifted to drink outside in the backyard or clean up in the kitchen, and Opeli and Soren stayed by his side.

“We received a letter this morning,” the cleric said. “From Councilman Carlyle. He and a few other presumed members of the court are travelling to Silvergrove now to have one last stint against your union.”

“Oh,” said Rayla, blinking, and she and Callum exchanged a look.

“Is that all?” he asked.

“What do you mean ‘is that all’?” said Ezran with just a trace of despair.

“We’re not exactly scared of Carlyle, Ez,” said Callum.

“Yeah,” Rayla agreed. “He’s a pansy.” 

Opeli raised her eyebrows. “You’re not concerned at all that a group of four or five hostile humans are coming here to the Silvergrove in the weeks before your wedding?”

“It’s not like they’ll be able to stop it,” said Callum. “And the Council is stubborn. They never want to overturn a decision, even if they didn’t like what they actually decided on. And even if Carlyle did bring people looking for a fight—and most politicians are also warriors—all of our friends and family, who are extremely talented fighters—” He gestured to Soren, who perked up. “Are more than a match for them. And that’s before the Dragon Queen and Zym show up.” 

“You’re seriously not worried?” Ezran asked.

“The most he’ll probably do is whine anyway,” Rayla shrugged. 

“And the Silvergrove Council won’t be concerned about more humans taking advantage of the barrier being down, or they wouldn’t have taken it down in the first place, to be perfectly honest,” Callum said.

“It was a war based precaution at its core,” Rayla admitted. “Perhaps in time it won’t be up at all.”

“Which will be really nice once we’re there,” said Ezran, “but right now, there are still people in the village that aren’t exactly pleased to see us . Won’t it just look like we accidentally brought in a handful more actual hostile humans?”

“Not if we notify the council ahead of time,” said Callum. “Master Lilen may be grouchy, but she’s always had our back when it mattered. She can handle this.” 

“And Master Taredd…?”

“Has always been a pain in the ass no matter what we do,” Callum shrugged. “Seriously, we’ll be fine. Even if Carlyle’s bluffing, which I wouldn’t put past him, what can the Council do? Complain that we warned them just in case?”

Ezran frowned. “I suppose so, I just...” 

Callum’s brow furrowed. “What’s this really about, Ez?”

He sighed. “It’s been five years since the war. I thought we could have one celebration, just one—a happy, important one—without some kind of political incident or pushback.” 

“Oh, Ez...” Callum went around the table and braced an arm along his back. “I know it’s frustrating. Some people are taking longer to embrace change, and it’s hard to deal with, I know. But we can’t let them take more than they’re able to. Do you understand?”

“I do,” Ezran said, a little impatient. “I just thought… It’s one day. You deserved one day without all of this.”

“Some dumb former Councilman isn’t going to ruin our wedding,” Rayla said, coming around to give Ezran’s shoulder a comforting squeeze. “It’s okay.”

“Are you sure?” Ezran said, his eyes stinging.

“Yeah,” Callum promised, leaning his head against his little brother’s. “The only thing that could ruin our wedding is if you weren’t there.” 

Ezran’s smile was small, wavering as he wiped at his eyes. “I just wish I could do more,” he confessed.

“You’re doing plenty,” said Rayla. “Don’t worry about it, okay?” She nudged him in the ribs. “Worry more about your best man speech.” 

Ezran giggled, his smile growing. “I’ve had it prepared for months now, ‘scuse you. It’s not like I didn’t have years to think about it either.” 

Callum flushed slightly. “We haven’t been engaged that long,” he mumbled.

“No,” Ez agreed. “But even before you guys talked about marriage, it was pretty obvious early on that like, forever was in the cards for you guys.” He looked at his brother. “You did jump off a mountain for her.”

Callum’s expression softened as he looked at Rayla over Ezran’s head. “I did,” he said, before looking back at Ezran. “But that long?”

“It was a good, low-pressure way to practice speeches,” Ezran shrugged. “And now I’m really good at them.”

“It’s true,” said Opeli in a deadpan. “He would do practice runs before actual meetings to build his confidence.”

“Yeah,” Ez enthused. “I talked about how smelly Callum’s scarf is—”

Callum frowned. “Hey, it’s not that bad anymore—”

“—and how excited I was to get Rayla as an official big sister. Still am, by the way,” Ezran grinned and Rayla laughed. Callum pouted. Some things hadn’t changed since the Cursed Caldera, apparently.

“How much of that speech has been edited over the years?” he asked, already expecting the answer.

“Not much,” Ezran said cheerfully. “You’re both gonna cry.”

“That’s not hard,” Rayla said, her smile growing all the same. 

“I figured,” Ezran said. “Loving you guys is easy.” 

“Aw, Ez,” Callum said, unable to keep from smiling as they all hugged again. It was a bit different now that they were all taller, Ez especially, but they held on tight. Against all odds, the completion of their family had always started with the three of them, and had remained a tight core as it had grown. A beating heart. A trio of strange, lonely children, who had found belonging in one another. 

No matter what happened, no matter where they were in the world, there would always be the three of them. Some things would never change, and for that, Ezran was so grateful.

With a slim six days until the wedding time, seemed to go faster, and even with everyone else’s help planning the decorations and menu and various intricacies of the reception, Callum was exhausted. He and Rayla spent every night curled up on the couch, or simply straight to bed if they were too tired to take the time to decompress. 

There were still so many wedding preparations to be done, even with the whole community helping. Streamers and ribbons of blue to hang, and some that had to be dyed and modified with Katolis red. Floating lights that had to be enchanted, seats that had to be accounted for, and a dance that they still needed to practice, made all the more difficult that they weren’t really supposed to practice with each other

How well the couple danced their new, joined, key was a prediction of how well the marriage would go, in Moonshadow society, and it made Callum nervous. If they did dance poorly, that didn’t mean their marriage would be poor, but this was one of Moonshadow elves’ most important traditions. He wanted to get it right.

He’d gotten help from Lain and Tiadrin and a little bit from Ethari, but the struggle with the footwork still persisted. 

So rather than focus on the dancing, which felt impossibly out of reach, Callum focused on what he could control, and that included picking up some of the ribbons that would be used in their dance for the ceremony. They had to be enchanted by the Master of the Mage Guild, Goren, and for that reason, Callum had to collect them from what constituted as the Council building or city hall near the very heart of the Silvergrove, domed like the now restored sort of gazebos at the Moon Nexus but solid with wind chimes. Traditionally, they would be collected by the ‘light side’ of the family, but Rayla had gone to the edge of the village to greet Lujanne and Phoe-Phoe alongside Ellis and Ezran. 

He did not expect to run into Kyrus on the steep staircase halfway up to the large oak door. He was rummaging in the pockets of his long coat for something.

“Oh hey, Kyrus!”

The elf looked up, alarmed, and then smiled. “Oh, hello Callum. What brings you here?”

“I’m here to collect some stuff for the wedding,” he grinned. “What are you doing here? Did your meeting the other day go okay?”

“Oh, it was fine,” Kyrus waved airily. It opened his coat a little further and Callum caught a glimpse of a piece of paper bearing the two towers of Katolis in the corner.

“You needed a document from Katolis?” Callum asked, his brow furrowing. He’d thought Kyrus was going to stay more permanently in the Silvergrove?

“Ah, yes—” Now Kyrus looked awkward, swoopy white hair falling in front of darting eyes. “Some business that concerns your fine kingdom and your new home. Your brother was very kind to me.” 

“My brother?” 

“Yes, I spoke to him the other day. I needed to get a permit from the Silvergrove, you see, to sell pendants made from our resources—but that stuff doesn’t usually sell well in Xadia unless it’s weapons.” Kyrus laughed. “You know how elves are, keeping to themselves unless they have a pair of wings. But I can’t make a living with nowhere to sell my wares now can I? So I thought, why not Katolis? But selling pendants in a human kingdom is a complicated business, your brother was kind enough to grant me a permit—I just needed to get it cross referenced here by the council—”

A sickly feeling rose in Callum’s stomach. “And you plan to sell along the new trade routes? We do more trade with the Sunfire elves than anyone else—not many go through here.”

“Ah, yes, that was a problem to find a solution to. But if humans like yourself are taking up residence in Xadia, why not have elves live in the Pentarchy for a time, once I’ve gotten the supplies I need?”

“I thought you wanted to stay here?”

“Yes, for a while longer, but—”

Kyrus kept talking, but Callum had tuned him out, waves roaring in his ears. Kyrus had come to take advantage of Rayla’s new royal connections for the permit he needed to make a business after he’d stopped being bailed out by elves. Callum and Rayla had fooled him, maybe, but he’d fooled all of them. Lain had been right. And Tiadrin—oh gods, Tia. 

“I should go,” Callum mumbled, and left without another word, or the moon ribbons. He’d get them later.

Right now, he just had to hope he wouldn’t break his future mother-in-law in a way that couldn’t be stitched back together.

Tiadrin was in the middle of making tea when there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” she called, only looking up when her future son-in-law burst through the door, looking harried himself. “Callum? What’s wrong?”

“Tia,” he said, his expression immediately falling. “Can we sit down?”

“Yes, of course.” She drifted from the kitchen and gestured towards the living room couch. Lain had gone out with Ethari and Runaan. “Would you like some tea?”

“No, I—” Callum took a quick, deep, breath. “Thank you, but no. No, Tiadrin, I have something important to tell you.” For a split second she wondered if it was news of a pregnancy, but no, it couldn’t be; they’d decided to wait a few years before having children anyway, but the possibility nagged at her mind like an unscratchable itch. “I ran into Kyrus at the council building and he—” Callum’s eyes grew pained. “He used us. He just came here to get permits to sell his stupid amulets in Katolis.” 

Her shoulders eased. “Oh, Callum.”

“I’m so sorry, I never should have pushed—”

“Callum.” She took his shoulder. “I knew.”

“I just wanted my family back so I pushed that onto you and—wait—” His eyes widened. “You knew? Know? I mean—”  he rambled.

“I didn’t know exactly what he had planned,” Tiadrin said, “but I knew he wasn’t just here for family.” She smiled sadly. “I half-raised him, I know what he’s like when he feels guilty.”

“But then why…?”

“My brother is an opportunist, often to a fault,” said Tiadrin. “But his remorse and regret was real, and he asked me a few days ago what I would think of him in Katolis, and I told him to chase after it. It was the first time he ever offered a compromise. The first thing he said was how he’d have to come back to the Silvergrove once every two months at least to restock on supplies.” 

“So... you’re not upset he’s not staying?” Callum croaked, blinking blearily and confused.

“A little,” Tiadrin murmured, brushing his hair back. The boy seemed calm now. “And part of me will always want him to. But we don’t get to love people in pieces, now we do? We have to take the whole. How do you think Ezran felt when he knew his home would never really be yours again, either? So you could follow your passions?”

Callum gave his head a tiny nod, his chin just dipping towards his chest. “I just… I thought he was taking advantage of you, since he never mentioned anything before now, and…”

“He sort of was, but I don’t think he meant to. He wouldn’t have asked me otherwise.” She smiled slightly. “He talked about trying to get a place of his own, for when he would have to come back. He’s set on being a good great-uncle. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a bit sheepish when it felt like you’d caught him with his hand in the crescent-cookie jar?”

