The Tale of Aíko

The Tale of Aíko

A Story by Sac
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Follow the journey of Aíko as she finds a mysterious rock in the woods, and tries to figure out its meaning. An emotionally driven plot bound to leave you feeling some type of way.

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The Tale of Aíko

The night was cold and the wind was howling, sending shivers down the spine of Aíko, a girl of seventeen summers with hair as dark as obsidian flowing over smooth, golden skin, set with piercing brown eyes underneath an arched brow.  Aíko had gotten separated from the rest of her people while going on the weekly expedition of gathering sage and hemp. The fog was thick this night and Aíko strayed off trail, into the woods. Vision obscured, cold, and directionless, Aíko just continued to walk forward. Her father had warned her earlier saying to “stay close” for “the creatures in this fog have killed many a man, and would drool at the sight of a young lass like you.” The fog had swallowed Aíko whole with her father's words looming over her head while she continued her blind trek through the wilderness.

Through the fog, Aíko seen something shimmering in the distance. She started to walk towards it, hopeful that it was one of her fathers men wielding a lamp. As she got closer Aíko realized that it was no man, no lamp, but a rock. The rock was smooth and round, and could fit into the palm of your hand. Only, there was something strange about this rock. Oddly shiny, this rock had colors on it Aíko had never even seen before! Surely neither her father or his men have ever seen anything with such vibrance. Bewildered, Aíko put the rock in her bag, wondering if it was of any significance. Still lost, but with newfound hope in this rock, Aíko continued on in what seemed like an endless void with nothing but fog.

“AIKO!”

Her father's voice pierced through the trees with such intensity that Aíko could hear the flapping of several birds wings as they flew away from what they thought was dangerous.

“FATHER?!?!” Aíko answered. She rushed to the sound of the voice, trusting only her ears to guide her through the thickness of the fog.

“AIKOOO!!” Her father boomed once more. This time sure of the voices direction, Aíko bursts out into full sprint. She started to make out a light, and this time it was one of her fathers men, Po, holding a lamp. Aíko’s father, General Shang Tsung stood next to Po, scowling at her with his bushy eyebrows, and his anger strewed face.

“Aíko what did I tell you, stay close! What would you have done, say you come across a band of bandits? They would’ve had their way with you!” yelled Shang Tsung.

“Well, I wouldn’t have gone down without a fight,” said Aíko.

“Oh, Aíko you must be more careful,” replied Shang Tsung. “I will not let this go undermined! You are to be confined to your quarters for 2 days and 2 nights, and you will not aid in the next expedition.”

“Come now father, I am alive and well aren’t I?” said Aíko.

“Yes but only by chance. The world is dangerous Aíko, anything could’ve happened. You should consider yourself lucky. Now begone, to your quarters,” said Shang Tsung.

Aíko reluctantly walked off to where she and her father stay, a decent sized fāngzi with rose bushes on either side. She walked through the entrance, past her father's rack of armor, and into her “quarters”, a small room with a cot, a table on the far left wall, and a window above the table overlooking the sea. Aíko sat at her table and pulled out the mystical rock she had found. She’d forgotten to tell her father about her discovery, being caught up in the heat of the moment. Maybe it’s for the best, thought Aíko. Surely this would’ve found its way to Emperor Quan Chi, and I would never see it again.

The world Aíko lived in was a bleak one, one of treachery, and disdain. Emperor Quan Chi has been extorting and pillaging the people of Hángyĕng ever since he overthrew the last emperor all those years ago. No one dare protest, for they will be tied to a stake and burned alive. And this is the least of tragedies Quan Chi has in store for anyone who goes against him. The only reason Aíko has been so fortunate is because Shang Tsung is a polished general, aiding in many raids and attacks against the enemy village across the sea. This left Aíko home alone for days on end, so she has picked up a knack for exploration, and is always curious of something new. This is the same reason she had gotten lost on the expedition. But if it wasn’t for these traits, Aíko would’ve never found such a mystifying object.

