As the days wore on, Callum's studies intensified with the addition of his new assignment. He took his study very seriously, as the end of the week was approaching and he really wanted to get this storm spell right. Thorus wasn't kidding however when he had warned Callum; As he studied the spell, he found that it held the power to create an extremely destructive storm for miles around him, with him being the centrepoint. As he understood it, the storm would last as long as he focussed on it. If he lost his focus, at best, the storm would simply dissipate. The worst-case scenario was that the storm would pick up on its own.
Though there were spells to stop a storm, Callum hadn't learned those yet and he really wanted to ask whether it wasn't a good idea to learn those first. Then again, he figured Thorus would know those spells. Perhaps I should trust my mentor more in his methods of teaching, he mused. After all, he did trust me enough with this awesome new spell!
One other thing that complicated his studies was that he found himself spending more and more time in between classes with Aireli. She was kind, funny and smiled a lot at him. Callum was glad that he finally seemed to be making friends, even if other elves gave them weird looks. Right now, they were in the library again, where Callum was studying about the underlying theory behind the sky arcanum, while Aireli was sitting next to him trying to finish her project.
"Ah, it's no good! I'll never get this down!"
Callum snickered. "Give it time! You need some practice, that's all."
Aireli turned to face Callum and pouted, her long, white hair flowing with the movement. "Can't you do it? It would be perfect if you did it!"
Callum didn't look from his work but snickered. "Yeah, it would, and everybody would know I helped you." He turned to look at her. "I can give you pointers again, if you want to?" Callum found that he was eager to help his newfound friend. She was fun to hang out with, if a little clingy at times.
Aireli just shrugged, puffed and let herself fall back into her chair, looking at the ceiling. "Naa, you're right. I suppose I should just try harder…."
It was silent in the library for a while. Callum continued his studies, making notes, while Aireli was trying to focus, but kept distracting herself by looking at Callum, who eventually noticed her glances.
"What? Do I have something on my face?" he asked, blushing.
"What do you think of stargazing?" she replied, completely ignoring his question.
"Oh, ehm… it's alright, I suppose? I have done that many times because I was travelling with Rayla, you see, and-"
Aireli stopped him by putting her hand on his arm. She looked at him with a smile on her face, her voice so soft and sweet that he could do nothing but listen to her. "Do you wanna come stargazing with me tonight?"
Callum contemplated the pros and cons of missing valuable study time. Stargaze? But I have to study! Oh well, I suppose friends are friends because you hang out with them. "Uhm, sure!" He tried to hide the hesitance in his voice. Something about this didn't feel right, but he couldn't say what it was.
The skywing elf smiled at him, her wings flapping excitedly. "Great! I'm gonna put away my notes then. See ya tonight!" And with that, she briefly hugged him and skipped out of the room.
Callum watched her go, happy for the attention he got but confused all the same. Still, Callum being Callum, he just shrugged it off as not being used to having friends and continued his work.
The sun shone down on the Silvergrove in the early morning, though the trees filtered out most of the light, causing the Silvergrove to sit in an everlasting shade. It would prove to be a beautiful day, and Rayla was up early as ever, ready to get started.
"No, don't worry! I'll get the plates!" she said as she deftly moved through Ethari's abode (which was also her old home) and set the table for breakfast. She was in high spirits, glad to be in a place so familiar to her, so close to her heart. Ethari just laughed and let her do her thing, glad to have his ray of sunshine back in his life and his house. Rayla moved about with a spring in her step, happiness radiating from her form. After all her hard work at the Storm Spire and missing Callum for months, coming to the Silvergrove was exactly what she needed. It felt like coming home.
She and Ethari had talked deep into the night. She told him of what happened during and after the battle, the sudden promotion to captain of the Dragonguard and the responsibilities that came with it. She told him of her new crew and of their shenanigans.
Ethari laughed heartily about her stories and asked a lot of questions. "That's amazing, Rayla! It's good to hear you've got some friends at the Storm Spire."
Rayla smiled and took a sip of her tea. "Yes, I'm lucky to have em. Even if some of them are still stuck-up about humans. I'm tryin' to clobber some sense into them though."
This made Ethari laugh yet again. "Alright, alright. Speaking of which, what happened to your human friend?"
A blush crept up Rayla's face as he mentioned Callum, a subject of conversation she had so far purposely avoided. "H-human friend?"
Ethari tilted his head and did Callum's earthblood elf impression. "Trees to meet ya?"
"Oh, him! Haha!" She laughed awkwardly, not making eye contact. "Oh, he's, you know, around."
"Around? Around where? The Storm Spire? Or do you mean back to his home in the human lands?"
"Ah, neither actually. Turns out he's a real talented mage! He's connected to the sky arcanum, so in exchange for a mission we did in Duren, Callum got to go to the Aero Temple to study."
"Really? And how is he doing?"
"Oh, he's doin' fine, he writes to me often and-" Suddenly realising what she just said, she looked at Ethari, who simply looked back with a knowing smile on his face.
"He writes you, eh?"
Now beet-red, Rayla gave Ethari a shove. "You bloat-toad! You set me up for that!"
This just provoked more laughter from Ethari. "Maybe a little. But I already had my suspicions when I saw the two of you together. Of course, additional rumours of a human-elf couple at the ball in Duren only confirmed those."
Rayla's rosy complexion quickly turned pale. "So you're tellin' me that most of Xadia is now aware of us being together?"
"I don't think they know it's you specifically. Probably just the people who know you were personally involved in all that."
She groaned. "Ugh, alright, but still…"
"So, do you love the boy?"
Rayla didn't quite dare to look at Ethari. Confessing that she loved a human boy in her home village where she was trained to kill humans seemed just plain wrong. "I-I-I mean… I guess?"
Ethari snorted. "You 'guess'? That doesn't sound very convincing to me!"
"No-no! I mean, I do! I mean-" She glanced at Ethari, who made no attempt to hide his amusement at her flustered state. "Waitwaitwait… you're okay with it?"
"Rayla, of course I'm okay with it! I've got nothing against humans in the first place. That would be Runaan's department." He sighed heavily at the mention of his departed husband. "Ah, what I wouldn't give to see how he would take the news."
Rayla smiled sadly. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Don't get me wrong, I miss him, but I'm glad I don't have to have this conversation with him. He'd kill me, chop me up, then kill me again!"
Their conversation fell silent for a while. It was not uncomfortable though. They were both reminiscing of the past in their own way, and though there was a hint of sadness because of who they missed, there was happiness as well. They both felt like their family was back together again, at least partly.
Eventually, Ethari got up. "I'm going to go to the market today, so I will be gone for an hour or so. Can you keep yourself busy?"
"Pffft, sure. Don't worry, I'll just take a stroll around town, see who still likes me."
"That would be most. Sure, the village was sceptical at first when I told them your story, but now that it's confirmed by the dragon king himself, well, you're practically a hero."
Rayla looked sad though. "Maybe...but a lot of folks still lost someone on that mission, all because of me."
Ethari sighed, figuring this would come up now and again. "True, but you intended no malice. And that goes a long way." He sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulder. "What do you say we clean up the pond in the back?"
"Really? Do you think…" She wiped away a tear she didn't know she had.
Ethari nodded. "I think now is a good time."
"Alright," she replied. "Sounds good to me." She watched as Ethari got up and left. Staying behind in the silent treehouse, she reflected that even in their shared loss of Runaan, they could still find happiness in each other. Her mind drifted to the metal lotuses which rested on the bottom of the pond. I think I'll just put Runaan's flower somewhere nice. Maybe near Ethari's workshop, so he can watch him work. She got up and walked out the door, ready to face the day.
Thorus was talking about something. Callum was sure of it. However, he couldn't focus on the words coming out of his mouth. After a while, his teacher seemed to take notice of his lack of attention. "Perhaps you could answer the question, Callum? You've been awfully quiet this past lesson."
Callum swore he heard someone snicker as he jolted up. "Ah, uhm….uhhh."
"That's quite an intelligent response," Thorus replied sarcastically. "Anyone else have a better response?"
A hand was raised. "Aspiro?"
"Yes, that is correct. Aspiro is one of the beginner spells for the sky mage, but don't let that fool you. It can be a very potent spell. Now, who here has an idea of the practical use for aspiro?"
Several other hands were raised, and one of the boys in the back was given a turn. "Blowing up the skirts of th-" He didn't get to finish his sentence, as Thorus had already stormed to the boy's desk and smacked him across the cheek.