“Yeah,” Callum said slowly. 

“I don’t think he ever grew out of that,” Tiadrin said with a slight chuckle. “I’m not sure he ever will, but he is growing. He knows his roots are planted here now, at least, and for good reason—even if he blossoms somewhere else.” Callum shot her a look and Tiadrin levelled with one of her own. “You try being best friends with Ethari for twenty-five years and not pick up any flower metaphors.” 

Callum snorted and then smiled before it faded. “So... you forgive him for everything?”

Tiadrin smiled and squeezed his shoulder. “No. But I’m starting to. The same way I think you’ve done with Claudia?”

“I mean, I think so,” Callum half mumbled. A lump rose in his throat. “We were kids together, you know?”

She nodded. She thought of the drawings he’d given her of Rayla’s childhood and the earliest sketches she’d managed to see of his own. He’d drawn in crayon back then, but Tiadrin supposed that was as permanent as ink. 

The kettle whistled and she stood up, tugging him along. “Come on,” she said. “You can have some tea.”

He really should have had this down with only three nights before the wedding, but Callum still couldn’t get the steps right, and always managed to get the practice ribbons tangled somehow, even when rehearsing with Tiadrin, Ethari, or Lain. He’d grown out of some of his teenage clumsiness, but dancing was an area where he still found himself stumbling over his own two feet, embarrassingly out of breath every time he tried to follow the quick rhythm of each count in his head. He knew it was just a tradition and superstition that how well the couple first danced together was a sign of a good marriage, but it was an important custom and he wanted to get it right. Beyond that, he didn’t want to embarrass himself or Rayla in front of their (his new) community.

Callum set the practice ribbon aside and sat down, his head in his hands. The front porch of his and Rayla’s dwelling was faintly lit by moonlight.

“You’re up late.”

Callum looked up at the sound of Runaan’s voice, the elf slightly silhouetted. “What are you doing here?”

“Now that I am back home, I like to take walks when I cannot sleep.” Runaan’s lips curled at the edges. “I take it you do not usually dance when you cannot?”

Callum sighed, still folded over. “You could say that again.”

Runaan took a seat next to him, his shoulders straight rather than slumped. “I was nervous about my first dance with Ethari, too.”

Callum stared at him. “ You? ” It was hard to imagine Runaan being nervous about anything.

“Yes,” Runaan confirmed, although he bristled a bit. “I had never liked having much attention on me but at the wedding, everyone would be watching. And I had a unique challenge, as I did not have much of a key to pass on, due to the passing of my parents before they had readily taught it to me. I borrowed largely from Master Orym’s, but it never quite felt right.”

“Oh.” He supposed he was in a similar situation. He didn’t have parents or a real Key, only some Katolian dance moves from his parents’ waltzing that hardly meshed with the Silvergrove’s more ballet style. “I can see that.” 

“In all my years of training, I don’t think I practiced anything more relentlessly than our dance the week before our wedding. None of my practice partners really helped. But, when the time came, do you know what did?”

“What?” Callum chanced.

“Looking into the eyes of the man I was wedding myself to. The couple’s first dance is important not only because of how it symbolizes community, and teamwork, but to be a reminder of the partnership and joy you have found in one another—why you want to be wed in the first place. Even if you step on each other’s feet.” Runaan gave Callum a small smile. “The dance exists not to prove yourselves; it’s a celebration of what you’ve already proven, to each other.”

Callum almost smiled, even if the jumble of nerves in his stomach didn’t quite untangle. “So no one’s gonna judge me if I trip over myself?”

“They might,” Runaan acknowledged. “But my glower is known to be quite intimidating, if they do.” 

Callum ran his fingers numbly through his hair. “It is true,” he said quietly, a lump rising in his throat but in a good way, “that when I look at Rayla, I feel like I can do anything. Not because it’s easy—or flying, not like infatuation. But because when I look at her, it makes everything feel manageable. It’s like... when I was a kid, I saw the way my mom and stepdad loved each other. And somehow, I both wanted that, and never thought it would ever really apply to me. It felt too good to be true, you know, living in a castle that big? That I could find someone and they could be my true home.” His eyes stung. “But she is. She really is.” 

Runaan softened and tilted his head, before he got to his feet. “Come,” he beckoned. “Rayla has told me a bit about how she trained you in sword fighting. It was much easier under her tutelage?”

“Yeah,” Callum said, confused even as he stood up. “Why?”

“She said that she made you think of the sword as a pencil, rather than an extension of your body. Perhaps you need to think of the dance not as a dance, but as a swirling drawing.” 

“With my feet?” he asked, and Runaan nodded.

“I had to think of my dance as a form of sparring at first,” he revealed. “Whatever works.” 

A little self-conscious, but determined nonetheless, Callum slowly began to walk through the steps. He imagined bright swirls of red under his feet, crossing over and under curling pathways of green, where Rayla’s feet would mirror his. Circling till they met and intertwined, a drawing they would make together. A mural under their feet, of their past, and present, and their future.

Callum let out a breath, the ribbon in his hand fluttering in the breeze. 

“Good,” Runaan said, and Callum looked up. “Try to keep your back straighter, and stay on the balls of your feet.” Runaan took his elbow, raising it slightly. “And try not to look at your feet as much. Trust that you know what you’re doing, and where you’re headed.” He smiled. “You won’t want to look at your feet on the day of the wedding.”

Callum smiled back. It was true. “Okay. From the beginning, then?”

Runaan’s lips twitched. “At least three more times.” 

“Now I know where Rayla gets it from,” he mumbled, still smiling as he began to walk through the steps again. The second time, some confidence sprouted in his chest. By the end of the third, Runaan gave him a small, approving nod.

“Now go to sleep,” instructed his future father-in-law. “Rayla says you whine like a child when you’re tired.” 

“Alright, fine,” Callum waved him off. “But only because I’m actually tired.” He tucked the ribbons away in his coat pocket and paused halfway up the porch step, turning back. “Runaan?”

The elf turned back too. “Yes?”

“Thank you.”

There were a thousand things Runaan could have said, about debts and bad decisions, regret or reform, and all those words sat between them but were no longer heavy. Instead, he just smiled back and nodded, too. They had grown in more ways than just one. 

“You’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

With two days before the wedding, no one was getting much sleep, Tiadrin pushing herself out of bed about an hour before sunrise, and a few more to go before everyone came over for breakfast. She let out a yawn and rolled her shoulders back, wondering how she’d ever gotten used to waking up this early. Five years ago wasn’t that long ago. Or maybe age just felt different when some years were stolen from you.

She pulled a thin robe on over her pajamas, the less-than-pleasant thought drifting as soon as it came. It was something new she and Lain and been learning from their therapist, to acknowledge uncomfortable thoughts and feel them before letting them go. It wasn’t quite in her nature, but it was getting easier with practice. 

Her steps were light and slow as she went down the stairs, her senses a little more awake when she heard shuffling. Lain hadn’t been in bed when she’d woken up—maybe he had gotten a head start on breakfast?—when she turned the corner into their living room and saw him hanging up some framed sketches. Tiadrin thought they were some new ones from Callum, at first, before she came to her husband’s side and saw them in closer detail. She bit back a grin when she saw the shaky lines, the shapes that weren’t quite proportional, one of them resembling Ezran’s little glow toad, looking more like a potato with sticks stuck in it than any animal.

“Rayla brought over some of Callum’s old sketches,” Lain said as they both stepped back to look at their handiwork. “They both agreed it was only fair, since…” He gestured to the lopsided wood carvings on the adjacent shelf, and Tiadrin let out a snort.

“It’s a sweet sort of competition,” she agreed. Were you really spouses if you didn’t poke fun at each other and got the rest of the family gently involved, just a little? “And now it’s in clear view of them any time they visit.” She glanced up at her husband as he wrapped an arm around her, her smile fading when she saw the bags under his eyes. “How long have you been up?”

“Maybe an hour. Exciting things have been happening.” But Lain’s smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“If everything with Kyrus is still bothering you—”

“We talked, actually.” Tiadrin stared at him, and Lain sighed, taking her hand as they moved to the couch. “It was sometime yesterday evening, while we were on separate errands. He’s distracting when he’s fretting over something, so… I asked, and he went on about how this corner of the village might be too crowded, but he wants to have his new home close by anyway, so we… talked. And we decided that, while he will need his own space for his… wares, it would be more compact as a storeroom anyway, so whenever he visits, he could have that while he…” Lain grumbled. “Stays in the guest room.”

Tiadrin’s eyebrows rose. “You both agreed on this?”

“I offered,” Lain said, wincing a little. “At least the storeroom means he’ll have some financial stake here, and I know you’ll want him close by too, though I still won’t ever completely understand why , and… It felt weird, but at least he hasn’t fled the village without a word to anyone yet. At least he’s talking to you about his plans, and he’s still him , but—” He softened when Tiadrin pressed a kiss to his cheek.

“Thank you, my love.” 

Lain smiled faintly, giving her hand a squeeze. “Of course,” he murmured. His expression turned serious. “But if he ever hurts you again—”

“Then we’ll deal with it together,” Tiadrin said. “Besides, even if things did fall through with him, I’ve got you, don’t I? And we have a very big family for him to reckon with now. I think he’s decided that it’s just easier to join it.”

Lain’s small smile returned. “So do I.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Want me to get the tea started early?”

“Yes please.” Tiadrin watched him with fondness in her chest as he got up and went around to the kitchen. She relaxed against the cushions as she heard the soft clanging of Lain putting the kettle on, her eyes drifting back to the corner of childhood art, rough around the edges and brimming with love. 

Kyrus came down after the tea was ready, just a few hours before everyone would arrive. He paused when he saw them both at the couch, a pot of tea and some mugs on the low tea table in front of them. Lain’s face was stern in a way that both became him and made Tiadrin laugh a little for how seldom the expression was used.

“Have some tea,” Lain said, and Tiadrin’s smile grew as Kyrus took a mug and sat in the armchair across from them. All of them in the living room felt a little like the corner of first sketches and sculptures—a little messy and rough around the edges, and not without some definite faults.

And like that corner, it felt like they were all exactly where they belonged.

Breakfast had been long finished, everyone talking around the table as Lain gathered up the empty plates, when Ezran heard a knock at the door. “Were we expecting anyone else?” he asked, looking around at the table. He, Callum, Rayla, Lain, Tiadrin, and Kyrus had stayed at the table, Ethari and Runaan were in the garden, and Claudia and Soren had only just left for a walk. Everyone was around except for Corvus and Opeli, the latter avoiding family breakfasts in general (she avoided the big group breakfasts at the castle as well—her tolerance for large groups waned rather quickly throughout the day) and Corvus had taken off after a quick bite, needing to stretch his legs outside the village.

“People have been coming and going for the past week,” Tiadrin shrugged, Kyrus sipping his hot brown morning potion beside her before she got up to answer the door. Her eyes widened as soon as she opened the door. 

“Pardon the interruption,” came a crisp voice from outside, and Tiadrin stepped aside to allow her in. 

“Master Lilen, we… weren’t expecting you.”

“I doubt you were,” she said, her voice a bit grave but not unkind. Both Callum and Rayla stood up.

“Is everything okay?” Callum asked carefully. But the elf’s eyes, sharp and creased at the corners, turned to Ezran.

