Hello, my lovelies! Did anyone order a nice dose of Rayllum? How about some homecoming goodness for Rayla? What about Ethari being a pun-loving, embarrassing-story-telling dad? If you said yes to all of the above, you're in luck!
"Hey, Rayla?" Callum called as they continued their journey through a very familiar forest. "Are you-?"
"Callum," Rayla cut in, her voice tinged with irritation. "You asked me if I was okay five minutes ago, and I said I was fine."
"I mean, it's possible for that answer to change in five minutes," Callum reasoned. "I just want to make sure. Do you need a break? Need to gather your thoughts? Need-?"
"I need you to stop worrying," Rayla said, rolling her eyes. "Honestly, you have enough stress in you for three people and a dragon."
"Well, someone needs to worry about you." Callum folded his arms stubbornly. "You were really hurt the last time we were here. I don't want it to happen again, especially on your birthday."
"I know, Callum." Rayla's annoyed frown softened slightly. She walked over and touched his cheek, feeling a smile coming unbidden to her face as he leaned into her touch. "But this is something I need to do, for myself more than anything. I've waited long enough."
A moon had passed since a message arrived at the Storm Spire from Silvergrove. It had been a hastily-written note in Ethari's hand, carried by a moon-faced owl, informing Rayla that the Ghost spell had been reversed. Another more official note from the village chief had arrived days later. Rayla had read and reread both of them, hid them away, then took them out to read them again.
Finally, as the second moon of summer neared its end, Rayla asked Queen Zubeia if she could leave the Storm Spire for a few days. As several more elves had joined the new Dragonguard by this point, and Rayla's birthday was coming up, the queen gladly consented. Of course, Callum was quick to ask Ibis for a few days' break from his lessons.
The sun was beginning to set as they drew closer to the hidden village.
"It may be a bit tense at first," Rayla allowed as she took Callum's hand and led him onto the large branch they had danced on last time. "But it'll be fun too! I can finally show you everything, and you can try a moonberry surprise!" Her eyes brightened at the mere thought.
Callum grinned. "I'm definitely curious to see what it actually is."
"And," Rayla continued. "We don't have to worry about hiding, running from soldiers, or protecting Zym from suspicious Skywings."
The young dragon prince remained at the Spire, as his mother was still having trouble letting him out of her sight for long periods of time. Rayla had assured him that he'd have more freedom once he got older, and promised to bring him a present.
"It'll be a totally normal visit. You don't even have to wear a disguise this time!"
"I mean…" Callum eyed some nearby tree branches. "I could bring Elf Callum back."
"Can and should are not the same thing."
"But think of how fun it would-"
"No," Rayla said flatly. "Elf Callum is dead. If he tries to come back to life, he will be horribly beaten, and I'll be incapable of protecting him."
"Aw." Callum pouted. "Well, now you've hurt me treelings!"
Rayla stopped dead in her tracks, releasing Callum's hand so she could bring hers to her face. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't push you off this tree right now," she groaned through her fingers.
Her answer was a pair of warm arms wrapping around her waist, the press of a familiar form against her back, and a tickling breath across her neck. She yelped, squirming in Callum's embrace as he kissed the very tip of her ear, making it twitch several times in rapid succession. "Callum!" she laughed, glancing over her shoulder so she could see the mischievous smirk on his face.
"Sorry," he replied, wholly unrepentant. "Just trying to save my life here. Not much room for the wing spell, and falling from a tree is a really anticlimactic way to go."
He nuzzled the side of her neck and blew another puff of air past her ear, his chest fluttering as it flicked instinctively. "And it's really cute when they do that."
Rayla giggled, turning around in Callum's arms so she could touch a kiss to his dorkily-smiling lips. "What am I going to do with you?" she murmured, slipping her fingers through his hair and tugging gently.
Callum's face reddened even more, but his smile remained steady. "I mean, I could make a list, if you want. I have a few ideas."
"Oh, hush!" Rayla laughed, taking his hand and leading him to the spot on the branch that overlooked the village. Her heart felt light again thanks to Callum, and she wanted to get the initial reunion over with while some of that feeling still remained. "Let's do this."
