The Dragon Prince: Reflections

“Chasing Shadows”
Chapter 3: Bleeding Hearts

Written by Devon Giehl
Illustrated by Caleb Thomas and Emily Marzonie

The night-black sea chopped against the rocky northern coast of Scumport.

With Stella nestled deep and safe in her hood, Rayla peered out toward the horizon from the edge of a cliff. Sunrise was a little more than an hour away. Soon the beach would turn pink and gold and almost pretty, but in the earliest turn of twilight the shore’s rocks looked like a sea-beast lurking beneath the waves. Rayla leapt down and made her way across its jagged spine.

The northern part of the island was nothing like the port to the south: no bustling market, no looming tower, no raucous merchants. She crossed tidepools in her stride, her shadow scaring crabs to the water and sea-snails back inside their shells. The surf swelled in and out with the gentle, heavy breath of high tide.

It was quiet. Isolated.

The perfect place for an assassin to stalk her mark.

She could see him. He had not been difficult to find. The hooded, slender figure stood beneath the crooked mast of a long-wrecked ship half-buried in the black sand—the exact spot Redfeather had told her the clandestine trade would occur. The way he moved, the way he carried himself—careful, cautious, but proud—it had to be him.


Rayla thought of his face, twisted with rage and dark magic, plummeting through the clouds below her. She remembered the numbness in her own body, knowing he’d die a violent death at the base of the Storm Spire, and she would quickly follow—

—until a pair of wings closed around her, saving her, holding her—

“Focus,” she hissed to herself, chasing the memory away.

Viren had lived, somehow—likely through some heinous and terrible magic. Something had plucked him from death and tethered him to life. She’d known it in her heart since her dive into the Moon Nexus. In all of her, like worms in her bones.

And there he was—with his back to her.

Another figure slunk out of the cove’s rocky shadows. Smaller in stature, he wore a heavy coat cut out at the shoulders for a pair of wings folded at his back. Viren and the Skywing elf spoke for a moment in hushed tones before Viren produced a heavy satchel from his cloak. The elf handed him a little wooden chest in trade.

Rayla held her breath as Viren’s pale, five-fingered hands opened the box just enough to touch its contents, then clutched the box to his chest. She could not help but imagine what was in it. Something bloody, terrible, and dead.

With the deal done, the pair parted ways. The Skywing elf beat his wings and flew over Rayla’s head, and she ducked down to stay hidden. She could hear Viren moving away from her, his soft footfalls heading east towards the port and growing fainter. Rayla drew her weapons, her fingertips tracing the details in the metal.

She thought of Ethari, who made them. And Runaan, whom Viren had taken from their family. Rayla gripped the weapons tight. There were many blades in Xadia that deserved the taste of Viren’s blood, but hers would do.

“Hold on, Stella,” Rayla whispered.

She lunged forward, leaping from her perch to land hard in the sand.

Viren looked back. Rayla could not see his face in the shadow of his hood, but she knew he saw her. She wanted him to see her.

He ran.

Rayla chased him.

He staggered, clumsy on the sharp wet rocks, and Rayla cleared them with practiced ease. As they both leapt from crag to crag along her imaginary beast’s spine, she closed the distance between them quickly—but she knew not to underestimate a dark mage. When Viren ripped something from his belt and crushed it in his hand, she braced herself.

“Reh ezies, shtped yretaw,” he hissed.

The water surged beneath her feet in a sudden whirling riptide. Rayla yelped, jumping towards the shore and its larger, dryer rocks—but the spell followed her. Tendrils of water burst from the brine and reached for her ankles. Gasping, Rayla spun her blades, turning their points to curved hooks. She crouched and leapt to the sheer face of another seaside cliff. The tendrils crashed against the stone and turned to white foam as she clawed her way to the top.

Soaked from the waist down, Rayla caught her breath and looked over the precipice. Viren was far below her, making a break for a tiny boat tethered to the husk of a dead tree.

Rayla would lose him.


From one barbed boulder to the next, Rayla leapt once, twice—and then she was plummeting down towards his back just as his hand reached to loosen the tether of his little boat.

Rayla landed on top of him and threw him to the ground. He wailed in pain, the sound choked by a swell of the sea, as the sharp rocks shredded his cloak and dug into his skin. Wisps of red drifted into the foamy tide.

“I am Rayla of the Silvergrove,” Rayla snarled, grabbing a fistful of his cloak and pulling it hard to flip him over. “I want you to know my name. I want you to know my face—”

She wrenched the hood back.

He was younger—he could not have been older than Rayla herself—with dark skin and a dirty, but well-fitted Neolandian coat. Wet brown hair fanned out into the water beneath him, traced by streaks of white that marked his craft.

Not Viren.

A stranger.

He winced, wrestling with her, grabbing for something beside him and splashing his hand in the water. Rayla thought he intended to grab more of the vials and trinkets at his belt, and shoved him back against the rocks. The mage relented with a cry of pain. “The chest,” he managed. “Let me…”

He was reaching for the little chest he’d received from the Skywing elf. It bobbed in the water just out his reach. As she stared at it, Rayla’s shock and despair turned quickly to rage. She grabbed it before the tide could take it from both of them.

“Oh, this?” she snapped.

The mage tried to grab it, but Rayla pressed him down even harder with her knee, and he wailed as the wound on his shoulder deepened. Stella wriggled out of Rayla’s hood and down her arm to throw the chest open.