“I’m afraid three of your councilmen have come to call? Your advisor and cleric apprehended them near the outskirts of the Silvergrove.”

This time, Ezran stood up. “They’re already here?”

Master Lilen sighed. “I hate to take you away from your meal, but…”

“Better now than tomorrow,” said Rayla with a scowl. 

Callum set down his cup of tea. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Hopefully we’re not gone too long,” Ezran said, looking back at Lain, but he shook his head.

“Everyone will understand. Let us know if you need anything, okay?”

Ezran managed a tiny smile. “Okay.” Callum and Rayla waited for him at the door, following him as he followed Master Lilen back to the village square, and it served as a bitter reminder that there was no real break from being a king. No matter how much he had hoped that he could just be the brother of the groom for the entire month.

Just a little ways off from the center of the village was a large tree, similar to the one that made up Ethari and Runaan’s home, but there was a door at the base of this one, with little windows scattered up the trunk. Ezran touched the wood as he entered—it still felt alive, as if it had grown this way instead of being hollowed out. Parts of the interior had ring patterns along the floors and ceilings, but they didn’t have long to look, as Lilen led them to a room in the back, where three plain holding cells had been built. Opeli and Corvus were sitting near the side, and both stood up when Ezran entered. In one of those cells, the former councilman sat, a deep scowl etched into his face and dark hair cropped close to his head. 

“King Ezran,” said Councilman Carlyle, springing to his feet. Ezran glanced at Opeli and Corvus.

“He brought three others,” Corvus said, “though they ran away when I apprehended him. They were waiting outside the village.”

“We’ve already told the council to keep an eye out,” Opeli said. 

Rayla placed a hand on her chest. “They didn’t attack anyone, did they?”

Corvus shook his head. “No. It doesn’t seem like any of them had weapons. They probably expected to be able to speak to the Council who would agree to call things off.”

“Like Master Taredd would walk back on another decision in his life,” said Callum dryly.

“King Ezran,” the former councilman said, “I come on behalf of Katolis—”

“To complain at my brother’s wedding?” Ezran said, frowning. “How did you possibly think that would work when you’ve already surrendered what little political power you did have by resigning? And in what world did you think any of us would listen to it?”

“I didn’t,” Carlyle admitted. “But we had to do whatever we could, to keep the prince from…” He frowned. “From disgracing the kingdom.”

“Here we go,” Callum muttered. “Listen, bud, you’re fighting a losing battle. The rest of the world is moving on, with or without you.” 

“I will not stand by and watch while you make a—a halfling with a claim to the throne.”

“The same way you rebuked my father’s attempts to give Callum a first born's birthright?” Ezran demanded, and Callum and Rayla slipped away hand in hand; there was no point in listening to things like this, and they knew Ezran would dole out the proper punishment. “Your time on my council is over, Carlyle, and good riddance. You and your co-conspirators will be exiled from the castle and the inner city when we return after the wedding.” 

“But King Ezran—”

“We’ll keep him in custody till after the wedding,” Master Lilen said, as they tuned out the former, and now exiled, councilman. “We can wait till you and your group have a few days’ head start, before we send him out and put the barrier back up.”

“It’s okay,” Ezran said. “I don’t think they’re gonna be able to try anything.” Ezran glanced back at Carlyle; his robes and hair were disheveled. “Seems like they were a weak group anyway, to be split up so easily.”

“Soren and I can still keep a look out for the rest,” Corvus said. “Not sure where we’re gonna keep them if we find more than two, but…”

“I’ll talk to the council about that,” said Master Lilen. “But I would assume they’ve run off home if Carlyle was the leader. In the meantime, we can have Master Orym and Master Goren perform a memory seeking spell and see if the councilmen had anything else despicable planned.”

“Thank you for finding them,” Ezran said to Corvus and Opeli.

“Of course,” said Corvus.

Opeli’s lips twitched. “We look out for our family.”

Ezran beamed, giving both of them a quick but tight hug, before going back to his brother and very-soon-to-be sister-in-law. 

“One more obstacle overtaken?” Rayla asked hopefully in the hall, the cell door thin

“This is not over!” Carlyle yelled from his cell, and Ezran let out a soft snort.

“Yes it is.” He turned back to the others. “Given how intense Moonshadow elves are, I’m sure a small search party will find the couple of other conspirators by the end of the day. At the very least, they don’t present any further threat to the wedding.” Ezran’s smile softened, the weight he’d felt since the letter rolling off his shoulders. “Which is good, because I’m really excited to watch you two finally get married. And, y’know, eventually bring home a sweet kid with a claim to the throne.” 

Rayla reached over and hugged him. “Aw, thanks Ez.” She pulled away, wrinkling her nose. “Please don’t ever make our kid be permanently next in line, though.” 

“Yeah,” Callum said, poking him in the side. “Does Ellis want a family?”

The fifteen year old flushed. “Callum!” 

“Well, does she?” Rayla smirked.

His cheeks were warm. “I don’t even—Why would I even ask that—”

“Okay, okay,” she relented, ruffling his hair and then looping her arm around Callum’s waist. “We’ll stop teasing you.” She looked at her fiancé (for two more days). “We probably should look at some leftover wedding things today. We have that big family dinner tonight.”

It was their last opportunity to have everyone fully over into the wee hours of the morning, if they so chose, as the next night was their wedding’s eve with more traditions to follow, including having the future spouses unable to see each other until the wedding. Traditionally, if they were both Moonshadow, it would be easy, the two allowed to speak and sit in their Moonshadow forms (weddings were always held on the full moon). But for her and Callum, they would have to partake in a more human tradition of not seeing each other at all. 

“I think we’re done here,” Ezran affirmed. “Opeli and Corvus can coordinate with Master Orym and anyone else for us.”

“Gods bless your advisors,” Callum murmured as the trio walked to the exit together. “There is one thing I wanted to run by you. I know Opeli’s been busy putting everything together for the wedding as soon as we get to Katolis, but...” His fingers were laced perfectly through Rayla’s. “Is there any way we could push the Katolian wedding after like, our honeymoon? It’s mostly symbolic anyway.”

Ezran faltered, but nodded. “It would take some rearranging,” he said, “but honestly might work out better. The timing was going to be a little tight.” 

“Thanks Ez,” Rayla smiled. “And we promise not to hold it off for too long, at least so Opeli’s head doesn’t explode.”

Ezran laughed, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Yeah, no problem. We can probably push it back by a month pretty easily. Aanya will be happy—it’s a busy season for Duren. I should double back and let Opeli know, then, though.” 

“Want us to go with you?” Callum asked, but Ezran shook his head.

“Nah. I can handle it. You two have fun with the rest of the day.”

“We’re gonna see you at dinner,” said Rayla.

“I know. But I know you guys wanna spend some time together before the separation, so…”

“We’ll come find you after lunch,” Callum bargained, and they left it at that. 

When they did find him after lunch, Ezran was sitting with Aunt Amaya and Janai out on one of the Silvergrove benches, and he smiled when Rayla held out a hand that had been purple and bound what felt like a lifetime ago. “Come on,” she said. “We have a little bit of time for the adoraburr meadow.”

Ezran took it and let himself be tugged along. They were still a trio , after all.

They had to pack themselves in like sardines, Callum thought, to all fit in Runaan and Ethari’s dining room. Lujanne sat crossed legged on a cushion with Ellis and Ava around her, Soren and Claudia laughing about something with Corvus and Barius. Tiger the cat was curled up in her lap and Ava only looked partially tempted to give chase. Everybody else crammed themselves in around the table. His mind drifted to the Banther Lodge a few times, if only because of how much more room there would be for everyone there. Good thing they would be continuing the tradition of holidays there, he supposed.

He was quiet, content to bask in the chatter around him, the dining room stuffed but never claustrophobic when Ethari came out of the kitchen with a tray of cookies after dinner. 

Soren took one look at the tray and whined, though. “What? No jelly tarts?” Ezran looked similarly put out, but he had the grace not to say anything.

“We’re saving the jelly tarts for the wedding,” Rayla told them from her place tucked into Callum’s side.

“Barius’ recipe?” Ezran asked, his face beaming in a way that mirrored the happy sort of grins he’d worn well before he became king.

“Who else’s?” said Callum. Ezran’s grin widened. “Can’t say we’ll make them as well as him, but…”

“Then I’ll just help. I’ve gotten really good!” Ezran said. “Barius has been teaching me.” The cook shot him a hearty wink over Opeli’s head. “It can be part of my best man duties.”

“Hey, what about me?” Soren piped up. “I want jelly tarts too. It can be, uh, my best wingman duties. Yeah. I helped you two get together too!”

Rayla smirked. “How’d you figure that?”

“Well,” Soren began counting off on his fingers, “when we showed up at the Moon Nexus and got you in the mud Callum went over to get you out, and, uh, you guys got to bond over us, um…” He faltered.


“You’ll get them done faster with both of us,” Soren said finally, and Rayla snorted.

“You know you could’ve just led with that,” she said. 

“Well I dunno,” Soren huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “You kinda had a thing for me at the Nexus and Callum was obviously jealous, so—”

Callum and Rayla glanced at each other and then burst out laughing. Callum clutched at his stomach and Rayla wiped tears of mirth from her eyes before she spoke. “What? A thing for you? Oh Soren, you’re sweet but that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I was angry at you. And Callum was not jealous.” She leaned over and kissed her betrothed’s cheek. “He’s been the only one for me for years and he knows it.” 

“But—you were giving me, like, intense eyes—”

“Probably because I was trying to stop myself from killing you.” She toyed with Callum’s scarf.

Ezran looked very red when Callum glanced over. “Guys please,” he mumbled, hiding his face in his hands.

“Come off it,” she snorted, drawing away after pecking Callum on the lips. “Callum and I are going to be married in two days. We’re allowed to flirt at the table.” 

“It is their right to be disgusting,” Lain chimed in from the other side of the table. He collected Tiadrin and Ethari’s plates with a quiet thank you from both of them.



Callum chuckled and stood up. “Fine, I’ll stop being disgusting and help you with the dishes, Lain.”

“You don’t have to stop on my account,” Lain said, but he didn’t keep Callum from collecting the dishes on the other side of the table and following him into the kitchen. “If anything, I’m glad you two are so comfortable around all of us.”

“Why wouldn’t we be?” Callum asked, letting Lain put dishes in the sink first and setting his down as a small dirty stack. They both reached for soapy rags.

Lain’s smile softened. “Tia and I never really got that with my parents, is all.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Callum wet a washrag. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s alright. We’ve made peace with it, and I really am just happy that things can be different this time. I just wanted to let you know that.”

Callum smiled a little. “Thanks.” He started scrubbing at the plates. “It has been a journey,” he acknowledged. “And not what I expected at all... Runaan and Claudia in particular.” 

“I know the feeling,” Lain said. “Tumbling out of the coin, so relieved that Tia was there, very confused at a much older Rayla being there. The war over and our daughter engaged to a human prince primal mage, of all things.”

“Yeah, I know I wasn’t exactly what you might have envisioned for her.”

“Other than the smooth skull, you’re actually a lot like what we thought. Or hoped for, anyway.”

Callum glanced up at him. “Really?”