"Can I at least expect you to take your studies seriously!?" he roared at the stricken boy. "Whatever you do in your own damn time is your own concern, but in my classroom, you apply yourself SERIOUSLY to the arts of the arcanum, and NOTHING ELSE! Do. You. Understand!?"
The elven boy had visibly shrunk back, cheek still red from the impact. He looked paler than before, and nodded, wide-eyed from the outburst of his teacher.
Thorus took a deep breath and walked back to the front of the classroom. "Well now, anyone else?"
"B-blowing a soldier off a mountain?" a boy hesitantly answered.
"That would be correct, though it would require you to be on a mountain in the first place. Anyone else? Come on, you lot! Think creatively!"
Callum decided to risk it. Thinking back on his adventures with Ezran and Rayla, he knew that the spell saved them at least a couple of times. "Sir? I used the spell to stop an avalanche once…"
All the heads in the classroom swivelled in his direction. Thorus squinted at Callum. "Really? You stopped an entire avalanche with one of the simplest spells of the arcanum?" He looked disbelieving at the human prince.
Callum cringed under his gaze, but couldn't blame him. "Well, not the entire avalanche. You see, we were travelling and-" He looked around. Most students looked either bored or offended, probably because he deigned to come up with a better answer than them. Callum decided to just get to the point. "Well, an avalanche was heading our way. I told Rayla and Ezran to get behind me and just as the avalanche was about to hit us, I released the spell. It basically -"
"- cocooned you, I would imagine, yes…." Thorus finished the sentence thoughtfully. "You must have some decent lungs at least." He begrudgingly complimented the human student, as Thorus admitted to himself that was indeed a smart use of the spell.
Callum laughed awkwardly. "Not really. I could only keep it going for a couple of seconds. After that, the avalanche swept us away. I like to think that the spell prevented the brunt of the impact."
"It likely did. Impressive. Well? Can anyone top that?"
No one in the class dared to raise their hands anymore, but some of the students were giving Callum openly hostile looks.
Thorus resumed his teaching and Callum felt his attention again diverting from the sky arcanum to a certain moonshadow elf. He thought of Rayla often these days, and he missed her a lot. He tried to write to her as often as he could but found that sometimes, he didn't have the time or the energy to write her, and at other times, he simply didn't know what to say.
Dear Rayla, all is well, still studying. How are you doing? Love, Callum, he finished the short letter in his head. It sounds ridiculous! He was frustrated. Even though he was mastering one spell after the other, he felt the distance between himself and Rayla growing. His letters had become shorter, and so had her replies. He didn't know what to draw anymore. He missed her hugs and kisses and didn't know what to do about it.
And then, all of a sudden, Aireli appeared, growing close to him in a very short time. She was kind to him and genuinely interested in his studies. He thought her a very good friend, but she started hugging him every time they met. Reflecting upon this, he had to admit that he felt weird about it.
I mean, is it weird? I suppose friends can hug each other… He wasn't too sure about the protocol here, but moreover, he was conflicted. He found that he liked the hugs. He liked the intimate contact he had with this girl. But, it's just friendly, right? It doesn't mean anything! Gosh, I hope it doesn't upset Rayla… should I tell her? Or will that just make her mad for no reason?
Callum found that these newfound thoughts were very disturbing to him. He loved Rayla, and he had no reason to search for love anywhere else, but the intimacy offered by this elven girl was alluring, and it confused him. Moreover, she invited him to go stargazing with her tonight. He looked forward to it, but it also reminded him that it was something he used to do with Rayla.
I don't get it, he thought as he watched Thorus chew out another pupil for casting aspiro at a fellow classmate behind him. How do you deal with this? I suppose I'll just have to go with the flow… He turned his head away from the scene in the classroom and stared out of the window to the open sky.
It was early afternoon when Rayla was carrying the umpteenth bucket of water out of the pond. She wiped the sweat off her brow and looked down. The water level had lowered quite a bit, showing green stains on the stonework.
I figure it will take another couple dozen or so to fully empty it. Rayla found that she didn't mind the work though. It was soothing and gave her a sense of closure. Her own flower was still floating in the middle of the pond, gently swaying with the ripples caused by her work. It would take some time before the water was low enough for the other flowers to be visible. She no longer dreaded this. In fact, she looked forward to closing this chapter of her life and leaving it all behind her.
I will offer the families those flowers. I hope that they will forgive me, but at least I did what I could. Deep down inside, a feeling of contentment was starting to take hold. Abandoning her comrades had been a gamble, but it had paid off. There was now peace between the realms and the dragon prince was safe. Blood had been spilled, but it could have been far worse. Now, no one has to die anymore. At least, as long as no one does anything stupid. Mulling over that thought, she carried another bucket of water to the stream nearby.
When she came back, she was still lost in thoughts. As she lowered her bucket into the water, something suddenly caught her attention. A tiny bit of crystal broke the surface of the water. Her heart sank a bit. Ah, there they are. All that's left of the memory of my comrades. Though as she looked at the crystal, something felt off.
Wait a second. I thought the pond was deeper than this? She looked around, but couldn't see any of the other crystal flowers, so she focused again on the one that was barely surfacing. Maybe it's on a rock or something?
Even as she thought that, she knew it would be the wrong answer. The pond was kept pristine and empty so nothing would interfere with the rituals it was used for. She bent down and put her arm in the water. It disappeared in the somewhat murky water, but she couldn't see or feel the bottom. She lowered her arm some more, and her hand went deeper still. Strange. So the flower isn't restin' on something, yet it's submerged...partially? She couldn't make heads nor tails from this as she focussed on the flower again. Then, she saw it glow a bit, just barely. Startled, she nearly toppled over into the pond but managed to catch herself. Sitting down beside the pond, she kept her eyes trained on the bit of crystal rising above the surface. Again, it glowed a bit. Rayla's eyes went wide. "Ethari!"
Within moments, Ethari was by her side. As Rayla pointed out the anomaly of the partially sunk but still glowing flower, she saw him falter and for a moment thought he was going to faint. He steeled himself, however, and slowly stepped into the pond, careful not to crush any of the flowers lying on the bottom.
"Wait, Ethari! I thought we weren't allowed to get in the water. That's sacrilege!" Rayla's objections were half-hearted, but it felt safer to comment on traditions than to utter anything else that was on her mind, like who that flower belonged to or what it signified. She didn't dare give herself hope.
Ethari, however, now felt hope for the first time in a year, and he held onto it for dear life. "I don't care, Rayla. This is important. I've never seen something like this." He crouched down into the water, staring at his half-submerged creation. Carefully, and very slowly, he put his hands in the water, underneath the flower, and raised it out of the pond. "...No, it can't be… It's….it's Runaan's!"
Rayla breathed in sharply. "That's impossible!"
"Rayla, the flower is still growing! He's not dead!" But as the glow faded again, he added. "But… he's not alive either…" Ethari tested the flower by placing it in the water. It sank, but only below the water level. It never touched the bottom and was definitely floating.
"Ethari, what does this mean?"
He looked at her with desperate eyes, but there was hope in his desperation. "I don't know Rayla, but I think I can find out!"
The rest of the day was spent in Ethari's workshop. He used some of his tools and his own magic skills to see what was going on. However, despite being the best enchanter in the Silvergrove, the flower wouldn't give up its secrets, or simply couldn't. It was early evening when Rayla walked in on Ethari throwing his tools against the wall in frustration.
"So… didn't find anythin'?" She asked carefully, though she already knew the answer.
Ethari gave her a frustrated look. "It doesn't make sense! How can someone be alive and dead at the same time!?" He picked up a hammer and threw it at the wall with such force that it left a crack in the wood, making Ethari groan. He wasn't worried about the hammer, it was enchanted after all, but the wall would need some patching after this tantrum.
"Couldn't he be asleep? Like, in some kind of coma?" Rayla sat down next to him, doing her own bit of brainstorming, really wanting to solve this puzzle.
He shook his head at her suggestion. "No, that would mean he would still be alive, though unconscious." Ethari sat down and put his head in his hands, his palms covering his face. He had been crying, he discovered. He hadn't noticed it while he was working.
Rayla was plucking at a cloth laying on the workbench. "How about you tell me what the flower does? How does the enchantment work?"
Ethari leaned back in the chair, toppling it a bit. He stared at the ceiling. "You infuse the crystal with the moon arcanum, and then give it to the person you want it to connect to. The crystal will glow as long as the person hasn't passed away. There's nothing more to it really."
She mulled over his words. "Hasn't passed away…could it be possible that he's still here, but as some kind of ghost?"
