The Dragon Prince: Reflections
“The Queen’s Mercy”
Written by Devon Giehl
Illustrated by Caleb Thomas & Emily Marzonie
Lux Aurea gleamed a blinding gold.
Kim’dael strode through the city’s bustling outskirts beneath the midday sun. The sight of a Moonshadow elf in the Sunfire capital was not so unusual that her presence raised an immediate alarm, but she didn’t pass without notice. Turned heads and whispers followed her as she walked.
Yet Kim’dael wanted their attention. Why else would she trade the shroud of night for the vicious exposure of daylight?
After all, she could have snuck into the city if she’d so desired. Even Lux Aurea had its shadows, however much its people pretended it did not. The Sunfire elves lived their lives as mirrors of their queen, boldly draping themselves in gold as though they could outshine the sun itself. They boasted their strength, their blades unhidden on their hips. These were people who rejected secrets, who did not lie.
Fools. They might as well have held their own hearts, beating and bloody, in the palms of their hands. Kim’dael knew that if she showed them her heart—or something convincingly like it—the Sunfire elves would do exactly what she wanted them to do.
And so, as children pointed fingers, as mothers pressed the young to their skirts, as guards murmured to each other and began to follow her, Kim’dael pretended that their gazes burned. She pretended she was ashamed. She pulled her hood over her head to hide her face—and the smirk upon her lips.
When she reached a sun-drenched square, the guards finally surrounded her. All were clad in golden scales with pretty crowns upon their horns. Kim’dael pinned her eyes upon the most decorated of them, the one with the most arrogance on his face. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say a word, Kim’dael threw herself upon the ground, scuffing her pallid knees upon the white stone.
“Please,” she said, letting her voice crack. “Please—I come without malice! Without weapons! I am at the mercy of the sun!”
The guard balked, his eyes wide.
“I beg of you,” Kim’dael cried. “Take me to Queen Aditi!”
Queen Aditi the Merciful, they called her.
Queen Aditi the Kind.
The Light of the Sun Incarnate.
Kim’dael had thought it all an insufferable exaggeration. Sunfire elves gilded everything they could touch, of course they would do the same to their beloved leader.
Gold glittered from every visible surface as she stepped into the palace, a display as audacious as it was resplendent. Yet, somehow, it all turned to dross beneath the radiance of the queen upon her throne.
Aditi gazed down upon her with eyes like molten metal, fierce and searing. Her hair draped over her shoulders, the color of braided fire. She wore armor more suited to a warrior than a monarch, and Kim’dael could tell it was not simply for show: it bore the subtle scuffs and scratches of many battles. She idly wondered what it would be like to fight her. To defeat her.
The guards led Kim’dael to the throne. They did not have to force her to kneel.
“So,” the queen finally spoke. “Are you who my guards claim you to be?”
“Yes, Queen Aditi,” Kim’dael’s voice was as solemn as she could make it. “I am the one they call the Bloodmoon Huntress. Night Terror. The Scarlet Shadow.”
“Your name is whispered legend,” said Aditi. “As are your crimes.”
Kim’dael bowed her head as though the words coiled around her neck. “If you know my name, then you also know of my suffering. For my crimes, the dragons have condemned me—and punished my kin. They drove us out of the Moonshadow Forest, away from our homes, and killed us one by one until only I remained! Still it is not enough! Still the dragons seek my death!”
A murmur swelled through the throneroom, and Aditi quelled it with a single raised hand.
“Queen Aditi,” Kim’dael pleaded, clasping her hands and pressing them to her heart. “They call you merciful. They call you kind. I have come to you with a final plea. I have come to beg for your sanctuary.”
“My sanctuary?” Aditi tilted her head, eyes narrowing. “And also, I presume, my forgiveness.”
“I am not worthy of forgiveness.” Kim’dael shook her head and briefly shut her eyes as though she held back a fit of weeping. “My crimes are myriad, it is true—but my sorrow is infinite. Should you compel the dragons to spare me, my Queen, I pledge all of my remaining days to repaying your mercy. Look into my eyes and you will see only repentance! Only truth!”
She flung her head back, meeting the queen’s eyes. Aditi rose from her throne and descended its steps until she stood at level with Kim’dael—and then she, too, knelt.
All at once, Kim’dael knew she’d won. With Aditi so close, she could feel the way her blood quickened in her veins. Her warrior’s armor was a ruse after all: the Queen of the Sunfire elves might as well have peeled back her ribs to show the huntress her bleeding heart.
“I see a light in you. The potential of a young flame,” Aditi said. The fire in her eyes softened to embers. “But to shield you from harm, I must invoke the light of the sun. Come—we must go to the Sunforge.”
Kim’dael rose to her feet. She licked her teeth behind her lips, but did not let herself smile. “Thank you, merciful queen. Thank you.” Mercy would be the queen’s death someday, she thought—but that, of course, was none of her concern.
Aditi nodded and turned away, and Kim’dael fell into step behind her. The guards stepped forward to follow, but Aditi waved them away.