Lain gave him a small smile. “Mmhm. You’re caring, and considerate, and you love her deeply. You understand how important family is, you’re willing to adapt to our customs and traditions. You can imagine how proud and despairing Tia was when she realized how much Rayla took after her and Runaan, too.”

Callum chuckled lightly. “She has a lot of you and Ethari, too.”

“True,” Lain said. “But you balance her well and love her even better. You deserve to have people in your life who can recognize that.” 

“Thanks,” Callum said, smiling back. “I was kind of worried at first, when you guys came out. I already knew Ethari and… and kind of met Runaan? But you and Tiadrin were new, and… yeah. I didn’t know what you’d be like, or if…” He set a clean dish down. “You know how you got angry when Kyrus arrived, because of how he’d treated Tiadrin?”

Lain’s smile twitched. “Yeah.”

“I didn’t know if it’d be like that? Especially when I already had issues with Runaan, and—”

“Oh, we wouldn’t have blamed you.”

Callum blinked. “Really?”

“I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I did,” Lain said with a slight smile. “Besides, it means you take care of her.” Lain dried off another plate. “It’s what partners do. Sometimes the family we’re born into fails us, whether they mean to or not. It’s good to have the people we’ve chosen there when that gap can’t be closed.”

Callum was quiet for a minute. “Like you and your parents?”

Lain nodded. “And you and yours, admittedly. My parents weren’t there for my wedding day either.”

“Lain...” Callum pursed his lips, his chest tight.

“And I know the situations are very dissimilar,” Lain said quickly, his hair falling in front of his eyes a little. “But... I do know what it’s like to wish things could be different, anyway. In some ways, I think—and I apologize if I’m mistaken—that death, ironically, can be a bit easier and harder to grapple with in some ways.”

“It can be,” Callum agreed. His parents would have loved Rayla, he knew, but both his fathers in particular had been deeply flawed. How would he have reconciled a dark mage or vengeful king to Lain and Tiadrin? Would he have cared about trying with Runaan, and building the bond they enjoyed now? There’d been some anger and resentment at each of his parents for leaving him the way they did, but now he just mostly missed them. But with Lain’s parents still living, Callum supposed that the resentment and the homesickness were a brutal combination. “I dunno. It’s weird to have regrets over things I had no control over.”

“Weird,” said Lain, laying a hand on his shoulder. “But understandable. In some ways, I can make peace with the fact my parents will never be who I want them to be, because I’m reminded of the living proof, and it helps, that I have my own family. You, Tia, Rayla. Runaan and Ethari and Ezran. And if regrets are inevitable, as long as we can carry them without being weighed down by them, I suppose there’s no harm in it.”

Callum dried one of the dishes with a new rag. “I guess so,” he said. “But it’s a tricky balance.”

Lain joined him. “It’s a good thing you’re not the only one on the tightrope, then.” 

He perked up, smiling a little. “Yeah. It is.” He set down one of the dry dishes in Ethari and Runaan’s drying rack and resumed washing another one. “Thank you, Lain.” 

“Anytime, Callum,” Lain promised.

They had a lot of it left, after all.

Zym, Zubeia, and Ibis touched down the following afternoon in the middle of last minute decorations. It was the first time Rayla had ever seen Master Lilen look startled , halfway through her and Callum’s walk over to see her parents and go over any positively last minute details before they would separate for the night. Ezran, meanwhile, booked it from her side over towards where the dragons and sky mage had landed.

“Zym!” The dragon perked up at the sound of Ezran’s voice and bounded over to meet him halfway. Ezran wrapped his arms around Zym, who lowered his head to nuzzle against his shoulder. “I missed you too, so much .”

Zubeai’s voice rumbled, the ground shaking a little under her steps as she approached, Ibis walking by the front of her claws. “It is good to see you again, Ezran.” 

Ezran let go of Zym, but didn’t step away as he bowed. Bait climbed up his sleeve and on top of Zym’s head, nestled in the fur between his horns and looking almost purely happy instead of grumpy happy for once. “It’s good to see you too, Queen Zubeia.” Ezran straightened, smiling. “It’s been too long.”

“We would go to the one in your homeland as well,” she said. “If we thought humans would not be afraid of dragons in the clouds.” History died slowly, after all. “But we will make an exception for your eventual nuptials in... thirty years.”

Ezran grinned. “Humans usually get married younger than forty-five, Your Majesty.”

“They do?” Zubeia had never quite been able to grasp human concepts regarding time. Yes, Callum and Rayla were getting married, but they were rushing into it like hatchlings, weren’t they, and she was happy for them still. 

“Come on,” Ezran laughed. “They’ve missed you too.”

Callum and Rayla hugged Zym first, then Ibis, before the Dragon Queen herself with one of her great talons. “Hello my darlings,” she greeted. “You’ve been treating each other and my hatchling’s twinsoul well?”

“Yes,” Rayla smiled, her arm snug around Callum’s back.

“They’re okay,” Ezran said with a grin, laughing when Rayla ruffled his hair. Callum looked over when he heard footsteps rustling the grass, Ellis’ thick braids flying behind her.

“Oh my gosh, Zym is so big!” she cooed, hands cupping her face half in excitement. Zym let out a squeal before lowering his head to her so she could take his great face in her hands. “Still the cutest dragon ever,” she beamed, giggling when he licked her. “It’s good to see you too!”

Warmth bubbled in Ezran’s chest when he watched her, before remembering himself and gently tugging at Ellis' elbow (his brother and sister-in-law’s shared knowing glances acknowledged and immediately ignored). 

“Ellis, this is Queen Zubeia,” Ezran said, and Ellis finally pulled away from Zym, her eyes widening when she looked up at her. 

“Whoa.” Ellis gaped and then lit up like the sun. “You’re beautiful, Your Majesty!”

Zubeia blinked slowly, before letting out a pleased rumble. “You are very beautiful as well.” Ellis turned around and squealed and Zubeia almost raised her eyebrows at Ezran, questioningly, and he flushed.

“Anyway,” Ezran said, clearing his throat—he didn’t need to glance back at Callum and Rayla to know they were probably having a good snicker over this—”we’ve set up a place for you. There’s a clearing in the trees not far from here with some nearby game, too.” He placed a hand along Zym’s smooth scales. “And if you need anything, some people living close by have already volunteered to attend to you.”

“That’s very kind. Thank you.” She looked at her son, straightening a little, the warmth clear in her eyes, and gave another rumble. “Azymondias, come along.” 

Zym gave Ezran’s cheek one more lick before bounding off after his mother, taking to the sky while she lumbered over on foot, moving along the outskirts of the village and away from buildings she could crush at least partially underfoot.

“She seems so nice,” Ellis gushed. “And scaly!”

“Ah, so this is the famous Ellis,” Ibis said in his even tone of muted excitement and a small smile on his face. “I have heard much about you.”

They shook hands. “And Callum’s told me a lot about you,” she said happily.

Ibis glanced at Callum, standing behind her, hand-in-hand with Rayla. “All good things, I hope?”

“All about how I love getting up two hours before sunrise to meditate,” he said dryly, but they all laughed. “But I expect you had to do a lot of late night meditation with Lujanne?” Ellis wasn’t the first human Callum had helped connect to an arcanum for nothing. 

She nodded, her braids bouncing. “It was fun, though. I got to learn magic and listen to Ava howl at the moon.” She pet her wolf’s head.

“And I am very excited for the festivities,” said Ibis, still with that same small smile, although his eyes crinkled. “I have never attended a Moonshadow or a human wedding before.”

“I dunno if there’s been one in a long, long time,” said Callum. “But we’re kinda used to being the first at this point.”

Rayla patted his cheek. “Modesty is so becoming on you, my love.” 

Ezran cleared his throat. “So Ibis probably wants to know where he’s staying?”

“You’ve had five years to get used to this,” Callum pointed out, and Ezran pouted. “But yes. We managed to squeeze in a spot for you with the rest of our family from Katolis, if that’s okay? You remember Soren and Corvus at least.” 

Ibis nodded and followed them as they began walking towards the small guest house. “I would also be interested in seeing your mother and father again, Rayla.” 

“Oh yeah!” Callum grinned. “I’m honestly surprised you guys haven’t connected earlier but...”

War made things difficult, both during and afterwards.

“I assumed they would be taking time to adjust,” Ibis acknowledged. It had still been under a year since they’d come out of the coins at all. 

“Yeah,” Rayla said, “but they’ll be glad to see you.” She smiled a little. “Dad’s probably gonna want to show you all around the house now that it’s decorated. He’s very proud of it.”

“Just don’t look at the old drawings of mine they’ve pinned up,” Callum groaned, dragging a hand down his face.

Ezran grinned and nudged Ibis in the side. “I’ll point them out,” he promised in a whisper. He heard Callum let out a long sigh and saw Rayla rub his back consolingly, even if she was failing to bite back a grin. His big brother could make all the fuss he wanted, but there was a certain light in his eyes, whenever Lain would show off the pictures like an embarrassing but proud parent, Tiadrin holding back a snicker a little more successfully beside him. Ethari would join in, genuinely complimenting four-year-old Callum’s creativity, before pulling Rayla in by pointing out one of her wood carvings. 

Ibis and Lain and Tiadrin exchanged grins and tight hugs and it was amazing and wonderful to see how well Callum’s old teacher fitted right into their ever expanding family. They belonged here, Ezran thought. Callum and Rayla. Family and magic and Xadia suited them, far more than the castle could; far more than it ever had for Callum in so many ways.

His throat tightened a little, even as he smiled. This was a natural part of growing up, and one he’d always expected, to some degree. He’d always known that eventually Callum would have to get married, whether for love or due to an arrangement, and go off to live with his wife to start their own family. So many things had changed, of course, but this would be the same. Siblings always ended up having to live separately, with families of their own. 

Ezran had been so excited about Callum getting to marry one of their best friends that he hadn’t really thought about how much he’d miss them. They already spent a lot of time apart, but this felt… final, in a way it hadn’t before. Visits really would just be visits. Someday, Ezran would start his own family, and contact would be that much more difficult to keep.

Even though family never really said goodbye for good, maybe even the temporary goodbyes were hard, when they signalled something else more permanent. Something good, but ultimately paths that they would have to take separately. And his was here.

And it didn’t seem like Callum had even noticed .

But Ezran pushed that thought away. It was a day before his brother was getting married. He was supposed to be happy for him, and Rayla, and Ezran was. That’s what he should focus on. 

So even if it took him a few seconds longer to smile when they all joked about one of Rayla’s wooden sculptures, he knew he really was happy for them in spite of it all, sitting up to compare it to one of Callum’s first self-portraits (lovingly dubbed “potato Callum”). 

And if no one noticed the way his smile quivered, just a little, then he was ultimately glad for it.

It had been so long since she’d slept in her room within Ethari and Runaan’s house. She stared at the ceiling, enchanted metal stars dangling from the ceiling and glowing in the dark. Her bed felt too small and too cold now, too used to space to stretch, too used to Callum’s warmth at her side.

She really, really hated this “not being able to see each other” tradition. Especially when the presence of a full moon always made her more alert, like tonight. How was spending the night before their wedding apart one of the only traditions their people actually shared? 

