The assassins guild had been talking for days about whether or not to go in and kill King Harrow and Prince Ezran now or wait a few more months or even a year. Queen Zubeia was in distress and the call for revenge was ringing loud and clear throughout Xadia. First, eight years ago, the humans had attacked them unprovoked and murdered one of their citizens for their perverted dark magic. Now, they killed the Dragon King and the Dragon Prince's egg. Xadia could not let this go. The only question was: when?
Runaan looked at Rayla out of the corner of his eye. He knew she wanted to prove herself worthy. He personally found it difficult to believe that his friends, Tiadrin and Lain, his parents, had abandoned their post. In the back of his mind, it didn't make sense. They knew better. But, a Skywing elf who had also been part of the Dragon Guard had admitted they had all fled when the humans killed the Dragon King. There was nothing anyone could do to stop the Silvergrove Ghosting the pair now. But, Rayla could do the right thing in their stead and proclaimed herself ready to do whatever it took to right their wrongs.
"It's better to go now. Who knows how long the Dragon Queen has?" Runaan turned his attention back to the conversation his guild mates were having. A cacophony of sounds as they tried to plan the best course of action that would bring them all back home and, hopefully, stop these humans from killing anymore Xadians.
"The humans will know it's us right away."
"So what?! We want them to know what they did was wrong!"
"True, but, if we wait, maybe we can cause doubt. They'll destroy themselves trying to figure it out."
"We have never not admitted we've taken life before. Why should we do it now? We take life but we don't take it lightly."
"Yes, but this is our chance to not only get the humans fighting each other, but to also get the Moon Nexus back!" There was silence for a few moments. Every Moonshadow el,f even a thousand years after the humans were forced out of Xadia, still felt the string of losing contact with the Moon Nexus. It went deeper than pride; it was an irreplaceable piece of their heritage, culture, and magic that was forever lost to them because the humans refused to accept their lot in the universe as non-magic users. "All I'm saying is, kill two Moon Phoenixes with one arrow. Sow dissent AND fulfill the contract."
Runaan turned to Rayla. Her young face was stony as she took in what everyone was saying. Young... He looked her up and down. She was strong, but those who didn't know better would see her as a slip of a thing. Slowly, a plan formed in Runaan's mind. At any other time, he would have been horrified by the idea. Rayla was his daughter as far as he was concerned. His apprentice, his greatest joy besides Ethari. Ethari would never forgive him. But... Runaan stood up, getting the attention of everyone in the room. "I have an idea. It involves my protegee, Rayla, and getting honor back for her parents as well as stirring doubt in the Pentarchy."
"What do you propose, Runaan?" The guild master had a steeling expression as he stroked his beard.
Runaan smirked. "We play the long game."
"Absolutely not!" Ethari roared. "We already lost Tiadrin and Lain. We aren't losing Rayla!"
"She's going to be fine, Ethari." Runaan breathed through his nose. As he expected, Ethari was displeased.
"She's too kind, Runaan! Too loving. Her heart isn't made for a regular mission and you want her to do this?! Send Bandlr or someone else."
"She's the only one her age whose properly trained. She's faster than all of us and quick on her feet."
"Then send yourself or a group."
"They won't suspect a young girl travelling on her own. The longer she does nothing, the more likely they will be to think everything is fine."
"And if they catch her after she succeeds? They'll kill her! They'll kill our daughter and you're sending to the slaughter."
"She'll die with honor and rise above what her parents have done." Even to Runan's ears he sounded so detached. He winced.
"You...you can't be serious. Runaan, she's our child. Not by blood, but we raised her. She's only 15. She'll be 16 when her training's over. You can't...you can't do this." Ethari's voice was shaking as he started to breath a little harsher. "She's just a child."
"Rayla's already agreed, Ethari. There's nothing either or us can do now."
"You didn't even ask me first!" Ethari breathed deeply for a few moments before his face became stone. "So, that's it, then? You're just going to say good-bye to our little girl?"
Runaan ran a hand through his white hair. "My love, it's not that simple. Queen Zubeia ordered the two hits. We have to do the job."
"Then take a squad like tradition says and do it! Do not send our Rayla into the human lands alone. What if the spell fails and she's found out? What if she slips up? We have no idea when the time is even right. We may never see her again! Do you want that? Because I don't! Rayla shouldn't be made to go because of her parents' actions."
"No one is making me do anything," Rayla piped up from the chair. Runaan had completely forgotten she was in the room and, judging by his slight jump, so had Ethari. "Yes, Runaan offered my name for the plan before asking me, but I agreed. I had a fair chance to give someone else the job and I said I would do it. I'm going, Ethari."
"Rayla, please, don't do this."
"Why do you lack faith in me?"
Ethari shook his head. "It's so much more than that. You're a child, Rayla. Don't throw away your chance for a future when tradition holds you shouldn't even be considering this."
"What future? If Xadia doesn't do anything, the humans will eventually believe they can do whatever they want. What if they start killing elves or more dragons for dark magic? We're already at war. We have to act!"
