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Red Snow

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Yuki douji stood at the edge of town, watching its inhabitants go about their day. He had been attracted to this village, like all youkai, by the swirling negative energies around it. Anger, Fear, Grief, Anxiety, emotions mixing into a chaotic buffet that would make any youkai’s mouth water. He catches glimpses of said youkai scampering around the town, attaching themselves to the villagers who were completely oblivious as they tried to make ends meet.

 

Yuki douji took a deep breath as the first specks of snow started to fall. It was not as if he was bothered by the cold. No, it was the complete opposite. As a youkai born from snow and ice he finds comfort in the cold. However, weeks of trudging alone through a snow covered landscape had somehow taken its toll on him and now he wanted a place to rest.

 

Gliding down like a snowflake, he made his way towards the center of town, bracing himself as he stepped into the thick miasma. He felt is pulse quicken, his senses somehow dulling, his throat aching. The effects of the swirling energies around him. He landed gracefully on the roof of one of the houses, taking deep steadying breaths to calm himself. Closer than he was before, he now had a perfect view of the drunken frenzy that the the other youkai are indulging themselves in. Siphoning off the humans like leeches. As of now they were only absorbing the negative emotions lingering in the air, soon enough they will be taking the life force of their host, and finally once they have grown strong, they will feast on flesh and blood. The other youkai looked up at him warily. It was not like he looked intimidating, he was short like a child, his white hair looked as menacing as freshly fallen snow, his face didn’t contort like that of an ogre, neither did he have claws or fangs, two short horns maybe but they looked like two small bumps rather than horns. Some might even say he looked cute. Yuki douji dismissed them with a huff. He knew they weren’t afraid of him, they were afraid of the blade he held in his hands.

 

Smooth and elegant. Beautiful yet deadly. The blade shone a bright blue as it reflected the color of the sky. It had been a gift. A relic that gave Yuki douji his life. A relic that once belonged to Tamamo-no-Mae, the great fox that now had Kyoto under siege. Perhaps it was his energy they were sensing. Yuki douji’s grip on the blade tightened. He needed to find the fox as soon as possible, he needed to end this game of cat and mouse with Tamamo-no-Mae.

 

After a quick search of his surroundings he found the place he was looking for. A house on the other side of the village. Its windows were shut tight, there was no firewood stacked outside, the roof creaked with the barest wind. Abandoned. A perfect place for a youkai to take up residence. He cracked open the door and slipped inside.

 

The interior looked as abandoned as it was outside. A layer of dust had covered everything, the cold permeating the stale air, and only the barest of natural light came in through the shoji paper. Yuki douji allowed himself a temporary respite from his constant gliding, landing on the floorboards with a creak. But then he froze. The sound that came from the floorboards was louder than he had anticipated, true, but he had heard a distinct sound that came from inside the house. A sharp intake of breath. A gasp.

 

”Papa? Is that you?” A voice called out from inside the house.

 

Yuki douji was at a loss. Had the miasma that polluted the air dulled his senses so? Surely he could have sensed the life force of a human the moment he entered. He sighed and turned to leave.

 

”Wait… don’t go.” The voice called out to him again.

 

He stopped.

 

“What do you want?” Yuki douji asked, making his voice as deep as possible.

 

”Can you get my mama? Please? I’m awfully sick. I’ve been calling her but she doesn’t answer .” It groaned.

 

He took a quick glance at the door that was just a couple of steps away from him and sighed. He had always been a softie. Helping others even when he wasn’t asked to. That was why his journey to Kyoto had taken him so long, that was why the old couple had taken a liking to him.

 

“Where is she?” He asked, foot steps thumping as he made his way inside.

 

“The room on the right, the furthest down the hall.”

 

Yuki douji found the door and stood in front of it. He found it useless to try and call out something that wasn’t there. He couldn’t sense anything inside the room, alive or otherwise. He looked back towards the direction of the common room, to where the owner of the voice was. He was fairly certain the house was empty before he entered, like he was fairly certain that no one was in the other room right now. Unless his senses betrayed him again.

 

“Madam? Madam? Are you there? Someone out here needs your help.” He called out, opening the door. He gagged. Cold air and an unbearable scent of anger and hatred washed over him. Covering his face with his sleeve he stepped inside. The room was a mess, mattresses were still on the floor, articles of clothing scattered everywhere, a puddle of water forming under a fully opened window. No wonder it was cold. Closing the window with a soft click, Yuki douji made his way out of the room and closed the door behind him. Finally freeing himself from the unforgiving stench.

 

“Mama?” The voice called out again.

 

“Your mother isn’t here. You’re the only one in this house.”

 

“Really? I never even heard her come out.”

 

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

 

“Do you have food? Even if its just a little.”

