“Shin! Quickly, the store is going to close!”
“Ariel, slow down! I can’t keep up!”
“Don’t you want to buy a gift for Elyse and the others? As long as you have the will, anything is possible! Including reaching supersonic speeds!”
“You’re asking for the impossible!”
In the heart of the commercial district of Chilyoja Waypoint, two young teenagers were spearheading through the dense crowds. Holding on to the boy’s hand, the young girl dragged her partner with an astonishing force as she merrily skipped past the commotion of the everyday market life.
Warm sun rays graced the bright pigments of those in the district as a cool vernal breeze flowed through the packed streets. Even though the market was still primarily occupied with their day-to-day operations, there were still many who paid attention to the two youths that were as flashy as can be.
Inappropriately matching a classic red mandarin gown with run-off-the-mill sandals, Ariel highlighted her own lack of fashion sense, which drew the eyes of the surrounding maidens who were whispering behind her back. On the other hand, Shin was justly dressed for the occasion. His pure white robes with elaborate fittings emphasised his excellent body shape, and his smart dress sense made the black-haired boy a far superior specimen compared to the laymen around him.
Of course, neither Shin nor Ariel cared about the onlookers that examined them from head to toe. They came out with their own objectives in mind. Shin was to shop for gifts, while Ariel was to help him choose the best ones. However, as they closed in on the central heart of the commercial district, the red-haired maiden abruptly stopped her tracks.
“What’s the matter?” Shin asked. Following the young girl’s gaze, Shin saw a small roadside stand that was coloured pink, with hundreds of heart decorations. Right in front of it, there were dozens of maidens touching smiling while ordering decorated candy from the shop.
“A valentine’s store?” Shin gulped. Feeling the grip on his hand tighten, the young boy could tell that Ariel was shaken. And truth to be told, he was a little flustered as well.
Valentine’s day. A special event that only occurs once a year which celebrates couples, and promotes love. Many young boys and girls look forward to this time of year to confess to those that they hold a flame for. Naturally, the duo didn’t plan to have their shopping date to coincide with Valentine’s day, but fate strikes when one least expects it.
“Errmmm, do you want to eat some?” Shin scratched the back of his head as he cautiously asked.
“A-A-A-Ah! Y-Yeah! That candy looks kind of delicious!” Brought back to reality, Ariel laughed off the nerves that shook her earlier on. “A-Ah, what s-should I buy?”
Walking closer to the store, Ariel looked at the billboard which listed everything the store was offering. There was a pair of mandarin duck crafted candies, heart-shaped candied haw, osmanthus jelly in the design of a butterfly, and plenty more. Shin frowned at the excessive mark-up prices of the sweets but decided not to voice out his opinion to spoil the mood.
“Hoho, welcome young lass! How can I help you?” Taking one look at Ariel’s expensive robe, the store manager knew that he had a prospective large sale and placed on his warmest merchant face.
Unfortunately, his welcoming demeanour just served to unnerve the young girl even more. Feeling the sweat pile up on his hand, Shin mentally sighed and took over the conversation.
“What do you recommend?”
“Haha, lass! You have a good boyfriend!”
“B-boyfriend?!” Flushing immediately at the man’s remark, Ariel bit on her tongue as her stomach started to churn. “W-we’re not in that kind of relationship! Yet…”
“Ah, I see! It’s a work in progress huh?”
“…” Hitting the nail on the head, the salesman managed to land a heavy mental blow on the duo, forcing them to turn speechless and drop their heads with reddened faces.
Smiling at the budding love that the two shared, the store manager ignored the envious faces of the single women around them and focused entirely on the needs of the pair.
“How about this? Why don’t I give you a special offer? Treat it as my gift to you in hopes of having a new couple born in my shop! I’ll give you these pair of mandarin ducks for free! Mandarin ducks are thought of to be lifelong couples and their love for one another is as vast as the ocean itself! The boyfriend should take the male one, while the girlfriend should take the female one!”
Landing critical hit after critical hit, the shopkeeper kept forcing the young duo to turn redder and redder. Under the eyes of the dozens of disgruntled maidens, there was no way that Shin and Ariel could refuse. Grabbing hold of the blue mandarin duck, Shin placed the entire bite-sized candy into his mouth.
Following his cue, Ariel popped the red mandarin duck candy while desperately trying to quell her beating heart.
‘Sweet…’ Shin thought to himself.
The candy had a distinct flavour profile. Mostly sweet with a tinge of sourness. Even though the candy was likely made out of cheap ingredients, Shin felt as if it was the sweetest thing that he had ever tasted.
“Now that the two of you have eaten the mandarin ducks, you two are destined to stay together forever, and will give birth to dozens of children and grandchildren that will fill entire halls!!!”
“C-Children!” Ariel exclaimed as her face turned completely crimson. The storekeeper was relentless in his assault, forcing the couple before him to continuously flush out of embarrassment.
“That’s right! So you will need to have a few more candies to feed all of them! Here! I recommend…”
“Enough…” Unable to bear it anymore, Shin used both his hands and grabbed the salesman by his shoulders. “Give me one silver worth of candies… Just stop talking…”
“Hehe, it’s a pleasure doing business with you!” Like a fisherman that had successfully reeled in a big fish, the storekeeper beamed and picked out the most expensive candies in his store.