They placed their bags to the side and stood facing each other. Callum tried to mimic Rayla's initial pose, but she had to correct his arm placement almost immediately. They danced in a circle, Callum successfully not falling from the tree, clasping hands as the runes appeared in the bark. Rayla's palm was a little sweaty, betraying her nervousness, and Callum squeezed it a little as the illusion dissipated, revealing the village of Silvergrove waiting below them.
Along with the village, a familiar Moonshadow elf materialized on the branch only a few feet away. Ethari hurried to embrace Rayla as she turned around, evoking a surprised gasp.
"You're finally here!" he sighed, hugging her tightly.
Rayla was frozen with shock for only a moment before she readily returned her guardian's hug. Tears pricked her eyes in response to the familiar warmth of Ethari's arms, the smell of metal and stone that always followed him, and the simple feeling of being home again. She let out a noise that was halfway between a laugh and a sob when she was lifted a few inches off the ground.
Callum watched the reunion, feeling some of the tension in his chest loosening. Despite the help Ethari had offered before, it was hard to forget that first time in the workshop, when the grief-stricken elf had blamed Rayla for Runaan's death. It seems like he's trying to make up for it now, at least.
When Ethari placed Rayla down again, Callum saw that his face was alight with pure happiness. It was like when Harrow would come home from a long trip and see his sons after weeks of absence, his eyes shining brighter than the sun. Any lingering reservations concerning Rayla's adoptive father faded instantly.
Ethari noticed Callum, and his smile widened, like his happiness was consciously expanding to make room for another individual. "My greetings, Prince Callum," he said, bowing deeply. "Thank you for coming to Silvergrove."
Callum had to take a half-second to recover. He was usually only addressed by his title when taking part in meetings with Queen Zubeia and the various ambassadors across the kingdoms. Everyone at the Storm Spire was familiar enough with him to just use his first name. The queen was the only one who consistently called him Prince Callum.
"Thank you for letting me stay with you," he replied, bowing back. "And, you don't have to be formal with me. We're all friends here."
"Very well." Ethari straightened up, his smile turning to a slight smirk. "In that case, I'm very trees to see you again!"
A huge grin split Callum's face. "Why, I'm mighty trees to see you too, mate!"
Rayla's teary smile was quickly replaced with a dead-eyed glare. "If I could knock myself unconscious by falling from this branch, I would," she said flatly.
Ethari laughed. "Maybe we should leaf well-enough alone."
"No…" Rayla groaned.
"I think we're barking up the wrong tree," Callum quipped.
Rayla turned her eyes toward the heavens. "What did I do to deserve this?"
"Now, Rayla," Ethari mock-scolded. "Don't be like that. We should really stick together."
"I'm ditching both of you now." Rayla started toward the village, her eyes rolling hard enough to pose an actual threat to the future stability of her face.
She faltered a little as she walked down the path, realizing that there were many people openly staring at her. Expressions ranged from curiosity to suspicion in some, nervousness to joy in others. It was a very mixed reception, which she had expected. Just the same, she felt her heart shaking against her ribs.
Callum hurried to her side, with Ethari walking close behind the two. He wanted to reach for her hand, but held back. Rayla had told him that Ethari wasn't aware of their relationship yet.
"It's not because he'll be mad," she had said. "I just think this is something I should tell him in person."
Rayla felt the comforting heat radiating from her boyfriend, and managed a smile. A tall Moonshadow elf approached, clad in a silver and white gown and a circlet on her brow that showed the cycles of the moon. She held out her hands to Rayla, who took them a little shakily.
"Welcome home, Dragonguard Captain Rayla," said the chieftain of the village, a woman named Artemis, who was just nearing her two hundred and fiftieth birthday.
She eyed Callum with more interest than one would expect. "And greetings to you, human mage. As Rayla's guest, you are also welcome in Silvergrove."
"Thank you," Callum said, bowing his head slightly. The elf wasn't offering her hands to him at all, so he kept his at his sides. He couldn't help but notice the varying expressions on some of the nearby elves. Many of the less friendly looks were directed at him.
You're welcome for saving the Dragon Prince, by the way, he thought. Don't mention it. I only stopped your country from going to war!
