The smoke from the flaming fields stung Callum's eyes. It burned his lungs with every breath. It hung heavy in the air, pierced through only by the sharp pinpoints of rain that fell from the sky. The orange glow of the fire cleaved the darkness of the night as it closed in on him, pressing upon him, the unbearable heat searing the air around him from every side.

He tried calling out but his voice was gone. Just like when Viren had stolen it on the night of his father's murder, all that came out was a weak gasp of air. He tried harder—he had to cry for help—but there was nothing. He couldn't even form the words to cast a spell.

Callum looked around himself at the burning fields and his heart stopped as he realized no one else was with him. He spun in a circle and tried to see where Rayla or Zym were, but all that remained were the flames. He tried to look through the fire, to find whatever silhouette or ghost that might have been on the other side, but there was nothing. Rayla was gone. Zym was gone. He was alone.

The flames closed in on him even more, and now they were so close to him that they were almost touching his skin. The fabric of his clothes started to burn and smoke and it felt as though they were made of fire too. A soundless scream tore from his throat and the smoke choked his lungs. All that remained was fire.

In the sky, the full moon shone down.

As Callum woke, the first thing he felt was the cold. It pierced him through with the sting of a thousand pinpricks and his skin burned with ice-fire. He shivered and tried to pull a blanket higher around his neck, but felt his hand only sweeping through the open air. Wind blew against his hand. Then he felt its icy breath upon his face and the languid thought swam through his mind that he was outside, curled into a ball on the grass with nothing but his coat wrapped tightly around his torso.

The second thing Callum noticed was that the heat from the baby dragon that had been sleeping next to him was gone. He twisted his eyes open and the world began to come into focus. The short blades of grass inches in front of his face blew in the breeze with their wistful dance. He rolled onto his back and felt his muscles ache in protest, having been frozen into their position by the wind and the cold over the past few hours. Callum propped himself up onto his elbows and looked around the clearing as its blurred and dark shapes started to become more distinct.

"Zym?" He called out.

No answer. There was no rustle in the grass nor any cry in the night. There was only the wind, the cold, and the darkness that seemed heavier and heavier with each passing moment, as if it was just waiting for the right moment to fall upon him exposed there in the canyon. Callum pulled himself to his feet and stretched his legs, willing their dull throb away as best he could.


The third and most terrifying thing he realized was that Rayla was gone. He looked over to where she had lay down for the night next to the still-smoldering embers of their campfire. The dirt of the area in which she'd been sleeping was as undisturbed as it had been when they'd gone to sleep for the night. Her swords were gone.

Callum felt a rush of blood to his head and realized that he'd been holding his breath. He breathed in with a gasp and felt the cold of the air pierce his lungs. It felt wrong. It was too quiet. It was as if the night was mocking him, teasing him to discover what was wrong, what had happened here. He heard his heart beat in his ears and he screwed his eyes shut, trying with all of himself to remember that he knew how to breathe, he just had to let himself do it.

He thought back to the evening, before they'd laid down for the night. He and Rayla had been talking about their childhoods, what they might expect in Xadia, anything that came to their minds. They'd laughed and joked and dreamed as the fire grew dimmer by the minute, too tired to get up and gather more wood. They threw some scraps of their dinner to Zym, encouraging him to fly up into the air and catch it before it hit the ground. It had been peaceful. It had been right.

Now it was wrong.

"Rayla?" Callum called out again. His voice sounded like it came from somewhere besides himself. His cry was swallowed by the night air.

Something wet.

Callum flinched and blinked as a drop of water struck his face. He looked to the sky and saw the moon shining down with the stars from the cloudless sky. Another drop of water. Then another. And a dozen more. Even though the night was as clear as he could remember in weeks, rain started pouring down on Callum.

"Rayla!" He shouted. He saw the way that they'd traveled into the canyon and took off jogging, calling her name as he went. He glanced from side to side at the too-steep canyon walls, seeing if there was some way she'd climbed up the sheer walls with her swords. Nothing. He jogged faster.

He rounded a corner in the canyon's walls and tripped over something with a yell. He took a step back and looked to the ground only to see Zym sitting on the ground, shaking his head. Zym looked up at Callum with wide eyes and yelped.

