"Rain sucks," Rayla mumbled as she stared at her disgruntled reflection from a puddle outside their cave, only to be distorted by heavy droplets of rain.
Her elven companion who was huddling next to her made a non-committal hum, his green eyes remained vibrant as he stared intently at the gloomy clouds like a kid fascinated by a fireworks display
"Skywings really love storms, huh?" she bemused, drawing her legs closed as she tucked her chin between her knees. "Just like Callum."
"I hope you were not offended when I told you that you both share a lot of traits," she added immediately when the Skywing mage began to sputter from his seat.
"I-It's fine! Really," he waved a hand dismissively, then pulled the edge of his cloak around his body as he dodged her prying gaze with a blush. "A-and I'm sure you can't h-help it! A-after all, w-we both have the same arcanum."
"Right," she resumed her attention back to the puddle in front of her with a nostalgic smile. "Callum was so engrossed with the storm even before he connected to the Sky. I guess the Primal Stone gave him a better grasp about it, making it easier for him to understand the arcanum."
"How is he like? Callum, I mean," Jofus flailed his arms wildly with a squeak when the Moonshadow gave him a confused look. "I-If it's okay with you! I - I know Prince Callum because I met him once, and he seems so cool and awesome and wise but not on a closer level like yours! A-and we have nothing to do in this cave anyway, so why not talk about random bits and stuff to kill time?"
Rayla laughed much to the Skywings embarrassment. "It's fine, Jofus. You never offended me. Besides, I probably need some distractions."
The way she rubbed her palm against her red scarf was left unnoticed.
"My offer still stands, Rayla," he said somberly as the humor died down. "I know a few spells that can help you with that wound."
She shook her head, then dropped her hand to her side with a sigh. "It's not painful...or itchy. More like, a weird sensation, as if there's an invisible sticky tape on my skin that is so bothersome you might want to peel it off but can't. I usually get this feeling when the weather is bad, or if it's a New Moon, or…"
Her expression fell. "Or if there's a presence of Dark magic in the area."
It has been two days since they started their mission, and so far, they have never encountered any dangers along their way. It might be because they were heading to the southern part of the continent that was voided by civilization. Despite the comforting prospect, nobody could tell if their destination would be safe.
Rayla hoped it was just the weather.
"Why don't we play a game instead?" she proposed, attempting to lift the dampened mood. "They call it a Five-Question game. It's a game where we ask five questions back and forth, and the first who call it quits is the loser."
"Sounds interesting," he nodded with an upturned mouth, then shifted his position so he could face her properly. "Ladies first?"
"Naaah, you already dropped a question first, so better not to keep you hanging - or give you a chance to change it. 'Tis unfair," she smirked when he gave her an offensive look, then tapped the side of her cheek with her finger as if pondering. "So, Callum huh? What is he like...erm, let's see. Callum is... a big dork."
Jofus snorted indignantly.
"A massive, nerdy dork, to be exact," she flashed a toothy grin at his dubious expression. "He's a bookworm who loves to study, especially math. Who the hell loves math? Math sucks!"
The Skywing grumbled something incoherent under his breath, but she simply brushed him off.
"He's an artist, just like you," the Moonshadow went on. "And a really good one. If you have seen his watercolor paintings, you will be rendered speechless at how detailed and vibrant they are."
He burst out laughing. "You're exaggerating it."
"No, I'm not," she defended with a pout. "Callum is a great artist. He even has this favorite character he affectionately named Marshmallow Monster."
She flashed a toothy grin at his impassive face. "It's true! You can find his Marshmallow Monster in the first few pages of his sketchbook - you know, that large book with a shoulder strap?"
"I don't think Prince Callum and I are close enough to make an art trade." Jofus chortled.
"Oh, but you two are going to be great friends! Best friends even!" Rayla elbowed his arm lightly. "So...how did you two meet, by the way?
She heard him gulped audibly.
"He's, uh...he visited the Storm Spire to meet Master Ibis," the Skywing explained as his fingers began to fiddle the frayed edge of his cloak. "We made some courtesy hi's and hello's but never talked much. And he never stayed there for a chit-chat. Too bad, though. He seems like a pretty decent guy."
"Uh-huh..." she drawled languidly with a frown. "But you acted as if you know all of his life stories a while ago."
The Moonshadow caught him wincing at her words. "Well, uh... erm, i-it's easy to read him once he drops his mental barriers. He's like an open book."
Rayla hummed to agree.
She wondered if Callum was there to become Ibis' apprentice since the old Skywing mage has expressed his interest in teaching the Prince before.
If he accepted the offer back then and decided to stay in Xadia instead of going back to Katolis, will she end up living in the Storm Spire with him and pursue her other dream to become a Dragon Guard?