Chieftain Artemis withdrew just as suddenly as she came, waving vaguely at the other elves, telling them to go back to their usual business. Most obeyed, though many kept glancing over their shoulders at the formerly-ghosted former-assassin.
Rayla's posture slumped a bit once most of the eyes were off her. "That was mostly painless," she noted.
"I didn't hear an apology," Callum grumbled. "Sorry for ghosting you, Rayla. We made a mistake, Rayla. We're a bunch of jerks, Rayla."
"Apologies aren't really a thing here," Rayla explained. "The fact that they went to the trouble of lifting the spell, and welcomed us without incident, is enough to prove that they're glad to see me."
Callum frowned. "The trouble of lifting a spell they wrongfully cast in the first place?"
"Callum." Rayla's voice held a hint of warning as she glanced at Ethari, who was suddenly avoiding her gaze. "It's okay."
Callum noticed Ethari's guilty expression and decided to relent for the time being. "Okay," he sighed.
"Hey," Ethari gently interjected, a hesitant smile coming to his face. "I have a surprise waiting at home. We should probably hurry back before someone else finds and eats it."
Rayla gasped, her expression lightening immediately. "Moonberry surprise!"
"I had it prepared and brought over this afternoon," Ethari said, perking up at his daughter's excitement. "There's enough for both of you, as long as Rayla doesn't give us a repeat of her eighth birthday."
"Ethari!" Rayla's excited smile quickly melted into a look of pure horror.
"Why, what happened on Rayla's eighth birthday, Ethari?" Callum dutifully asked, ignoring the lethal glare Rayla shot his way.
"I'm so glad you asked!" Ethari laughed. "You see, Runaan used to make Rayla's moonberry surprise a day ahead of time, and had to hide it in harder and harder places to keep her from finding it before her birthday. Well, when she turned eight…"
The three walked to the large tree that made up Ethari's home, Rayla hiding her face in her hands as Callum was told what would probably be the first of many embarrassing stories.
"It took weeks to get the frosting out," Ethari finished. "Because we kept finding new spots each day!"
"Oh, look!" Rayla said loudly as they got to the living space that was above Ethari's shop. "We're here!"
Callum was surprised at how homey the interior of the house was, considering the fact that it had been the home of two assassins and a weapons maker. There was a large couch against the left wall, with two armchairs sitting more toward the center of the room, all upholstered with a night-blue fabric. A small end table bearing a silver lamp sat between the armchairs, and the couch had been made up with a light blue comforter and some pale gray pillows. Shelves brimming with books of all sizes lined the walls, and the windows were tinted violet, making any incoming light turn gentle and sleepy.
"I prepared the couch for you," Ethari said. "I hope you'll be comfortable."
"This looks great! Thanks." Callum placed his bag near the couch and sat down. It was very soft, and the comforter felt surprisingly-cool despite how thick it was.
"I tidied up a bit in your room, Rayla," Ethari continued, his expression apologetic. "I…couldn't bear to change anything before, but I thought you'd want it to at least be dusted when you came home. I put everything back where it was."
"Oh." Rayla looked down the hallway. With everything happening, she hadn't even thought about her old bedroom. A surprisingly-sharp pang of nostalgia hit her as a vivid picture of what it had looked like surfaced in her mind. It felt like so long ago, when it wasn't even two seasons. "Thank you."
She hesitated for a moment, then placed her bag on one of the armchairs. She'd look at her room later. "So, about that moonberry surprise…"
Ethari smiled. "Of course! We shouldn't keep the birthday girl waiting, after all."
The three went down one of the hallways, which ended in a small, cozy kitchen. There was a table with three chairs, all made of an almost-black wood, an iron stove that was surrounded by carved runes ("To stop any fires from spreading," Rayla explained when she noticed Callum looking), a sink, and a well-worn countertop.
On the table was a huge cake covered with creamy frosting and a literal mound of juicy, sugared moonberries on top.
Rayla's eyes were so big, it was like Bait honing in on a jelly tart. "You got a big one!" she gasped.
Callum gaped at the huge confection. "Ezran would demolish this," he decided. "The whole thing. And maybe a few of our fingers."