Ethari shot her a weathered look. "Ghosts don't exist, Rayla."
"But what if they do? Could his soul still be here somehow?"
Now it was his turn to think. He combined her idea with the knowledge of the spell he had. "I suppose that could be it… it would certainly explain the confused state the flower is in," he said, gesturing at the flower that was still pulsing slowly but steadily. "But where is his soul then!? It's certainly not in the village. Anyone connected to our protective enchantments would have noticed such an intrusion!"
Rayla stood up and started pacing the room. "Alright, let's think for a second. Runaan was on a mission to kill the...the human king." She swallowed as she remembered that she was talking about Callum's step-father. "He succeeded. I know, cause the ribbon came off. So… what happened afterwards? What would have happened?"
Ethari shrugged. He had often thought about what Runaan's last moments would have been like, but he had no way of knowing for sure. "I take it he was captured by the guards? His flower didn't go under until a few days after the others."
"Alright! So they brought him to the dungeon." She frowned. "Callum wrote that they never found his remains… but the dungeon... was used by Viren!"
He raised a brow. "Viren? And who might that be?"
"He was the dark magic sorcerer who fought us at the Storm Spire!" Her mind was racing, thinking back of what she knew of him. However, the only time she encountered him directly was when he snuck into the Storm Spire. Flashes from her battle against him entered her mind. He froze her but didn't kill her because he wanted the dragon prince first. He did say something to her though. What was it again?
Viren looked at her evilly, taking pleasure in her immobilised state. He looked her in the eye and said: "It will be a pleasure to add one more moonshadow elf to my collection." He dangled a purse in front of her ominously and Rayla could do nothing but widen her eyes in fear, unsure what kind of fate that would be.
Rayla's eyes opened wide. "The purse! That's it!"
Ethari gave her a confused look. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Viren said he had a moonshadow elf collection, and he showed me a purse! He must have captured some piece of Runaan and put it in there!"
"What!? That's preposterous! How is that even possible!?"
Rayla shrugged but didn't look dissuaded from her idea. "I don't know, but Viren could do a lot of strange things, like enchanting all those soldiers, for example. Dark magic is an evil, strange thing. Maybe he did somethin' to Runaan to make him smaller? Or trap his spirit or somethin'?"
Before Ethari could finish, Rayla had already rushed out of the workshop. "Rayla, wait! Where are you going!" He went after her, and found her in his house, packing her gear and throwing random supplies on the table. It looked like she was packing for quite a journey. Ethari stammered as Rayla went around the house, grabbing this and that and putting it on the table. "Rayla, what...what is….What are you doing!?"
"Packin' of course!" she said in between breaths. "I need to go to Neolandia!"
"What!?" Ethari was now thoroughly confused. "Why? You just got here!"
Now Rayla stopped and looked at him intently. "That's where Viren is. And with luck, that's where Runaan is."
His eyes locked with hers and within them, he saw the same hope and determination he had felt himself earlier today. He gave in, though reluctantly. "Rayla, be careful. I just got you back! I don't want to lose you again!" Ethari strained to keep the emotion out of his voice.
She smiled softly at him. "Thanks, Ethari. But I've got to do this. If I can do anythin' to make up for what happened durin' the mission, I should do it."
Ethari sighed. "Alright. There's no stopping you. Is there anything I can do to help? I would go with you, but I'm not an assassin."
Rayla surprised him by responding with a hug, not being able to contain her excitement on the prospect of maybe, just maybe, getting Runaan back. She felt gratitude towards her foster family and wanted to show it. "No, but you have been a great da when my parents couldn't be." She let go of him and resumed her packing. "But could you get me a mount? I need to travel fast!"
Ethari was momentarily shocked by her hug. Rayla wasn't a hugger, she had never been. Gods, she has changed… He looked upon her and again saw the little elf girl that he had to raise in the absence of her parents, his best friends. "I'll get you the fastest shadowpaw we have!"
Within minutes, Rayla stood outside with her armour on, her swords on her back and a travel pack at hand. Ethari came riding towards her on the shadowpaw, dismounted, and handed her the reins. As Rayla jumped up, she looked down at Ethari with a look of apology.
"I'm sorry my stay here was so short."
Ethari touched her cheek gingerly. "It's alright, lass. Solve this mystery for us. If possible, bring him back to us." He knew that it could be a fool's hope, but it was all they had and after so long without him, he couldn't help but hope for Runaan's return. "Just promise me you'll stay safe. I can't bear to lose you again."
Rayla smiled, but her eyes didn't. "I'll… I'll try. That's the best I can promise."
"That's what I'll take then. May the moon guide you, Rayla."
"And may it ever shine down upon your home." Rayla saluted him and spurred on her mount. The shadowpaw leapt forward and dashed through the Silvergrove. Several passersby were startled and looked confused at Rayla's sudden departure. She just got here after all!
But Ethari watched her leave with a smile on his face. There was hope in his heart again, and though the mission seemed impossible, if anyone was to complete it, it was Rayla.
With a careful stroke of the brush, Callum applied the last of the paint to his chest. He looked into the mirror and stared at the result. The arcane runes covering the upper part of his chest looked intimidating, with a large eye painted in the middle. It was the last part of his preparations for tomorrow. They would be part of the spell he was going to cast. As Callum glanced at the spell scroll, then back at the mirror again, he couldn't help but be pleased. He had to admit that he wasn't one for tattoos, but these looked damn impressive.
Thorus had explained that the paint wasn't permanent, and that he had to apply them every few months. This surprised Callum, but he was very glad to have learned this. I could have fallen out of the sky if my mage wings would have failed!
He put the paint away and sat down. Another day of exhausted lessons had ended, and Callum was ready to hit the sack. However, he had promised Aireli to go stargazing with her, so it looked like he wouldn't be getting any rest anytime soon. Deciding he wanted to spend his time usefully, he hit the library again. However, he had studied nothing but the sky arcanum these past few months and it was feeling tedious at this point. He felt it was time for a change.
Callum's fingers moved over the spines of various tomes, looking for something interesting, something new. After a few minutes of searching, he found what he was looking for; a tome about all of the different arcana. Deciding that he might as well learn a bit more about other types of magic, he grabbed the tome, found a comfy spot in the library and spent the next few hours reading it.
Though Callum was fascinated by all things magic, his enthusiasm had worn off considerably during these last few months. Nowadays, it was less the childlike curiosity that drove him, and more his motivation to master the sky arcanum. It also helped that right now, mastering the sky arcanum was the only way to see Rayla again. However, even that thought didn't help him and he was really looking for something that could distract him from all that.
As he leafed through the book, he stumbled upon a few pages about celestial magic, the star arcanum, the only primal source Callum had heard next to nothing about. Intrigued, he read the pages closely. It was a general description, but it sounded very mystical, and very powerful. It had to do with visions and mystery and dreams.
Dreams… So could Belthasar be a startouch dragon or something? Maybe that's how he got into Rayla's head… Callum mulled this over. Maybe… if I learn a tiny bit of star magic, I could do that dream spell as well? I could be with Rayla during the nights! I wouldn't even have to leave the temple!
Motivated and thrilled by the thought, he quickly scanned the rest of the pages, but it was all general information, no runes or spell descriptions. Frustrated, Callum scanned the library for more tomes or scrolls about the star arcanum, but since this was not the expertise of the sky temple he was currently in, he came up empty-handed.
"There's got to be something here…" he said to himself as he kicked a chair in frustration. "I'll ask Thorus. Maybe he-" Callum looked out of the window and saw that it was getting pretty dark. He groaned, having forgotten about his meeting with Aireli.
Alright, I'll ask him tomorrow, he thought as he rushed out the door. If I hurry, maybe I won't be too late, and she won't be angry.
As it turned out, Aireli was a little pissed when Callum made her wait for almost an hour outside the tower. "Really, Callum? I thought you were never going to show!"
Callum, trying his best to placate her, quickly gave her a hug, figuring that was the way to do it. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I got caught up in my studies!"
"Again…" she said with a mischievous smile. "Well, let's clear that head of yours. You've been doing nothing but study the last few weeks! You need to relax a little."
Callum saw that she had brought a basket and a blanket with her. "What's in the basket?"
"It's a surprise!" Aireli's eyes were twinkling in the moonlight as she took to the air and flew in the direction of the grassy plains.
Callum watched her go. It was a full moon tonight, so he could see her despite the darkness. "Manus Pluma Volantis!" With a stroke of his wings, he had caught up to her and together they flew away from the Aero Temple. After half an hour of flying where they raced each other, they landed on a grassy field, both winded from the exercise.