Rayla glanced over at her silver clock, groaning when it wasn’t even midnight yet. They would be woken around nine am for preparations. His side of the family would help her get dressed, as her side would do the same for him, bringing both sides of the moon together, symbolically, before they switched over just to make sure everything was in its proper place. Then the dance at dusk, and the actual ceremony, followed by a feast for the entire community and their families. She wouldn’t be alone with Callum, to just have a moment to themselves on their wedding day, until the festivities were over. Then it would be their wedding night, of course, but...

Rayla blushed as she swung herself out of bed and pulled on her slippers. She couldn’t remember why they’d even agreed to this tradition. Beyond it being unnecessary, she hated having to leave him alone, after everything. It wasn’t as though either of them ever slept well when they were apart.

She slipped out of her window and down the tree her childhood home had been built in, before she picked her way across the moonlit grass towards the home she shared with him. Her Moonshadow form helped her blend in perfectly. The window to their bedroom was open and slightly ajar, and she scaled the side of their home, climbing up to the window and pushing it open all the way.

Their bedroom was familiar, still mostly furnished. She glanced over at the bed, brow furrowing when she found Callum’s side empty. The sheets were slightly askew, and when she touched his side of the mattress, it was still warm. Maybe he’d gone down to get water or something?

She slinked down the stairs to see him pulling on his boots by the door, a furled letter in hand, and she placed her own on his shoulder as she let her Moonshadow form melt away. “Callum.”

He jumped almost a foot in the hair, whirling around before catching himself and facing the door again. “Rayla!” he spluttered. “What are you doing here?”

She rubbed her arm. “I couldn’t sleep.”

Callum’s shoulders eased and he reached behind to grasp at her hand. “I was just about to come over and see you. Well, not see you, but—I thought a letter might be a good compromise.” 

Rayla smiled softly, her heart melting. “Read it to me upstairs?”

Callum gently tugged her behind him, and she followed him back up the stairs to their bedroom. She tried not to laugh when he covered his eyes to sit down. 

“What are you doing?”

“If we don’t see each other, technically we’re not breaking the tradition.”

She sat down next to him. “Ah. Very clever. Though… Do you want to try to still keep it?”

“Of course not.”

Rayla placed her hands over his, pressing gently as she leaned over and kissed him. “How did I end up with the sweetest man in the Pentarchy and all of Xadia?”

Callum batted her hands away, opening his eyes as he did so. He sighed, smiling. “There really was no reason for us to try and keep another tradition, was there?”

“No. But it was sweet of you to put in the effort.” She curled up next to him and let her legs rest over his lap. “Now, read me the letter?” 

He wrapped an arm around her waist, the other holding the letter up for both of them as he began to read aloud in the dim light. “Dear Rayla,” he began. “I know we’ve had trouble with sleeping too far away from one another since we were teenagers, but I hope you’re getting some rest anyway.” He glanced at her with a slight grin. “Tomorrow is a very big day after all, so I’m sure we’re both having some big feelings about it.”

Rayla lightly shoved him away with a hand on his cheek. “ Noo, ” she laughed, chiding, as he pulled her closer. “Awful. Where did my poetic prince go?”

Callum’s eyes turned gentle. “Do you want me to keep reading?”

She sighed dramatically. “Fine. If you must.”

“In all seriousness,” Callum said, turning back to his letter. “I thought I’d be way more nervous than I am. I still am, in some ways, mainly about the ceremony, but I also know that even if I trip over myself or forget something, I’ll be okay, because you’re there. You’re the love of my life, and,” his voice got a little thick, “I can’t wait to spend the rest of it with you. I can’t wait to marry you. We’ve had a lot of long nights, but seeing you has always felt like the dawn, and—”

Rayla looked up at him with shining eyes, tears welling in the corners. “Oh Callum,” she murmured. She took his face in her hands and kissed him softly, her lips trembling against his. “I love you so much.”

Callum grinned at her, his eyes crinkling. “I love you too,” he said. “But I’m not done.”

She rolled her eyes and pulled away after stroking her thumbs once over his cheeks. “Alright,” she said, but she didn’t go as far, resting her head on his shoulder and sitting a bit more in his lap.

“But seeing you has always felt like the dawn,” he repeated, and Rayla wiped at her eyes, “and loving you has always felt as easy as breathing. Even when it was hard or I could barely actually breathe at all. It was easy. Even on days when we struggled more than others. Even when we made mistakes and had to learn things the hard way, I was always grateful to be going through it with you. And even when we were torn apart, by suffering, or war, or...” Callum sighed and rested his forehead against hers. “I always knew our new broken pieces would fit together just as perfectly as the old. I love you. I’m so excited to spend my life showing you more than I already have.”

Rayla let out a hoarse, teary chuckle. “I don’t know if I’m ready for what you’ve written for your vows after that,” she puffed out.

“I’ll probably be a mess when I say them,” he smiled. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, his fingers lingering at her cheek. “We’re gonna be married tomorrow,” he breathed.

“We are.” She toyed with his scarf. “And I will also be a mess when saying my vows to you, Moonshadow propriety be damned.” 

Callum looked at her. “Are you nervous?” he nudged.

Rayla shook her head. “I’ve loved you since I was fifteen years old,” she said. “And I knew when I fell that I would never fall for anyone like this ever again.” She took his hand and intertwined their fingers. “Tomorrow is just going to make it official.” Her voice sombered. “It didn’t always feel like we would make it here.”

They had been through so much, grief and separation and worry and so many close calls. Neither of them had ever lost sight of the miracle.

“I know.” He ran his thumb over hers. “I always hoped we would, though.” He gave her a small smile. “I guess sometimes I get to be right.”

Rayla let out a soft chuckle. “You’re usually right,” she said.

“Wow,” he said, cocking a grin. “Can I get that in writing?”

“Shush. But you are,” she admitted. “I thought, when I first came to the castle, that I knew who I was looking for. I thought I knew who I was. I didn’t have a clue. And...” She squeezed his hand. “I like who I am, now. The person I’ve become because of you.” 

Callum’s eyes shone in the dark. “When we were still kids, I told you that you were the most amazing person I’d ever met. It’s still true. It always has been.”

Rayla kissed him again briefly, her forehead resting against his when she pulled away. “And you’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met, so we’re evenly matched.” Her eyes rested on his face. “I love you, Callum.”

“I love you, too, Rayla.” They held each other’s hands. “I really do.” He chuckled when she yawned a bit though, some of her sleepy breath wafting over into his nose. “Is it okay if we both fall asleep here?”

Rayla nodded, drawing away a bit as they curled up on the bed together, over the sheets with their hands interlaced. “It’s fine,” she said, nestling next to him with her eyes closed. “What’s one more tradition broken?”

He laughed softly, smiling at her before he glanced at their clock. Almost nine minutes past midnight. “We’re getting married today,” he said, his smile widening. “Are you ready to become Katolis’ first elven princess?”

“Mmhm. And the King of Katolis’ first elven sister in law.”

Callum grinned. Ezran had been a little quiet lately, but there would be a chance to talk to him tomorrow before the ceremony. “Oh yes, you and Ez can have a good time making fun of me together for the rest of our lives.”

“You know it.” Rayla opened her eyes, the tips of their noses touching. “And you’re ready to become the first fully fledged human member of the Silvergrove?”

“We can’t have given Master Taredd a heart attack over nothing.” 

She poked him in the chest. “And your heart?”

He took her hand again. “Already yours, love.” Rayla beamed at him and ran her finger over his engagement ring as he grinned back at her. “And I’m pretty sure I stole yours a while ago, Miss I Kissed You First.”

She hummed and let her forehead press into his neck. “I know you’re teasing me,” she murmured, “but I only kissed you because I felt safe, you know.”

Callum raised her hand and kissed her knuckles. “I know. I feel safe with you, too.”

“Safe enough to step on my feet.”

He shot her a look. “Now who’s being a tease,” he whispered, smiling as he pulled her closer and tickled her sides for a moment. Rayla squirmed and then settled against him as he tucked her head under his chin and kept his arms around her, both of them relaxing now that they were where they belonged. “I love you, Rayla,” he murmured.

“I love you too, Callum.”

When sleep finally overtook them, only the moon bore witness.

Chapter Text

“Are you nervous?” Ezran asked the morning of the wedding, his voice bright as he braided Rayla’s hair. It was customary for the ‘dark’ side of the family to tend to the ‘light’ and vice versa for the traditional hair, garb, and markings. The sides of the family would switch back before the ceremony itself just to make sure everything was in its proper place.

Janai had gone to fetch the face paint and Amaya was watching Ezran’s handiwork. Opeli, Corvus, and Soren were chatting outside; she could vaguely hear their voices floating through the half open window.

“Not really,” Rayla said simply. She’d snuck out of their bedroom before her family had come to fetch Callum, giving him a quick kiss before she’d left. Their last as an unmarried couple. “Though I hope he isn’t.” 

“He probably is, a little.” Ezran sounded fond.

Rayla grinned. “Yeah.”

“Good nervous, though.”

“Of course.” They shared a glance in the mirror, and then a snicker. Rayla shifted to let Ezran do one of the smaller braids that would hang over each of her ears, the rest of her hair pulled into a much longer, more elaborate one. Her dress, a deep navy blue with white ribbons along the arms and bodice, shifted along with her.

“It’s hard to believe we’re finally here, huh?” said Ezran, bemused. “Seems like just yesterday you were holding swords to our faces and we were scared kids with a dragon egg.” 

I wasn’t scared,” she said, puffing her chest out a little.

“Yes you were.”

Rayla softened. Ezran had always been perceptive beyond his years; that had never changed. Scared that she couldn’t kill; scared that she would. “Yes, I was.” 

“I found the face paint,” Janai announced upon her re-entry, holding a small bowl full of blue liquid tinged with the slightest trace of purple. As much as Rayla loved her human family members, she was glad that an elf was the one applying her markings. 

“And we’re done with the hair,” Ezran grinned, stepping back to sit with Amaya on one of the little cushioned sofas in Rayla’s room. The general gave him a thumbs up.

Janai positioned herself, leaning against the edge of the vanity as she stooped down a bit, not much taller than Rayla by now. She dipped her fingers into the blue pigment, her brow furrowing. “Interesting,” she remarked. “It feels different from the gold we use in Lux Aurea.” 

“You also use the royal gold, my love,” Amaya pointed out. It was nice when no one had to translate.

Janai rolled her eyes even as a tiny smile tugged at her lips. “Shush, you. We are busy.”

“I’m gonna miss bare faced Rayla,” Ezran piped up, as Janai applied Rayla’s normal markings under her eyes. Ez had never seen it before, unlike his brother. 

“Human Rayla will make future appearances, I’m sure,” Rayla said wryly.

Janai frowned at her. “Do not move or it’ll smudge.” 

Rayla pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. Once, she’d thought Janai impressive, maybe even intimidating, as the Golden Knight of Lux Aurea. Now, she’d seen her do too many dorky aunt things over the years to take her annoyance very seriously.

Still, Rayla did her best not to move as Janai swiped her fingers over her forehead, applying an upward turned crescent moon that ended halfway over each eyebrow. “Now the arms,” her aunt instructed. 

Rayla lifted each one and Janai inscribed one with the seal of Katolis halfway down her upper arm, just under one of the white ribbon ringlets. The other was given the outline of a half moon, coloured in pale with Rayla’s skin. Janai fanned at them gently so they would dry down faster to a soft stain.

