Chapter 22 The Moon Festival
“Aurory hurry up! I do not wish to be late to the Moon Festival!” Queen Maylee was shouting at the bottom of the stairs, her hands on her bloated hips.
“I cannot find my favorite hat!” Princess Aurory shouted back down as loud and as angry as she possibly could.
“I hate that hat with those horrid feathers! You look like a stupid, ugly, peacock!” The Queen hissed at her daughter, losing her patience. “We need to depart in a few minutes! I will leave you here!” Queen Maylee swung her arm at an approaching guard, causing him to shriek and cower.
“Y-your majesty, Th-Thanos is here.” The guard stuttered as the Queen removed her shoe to strike him with it. “Oh, yes, see him in.” Her shoe dropped to the ground and she wedged her huge foot into it before waddling away.
Princess Aurory glared at her mother from the top on the stairs. “Stupid, ugly, peacock,” She repeated her right olive eye twitching as she glared harder at her retreating mother. It was she who had given Princess Aurory the hat as a gift from her trip to Guardia. “I bet Valeena has it.” She mumbled turning and stomping up the stairs to Valeena’s room.
The splintered door was still on the floor from when the guards had knocked it down; the back door was wide open as well, allowing the salty sea air in. The blood was gone, save for a faded paw print on the rug that no one other than Valeena had noticed.
Princess Aurory tore through the room, emptying drawers onto the floor, tossing pillows aside and knocking over the other chair at the small table. A guard approached her slowly and very timidly reached out to touch her shoulder. “Y-y-your mo-mother wants-“
“Oh, Shut the Hell up!” Princess Aurory shouted throwing the manners book at the guard. “I want my damn hat!” The guard jerked his hand back as the book landed at his feet.
“Sh-she will leave-“This time the book did not miss its mark as Princess Aurory picked it back up and hurled in once more. The guard ran out of the room, holding his arm where the heavy book had struck.
Princess Aurory scanned the room, huffing in anger and saw the broken cherub face on the floor of the closet. She walked over to it, sneering at its ugly smile and smashed her foot onto its porcelain face.
“OW!” Princess Aurory cried out, falling backward into the wall, her back hitting the stone with a hollow thump. She stood up, ready to administer round two on the ceramic cherub when the sound of the thump registered with her. She turned to the wall and knocked on it, hearing the hollow sound within in. Princess Aurory patted the wall, her fingers dangerously close to the latch.
“I have your stupid, feathered hat! Now, let’s go!” Queen Maylee shouted loudly from the ground floor, her angry voice echoing in the castle. Princess Aurory abandoned the wall, but not without one more glance back at the wall.
The girl waited until her act was finished before leaping off the stage and walking towards Valeena, Aira, and Rowan. “Are those real?” She asked, tapping on Valeena’s crystal lightly with her small finger, startling them with her perfect English. She was shorter than Valeena with almond shaped eyes the color of orange autumn leaves. Her hair was done in an elaborate bun with colorful sticks poking out.
Valeena laughed uncomfortably, “Yes, they are real. Mine is water.” She said, nodding towards Rowan, and Aira, “Aira is wind and Rowan is fire. And …” Her voice trailed off as she had almost mentioned Elden.
The girl did not seem to notice. “I have not seen anyone with a real crystal on their head before.” She looked startled, placing a hand over her mouth. “Oh! I am sorry. I am Akari Yoshida.”
“We are on a journey to find the Elements,” Valeena informed her as the crowd departed, some people dropping silver coins in an orange bowl. “You should join us!”
Akari smiled but shook her head. “I am sorry, but I cannot.”
“Why not?” Rowan asked as he coughed and walked to the other side of Akari, hoping they would not notice that he had just farted.
“The Moon Festival is tonight and I am the lead in the reenactment of the Dragon Maiden.” Akari gushed, she seemed extremely excited to have the role, but Valeena felt fear wrap around her heart. The moon festival meant that Queen Maylee was on her way if she was not already here.
Valeena glanced around quickly, her eyes searching for any sign of the bloated Queen or the spoiled princess. “Queen Maylee always requests my presence. She offered to take me on a tour of her kingdom when I am sixteen!” Akari continued, excitement growing in her soft voice.
“Do not go to the Star Kingdom!” Valeena warned her, shaking her head. “It is dangerous there!” Akari appeared confused, tilting her head to the side.
“Dangerous? From what I have studied, it seems like it is very safe. They have high walls and hundreds of guards. It has never been attacked in the hundreds of years the castle has stood!”
