The clearing shined the with the starlight glimmering upon the dewy grass, as if the earth itself were an ornament so crafted to celebrate the night itself. But despite this, land stood still as if uncertain. If there had once been trees here they seemed wise to have departed, and the grass laid low upon the ground, as much as a ground can be low. In an instant, a great hiss broke the silence, and spark of golden light cut the air as it flew above the ground like a hungry beast in chase. A cut of air, and flash of metal flicker in the distance. And like a great bird, the light flew up and to the left, before departing in an explosion that put the stars to shame if but for a moment.
It’s called “Dyaro’s Star” in honor of the story of Draken Dyaro, and his heroic rescue of the village by deflecting a stray fireball into the sky with a worn shield during the Banner War. They say that the shot rang out so bright that it shattered the night and lit the new dawn for the land. However, this name and its pedigree has faded with time, as much as I wish it hadn’t. To many it is now called “The Trial of the Stray Star”, a highlight of the Fire-Wool Festival.
While the act has changed over the years, the rules and practices are simple. On one end of a large clearing free of trees, leaves, and moistened with the fall dew, one stands donning armor of leather and metal. In their hands, they are to grasp a large steel shield, often crafted for the year’s festival, and who’s crafting is considered a great honor. And on the other end of the clearing, where eyes stain to see, stands the honorable village Chief and about a 10-20 fireworks, both of which have been prepped continuously for just this moment over the course of the year. The goal is likewise simple, if some would consider fool hearty. As the hiss of the fireworks begin to ring in the distance, you are to stand, ready yourself, and prepare to knock the firework up into the night sky. It’s considered that anyone who can managed to knock the firework into the sky is destined for greatness, knock it to the sides they are an honorable soul in the making, and not knocking it at all…
I stop myself in my mental rambling as the boy on the far end of the clearing makes his way to the village elated, if a bit shook. His dragon scales peak through his shuffled armor, showing the slightest of ash from the rocket’s pass; a mark of success, if not a sign of how close failure truly was. The village being of dragons, many strive their young lives to one day attain just that, just as I do as well.
But, now so close, I finally worry, if this dream is just for the dragons. Of course, that thought had to come back to me now. I guess I never was good at timing.
I shuffle to make way for the boy, shuffling my roots, and making avoiding the thought of how we differ impossible. My floral hair sways as the breeze rolls by, and I shuffle my petal base along my roots. While this village may be one of dragons, a dragon I am now. I am an alruane, born by the earth outside of the village than by egg. A soft petal in flock of fire, as I used to hear people say.
Another shot rings out across the clearing, as another boy takes his stance.
”Why would you want to risk your life like this, girl?” I hear her voice ring in my head. Sensei, the great fire mouse. It was her who made me realize what I could be. She always stood proud, without scales, but without a fear of fire. “Because…” I stuttered “…I want to be strong like my friends, to be fearless against the flame as they are.” I can still see her face. She could never resist a smile, nor hide one it seemed. “You could get hurt you know.” “I know, and I want to be strong enough to never fear getting hurt again.” My mind flashes as I see her light her hands, and then the firework, and then-
A burst of light flashes in the distance, but this time on the ground, and I flinch and grab my arm. The burn is still visible, if only slightly. The hurt boy is walked back by his friends, his armor is charred along the arm, his shield clean of any impact.
I watched him pass, as I made my way across the clearing. The dew air cooling my roots as they crawled along the dirt. My vines stiffen in my gear and grip my shield. Funny how the walk always looks so short from the village.
I take my stand, and the cold air is all I can feel as I look out upon the glimmering horizon. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I hear sensei’s words echo in my head “I’ve never seen an alraune willingly face the risk of fire.” My face shivers on the wind. “I know if an alraune can do this, they do not have the scales of dragons. But, I must know that I can, that my petal leaves may be as fearless as any drake.”
The flare of a fire rings into my ears like a monster, hunting for me and me alone. Its glare engulfs my sight and fills my mind as if by instinct. My eyes see the light that I have feared for so long, as clear as the dawn. I root myself and lift myself as if for the first time.
The burst lights the sky, and I feel its warmth fall upon me, like a caress from a new love, and the break of a new day. For a moment, I can see the day shine down, and I see I have nothing left to fear. The night returns, and I stride back, carried by roots now strong like the scales of a great oak.