It was the first day of the long-awaited Dragon Dance Festival.
Though the royal capital was known to be busy and bustling, it was even noisier and teeming with greater energy now. Every direction was decorated in beautiful flowers and bright colors. Delicious and enticing scents wafted from tightly packed vendors and stalls, and the locals looked happy in expectation of the event commencement. People could be seen moving to and from all directions. Foreign entertainers and artisans’ troupes were scattered all over, danceable music, distant and nearby chants could be heard from the people who were in the town. If air could talk, it would have spoken of how filled it was with such sounds.
Oh, this looks so fun!!!
Hi, it’s Rururia and I’m dressed up more elegantly than usual today.
I’m just supposed to just enjoy myself, right? I certainly thought so. It was an honor for me to have been chosen to fulfill the role of the “Maiden of the Flower Scales,” but, if I’m being honest, that role was miserable and tedious.
The biggest activity of the Dragon Dance Festival was performed by the dragons themselves. It was an awesome sight when they flew above the city. The dragons’ motives were still unknown, but for some reason, every three years—sometime between the third to fifth of May—they soar over our kingdom.
Why is that? Is it something like how Tom the gardener routinely does those funny exercises every morning at 5:00 am?
As I thought this, I couldn’t help but subconsciously smile uncontrollably.
When I got hold of myself, I remembered that the “Maiden of the Flower Scales” role is required to fly under the dragons and scatter “Flower Scales,” which were like an imitation of dragon scales.
“In other words, because we have no way of knowing precisely when the dragons will fly over the capital, we have to be on alert for three whole days! But, if the dragons come early, then it means that I’ll be set free! I pray they come early!” I said, repeating almost verbatim what I had been taught by my instructor.
“It seems like you’re having a great time. Here, have some fried bread!” The “Knight of the Flower Scales” said as he walked up behind me.
With a confused look on my face, I turned and immediately stuffed my mouth with the festival bread.
“Delicious!!! It’s piping hot, filled with almonds, and covered with powdered sugar! This is the best!!” I closed my eyes, hoping to discover more of the taste.
“Where did you get this?” I mumbled, still eating a mouthful of bread.
“You are going to choke soon if you don’t stop talking. I got it from the shop over there,” The knight replied with a broad smile.
Wait, isn’t this knight supposed to perform almost the exact same role as mine? He hasn’t even been forced into it… Why is he free to go around and buy from the stalls, while I’m not? I would have preferred the role of “Knight of the Dragon Scales” to this “Maiden” gig.
I frowned momentarily, thinking this.
Unconsciously, I dropped breadcrumbs from my mouth onto myself, staining my clothing. The knight passed me a slightly wet handkerchief, which I used to clean my sticky palms. This left them clean if a bit damp. Taking a better look at the knight, I discovered that he was quite handsome and with good fashion sense to boot.
This festival fried bread is so tasty I forgot to take note on his appearance.
There was a show going on at the plaza or should I say it was the introduction ceremony for the “Knight” and “Maiden” of the “Flower Scales.” It was the same sort of show every year.
“This fried festival bread is so tasty that I didn’t take note of what he looks like.” I thought to myself.
“Look over there! It looks like a romance is blooming,” the knight said, pointing towards the show.
“Next up is the festival’s most important event! Aren’t you excited?” Solan, one of Irene-sama’s followers, headed towards us.
“We are!” The knight and I chorused.
From what I’ve seen, Solan is just a regular boy. I’m glad that he seems to be having fun with the events. I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve started to have a little bit of fun watching over everything! Hey, hey, maybe I can get another piece of that festival bread?
That last line I whispered to the knight after Solan had left.
“Yeah! Let’s go get some more bread before the dragons come,” he replied, and we headed towards the stall.
“Hahaha!!! This time I’m going to warp the whole stage!” Someone yelled from a distance. It was probably an entertainer.
“I hope the festival goes as planned without a hitch” I said, my worries written all over my face.
