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I Accidentally Break The World. Oops

Author’s note: I wrote this piece for a writing contest. We had to write the first chapter of a fantasy story. It could be about whatever we wanted, but the only requirement was that it had to start with the line ‘There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.’ What you’re about to read is the world I created from that one line.

This is different from the other pieces I’ve written for DAY in that it’s not directly inspired by real-life events. It’s purely a fantasy story that allowed my imagination and creativity to run wild. Being able to write a story with all-Asian characters without explicitly saying they’re Asian was liberating. Middle-school me would have loved to read something like this. And who knows? Maybe this could turn into a full-fledged novel one day. Until then, thank you for taking the time to give this piece a chance. Happy reading! :)

Chapter 1:

There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. Back in the day, as Grandpa liked to start his stories, dragons were almost hunted to extinction by humans who thought they were superior. The Crystalguard were a group of humans working together with the remaining dragons. I couldn’t remember where the “crystal” part came from, but it still made them sound really cool. Since then, dragons and humans have lived together in harmony here in Garusha Valley.

We lived by rules and agreements set by our ancestors who walked amongst the dragons to avoid the sins of our past. Any humans who break those rules are banished from the village. While it was never confirmed, many of us believed that banishment was a euphemism for being offered to the dragons. The thought alone was enough to keep everyone in line. Our rules kept us safe, and safety kept us alive.

Although, if there was one person I would love to feed to a dragon, it was Basho.

Basho the Boar, as I liked to call him. He was the village bully who thought it was his dragon-given duty to torment the other kids. At seventeen, he was the oldest teenager in the village… and the meanest. He and his two minions, Faraj and Minho, would rough up boys who accidentally bumped into him. Basho would flirt with girls who repeatedly rejected him, which only motivated him to keep at it.

I tried telling my parents, but they dismissed it as “boys being boys.” I’m a boy, and even I knew that was a terrible excuse. I even went to Basho’s parents directly, thinking they would be outraged at their son acting so terribly. But they assured me that their beloved Basho would never commit such terrible acts. Of course, the brute found out and gave me a black eye. And when I told people how I got it, no one believed me.

If my brains were brawn, I would have stripped him of his self-proclaimed title of King of Garusha. Alas, I was as skinny as a twig with the muscles of a newborn. I couldn’t do much except patch up the kids who had been on the receiving end of his fists. My mom taught me what herbs to crush into a poultice that could be used to dress wounds and the best way to wrap bandages to stop bleeding. Those skills helped, but I still felt powerless. Having power meant making the first move, not cleaning up the mess afterward.

An unsolicited pearl of wisdom my mother had once shared echoed in my mind. Yuri, there is great strength in choosing not to fight.

Yeah, right.

The sun hung high in the sky, bathing the village in light and warmth. Twice a week, after lunch, I stood in line at the butcher’s shop to purchase meat for dinner. My mom wanted lamb for tonight. As the line shuffled forward, I listened to the sounds of the village. Other vendors hawked their wares, competing to be heard over another. Children wove between the legs of villagers, their laughter accompanied by shouts from their parents. Some of the adults and older teenagers chopped wood into logs for kindling. The noises were a rhythmic cacophony I had grown used to. The smells of salt from the sea and freshly baked goods from the bakery only added to the place I called home.

To the right of the butcher shop was a vendor that sold his own dishes if you didn’t feel like making your own. Various meats and fishes sizzled over open flames, each seasoned with certain herbs and spices. I picked out notes of garlic, ginger, and peppers that blended together in a symphony of scents. My mouth watered at the beef skewers, egg rolls, and ramen bowls. It was all I could do to not jump out of line and buy all the dishes being sold.

The line moved forward. An elderly woman was at the front. Basho was the customer after her. He did his best to keep his face neutral among the other villagers, but I could see the familiar scowl itching to come out. He clearly wanted to be anywhere else but here. Faraj and Minho were nowhere to be seen, which was strange. Maybe they were on a break from being Basho’s sheep.

The woman in front of him purchased her goods and continued chatting with the vendor. That wasn’t uncommon. Everyone knew everyone, so there was always something to talk about. Gossip was exchanged just as often as coin in our little village.

Basho’s shoulders heaved. His foot tapped restlessly against the ground. The placid façade he wore melted into annoyance.

He snapped.

His body went rigid. He clenched his fists. He shoved the woman aside, knocking her against a wooden post. The fruits and vegetables tumbled out of the basket she was holding. The people in line gasped. He might as well have committed murder. The first thing you learn growing up is to always respect your elders. No exceptions. Ever.

There may not have been any dragons nearby, but I could spew my own kind of fire.

“Basho, what is your deal?” I shouted at him. “I know you have the intelligence of dragon dung, but you must be a new breed of stupid if you think it’s okay to hurt the elderly.”

The bully turned around. His long, unkempt hair covered one eye. He thought it looked stylish, when it actually resembled a wet rat that had been flung onto his head. There was a glazed look in his eyes. His body stiffened again, like a jolt of lightning had passed through him. He relaxed just as quickly, and awareness returned to his gaze.

