By Alicia Steen
It is the seventh and final day of Gathyra’s Magic Games, and you are still wondering why Sranus brought you along. You didn’t know much about the white haired wizard, but then, neither did anyone else. He is older than anyone cares to recall, speaks with a wisdom that spins sages in circles, and carries a staff for breaking heads. The staff especially persuaded you that ignoring Sranus’s urging would not be good for healthy living.
You’d attended the dragon races, of which the obstacle race was the most inspiring. The sight of Prince Parkr weaving through the airborne rocks would not be soon forgotten. It apparently had been a significant race, but you didn’t quite understand the history behind that part. Dragons are awesome. Especially the way Prince Parkr rides them. What else was there to know?
The Scale War had been even more breathtaking. Even at your first time seeing it, you understood that a single team wasn’t supposed to defend the entire scale field from the entire student body. The intensity was strong even where you stood, and it never wavered the entire two hours. What in creation drove these teams to fight so hard so long?
A smack on the head clears your thoughts in an instant. Sranus had stopped moving, and you’d run into his staff. What was the thing made of anyway? Wait, scratch that. Sranus probably had enough magic in it to level an island. Wood absorbs magic like no other substance inexistence.
You look around at the blue-green grass surrounding you. Wasn’t this where all the events were held? There wasn’t a trace of anything now, just the school far to your back and city, or what passes for a city in Gathyra, to your left.
You almost pose a question to Sranus, who is just standing there, but he beats you too it.
“Travel far and live long, but there are no greater celebrations than Gathyra’s Festival of Scales. Not in my experience, and I’ve seen enough to consider myself an authority. The festival’s exact location in Gathyra has changed over the centuries, but the layout remains the same. A circular rope fence marks the festival grounds and each of three corners mark the entrances twen, thien, and seah.”
Sranus points beyond the grass line, but you can just barely make out the gray-brown dirt, much less the enclosure he mentions. Sranus starts walking. “All of Gathyra attends this festival, and has since Gathyra’s founding, so as a newcomer you’ll probably feel out of place at first, as if you’re the only outsider at the largest family reunion in the three worlds.
“Every Gathyran knows by long habit and tradition where the attractions are and when they happen. They are also intimately acquainted with the stories and laughs, but if you shout out your question anyone will be glad to answer. Just don’t ask for a map or a schedule. To map out and follow a schedule is to miss the heart of the festival entirely.”
Sranus’s quick pace has brought you to past the grass line. The soft quick crunch of dirt beneath your feet is bringing the roped enclosure Sranus mentioned, as well as one of the three entrances. Twen, wasn’t it? With the black dragon?
Sranus continues, “For instance, I could tell you that near entrance twen the black dragon Mystery holds a daycare so that once a year she can forget her duties to Prince Parkr and care for young ones who won’t break the order of the universe once or twice a day. I could also say the youngsters far too old to be reined in often drift toward corner thien, where games and tournaments of the card game Paladin can be found in abundance. If not there, the young fighters are likely expending energy between twen and seah in whatever the sport or bout that has spawned.
“I could tell you, and more besides, but these are merely the trappings of the festival, the results of the true reason Gathyra gathers. The meaning of the festival is locked inside the dragon scale. They become instant fireworks when tossed in the air and met with dragon fire, and due to the nature of dragon fire, there is no danger of harm or destruction. Thus dragon scales may be tossed in any direction, even at your neighbor. Mounds of scales are placed at every entrance, so Gathyrans take full advantage by grabbing pocketfuls to have fun with for the entirety of the festival.”
Your breathing is more ragged than normal, but Sranus doesn’t seem winded in the slightest, and he was talking the entire time. Following his lead you grab a handful of the dragon scales he mentioned. The scales are mostly clear, but a brilliance of color runs through them when you hold them to the light. Once past the entrance the crowd seems to be moving in the same direction, straight for the center.
You don’t have much choice but to follow the crowd. Somehow past lines of long wood and stone tables you and Sranus end up at the front of the dense pack, which has formed a ring about ten footlengths from a large pile of ore that seems to be at the very center of the festival grounds.
You open your mouth to ask a question, but yet again Sranus stops you.
“Hush now, King Json is approaching the mound.”
A wave of hushed excitement rolls through the crowd. They seem to know what’s coming and are eagerly waiting for it.
King Json takes off his crown, a silver circlet, and says, “A merry laugh keeps shadow at bay, and a glad heart will never tremble. Ancient of Days, strengthen our hands and bring joy to this festival!”
At his final words the king tosses his crown in air, followed by hundreds of dragon scales from every member of the crowd. In answer a flame thunders down, engulfing the ore and setting off every scale all at once.
It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. The warm glow, the explosion of sound, the burst of color. The sky glitters with every hue ever created, and the color hangs in the air in circles and streams before sparkling down on the crowd.
When the sky is ordinary once more, Sranus tells you, “Well you can do what you want, but I’m going to get some food.”
With that last bit of advice Sranus vanishes into the crowd, much to your consternation. Still, the crowd is again moving in the same direction – away from the huge bonfire, so you follow them. The tables you crammed past earlier are now laden with food. Pies, soups, all manner of meat, and plates with utensils crammed together in no sort of order. Every scent of food imaginable grabs your appetite.
“Better grab a plate, or it’ll all pass you by!” a man behind you says. You look around, and indeed the crowd is moving in one direction. You claim the nearest plate and take from the dishes that look closest to your favorites, as well as a few tempting ones and a hot cider drink. Now and again you catch sight of Sranus. Somehow in this thick crowd his tall white figure appears all over the place. Talk about weaving through a crowd.
Once you pass the food more tables greet you, these full of people and plates. People of a certain type seem to claim each long table. They are most obviously not divided by class – the only indication of class you’ve seen is the circlet the king tossed in the air. Rather, one table to your left is rowdy and seems to be holding a drinking contest with mugs of… no that’s root beer. Okay, next to them is an equally rowdy bunch with plates piled higher than anyone should be able to lift. Or balance. Perhaps they are magic plates?
Anyway, you look to your right and see a table of bookworms. Or scrollworms. And something in between. Quiet but active conversation is going on, most likely about favorite reads. The table next to them holds the intellectuals and the geeks. No grey-taped glasses, but plenty of awful haircuts and holographic screens and wow, that’s a word? In what language? The table after them has as many screens as there are plates. Gamers. Your eye stops at a familiar figure. Sranus? You thought he’d be at the older set’s table. You don’t see it around here, but those unmistakable tones have to be coming from somewhere.
The crowd is not nearly as thick here, so you stand and ponder your choices. There are many more tables besides these, so you walk over to the one that suits you best.
As your eating experience progresses, a thought forms. With such a beginning, what other experiences could the festival hold to possibly top it?