Aiko, part 4

“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.


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