The people rejoiced throughout Planet Cray.
The holy dragon had awoken. It was the birth of a new era, one of great hope.
The sun shone brightly in the heavens, and upon the earth sat the great being itself, for the first time in a new age.
Ah, what a figure that divine being struck as it soared through the heavens.
How beautiful was the ring that it bore upon its back.
All prayers were being fulfilled. Behold, the descent of the Chakrabarthi Divine Dragon—
“Rino! Rino! Watch out!” Rona shouted.
Rino staggered as she was pulled out of the way.
A covered wagon filled to the brim with cargo passed right by them. There was a spring festival happening that day in the town of Tu=rizen. The roads were heaving with people and wagons.
“It’s not like you to be so distracted,” Zonne observed as she adjusted Rino’s male clothing that she wore as a disguise. She kept her eye on Rino, her hand on her arm. Clearly, she didn’t think she was herself.
“This isn’t like walking through the fields like we did yesterday. You have to be careful, Rino.”
“I’m sorry, I…”
Reiyu’s words seemed to snap Rino out of her daydream.
The sun was directly above them. Noon.
Tu=rizen lay just to the west of the heart of the Dragon Empire. It was a relatively large town that straddled a major highway.
The highway ran from west to east through the town and connected the Imperial Capital to the east with the Keter Sanctuary to the west, so there was always a lot of traffic. The harbor was built into an inlet with deep waters, which made it ideal for both shipping and fishing. To the north were the Dragonia Mountains, where you could find the Red Dawn Manor, the four maidens’ home. A vast forest lay to the west. To the east, one would find the mountains known locally as “the Dragon’s Jaws,” beyond which stretched an arid wasteland known as the “Dangerous Zone.” Such a variety of climates surrounding the town meant that the people and cargo that entered it was just as diverse.
“I have everyone’s clothes. They’re used, but still in good condition. Oh, and we’ll have to hide the egg in this canvas,” Trickstar said as it brought out one of the large bags they saw being carted earlier that morning.
“You did pay for that, didn’t you?” Rona asked.
“Of course. I got it for a good price. Here.”
“Hey, that’s a lot of change. What did you tell them when you bought it?” asked Rino.
“Well… Something like ‘I’m a spirit that got separated from its four companions.’ You know, a sob story.”
“And the shopkeeper bought that? Hmph.”
Reiyu brought her hand to her forehead. She could all too easily picture Trickstar spinning its yarn to the poor old shopkeeper.
“Teehee. The shopkeeper was a really kind old man.”
“Hmm? Wait, you’re a spirit? You realize spirits don’t exactly just show up at the local store running errands, right?” chided Zonne. Both valid questions.
“I told you, didn’t I? I was only just born out there among the stars. I have no idea what I am. I just know that I want to grant everyone’s wishes, so I did. What’s wrong with that?”
The mysterious little prankster that had decided to join Rino, Reiyu, Zonne, and Rona flashed the sighing maidens a mischievous smile. At their feet ran the little Sunrise Egg, covered in a white canvas to make it the spitting image of the Trickstar.
“So… Why do we have to wear boys’ clothes?” asked Rona.
Her hands were full of goods that she’d bought from the town, just like the other maidens.
The maidens had kept their original traveling cloaks, but underneath they wore men’s clothes that Trickstar had found for them. Without the ornaments in their hair, they could easily be mistaken for four male travelers.
“This is a bustling port town. If you’re going shopping among all those rough sailor types, a male disguise is the safest! Or so I thought…”
The plan had backfired.
Rino couldn’t help but smile at everyone they met, Zonne seemed to be the most comfortable in the men’s clothes, Rona still somehow gave off a cute vibe, and Reiyu looked as dignified as always. There was no doubt that they were a little out of touch with the world, not surprising for four Blaze Maidens of the Red Dawn Manor, and with their two companions robed in white cloaks (Sunrise Egg and Trickstar), they were getting a lot of attention from the locals.
“I’m sorry, everyone,” said the Trickstar. It seemed disappointed, in its own way, from failing to help the Blaze Maidens achieve their goal of “discovering the truth of the world in as unobtrusive a way as possible.”
“It’s fine. This is just the start of what will surely be a long journey. We’re going to need as many sturdy clothes as we can get.”
Rino comforted the Trickstar, and Sunrise Egg jumped around at their feet, seemingly in agreement.
“Thank you, Rino… This is the town square. You are going to the festival, aren’t you?”
Most towns had a spring festival around that time of year. Tu=rizen was no exception, with people from all around coming to enjoy the festivities. And as people opened stores and stalls for the occasion, it made the whole town feel bigger.
“Hmm? Hold on…”
Rino noticed someone pulling on the sleeve of her cloak and looked down to see a small girl of about three or four years old. She knelt down to talk to her. The child, dressed in light summery clothes, would not let go of the cloak.
