Chapter 25 Blood Fire

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The floating lanterns above the heads of the crowd shift to different colors, bathing the crowd in a magical dance of color. Some move around the square, lighting all corners.

Magic users standing on the roofs or balconies of the surrounding buildings create shapes out of light and send them soaring overhead. High in the sky, men riding Hoks trail sparks of multicolored magic behind them and draw immense images in the dark sky. Great beasts, smiling face, and even dancing waves fill the night sky.

Meah spins around with wide eyes, trying to take everything in. But there is too much to see.

A pair of festivalgoers appears in front of her wearing ornate masks. They dance around her before moving through the rest of the crowd. A vendor carrying a box of similar masks hands Meah a violet mask. When she places it upon her face, it magically forms to a perfect fit, not needing any straps to hold it in place.

Fire erupts from a stand close by and Meah makes her way to where a man and woman hold sticks with fire on one end. The man drinks from a jug and sprays the liquid at the flames, creating fireballs that shoot into the sky before quickly fading. The woman waves her sticks of flame in a small dance before lowering one, fire first, into her mouth.

The audience and Meah gasp as the woman closes her mouth around the flame. When she opens it the fire remains on the stick and her mouth is unburned. She does the move again. Only this time the stick reemerges from her mouth without the flame. She does this again until the sticks in her hands are completely out. Then she bows.

Meah moves to the next platform, eager to see the next wonder. A man wearing brightly colored clothing creates small balls from nothing and begins juggling. He starts with two balls, then a third ball appears from nowhere. He does spins and juggles between his legs, before a fourth ball appears.

As a fifth and sixth ball appear, the juggler feigns losing control and one of the balls flies towards the audience. Shrieks rise, but quickly change to laughter as the out of control ball changes into a small bird. The bird flies around the crowd before returning to the juggler and becoming a ball once again. With a large smile on his face, the juggler uses not only his hands, but his feet and, at one point, his head to juggle the large number of balls.

A third platform raised higher off the ground than the others bears three identically dressed young girls. They raise their hands in the air simultaneously before bending their spines back so their heads touch the back of their thighs. They use the momentum of the movement to lift themselves onto their hands before lowering their chests to the floor of the platform. They curve their backs until their feet are firmly planted on either side of their heads.

The gasps of awe and shock moves quickly through those gathered to watch. The girls smile and pull their feet closer to their shoulders so they can cross their arms. In perfect synchronization, the three uncurl their spines and stand. They move into a new position and one lies on her stomach. Then the girl throws her arms over her head and her spine curves. She bends her knees and holds on to her shins with her hands, her head upside down as she smiles at the audience.

A second girl goes into a handstand, lowering her legs over her head to touch the feet of the first girl. The third girl places her hands on the second girl’s shoulders before doing the same move, except using the second girl’s shoulders as the floor and placing her feet on the second girl’s knees. In one motion, the three girls straighten their legs, creating a pyramid.

They hold the position long enough for applause before carefully returning to a standing position. Two do cartwheels in place, their legs making perfect splits in the air and then lie on their chests. They place their feet on either side of their heads and motion to the third standing in the middle.

The third girl lies on her chest, placing her arms straight out behind her. She curves her back until her legs are splayed in front of her head. Then she slowly circles her head, keeping her chest and arms on the ground. After one cycle, she pauses eyeing the crowd. Then she circles again and again, going so quickly there is doubt the girl even has a spine. She spins on the final cycle until she’s in a seated position and the two others join her.

Applause erupts when they finish and the girls prepare to begin again.

Meah hears loud roars coming from another platform and quickly moves away from the three girls.

Large beasts tower over the crowd on another platform with thick bars encasing it. Sharp claws and teeth provide little danger to the crowd. But the man inside the caged platform wears no protection and carries to weapon or anything else to control the animals. Instead, the man walks to each beast and pets them or gives them small signals.

Two of the larger beasts stalk forward on their four legs, but at one word from the man, they stand on their hind legs. Their large, front paws bat in the air to keep their balance as the crowd claps. A third animal stalks forward then leans forward on its front paws, raising its back legs into the air.

The man yells a word in a language Meah has never heard before and the beasts lower to all fours then circle in synch before all three stand on their hind legs and hop. Another yell from the man and the animals drop to their feet and run at him. The crowd gasps in fear. But the beasts only rub their heads against him as he whispers words into their large ears. He feeds them treats and then signals them back to their spots.