"Zym! Where did—"

Suddenly, footsteps ran toward him. A figure broke through the darkness and rounded the corner toward Callum.

"Rayla!" He said, and suddenly his dread felt ever so lighter. "What's going on?"

"Just run!" She shouted. She scooped up the baby dragon in her stride and grabbed Callum by the collar of his shirt, almost pulling him off balance.

In their travels so far, Callum had seen Rayla through all sorts of crises and knew that she could handle just about anything they'd come across. So when she shouted at him with wide eyes and cracking voice to run, he did the only thing he could think of.

He ran.

Behind them came the crashing thunder of heavy footfalls (or was it falling boulders?) Callum felt the same way he did when he'd run from the castle guards as a young boy when he'd done something wrong. He couldn't see behind him and he didn't know what might be waiting ahead, but something inside him screamed that whatever unknowns that lay ahead had to be less terrifying than whatever it was that pursued them.

Zym's leaps began to grow shorter and weaker, so Callum lifted the dragon up without breaking his stride and scooped him into his arms. They rounded a corner in the canyon and Rayla gave a shout. She grabbed him by his coat and pulled, slipping in the quickening mud and falling with him into a narrow and near-invisible crack in the rock.

Callum let out a grunt as his shoulder crashed against the stone, taking care to roll and avoid crushing the dragon in his grasp. The cave, if you could call it that, which Rayla had pulled them into was barely larger than a broom closet and they lay within it in a tangle of limbs and wings.


Callum started to ask what was happening, but Rayla clapped her hand over his mouth and hushed him. Her eyes were fixed on the cave's opening with the intensity of a hunter after her prey—or, perhaps more appropriately, the gaze of prey that was being hunted.

The footfalls grew closer. Small bits of dirt and pebbles rained from the ceiling, and Callum wondered if it would hold. Zym whimpered and Callum ran a hand over his trembling back.

The rumbling stopped. The sliver of moonlight through the opening blinked into darkness. Rayla inhaled sharply. In the close confines of the cave, Callum could feel her tense. His heartbeat thundered in his ears.

Silence fell.

They might have waited in the silence for a few seconds or a few hours, but either way it felt the same. Then slowly, almost reluctantly, the footfalls thundered once more and faded into the distance.

Callum and Rayla let out their breath simultaneously and Rayla slumped against the cave wall next to Callum, gasping as if she'd just run several miles.

"What was that? What's going on?"

Callum chanced to speak again, his voice a low hiss. Rayla took a few more breaths, her eyes closed and her head resting against the rock.

"Albhan," she said. "Stone golem."

Callum blinked. Something stirred in his memory. He'd sworn that he'd heard his father mention something about a stone golem once, but when Callum had asked him more about it, the king had simply turned his head with a frown and fell into silence for a few moments before changing the subject.

"Why's it after us?"

Rayla's eyes met Callum's for a moment, then flitted away.

"Long story," she said. "I'll tell you in the morning. But now—" She pushed herself from the wall as best she could and settled into a semi-reclined position next to Callum. "—we need to get some rest. It's safer in here than back at camp."

"But what if that thing comes back?"

"It won't," Rayla said, perhaps a little too quickly. "But if it does, we'll still be safe here."

"You sure?"

She paused.


Now that the excitement had gone away, Zym's eyes began to grow heavy and he leapt off of Callum's lap with a yawn. He circled around a few times before dropping onto the stone floor.

The adrenaline had started to fade from Callum's body and he leaned back against the wall next to Rayla. The questions about the storm and the terror of his dream began to fade from his mind. His eyelids started to sink.

"I'm glad you're okay," he muttered as sleep began to take him. Rayla smiled in the darkness.

"You too."

She fought sleep as long as she could, keeping the night watch for them. It was a moonshadow elf's greatest duty, after all. But before long, the even breaths of her companions turned into a lullaby's rhythm and the cool night air swimming through the cave served as a calming counterpoint to the warmth of their bodies. She closed her eyes and let herself fall into slumber, her heartbeat even and her limbs heavy. She didn't even have the strength to move Callum's head from where it had leaned to rest against her shoulder.

Outside the cave, the storm raged on. And in the darkness came a roar as old as the earth.