“Are you alone? Where are your parents?” asked Rona.
“Oh, she must be lost. Would you like some candy?”
Zonne lifted the girl up. The girl clung tightly to her neck.
“The crowd is so noisy; your parents probably won’t hear you. Let’s wait here,” suggested Reiyu.
The festival seemed to start on its own—there were already people playing music and dancing in the square. The maidens smiled at each other. Festivals were at the heart of a Blaze Maiden’s life. How could they not feel a little exhilarated?
It was then a sound rang out through the hustle and bustle of the festival.
“What was that!?”
They all turned to the south end of the square at Rino’s exclamation.
There seemed to be a dispute over some cargo.
“A fight?” asked Rona.
But she was wrong. The maidens soon worked it out. A tall man in a blue cloak was persuading his underlings to rob a couple. They were already causing trouble.
The girl leaned over Zonne’s shoulder and shouted at the couple.
“Huh!? Are they your parents?” Zonne asked her.
When Rino looked into the little girl’s tear-filled eyes, she could hear her cries for help in her mind. She had no choice but to try.
As they watched on, the thugs became more violent, beating the father and kicking the mother. Glittering jewels fell from the luggage the thugs were trying to steal. The girl’s parents must have been jewel merchants in town for the festival. Whatever the case may have been, the maidens couldn’t let them get away with this theft.
Something boiled up from deep within Rino, and she couldn’t repress it anymore. It was an inexplicable feeling, a mixture of anger with something else.
All of a sudden, Rino began to push through the waves of people.
Cries came from all around.
Her friends’ shouting from behind came through faintly to her.
“…Rino! Rino! Listen to us, Rino!”
Rino had to come to a standstill some distance from the poor couple.
Someone was shouting at her.
“Listen! It’s me! Trickstar!”
Rino huffed as someone put a hand out to prevent her from moving. This behavior was completely unlike her. She was normally the most levelheaded of the maidens.
Trickstar floated just above her head in its white cloak. Sunrise Egg was riding on Trickstar’s back; the canvas disguise had blown away.
“Hey, we’re here to help. Why don’t you try praying?”
“Yeah. You’re a Blaze Maiden, aren’t you? Don’t you guys listen to people’s needs, then pray that they get it?”
“We do. But I don’t have time…!”
“Rino, just trust me!”
Trickstar’s forceful tone seemed to finally get through to Rino.
Rino put her hands together and started to pray, even as she got buffeted about by the waves of people around her.
(“Protect the little girl’s parents.” “Let her smile again.”)
(“They’re calling for help…please!”)
The next moment, Rino’s body suddenly felt lighter.
Everyone around her shouted out in surprise.
She began to float into the air, lifted up by a strong arm.
“Hey, Rino. That was a good prayer. I think I’m gonna grant that wish.”
The voice that came from above sounded like Trickstar, but also like something else.
Rino looked up and saw a huge, winged figure.
“I am Vairina. That is the name that came to me as I formed. But I shall explain more later. Go!”
Vairina leaped to the other side of the square in a single bound and swept the thugs away with a swing of its arm.
Rino took Sunrise Egg, who was still riding on Vairina’s back, and chased down the man in the blue cloak. He was standing on top of a blue, tent-like structure set up in the square.
Vairina was protecting Rino. Rino was overwhelmed by the sense that she could trust him.
“The taking of another’s property without permission is a crime. You must return all stolen goods to their rightful owner!”
“What kind of high-falutin’ nonsense is that? I was only borrowing the stuff. Of course, I wasn’t really thinking I would return… Hey, you’re a girl.”
Rino hurried to straighten up her clothes. After rushing through the crowd and being carried by Vairina her collar had gotten loose.
He took a look at Rino as he held the bag of jewels and laughed, causing Rino’s anger to boil over.
Flames appeared around her hands and feet, from her hair, and around her slim body.
“Fire magic? But you’re just a little girl.”
“That’s right! And this little girl is here to cleanse the world of scum like you!”
The Blaze Maiden’s dance is an incredibly tough skill to master, requiring years of grueling practice. It is a way to give praise to the holy sun dragon, and also happens to surround the dancer’s body in flames.
The Blaze Maiden Rino was covered in flames, and as she danced, they shot out at the man in the blue cloak.
The man quickly jumped back to avoid the flames. “Something” now stood between him and Rino. The blue, tent-like structure that he was standing in front of turned out to actually be a dragon.
“Protect me, Recusal Hate Dragon!”
Rino’s flames hit the blue dragon and were immediately extinguished.
Recusal Hate Dragon let out a mighty roar, causing all the festival goers to scream out in unison.
“Not so easy to clean away this ‘scum’ after all, huh? What’s wrong? Scared?”
The man scoffed at Rino; she felt embarrassed by her carelessness.
Recusal Hate Dragon was resistant to magic. She needed more power than she possessed to overcome this foe or try a different tactic. If only her friends were there… but no. Her friends were far behind her in the crowd. She was alone.