“All done,” she said, “unless I missed something?”

Rayla looked back in the mirror, a little stunned. She’d heard of brides getting emotional upon seeing themselves the morning of her wedding, and while she wasn’t quite there, the carefully placed markings along with the dress and her hair made it all a little more real. “No,” Rayla said, “it’s perfect.”

Ezran beamed, his eyes shining. “You look so beautiful.”

“Shush,” Rayla said, if only because Ezran getting emotional actually would get to her. 

“I can do up the final dress laces?” Amaya asked. She’d helped get her into the thing this morning, with intricate laces not unlike the ones she’d helped Sarai with on her wedding days. Rayla nodded, watching in the mirror as Amaya carefully did up the laces. She was quick but thorough, tying them in a nice bow at the small of her back when she was done. 

“Thank you,” Rayla signed once she’d turned to face her. “All of you,” she said aloud. “Now let me mark you.” She took the tiny pot from Janai and smeared the blue paint over her fingers, giving each of them small crescent moons under their right eyes. Ezran giggled while she did so and Rayla shook her head, trying not to smile or have it smudge. 

His eyes were bright though when she stepped back, having done their aunts first, and Amaya caught her eye.

“Janai and I will let the others know we’re departing soon,” Amaya said, and then tugged her wife out by the arm. It was close to noon, when the wedding would officially start and maybe at least one member of the royal family could sneak a jelly tart before then. There would be the ceremony, a break for eating, then their dance as dusk fell followed by more celebrations.

 Ezran lingered accordingly, sitting down in one of the chairs they’d pulled into the guest room earlier.

“Callum’s gonna lose his mind when he sees you.”

“Oh I know,” Rayla grinned. Ezran’s smile turned thoughtful.

“This place suits you both,” he said. “I think part of me wanted to get to watch nieces and nephews grow up at the castle, but this is… nice.”

“Oh, Ez.” She opened her arms and he hugged her, now tall enough to rest his chin on her shoulder. “You’ll visit all the time, though?”

“I will.” He pulled away, his eyes shining again. “I know this goes without saying, but… take care of him?”

“Always.” Rayla squeezed his shoulders. “You excited for me to finally be your big sis, officially?” 

Ezran beamed. “Of course. That just means I can make fun of you, too.” 

“You don’t have enough material,” Rayla said smugly as she guided him towards the door.

Ezran’s grin turned sly. “Oh? I seem to remember Callum telling me something about a Midnight Desert—”

Rayla gawked and shoved Ez a little in the chest. “Ugh, he told you that—?”

“He thinks it’s a cute story! And it really is. Can you really say you regret it?”

“No,” she admitted, a hint of a smile spreading over her lips. How could she, after everything that had brought them here to today? “But that story stays in the family, got it?”

“Got it,” Ezran said, still grinning. “But you know, we have a pretty big family. I still have lots of people to tell.” 

Rayla narrowed her eyes at him. “Soren already knows, doesn’t he?”

“Oh yeah.”

Rayla ruffled the top of Ezran’s hair, letting out a huff when he pushed her off laughing. “Come on,” she said. “You should go check on my fiancée. I expect my parents will be along any minute.”

“I’m going,” said Ezran, but Rayla knew he would make a detour for a jelly tart first.

Nor would she have it any other way. He was a good little brother, after all.

With four people instead of the regular two, getting Callum ready went rather quickly. Lain helped him get dressed, although Callum was used to pulling on fancy sorts of clothes right now. His tunic was a faint silver with golden fringing along the hems and styled similarly to a Katolian tunic. Tiadrin did up the ribbons along his arms and the ones that would be fitted over his fingers like a transparent, disparate glove. It was a little tricky, with five fingers instead of four, but they managed.

Callum held still as Ethari gave him a downward crescent moon across the brow in white paint, not unlike Ibis’ at the Spire, but it had a luminescent glow reminiscent of the Silvergrove itself. A seal of Katolis went on his arm, with a coloured in half moon on the other, in the dark blue paint like the markings under Rayla’s eyes.

He was glad there were no markings underneath his eyes. Callum was sure he’d sweat or cry them away before they could set or something. Every time he remembered that he was really going to marry Rayla today, he was nearly overcome with tears. 

In fact, Runaan looked almost as emotional as he felt, even if you had to know him very well to see it. His arms were crossed a little less stiffly over his chest and his eyes were bright and shimmering.

“If there’s any day to cry,” said Tiadrin, elbowing him with a grin, “it’s on your daughter’s wedding day.”

“I am not crying,” Runaan said stoutly. “I am merely... a witness.”

“Ah yes,” Lain said from his other side, sharing a delighted look with his wife. Runaan’s scowl deepened. “A crying witness. A key observer.” 

“It’s alright, Runaan,” Callum said, rubbing the back of his neck, void of his scarf for once. “Honestly, I’m kind of touched.”

Runaan looked up and softened just a little. “Ah. Then I can... allow it, I suppose. Speaking of which, there is one more thing we have to give you.” He nodded at his husband and Ethari produced a small box from his pocket, all four elves wearing similar garments of white and silver overset deep navy blue.

“We know you have your wedding and engagement ring,” Tiadrin said. “But Kyrus provided some of the materials that Lain didn’t acquire, and Ethari did the metalwork... We just thought—well, open it.”

Ethari handed the box over and Callum looked at them all with a stunned little smile and then at the box, opening it. Inside was a sort of silver earring, meant to go over part of the top part of the shell of his ear, beset with tiny purple jewels and swirls that matched their horns.

“You’re not an elf,” Ethari said. “But you are our son, now.”

“And your family is our family,” Runaan said, with a slightly nervous swallow.

Callum looked at him and nodded, feeling almost touched beyond words. His throat was dry and his eyes were wet. “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll wear it proudly.”

“Good,” said Tiadrin. “It was Runaan’s idea.” 

Callum carefully wiped at his eyes. “Thank you,” he repeated, looking at Runaan. 

Runaan nodded back at him, looking unable to quite accept the gratitude, but... he didn’t need to. The idea of ever feeling grateful to Runaan, of ever allowing himself to feel that way, had been impossible to imagine over a year ago, and yet here they stood. The victory could just be Callum’s, for now. 

He took the earring out of the box, and holding it up to parent in particular, he requested, a bit hoarse, “Help me put it on?”

Tiadrin took it and tucked aside the braid Rayla had woven, then a bit more of Callum’s hair, the way he could remember his mother doing when he was a boy. She fitted the earring over the shell of his ear and Callum wondered if he would ever stop feeling awed at elven technology, as it clicked into place and he knew it would hold. 

“How does it fit?” Ethari asked, and Callum gently touched it.

“Perfectly. Thank you,” he said again, and yet it didn’t feel like enough. Like he couldn’t say it enough.

But he didn’t have to, either, as Tiadrin and Ethari embraced him, and then Lain, and even Runaan, although Callum had to breathe deep and fight back more tears. There should have been six parents here, but... he could settle for four. He supposed they all knew what it was like, for thank you to not feel like enough; for their freedom, their lives and second chances. Their family. 

Tiadrin said it anyway, cupping his face in her hands as they drew away. “I think we are the ones who should be thanking you, Callum.” His eyes stung, and Tiadrin wiped at the corner of his eye before a tear could spill out. “We couldn’t ask for a better partner for our daughter.”

“Not that our approval matters,” said Runaan with a quiet cough and Callum smiled a little. Rayla had always made that extremely clear to everyone involved. But Runaan’s eyes still looked rather blue and bright. “But if it did, you more than have it.” 

“It doesn’t,” said Callum, grinning. Leave it to Runaan to leave it right up until the last second. “But it is appreciated.” 

“Callum!” Janai’s voice was faint yet loud, echoing up through the door and floor. “Your aunt is going to kick down the door if you don’t unlock it!”

She never believed in locks. “I guess that means Rayla’s done, too,” said Callum. “Time for you to go check on her. I’ll see all of you after the ceremony.” 

“You’ll do great,” Lain assured him and then the four elves exited the room.

Callum listened to them walk downstairs and unlock the front door, their greetings to his aunts and brother. The two sides of his family coming together to celebrate him and Rayla, to bind all of them together for life. A soft smile graced his lips even before Aunt Amaya poked her head into his doorway with a cheeky grin and she ambled the rest of the way in, followed by Ezran and Janai.

“So,” she signed. “Are you excited for the dance?”

“Callum wasn’t too nervous, I hope?” Usually, the family members of each half of the engaged pair would check on any final touches that might be needed, but there wasn’t anything to fix, so Rayla sat with her parents in the living room. Amaya, Janai, and Ezran had done an impeccable job. 

“More teary-eyed than nervous,” said Lain, “though we all have been.”

Rayla smiled a little. “Of course he was.” She was glad he wasn’t nervous, though. This was their wedding day. He deserved to enjoy every part of it. Along with it being their day, it was also because of him that so many of the people there could attend at all.

She looked between her mother and father, her throat tightening a little. She hadn’t expected them here, after all. Runaan too, his horn still broken, but his smile was true. He was genuinely happy at the joining of their families, not just resigned.

“Are you nervous?” Tiadrin asked.

Rayla’s smile eased. “No. I’ve been ready to marry him ever since we were kids. We’ve known for years... this is just making it official.” Her eyes stung. “There were times when I thought none of us would make it to today, for… various reasons. But we were always going to get here, weren’t we?”

“Yes,” Ethari said. “You’re the two most stubborn people I’ve ever met.” He shot a meaningful look at his husband. “The moon of my heart included.” 

Runaan gave his husband a look, but it could not conceal the light in his eyes. “Luckily,” he said, voice gruff. “But truly,” he said, softening and turning to Rayla. “We are happy for you. And Callum.” 

“Thank you,” Rayla said. “I am too.”

“Should we go, then?” said Lain. “We don’t want to be late for your wedding day.”

“I suppose so,” Rayla replied. Ez and Callum couldn’t be far behind and it was traditional for the ‘light’ side of the family to be there first, anyway.

“Are you sure you don’t need to fix your hair?” Ezran teased, leaning against the doorframe. Aunt Amaya and Janai had already straightened Callum’s clothes and hugged him, giving the brothers a moment alone as Callum inspected himself one last time in the mirror.

“What?” Callum whirled around, his hands flying to his head. His silvery tunic and pants suited him. “What’s wrong with my hair?”

“Nothing,” Ezran laughed, shaking his head, and Callum’s eyes narrowed for a moment. “Don’t you remember?”

“Remember what?”

“At the Moon Nexus? It could be more ‘up’?”

“Ha ha,” Callum said flatly, turning back to the mirror. Like that early teenage embarrassment was something he needed a reminder of. “Seriously, do I look okay?” The Moonshadow traditions were beautiful, but foreign to him. Lain, Tiadrin, Ethari and Runaan had done their jobs, though. His fingers lingered on the new earring cuff.

“You look fine,” said Ezran, striding towards him, a self-assured king. “And Rayla would wanna marry you even if you were wearing a trashbag, anyway.” 

Callum smiled. She would. She’d be thrilled to have a reason to tease him while they were getting married, too. “Thanks, Ez.”