Ethari looked between the two of them. "You know what? Both of you, do whatever you want."
Runaan started reaching for his husband. "Ethari-"
"I'm going to my sister's, Runaan. I need time to process sending my child, OUR child, over the border to be alone and carrying out a mission ALONE for who knows how long." Ethari slammed the door behind him; silence reigning for a few minutes.
"Well," Rayla looked up at Runaan, "he took that better than we expected."
Runaan sighed. "He's right, Rayla. Think long and hard about this. You have been given 24 hours before you're officially assigned this task. We are asking you to give up an untold amount of time. You might never come back."
Rayla looked directly into his eyes. "I know, but I don't have a choice. Someone has to do this and it should be me. If my parents had just stayed, maybe, the Dragon Prince would still be alive. Besides, they'll probably believe me easier than someone like Bandlr whose already all muscle at 14. I'm young and fast, but I'm slight enough. No one will believe I'm a threat if I say I come from a farming village."
"You're right. I'm so proud of you, Rayla. I'm sure you'll be able to come back home one day."
It took Ethari two weeks to come around, a new blade for Rayla in hand and a flower for when she went on her mission. He still barely talked to Runaan and, if Runaan was being honest, he couldn't blame him. Rayla was going to be spending a few months with Lujanne at the Moon Nexus followed by a bit of time in the village by the Cursed Caldera before making her way to the capital. There was no room for error and she was going to have to learn how to act human fast.
The flower Ethari made was set into the fountain, the whole of Silvergrove watching. Runaan knew he and everyone else would be keeping an eye on it. Rayla had to succeed.
6 months later
Callum groaned as Soren sent him to the ground again. "C'mon, step-prince. Wasn't your mom the strongest general is Katolis? You shouldn't be this weak after this much training."
Callum glared a bit at his...friend?...tormentor? Callum wasn't sure who Soren was to him anymore besides the big brother of his crush. How Claudia and Soren came from the same parents was beyond Callum. Though, Viren did give Claudia more attention because of her magic. More love, probably. "My mom was a lance specialist. Why don't we try that?"
"Princes use swords; even step-princes."
Callum looked down at his feet. "The king can use a lance."
"ARGH! It's just not how it's done, OK? Sword first, than lance. Now, on your hands and knees and give me a hundred push-ups." Callum groaned and was about to follow through when Caludia raced through the courtyard to stand in front of Soren. She started miming a bit, a big smile on her face. "What is it, Clauds? Use your words."
She squealed. "There's a girl whose just come from the border. She asked to see the king and she looks about my age, maybe a year younger."
Soren and Callum's brows furrowed. "Why does she want to see the king?"
"Don't know, but she's pretty cute. She might be your type, Sor-bear."
"Uh-huh. You don't know my type, Claudia. You've proven that how many times now?"
Callum didn't bother staying for what was bound to be an argument between the two. Instead,he hurried to the throne room, running to Ezran and Bait with a handful of jelly tarts with them. "What do you think she wants?" Ezran asked.
"No idea. Whatever it is, I'm sure the king will hear her out."
"You know, you can call him 'Dad.' I really think he'd like that, Callum."
"He's the king, Ezran, and I'm just the step-prince."
"But, he raised you and I know he loves you."
Callum closed his eyes briefly. "It's complicated, Ez."
Ezran pouted a bit, but dropped it. When they finally made it to the throne room, they stood to Harrow's right while Opeli and Viren were standing to his left. Before them was a pale girl with hair a few shades lighter than Soren's and light blue eyes. She stood perhaps an inch taller than Callum and was dressed in plain robes that marked her as a member of the farming class.
"Your Majesty," her voice was clear and projected throughout the room. She took a sweeping curtsy, though almost lost her balance doing so. She raised her eyes when Harrow told her to rise, slowly coming back up to face the room. "I come from a town on the border. We were attacked not too long ago." She looked down, a tear slipping down her cheek. "I'm all that's left of my village. Please, I need help. I have no family."
"Who attacked your home?" Viren looked straight at her, eyebrow raised.
"I believe it was elves." Viren and Harrow shared a look before turning back to the girl. "They kept saying something about dragons when they came but everything happened so fast it's all a blur."
Viren cleared his throat. "And why did you come all the way here? Surely there were others who could look after you."
The girl looked distressed, twisting her hands together a bit. Callum couldn't help but notice just how pretty she was, with a Cupid's bow on her top lip, high cheekbones, and large eyes. But, there was something slightly off, something that in the back of his mind was saying it wasn't quite right. Maybe she was too pretty? "To be honest, I tried a few times but they either didn't want me because of the possibility of the elves coming after me. I just hoped that I could be safe here."
Harrow nodded. "Of course, dear child. You are welcome to stay as long as you like. And, I am so sorry for the trials you have faced before coming here today."
Viren sent a glared at Harrow. "Harrow-"
"Not now, Viren. We have to look after our citizens. Always." Harrow turned back to face her. "What's your name, child?"
She looked at the five in the room, a soft smile on her face. "Rayla. My name is Rayla."