"Whew! No fair! Those mage wings of yours are far larger than mine!" she said as she folded hers. She walked up to him and stroked his wings admirably, grinning. "Do you know what they say about elves with large wings?"
Callum felt a blush creep onto his face and immediately let the spell fade away. "I...uhm….I-"
But Aireli simply giggled and took his hand. "Come on! There's a good spot over there!"
"Uhm… okay!" Together they walked to a spot that looked comfy enough and settled down. Callum was glad to finally be able to let go of her hand. It feels wrong… I don't know what skywing elves usually do, but this feels way too intimate! Still, he didn't want to let down Aireli on a moonlit night like this, so he tried to go with the flow.
As they both lay down on the blanket, Aireli talked about the constellations. "I've heard some pretty interesting theories about them! Apparently, with the right eye, you can use them to predict the future."
"Huh? How? Is there a spell that does that or-?" Callum was intrigued. It sounded like star magic.
Aireli laughed. "No, silly! You just look at the stars, look up your constellation and figure out what it has in store for you!"
Now Callum was puzzled. "I don't follow. How can you have a constellation? They're all up there!" he said, gesturing at the night sky.
"Well, true, but not every constellation is straight above us at the same time. Look," she said, pointing upwards to the sky. "Can you see which one's above us right now?"
Callum squinted. He recognized the constellation but tried to remember its xadian counterpart. "That's the Two-fish-who-are-friends. I believe you call them Garlaths-flail-of-poison-thorns?" he said with a wry smile, thinking back to his stargazing session with Rayla.
"Garlaths what-now? No! Bwa, that sounds ridiculous! Who told you that?" Aireli was laughing at him.
Callum felt embarrassed. "Oh, just, someone I know." he mumbled, not really looking at her.
"Well, it IS ridiculous! Those stars clearly form The-two-lovers! Look, there's the head, and that there's the arm, and…"
Callum watched as she pointed things out and felt another blush creep up his cheek as he saw his fish constellation slowly being transformed into two humanoids embracing each other intimately. Really, is there anything that won't make me blush tonight? he thought with annoyance. He'd settle for just a comfortable night with a friend, but it looked like Aireli had other plans.
"...and as you can see, some of the stars shine brighter than the others, clearly indicating that whoever is born under this constellation will have a lot of luck in their romantic endeavours." She turned to face him, smiling brightly. Her bright deep-blue eyes were a stark contrast to her pale bluish skin.
"Uhm….kudos for you I guess?" Callum ventured carefully.
She giggled, and tiptoed with her fingers along his arm, causing him to shiver. "You seem distracted, human-boy. What's on your mind?"
He turned to look back at the stars, trying to put the effect her fingers were having on him out of his mind. "I was thinking… if I can connect to the sky arcanum, perhaps I can also connect to other arcana?"
Aireli gave him an unreadable look. It almost looked like she was… disappointed in something. She let her head fall back on the blanket and sighed. "I suppose it's possible. It's rare, but not unheard of. There's this one dude who managed to connect to everything. Poof, just like that!"
"Ara...something…" she said absentmindedly, not really interested in the topic.
"Do you mean Aaravos? I actually have something that was of him, or at least named after him!"
"Oh, really? That sounds exciting," she said with a voice that indicated she thought of it as anything but.
Callum mulled over his thoughts. "Maybe I can connect to the star arcanum somehow. I believe there's a spell that will allow you to visit someone's dreams."
"Really? Now that DOES sound interesting!" She turned to look at him, but Callum was ignoring her, still lost in his thoughts.
"It'll probably be very difficult, connecting to another arcanum. But it might be worth a try. I shall ask Thorus in the morning."
"Pffff, that old oaf!" She said abrasively as she wiped away a bug that had crawled onto their blanket. A moment of silence followed. Aireli was put off by Callum's lack of attention to her. Still, she wasn't quite done with him yet for tonight. "You know," she started with a seductive low voice "if you do manage to do that, you are welcome to visit my dreams." As she said that, she cuddled up next to him, putting her head on his shoulder and an arm around his torso.
Callum tensed immediately, alarm bells going off in his head. "T-That ...that sounds….nice?" He looked at her, afraid of what she was going to do next, but she remained still and just laid there, cuddled up against him, breathing softly. A warmth began to spread through his body. As if on instinct, he gingerly put an arm around her. He was very confused, but she hadn't made any other movement and he still wasn't sure of her intentions. What do I do, what do I do!? Think, Callum. Think!
But no further thoughts or ideas came to him. "This is nice…" He heard her murmur into his chest.
"Yeah...I suppose it is." Letting go of the last bit of his restraint, he put his other arm around her as well and cuddled up to her for warmth, feeling happy, confused and guilty at the same time.
It had taken Soren a couple of days to get to Neolandia and as he rode his horse through the empty desert on an old brick road, he immediately regretted not taking off his armour.
"Stupid sun… stupid heat… stupid sweat…" he muttered as he pulled on his armour and clothes, trying to get some air between the sticky material and his sweaty skin. He was stubborn, however, and had stocked up enough water to last him another day before he really needed a refill. "I'm going to beat you, sun, and then I'm going to find my sister, and…" He frowned. He hadn't really thought that far ahead yet, but he was sure that he could improvise what came next on the spot.
After another hour, he spotted something in the distance. There, shimmering in the heat, were the outlines of a bunch of palm trees.
"An oasis! Yeah, fresh water! Alright horse, let's go!" He spurred on the horse, but after a few faster steps, the horse resumed its slow trod, clearly exhausted from the trek in the burning sun. "Aw, you're hot too, aren't you? That's alright. We'll get there."
As they got closer, Soren noted that something was off. He saw a shape lying in the shade. A large, blueish, feline shape. He dismounted his horse and drew his sword, slowly getting closer. "Alright, kitty cat, are you friendly or is Soren going to make mince meat out of you?"
The large beast stirred as it heard Soren approach. It had a dark coat of fur, with light-blue manes and two horns with dark-blue mystical patterns on them. The cat narrowed its eyes and growled at the intruder as Soren stepped into the shade. He could now see that a saddle was lying next to the beast, along with a few packs of elven design. "Elves, here in Noodleoodlia? That's str-"
"That's close enough, human!"
Soren whipped around to see a hooded figure standing in the darker shadows of a couple of trees clustered together. Though the face was obscured, the twin blades she held out in front of her were unmistakable. "Wait… little elf girl? Rara?"
Rayla groaned as she recognized the voice, the posture and the stupidity of the person in front of her. Him! Here, of all places!? "It's Rayla!" She put her swords away and stepped forward, becoming somewhat more recognizable as she put down her hood. "What are you doin' here, Soren?"
Soren put his own sword away and led his horse into the shade. "Oh, you know, just enjoying the hot Noodleoodlia summer, taking a stroll… say, is that cat going to eat my horse? Because then me and the cat are going to have a problem!"
Rayla crossed her arms. "My shadowpaw has been fed, so it shouldn't, not unless your horse is bein' an ass. And enjoyin' the summer, you say? I can see that." Rayla was impressed by the massive sunburn Soren had on his face. That'll hurt…
"Yeah, well, what are you doing here then?!" Soren retorted. He wiped the sweat off his face and grimaced as his tender skin protested at his touch.
"Lookin' for Viren," she deadpanned.
This shocked Soren. "My father? What do you want with him? Why on earth are you even here!? Aren't you supposed to guard the dragon prince?"
Rolling her eyes, she walked towards him and offered him a flask of water. "That's a long story. But basically, your father has somethin' of mine, and I want it back."
"Oh… well good luck asking!" Soren took a few swigs, grateful for the taste of fresh water.
"Wasn't plannin' on askin' him, more like just takin' it without being seen." She grinned as she pulled out one blade again, inspecting it. "While we're on the subject, care to tell me why you're here now?"
Soren looked conflicted for a moment, but since he had definitely cast his lot with King Ezran, who was the brother of Callum, who was the boyfriend of Rayla, he figured that he could tell her. "I was hoping to talk to Claudia. I want her to come back to Katolis."
This surprised Rayla somewhat. "Really? You think you can manage that?"
He shrugged. "I won't know until I try, right?"
Rayla looked pensive for a moment. "Well, you know, the two of them will probably be together. Maybe we could travel for a bit."
"You mean like, go on the mission together?" For some reason, the thought of the two of them storming the cultists really excited him.