Valeena glanced around, suddenly aware of how many people were around. “Is there somewhere more private we can talk?” She asked as several people strolled by, pointing at the group.
“Follow me.” Akari led them down the cherry blossom lined streets to a small house resting near the river bend. A white cat was sleeping on the doorstep and did not bother to move as the group walked up, Akari opening the door to the small home.
“Sit.” She offered, waving her hand towards a green floral couch that was placed near a dark wood table. The three of them sat on the couch as Akari settled into an orange dragon mat that was on the floor.
“You said the Star Kingdom is unsafe, why?” Akari asked, reaching out and petting a gray and white cat that had waltzed into the room and sat in front of Akari, purring loudly.
Valeena sighed deeply and began her story, telling Akari about the Queen and the crystals. When Valeena was done, Akari asked, “What makes you think that finding these Elements will save you?”
“Nihonal,” Valeena replied, even though she had no idea if Nihonal could save them. She could tell by the clear look of doubt on the small girl’s face that that was not the right answer.
“I do not see how opening that door will help,” Akari spoke, stretching her arms up and over her head, cracking her back.
Aira laughed before saying, “I have been wondering the same thing!”
“Then why are you traveling with them?” Akari asked her, her orange eyes staring straight at the angry elf.
“I have my reasons.”
Akari held out her hand, “Which are?” Aira crossed her slender arms and refused to speak.
Akari turned her attention to Rowan, “What about you? Why are you on this journey?” Rowan proceeded to tell Akari about the incident at the church and how his friends rooted for his death. Akari nodded sadly, petting the cat absently. “If what you say about Queen Maylee is true, then I will join you.”
Valeena smiled and clapped her hands together. “Oh, thank you!”
“Now, I need to go get ready,” Akari announced excitedly, pushing the cat off her lap as she stood up. “You are free to stay here.”
An hour later Akari flowed into the room wearing a kimono of brilliant shades of green and gold, her obi a terrific blue. Her hair was held up with hair ornaments dangling down. Her face was the traditional white, except her eyes, had a dark green shadow, her lips were a blood red, and glitter lined her cheeks, highlighting a soft scale pattern that trailed from the corner of each eye to the top of her ears. A short horn was planted firmly on her forehead over her crystal.
“Look!” She beamed, twirling once, holding her large fans of brown and green out at her sides, “I am the Dragon Maiden!” Valeena clapped, finding her new friend simply lovely in her costume. Rowan smiled, doing a wolf whistle at her that caused her face to blush deeply through the makeup.
“Let’s go!” Akari said, opening the front door and stepping out into the late afternoon light.
“Come on! You must take your seats!” Akari announced, her voice full of excitement. She was clearly pleased to be the lead in the play, as she bounced through the deep green grass, in a very un-lady like manner.
“Where are we going?” Valeena asked, laughing as Akari spun and stumbled over her own feet. She merely wrinkled her nose at them, smiling. Akari led them out into the excitement of the street and to a waiting rickshaw. As the rickshaw sped across town, Valeena took in the sights of the crowds. Women were dressed in kimono of greens, oranges, reds and yellows, none of which could hold a candle to the elaborate kimono Akari wore.
There were, even more, carts selling fans with dragons painted on them, along with paper lanterns, some in the shape of dragons, others a simple circle to honor the moon. There were vender’s selling shaved ice, and candy, others selling meat or dumplings.
The city itself was decorated with lanterns and banners in intricate patterns and detail. Valeena longed for one of the fans, making a note to try and purchase one someday.
Aira, who was usually sour and seemed to be incapable of joy, was looking at the city in wonder, clearly allowing herself to be swept up in the excitement of the day. Valeena caught her smiling at a giant, purple pastry.
The rickshaw came to a stop at the park where thousands of chairs and people sat, decorated with streamers, banners, and more lanterns. Workers were setting up canopies over several sections of the park as vender’s opened their shop. The area had built in the sand of the desert and a few men with brooms were sweeping the yellow sand off the wood the park had been built on.
Valeena spotted the tall viewing box that the Queen herself would be sitting in soon, towering over the seats so not one person could block her view of the festivities.
Akari bowed, handing them each some spending money informing them that most vendors would not accept foreign currency as there were too many different types for them to keep track of. Then she left them to wander, warning them that they must take the seats that she would have on hold for them an hour before the parade or the seats went to someone else.