She lay the rock on the table, lost in all of its color. Aíko actually did recognize some of them, like the one that was the color of the sky, or the sea outside her window. She seen one that reminded her of the hot flames that came from the fireplace on a cold winter's day. One of them was the same as the leaves on the trees, and the grass on the ground. One was even the same as a baby chic’s feathers, like the ones on Wang Lung’s farm, a redeemed farmer from the next village over. But there were two she just couldn’t describe. Two she had simply never seen. Aíko wondered what kind of things in Hángyĕng had these colors. Have these been around all this time? Or was everyone just too wrapped up in discontentment and misery to even notice? Aíko thought the latter. Everyone is too caught up in life’s misery and unfairness that they have been stuck in misery; always expecting misery to come and never anything more. They’ve forgotten about the beautiful world around them and the euphoria that it can bring. Sure life can be a cesspool of dread and misery, especially under the rule of Quan Chi, but it can be so much more. It is what you make it.

Aíko felt she had to spread this message to everyone, let them see the rock for  themselves. She was to be confined to her quarters for 2 days and 2 nights, but with her father gone, surely he will never know. Just as Aíko was about to walk out the entrance, a large staff comes between her and the outside. At the end of the staff is Po, one of Shang Tsung's best men.

“Not so fast Aíko,” said Po. “You remember your father's orders.”

“Yes, but you do not understand Po. When I was lost earlier I stumbled upon this,” said Aíko as she pulled out the mysterious rock. Po looked in amazement.

“What is it?” asked Po.

“I believe it is a symbol of happiness. Of hope,” said Aíko

“You must give it to me so I can show Emperor Quan Chi. A lass like you shouldn’t be in possession of something so... mystic”

“What?”

“I said you must give it to me so I can------”

“I heard you Po! But I cannot do that. I must show this rock to everyone and spread the message it has given me. Do you not feel anything when you see the colors?”

“Yes, which is exactly why the emperor must see at once. You say you want to show everyone, why not Quan Chi?”

“Because he will have it put in his crown!” snapped Aíko.

“Well if you will not give it to me voluntarily, I will have to turn you in to Quan Chi.”

“What!? I have done nothing wrong Po! Why must you act this way?”

“It is the law Aíko, you know this. I did not write them with Quan Chi, but it is my job to enforce them.”

Aiko looked at the ground for a bit and pondered. She looked back up at Po with the intensity of a thousand suns.

“You are afraid,” said Aiko, her piercing brown eyes staring into the soul of poor Po.

“What do you mean?” asked Po, who was taken aback by the way Aíko glared at him.

“You are afraid of Quan Chi! Just like everyone else! You are no more a man than the worms that burrow the ground! You are no warrior...you are a coward, scared of independence! Just another blind fool destined to end up like everyone else: in the ground, rotting!” blasted Aíko. Po’s face started to contort in such an unorthodox manner that it made Aíko raise an eyebrow.

“I will not be spoken to like that!” exclaimed Po as he snatched up Aíko and started to carry her towards the emperor's courtyard. Aíko kicked and screamed but Po was just too strong. The townspeople watched and pointed as Aíko fought relentlessly against Po’s iron grip. What a fool she had been to have trusted someone as closed minded as Po, the same man who believes the Earth is flat, and the only way to drink cow’s milk is straight from the utter. Now she has the risk of being burned alive, and all of her belongings going to Quan Chi.

Po set Aíko down in the entrance of the emperor’s courtyard, where two guards stand idly on either side of the large oak double doors.

“Hattori! Lee! Get the doors open! I have something special to show the emperor,” said Po.

The two simply nodded their head and grabbed the handle on either door, slowly pulling them out, revealing a truly luxurious abode, decked with a long table made of black marble, holding many delicacies that a normal townsperson could only dream of having. There, Aíko noticed one of the colors she couldn’t define. It was on the skin of one the grapes that set on a golden platter, along with apples, bananas, and any other type of fruit you could think of. Aíko took the color in; not exactly black, but dark and mysterious. Like an odd combination between the heat of the flame, and the cool of the sea.

