The full moon hung low over the tree line, casting the castle and the surrounding grounds in a silvery veil. Crashing through the trees, three figures ran as quickly as they could, as far as they could, from the fortress.
A terrible deed had transpired not moments before, and the cries of anguish and grief had only just begun, but the three of them didn't seem to hear, only focused on their sole task of escaping. Leading the trio was a teenage girl, the ridged purple horns and pointed ears betraying her heritage as a Moonshadow elf, a rare sight in Katolis and a dangerous person to be at present. Trailing behind her were two boys - the older was green-eyed and brown haired with pale skin, the younger with freckled brown skin and a poof of dark hair in tight ringlets, staring up at his brother with wide, worried blue eyes. He clutched an enormous irridescent egg to his chest, and paused, turning for the faintest second back towards the castle from which they were fleeing.
"C'mon, Ez, we have to get out of here," said the older boy, pausing to check on the boy holding the egg. To an outside observer, it would seem strange - the two princes, Callum and Ezran, fleeing their home in the company of a moonshadow elf, one of the six assassins that had been sent to slay their father.
Neither of them knew that, though. Only that the elf leading them through the dark was going to see that the egg - the egg of the dragon prince - was returned home.
The trio pressed on as the fingers of dawn clutched greedily at the horizon, the moon dipping lower into the sky. Ezran, the younger prince (and heir to the throne due to being the trueborn son of the king, unlike his half-brother), tried to suppress a yawn, but it was clear that the night's events were taking their toll on the boy, who was just barely ten.
The day had begun with Callum and Ezran being told they were to be sent to the Banther Lodge, out of harm's way, and in the interim they had discovered a terrible secret. The kingdom’s high mage had stolen the egg of the Dragon Prince, which was believed to have been destroyed when Viren and King Harrow had slain the king of the dragons a few months prior. In that instant it had become clear to all three children that they had to see the egg home to Xadia, otherwise there would be a terrible war.
Now, with morning imminent, the excitement was beginning to catch up with Ezran, and with Callum too if the darkening circles under his eyes were anything to go by.
The elf, Rayla, glanced behind her to see the two boys slowing in pace. As a moonshadow elf, the full moon had invigorated her, and she was in no mood to stop, worried that the guards would catch up to them.
Or worse, that her team would catch up to them.
"Hurry up, you two," she huffed, slowing her pace somewhat. "If we make it over that ridge before sunrise we'll be able to make camp and sleep."
Callum suppressed a yawn, rubbing his eyes. "Okay, okay," he said, impatient. His day had been full of excitement and danger, too. In addition to finding the egg, he'd been chased by Rayla (who fully intended to murder him at the time), chained up one of his best friends, cast a spell (he was a mage!) and had his voice stolen by someone he thought he could trust.
It had been a frightening and upsetting day, to say the least. And that was adding in the fact that he wasn't entirely certain that his step-father, the king, had made it out alive.
He turned, one final glance at his home, and then squinted. "What is that?"
Illuminated in eldritch light, something was rocketing towards them, small and fast. Rayla squinted up in the direction he had looked, and her eyes widened in fear. "We need to run."
She didn't have to ask twice. The two boys kept up as best they could, crashing through the undergrowth as she lightly sprang from tree to tree. The missile was getting closer, streaking tendrils of black-purple smoke like the tail of a comet.
“What is it?!” shouted Ezran, his question punctuated by a distressed groan from the glow-toad in his backpack.
“I don’t know!” replied Rayla. “But I don’t want to find out!”
The thing was directly above them now, keeping pace with the three of them. It hung in the air for the briefest moment, then hurtled towards them.
Callum screamed as the thing flew dangerously close to his head. He spun out of the way, tumbling to the ground, the contents of his bag spilling onto the forest floor. He eyed the glowing blue stone, getting an idea.
Rayla leapt into action, a furious whirl of blades. The thing zipped around her, clearly trying to avoid her. But her reflexes were well-honed and quick, and with viper-like speed she lashed out and seized the thing that was assailing them. “Gotcha, you creepy magic thing!”
It strained in her hand, clearly trying to reach something else. Someone else. The thing was pulling towards Callum.
