It was starting.
It was actually, truly starting.
Tense with anticipation, Crimson looked over the lush grassy fields and rivers. How did I get here? she thought to herself. Hovering here…here!
Of course, Crimson knew the answer in her heart. She had been bred and raised for the sole purpose of winning this event. She also knew it was literally impossible. She thought back to her old friend Stoney, and her childhood; she longed to be back there, the upcoming nervousness of the Games forgotten.
Crimson was a majestic Panlong dragon, the third one of the dragon breeder who created her. She had been thrown into the hard, cold stone of the Earth Habitat along with a young Earth Dragon named Stoney. Stoney had been a constant support to Crimson, and he had educated her about the Dragon Games.
"Every four years, the Dragon Games are held in the greatest Colosseum," he informed her. "Breeder says that you were bred specially for them. It'll be interesting to see a Dragon Games in the Year of the Dragon."
"What are they?" Crimson had piped, curious about everything.
"Thousands of dragons, competing in insane contests, comparing strength, agility, beauty. The numbers are narrowed down and dragons are eliminated, and it gets more and more dangerous the farther you go. In the final two-hundred or so, injuries become common, and in the final twenty, death is possible." Crimson shuddered. "If you win, though, you will get a medal, and more wealth than you could possibly imagine…I heard that winners are promised an eternal life spell to anyone they want."
Crimson had grown up fast. Within a few weeks of her hatching, she was full-grown and ready to compete. She spent the next seven weeks enjoying her life in the nice desert, and training for the Dragon Games by zipping around her habitat.
The day came. She was taken away from Stoney and led to the Colosseum. Although she had trained for her whole life for them, she was still extremely, incredibly nervous. It wasn't even my choice to compete, she thought. I was born into this. I was forced.
And here she was, watching the Opening Ceremony from the air. She flew around nervously, obeying the rule that all dragons that could fly would watch from above. She turned to the hundreds, even thousands of flying dragons circling around. She was afraid to speak to them for fear she would have to defeat them later on.
"Welcome to the 1412 Dragon Games!" shouted the wizard with the torch below, cueing the crowd to shout and clap excitedly. "All dragons have been entered, counted carefully, and are watching right now." There was another cheer. "I announce a grand total of…98,720 dragons!" Crimson felt lightheaded. There is no way I can defeat 98,000 dragons. "Round one will be the qualification round," the wizard continued, blind to the thoughts and angry roaring of the dragons circled around. "4,096 dragons will pass through this round. The amount will be halved from then on each round until the final four, in which we will do a series of contests to determine who wins each medal." The crowd began cheering again, and they cheered even louder as the Sun Dragon came out of the air and lit the torch in the wizard's hand.
"Let round one begin in one hour. Only about 4% of the dragons here now will make it to round 2, so please don't pick favorites. The judging of qualification will be announced when the round begins." The crowd began cheering again. Do they ever get tired? Crimson thought, tuning them out. The swarm of flying dragons turned and began flying towards a faint yellow glow in the distance. Crimson followed them blindly. It's starting it's starting it's starting it's starting…
The first round turned out to be a lot simpler than it seemed. Every dragon would present itself among a panel of wizard judges, and they would score them based on categories that hadn't been disclosed to the public yet. The competitors were warned that only dragons that could make a good impression would make it to the final 4,096.
Dragons, one by one, began going into the gigantic Colosseum. Crimson hovered in the massive line of dragons for hours, patiently waiting her turn. Although she tried to avoid social interaction, she couldn't help but hear a conversation a Seaweed Dragon far below was shouting to a Chrome Dragon.
"They're judging separately for each element, you dim-witted fool," the Chrome shouted to the ground.
"If I'm a fool, then you're a rock!" the Seaweed dragon shouted back. "If you're so sure that's the case, then what type will you be judged on? Stupid, or annoying?"
"We get to choose our elements, smart one," the Chrome answered.
"So I could choose fire?" the Seaweed replied.
"An element that is present in us," the Chrome yelled. Crimson rolled her eyes, it was clear that the Seaweed understood this.
"So which are you picking? Stupid, or annoying?" Crimson chuckled to herself.
"Hey," the Chrome muttered to her. "Don't laugh at me. I'll tear you to pieces." He made another dumb response, but Crimson had already flown away. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I shouldn't make friends at this point. I would never be able to defeat a friend and cause them to lose…or possibly die.
"Entrant #23449, Crimson the Panlong Dragon, belonging to Breeder ID #621947, Sparkvine," shouted a wizard below her. I'm up? Tense with suspense, Crimson zoomed over to the entrance of the Colosseum. The massive doors were wide open, revealing ten paths.
"Select an element to be judged in. Water, Fire, Air, or Earth." The wizard pointed at a blue path for water, an orange path for fire, a white path for air, and a brown path for earth. Crimson thought for a moment. I'm a very good flier. That's what I trained to do, all that time at home. But I grew up in an earth habitat, and my best breath is water! Crimson reached a decision and zoomed through the white path.
She emerged into a large hall with five wizards watching her. She saw each one judged a category; one for display, one for speed, one for power, one for skill, and one for beauty. What in the world does display mean?
