During the ambush, Callum loses sight of Rayla and Ezran.
He races towards the densest part of the mountainous, deep green woods, leading up to the stony ridges and flatland-peaks, throwing a fearful glance over his shoulder and huffing. Agility and physical resilience has never been his strongest quality. Callum knows eventually he's gonna be caught by his pursuers.
Just so long as everyone else is out of harm's way — he's fine with this.
To his plummeting dread, Ezran waves to him from a distance, calling out.
Callum uses the last bits of his strength, running up the steepened, rocky slope and grabbing onto Ezran's shoulders. "I told you to run!" Callum gasps, sweat pouring down his face and neck.
He looks for any sign of Rayla.
"She's gone. And the Dragon Prince," Ezran says quietly, his blue eyes solemn. "I told her it was okay."
A twinge of pride and grief erupts inside Callum.
He grins fiercely to the point of the despair pounding inside him, hugging Ezran who cradles Bait protectively in his arms.
"You did good, Ez."
Silence breaks apart as the roar of dark magic approaches, ripping apart the forest. Claudia, with her purple-tinged hair swaying around her, and her purple, smoky energy dripping off her fingertips. She mocks an overly friendly wave. Soren joins her, blocking off another pathway to the nearest escape.
Perhaps it's just him, but Callum notices Soren's permanent and disheartened grimace as Claudia yells out.
"There's no escape from your destiny, Callum… give up!"
He doesn't understand how Claudia's heart became so twisted, blackened by hatred and fury, but Callum doesn't want to turn out that way too. Not as a mage or as a human being. "Don't do this!" Callum shouts back over the wind's howling, eyeing Soren and then a frowning Ezran hunching further from sight.
"Oh… that's funny," Claudia says, giggling. Her brilliantly white teeth exposing. Her pretty, luminous eyes creeping into an glimmering amethyst. "That's the last thing I heard your father say."
Callum blinks, straightening up and letting go of Ezran. A wave of numbness and confusion abruptly hits his senses.
"What do you mean?" he asks, mumbling, gazing back at Soren who averts his gaze mournfully, resting one of his hands over his sword's pommel. "What happened to King Harrow?"
"You haven't heard, have you…?" Claudia's bare, pale fingers flex. More of the purpling dark magic emerges into the opening, gathering like a storm-cloud. "Our father rules in his stead."
Ezran furrows his brows, staring up.
"Callum?" he asks, bewildered by how his older brother heaves in a tightened, noisy breath and clenches his jaw, suddenly appearing enraged and heartbroken, glaring at Claudia.
"I'm afraid she's not," Soren tells him monotonously. He lifts his head to meet Callum's eyes with a hint of remorse. Damn him too — Callum inhales shakily, feeling more helpless than before.
Claudia's mouth thins into a smirk. "Soren," she announces, as if prompting him towards a command. When he doesn't immediately act, Claudia whirs around to him, her features beginning to scowl. "Soren, what do you think you are doing? The battle is over. They're right here. Finish it."
"We can't… they're the princes…" Soren insists, his gauntlet creaking on his steel-shining pommel.
"And we have been given a royal decree from the king. Do it." When his hesitation lingers, Claudia's voice rises in volume and pitch, echoing on the mountaintop. "Do it! KILL THEM!"
With a long, roaring cry, Soren draws his weapon, lunging towards them.
Callum's heart plummets.
He thrusts his hand into his knapsack, preparing to summon the magic of the Primal Stone. The tip of Soren's glinting, dangerous blade sinks into the ground right in front of Callum's feet.
The older boy collapses to his knees, bowing his head deeply.
"When King Harrow put this sword in my hand, I swore to him… that I would protect you and your brother with my life," Soren murmurs, his expression softening. He gazes up into Callum's shocked, tear-streaked face. "To this day, and until the end of my days, I am yours. I am your sword and your shield. Forgive me."
Callum wants to say something, anything to tear open the fragility building.
