The Leaf That Fell From The Tree
by Aamer Khan
The rising sun brought light to all reaches of the vast, open world. There were mountains of various sizes scattered across the horizon surrounding the area. The land was situated in such a way that seemed like a very gradual staircase with a gentle decline that eventually led to a riverside at the bottom. In the center of the land sat a beautiful elevated temple, surrounded by yellow and red trees. The temple consisted of one main building of a rectangular figure, with two smaller square buildings on each side connected by smaller hallways. Each structure had its own gently curved roof in a seemingly hierarchal system, with the main rectangular building having the largest. Each roof was tiled and grey, with white and crimson beams supporting the undersides. Crimson poles lined the hallways and the deck of the entrance of the temple. The temple had a staircase consisting of six steps downward to an elevated silver platform, that had another six steps down toward the ground of the gentle declining hill. This path led directly to the riverside, visible from the entrance of the great structure. The trees shook as a cold wind blew, swaying with their leaves slowly falling one by one. The cool breeze and lack of leaves on the trees signified the end of summer, and welcomed a change of seasons.
Within the temple, a man rested on both knees in the center of the room, his back facing the entrance of the room. He was a rather well-built man, his shoulders strong but not broad and an athletic body that was not too muscular. He was dressed in a long, dark olive-green robe that left the tips of his collarbones bare, running down in an almost ‘V’ shape until the very top of his chest, where each side of the robe met. The robe covered his entire upper and lower body with its long trapezoidal sleeves at his elbows, tied together at the waist with a brown sash. He wore long dark-brown trousers that were fit at the waist but looser at the bottom. They contained lines running downward symmetrically throughout the lower garment– a traditional piece of clothing called hakama. His hair was long and black, tied upwards into a topknot. He was clean shaven, a stark contrast to the usual unkempt facial hair he kept day-to-day. He knew that he would not be allowed to be so rugged today.
He faced two sharp objects laying on the altar. The larger single-edged curved blade lay at a higher elevation than the shorter but identical blade. His hands slowly gripped at his knees, his shut eyelids creating a dark canvas, where memories began to paint colors of crimson. The paint was vivid and expressive, so expressive that it began to craft his memories into moving images. Images of the very same blade in front of him cutting through the air, images of crimson blood splattering and splashing, images of swollen, tear-filled eyes and eyes of desperation, images of wives awaiting their never-to-return husbands.
These images quickly turned auditory, the clanking of metal, the falling of bodies, the flinging of objects, and the loudest of all; the sounds of screaming and yelling echoing in his ears.
Although the heat of the room had felt as though it intensified from the memories, he was immediately stung by the cold autumn breeze as the door slid open slowly. It was like a knife had been slowly pushed into his back – resulting in a cold sweat moving down his neck.
“Junichi. It is almost time.” Came the whispered, raspy voice of Masao, the Vizier of the Lord. Masao was a crooked man, and his body looked reptilian. He was dressed in robes of silver that ran outwards, almost like he wore multiple layers that wrapped loosely around his body. His face a was a thin and sickly pale. His movements were always as if he lacked feet, effectively gliding. His jet-black hair was longer than Junichi’s own, but tied upward just as the rest of those who were in the Imperial court. Junichi did not like this man, for he was always the bringer of the ill tasks, even if it was the Lord who had commanded them himself.
But Junichi could never dislike the Lord, for his word is law. And the law of the Lord is what Junichi had to follow and respect, and never dare disobey.
Junichi opened his eyes, looking upwards, the blade reflecting the morning light that sliced in from the opened door – Masao’s abhorrent frame doing little to prevent the sunlight from gleaming.
“You are sure he is the man?” Junichi asked once. Masao giggled as if he was a young girl playing with a new doll. “Of course. Why ask? Are you having second thoughts?”
Junichi said nothing more, rising to his feet in one motion. This is how Masao was, a snake, looking for every opportunity and striking offensively from various directions. Junichi walked forward, taking the blade and its scabbard into each hand and sheathed it. He hung it off of his side. Then, he picked up the smaller blade, and placed it under the larger scabbard. These weapons could cut anything as if it were silk. Carrying both weapons in this particular fashion was customary in this society led by the Lord, and expectant when coming face-to-face with the Lord – and he would not have it any other way.
Masao had slithered away already, like the snake he was, probably knowing that Junichi would not refuse or question him anymore. Junichi then walked to another door close to his right, and slid it open.
There lay the armor he was to wear for the occasion. It was not allowed for wear so casually within these sacred grounds, but this occasion was an order. This was his given job – under the law of this society, under the Lord, under the people, and by divine right as foretold by the Lord. As he equipped his leather armor, the shoulder guard plates, the waist guard, the boots, the helmet and the visor-like mask, his mind trailed off into the question of how many times his Lord had called him to do this job. But it faded quick, for such thoughts were blasphemy – even if no one else could hear them.