"Begin," sounded a voice from nowhere. Crimson thought for a moment, and then zoomed into the air, spinning and shooting out bubbles everywhere. The wizards watched, frowning slightly. Crimson stopped herself in midair, looked at the hundreds of bubbles blowing around on the wind, and suddenly zoomed around in a spiral, popping every single bubble except one in the middle and making her scales sparkle in the sunlight. When she reached the bottom of the spiral, she threw her tail into the air, popping the last bubble. The wizards clapped. She continued spinning until the voice once again sounded.
"End," called the voice. "You will be judged out of one thousand points." Crimson decided it must have been broadcasted with magic. A number appeared behind each wizard. The number for display was 957; speed was 988; power was 897; skill was 954; and beauty was 877. The numbers merged together into one big 4673. "Your grand total is 4,673 points. " The door behind her once again opened, and she flew out.
Once safely out of the room, her emotions rushed back into her mind. How…how did I do that? How in the world did I manage to do that without making a single mistake? 4,673 points, out of 5,000. Would I make it? she thought. The top 4% of 5,000 would be 4800 and above. So if every dragon were to tie with 25 other dragons, give or take a few, and they took every possible score, then I wouldn't make it. Disappointment flooded through Crimson's mind. After all of that…after scoring in the best 15% in every category, I'm not going to make it? Maybe I did the math wrong, Crimson thought, grasping at straws.
Crimson lived in the air outside the Colosseum for several days. She anxiously awaited the announcement of the results, and tried to avoid speaking to other dragons as much as possible. This got tedious as a young Fog Dragon continued to pester her about how beautiful she was and how the fog dragon wished he had a panlong dragon at his home and how he was going to win everything and why Crimson kept running away, or something like that. Every time it approached her, she tried to flee. I can't get attached to anyone. What if I ended up against them in the next round? she reminded herself, but she was lonely. When I win, I can go back to Stoney. I won't win…don't think of that!
By the time the judging was finished, four days had passed and Crimson had just about had it with waiting. Suddenly, with no warning, the doors of the Colosseum opened. Wizards came out, and the one who had carried the torch at the Opening Ceremony beckoned certain dragons in.
"In first place, the Moon Dragon, Luna!" he announced as a magnificent moon dragon flew towards the door. 98,719 pairs of eyes (actually, more, counting the Solstice and Brass Dragons in the crowd) followed Luna as she flew through the door.
"In second place, the Rainbow Dragon, Glitter!" he announced. Crimson began tuning the wizard out, although listening for her name. She found herself looking at the clouds above and making them into shapes. That one is Stoney, that one is…oh that's not a cloud, it's a Fog Dragon. That one is a cactus…Crimson's mind wandered back to her score. 4,673. I almost got perfect on most categories. I'd bet a lot of dragons were unexceptional. But the competition would have to be pretty terrible for me to make it into the second round.
"In 244th place, the Flower Dragon Pele!" shouted the wizard. Nothing new there. If he had called my name, they would be waiting for me to come up right now. Her thoughts buzzed. What happens if I fail? The sole reason for my existence is to win. If I lost, what would the Breeder do to me? I will not lose, then. But what choice do I have if I didn't even make it to the next round?
Exasperated, Crimson closed her eyes, and accidentally drifted into sleep.
She was back in the Colosseum. She shot the bubbles into the air, and rushed to pop them. However, she miscalculated the angle of her turn and rammed into a wall. The wizards watching laughed, and the numbers revealed themselves: 1, 1, 253, 1, and 1. Crimson hid her face in utter shame, and the wizards shot balls of mud at her. She ran from the Colosseum, crying to herself softly.
"In 958th place, the Iceberg Dragon Brisk that belongs to the Breeder Joes11!" shouted the announcer. Crimson's eyes drifted open. Two iceberg dragons flew towards the wizard, but one retreated with its head down. There are dragons of the same type with the same name, Crimson thought incredulously. It would be such a disappointment to hear your name and species, only to have it belong to another wizard.
She thought back to the dream she had had, but couldn't remember what it was about. Probably just a nightmare like the last three ones. She turned to watch the crowd of clearly bored dragons. Waiting is difficult, but hearing the 4,096th name and having it not be your own will be harder.
"In 999th place, the Panlong Dragon Cucoo!" Crimson's head shot up, and then drifted back down. She found herself lying in a puddle of mud on the ground. Did I fall asleep again? She looked at her now brown scales with disdain. I can't appear like this! She noticed a lake nearby, and rushed into it, ignoring the annoyed dragons that moved out of the way. Crimson cleansed herself and then went out of the water.
"In 1004th place, the Blue Fire dragon Blaze!" Crimson flew back into the air, flying towards the group of dragons she had been surrounded by earlier.
"In 1005th place, the Panlong dragon Crimson!" Crimson turned and stared. Me? I… She nervously flew over to the gate and entered.
"In 1006th place, the Fog dragon Bottom Feeder!" Crimson's thoughts suddenly overwhelmed her. I did it! I made it to the second round!
I actually have a chance of winning these games!