“What is that thing?!” called Ezran again, protectively clutching the egg and holding it slightly away from the palm sized object. The elf glanced down at it, and shrieked, letting it go.
It sped off towards the sky, and she dropped to her butt. The two princes stared at her in concern and fear. She knew what that color, that shape, those faint bark-like texture lines were.
“I-it was a horn. A moonshadow elf’s horn.”
The boys recoiled, and then Callum frowned, looking back towards the castle. “Viren’s trying to find us. When it comes back, I’ll try to blow it away with Aspiro, and then we’ll run.”
The other two nodded, and Rayla sank into a defensive stance. He held the primal stone in his hand, felt the tingling crackle of electricity pulse into his arm, and drew the glowing blue-white rune before himself. It would only be his second time casting it, so he hoped very firmly that the first time wasn't a fluke.
The horn wheeled around in the sky, and sped back towards them. “Here it comes!” called Rayla.
It sped past them faster than Callum could react, and zoomed around Rayla, disorienting her as she slashed at the air. Callum couldn’t see it any longer, but all the same he inhaled, and cried the spell’s activation word.
The horn had found its target, and hit him full force in the side of the head. He toppled to the ground, clutching his head and hissing in pain.
“Callum!” cried Ezran, rushing to his brother’s side. “Oh no, are you hurt?”
“Where’s the horn?” demanded Rayla, distressed as to where the dark mage had acquired a moonshadow elf’s horn. She had an idea, but she did not like it, and was determined to do justice to whichever of her fallen teammates had been used in such a disgusting way. She frantically searched in the grass and underbrush for it, grateful for the full light of the moon.
Callum sat up slowly, wincing. “I don’t see it,” he said, rubbing his head and trying to dull the sharp knock his skull had taken from the arcane bullet. Ezran and Bait looked around as well, Ez using Bait's dim glow as a flashlight, but the horn was nowhere to be found.
“Maybe it got used up when it hit me,” offered Callum, voice serious. The faintest ghost of sorrow flickered through Rayla’s eyes, but she wasn’t about to let these humans see her weakness.
Instead, Rayla swallowed her hurt and decided to focus on ensuring that these boys didn’t get killed before they ever reached the dragon queen. It would be simple to take the egg and run, she had no doubt that she could subdue both boys and outpace them, getting far away from Katolis before either of them could even react properly. She was better at hiding, better at fighting, and was actually allowed in Xadia. But it wouldn’t matter - the human princes had to deliver the egg for their scheme of peace to work. “Alright, show me where it hit you,” she demanded.
Callum rubbed the side of his head a little, trying to deaden the sting, and then tilted his head towards Rayla, showing her the impact site. She squinted into the mop of brown, looking for blood or anything that would indicate what had happened to the horn of her fallen comrade, but there was nothing.
And then, there was.
Before her astonished eyes, a spot of white bloomed in his hair, the color leaching away from the roots like water poured down a drain. It spread quickly at first, until the white patch of hair was roughly the size of a large coin.
Rayla turned to Ezran, who had been watching over her shoulder, and the two shared a wide-eyed, aghast glance before looking back to him. Seeing the concerned look on their faces, Callum’s eyes darted back and forth between the two. “What?” he asked, voice low with worry. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” said Rayla, quietly.
“Your hair’s turning white, Callum,” answered Ezran, kneeling beside his brother. “Where the thing hit you, you’ve got a patch of white hair.”
“Why would your dark mage attack you?” asked Rayla, putting her swords away and eyeing Callum with caution.
Callum frowned as his eyes darted around in thought, trying to figure out what on earth the intention of the spell was or why Viren would have sent it. “I…” Callum rubbed his throat. “He didn’t want me to tell King Harrow about the egg. Maybe this is about that.”
“By… changing your hair color?” questioned Ez, raising a skeptical eyebrow. Bait grunted in agreement. It was a strange plan.
Callum threw up his hands and stood. “I don’t know enough about magic or what Viren’s up to. Your guess is as good as mine.
"Alright." Rayla stood as well. "Let's just get moving. Xadia's a long way away." The boys were obviously tired, but now that she was aware that the kingdom's high mage had it out for them, she didn't feel safe stopping for a rest out in the open. "There's a safe spot we can camp just ahead."
The three of them trudged further into the forest, the bright moon overhead.