Basho blinked. He stared at the woman, at me, at the people who were glaring at him.

“How dare you hurt her!” someone yelled.

“You should be ashamed!”

“I just want to get my beef.”

“What? I… I didn’t…” The words wouldn’t come out. He looked on with helplessness and confusion, but no one showed him any sympathy. Basho turned and ran.

I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Basho preferred fight to flight. That was low, even for him. Whatever. I needed to buy the lamb and get back home.

I crouched down next to the woman. A few strands of silver hair had fallen out of place from her bun. A villager helped me lift her up back onto her feet, as a few other people gathered her fallen produce. “Are you alright, Auntie?” She wasn’t really my aunt, but that was what we called the older women. The village was like one big family, and I took pride in that.

She dusted herself off. I couldn’t see any visible injuries. “I’ll be fine, dearie. My bones may be old, but they’re still resilient. Maybe now people will see how much of a brute that Basho is.” She flashed a smirk.

I let out a small noise of surprise. She was the first adult who had acknowledged Basho’s reign of terror. She did have a point, though. Basho usually messed with the other kids when the adults weren’t watching. He had never done anything so public before.

“Thank you for standing up to him,” the woman said. “Will you walk me home?”

My parents would wonder where I was, but they would also understand. They would rather me show up without the meat than refuse to help another villager. I could get the lamb on my way back. “Of course, Auntie.”

I took the basket with her produce and meat. She directed me to where she lived, and we strolled through the village. The woman would comment on certain buildings. There was the bakery that stopped selling her favorite scones. The bookstore owner secretly supplied her with the steamiest romance novels. And she actively avoided Uncle Shu’s house because he supposedly only bathed once a week. In our few minutes together, she was more interesting than most of the other adults in the village. Aside from the landmarks, she also shared that she was a widow who lived by herself. The other villagers avoided her because of her radical choice to not have any children. I’m sure my parents had something to say about that, as well.

Her house was at the edge of the village. I didn’t remember anyone living this far out, but I also rarely came this way. Ivy grew along the gray stone walls. Some shingles were missing from the otherwise intact roof. A raven perched at the top studied me with its ink-filled eyes.

“Thank you for helping me, sweetie,” she said, a warm smile filling her face. “Your parents raised you well.”

“Happy to help. Is there anything else you need before I go?” I really needed to get back to the meat vendor before the lamb ran out, but my manners had a mind of their own.

“Actually, there is one thing. Are you familiar with the cave inside the Burning Forest?”

Everyone in the village knew about that cave. The hills surrounding the valley were dotted with caves where the dragons made their nests. The humans lived peacefully with the dragons mostly because both species stayed a respectable distance from each other. However, there was one cave in the Burning Forest that supposedly not even the dragons entered. If the swirling rumors of the village were to be believed, it housed a cursed dragon. No one could verify it because no one dared to find out. The Garushans were a superstitious bunch. The strange noises and lights that emanated from the cave were seen as bad omens. The leader of our village forbade anyone from venturing into it. We all obeyed her; even Basho and his male ego never went.

All the rumors only made me more curious about the cave, though. But as much as I wanted to investigate, I could never work up the courage to, lest I invoke the wrath of my parents if they ever caught me.

I shuddered. “The one no one is allowed to enter?”

“Yes!” she said with enthusiasm. “I go up there to meditate.”

She said it so casually, I almost missed it. “Wait, you’ve been inside the cave? The one with the cursed dragon?”

She dismissed my words with a wave of her hand. “Child, there is no cursed dragon. In fact, there’s nothing in there at all. Just rocks and bugs. It’s precisely because no one else goes up there that it’s the perfect place to fortify the mind.”

It made sense, but the fact that someone had been going to the cave still unnerved me. Our village prospered because everyone followed the rules. Although, that never stopped me from wondering what secrets hid in plain sight in the valley, and that included the cave. And it was because my curiosity was stronger than my comfort that I asked my next question.

“What do you need from me?”

“I’m leaving for some business tonight. I forgot a jewel in the cave. It’s a family heirloom that has been passed down for generations. It reminds me where I came from, so you can understand the sentimentality I have for it. I would fetch it myself, but I have to tie up some loose ends before I go, and venturing to the cave will take up too much time.”

Her implication was clear. “You want me to go to the cave to get this… jewel?”

“If it’s not too much trouble.”

I bit my lip. Going to the cave was forbidden, but that just made me want to see it even more. If this woman was going up there to meditate, then it had to be clear of any danger. And it would be disrespectful to not help her…

“No trouble at all,” I said, ignoring all the trouble my mind was imagining I would be in. If anyone from the village found out, the news would spread like wildfire. My parents would confine me to the house until I died if the village leader didn’t exile me first. What if they ate a buffet of food in front of me and left me nothing but scraps? The thought chilled me and almost made me reconsider. I just needed to be back before dark. The only thing more ferocious than the dragons were my parents when I was late for dinner.