“And do not hang around long after the Dragon falls. Queen Maylee loves to rush the stage in hopes the dragon is real.” Akari informed them, suppressing a fit of giggles that threatened to take hold of her. “She cries and sometimes tries to administer CPR to it. She even forces her guards too!” Akari bowed again laughing freely, and walked gracefully away, leaving Valeena to laugh at the image of the Queen on her knees, hitting a guard and demanding he blow into the paper Mache mask.
Valeena slowly walked the area, keeping an eye out for Queen Maylee as she scanned the carts, allowing herself to take samples that were offered. The day was warm and bright, a gentle refreshing wind caring scents of cherry blossoms, food, and various perfumes worn by the woman. Valeena purchased a small fan, even though she longed for the larger one, but she had to save some money for snacks.
Music began to play steadily, and a few women dressed in lovely brown kimono sat near the stage. Performers, dressed in red body suits danced through the crowd, twirling streamers of greens and gold. Valeena watched them as they did flips, landing gracefully back on the ground, never dropping the streamers. Several children laughed and tried to mimic the dancers, but were quickly scolded by their parents not to ruin their clothes.
Valeena found the saved seats, settling into one, wary of trying to keep an out for the Queen, whose box was still empty. She could not fully enjoy the Festival as terror had a hold of her heart, the Queen could be anywhere.
Valeena had spotted Princess Aurory; she was at one of the various candy carts stuffing her overflowing goody bag with sweets, the vendor watching in disgust. The Queen had given them plenty of money prior to Princess Aurory approaching, and so the vendor said nothing as he watched in dismay as half of his display vanished into the bag. She then lumbered off in the direction of the dumping tower, dropping colorful wrappers on the ground as she walked.
Soon Aira and Rowan joined Valeena as the area began to get overcrowded with people and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep an eye out for the monster Queen. Aira had also purchased a small fan in a rich plum color and Rowan had a cup of soup and some dumplings that he offered around, Aira and Valeena accepting a dumpling.
Valeena had never had one before and was surprised by how delicious it tasted. Aira sighed but shared her sweets she had gathered. Valeena drooled at the sight of the rare candy she had never tasted, suddenly wanting to be rude like Princess Aurory and hoard them all. Valeena carefully opened a cherry flavored candy, a picture of a cherry with hearts for eyes graced the package on a pastel pink background. She sucked on the soft red striped candy, a super sweet cherry taste meeting her tongue, followed by a more tart taste. She loved it.
Valeena watched Rowan tear open a lemon candy, the lemon was giving some sort of peace sign, its eyes two upside down Vs, its mouth open wide. He popped the candy in his mouth and began crunching loudly, Valeena staring at him in shock.
The sun was half way across the vibrant sky as the music changed into a more mellow tone as shamisen’s and drums filled the air. People began to take their seats, the parade was about to begin. A gong reverberated through the park, and the shamisen faded out, the drums thumping as though they were giant footsteps.
The haunting sounds of a koto mixed into the evening air, as the drums continued their beat. The drums faded away softly, the koto lingering on the wind. Suddenly, the drums began to echo to life as the music swelled, the beat quickening as a shamisen and a shakuhachi joined the celebration.
A rich, forest green and stunning gold dragon puppet, being manipulated by a team of people with poles hidden inside it, burst through a paper cover that was being supported by a group of people in black kimono.
The dragon snaked its way through the crowd, spinning and flowing like a river, as more people in red and orange kimono joined the festivities; each one was carrying streamers and danced around the dragon, throwing handfuls of confetti and glitter from pouches that were concealed in their obis.
Acrobatic performers followed behind the giant dragon, performing tricks that seemed impossible to Valeena as she watched wide eyed, not daring to blink.
Emperor’s Heaven, which was long, thin birds that had the appearance of floating rays of light, were released from cages hidden among the massive cherry blossom trees, their long, glittery, tails leaving streaks of gold in the sky as they flew into the crowd. The parade lasted thirty minutes, ending with the dragon circling back to the start, disappearing around the corner of the empty massive stage.
The stage itself fogged over as though it were floating on a cloud as samurai poured out on either side from behind a black curtain that was painted like a hillside. They were performing an elaborately choreographed battle, calling out in their native tongue as they danced and flipped around.
The backdrop changed to a rich night sky that reflected the real one above as the drums began to pound heavily. A great horned dragon with vibrant green and blue scales emerged from behind the curtain, interrupting the fight. It had mighty wings, but kept to the ground, roaring.
The crowd was deafeningly silent and the ‘Woo!’ that escaped Queen Maylee at the sight of her beloved dragon, sliced through the night, putting a dent in the ambiance the dancers had set.
