The sun had set on the country of China. All across the land, peaceful silence reigned as everyone snoozed in their beds.
Screech, Liberator of the Confined, was one of the few awake. She had flown across the ocean based on a tip that a local priestess had been inexplicably missing for weeks, and was now gliding over the unlit landscape in search of her last known location.
Let's see... Shrine of Drakagami... Shrine of Drakagami...
The Shrine of Drakagami was a difficult-to-reach open-air temple identifiable by its tall central spire. The priestess was known to worship there on a regular basis, but one day she simply hadn't come back.
The bat perked up as she heard her latest echolocation screech reflect off something tall and round. It had been too straight and even to be a tree, and looking down she noticed a flickering light beneath it. Anxious to get to the bottom of her mystery, she dove for it.
Screech touched down in a palatial hallway, rolling to dispel her momentum safely. Upon standing up, she had to shield her eyes from the twin lines of burning torches illuminating the area. The torches did a decent job of illuminating the spotless red carpet on the floor and the various murals decorating the walls. Screech looked around in fascination as she paced down the hall.
It's amazing. It's... cut that out, Screech. You're not here to sightsee. You've got a priestess to find.
The hallway ended at a large, open room, definitely the shrine proper. The red carpet led up to an ornate altar with an offering platform, and decorative suits of armor lined the left and right walls.
Hmm... decorative suits of armor? Those look like good places to hide someone. I'll give them a little squeak.
Taking a deep breath, Screech beamed a resonant note at the suits of armor, and as they vibrated she listened to the rattling. One of them sounded slightly different from all the others.
With a few flaps of her wings, the bat flew over (it was faster than walking or running) to inspect the odd suit out.
It wasn't hard to see that the armor was completely empty.
What? That's weird... I KNOW it sounded different. Maybe this calls for further inspection...
"DON'T TOUCH THAT!"
Screech spun around, and her eyes widened as she found herself staring at a humongous Oriental dragon. Its main body was as yellow as the ripest lemon, with a white underbelly, bright green eyes, and a red mane running down its back. It hovered in the air above, its body so lengthy it had to coil itself around three times just to remain in one place.
"What is your business here at my shrine, flying mouse?" the dragon demanded, in a powerful male voice that seemed to echo much more than the acoustics of the area should have allowed.
His shrine? So... this must be Drakagami!
"I apologize for intruding. I have come here in search of a priestess who used to worship here, but disappeared weeks ago. She's a Bengal tigress by the name of Nadia. Have you seen her?"
Drakagami chuckled a bit. "Yes, I know exactly what became of her. You see, she was a lush of a priestess, always showing up drunk and sneaking sips of ceremonial alcohol intended for me at every opportunity. I couldn't stand her blasphemous and pathetic behavior, so I transmuted her body into pure iron and did a bit of smithing with her. The result is the very suit of armor you were just looking at."
"You heard every word I said, flying mouse. I believe a lifetime decorating the walls of my shrine will teach the tigress a lesson."
Screech's eyes narrowed. "I don't care how sinfully she acted; eternal petrification is a fate nobody deserves. Release her, please."
In response to being contradicted, the dragon shook with sudden anger, a transverse wave rippling up its body.
"WHO ARE YOU TO ARGUE WITH THE GREAT DRAGON DRAKAGAMI, FLYING MOUSE? YOU ARE BUT A MORTAL, AND HAVE NO RIGHT TO SUCH DISRESPECTFUL BEHAVIOR!"
Great. This Drakagami guy's ego is as big as he is long. I don't think I can reason with him... it's time for a different strategy.
Screech shifted into a defensive stance as she breathed in, then aimed a sonic scream at Drakagami's head. With any luck, she figured, a good skull-rattle would knock him out for long enough that she could grab the armor and run.
"...You're amusing, flying mouse, screaming like a little girl when threatened."
Apparently, Oriental dragons didn't get headaches easily.
Great, Screech thought as she regained her breath. So much for my usual tactic. It's time for Plan B.
"If you think my screaming is amusing, you should see me flee in terror."
With a few flaps of her wings, the bat ascended and darted out of the temple. "Can't catch me!" she called back to Drakagami, who wasted no time in attempting to disprove her.
Screech circled and looped as she flew higher and higher, with Drakagami in hot pursuit. She kept up her speed with ease, always remaining several feet ahead of the enraged dragon as she headed for the shrine's central spire.
Upon reaching the spire, she began to circle every which way around it. She switched directions randomly, sometimes circling the spire clockwise and sometimes counterclockwise, sometimes gaining altitude and sometimes sacrificing it, and alternating constantly between the preceding. Drakagami followed her every move with no difficulty, but still couldn't catch up as she weaved around him.
Finally, without warning and in one smooth motion, Screech dove down, latched her talons into the end of Drakagami's tail, and yanked. Furious, the Oriental dragon lunged at her... only to discover he could barely move.
"What did you...?"
Screech hovered tantalizingly just out of Drakagami's reach. "We had fun, Drakky, but it looks like our little game has ended in a tie. See you around!"
With that, she dove out of sight. Now furious all over again, Drakagami tried to pursue her, but quickly discovered the reason for his loss of mobility: his serpentine body was now elaborately and tightly knotted around the spire.
Landing perfectly back in the room with the altar, Screech walked up to and reinspected the one suit of armor the Oriental dragon had confessed to turning Nadia into.
Let's see... petrification magic is never permanent unless there's a magic seal involved. All I have to do is find it.
Screech gently disassembled the armor, cutting the straps open with her claws and inspecting every piece. Drakagami continued to yell at her from above, but she tuned it out.
Finally, the bat found a slip of paper under one of the shoulder pieces. The slip featured a decorative border around a vertical line of Chinese characters, and had a strange power to it.
Bingo. This has to be the seal.
Seal in hand, Screech flew up to the nearest torch and sacrificed the thing to its flames. She had barely landed back on the ground when the pile of armor parts began to shudder, then melt together into an amorphous shape, then into a humanoid shape.
Nadia was back.
Almost immediately after her shape settled again, the tigress collapsed on the floor. Screech took her pulse; she was unconscious, but alive.
Another job well done. Now I just have to lug her back to civilization.
Hefting up Nadia in her arms, Screech began the long walk out of the shrine. On her way out, she listened to one last piece of trash-talk from the still-tied Drakagami.
"I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO HUMILIATED IN MY LIFE! THE NEXT TIME I SEE YOU, FLYING MOUSE, I SHALL STRIKE YOU WITH THE CURSE OF A THOUSAND BLOSSOMS!"
As a result of the incident, Nadia quit both her drinking and her priesthood, then set out looking for an alternative deity to devote herself to. It's unknown whether she found one.
Drakagami managed to get himself untied from the spire three or four days later, but by then not only were Screech and Nadia long gone, but many had spotted him in his knotted state. His ego took a huge hit, but he learned a lesson in humility as a result. He still carries a minor grudge against Screech, though.
As generations passed, Screech's outwitting of Drakagami became legend. "Drakagami knots", pieces of string or ribbon tied around poles or sticks in a similar way to how the dragon himself was, gained popularity in China as good luck charms.