Soren's lips twitch upwards, his thick, dark eyebrows arching, until Callum feels his own mouth mirroring him.
He stretches a hand out, poised and regal as King Harrow taught him to be, grasping around Soren's wrist and reveling in the sensation of bigger, warm fingers on his, sliding up to Callum's own wrist in a symbol of mutual respect. Callum heaves Soren back to his feet, never breaking eye-contact.
Claudia hisses out, drawing their attention.
"You're nothing but a fool and a coward, brother…"
"The battle is over," Soren declares, pulling his sword from the rocky, weather-eroded ground. He places a hand over Callum's shoulder reassuringly, frowning at her. "Claudia, you can stop all of this."
Callum doesn't know how else to describe it. A sudden, sweeping chill emerges as soon as Claudia lowers her chin, her bright, purple-glimmering eyes fading into inky blackness. "…mm, I don't want to," she whispers, flashing a huge, malevolent grin and raising one of of her hands in their direction.
Callum yanks out the Primal Stone, tossing his knapsack and uses his other arm to block Soren.
"GET BEHIND ME!" he yells, holding it aloft and frantically drawing out a rune as Claudia blasts a surge of chaos-energy into his face. "GO! TAKE EZRAN AND GO!" The ancient, blue-pulsing magic tied to it enshrouds all of them. This is like fighting a purer form of darkness with thunder and lightning itself.
His physical strength may be drained, but Callum is sure he can protect Soren and his little brother.
Long enough for them to flee.
Nobody ever listens to him, Callum realizes, horrorstruck — as Soren thrusts himself between Claudia's magic and Callum, taking the hit right against the center of his sternum.
Soren's weapon clatters.
He moans out, falling sideways and landing onto his palm and hip, before collapsing.
The inky blackness eclipses from Claudia's eyes, returning into her undilated pupils.
"Soren!" Callum shouts, his voice horse and high and cracking under the weight of his emotions.
"No! No, no, no!" Claudia screams out. She regains her wits and hurries over, cupping Soren's deathly ashen face with her palms. Callum holds the other, older boy against him, shuddering with anguish and gulping down his urge to bawl like a small child. "Why would you do that!?"
"Needed to… … protect you too…" Soren mumbles.
His veins on his neck and hands and forehead turn a sickly purplish-black as the dark magic consumes his life-force.
Rayla emerges from a nearby opening of a mountain-pass, staring dazed at them. The baby dragon secured in her arms squack-howls and wriggles to be free. She obeys, allowing her charge to skitter over to Callum and Claudia drowning in their sorrow. Azymondias seats himself by them, closing his teeny eyes.
As if focusing on something unseen.
Callum wipes his eyes, watching as Soren's face glows the same pearly light as the baby dragon.
Darkness oozes out between the seal of Soren's ashen lips. A viscous, bubbling fluid. It dissolves into nothingness as soon it appears. Like a poison being forcibly sucked out from him.
He awakens, coughing violently and jolting out of Callum's arms. Claudia embraces him quickly, weeping, burying her face into his throat. Soren doesn't react at first, trying to regain his breathing, before he coughs again, running his fingers hesitantly over the crest of Claudia's head.
"Thank you," Ezran murmurs, beaming down on Azymondias crooning happily, nodding.
Soren rubs over his steel chest-plate, glancing over to Callum offering a watery, laughing smile. His red-rimmed eyes crinkling.
Without thinking it over, he dares to presses his mouth over Callum's lips, leaning in and groaning when Callum's hands brace against his shoulders, relocating to his cheeks and thumbing hungrily over Soren's dirt-flecked jawline. They draw in air. Together.
This time, Callum jolts away from the other boy, wide-eyed and flushing. Soren gapes.
"See!" Ezran says gleefully, "See, Callum! I knew Soren liked you too!"
"Ezran!" Callum yelps, turning a much brighter red and flinching when Claudia snorts, rolling her eyes. Rayla picks up the baby dragon wanting to cuddle, examining him and then shrugging.
As long as nobody's fighting anymore.