Are they going to spend their days training separately, only to see each other during meals or before bedtime? Will they end up sharing a room? Live their life in domestic bliss until they reached a certain age where they decided to be married and -
The sound of Jofus clearing his throat snapped her back to reality.
"So, why did you call yourself a Grim Reaper?" he asked.
"I never called myself a Grim Reaper," she scoffed, tucking her chin back to her propped knees as she stared at the wet ground. "I don't even know how I got that stupid name. I learned it first from someone who explained to me why his friend fainted on me when I asked for directions."
Her companion snorted. "Fainted? Seriously?"
"I know, right?" she jabbed her index towards him with a huff. "All I did was to report to the authorities if I stumbled on an ambushed site or a mass grave. That's it. It's not like I killed them or something."
"You've never killed anyone?"
"It's my turn to ask, isn't it?” she gave him a sardonic grin when he rolled his eyes indignantly. “Okay, tell me more about your girlfriend.”
Jofus whipped his head towards her with a sputter, "W-What?!"
“C’mon, it’s unfair that you know about my love life more than I know yours,” she taunted in a whiny voice when he covered his crimson face with his fingerless gloved hands. “All I know is that she’s a Moonshadow like me, who is strong and brave and kind and beautiful and...is she also daring?”
The Skywing made an obscure groan.
“Don’t be a sore loser, Jofus. You agreed to play the game. Unless..." She paused for a bit to make a dramatic gasp. "You don't actually love her?"
He shot her a beady eye between his parted fingers. “You have a way with words, you know that?”
“You pulled a similar stunt to me a few hours ago.” she pointed out coolly. "A pot calling the kettle black."
“Alright, then,” Jofus dragged his hands away from his face wearily with a resigned sigh, “My girlfriend, huh?"
"That's the question."
He looked at the gloomy sky. "She’s...she’s the most incorrigible person that I’ve ever met in my entire life."
Rayla wrinkled her nose. “Sounds like a handful type."
"You don't say," he chuckled as he gave her a side glance. "She's a very hard-headed person…very independent...very daring, I might say...and funny in her way. Gorgeous...and so beautiful both inside and out. Probably the prettiest girl in the world next to my mom."
"Oh?" she leaned her head to the side with a grin. "Must be a catch then."
"Absolutely," he beamed at her with a knowing glint in his eye. "I can't imagine myself spending the rest of my life with anyone but her."
The Moonshadow whistled. "You're that serious, huh?"
"If she will have me," he muttered glumly, but before Rayla could pry further, he chirped, "Anyway! Since I already answered your question, it's your turn now to answer mine."
"If I killed anyone, huh?" she harrumphed with a feigned annoyance. "I killed one, technically. But someone resurrected him from the dead, so my deed was null. Not a good reputation for a trained assassin, you know? Not to mention being friends with someone I was bound to kill."
"You don't seem like you have regrets."
"He's worth losing a limb anyway," she shrugged off her shoulders, then side-eyed him with apprehension. "I was wondering, and I hope you don't mind me asking this question but...what made you decide to accept this mission?"
"I..." his voice faltered a bit as if he was trying to collect his thoughts. "I was hoping that this mission can help me find her."
His lips quivered. "She...she left me."
Rayla wanted to scold herself for asking such a hurtful question.
"It's easier if she broke up with me," he went on without glancing at her way. "But she didn't. She left because she believed that it was the best for us. For me."
She felt a lump on her throat as he continued.
"I fell for a hero," His voice wavered a bit as he stared blankly at the torrential rains. "Who is strong and brave and kind and selfless that it frustrates me to no end why she can't see herself the way people see her. The way I see her. That she's...that she's more important to me."
"I should've seen the signs, Rayla," he choked back a sob, then immediately wiped the tear that leaked out from his eye with the back of his hand. "But I didn't. I thought...I thought that being together was enough. That my love was enough. I was a fool."
"I'm sure she knows about your feelings."
"That's the problem, Rayla!" he exclaimed as he angled his body towards her, only to jerk away after realizing his outburst.
The Moonshadow remained unfazed by his action.
She understood where he was coming from.
He focused his gaze back on the outside view. "She doesn't know...or maybe she does now...but that doesn't negate the fact that my feelings blindsided me to see the truth behind the lies. Behind her lies."
The Skywing shuddered with a forced smile when she gave him a comforting squeeze in the arm. "I - I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make this game even more depressing than the weather."
"It's okay," Rayla soothed. "Bottling up your emotions is bad for your health, you know?"
Jofus chuckled. "That's rich coming from a Moonshadow elf."