Ezran rested a hand on his shoulder, sharing a smile, before it faltered and didn’t meet his little brother’s eyes. Ezran looked away towards the mirror. “You’re really not coming back, huh?”

Callum’s brow pinched. “Ez...”

“I always kinda thought one day you would. Be my high mage, you know? But... This is really it.” 

“We’ll always visit, and you never know. Life’s already taken us in plenty of unexpected places—”

“No. I know you and Rayla will visit, one day with your kids, but… I know this is home to you now. And you’ll always have a home back in Katolis, but…”

Callum smiled sadly. “It’s not the same,” he said quietly. 

“And that’s okay,” Ezran said. “This was always gonna happen, somehow. It’s part of growing up.”

“Hey, no matter how grown up we get,” said Callum seriously. “I am always going to be your brother.” 

“I know,” Ez reassured him. “I think I just… didn’t think about how soon it was. Five year difference, y’know?”


“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that you and Rayla were just my age, when you had to make all those calls.” 

“Hey, if anyone’s in awe of someone, it’s me with you. You’re a great king, Ez. And an even better little brother.” Callum took him by the shoulders and made sure their eyes met. “Whatever family we have is yours, too. You know how much we love you?”

“I know.” His eyes were bright. “I love you guys too.”

Callum kissed his forehead. “And I wouldn’t want anyone but you to be my best man. Or my brother.”

“Me neither,” said Ezran, smiling. “Although I think Bait was vying for the position.” 

Callum laughed and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, both of them leaning into each other. Callum ruffled his hair. “Hey. I love you.”

Ezran’s smile softened. “I love you too.” He pulled away, wiping at one eye with the end of his sleeve. “Now c’mon. I know you wanna see her.”

“I always wanna see her,” Callum said with a cheeky grin. 

Ezran shoved him away. “Save it for the honeymoon. Now c’mon,” he repeated. “So we’re not late for the most important day of your life.”

Callum slung an arm around his shoulders again as they exited the bedroom. “Hey, it’s tied with something else.”

“Like what?”

“Like the day you were born.” Callum squeezed his shoulder. “After all, I think the real question is: are you and Rayla ready to make fun of me for the rest of our lives?”

Ezran grinned. “Definitely.”

The main square had been done up beautifully. Flowers and ribbons were hung up everywhere, the usual darkness of the Silvergrove a little lighter as the open barrier allowed light to stream in from the thickness of the trees. Guests stood in a large circle, and Rayla waited on one side, her parents on either side of her. Master Taredd was flicking through the holy scrolls since he would be the one officiating things.

“Can I turn around yet?” Rayla asked. If she saw him grumble one more time when she just wanted to see Callum, she was going to lose her mind.

“Not yet,” said her mother, Tiadrin facing the aisle and the rest of the guests. Zym was up front, him and Bait saving Ezran’s chair for him. The Dragon Queen was nestled around the backs of the houses, watching over the trees but mostly hidden for the moment. “But soon, he—ah, there he is.” 

Rayla’s heart leapt as she turned around. Callum was dressed in traditional Moonshadow silvers and Katolian gold along the hems, the tunic itself not dissimilar from his regular red one. There were ribbons along his arms, matching hers, and ones around his hands modelled after his fingerless gloves, leaving his engagement ring bare. The ear cuff was new, pretty and silver and beset with purple stones, but Rayla could spy Ethari’s craftsmanship anyway. The whole outfit was perfect, a beautiful blend of both of their cultures and families, his hair just a tad messy in a way that suited him.

But all of it paled in comparison to his smile. It was bright and warm the way she’d known him to be, a light she’d been unable to go without since it had first entered her life, the way she supposed some people felt about the sun. This was the smile she’d get to wake up to, every morning for the rest of her life.

Her eyes stung a little and she nearly laughed at the fact, her smile growing when she saw his eyes shining with tears as well. She hadn’t realized that they’d both started moving towards the center till they were standing right before one another, only noticing Amaya on one side after walking him down the aisle, his aunt’s hand slipping away from his arm. Rayla felt Lain’s hand briefly squeeze hers before he and her mother similarly took a step back, leaving only Callum and Rayla standing before Taredd, facing one another.

“You look beautiful,” Callum mouthed to her, having taken in her navy dress and silver ribbons and blue markings, her engagement horn cuff too and her ring. 

You’re smart, and fast, and beautiful.

Rayla blushed now as she had back then, mouthing, “So do you,” before Master Tarred cleared his throat. 

The wizened old elf pulled at his wispy white beard, his cane tucked under one arm with the scrolls unfurled in his hands. “May I?” he grouched, but nothing could change Rayla’s mood today. He cleared his throat when they both nodded, glancing over their heads to the community gathered behind them. “Community of the Moon, and community of Katolis, we are gathered here today to celebrate the joining of two unique individuals—of the two faces of the moon into one life. Unique, as they have written their own vows,” he said, his tone souring, and Rayla almost had to bite back a snicker, “in addition to the traditional ones—which they will speak now.” He looked expectantly at Callum, who never tore his eyes away from his intended for a second.

“Rayla,” Callum said, his voice already teary, and she gave a little, equally teary laugh of her own. “You are my best friend. The love of my life. You have protected me and stood by me even when I had nothing, or felt like nothing. You had faith in me even when I couldn’t understand why. You make me laugh and hear out my dumb ideas,” he said, his mouth twitching, and Rayla let out another small chuckle. “We’ve been through a lot together, you and I. We fought two wars. You managed to teach me how to make moonberry surprise.” Gods if he kept going she was really going to cry and lose it, as Callum sucked in a breath, seemingly needing to compose himself as well. 

“You have been the silver lining through all the worst parts of my life,” he continued. “You make every bad day better and every good day great. You’re the reason I’ve become who I am today in so many ways, while also making sure I never lost sight of every good thing life had to offer. One of those things being you. You’ve been my family for so long, but I am still so excited to make it official here. And I am so lucky to love you and even luckier to be loved by you. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Rayla dabbed at the corner of her eyes, tears spilling anyway. “Callum,” she began, her voice already breaking a little, “when you said you wanted to write your own vows, I wasn’t too sure about how mine would turn out. You’ve always been more poetic, with lots of heartfelt speeches,” she said with a teasing twinkle in her eye, coaxing a laugh out of him, too. “And how could I ever put my love for you into words? Even if I had the talent, it’s not very Moonshadow of us.” She heard her parents chuckle. 

“And I will move on,” she said, catching his eye, “or I know you’ll get on my case for being self deprecating. But this is true: knowing you, loving you, has made me better . My whole world has changed ever since I met you in that hallway so many years ago, and I never really knew the kind of person I always was, the kind of person I wanted to be, until I met you. You knew me in the most vulnerable time of my life, in all my weakness and self-loathing, and showed me over and over again that I was enough. That everything I hoped I could become, I already had in me. You saw my best self, and that’s what I want to give to you, as a best friend, as a partner, as a spouse. And even on the days when we fall short, I know we’ll meet each other where we need. Because you taught me how much better we are together. And whatever time we have, I want to spend it with you, always.”

Rayla held out her hands and Callum slid his into them, grasping at each other’s fingers. The signal for the traditional vows to begin. Callum squeezed her hands and she ran her thumb over his engagement ring as Master Taredd began speaking. 

“Repeat after me,” he instructed, and she did.

“I, Rayla of the Moonshadow elves, of the Half-Moon Silvergrove, take Prince Callum of Katolis to be the face of my moon for all of my days, to love and cherish him in all of our phases, to be his constant.”

Callum gave her hands another squeeze, beaming as he recited back to her, their gazes locked. “And I, Prince Callum of Katolis, take Rayla of the Moonshadow elves, of the Half-Moon Silvergrove, to be the face of my moon for all of my days.” His voice broke a little, his smile so wide. Rayla wanted to kiss him, but it would be too soon. “To love and cherish her in all our phases, to be her constant.” 

Taredd cleared his throat one more time. “This community acknowledges your union. You are now bound together in marriage.” 

Rayla gave Callum a giddy grin, and they met halfway in a kiss, one of her hands on his cheek and his cupping the back of her shoulder. In the back of her mind, Rayla was somewhat aware that there was cheering, and some clapping—she couldn't tell if it was Soren or Uncle Kyrus who let out a particularly loud whoop—but the rest of the world faded to white noise. She wrapped her arms around Callum once they broke apart, holding him tight as he hugged her back, his face buried in her shoulder. They pulled away again only to look in each other’s eyes, their foreheads touching, and both laughed at the tear stains left behind on their cheeks. Rayla reached up to wipe at his.

“I love you,” he whispered above the din.

“I love you too.” He pressed a soft, briefer kiss to her lips before they finally turned away from each other to look at the crowd, an arm wrapped around each other’s waist.

The community stood up from the seats to the tables set on the other side of the square, people bringing food from their houses, plates laden with fresh fruits, bowls of creamy soup, a mixture of elven and human dishes. Callum and Rayla found their family before they found their seats at the table, Ezran enveloping both of them in a hug alongside the four parents, Amaya, and a trying not to cry Opeli. 

Eventually, though, they parted, and Callum took Rayla’s hand. “My wife,” he murmured, kissing her cheek. “Shouldn’t we take a seat now?” The two chairs at the head of the largest table for their family were waiting for them. 

“If we must,” she said, pulling away with a broad grin, one hand lightly in his curls. “My husband.” 

They didn’t let go of each other’s hand at all throughout the meal.

The celebration feast took up most of the late afternoon and early evening. It was a good thing, too, or Callum didn’t think he would’ve had time for a single bite, with all the people coming over to say congratulations that he had to greet. If any stayed too long, Claudia pulled a silly face to help ward them off.

By dusk, though, it was time for the dance. His stomach did a little flip when he stood up to walk with Rayla back to the center of the circle, trying to keep himself from scanning the crowd. He made brief eye contact with Runaan at another table, who gave him a small smile and a firm nod. 

Trust that you know what you’re doing, and where you’re headed.

He had this.

Callum exhaled as he and Rayla stood on either side of the circle. The jittery feeling in his chest eased as they began walking towards each other, his eyes on hers as he mentally went through the steps, his feet carefully following.

First were the turns. Probably the hardest part, but also the one he was most familiar with, as he’d learned them when Rayla had first shown him how to enter the Silvergrove five years ago. He still had a little trouble keeping them steady, but had gained a little better balance with age and practice, and… He grinned wide every time he caught sight of Rayla, spinning as effortlessly as she had during their first dance together ever.

They finished their last turns across from each other, their hands behind their backs as they both crossed to their respective other sides, bisecting the little circle they’d established with their spins. They turned back towards one another, both extending opposite arms as they sidestepped into their circle again. Rayla’s wrist landed lightly against his as they circled each other, switching arms and directions but keeping the quiet momentum.

Just as things seemed to be going well, Callum stumbled over his own foot. It was a split second of panic before Rayla caught him, her eyes soft and fond.

“You okay?” she asked softly. Warmth swelled in his chest as he straightened back up. Everyone else had probably seen the misstep, but he couldn’t find it in him to be embarrassed as he took her mirroring hand.

“Looks like I swept my own leg,” he grinned sheepishly. She squeezed his hand.

“Good thing I’m here to catch you.”

Callum quirked a brow at her. “Good thing I’m here to catch you .” 