Meah passes fire mages creating shapes from burning flames, water mages sending snakes of water through the crowd, air mages making small children float above the ground, and earth mages creating statues from large blocks of stone.

As she continues moving from platform to platform, she realizes that not all performers are magic users. Though she wonders how some of the amazing sights she’s seen could possibly be done without magic.

A man with a booming voice tells fantastical stories using his own voice to create the sounds of animals, stormy weather, and anything else his imagination can think of. He even performs a scene where he’s on a battlefield, providing all the sounds of weapons, men yelling, and horns blaring.

There’s a couple performing amazing feats of strength. They move slowly with deep concentration. They lift each other and at one point the man sits in front of the woman with his legs straight out in front of him. He raises his hands and the woman takes them. He moves closer to her and she slowly leans back, bending at the knees. The man’s arms tense and he slowly rises from the ground. The woman leans back until her back is parallel to the ground and the stretches his body until it’s straight. The woman releases one hand and moves it above her head, elongating the line they have created. The crowd, holding its breath until the calm, graceful movement ends, doesn’t react until the two return to a neutral position and stand together to bow. Applause and cheers echo loudly across the square.

Men high above the square walk across wires above the crowd. Some move slowly, using long poles or fans to help them balance, while others run back and forth.

Three men walk to the center of the wire and, one at a time, sit close together and lean forward. A fourth runs up to the three men, stopping before he reaches them before quickly running back. He runs forward again and pauses. The only movement is his hand waving to keep his balance. After a moment he shouts a single word and leaps over the men, landing safely on the wire on the other side. He moves to a small platform at the end of the wire as the three men take turns standing to join him at the platform. They hold their hands out and cheer to the crowd. The crowd greets them in kind.

More wonders surround the square, even off the platforms. Jugglers who throw not only balls, but also discs and even flaming torches show off their skill. Men who can make puppets move with only magic interact with children and adults alike, sometimes having the puppets perch on shoulders or even tops of heads.

Another performer makes things and people appear and disappear. One man disappears and reappears on one of the platforms much to the bafflement of the performer in the middle of an act.

The night goes on and Meah feels the crowd growing larger. Music grows louder and the center of the square becomes the main area for dancing. As she moves closer to the center, those dancing grab her and pull her into the dancing mob. She’s startled at first, but as people dance with her she laughs and joins in. She spins around in the mass of movement and closes her eyes. She feels the music fill her. Raising her hands above her head, she becomes aware of every person around her.

Her magic allows her to feel those around her, letting her know where they are without opening her eyes. She feels the blood pumping through their veins and hears their bodies moving. The realization stops her and she opens her eyes.

A group of children standing on the edge of the dancing mob watches with wide eyes. Meah runs to the group and holds a hand out to the children. But they only stare at her. Finally one, the oldest girl, grabs Meah’s hand and Meah pulls her out into the crowd. The girl grabs one of the other children by the hand and the others follow, confused.

Taking them to the center, Meah starts dancing with the oldest, swinging her around as she has seen other dancers do. At first, the girl doesn’t join in the dancing, watching Meah, confused. But as Meah spins the girl around again, a smile appears and the girl starts laughing. The music picks up and the other children join in.

Meah dances with them for a while longer before excusing herself. She manages to reach the edge of the square where less people are gathered and tries to catch her breath. A gentle, cooling breeze moves across her skin and she leans against a wall.

Her eyes search across the square for Ime and Jaxon, but a small chirp from behind makes her turn. A small creature made of fire stares at her from an alley. Its body is long so as it stands on four legs its back curves upwards. Tiny black eyes blink at Meah.

Looking around, Meah sees no one nearby. She takes a few steps closer and lowers to the ground. She holds her hand out to the flame creature. It cautiously moves forward and sniffs her hand, before bolting into the alley it appeared from.

After a second, its small head appears again, watching Meah. Wanting her to follow. Meah smiles, thinking the creature is the creation of one of the fire mages of the Festival. She follows and the creature leads her away from the Festival. It leads her down several more alleys, before stopping and turning a sharp corner. Meah rounds the corner quickly.

Hands grab her, one covering her mouth to stop her from screaming. A blindfold forcefully placed over her eyes knocks the violet mask from her face. She struggles, but strong arms lift her from the ground and take her away.

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