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The Cherry Tree


by ffamran

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There is a stone bench that rests upon one of the many hills of the rolling Shenkuuvian landscape. Above it towers an ancient cherry tree, which blooms every spring without fail, letting its delicate cherry blossoms grow upon every inch of its ancient branches, letting them bloom and unfurl their soft pink petals, and ultimately letting them drift slowly downwards, carried by the air until they land lightly on the ground below.

      A white Aisha once sat on the bench, hugging her infant Aisha close to her chest. Her hair was a deep purple, almost black, and held up with both an ornate chopstick and her two long Aisha ears, which curved backwards around her hair so that the ears rested just beneath her chin. A light blue sash tightly held a pink kimono to her waist.

      She picked up a dumpling with her wooden chopsticks and popped it into her mouth, admiring the savory taste of the pork and cabbage stuffed inside. The infant, noticing the smell that wafted through the air, pushed his arm forward and made a cute squeal. The mother smiled and picked out a pea from her fried rice, and placed it into the infant’s mouth. His tiny mouth closed into a wide smile. Right then, a cherry blossom fell on the little Aisha’s face; his grin faded with surprise at this unexpected brushing feeling. The mother Aisha smiled and gently brushed it off, letting it continue its pilgrimage down to the earth.

      The clouds spread their cotton wings and flew gently across the clear blue sky; the rolling hills in the background seemed to grow forever into the horizon, like a wave of deep green water heading to the mysterious seas beyond.

      Suddenly, ships from a land far away landed on the Shenkuuvian coast. Minutes later, there was a red-hot explosion on the hill nearest to the ocean. The dry, summer grasses began to burn, and the hill was quickly consumed in the malicious fire. Then, there was another explosion, this time larger, at the edge of the city. Another fire started, reaching its burning hands out as far as it could, yearning to touch the bridges and buildings like a child would to a jar of cookies.

      “Guifei!” A black Aisha clothed in a traditional Shenkuuvian robe appeared on the nearest bridge, running towards the young mother and her baby. “Guifei...” he panted, out of breath. “Thank goodness I found you; we must leave immediately.”

     Guifei immediately stood up, making sure her baby Aisha was safe in her arms. He was sleeping. She left her lunch on the bench and hurriedly walked towards the Neopet. She carelessly stepped onto the cold wooden bridge; suddenly, a plank broke, and the two pieces of wood fell down into the depths below. She grabbed onto the rope on the sides of the bridge and went back to the last plank; in her haste, the chopstick holding her hair fell. Her hair unraveled, and the long black mass fell down to her waist.

      “Jielun, wait!” she called. She reached down between the planks to pick up the chopstick, but it fell too fast. It tumbled down the hill into the infinite pit below, never to be found and never to be seen, lost forever.

     Suddenly, there was a loud, booming explosion nearby. A hot, sticky magical burst of energy hit the Aishas; they cringed, holding onto the ropes of the bridge. The branches of the cherry tree swayed, and what seemed like thousands of cherry blossoms fell onto the Aishas like snow. The tree itself remained strong. Realizing the danger, Guifei held her baby closer and scurried across the bridge with Jielun.

      “Our enemies from across the ocean have attacked,” said Jielun, out of breath. “If I had not been outside of the city when the attack began, I would not have been able to escape the attack. We’re lucky.”

      “The pirates?”

      Jielun nodded.

      “But... but why now?” lamented Guifei. “I know we’ve been at odds with each other for so long, but... why now?” She looked regretfully down at her baby.

      “I... don’t know,” replied Jielun. “I wish I could tell you. It’s just the way things are, I suppose. No, wait, Guifei, not that way.”

      Hearing these words, Guifei stopped in front of the comfortingly familiar bridge that led to the city. She froze with suddenly realization of what Jielun was going to make them do. Her kimono dropped solemnly by her side, shifting ever so slightly from the breeze. While she was about head back to her family, back to her home in Shenkuu, Jielun had stopped in front of the bridge that led to the outside world, to Altador. She began to tear. “Jielun, but–”

      “Guifei, we must. No one can go into the city now. The city is going to be destroyed. Guifei!” She had turned her back to him; the baby Aisha began to whimper quietly. Jielun walked right behind her and put his mouth near her ear. “We’re lucky, he said slowly, “because we will survive.”

      Behind them, there was another explosion on the hill; Jielun held Guifei, and she held the infant as the three fell onto the grass. Guifei and Jielun looked up just in time to watch the cherry tree crack and fall on the stone bench. It burst in flames, and the fire quickly spread to the surrounding grass.