“No,” she said. “We go alone.”
In the sweltering heat of the Sunforge, Aditi shed her royal trappings. She donned a loose cloth tunic and heavy gloves of a forgesmith and took up the tools of metalwork. The forge burned before her, fueled by the focused rays of the sun that poured into the chamber from the top of the tower high above them. Standing before its incandescent fire, shining with sweat, the queen’s long shadow fell over Kim’dael.
The huntress indulged herself with a grin, delighting in the sheer absurdity of what she beheld: the Queen of Lux Aurea, alone, with her back turned. Kim’dael could not hold her playful tongue. “Some would call you foolish to bring me here alone.”
“They balk at shadows, then.” Aditi pulled a slip of white-hot metal from the forge and turned to place it upon a gilded anvil. “I see your heart—and I am not afraid.”
She struck hard at the metal, sparks searing the air around her.
“You are not afraid of me—but what of the dragons?” asked Kim’dael. “You would dare invoke their wrath?”
“The dragons know better than to invoke mine,” Aditi said. She struck the metal again and again, purposeful and confident. Not a shred of her strength was wasted. “Is that not why you came to me? For my protection?”
“I came because the dragons trust your judgment. Your guiding light,” Kim’dael told her, feigning meekness. “But my queen, they do not fear you. The dragons fear nothing.”
“They feared you once.”
Kim’dael twitched a smirk of pride and quickly hid it. “Perhaps,” she said. “And see how I’ve suffered for it.”
Aditi nodded. “Your suffering has driven you out of your shadows and into the light—and so, as the Sun’s daughter, I will lead you into her embrace.”
The queen struck the slip of metal until it turned thin and curved. She traced runes into the air and muttered an incantation to shape it, and the metal warped and shimmered under the spell.
Kim’dael grew curious.
What pretty bauble, she wondered, had she tricked the queen into forging as a token of protection? What could be powerful enough to ward away the wrath of dragons?
Before she could glimpse the queen’s creation, Aditi plucked the glowing metal from the anvil and held it close to her chest. From where Kim’dael stood, she could only see the brilliant aura of its magic. For a moment, it was as though the queen’s heart overflowed with light.
“Kneel,” Aditi said.
Aditi flicked her wrist. The light in her palms burst forth.
Suddenly it was as though the queen’s hand closed around Kim’dael’s neck, burning as hot as the sun itself. Kim’dael reeled back, screaming, the world turned red with pain. Her skin blistered. She could smell the charring of her own flesh.
She clawed at her neck and found a clasp of metal wrapping from her throat to the back of her neck, still molten, searing her flesh as it cooled. Kim’dael writhed with agony on the floor, swallowing pain and the taste of fire.
Standing over her, the queen watched.
The metal cooled and hardened quickly, its magic humming against her bloodied flesh. Kim’dael trailed her trembling fingers along its edges. The sharp circlet of gold had sealed itself around her neck without an edge, without a latch, without a lock. A thick chain hung from it and dangled down to her chest with a heavy pendant at its end.
Rage gave her strength. “What is this?” Kim’dael spat, her breath ragged.
“A token of my protection,” Aditi told her. “As I promised.”
“A false promise. How…unbecoming. I thought it beneath the Sunfire elves to lie.”
“I did not lie. That collar claims you as mine, and as I told you, the dragons know better than to risk my wrath.” Aditi gestured to the thing around Kim’dael’s neck. “Forgiveness shall not come easily to one so stained with blood as you, Kim’dael. Not without a price. It is as you said: you will spend all of your remaining days repaying my mercy. You shall owe a mercy debt. A debt owed to me—and all my rightful heirs.”
Kim’dael snarled. She leapt at Aditi in a blur and held her clawed fingertips to the queen’s throat in a threatening caress. She smelled of the forge, of coal and kindling. “Then I will kill you, firefly,” she purred into her ear. “I will bleed your lovely heart dry and leave your body to burn.”
Aditi tilted her head, unafraid, even as a prick of red blood welled up at her throat. “If you must,” she said. “But know this: the binding around your neck—it is made with magic not unlike your own. It is a magic that demands, that takes. Kill me, and that binding will take you. It will tighten until the life is choked out of you forever.”
Kim’dael’s claw drew back into her hand. She glowered at Aditi, a bitter taste in her mouth. “Very well, my queen,” she hissed with a mocking bow. “What must I do?”
“Ah— a great many things,” said Aditi. “Your hands will take generations to wash clean. And in those generations you will serve me, and my children, and my children’s children, until one of them sees fit to set you free.”
Kim’dael fell back to her knees. The weight of the chain around her neck pulled her downward until she bowed her head. She pressed her fingertips to the golden metal collar at her throat. She struggled to swallow. Struggled to breathe.
She was trapped.
Queen Aditi stood over her, as implacable and fierce as the sun. “Pray that my descendants are more merciful than I, Bloodmoon Huntress.”
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