"Eh… I dunno about the mission. You're not exactly stealthy… but I could use your help in findin' out where they are hidin'."
"Oh, I know that already. They're in Valros, near the red mountains."
This surprised Rayla. "Wha… how do you know that? Have you been in contact with them or somethin'!?" She pointed her blade at him in an accusing manner.
"Noooo… if that was the case, I would have talked my sister into coming back ages ago." Rayla rolled her eyes, but Soren didn't notice. "No, Duren found out where the headquarters of the cult is. Apparently, they're not hiding either. They're kind of a big thing now in Noodleoodlia"
"Neolandia…" Rayla muttered. "Alright. Then you can lead us! Let's rest for now, we'll leave at dusk."
"Huh? Why wait for dusk when we can just go now?" Soren was about to mount his horse, but the horse stepped away, giving him a sad, tired look.
"Soren, you can't just expect that horse to carry you around in the heat of the desert! Most people travel during the night! It's a lot cooler then!" Rayla shook her head at the warriors' stupidity. Apparently, it's just the one thing he's good at, and not much else. She watched as Soren just shrugged and undid the buckles of the saddle, giving the horse some freedom and allowing it to cool on its own. At least his heart is at the right place. She looked into the distance, seeing nothing but sand, but knowing that Viren, and Claudia, would be out there somewhere.
I'm comin', Runaan. Hold on, wherever you are.
After dusk set in, the pair travelled silently through the night. Just as dawn came, they arrived at the city of Valros and they steeled themselves for the next step of their own individual missions.
Viren read the letter delivered to him this week and frowned: Claudia was coming back from the castle, and would be arriving this morning. She said she wanted to talk. She didn't say about what.
But I can guess...Viren thought as he crumpled the letter in his hand. These past few days, he, Claudia and Aaravos had disagreed more and more on what was the next best step. Viren wanted to consolidate his power, make alliances and make sure that the other human kingdoms were all united under one banner. Even Del Bar was now using dark magic more openly, though, as Viren understood it, not in the same way as they were operating in Neolandia. I should check that out sometime soon, he thought to himself.
It pained him to see that his daughter just didn't see it that way. She reasoned that with the awesome power of the sun staff and the army of dark magic users she had been training (mostly in combat magic nowadays) Claudia was very confident that they could take on an elven army if they were smart about it. Viren thought this to be suicide. The elves are skilled in warfare and have magic users of their own. Why is she so eager to jump into the fray!? He also thought that this would be the wrong way to use dark magic, or at least, he had a feeling there was more to it than raw power. What irked him most, however, was that he had lost control over his daughter. She alone now had direct access to the ruler of Neolandia, and thus, all of its resources.
Lastly, there was Aaravos to consider. He seemed to be impartial to whatever approach they took, as long as they finished the artefact they were working on: the Heart of a Dragon. He said that it would contain enough power to overthrow the elven kingdoms on its own, though he agreed that gathering more followers was a good idea. Viren didn't think that Aaravos did not pick sides because he was trying to be polite; he just didn't care.
This left Viren in a predicament: try to force his daughter to cede control of the nation to him and force her to follow his plan, or leave to Del Bar on his own to try to get them to join Neolandia in an alliance against the elves. And against Katolis and Duren, he thought bitterly, as the two nations had fought against him during the battle of the Storm Spire.
Viren walked out of his study and onto the balcony of their temple. It overlooked a square where various people were now setting up stalls for a market. Whatever path I or Claudia will take, it must be for the betterment of humanity. If we are to part ways, so be it. Two can still accomplish more than one, even if separated.
Telling this to himself, he pushed away the pain he was feeling on possibly falling out with another one of his children. He stared into the distance, contemplating his thoughts, and because of that, he missed two inconspicuous figures creeping through the town square, trying to find a way into the temple.
"So, while I was studying, I came upon something interesting."
"Oh did you now?" came the chagrined reply. Callum had to strain to hear Thorus speak over the rushing of the wind. They were pretty high up, and the mountain was getting closer.
Callum felt nervous. This was the moment he had been working towards. He now had to prove that he could handle advanced spells, perhaps even prove he had mastered the sky arcanum! He really had no idea of what to expect after this demonstration. But first, he had to show that he was capable of casting the spell, and while he did his best to memorise every tit-bit of the spell \scroll Thorus gave him, he was still a little unsure about it. He decided he might as well distract himself by talking about something else.
"So, I read about the other forms of magic. Is it really possible for someone to connect to multiple arcana?"
Thorus looked across his shoulder to his student flying behind him. "Yes, it is, but it isn't easy. For elves, it means to learn something that is counter to their nature. For you, it might be even more difficult. Why? Do you plan on switching?" he replied with a mocking tone.
Callum sped up a little to get closer to Thorus. "No, it's not that. I just know of a star arcanum spell that I want to cast, so I was wondering-"
Before Callum could finish the sentence, Thorus was already shaking his head. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you would try to expand your repertoire, but I'm afraid I must disappoint you, boy. Only startouch elves can do star magic."
Callum was unconvinced and pressed on. "Look, that's what they said about me and the sky arcanum. They thought I couldn't do it. YOU thought I couldn't do it. But race doesn't matter!"
Thorus looked at him, not really caring about Callum's outburst. "It isn't a matter of race, or magic. It is a matter of time. Startouch elves live their long lives for a reason. They can perceive the subtle waves of magic that ripple through our worlds. This is what enables them to use the star arcanum. The subtleties are lost on us who are short-lived. It is something that we can probably only really see and notice after we pass beyond the veil."
"Oh…" Callum said nothing for a while, feeling a little bit let down. He had hoped to use this to contact Rayla, but the way Thorus explained this made it seem like this was out of his reach, no matter how hard he would try.
"Focus, boy. We're here," Thorus said as he dropped down. Callum followed. They floated towards the top of a mountain. The skysplitter, they called it. It was one of the highest mountains in Xadia. Callum noted they were indeed pretty high up. The ventus spiralis spell made sure they were still breathing, but it didn't protect them against the cold. They had trained for this at the sky temple, however, and by focussing on his inner core he was able to keep the cold at bay. It wasn't even a magic trick; it was much more a meditative skill the Skywing elves had taught him.
Thorus and Callum landed on the peak. Callum took in the scenery. The sky was clear. The view up here was absolutely amazing. He mused that he should go back here one day to make a few sketches.
A cough from Thorus interrupted Callum's thought process. "Well, boy, are you going to do anything today? Or are you just going to gawk at the scenery and waste my time?"
Callum grimaced. He never changes. He looked down at the arcane runes and lines painted on his chest, A blue pupilless eye featuring prominently in the middle. He breathed deeply to calm himself, as he had taught himself to do in moments of stress. And this was definitely one of them.
"Of course, if you are ready to admit that this spell might be beyond your level…"
"Shut up!" Callum snapped. "I don't know if I can do this. But I was able to do everything else, and I don't know if I can do this spell until I try, now do I?"
Thorus looked amused at his tirade. He made a 'go ahead' motion with his hand. "Well then?"
Another breath, and Callum started to draw the runes of the sky arcanum in the air using both of his hands. It was an intricate design, but Callum worked logically, both hands working in a circular pattern, opposite each other to complete the design. He drew the lidless eye in the centre last, and incanted the spell. "Oculus Tempestatis!"
The runes in the air faded, but the light seemed to be absorbed by those on his chest. "Get ready!" Thorus warned. "Don't lose focus, lest this storm will rampage without control down the mountain!" He cast his own spell in the meantime. "Ventum est Clypeus!" The air-shield spell appeared around him.
Callum noticed but felt his focus being drawn to the winds. He couldn't actually see what was happening, but he could feel it. He stretched his arms and used his will to try to control the winds which were now picking up speed. Dark clouds began to appear, blocking the sun,
"That's it, boy. Keep that focus!" Thorus' robes didn't even flap, being completely safe from the onslaught that was now appearing on the mountain top. The dark clouds formed right above Callum, maybe a mile above him, and were quickly rolling in all directions. Raindrops started to fall, hitting hard in Callum's face as they were flung about by the harsh winds. And yet, Callum felt that this was only the beginning. He closed his eyes and willed the storm to take shape properly.
A rumbling sound could be heard above. Flashes of lightning could be seen in the clouds. The rain was now pouring down. Callum was reminded of that time that he smashed the primal stone. But still, the storm hadn't reached its peak.