This table was not the only thing however. On all the walls were beautiful paintings of all types of men and women, doing various things. From sailing, to horseback riding, even murder and war. There was one painting that stood out from the rest. It was of an ashen-haired woman, standing naked in a field of lilac. It was in this painting where Aíko spotted the last color she had yet to identify. The color was on the petals of the lilac, vibrant and appealing to the eye. Who would’ve thought that there would be such color in the home of the most soulless man in all of Hángyĕng?

Aíko and Po had been standing on lush, red carpet that led all the way down to the other side of the room, where Quan Chi sat in his golden throne. With a scar on his left brow, dark green eyes, a thick jawline and a hairless head, Quan Chi was the most evil man in all of Eastern Asia. Po gestures Aíko to start walking forward, and slowly, step by step, Aíko gets closer to the man who will decide her fate.

“Who is this you bring to me?” asked Quan Chi, his voice raspy from years of yelling.

“This is Aíko, daughter of General Shang Tsung sir. I bring her in on a case of treason,” said Po.

“Treason?” asked Quan Chi, confused.

“Yes sir. Aíko is in possession of something truly valuable, and she refuses to give it up,” explains Po. He gives Aíko a little nudge with his staff, letting her know to pull out the rock. Aíko silently reached in her satchel and exposed the prismatic rock. Quan Chi’s eyes lit up at the sight of it.

“My, my, what a lovely jewel. How did you manage to come across something so… enchanting?” asked Quan Chi.

“While I was on the expedition with my father and his unit earlier, I got lost in the woods. It was unbelievably foggy, so I lost my way. I seen this rock shining through the thickness of the fog and walked over to grab it. My father then found me and confined me to my room, heh. The reason I’m here is because-----”

“Is because you decided to hide it from me,” interrupted Quan Chi. “I can have you killed you know. Stretched to death. Burned alive. Hung. But just give me the rock Aíko and I just might spare your life.”

The decision seemed like an easy one. Die, or give the emperor the rock. Surely Aíko could still spread the message of happiness and hope, but she would sound crazy, raving about colors and whatnot. She needed the rock so people could feel for themselves the sensation that something so vibrant can bring. Nothing could replace that rock, and Aíko wasn’t ready to give it up.

“Looks like you're going to have kill me,” said Aíko, staring into the serpent eyes of Quan Chi, confident.

At that same moment, the doors cringed open and in walks General Shang Tsung, fresh off of a training session with some new recruits. He looks at Aíko, then Po, standing indifferently with his staff in hand.

“What is going on here? Aíko, I thought I told to stay in your quarters, what is the meaning of this!?” asks Shang Tsung, feeling a mix of confusion and anger.

“Hmmm, seems like this one can’t stay away from trouble. General, your daughter has something that belongs to me. I told her to either give it up or die. She made her decision right before you walked in,” explains Quan Chi, with a cynical smile on his face when he said that last sentence.

Shang Tsung looked at the emperor, then at Aíko.

“Well, what did you decide?” asked Shang Tsung.

“I have chosen death father,” said Aíko, her eyes trained on the ground.

“What!? Emperor you can’t kill her! She is my only child, the only thing in this world I can truly call mine! Please don’t take that away from me..,” pleaded Shang Tsung

“I’m sorry general, but she has already made up her mind. Aíko is old enough to make decisions on her own,” said Quan Chi.

“No! I will not let this happen! Give me my daughter back damnit!” boomed Shang Tsung.

At this, the emperor slowly rose to a stand.

“You dare defy me Shang Tsung? Why, you are worth no more than the ants I crush with my bare feet you fool. I won’t kill Aíko,” said Quan Chi. “Tie him to the stake. And as for Aíko, you are to be banished from Hángyĕng, never to return again.”

This sent a wave of fear, anger, disgust, through Aíko.

“No. No. No. No! No! NO!” screamed Aíko as Po and another guard picked her up and carried her out the emperors palace. She caught a glimpse of two guards seizing her father right before the big oak doors shut.

Aíko kicked, screamed, even bit at Po and the other guard, but her efforts were useless. They dragged her through the streets of  Hángyĕng, all the way to the front gates. In a great effort, they managed to throw Aíko to the other side of the gates, directly over the top. Aíko landed in a heap of dirt, boiling with rage. She spit at Po, hitting him in the face with her saliva. Po wiped it off with disgust and just turned around and walked away with the other guard.

