After everything that’s happened, Runaan wants to be left alone.
And people understand that. They leave him alone, enough so that if he wants to go running out at midnight, he can. People don’t protest when he disappears, and only show happiness when he shows back up. He can’t be unhappy with the space they’re giving him.
What he can be unhappy about is the little twerp that keeps tailing him whenever he leaves. He would be impressed because he moves fast and he’s almost certain that the little twerp is the daughter of the Dragon Guard that failed in their duty, and she’s young. Young enough that Runaan is sure that if she’s caught out here, then someone would be given a stern parenting lecture.
How did she even escape from them? With the dragon egg being captured and then destroyed by the humans, it makes sense that her parents might just be too depressed to watch over her, but still – the little elf was their child, and children shouldn’t be left unsupervised.
With that thought, he slows down, stopping in a grove that’s only touched by moonlight. It’s not a full moon, or else he’ll be invisible, but the rays still fall enough that there are strips of invisibility when he looks down at his forearm. It’s always fascinating to see this aspect, and he’s only briefly distracted when a twig snaps.
He resists the urge to roll his eyes or laugh, because either could be damaging, and instead turns his head to where the sound came from.
“Hello,” he starts, as neutrally as he can, and when no voice answers him, he continues, “I know you’re out there.” When still nothing comes, he gives up all pretense. “Rayla.”
There’s a curse, and then meekly, she emerges from the shadows. She’s little enough that she’s almost completely invisible.
“You’re not supposed to be out here so late,” he scolds, and she defiantly tilts her head up, glaring up at him with all the false bravado of a child.
“You’re out here,” she points out.
“I’m a trained assassin,” he explains, “so if I want to be out here, I will be out here.”
“Then train me,” she says, without missing a beat. “I want to make those humans pay.”
“You’re too young,” he says. “Go home.”
She looks like she wants to throw a tantrum, so Runaan moves faster than she can see, throwing her over his shoulder. He brings her home, deposits her at her front door, and then leaves before she can ask again.
She follows him again.
He loses her before they make their way out of town, and ends up doing so three more times before she’s no longer tailing him.
Rayla’s family leaves. The disgrace is too much, and Rayla is left alone on their doorstep. The other moonshadow elves don’t know what to do, as Rayla stares out into nothing, and Runaan spares a scathing uncharitable thought to his peers before he walks up.
“Keep your chin up,” he says.
Rayla doesn’t react to his presence until he speaks, and even then, she only stares up at him with despair in her eyes. In that brief moment, Runaan is filled with intense hatred for her parents, because even if they fled, they should’ve taken their daughter.
So he holds out his hand.
She stares at it but doesn’t move and he wonders if he’s being insane for offering this. Most other elves would do anything to be his apprentice, but most other elves were not able to follow him on his midnight runs. Rayla could.
And Rayla needed to show that she was not like her parents. She needed a home, when she had been deserted and left here for the village to raise.
“I’ll train you,” he says, quietly, and for another moment, he’s afraid she won’t take his hand. That she had given up on that fire he had seen that night, and that he had read her wrong.
But no, there’s steel in her eyes when she looks back up at him, and when she takes his hand, he knows she will not break under his training.
“Got you,” says Rayla, and she pops out of the tree he had been sitting against, her long, silver hair hanging upside down as she quickly darts out a hand, pressing a leaf sticky with sap against his forehead.
He sighs, and closes his book, making sure the letter he had been writing was safely enclosed inside of it.
“You’re dead,” continues Rayla, a grin as cheerful as the sun on her face, and before she can even blink, Runaan moves, sticking the leaf right back onto her.
“You’re a million years too early to challenge me,” he says, and Rayla giggles before running, her footsteps as light as he’s taught her to make it.
It’s been years since he’s seen Rayla on that doorstep, and years since Rayla’s been an untrained assassin. She’s a good one, even if a bit bloodthirsty, and Runaan has never admitted it to her, but he’s proud to call her his protégé.
He’s taken her in, because the village had wanted to put her in the orphanage, and he’s never regretted it. Rayla had never stepped on his toes, and instead took to his teaching like water.
Enough so, that she’s been chosen to join him on the mission to assassinate the King.
He’s never been prouder.
He spares a brief moment to wonder if he should tell her, before shaking his head and moving to track Rayla across the forest that they’ve made into their training ground. There will be enough time after, because it’s almost the full moon and assassinating the King and his offspring would be like child’s play for them.
And besides, there isn’t enough time for mushy feelings like that when he needs to track and find Rayla so they can go pick up ingredients for dinner.
Runaan slumps to his knees, the band slipping off his arm as a sign the King had been assassinated. The moon is bright and full, and he stares into it, knowing this is the end.
He’s glad now that he hasn’t let Rayla come on the mission.
Rayla’s out there, now, still prowling the grounds, and if they don’t come back, if only one band has come off, he knows Rayla will finish the job and avenge him.
She’s an assassin after all, his protégé, and Runaan knows she can assassinate Ezran and end the mission.
He hears footsteps behind him and bows his head in defeat.
He should’ve told Rayla he was proud of her.
“I’m proud of you,” are the first words out of his mouth when they’re face to face again.
Rayla makes a face at him, and then rushes forward, helping him stand. He’s weak after being let out of the coin, and he might not be of a sane mind after being trapped for so long, but he sees Rayla’s wrists and he knows the band is gone. Ezran is dead and the mission is completed.
“About that,” says Rayla, sounding nervous, and Runaan is briefly distracted by the sight of King Harrow’s son standing behind her, obviously still alive.
“Explain,” he says, and Rayla does, even as she shifts nervously from foot to foot.
When she’s done, he’s not surprised to find that there’s still only pride bursting in his heart. He says so, this time, because he knows better now than to wait.
Rayla’s tears overflow, and she hugs him tight around the middle, tight enough that it’s almost hard to breathe.
But he doesn’t complain, only holds her close, and knows that he’s done right by her.