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about though. Everything in the royal capital seems to be running smoothly during this year’s festival. I’m sure it’ll be fine,” the knight assured me.
One of the festival’s main events—the Martial Combat Exhibition—was about to begin. Up until now it’s been younger knights and adventurers showing off to one another, but now a fight beyond my expectations—with magic flying this way and that—was about to break out in this arena. In the midst of these fights, friendships were being formed and romances starting to bloom. A cool, refreshing breeze passed through the plaza.
“You!!! I’ll burn you to cinders!!!” Chief Magician, one of the combatants, proclaimed towards someone.
“Eh, I don’t think killing anyone is a good idea, Chief Magician,” that person warned. As usual, the Knight Commander is quietly focused on his battle. Woah! He just cut through that magic circle with his sword.
“Wow!! That’s amazing!!! For that to be possible, he must have combined fire and lighting magic into one spell.” Solan excitedly explained when he noticed my confusion.
We met him again at the spectators’ area after returning from the stall to get more fried bread.
“I appreciate the explanation, young master, but to be honest, I still don’t really understand any of it. I do know that it must be impressive, though.” I chipped in.
The final round of the Martial Combat Exhibition—the Chief Magician vs. the Knight Commander—had started. A mock battle between the two of the best… This is supposed to be a mock battle, right? To my untrained eyes, it just looked like a pretty serious fight. There were some vicious spells and some brutal sword swipes. It was just my imagination, right? Everything was fine.
“The crowd is screaming so loudly. I’ve never seen this much excitement before. This is going to be okay, right? I’m starting to get nervous.” I asked, adjusting my stance to look at the knight, hoping to be reassured.
“Yeah, you’re right. It is supposed to be a mock fight. I hope it doesn’t go beyond that,” Solan replied.
That reply wasn’t satisfying; rather, it made me more nervous. I had to cage my fear so as not to attract pity from the two men.
“Hya!” the Chief Magician made that sound, pivoting towards his opponent. Then, the fight began.
Having created an opening by cutting through the Chief Magician’s spell, the Knight Commander launched an attack aimed straight at his opponent’s heart.
I could have sworn the Chief Magician was going to be cut in half, but right at the last second, he, somehow, protected himself. His robe wasn’t so lucky, however, as it was sacrificed and slashed through. I heard from Solan later that the robe was enchanted to protect him from physical attacks and probably costs many thousand coins.
“Wow!! Wait a second… Isn’t that a blunted practice sword. How did it cut so well??? Is this what the Dragon Dance Festival always looks like? This is my first festival, not to mention my first one at the royal capital. Is it just me who thinks that these two are trying to kill each other?!?” I asked, this time to no one in particular.
“I don’t think they’ll kill each other. It’s just a mock fight and I think they’re being careful too,” replied the knight, sounding like he hadn’t witnessed a festival before either.
“Don’t mess with me!!!” the Chief Magician screamed. He seemed quite annoyed by his opponent.
Reeling back, he launched some dangerous-looking magic across the arena. Terrifying pillars of fire burst forth one after the other.
“Oh man, the arena’s going to be ruined,” Solan mumbled, before adding, “That one was close!!”
Between the pillars of fire were razor-thin margins. On one side, the stoic Knight Commander, on the other, the terrifying Chief Magician, and in the middle, a silhouette danced through in a grossly inhuman way.
“KNIGHT COMMANDER!!! COME AND CUT ME!!! CAN YOU HIT ME!? GOOD! GOOD! I’M STILL BREATHING!!!” A figure suddenly yelled amid the fire columns.
The Knight Commander sliced through the pillars so quickly that I couldn’t see his blade at all. I didn’t know humans could move that fast. It was still confusing; I mean the figure in-between. I wondered who or what it could have been.