"That reminds me of when Rayla was five-" Ethari started.
"Let's eat!" Rayla quickly shouted, giving him a pointed glare.
Callum snickered, but didn't press for more info. I'll be merciful this time.
The three sat down and Ethari started to cut the cake. As the first slice was moved onto a plate, something pink started running from the inside, looking like a candy waterfall.
"Custard!" Callum realized. "Is that the surprise?"
"It's a different flavor each time," Rayla explained, accepting her plate eagerly. "But it always goes perfectly with the cake and moonberries, no matter what it is!"
Callum peered into the cake as another slice was cut for him. Instead of being between the layers, the custard oozed out from a cavern carved in the center of the cake. Ethari scooped an extra amount onto both Rayla and Callum's plates.
"How do they get the custard in there?" Callum wondered. "And how do they keep it from oozing out when they bake it?"
"That's part of the secret," Rayla replied with a wink. She took a bite, flooding her mouth with the sweet taste of her childhood. The sweet vanilla cake, the tart, juicy berries, and the rich frosting blended perfectly on her tongue. The custard tasted like a combination of Xadian oranges and bananas.
Callum shoved a huge bite into his mouth, making a muffled noise of appreciation. "Since it's secret," he said once he swallowed. "I guess there's no use asking if a recipe could be sent to Barius. Ezran would seriously love this!"
"The moonberry surprise is a jealously-guarded Moonshadow secret," Rayla said gravely. "So, we'll just have to bring him next time." She glanced at Ethari. "Is that okay?"
"Of course," Ethari assured her as he cut himself a piece. He only gave himself a little custard, saving the majority for the kids. "From what you've told me about him, I think we'd get along just fine."
After that, there was silence except for the occasional clang of a fork on a plate. Rayla quickly devoured her first slice and started cutting another.
Ethari got up to put a kettle of water on the stove. "Would anyone like tea?" He chuckled at the two muffled affirmatives. "There will be more tomorrow, so try not to choke on what's there. I'd hate to be the one to kill two of Xadia's finest heroes."
Callum glanced at Rayla, noticing the way her back straightened just a little and her eyes brightened even further in response to Ethari's words. He shared a quick smile with her, his heart warming at how happy she looked just then.
When Ethari returned with the tea, they were on the last two slices of the surprise. Ethari waved away Callum's offer of another slice.
Rayla was chewing more slowly now, and paused to take a sip of tea. She glanced at Callum, who read her hesitant expression and nodded once.
"Ethari," she ventured. "There's something you should know, and I wanted to wait till we were here to tell you."
"Oh?" Ethari placed his cup down, giving his daughter his full attention.
"I've already mentioned in my letters that Callum is my best friend," Rayla started. "That's not the whole truth." She reached for Callum's hand, which readily grasped hers. "We've been together for a few moons now."
Callum squeezed her hand, which he felt was shaking a little. Rayla had said before that she wasn't worried about Ethari's reaction, but Callum had known this wasn't entirely true. Their relationship had already been treated with some scrutiny by others they'd encountered, due to lingering feelings of mistrust by both humans and elves. Even if Ethari accepted Callum as a friend and guest, seeing him as a romantic partner for Rayla could be an entirely different matter.
They both looked at Ethari, waiting for his reaction.
He regarded the two calmly, his hands folded. "Thank you for telling me, Rayla." Then, the corner of his mouth quirked upward. "But I already knew."
Rayla and Callum blinked in perfect unison.
"You knew?" Callum asked.
"Of course," Ethari said, picking up his tea again. "I was waiting on that branch for your arrival for over an hour. Saw you two frolicking and being adorable." He smirked slightly as he took a sip. "Honestly, Rayla. I'm surprised you forgot that we can see people who approach the village, even if they don't see us."
Rayla's eyes widened and her face burned a bright scarlet. Of course! Since we aren't ghosted anymore… Her head hit the table with a thud, and she groaned loudly.
Callum's face was also a nice shade of red. He glanced from Rayla to Ethari, who still wore a very self-satisfied smile. "So," he ventured. "This means you're okay with me? With us?"