Flicking over one prime silver coin, Shin paid the most he ever did for sweets with a reluctant frown. Turning to his side, Ariel’s head was still in the clouds while the maidens surrounding them were looking on with envious yet mocking gazes.
‘A complete defeat…’ Shin sighed. If the candy storekeeper were a cultivator, his skill would undoubtedly be equal to that of a Spirit Saint. The pure-hearted couple had no chance against him.
As Shin pulled the disoriented Ariel away from the store, he carefully observed the streets. Due to Valentine’s day, the entire street had been dyed red and pink, with dozens of couples engaging in public displays of affection. With the romantic atmosphere and the hundreds of stalls that offer Valentine’s products, it would be difficult for the duo to accomplish their prime goal for the day.
“Ariel, do you want to come back tomorrow?”
“…” Keeping silent for a moment, the young girl felt a flicker of desire ignite from the depths of her maiden heart. “No, Valentine’s day comes only once a year… We should at least enjoy the stalls that the hardworking businesses put up.”
“Are you sure?”
“J-Just shut it! Are you in or not!”
Clearly flustered the young girl tightened her grip on Shin’s hands, hinting that there was only one possible answer.
“T-That’s great! Let’s go!”
The pair continued on their journey down the path as the dozens of salesmen and women handed them flyers about their store. Some were even pushy enough to drag either one of them towards their stand. Jewellery shops, novelty souvenir stores, services offering to calculate love compatibilities, and even a specialised shop allowing couples to walk through a love tunnel. Shin and Ariel were bombarded with merchants pulling them back and forth.
An hour had passed since the duo left the candy shop, and Shin’s hands were now filled with bags carrying a variety of items. Naturally, Ariel had offered to take some of the bags, but the eyes from the surrounding couples judging him made it impossible for Shin to accept his partner’s offer.
“Shin! Look at that!”
As they came to the end of Valentine’s street, a huge tree that had been placed on top of a moving platform came into view. On many of the branches, sealed notes were being hung from a tight string, with many of them being tied in pairs.
“Ah, I spy with my little eye, a loving couple that wants to participate in the Tree of Amor experience!” While they were stumped that a tree had made its way into the town, a young girl, who was no older than twenty, ran over with a warm smile. Based on her flashy clothing, it was evident that the girl was associated with this foreign event.
“Tree of Amor?” Ariel asked with confusion.
“Yes! It’s a new event that the Mayor had introduced this year based on the Tree of Amor legend! The rules are simple, we pick the oldest tree that’s around the waypoint and bring it into the town! Once here, anyone can write down a wish and hang it from any of the branches! Couples can even tie their wishes together!”
“What’s the legend surrounding the Tree of Amor?” Shin curiously enquired about the new term.
“Good question! The Tree of Amor was believed to hold mystical capabilities of granting any wish regarding love! Anyone who has an unrequited love will instantly gain hope while couples will feel their relationship deepening to an atomic level! A wish that will suit the two of you completely!”
For the millionth time today, Shin and Ariel blushed once more. At this point, they were under the impression that the whole world was conspiring to have them die of embarrassment.
“Just give us the damn papers…”
“Hehe, right this way!”
Ariel bit the bottom of her lip as she was brought by the hand up the platform. Ever since the incident with the candy shop owner, she had been letting Shin take the reigns as she was too ashamed to lead. However, Ariel knew that she couldn’t continuously get embarrassed by every interaction that they had.
“If the Tree of Amor grants wishes regarding love just by writing notes, I wonder what would happen if a couple kisses under it?”
“What do y…”
Before Shin could continue on with his words, Ariel leaned in at the speed of light and landed a small peck on his spotless left cheek. Gasps of amazement could be heard all around while the maiden leading the two turned around with an envious giggle.
Stunned by her sudden movements, Shin immediately froze up like an ice sculpture. Observing Ariel’s vermillion face, Shin could only drop his jaw as the gorgeous girl’s mouth started to move.
“Well, let’s find out shall we?”
Only after a few seconds, did Ariel begin to realise the gravity of what she had done. Even without looking around, she could feel hundreds of piercing eyes firmly affixed onto her body, further deepening her abashment.
“I-I-I-I-I need to use the toilet!” Unable to bear being the centre of attention, Ariel bolted out of the platform and headed straight to the Mushinkei. Leaving Shin alone to deal with the hundreds of onlookers that were trying to stifle their laughter.
Coming to his senses, Shin similarly bolted away from the trees and chased the girl that had just kissed him.
Truth to be told, the Mayor created the Tree of Amor event on a whim and didn’t expect it to succeed at all. However, with the story of how a pure-hearted maiden confessed to her partner over a kiss, the event had become a huge hit, giving birth to a tradition as well. To deepen their love, a girl would kiss her sweetheart under the tree, almost guaranteeing that their love would continue on for aeons to come.
For the pair that sparked the revolution, it was their own special Valentine’s story…