“That figure in the middle, he looks a little strange, no actually, very strange. Ah, that’s who it is. Everyone in the kingdom knows that odd appearance. He’s called Captain Dragon Taunter and said to get pleasure from life-threatening encounters. Like barely dodging a dragon’s attack or in this case, getting in between an angry Chief Magician and swift Knight Commander. He’s strange but undoubtedly a master of evasion. When Captain Dragon Taunter goes to the dragons’ nest, he doesn’t go there to take anything. He goes there for the pure excitement of dodging dragons. Insane, right? He also never attacks. It’s as if he would die the instant he tried to go on the offensive. I don’t get why though. He might be crazy, who knows?” Solan explained, like he knew the questions running through my mind.
“Is this important event going to be topped off by this crazy guy’s antics?” The young knight asked, then added after the Dragon Taunter made some crazy but interesting moves: “Now that was good!”
“Hmm, it’s like he can sense just the slightest hint of those spells before they’re cast…” Solan added, commending the moves as well.
“He’s even dodging the Commander’s sword too?!? Woah!” The Knight said in awe.
“Is he human? I want to be just like him!!” I said, not minding what their thoughts about me would be.
“His state is complicated.” Solan concluded.
“But why does he intrude in other people’s fights? Do people even like this kind of intrusion? I worry for the future of the kid who wants to grow up to be like that guy and even more so about the future of our whole kingdom!!” That wasn’t me but the knight.
I ignored the overexcited Solan for a moment to get a look at nobles’ section. Surely if our leaders were calm and composed, then there is hope for the future. That thought gave me hope.
His and Her Majesties looked ecstatic. So, they were okay with these events. His Excellency, the Prime Minister, looked nervous, yet also like he was calmly resigned to the situation. Good, at least he wasn’t cheering this on. The Minister of Finance was shaking all over and got a little teary-eyed when one of the warding stones around the arena broke. Good, he also wasn’t crazy! There was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Royal Prince and Lady Irene as well!
This was a pretty bad ratio, though. Most of them seemed thrilled watching these three trying to kill each other.
Unfortunately, His and Her Majesty were entirely consumed. I hoped it was okay that only the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance were being mature at a time like this.
“TRY AND DODGE THIS! I’LL VAPORIZE YOU!!” The Chief Magician screamed at the Dragon Taunter.
“Please don’t vaporize anyone!!” The Chief Magician’s aide said from where he was standing. It seems that the fighters were becoming more aggressive than expected.
Then there was a flash of searing white and a thundering boom. I was certain that the shock wave was going to surge right through us, but thanks to the pride of our country—our warding stones—the blast didn’t escape the arena. Truly astounding.
But another warding stone ended up broken. It looked like one of the magicians who tended to the stones also collapsed. I could only pray to God to protect him from death because it seemed that he was hit by the thunder. I saw the Minister of Finance fall as well. Well, that’s understandable, but I can’t worry about that right now.
“Woo, that was a close one!! I don’t want to get vaporized!!” said Captain Dragon Tamer with a smirk.
Naturally, both Captain Dragon Taunter and the Knight Commander reappeared unscathed. The arena had been completely decimated though, reduced to little more than rubble and ash. The flames were dotted about everywhere within the warding stones’ boundaries.
“How in the world did they survive?” I asked nobody in particular, knowing that some people had the same question in mind.
The air was tense as the three scowled at one another. The glares between the Knight Commander and Chief Magician were even more intense. It looked like more knights and magicians had collapsed around the barrier.
I was extremely relieved when His Highness intervened.
“This year’s exhibition was fantastic! I hereby call an end to this year’s tourney!” He declared.
“Good timing Your Highness!!! What’s with the Chief Magician, it looks like he was shrouded in lightning and could destroy everything with tremendous rage in his eyes,” Solan said, letting out a heavy sigh of relief.
“You’re right. I was beginning to worry and I didn’t know if could stand such an aggressive mock fight any longer,” I agreed.
With His Highness’s declaration, the crowd erupted in applause, and all of the magicians who were tending the stones hugged and cheered as well.
“I’m really glad that’s over! That was too intense,” The knight said.
We bid goodbye to each other: Solan went to sit with Irene-sama in the royalty section, while the knight and I headed for our respective groups.