He stepped outside, the sunlight greeting him by shining into his eyes. Masao stood with a paper fan covering his venomous lips, his eyes focused on Junichi. Below on the silver platform was a large crowd, composed of fellow warriors in his class and townsfolk of various ages, and the royal guards with the same hairstyle as the venomous serpent who brought the message. They protected the Lord himself, who sat in his elevated structure, carried by four guardians. Everyone silently watched Junichi descend the steps, Masao lurking behind.
Junichi reached the bottom, walking a few steps forward on the platform where the Lord lay in his palanquin, only his shadow visible. Then, Junichi bowed low. The Lords’ clear silhouette nodded, as Junichi returned to his upright posture. This was the greeting that was expected of him when meeting the Lord. Masao had brought the order to him on behalf of the Lord yesterday. The deal was made with the nod of the silhouette. The command that was brought by Masao yesterday now had to be done, sealed by direct confirmation from the Lord in the form of the simple nod. Failure to do so and any objection otherwise would result in Junichi being charged with heresy. “Bring us his head.” Masao hissed.
Junichi gripped the larger curved blade, his left hand on the scabbard, his right hand on the handle. His back stood erect, disciplined. He walked to the right, descending the second set of steps and toward the river as the crowd made way for him. They soon seemingly disappeared in the elevation behind him as he continued his descend on the ever slowly declining plane. The air was even colder here, almost like Winter, where everything was dead, and what was not dead may soon die…
…such as the man in front of him, the today’s victim. He was on his knees against the clearing of grass by the river, the sunlight dancing around his body. His hands were tied behind his back. His hair was rugged, unkempt, his robes tattered and stained. His hakama rough and ragged. He looked up at Junichi, his face filled with dirt, cuts on his forehead, but his eyes still white as a ghost…no tears, no bloodshot eyes, fully contempt. There was just an acceptance of what was to come, with his eyes distant but acknowledging Junichi was there – and his lips not quivering with fear but still. Had he made peace? He seemed as calm as the river behind him, as the tree to his side, a tree with only one crimson leaf left. Crimson like the poles of the temple, crimson like the paintings in his mind.
Junichi drew his blade slowly. This was the job. This man was a criminal – not a good man. He disobeyed the Lord, he had stolen, and had probably murdered. He was a terrible man, he hurt his friends, he had likely hurt his family. He disobeyed the Lord. He tried to run, but he was caught. It was Junichi’s job to bring him to the light. If Junichi did not deliver the man to the afterlife, then he would lose face and a great shame would befall his entire existence. The shame would carry on to his family, and if he had children, they would be next-to-nothing for society. Worst of all, he would betray the lord.
The man hung his head. Junichi gripped his blade with both hands now, positioning himself to the side, raising his arms above his head, raising his sword “You have been granted your final words. You may beg forgiveness from the Lord, and if accepted, your soul may find easy passage to its new vessel.” Junichi said. How many times would he repeat this?
Junichi waited, but the man remained completely silent. He only hung his head.
The signs were clear. The gates of heaven were open, the fires of hell were burning, the turning wheel of reincarnation slowed to a halt, all waiting for this man. Time stood still.
Junichi’s body flexed for a moment…and in one motion, his arms and body suddenly jerked downward, letting out a quick and loud exhale of air from his mouth, as the blinding blade mercilessly sliced downward. The wind blew strong, and the man’s body remained in place.
It felt easier than last time, as well as the time before that, and the time before that.
Junichis body relaxed, a grimaced look on his face. This was his job. The divine job of utmost importance granted to him by the Lord. “This is justice under the Gods as they commanded the Lord. Few men can show such mercy to criminals. You are lucky, Junichi.” The hissing voice of Masao echoed in his mind.
The Lord never once spoke to Junichi directly. He only nodded.
The glistening scarlet on his blade echoed the three lives it had taken. He swung the blade once to clean it off, and then sheathed it in one slow motion. A distinct, shriveled and torn crimson leaf caught his eye, floating along the rivers current, into the horizon, and away. And as he rose to his feet with the fourth victim of the Lord, he noticed the lone crimson leaf that caught his eye earlier had left the now empty tree.
AAMER KHAN: I am Aamer Khan, a Junior Informatics major in SUNY Albany. I am a transfer student from both SUNY Plattsburgh & Hudson Valley Community College. Although born in Albany, I moved very soon after to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for most of my life, and then lived in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and now back in New York for University. // I love to create. I love to write stories. I love to write poetry. I love to draw characters, I love to bring them to life. I love to make music, I love to think, and I love to dream. // My dream job is to be an author and have a multimedia studio or company that creates animated media and video games. My goal, no matter the form of media, is to inspire an audience and introduce them to a world where they feel involved. I want them to remember these works in their hearts. Most importantly, I want to impact their lives with a strong positive message. Live in the moment, live to love, and love life. // Believe