Callum focussed, bringing his hands together in front of him and focussing his eyes on them. He was the centre of the storm. I am the eye of the storm! The winds now swung about him, but they no longer affected him as a small area around him appeared to become immune to the storm. Outside of that, however, small boulders were shifted across the ground, and the few small trees that grew on the side of the mountain were toppled and picked up as the wind thrashed about with tremendous power. Water now poured from the skies, striking rock and stone and dust, not leaving any puddles but being flung about again by the wind, withering away the soft parts of the earth.
Callum slowly let his hands fall down his sides, his mind keeping the focus on the storm. As he watched the valley below, he was pleased to note that the storm only stretched a mile or two across. It didn't touch the greener parts of the mountainside or the valley. He had control of the storm. To test this, he focussed on a lone tree that, up until that point, had withstood the onslaught: the large pine standing proudly on the slopes. Callum stretched his arm towards it and snapped his finger. Lightning immediately struck the tree, splitting it in two and setting fire to its inner core. The flames were quickly smothered by the rain, but the inner core was now coal that remained aglow, even against the rain and wind that battered it.
Thorus slowly moved next to him and dropped his shield spell. "Incredible…" he whispered. Callum looked at him. He seemed genuinely impressed, maybe even distraught that he, of all people, was able to do this. "Even my most advanced students had to work on this spell for years… To think you were able to pick this up so easily…."
Callum frowned. "I wouldn't call it easy. I had to study the arcane writings for weeks." Thorus looked offended at the implication that his students wouldn't do this. Callum picked up on that and continued. "I'm not saying that your other students aren't good students, but, I just get this." He gestured at the storm that he was still focussing on. "I get it. I understand the sky arcanum. And in all honesty, your school sucks. You don't protect your students from bullying, and you won't allow them to engage in discussion with a teacher." As the power flowed through him, Callum felt he had grown. He had matured. And he felt that maybe now was a good time to speak his mind to the teacher who had put him through hardship after hardship for all those months.
Thorus snarled. "What, so now you've accomplished all this without my help? Is that what you're saying now?"
"No, you as a teacher were a great help. As a person, you could do better. The thing is, I'm bullied and isolated. My girlfriend is a thousand miles away. The only thing I've got is my sketchbook and my talent for the sky arcanum. I don't have any friends here, so I spend all my time focusing on my studies!" He raged on and as he did, the storm seemed to grow with intensity, the rumbling in the clouds amplified by his anger. He looked at the runes on his chest which were glowing slightly. "All that focus paid off."
Thorus said nothing for a while and watched the storm rage across the mountain. "You can stop the storm now, before you cause a mudslide."
Callum nodded. He breathed in deeply, then let the air go out slowly, at the same time slowly releasing his grip on the storm. The clouds became lighter and drifted away. The rain stopped, and the winds grew still.
Thorus regarded his student, who was panting from exertion. Even if Callum made the spell look easy, it still drained him, especially now that the adrenaline had left his system. "Have you considered that I have isolated you on purpose? To see what you were made of? To see what you could accomplish without the help of good-natured elves? To see if humans can truly manage on their own?"
Callum didn't look at him but watched the sun appear behind the clouds as he answered. "If that's true, then you are very effective as a teacher. It's also incredibly cruel, and I don't think you should do that ever again."
When Callum looked at his teacher, he thought he saw a faint blush on his face, but it could also be a trick of the light. Is he ashamed?
"Perhaps you are right, or perhaps you aren't. At the very least, I am glad, proud even, to see what you accomplished today."
Callum was so surprised by this that he nearly stumbled and fell. Thorus is proud of me!? He didn't know what to say, and as he saw Thorus looking at the valley below, he figured he wasn't in the mood to elaborate. They stayed on the mountaintop for a while, each contemplating their thoughts. Finally, as they made ready to go back to the school, Thorus addressed him one more time. "That thing with your fingers you did? With the lightning?"
"I don't recall that being part of the spell. You snapped your fingers for effect, didn't you?"
Callum grinned. "Yeah, I totally did."
Two hooded figures were watching the temple from the corner of the square. Various stalls were being set up and people were milling around trying to get everything ready for today, so their presence went largely unnoticed. The temple they were watching was old but showed signs of recent restoration. Rayla figured that the cult just picked an old empty temple and refurbished it for their own purposes. Soren was more interested in the guards posted at the temple; they were all figures wearing dark-grey leather armour, with hooded light-grey cloaks to protect them from the sun. Some carried spears, while others carried no weapons whatsoever, which surprised Soren.
"Just look at them. No weapons! They have some pretty shitty guards!"
Rayla looked at the guards herself and came to a different conclusion. "Maybe, or maybe they are dark mages and use spells instead of weapons. Remember all the stuff your sister tried to do to me when you two chased us?"
Soren scratched the back of his neck. "Hey, I apologised for that, didn't I? Or did I? I can't remember."
Rayla laughed softly. "It's okay, big guy. You're alright. Point is, that magic stuff is powerful. We should avoid alertin' the guards if we can. We can't take them all out anyhow."
"Right, so what's the plan?"
"Well, we-" Just at that moment, Rayla spotted something. From the back of the temple appeared a large, purple creature, flying upwards and gaining speed quickly. It was visible only for a few moments before it disappeared out of sight completely.
"What? What is it?" Soren looked at Rayla questioningly. He looked up in the sky to where she was looking, but didn't see anything.
"I don't know… but whatever it was, it's gone now." She sighed. There were many unknowns to this mission. She had fought dark magic users plenty of times before. She had lost most of the time, so she didn't like her chance fighting those guards. "How are your climbing skills?"
"Give me a piece of rope and I'll climb up that wall in no time," Soren said confidently.
"And without rope?" Rayla replied, eying the steep walls, calculating her own path.
"Eeh… maybe you could carry me?"
"Right…" Rayla thought of what the best approach was. There was a gap between the guards on the upper floor where she could probably climb up to unseen, but then the guard near the door could see her. And this wouldn't help Soren get in either. She mulled it over and considered the different avenues of approach. "Alright," she said as she grabbed Soren by the shoulder. "Here's the plan... "
Omir was bored. He really wished he hadn't played bones and dice yesterday. The losing streak caused him to wager his free hours, which he lost as well. And now he was stuck on guard duty while that scum, Marin, could just enjoy the market and pubs and chat up with the girls and ugh! He hated it! He kicked a rock for effect. Guarding the Temple in Valros was supposed to be a great honour, but the truth was that they didn't have any enemies here. Nothing interesting happened, ever.
Omir looked up in surprise. Before him stood a blonde young man who sported a very impressive sunburn on his face. He was covered in robes but looked quite bulky underneath. "Yeah, what do you w-" Omir caught himself. As the guardian of the entrance, he was supposed to be polite. "What I mean is, what can I do for you, good sir?" He groaned inwardly. Why do I have to say that?
"Well, I was wondering if I could get in and get some ointment for my face. I have this terrible sunburn, you see." The young man mumbled as he pointed at his face.
"Yes, I can see that. However, we don't generally heal people at the temple. You have to get to the healer tent for that." Omir gestured at the far end of the market where a large tent had been erected, carrying the symbol of the True Light.
"Well...you see…." The young man seemed unsure of what to say next. He kept glancing to his right. Just as Omir was about to look as well, he suddenly stepped closer. "I was actually hoping to get a glance of that wonderful mistress of yours."
"Wha!? Oh, you mean sorceress Claudia?" Omir focussed his attention on the man again. He was now inside his personal space. I could cast a spell to make him all itchy...but maybe he's just curious. Better to just be polite, I think. "I'm terribly sorry. I don't believe she is in at the moment. You aren't allowed in, anyway. Members only, you see."
The young man suddenly looked very depressed. "Oh...oh, I see… well, alright…" He glanced to his right, then upwards, as if admiring the building. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, he stepped back. "I suppose I should leave then…"
Omir nodded. "I think that would be best." With a wave, the blonde man left, walking along the side of the temple back to one of the houses. Omir shook his head. Crazy people… It's probably best I didn't tell him that high sorceress Claudia will be back soon. Can't imagine what that creep must want with her. Omir started to whistle a ditty little tune, convinced that he did his job as a guard perfectly.
Soren looked back, and when he saw the guard looking the other way, quickly rounded the corner. A rope was hanging from the wall. With some effort, he pulled himself up and saw Rayla there waiting for him. "Took you long enough." was her snarky reply.
Soren shrugged it off. "There's a problem. Claudia is not here."
This surprised Rayla. "She isn't? I thought you said this was their headquarters."
"Beats me," he whispered, not wanting to alert any guards. "But if she's not here, there's no point for me being here either."
