Aiko, part 4

July 8th, 2008 - No Responses

“You know what I am here for,” said Aiko.
The dragon blinked.
“I do not suppose you would understand the why,” Aiko continued. “In truth it does not matter, for it does not make this any less a betrayal. Still, I made a pledge long ago to wait here for someone and without your heart that pledge will be broken in days by my death. I must do what I must, you must do the same.”

The battle raged across the mountain-top. The trees danced, the ground shook, and the wind roared. The sturdy trunk of the ancient pine seemed the only constant as Aiko and the dragon circled and tore at each other, for the dragon was the forest and the mountain and the forest and the mountain were full of righteous fury at the interloper. The betrayer. The dragon’s sharp claws found purchase time and again, tearing strips of flesh, but Aiko held her own, for she was the priestess of the forest and the mountain and she knew them well. The ground was soon slick with the blood of the dragon and of the woman. The blood of forest and mountain and man. The battle raged on.

Hotaru had been in the caves behind the moss wall when the mountain had begun to shake. She made her way to the summit as quickly as she was able, following the clash of steel and scale and claw, but the way was not short and it was not easy. By the time she approached, the sounds of battle had faded and the fury of the forest was replaced once more with calm. At the peak, beneath the towering pine, she found the dragon of the forest and the mountain, torn and bloodied but alive. Nearby was the naked body of a woman she had never seen before, impaled through one eye by Aiko’s sword. Of Aiko there was no sign.

As dawn broke over the mountain, Hotaru returned to the village. The forest was full of secret places. Aiko knew them all. She stretched her new limbs, and settled down to wait.


Aiko, part 3

July 2nd, 2008 - No Responses

The forest was full of secret places. A small clearing known only to a family of deer. A track hidden beneath brush that had been a favourite hunting trail of foxes for many summers past. A shallow depression in a cliff face that held an ancient nest, neat and tidy and never used. Aiko knew them all. She was the only one who did. Hotaru had begun to learn the ways of the forest, but there were some things that could only come from ten years spent walking the trails.

There was no telling where the dragon would be. The past two nights she had stalked these ways, working her way to the summit, leaving no stone unturned. There was no guarantee, even, that it had not slipped past her and settled in some hollow she had already checked. The mountain was too large to cover in one night; too large even to cover properly in three. As she made her way up the slopes, senses on a knife edge, Aiko knew that tonight she would have to make some hard decisions. This was the last night she had, and there was not enough time to check everywhere she had not yet been. She checked only the powerful spots: the waterfall under the towering beeches; the caves behind the moss wall; the clearing filled with the bubbling of an underground stream. It was dangerous, of course. Hotaru was looking for her and the powerful places were the only ones she would think to look. Unfortunately, there was no other choice.

It was midnight when Aiko arrived at the summit. This was the spot upon which she had pinned her hopes. There, coiled about the trunk of the massive pine that crowned the peak, eyes fixed on her as she came, the dragon waited.

Aiko, part 2

June 30th, 2008 - No Responses

The trees breathed deep of the night air as Aiko flitted from shadow to shadow. The stealth made her feel safer, but she knew it was no doubt pointless. The forest knew she was here, which meant the dragon knew she was here. The unsheathed steel in her hand could leave little doubt as to why.

“You cannot do this, Aiko.” Hotaru, her pupil, stood on the path ahead. “You of all people know why.”
Stealth really was pointless now, thought Aiko. She had taught her pupil well. Stepping from the shadows, she narrowed her eyes. “I sent you to the next village to help in their hospice,” she said. “Why are you here?”
“You know why I’m here,” said Hotaru. As she spoke, she dropped a hand to the hilt of the sword strapped to her waist.
“I will not kill you, Hotaru, but I will not be stopped. Do not be so foolish as to draw that blade.”
“The spirit of this forest, of this mountain, protects our village. Without it we are lost.”

“My illness is worse than you suppose,” Aiko snarled. “Without the dragon’s heart I will be dead in days. By tomorrow night I will be too weak to do what I must.”
“Hundreds of people will die!”
“Nobody will die. Life may become harsher here, but to the West the villages grow into towns. Our people will find new lives there if they must.”
“All this to save your own life,” Hotaru shook her head. “Your life is pledged to the village. You should give your life in its protection, not the other way around.”
“I owe another pledge. One much older. Saving my own life is not my concern. I must survive to save another.”
Hotaru’s grip tightened and twisted on her sword hilt. Aiko sighed. This was time she could not afford.
“I am truly sorry, Hotaru,” she said. “My position is yours now. Take care of them as you must.”
This seemed to make Hotaru’s mind up, but before her sword was fully drawn Aiko had melted back into the forest.


June 14th, 2008 - No Responses

The clouds hung low over the mountain, clutching at leaves and thickening in hollows. The sun had dipped below the tree-line and, although light still bloomed across the sky, the darkness too was starting to gather in the hidden spaces. It seemed to seep up out of cracks and roots and spread in pools.

Aiko sat, cross-legged, looking out at the mountain where it loomed beyond the edge of the village. The moon would soon rise, and she would pick up her sword and stalk the ways of the forest. She was out of time. The dragon must die. Tonight.