Aiko, part 2

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.

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