There was a sort of exhilaration that came with surviving what was previously thought to be a suicide mission. Runaan was familiar with the rush.
If even a week ago someone had told Runaan that he would be relieved to see a human army charging to fight alongside him, he would have dismissed them as insane. Then again, a week ago he would have murdered Ezran to avenge a death that had not occurred out of a sense of duty. Runaan still wasn’t quite decided on how to feel about these changes, instead preferring to resort to his tried and true method of repressing any emotions inconvenient to the moment at hand.
Right now, Runaan was catching his breath as he watched Ezran push his half-brother Callum towards the Storm Spire before the two parted: Ezran on Pyrrah and Callum up the steps to the pinnacle.
Runaan leapt up to higher ground and surveyed the battlefield, once again wishing that the human Soren could have recovered his arrows along with his bowblade. He hadn’t had the forethought to grab any of the arrows the human army volleyed at Viren’s army of abominations either.
In a split second, he made up his mind, charging up the steps of the Storm Spire after Callum and towards Rayla. The Sunfire elves and human army were holding their own without him; it was only a matter of time at this point. Rayla, Prince Azymondias, and Queen Zubeia mattered far more than what happened down below.
Runaan found himself more tired by the climb that he would have cared to admit, likely the result of the near week he spent chained up followed by over a week in the cursed coin. Nevertheless, his longer stride allowed him to close the gap between him and Callum completely in the dragon lair.
“I saw her running up to the pinnacle!” exclaimed Callum, who was nearly tripping over shards of the same icy spell that had once trapped Tiadrin and Lain so many years before.
Runaan did not need to be told twice, sprinting the final distance across the room, barely even taking note of the sleeping Queen Zubeia. His momentum was such that he nearly slammed into Callum, who had come to a dead stop in front of one of Rayla’s blades. Runaan followed Callum’s horrified gaze.
Prince Azymondias was trapped in a purple, spiraling tornado. Colored bolts of energy crackled around the young prince as he cried out in pain. The dark mage Viren was somehow at the top of the pinnacle. That shouldn’t be possible. He was at the battlefield when Runaan had last looked. How had he managed to reach the top of the Storm Spire so quickly?
“You’re too late. I’ve already won.”
Runaan followed Callum up the steps as quickly as possible, grabbing Rayla’s blades as he went past. They could now see the full scene unfolding at the pinnacle of the Storm Spire – the dark magic streaming out of the human Viren’s staff, the same staff that he had used to imprison Runaan in the coin now draining the life energy of Prince Azymondias. Behind the dark mage Viren was the ghostly apparition of a Startouched elf.
“No!” shouted Callum.
Before Runaan had even had a chance to fully register the situation, there was a sudden rush of movement. Rayla, moving so fast her form blurred, charged straight through the apparition and into the dark mage Viren. The staff clattered to the side as both the human and Rayla plummeted off the pinnacle of the Storm Spire, his daughter’s scream vanishing into the air below.
Callum and Runaan had both reached the edge, where Rayla and Viren were no longer visible. With barely a moment’s hesitation, Callum shoved his sketchbook into Runaan’s arms and dived off the cliff himself.
“No! What are you doing?!” screamed Runaan as he watched Callum also vanish beneath the clouds.
Runaan fell to his knees. This couldn’t be happening, could not be real. His daughter, Rayla—
What had he done? Why had he insisted on Rayla coming with him to Katolis? Why did he not listen to Ethari? Now Rayla—their daughter—was gone, fallen off the pinnacle while he had only been able to watch in horror, unable to save her.
“No…” whispered Runaan, attempting to suppress his tears even when no one was around to witness them. But for once, he found himself unable to control the grief.
“No…” Runaan hugged Rayla’s now sheathed blades and Callum’s sketchbook to his chest, bent over as audible sobs caused his whole body to seize and tears fell onto the ground in front of him. “No, please, no—no, Rayla…”
There were footsteps behind him, slowly approaching. Runaan couldn’t even muster the will to turn around and see if they were friend or foe. Somehow he found he didn’t really care.
“Runaan!” came an elated voice—a very familiar voice.
Runaan’s head whipped around. There was Rayla, right behind him, face flushed and hair wind-tousled, extending her hand out to him and grinning ear to ear.
“Rayla?” he barely managed to whisper. His own shaking hand reached up but did not touch her hand for fear of breaking what surely must be an illusion that did not exist outside of his own perception.
Rayla’s bright smile quickly faded as she took in Runaan’s hunched form and tearstained face. “Oh. It’s okay, I’m here now.” She put her arms around Runaan, herself sinking to the ground and leaning in close as Runaan’s body tensed. “We’re all going to be okay.”
Runaan’s hands trembled as he cupped them around the back of Rayla’s head, hardly daring to believe his child was safe in his arms. “You’re alive?” Runaan’s eyes met Rayla’s. “You’re alive!”
“You haven’t gotten rid of me yet,” said Rayla, grinning cheekily back up at him.
That was all it took for Runaan to begin bawling with relief as he held his daughter close to his heart.