      Jielun helped Guifei up. “There is no other way. We must leave now, or we will be annihilated by their magic!”

      She wanted to take in one last fresh, clean breath of the familiar mountain air, but instead, she choked on the ashes. She looked back to glance at the place she had been her entire life. A blue paling had risen around the lunar temple on the highest hill; battleships had been released into the Shenkuuvian sky. There was not as much smoke as she thought there should have been; the city seemed to be retaliating.

      Regretfully, she followed Jielun across the bridge and into the fog that separated the city from the lands below. That day, the fog was so dense that she couldn’t even see Jielun right in front of her. She reached out with one hand and held onto Jielun’s; her other hand held onto her baby tightly to her chest.

      “This way,” whispered Jielun. He tugged her hand gently to the left. She followed. The Neopets were choked by the fog, so dense and dark that they were practically erased from the face of the earth. But eventually, the fog began to thin as they neared the base of the series of hills that made up the region.

      Suddenly, the white Aisha stopped. “Wait, Jielun,” she said. The Aisha sat down on the grass, wet from the fog that covered the entire landscape. The fog was sunless, cold, and grey – a contrast to the hot, red battle above.

      “What?” said Jielun.

      “I... I don’t want to leave,” said Guifei. “Our parents are still there. And what will happen to Laoxin?” She looked down at the now sleeping Aisha that she had set down on her lap.

      “He will be safe in Altador. Maybe one day, in a time of peace, he can go back to Shenkuu, learn about our culture, and live the life that we could not,” he said. He sat down with her. “He will be safe, Guifei, he will be safe.”

     * * *

      Laoxin hiked through the fog towards Shenkuu.

      “Hey Lao! Mind slowing down?” complained the yellow Skeith behind him.

      “Your fault for being so slow, Alex!” Laoxin laughed. But still, he stopped and waited for his friend. After he fixed his Altadorian toga, he hiked on.

      “Hey Lao, where’d you go? Stinkin’ fog...” grumbled Alex. “Lao? Hey, don’t scare me like that, where are you?”

      “Wow...” said Laoxin. With one head stuck out of the dense fog, he took in the majestic, Shenkuuvian culture that emanated throughout the hills that made up the city.

      “Lao! Lao! Where in Jerdana’s name are you? Oh, there you are. Whoa, pretty...”

      The city was standing tall and proud upon the high hills of the earth. A waterfall roared down through the center of the city; it seemed to go down forever into the eternal pits between the hills of the city. Lush trees dotted the area between the buildings with roofs that curved up as if they were smiling peacefully down upon the tired, but excited travelers.

      “Come on, Lao, let’s go! What are we waiting for?”

      “Alex... I feel faint,” said Laoxin.

      Alex put his hands on his hips. “It must be the altitude.” He looked out at the nearby hills, each higher than the one before. “There’s a bench on that hill over there. There’s no hurry; we can rest a bit.”

      They crossed the sturdy bridges that looked as if they had been built yesterday. Lao held onto the ropes that lined the sides of the bridges as he walked. “My parents came from Shenkuu. You know that, right?”

      “Yeah. What of it? You getting some weird Shenkuuvian vibes or something?” he laughed.

      “I dunno. Maybe. It just feels... weird,” said Laoxin.

      “Ehh, don’t worry about it, it’s just the altitude getting to you. Those scientists back at home, they say that there’s less air up on the mountains where it’s higher.”

      “Hmm. I dunno.” He smiled. “I kinda like it here already, yeah?”

      “How can you tell? You just got here.”

      “I dunno. I can just tell. This place is something special.” Laoxin smiled.

      They reached the hill. Laoxin took a seat on the old stone bench and pulled out a canteen of water from his backpack. Alex sat behind, and they looked out at the city they would reach before sundown.

      There is a stone bench that rests upon one of the many hills of the rolling Shenkuuvian landscape. Above it towers an ancient cherry tree, which blooms every spring without fail, letting its delicate cherry blossoms grow upon every inch of its ancient branches, letting them bloom and unfurl their soft pink petals, and ultimately letting them drift slowly downwards, carried by the air until they land lightly on the ground below.

      But this tree isn’t completely eternal. It has fallen many times, but every time it falls, a seed finds its way into the ground, creating an exact new tree that perfectly replaces the old one. While the tree itself is destroyable, there is a little something special that is kept hidden in it, so no matter what happens to this tree, it will always, always come back.

The End

 
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