Rino was not strong enough. Not yet.
Her anger made her forget her weakness for a moment, and she had ended up in a battle with a man who could control a dragon. This was the first, and certainly one of the greatest failures in her life since becoming a Blaze Maiden and protecting her holy dragon egg.
“I know what you’re thinking. You can’t defeat me with your pathetic little flames.”
The man’s words struck the shaken Rino.
“You can do it. Use everyone’s wishes to fuel your flames. I know you can.”
Vairina’s words gave Rino courage.
“You’re a clever little thing. I guess I’ll have to take care of the both of you… Hngh!”
The man in the blue cloak signaled for his underlings to reform around him. Then…
The inaudible voices of the crowd in the square arose.
(“Don’t ruin the festival.” “Begone, scoundrel.” “Keep it up, Maidens.”)
Rino was urged on by the thoughts and prayers of those around her.
Sunrise Egg stood up in front of Rino. It was now trying to protect the very Blaze Maiden tasked with protecting it.
“Sunrise Egg… No, Divine Dragon?”
Vairina’s voice cut through Rino’s confusion.
“Rino, you have to pray! That is what Maidens do. Is it not?”
She started praying. This time, without anger, she converted the prayers coming from Trickstar/Vairina and from the crowd in the square into power.
The flames that had been wrapping around her arms, legs, and slim body swirled into a great vortex.
“I shall answer your prayers!”
Vairina created a whirlwind from behind Rino and launched toward Recusal Hate Dragon.
Vairina grabbed at the jaws of the howling dragon, and in the blink of an eye swung it around and slammed it to the ground. The whole square shook as Recusal Hate Dragon smashed into the cobblestoned street. At the first sign of resistance from the dragon, Vairina positioned its sword at the dragon’s throat and placed a knee on its stomach.
Trickstar/Vairina seemingly knew that the softest and weakest part of any dragon was the throat and stomach.
Recusal Hate Dragon let out a hollow cry then closed its eyes and went limp. It had fainted.
“I don’t believe this. Who are you? How is it that you have defeated me?”
“I told you, did I not? The people’s prayers for all to be set right gave me the strength to overcome your evil. That is how I beat you.”
The man in blue and his underlings had lost the will to resist. Vairina pushed them to the ground and tied them up using rope that was being used for the festival. The crowd, which had until now been watching with bated breath, erupted in cheers.
“Thank you, Vairina.”
Rino thanked her new friend, still feeling a little stunned. That was when, with a pop, Vairina transformed back into Trickstar.
“You’re welcome. I’d say we did a pretty good job!”
Sunrise Egg was standing in front of Rino.
“You did pretty well too.”
Rino patted the egg. It seemed to be happy.
Then, Rino looked around.
She saw the people in the square, the girl reunited with her parents, her Maiden sisters rushing over with the luggage, and…
The egg that was before her had become something else entirely.
Ah, what a figure that divine being struck as it soared through the heavens.
How beautiful was the ring that it bore upon its back.
All prayers were being fulfilled. Behold, the return of the Chakrabarthi Divine Dragon—
“Rino! I should’ve known you’d be lazing around.” Rona’s voice rang out across the square.
Rino still had her eyes closed and was still kneeling on the ground. She was so overcome with emotion she couldn’t stop shaking.
Something touched her hands as she prayed. It was Sunrise Egg’s head.
Rino came to. It must’ve been a vision—something only she could see.
“Here. This is yours, Rino. Oh, it looks like that girl found her parents.”
Rino already knew that.
“We don’t have time to dither, Rino. We have to go. Or have you forgotten that we’re supposed to be subtle in our quest for the truth?” rebuked Reiyu.
“It was quite a performance, wasn’t it?” observed Trickstar.
“Trickstar, I think you’re getting too into the spirit.”
“Oookaaay…” drawled Trickstar.
“Well, I suppose we should thank you for saving Rino.”
Reiyu gave Trickstar a rare compliment; even Sunrise Egg seemed to be surprised by it.
“Teehee. Let’s get going. Our adventure must continue!”
Trickstar led the way to the gates of the town.
“Okay, follow me! Quick!”
Rino picked up her luggage, then ran to join her companions.
The tale of four Blaze Maidens dressed as men, Sunrise Egg, and the Trickstar that turned into Vairina is one that the townsfolk of Tu=rizen would tell each other for years to come.
The sun began to set, bathing the town in its warm glow.
<<Notes about Terminology>>
The Chakrabarthi Divine Dragon, Nirvana
A holy sun dragon that Sunrise Egg transforms into. The Chakrabarthi Divine Dragon, Nirvana has spent the last three thousand years collecting the hopes and prayers of the people of Planet Cray and has the potential to become a great deity. However, it seems that it is not yet time for it to truly awaken.
Supervising Editor: 中村聡