"I've never been a traditionalist. Broke a few rules here and there," she scooted a little closer so she could sling her arm on his shoulder for a friendly pat. "I'm sorry if my question was too much."
"It's fine, Rayla. I did the same thing to you before we got stuck in this cave, remember?" he returned the gesture by patting the back of her hand. "Like what you've said earlier, a pot calling the kettle black."
"Right." she nodded with a smile.
"What if..." Jofus clutched her hand then tilted his head to stare at her with uncertain eyes. "What if Callum is actually in this cave, right here, right now...what would you do? Or better yet...what if I'm actually Callum?"
Rayla's breathing hitched as she absorbed his words.
What if Jofus is Callum?
How will she respond with that information?
"I…" she averted her gaze as she worried her chapped lip. "I'm going...I'm going to run away."
He let go of her hand, baffled by her answer. "What?"
"Don't get me wrong, I really want to see Callum," the Moonshadow tried to laugh off his flabbergasted expression but failed. "But I think you have no idea how deep my devotions are. If only I could bind myself to kill Viren, I probably should have done that years ago. Besides, if Callum is here, what am I supposed to say?"
"The full truth?" he replied lamely.
"No," She shook her head at his suggestion. "If he knows, he might...he might do everything to help me. Even...even if it will cost his life. And I will never allow that."
"White lies are illusions you build with your words to protect the hearts of those you love,” she muttered as she looked at her distorted reflection in the puddle again. "I can't say sorry for leaving that night or ask for his forgiveness if he's here. Because saying sorry means that I will never do it again, and I can't because Viren is still out posing as a threat not only to him but also to the rest of Xadia."
She heard him taking a deep, mournful sigh. "You're... you're such a stubborn elf."
"Moonshadows are stubborn in nature. It's in our blood," she chuckled dryly. "See, this is the reason why you will never be Callum."
Jofus sat ramrod straight as he blinked in confusion.
"You never showed any hostility or resentments when we first met in the tavern," she explained, which earned her an offended scoff. "Plus, Callum is a very horrible actor. I can smell his fishy lies even from a distance."
"I completely disagree with you on the first. And for the second one," the Skywing leaned to her with a smirk. "What if I know a very good illusion spell, so good that it makes you not see my very horrible acting skills?"
She was about to say something when a sharp jab in her neck interrupted her.
"M' fine," she gasped, raising her hand to make him stop. "It's just the weather…"
"You don't look fine to me - Rayla!"
Another sharp pain made her crouched down to the ground as realization finally dawned on her that her neck discomfort has nothing to do with the weather.
"D-Death shadows," she panted as she reached for her weapons. "They're...they're here."
The Skywing's jaw clenched as he assisted her to stand up. "I don't think it's wise to leave this cave - "
The two froze on their spot when they noticed several humanoid figures moving from afar.
It wasn't just one or two, but ten Dark Shadows were approaching their location.
Garlath knows if there were a few more lurking behind their location.
She could probably hold three Dark Shadows easily despite her throbbing wound, and with the raging storm outside, she knew that Jofus was at the height of his power.
She wasn't sure if the Skywing mage was powerful enough to zap them all.
"I don't think they found us," Rayla growled at his silent question as she unsheathed her dual blades. "They're probably here to survey this area. Either to do an ambush...or to check for survivors. I know we're outnumbered, but we have no choice but to fight them."
She was about to step out of the cave when an arm blocked her way.
"Stop," the Skywing told her. "We have to stay here."
"And what, let these Dark Shadows kill us?" she retorted hotly.
"No, they won't," he muttered, his forest green eyes turned cold at the sight of their approaching enemies. "I have a plan."
She was taken aback when Jofus suddenly embraced her, an action that was definitely unwelcomed but completely out of the blue.
"Rayla," he murmured as he hugged her as if his life depended on it. "Do you...do you trust me?"
For some odd reason, she trusted this strange elf more than anyone in the world.
"I do," the Moonshadow replied as she peeled herself off from his lithe arms. "But you have to fill me in with this plan of yours."
"No problem," he nodded, then turned his head back to the approaching group. "I want you to stay clear, and behind me if possible. And if...and if you noticed something in me, please don't - don't run away, okay?"
Her brows furrowed. "I don't understand."
The melancholy in his smile confused her more.
"Okay, I promise," she said. "I'm not going to run away even if you're going to do something crazy. Wait a minute - are you?"
"Sort of?" he tried to suppress a grin but failed. "Just...just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Okay?"
"Okay?" she parroted. "But what do you mean by - "
Rayla gaped when the Skywing drew a familiar rune in the air and chanted a spell that was often used in covert missions.
It wasn't a Sky spell.
It was a Moon.
" Mystica Arbora! "