"Well, I'm still not done with my mission! I could use some backup," she hissed. She meant it though. She was probably a lot stealthier, but having a good fighter as a backup was not a bad idea.
Soren sighed, feeling down now that he couldn't talk to his sister after all. "Alright, what are you looking for?"
"A small, brown pouch. Viren said he kept his moonshadow elf collection in there. It jingled like there were coins in it." Rayla felt uneasy as she described the pouch, and tried to put it out of her head.
Soren thought for a moment. "I think I know what you mean. He would probably keep it in his study or something."
Rayla nodded. "Alright, let's find the study then!"
The two of them crept along the upper floor. Though Soren wasn't stealthy, Rayla more than made up for it, scouting ahead and making sure that Soren never got anywhere near the guards. Soon they had entered the temple. While guards patrolled the outside, the inside was rather empty. There were several rooms connected to one large hallway.
"Which one do you think is the study?" Soren asked, trying to make sure his armour didn't jingle so much underneath his cloak.
"Let's try the most obvious one first." She said, pointing at the door at the end of the hallway. They slowly crept towards it and Rayla was surprised to find it unlocked. When they entered, they saw various bookcases, a few tables with books, manuscripts and pots with ingredients, and shelves upon shelves filled with animal parts and pots and plants. Rayla had a dejavu from the time she found the dragon egg in the dungeon below Katolis Castle.
"This looks like my dad's room alright…" Soren whispered. Knowing his father was truly evil now, it put all of the ingredients in a gruesome light. These animals probably died to give his father more power. It wasn't out of necessity, as his father had always claimed.
"Okay, now let's look around!" Silently, the two of them walked along the room, looking at the shelves and opening drawers, searching for anything resembling the brown pouch. Though they did find two pouches, both of them contained powder and Rayla was sure that wasn't it.
"Oh please oh please…" Rayla whispered. "Let it be here…"
"Well now, this is certainly a surprise!"
Both Soren and Rayla whipped around. There, in the doorway leading towards a balcony, stood Viren.
Aireli yawned. She was sitting in the library, pretending to study. It made her look better towards the teachers, but in actuality, she was reading some novel. She had to contain a blush as she read through the pages. However this book ever came into this library is anyone's guess! It's certainly not material those old teachers would want us to study. She bit her lip as she could imagine herself reenacting the scenes in the book with someone she'd been seeing a lot these past weeks.
All of a sudden, Callum burst into the library. "Aireli, there you are!"
Aireli turned around and stood up in surprise. "Callum, you're back!" She didn't expect him to be back for another couple of hours. She saw Callum standing there, sweating, but smiling. He ran up to her and gave her a hug from his own excitement.
"Oh, the spell worked perfectly! You should have seen it! I actually did it! I created a storm!" He let go of her and did a little silly dance in the room.
While she was glad for him, she was a bit put off by his excitement and his silly dance. "Ehm, that's great for you, Callum, really!"
Callum grabbed her shoulders and looked at her, all smiles. "You don't get it. Master Thorus is considering giving me a temporary master title. He says there's no point in not giving me that status after what I've just pulled off!"
This made Aireli stare at Callum wide-eyed. He's THAT good? I've never heard of students getting their master that quick!? He's only been here what, six, seven months!?
Callum saw her surprise and tried to explain. "I would still need to finish all the other subjects that are required, so I would still be studying here for years. But being a master means I'm free to come and go whenever I want!" He got a bit foggy eyed as he further explained what this meant to him. "I get to see Rayla again!"
Aireli mouthed "Oh." as she now realised why this was such a big deal to him. This is not good. He's going to leave and see that elf again! I'll have to move fast! "Well, then I suppose we should just celebrate then?" she replied awkwardly.
Callum didn't notice her awkwardness and just laughed. "I think celebrations are in order, yeah."
She smiled. "Good. How about we meet here an hour after dinner?"
"Here, in the library?" Callum didn't think it would be the right place to party, and though he was eager to finish the rest of his studies, he certainly wasn't THAT eager. He had earned a rest.
She giggled. "No silly, I'll prepare a spot for us. Just make sure you're here in time. Oh, and wear some nice clothing," she said with a wink as she walked away from him, towards the door.
Callum felt slightly suspicious as he watched her go but quickly discarded that feeling. It's good to celebrate this with a friend. It's good to not be alone. And I get to see Rayla again! After all those months, things are finally starting to look up!
That evening, after dinner, Callum came to the library. He was wearing a nice outfit as asked. Maybe there'll be a surprise party somewhere? he thought as he entered. However, the only person he saw there was Aireli. She looked rather alluring. She had chosen to wear a loose-fitting dress that showed all of her curves quite nicely. Callum gulped. "Aireli! You...look...nice?" he ventured carefully, not sure what he was supposed to do here.
Aireli smiled wickedly at him. "I'm sure I do. You also look quite dashing. Have you been dressing up for me?" She stroked his vest with her hand, giving him goosebumps.
"Ah...well...you said to wear something nice…"
"I did, didn't I?" She took his hand and pulled him out of the library. "Come with me."
Aireli led Callum through the dark halls and stairs of the tower, going upwards quite a bit. Callum was disoriented in the dark. This part of the tower wasn't used in the evening, so it wasn't lit properly. Eventually, they came to a door. When she opened it with a key, Callum saw a cosy looking living room. A fire was going in a fireplace, there were bookcases lining the wall, and a comfy-looking sofa was the centrepiece, standing before a delicately woven rug with beautiful patterns. There were a couple of doors leading to other rooms. Callum guessed that this was a guest room of some kind.
"So, what do you think?" Aireli said as she gestured towards the room.
"Looks cosy." He said, repeating his earlier thoughts. It doesn't look like a party room, however, so what does she plan on doing here?
Aireli pulled Callum towards the couch and sat down beside him. "So, Callum, what are you going to do now that you are a master of the sky arcanum?"
Callum laughed awkwardly, more at the situation than at the question. "Well, it's just a title. I still got a lot left to learn, but since I've proved myself capable of learning such a powerful spell, I think it shouldn't be a problem to learn all the other spells quickly."
"Well, you are the best human student I have ever seen! Actually, make that the best student. You're the first human here after all."
"Wow, thanks! I mean, you're not bad yourself, you just need to practise drawing runes a bit more."
They talked a bit more about school and their plans. Aireli got them a few drinks, and Callum was surprised to taste the alcohol in it. He didn't drink too heavily, however, since he didn't have any experience with the stuff, but as Aireli's questions began to be more intimate and more awkward, he found himself drinking more, just so that he could have some time to think of an answer.
"So what are your thoughts on that?" Aireli was leaning towards him.
Sitting next to her, Callum found himself having to constantly focus his eyes on hers, lest they be drawn elsewhere. "Think of what?" He got distracted and didn't listen to her question.
She giggled. "What do you think of kissing? Do you like it?"
"Like, in general?" Callum said, taking another sip. Aireli nodded. "I suppose I do. I'm not an expert, I think, but… you know... " He blushed, not feeling like telling her about the smooching sessions he had with Rayla.
Aireli smiled broadly. "That's good to hear." She yawned. "I'm a bit tired. What do you say we go ly down on the couch a bit?" Before he could answer, she was already stretching herself, pushing Callum behind her so that he would spoon her if he laid down.
"O-oh… okay then… I guess… we could? Just for a bit though!" Callum felt extremely uncomfortable right now. Is this right? It feels like this is a bit more than just 'friends'... He gingerly laid down next to her, still trying to keep a bit of distance, but the couch wasn't big and made it rather difficult.
After a short while, Aireli turned around and put her head on his shoulder, softly stroking his chest. "This is nice, don't you think?"
This time, Callum didn't reply. He could feel the conflict within him, feel himself tensing up, fighting against the hormones that were telling him that yes, this was a very nice elven girl lying next to him.
She sensed how tense he was. Her hand went upwards, slowly stroking his jaw. She felt him gulping. Slowly, she reached up and placed a kiss on his neck, and then softly whispered to him. "Don't you want me, Callum?"
Callum's eyes flung open as he stared at the ceiling. He tried to get up slowly but felt the weight of her body holding him down. "Aireli, I don't think that-"
"What is going on here!?" The door had opened without the both of them noticing in the heat of the moment. There in the doorway stood a very angrily looking Thorus, glaring at the both of them. "I said, what is going on here!?"
Callum shot up instantly, now completely disregarding Aireli as she nearly fell off the couch through his sudden movements. "Aewhhh…" Was the most he could utter.