Aíko stands outside of  Hángyĕng, arms crossed, ready for murder. Quan Chi had just left her to die in the wilderness, and was going to burn her father alive. And it was all because of that damned rock. All of this never would’ve happened if she just stayed focused on the trail like her father had told her. Now her family is no longer going to exist. Aíko’s rage is extinguished with a wave of overwhelming sadness. She turns her back to Hángyĕng and starts to weep. Somehow, she moves her feet, each step more painful than the last, as she walks away from the place she used to call home.

She walked straight through the woods, stepping on twigs, snapping branches,splashing through puddles, her head cast down in sorrow. She had no idea where to go, but she had to keep moving. She decided to look back at  Hángyĕng one last time, only to see smoke billowing through the air. This sapped her of any hope, any motivation. Happiness, hope, not possible in Hángyĕng. She would’ve just wasted her time trying to spread that message.

Aíko found a nice tree to sit under and rest. She leaned against the tree, reflecting on everything that happened in this dismal day. Her brief period of meditation is interrupted however by the vicious barks and growls of five voracious wolves. Aíko’s eyes widen in terror as she whips around to discover that she is surrounded. Each wolf had a look of bloodlust in its eyes, each more ravenous than the last.

She tries to scurry past the wolf directly in front of her, but the beast clamped its jaw tightly around her calf, causing her to scream in agony. The wolf continued to sink its knifelike teeth into the raw flesh of poor Aíko. Through the waves of pain that flooded through Aíko’s leg, she managed to pull the rock out of her satchel, and struck the wolf again and again until the beast finally broke free.

Aíko limped forward, not putting much distance between herself and the wolves before the next one pounces and dropped her to the ground. The pack surrounded her instantly, nipping at her arms, biting at her sides, each one trying to satisfy its own unrelenting feeling of hunger. All hope was lost it seemed, until the rock, still in Aíko’s hand began to shine bright. So radiant in fact, that it blinded Aíko, whose eyes were already getting heavy in the face of death, and knocked her out.

When Aíko astonishingly opened her eyes, it was to her surprise to see her five attackers lay motionless on the ground. She peered down at her hand, still holding the rock, and stared at it the same way she had when she first discovered it, with raw curiosity and awe. There was no way to explain what just happened, but Aíko certainly wasn’t complaining. Unfortunately however, the rock did not heal Aíko’s wounds, and she was left with a horribly gnarled leg, and bites all over her abdomen. The pain slowly began to ooze back into her nervous system and she was left once again, hopeless in the middle of the woods. She couldn’t stop the blood from seeping out of her calf, so she leans her back against the oak tree behind her and awaits the inevitable

What a day, thought Aíko. What a day indeed. A day of true misery. A day of death. The dreaded rock was actually the only ray of light in such a tragic course of events. With her vision darkening, sinking deeper and deeper into oblivion, Aíko smiled, content with the fact that she was right to have faith in her little rock, right not to give it to Quan Chi. But her father… Aíko clung on to the last memories she had of him, all of sadness and anger, but nonetheless all of him. She died at peace with herself under an oak tree in the middle of the woods.

The rock in her hand began to shine again, this time swallowing Aíko in a ray of colors, absorbing her. Where her body used to slump now emerges large, beautiful beams of color arching into the sky. The fiery red of the flame, the calm of the sea, the leaves in the trees, the hue of the sun, the petals of lilac, the skin of the grape, all the alluring colors of the rock now shone through the sky with such brilliancy that even the people of  Hángyĕng could see.

Now everytime it rains, after a dark, gloomy day, the colors of Aíko and her rock shine through the sky, reminding everyone that there is always light, always color, even in the darkest of times.

END.





    




© 2017 Sac



Author's Note

Sac
There are a few references to Mortal Kombat, and The Good Earth. This is my first serious piece of writing, so all criticism is welcome

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 15, 2017
Tags: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Drama, Suspense, Short Story, Tale

Author

Sac
Sac

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