The men began to lash out with their swords in great, acrobatic gestures as they danced around the dragon that was spitting sparkling streamers that were painted to resemble fire, prompting props of burning fire to appear, waving on stage.
As a full moon floated in the sky as Akari appeared, being lowered to the stage by a black, painted rope. She slowly started dancing with her fans illuminated around the chaos, a look of horror on her stunning face. Akari spun around the men, calling out for them to stop the fight, but they refused to listen, their swords barely missing her.
The dragon fell to its knees as one of the samurais hit it in the neck, sending bright, red lights to blast out of the wound, giving the illusion of fresh blood. The stage lights had been dimmed as the dragon staggered on stage, making the scene appear more graphic as patches of illuminated red streamers billowed on the stage floor.
Akari called out for them to stop, a hand going dramatically across her forehead as the other hand reach out towards the dying beast. The men jumped about wildly, each one hitting the wounded dragon as more light shot through fresh cuts.
Finally, the mighty dragon fell to the ground with a mournful roar, remaining still and silent. The red light that was emanating from the dragon was fading, the patches of light where the dragon’s blood had landed on stage disappearing as well.
The men did several backflips off the stage, leaving Akari alone. She began to perform a lament for the fallen dragon, dancing softly the lights flickering like fireflies in the night.
She walked slowly along the fallen beast, ending near the dragon’s neck as the remaining lights faded until only the circle of her fans were visible, like the moon in the sky. Valeena realized that the fans were getting high as some invisible force raised Akari back into the sky, where she floated among the stars, the music fading to an end.
Everyone was silent as a lovely voice spoke softly their native tongue, and then for the sake of the Queen, they repeated it in perfect English.
“The Great War between the Dragon and the Warriors had ended as the beast’s soul departed our world and entered the Great Beyond. The Moon was now nothing more than a lonely, heartbroken Maiden. She cast herself into the starry sky, waiting for the return of her fallen love.”
Bitter sobs that were coming from Queen Maylee filled the night as she mourned the loss of the dragon. “Whhhy?” She wailed, drawing the word out, oblivious to the angry glares she was receiving from the other people as the mood was now ruined. She was struggling hard to get out of her chair but her bloated rump was stuck in the seat.
“You!” Queen Maylee called out as she smacked a guard who proceeded to leap over the edge of the balcony, not wanting to be humiliated as he knew what she was going to ask. “Get back here and give that poor beast CPR!” The Queen roared as the guard ran across the field, shedding his uniform.
The Queen dislodged her massive rump from the seat and fled the tower, plowing through the crowd in an effort to get to the stage. Valeena, Aira, and Rowan slid out of their seats as they crawled across the platform, heading in the opposite direction of the Queen.
Valeena made it to the end of the row of seats and darted around the corner, keeping low to the ground just as the Queen pushed her way through, knocking over chairs and toppling the occupants out onto the ground without so much as an apology. Her legs carried her body onto the stage as she continued wailing dramatically, large tears rolling down her cheeks.
The stage had hastily been cleared, the dragon the only thing left resting on the polished wooden floor. Queen Maylee spun around, her eyes locking on Steels, who was wearing a beautiful lavender kimono dress with her hair done up in a tight bun. Steel made her way to the stage, following behind Princess Aurory like a babysitter. The Princess was not wearing a kimono as none of the ones sold would fit her.
“CPR, NOW!” Queen Maylee shouted, holding her hands together as she danced on the balls of her feet. Steel sighed audibly as Princess Aurory laughed.
Stunning fireworks shot up overhead in brilliant colors of red, orange, green, yellow and blue, lighting up the sky and awing the crowd. The fireworks made amazing images of dragons, stars, flowers and other items in a sharp burst of color.
Valeena watched the fireworks with a feeling of growing excitement as the dragon displayed floated across the sky. She had never seen the display before. When the Star Kingdom had fireworks, the Queen would intentionally set the fireworks off on the opposite side of the castle preventing Valeena from viewing them from her room.
Seto and Trevor appeared on stage as well, whispering something to the Queen, who raised her fat arm in anger. “You two are useless!” Queen Maylee shouted, her voice dripping with anger. She lifted her arm upwards as though planning on striking one of them. Her eyes flicked to the crowd and she lowered her arm, remembering where she was.
Valeena watched Seto, a smile forming on her face. He was attractive, even if he was working for the evilest woman on Gaia. Valeena hated herself for thinking that and shook her head as though trying to shake the thought out. Suddenly, a bright spotlight landed on Valeena, as Queen Maylee stared at her.