They stepped closer together, the gap between them disappearing, breaking the circle as he placed a hand on the small of her back and she placed hers on his shoulder, stepping into a waltz. The kind he’d learned from his mother. And it was cute, to see something that Rayla was slightly clumsy with too, although she managed, smiling and giggling.

They did five four-steps before stopping, arms wrapped around each other, their foreheads pressed together. He leaned over and kissed her. It was finished; they were married.

This time, she beat him to the punch. “I love you,” she whispered when he had barely pulled away. His chest was fit to burst as he smiled at her.

“I love you too. I really, really do.”

“I know.” She nuzzled her nose against his. “I really love you too.”

Later, they’d go back to their home and wash the markings off each other’s skin, as was custom. Curl up in each other’s arms in bed and enjoy their first night as husband and wife, with whatever they wanted that to mean.

Callum could barely imagine it somehow, now that the future he’d pictured for so long as here and crystal clear. Every moment as her husband and her as his wife was happier than the last, happier than he’d ever thought he could ever be. Happiness beyond conceptualization and he knew she felt it too.

But, right now, this moment was his new favourite.

Tiadrin couldn’t blame the lovebirds for ditching their own party early. Moonshadow weddings were a solid twelve hour affair bar minimum, going long into the night for obvious reasons. Twelve hours of festivities and talking to well-wishers would be a lot for even the most friendly people—Lain had been exhausted after their own wedding so many years ago—so she suspected such an introverted couple as Rayla and Callum and probably gone to get some rest, if anything. She couldn’t blame them. This wasn’t even her wedding, and Tiadrin was still starting to get a little tired of all the socializing.

So she found herself wandering towards the outskirts of the party, Lain’s hand in hers. She’d leave Runaan and Ethari to fend off the party-goers; her longtime rival turned friend could get back at her later.

“You enjoyed yourself?” Lain asked as they walked along quietly swaying trees. Tiadrin smiled.

“Of course I did. It was a beautiful ceremony.”

“It was,” Lain agreed. “I wonder how much or how little will change, now that they’re officially married.”

“Probably very little.” She glanced at him, the corners of her eyes crinkling. “Not much changed when we got married, did it?”

“It didn’t,” Lain said, “though I think most of the changes happened less than a year before then.”

“Those were circumstances. Not us.” She squeezed his hand. “They’ll just continue to be happy, like we all have. Hopefully happier.”

“I hope so as well,” a deep voice rumbled, one that Tiadrin was starting to think she would never hear again, as the Dragon Queen emerged from the dark trees, her small son flapping by her feet and almost the size of a large horse.

The Dragonguard had never interacted more than necessary with the Royal Family, but Lain and Tiadrin had been close to Ibis, who was the closest to them outside of themselves. They had heard much by proxy. That, and the way Zubeia spoke was still the same, every syllable elegant and ancient.

Tiadrin and Lain dropped onto one knee on instinct but Zubeia shook her head, making leaves fall.

“Please, rise. I merely wish to speak, as equals.”

Her knees nearly objected but Tiadrin straightened anyway, feeling her husband similarly waver beside her as they exchanged looks. “Y-yes, Your Maj—I-I mean—”

“Queen Zubeia will do,” the dragon said, sounding almost amused, “if it must.” 

“Queen Zubeia,” Tiadrin managed. “Um, er—”

“What would you like to speak about?” Lain asked, swooping in and saving her. Tiadrin gave his hand a grateful squeeze.

“Actually,” the dragon queen said, slow and deep and warm, “I wanted to thank you.” Before either could ask what for, she continued, “I know what you did, to protect my son.”

Zym bounded over and Tiadrin threw up her hands before he nuzzled into them, unperturbed by her hesitance. Lain reached over to scratch him under the chin the way Ezran did, and Tiadrin slowly relaxed and smiled.

“Of course,” Lain said. “It was our duty.”

“You went above and beyond the call of duty,” Zubeia said. She knew of course by now that the rest had run. “Or at least, you have suffered far beyond it. Thank you, for taking care of my child.”

Tiadrin thought of the letters Callum and Rayla had sent from the Spire, Zubeia’s name peppered throughout. The way she had tended to Callum, Rayla, and Ezran; called them her hatchlings.

“Thank you,” Tiadrin said. “For taking care of ours.” 

Zubeia’s eyes widened and she looked rather touched, eyes glassy, before she inclined her head and Zym bounded back over to her. “We are lucky,” she said, leaning down to nuzzle her snout against her son’s brow. “That our children chose so well.”

Tiadrin thought of their family—bound by Ezran and Zym, bound by Callum and Rayla. Ethari had taught Claudia how to garden; her own brother; Soren and Rayla’s friendship, so like hers and Runaan; and even how Runaan had to try not to smile, sometimes, at the worst of Callum’s jokes. The time and chances they had been given. The choice of how to spend it.

“Yes,” Tiadrin said, smiling. “We are.”

Chapter Text



Lux Aurea shone so much more brightly than home. Even compared to Katolis, everything seemed so much bigger . Maybe it would have been scary if he hadn’t had his hand in his grandmother’s, and if they weren’t on their way to visit their grand-aunts in the palace. Walking along the golden streets and then hallways towards the eastern courtyard was as unfamiliar a route as it was beautiful.

“You’ve been to Lux Aurea before,” Grandma Tia said, giving his hand a squeeze. At seven years old, Rae barely came up to her hip.

“Yeah,” he said, gnawing on his bottom lip. Juni was walking ahead without a care in the world between Mum and Dad—if anything, they had to hold her hand to keep her from going too far without them. “But I was a baby back then.” 

“And you were fine then,” said Grandpa ‘Thari. “So you’ll fit in even better now that you’re older.”

Rae’s free hand tugged on his small braid of white hair hanging along one slightly pointed ear, the rest cropped closely to his head. The Silvergrove was dusky and familiar and people didn’t stare. People in Katolis did when they visited Uncle Ezran. But with his mother’s eyes and small horns, it was undeniable to anyone who looked at him that he was a Halfling. Would people stare here, too?

“If they stare at you,” said Grandfather Runaan, drawling, and striding on Rae’s other side. “It is because you are from the Silvergrove, like us.” 

“And so they’ll be staring at us, too,” said Grandma Tia. “So not too many people will stare just at you at all.”

“I guess that makes sense,” said Juni, glancing back. She still seemed smug, though. She was three years younger, with their Dad’s dark brown hair and the same violet eyes, and Rae had never seen her be scared of anything. 

Their mother tugged on her hand to keep her on pace. “They stared at me and your father, too.”

“Mmhm, all the time.” Dad caught Grandpa Ethari’s eye and they both grinned, as though remembering some sort of inside joke. Rae knew the first time they’d met had been during the war. Callum might’ve been the first human most of his grandparents had ever seen. Rae drew closer to his grandmother.

“We’re almost there?” he asked. 

“Almost, little blade,” Runaan confirmed with a gentle smile.

The eastern courtyard was beautiful and almost empty, save for a sparkling fountain and a few trees—very different from the pine of the Silvergrove—clustered to provide shade by a sparring ring. His great-aunts were in the middle of one such session now, a Sunforged shield and blade drawn respectively.

Aunt Amaya—who insisted the ‘great’ was a descriptor of her character rather than an indicator of age anytime she visited the Silvergrove with her wife—spotted them first with a broad smile. She signed something quickly to Great Aunt Janai who lowered her sword and both jogged over.

They hugged Juni first, as his little sister launched herself into Aunt Janai’s arms and stayed here, hoisted up onto her hip in a resting position. Then Mum and Dad, and Rae wrapped his arms around each of them. 

Amaya rapped her knuckles on Runaan’s chest in greeting, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes as he gave her an awkward smile.

“How was the trip?” Janai asked.

“Good,” Callum answered, smiling. “I think the kids were glad they got to ride Phinny for most of it. We left him in the stables with Sweetpea, I hope that’s alright?”

“Of course,” Amaya signed and then considered. “We’ll have to tell the stablehand what to feed a shadowpaw, though.” 

“We’ll get to see the fireworks, won’t we?” Juni interrupted, tugging on Great-Aunt Janai’s hair.

Janai smiled down at her. “Yes. The fireworks for the summer solstice are quite beautiful. It’s exciting that you’ve finally made it.” 

“You can thank my class schedule for that,” Callum chuckled. Dad taught new mages in the Silvergrove, mostly humans, the basics of mastering primal. Juni sat in on the classes all the time, as unlike Rae, she wasn’t connected to an arcanum—even if Rae was far more interested in magic than she was.

“Or Kyrus,” said Grandpa Lain, his mouth twitching. “He’s in charge of helping the new mages craft amulets.” Which was the last thing he would have wanted to do, but—well, he owed Grandma Tia one, or so the adults said.

“Are the fireworks loud?” Rae asked more nervously. 

“Yes,” Rayla said, taking his hand now that Tia had dropped it. “But we’ll be sitting safely away. It’ll be like Dad’s moon magic shows back home, just different colours and louder.” 

Rae glanced between his parents apprehensively and his fingers curled into the blue scarf around his neck. “But what if it is scary, and I wanna go—”

“Then I will go with you,” promised Grandpa Runaan. “And we can sit somewhere else. Lux Aurea has a beautiful library. Okay?”

Rae relaxed. “Okay.”

“I’m afraid Ezran is already in the kitchens,” said Amaya, as they began to walk out of the courtyard. “Ellis has never tasted Lux Aurean food before.”

“Claudia will want the recipes too, I bet,” Rayla said with a smile. She and Soren had stayed behind with Corvus and Opeli, to look after Katolis in the king and queen’s absence as High Mage and Crownguard, respectively. 

Rae and Juni usually saw them when they visited Katolis, so it’d been a little disappointing to hear that they wouldn’t be at this family trip—Uncle Soren gave the best piggy back rides and Aunt Claudia would let them mess around in the kitchen—but it was fine, as Winter Solstice was in a few more months, anyway.

“We’ll have Kazi send a list,” Janai promised with a slight eye roll and a smile. 

They passed a wide, domed room panelled entirely in gold and Callum froze for a second, but Rayla placed a hand along where his back ached, from the war. Grandma Tia and Grandpa Lain looked between themselves, stopping too, the whole thing so strange and boring that Rae had to say something.

“Is that room important?”

Callum came out of the stupor first, shaking his head. “No, kiddo, it’s not. Good question though.”

“It’s just a place we were,” said Grandma Tia. “A long time ago.”

Rae perked up. “A story?” he asked. His family had a lot of stories. Some they told as daring bedtime stories, some they spoke of in whispers. A king, an elf, an egg, and two wars. Coins as golden as the room they were peering inside. 

“Yes,” Rayla said carefully, taking his hand and Callum’s.

“But I think it would make a better story for another day,” said Ethari, catching his husband’s eye. “Don’t you? A wait always makes things more suspenseful. More worthwhile.” 

Rae had been hoping for an answer, not what his grandfathers said about forging or stakeouts or stealth missions of an age gone by. But he just shrugged his shoulders as his family tugged him along. Rae was patient. He could wait. 

He could tell it was one of those special stories, the ones rarely told. Of when his family had been smaller or separated or broken. But that was alright.

They had all the time in the world to tell him.

He already knew it had a happy ending.