Rayla’s breath caught as she saw red within—but, no, it wasn’t a bloody red. The contents of the little box caught the first light of sunrise and gleamed. They were little pieces of dry, crimson coral, clinking together like glass.

“Blood coral,” spat the dark mage, tide frothing over his mouth. “For—”

“For dark magic,” Rayla said.

“For many things, elf!” he snarled, defiant. “To warm a cold hearth. To draw plague from poisoned water. To heal the sick and bleeding—”

Stella screeched in his face. Rayla pulled the chest back, out of reach, and pressed the curve of one blade to his neck—

—and held it there. The human froze, meeting her eyes. He looked afraid.

Rayla wanted to hate him, this young Neolandian boy, she wanted to hate him like she hated Viren. She could almost see Viren’s face in his: the white streaks of his hair, the sickly pallor of his skin, the bruise-like shadows beneath his eyes. Was he not the same?

But what if it was true? A plague, an illness, a wound—

“Life is precious. Life is valuable. We take it, but we do not take it lightly.”

His breath shallow against the blade, the dark mage hissed, “They are also–”

She saw it too late: the flash of red in his other hand, the one he held beneath the waves, shrouded by the tangle of his cloak and the color of his own blood in the water. A single piece of coral. Rayla’s eyes went wide.

“–for this.”

He hissed the incantation so quickly she didn’t hear it. Water frothed beneath the both of them, surged upward by a flash of red spreading across the mage’s arm and shoulder. Rayla’s blade no longer found flesh at his throat: the blood coral grew like a second skin, encasing him in a rigid embrace. Stella shrieked and leapt from its grasp, dropping the chest to the waves. The coral kept growing, threatening to swallow up Rayla’s blade and snap it in two.

She pulled away from him and leapt back.

The dark mage stood up, still wrapped in the spell’s red armor. He stared at her and backed away without breaking her gaze. With his free hand, he grabbed the wooden chest, floating idly in the brine—and then climbed into the little boat.

“No,” Rayla gasped. She took a step forward, but the water grew darker and deeper and reached all the way to her waist, and she knew she couldn’t follow. “No—!”

He shoved out into the riptide and was gone.

Rayla sank to her knees, scuffing them on the rough stone, and the wounds stung with salt. She pulled up her hood to hide her weeping, her frustration, her anger.

Then, Stella tugged at her cloak. Rayla glanced beside her. The cuddlemonkey held up a single piece of red coral, her eyes apologetic.

Rayla took it and wept. When she finally got to her feet, she stood on a cold morning shore with her ankles in bloody water.


Redfeather pinched the single piece of blood coral between her fingertips and scowled. She did not say a word, but Rayla knew the look of disappointment in her eyes all too well. Finally, she spoke without looking at her. “You got your mark, then?”

“No,” Rayla shook her head. “It wasn’t him. It was—just another dark mage.”

Just another dark mage, she thought, as though they were as common as barnacles on the Scumport docks. She had been so certain that she’d found the right path, and that certainty had made her a fool.

“Unfortunate,” Redfeather said. She waggled the red coral in her hand. “So—why just one piece, then?”

Rayla looked at the driftwood floor. “Because I messed up. He got away with the rest.”

Redfeather sighed. “You hesitated. Like in the Bone Pit.”

It stung. She was right, of course. Rayla caught a glimpse of her own reflection in a glass bottle and scowled at herself: the face glowering back at her was not the face of an assassin, and it never would be.

“Well,” Redfeather said, tossing the piece of coral into the air and catching it again. “You’re new. I’ll consider this a fair trade for what I gave you.”

“But you didn’t give me anything. Not really. It wasn’t Viren.”

“I gave you information on a dark mage making a trade at sunrise. That much was true. I’m sorry the rest wasn’t what you were looking for.” Redfeather held up the coral to the light, peering through it. “But this is Scumport. Stay here long enough and something interesting is bound to wash up on shore. Dark things lurk at sea, you know.”

“Stay here? In Scumport?”

Redfeather nodded. “I like you, but you’re still trying to be the person they’ll welcome back home. You’re a Ghost. You can’t be that elf ever again. You have to decide who you are going to be instead. So—who are you?”

Rayla balked at her. It was an awful question. She wasn’t an assassin, she wasn’t an elf of the Silvergrove, she wasn’t anything at all, she was just—


That voice again. Rayla pushed away, trying to focus on Redfeather. “I’m—”

“—selfless, strong, and caring—”

He persisted, as he always did, and his voice took her far, far away. She could still see it: the stars of the desert gleaming above her and in his eyes.

“—that’s what makes her a hero. That’s what makes her—”

“Rayla,” she said, meeting Redfeather’s gaze. “My name is Rayla. And I’m going home.”

Redfeather sighed. “Oh, you bleeding heart. You can’t go home.”

“No. Not there. Somewhere else.”

It was foolish to call the faraway castle of Katolis home. She did not belong there. She’d turned her back on it, she’d walked away, and had not earned the right to return. And yet—it was the only place in all of Xadia her heart wanted to go.

Redfeather tossed her braids over her shoulder and kicked her boots up onto the desk, rattling the coral. She reached an arm to the desk’s edge, to the little jar filled with wooden coins. “Well, when you run out of options, Rayla…”

With a flick of her thumb, Redfeather sent one wooden coin into the air. Rayla caught it.

“A token for the Ferryman—so you can find your way back.”

Rayla looked down at Finnegrin’s Favor in her hand.

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