Thorus breathed heavily through the nose, eying the two. He looked at Aireli. "Well? What were you doing with that human boy?"
Aireli didn't look all that worried as she rolled her eyes. "Oh please, dad. Can't you give me a break? We were just having a moment!"
Thorus wasn't having any of it. He gestured towards the door. "Callum, get out! Out! You are even more disgusting than I imagined you would be!"
Callum felt his cheeks redden. "H-hold up, this isn't what it looks like!"
"Really? So you weren't cheating on your girlfriend, who's the captain of the dragonguard!?" When Thorus saw Callum's look of surprise, he added. "Oh yes, I know of your letters. Very sweet of you to write her. A pity you didn't mean a word of it!"
Callum wanted to protest, but Aireli beat him to it. "Oh shut up dad. Don't make this such a big deal! It's not like he's the only one to ever cheat on someone! We were just having some fun!"
Callum looked shocked and disgusted at Aireli. "Was THAT what we were doing!?"
She looked back, both surprised and annoyed. "What, you didn't think all those hugs and cuddles were friendly, do you? Did you really not pick up any hints while we were together? You even agreed to anything I wanted to do!"
"I thought that we were just friends! I even told you about Rayla!" Callum exclaimed, his heart racing, not sure how he got into this situation.
Aireli's look turned sour. "Well then, your loss, human boy!" She pushed him away and stormed towards the door, pausing only to add. "Oh and by the way? Those ears of you are quite ugly!" she spat before she stormed out.
Callum sat back on the couch, flabbergasted by the whole experience. Thorus sat down near his desk. I...I cheated with the daughter of master Thorus!? What...what have I done? Callum got up very slowly, as if he had forgotten how to walk. Somehow, these last few minutes had rocked his world. He approached his master gingerly, not quite sure what to say to him. "I-I didn't know she was your daughter…"
Thorus looked weary. "My daughter has many faults, which in turn are mine for failing to raise her properly. But does it really matter?" Thorus now looked up at Callum. The look he gave him stung Callum to his core. "You are the most magically gifted person I have ever seen, and as I have watched your tremendous progress, I can't help but feel proud for the things you've learned and achieved in such a short time span. But that makes my disappointment in you all the greater. I thought that you would prove that humans are different, that they don't have to be bound by their basic needs. I guess I was wrong. To see you throw away a happy relationship for a short fling, not seeing the greater happiness in life makes me feel like I've only taught a failure."
Callum was stunned. He did not know what to say. He had been called many things, but he had never been called a failure before. Tears started rolling down his cheeks. He could only think of Rayla, the one person who probably still believed in him. He needed to go see her. Now. "Am I still a master?" As Callum uttered the question, purely intended for him to have an excuse to leave the tower without consequence, he could already see the death sentence as he read his master's eyes.
"Get. Out." Thorus spat. Callum took a step backwards, frightened, then ran out of the room.
As he got to his own room, most of the other elves were already sleeping. He was tired of the many emotions raging through his body. He felt like he had accomplished something great, had lost a friend, betrayed a teacher, and, worst of all, he might have destroyed his relationship. As he contemplated these thoughts he spotted a scroll lying in the middle of his nest. He took it out and spotted the seal of the Dragonguard. Rayla! He was glad she used that seal. Not even his fellow students dared to mess with something containing that. It was too dark to read it here though, so he quickly made his way to the library, where candles were kept burning throughout the night. With some apprehension, he opened the scroll and read its contents.
My dear, sweet Callum,
You are the one for me, and I miss you terribly. I want to hug you, to cuddle with you, to be with you, but we just simply can't right now. It hurts me so much! Does it hurt you too?
I know that our letters have become rather distant as of late. I suppose it makes sense. We've been apart for longer than that we've been together, but I can still feel your arms around me when you jumped off the Spire to save me. I know with every breath and every heartbeat that you are the one for me.
The studies must be hard for you, especially with the hostility you get from the other elves. I know you don't write about those, but I can guess. I wish I could visit you sometime, but I'm afraid that the Dragonguard must be ever-present. We are an elite fighting force for a reason after all! It's an honour, but a burden as well. Still, I like the other warriors. Especially Catlyn who convinced me to write this letter with a bit more honesty. I guess that when you love someone you try to not hurt their feelings by leaving out bits and pieces, but that's not really honest now is it? The truth is that I love you, but I worry as well, and I hope that the next time that you write to me, you will tell me honestly how you feel and why you can't or won't come to visit me.
I trust you with all of my heart. I hope that you will entrust me with yours,
Fidelis usque in finem,
His hands trembled as he read the letter, massive waves of guilt washing over him. He HAD been neglecting her in his writings, and he HAD been looking for attention elsewhere, even if subconsciously. "Oh Rayla, what have I done to you…" He cried, but in his pain, he found resolve. While there was still much to learn here, in this letter he had found something that was much more important. Love, and a future together. Callum looked up and walked back to his room, his eyes shining with grim determination. Tonight, he would pack and leave the Aero Temple. Tonight, he would return to Rayla.
Author's note: New one is up!
Concerning the story: I think most of you saw something like this coming. While I don't think that Callum would cheat willingly, I'd say he's naïve enough to be pulled in by the shenanigans of some other girl if they try hard enough, especially if he is lonely and is missing Rayla. How will this affect their relationship? You'll find out next time! As for Rayla, she's finally going to see some action, though this might not go as planned.
I haven't checked this chapter as thoroughly for mistakes as I would like, but that will come in time. I also noted some major mistakes in the last chapter (mixing up names and spelling). I am going to clean all of those up, but not before I've finished the entire story. I want to keep on track with the updates.
Concerning the update schedule: Well, there's not much to say. Actually, there's a lot to say, but it's the same for everyone else I recon. The virus came and f###ed things up. We got married before the law, but the actual wedding and celebration has been postponed. It was an arduous ordeal, with many sleepless nights and some loss of our savings. Still, it seems the worst of the storm is over, at least for us, and that is something to be thankful for.
I have to thank my dear wife (so proud that I can legally call her that now! :D ) for pulling me through. Despite the difficulties we are going through, at the end of the day, she's always there for me.
I would also like to thank Wyta again. Because of our strong friendship and joined writing sessions, I was able to keep my skills honed, and eventually got back into writing Eye of the Storm.
Lastly, many, many thanks to you readers! I love the reviews, and I've been getting some personal messages as well through various mediums asking how things are. Thank you for your concern! It means a great deal to me.
I intend to see this project through right until the end (2 more seasons after this). As of now, there should be no obstacle to updating with 1 chapter a week. I sincerely hope I will be able to hold myself to this. Only time will tell.
Do leave a review if you've read the story. I love hearing from you all! Cheers!
Mdauben: thank you for your consideration. I think this chapter answers your question. I'm sure it will have some effect on them anyhow.
Oragonking: Zeron might do that, if the topic comes up again. I'm not sure Callum would be one to talk about it quickly though, not to anyone besides Rayla.
Gustrubio: I mean, mediaeval society didn't really have holidays as we know them? When students went to schools in other cities, they stayed there for years. We're pretty spoiled these days in that regard. As for the cliche, I think Callum kept his cool in the end, though he was still naïve enough to get tangled up in it.
Matuesz Wersyski: I don't think Aireli would survive that, hehehe.
Brenne: Callum's a quick study, partially due to his eidetic memory, but mastering an art can take years, even for him. In AtlA, even Aang hadn't mastered earthbending and firebending before the finale. But Callum will have mastered certain aspects of the sky arcanum, enough for him to continue on his own if need be.
Pabs117: There's a flashback in here actually! Though it refers to the actual series. I like the idea of flashbacks, but they can also be very confusing because the reader is skipping backwards and forwards in time. Who knows, I might use them.
Bloodlust002: Cheers, thanks!
Rainbowhawk1993: Welcome back!
Probably not so much of a triangle as a quick distraction that will underline to Callum what's actually important.
Yup, didn't last long for her now did it?
I second that theory, at least the Claudia part. I'm not sure Viren would be the type to sacrifice himself though, not unless there's some serious redemption involved.
Exactly! Again, for the confessing part, he won't unless he actually grows a conscience I'd say.
Scooter2: A three-pronged war could be interesting. Who knows! I do have some plans, but for that, you'll just have to keep reading till the next season hits! As for Ezran...he's 10 years old. I'm not sure I'm going to seriously pair him with anyone atm. Some characters can grow on their own without having a romantic counterpart. Maybe once he's grown up a bit.
Guest: Yes, yes I know! I'm on it!