Ethari's expression softened. "Of course," he said. "You were a better friend to Rayla than…" A flicker of regret crossed his face. "Than anyone else. After all you've done together, I can't imagine a better partner for her."
Rayla lifted her head from the table. Her cheeks were still a deep rouge color, but she was smiling again. "Thank you, Ethari."
Callum nodded. "Yeah, thanks."
"I do need to say this, though," Ethari continued, turning to face Callum directly. "If you break Rayla's heart, I'll have to kill you. I'm not saying this because I think you actually will," he said, ignoring Rayla's mortified expression. "But because, as Rayla's guardian, I have to say it at least once."
Callum balked just a little due to the sheer intensity of Ethari's stare, but he didn't feel any real fear. "I get it," he replied. "My aunt gave Rayla the same speech. You don't have to worry."
"I didn't think so." Ethari brightened immediately. "Once you're done with your tea, Rayla can show you where to get cleaned up before bed. If you need anything, my room is the one at the end of the other hallway." He stood up to put his dish in the sink. As he walked by Rayla, he bent down to kiss the top of her head.
"I really am glad you're home," he murmured. "Sleep well." He nodded at Callum before walking out of the kitchen.
"Night!" Callum called after him. He turned to smile at Rayla, who looked like she was still trying to process just how embarrassed she was supposed to be from that entire encounter. "That went well," he commented.
Rayla shook herself. "It really did." She let out a sigh. "But I might die if Ethari tries to tell you any more stories."
Callum grinned. "Aw, but I wanna hear all about how adorable you were!"
"Were?" Rayla raised an eyebrow.
Callum immediately paled. "Uh, I mean, you know, like a kid. Adorable as a kid. Not that you aren't adorable now! It's just a different kind…of…" He trailed off when he saw the telltale signs of suppressed laughter on Rayla's face.
"You're a jerkface," he said flatly.
"Gotcha!" Rayla snickered, poking his cheek playfully until she coaxed a grin out of him. It didn't take that long.
After finishing the rest of the moonberry surprise, the two got cleaned up. Even though their journey was several moons ago, they definitely appreciated the luxury of being able to actually clean themselves and have separate pajamas and fresh clothes to put on afterward. Being able to sleep on actual beds was also pretty nice.
When they got back to the house, Rayla picked up her bag, eying the hallway leading to her room. Callum noticed her expression and touched her arm.
"Want me to go with you?" he asked.
Rayla shook her head, allowing herself a smile. "Ethari might have a problem with that. Even he has limits, you know."
"True." Callum pressed a soft, lingering kiss to Rayla's lips. "You know where to find me if you need anything."
"I know." Rayla kissed his cheek, ruffling his hair in a familiar, affectionate gesture. "I love you."
"Love you too!" Callum readily replied. He waited for her to disappear down the hallway before lying down himself.
Rayla approached her room, feeling slightly less nervous than before. Tiredness and an impending food coma managed to push away more of her fear. She placed a hand on the door, then pushed it open.
On the other side was her room. As Ethari had said, nothing had been moved. She looked at her bed in the corner, her personal book shelf, her owl stuffed animal that sat on a well-worn pillow, and the small mirror that hung crookedly over her dresser because she had never bothered to straighten it.
She felt…perfectly normal.
There was no fear, no outstanding relief, and no great epiphany. This was her room, the place where she didn't have to think or feel anything. This was where she was meant to read books, store her clothes, and rest.
Just then, resting was her top priority.
She lay down in her bed, and it was as if she had only been away for a short while, as if she was simply retiring after her evening training session. The mattress accepted her shape gladly, and she was asleep before she could even form another thought.
I'm planning on this being a six-chapter fic. This will consist largely of fluff, though we will get a bit of angst further in, mostly due to the fact that the Silvergrove elves SUCK! I will hold back on my many rants concerning how Rayla was treated by her own people, because said feelings will absolutely be brought up in this story!
I have decided that Ethari is a Dork, with a capital D. Yet, he is also the one out of the Ruthari pairing to have full custody of the single brain cell they share. He will feature heavily throughout this fic, and several others, I assure you.
When we come back, it'll be Rayla's birthday! More Rayllum fluff is incoming, so stay tuned.