 

Yuki douji opened the door to the common room and froze. A boy, barely nine years old, lay on the floor. His legs were covered by piles of blankets and clothes, a futile effort to stay warm. He was so thin that his eyes were sunken and that it looked like his skin was the only thing keeping his bones together. Yuki douji tiptoed his way towards the boy, carefully avoiding the pools of filth that spilled under the blankets and the rotten garbage that was scattered around him.

 

“What’s wrong? What happened?” Yuki douji asked, kneeling beside the boy.

 

“Stomach hurts. So hungry.” The boy answered. Looking up at Yuki douji with glazed eyes. Looking but not actually seeing.

 

“What’s your name?” Yuki douji asked but the boy simply groaned.

 

“What’s your name?” He asked again, this time a bit louder.

 

“M-Mama said to say your name first before asking some one else’s.”

 

Yuki douji stifled a chuckle. He was dying but still the boy was concerned with decorum. He smiled.

 

“I’m sorry. Where are my manners. My name is Koyuki.” He said, offering the nickname the old couple had given him. It meant “Little Snow”. A bit of nostalgia snaking its way into his throat.

 

“Kow-yu-ke?” The boy repeated in a delirious daze.

 

“Yes. Koyuki. And you are?”

 

Sho…ichi.”

 

Shoichi-kun then.” Yuki douji said, sitting the boy up and propping him against his leg.

 

Shoichi-kun did you eat any of these?” He asked, gesturing towards the garbage and to a pot sitting a few feet away that stank like rot. Shoichi nodded weakly and loss consciousness shortly after.

 

Laying the boy down gently, Yuki douji looked at his surroundings and sighed. This was twice today that he had felt lost and he feared he was going to make it a habit. Looking at the boy, it would have been easy to leave him and let nature takes its course. It would have been a mercy to end his life with a quick stab. But Yuki douji was not like that. Instead of doing either of that he started a fire and began cleaning. He swept all the rotten garbage out of the house, even started to cook stew, the only recipe he remembered from his time with the old couple. He even tailored himself to look human. Changing his hair to black and hiding his horns just so the boy wouldn’t be scared of him when he would wake. And soon enough he did. Yuki douji was in the middle of bathing him when he woke up with a start, limbs flinging in a confused frenzy.

 

“Be still. I’m not going to hurt you.” Yuki douji cooed. Catching both of the boy’s hand and holding it in an iron grip.

 

“W-Who are you? What are you doing to me?” The boy asked, panting.

 

“I am giving you a bath. You were covered in filth” Yuki douji replied, wrinkling his nose.

 

“You’re… you’re the traveller. The one that looked for mama.”

 

Yuki douji nodded and let go of his hands. “Let me finish bathing you before the cold sets in.”

 

The boy, Shoichi, tried to protest but soon enough his objection died down into a murmur.

 

Now that there was adequate lighting Yuki douji saw the extent of how near Shoichi was to dying. He could trace every single bone through his skin and he looked as if a single gust of wind might blow him away. Occasionally, Yuki douji’s fingers would brush against Shoichi’s skin, sending shivers down the boy’s spine.

 

“Your hands are cold.”

 

“Sorry. I guess I haven’t warmed up myself.” Yuki douji lied. As a youkai of frost, Yuki douji has never found himself warm. His skin would always feel cold to the touch no matter what he did. Something that the old couple he had lived with commented on numerous occasions.

 

Finishing up, Yuki douji wiped the boy’s hand. He tried to hide his surprise when he saw that the boy was missing a finger, his right pinky to be exact.

 

“What happened?” He asked as nonchalantly as possible.

 

“The cold bit it off.” Shoichi answered, flexing his fingers as he did.

 

“Does it hurt?” He asked again to which the boy just shook his head.

 

After cleaning up, Yuki douji offered the boy a bowl of stew that he had made. With only a single carrot and a handful of rice that Yuki douji managed to steal from one of the neighbors of course it tasted bland. Nevertheless, Shoichi gulped it down in seconds. Yuki douji smiled at this, offering bowl after bowl until none was left.

 

“When was the last time you ate?”

 

“I don’t know. Five days ago?” The boy answered to which Yuki douji shook his head. If he had been late an hour or two the boy would have died. Another nameless soul ushered down the Sanzu river.

 

“This village. It had prepared poorly for the winter hasn’t it?”

 

Shoichi shook his head. “The elder said that food from the capital was coming. We just have to endure. That was what papa said too before he left with the caravan.”

 

Yuki douji scoffed. He knew what the capital was like nowadays and if this village was waiting aid from Kyoto then they will be greatly disappointed. The only way that they would get food from Kyoto was if Tamamo-no-Mae were to be removed from the capital.

 

“Mama… Where is she?” Shoichi asked, breaking him from his daze.

 

“I don’t know. You’re the only one here.”

 

“Oh… Do you know where she went?”

 

Yuki douji shook his head.

 

Silence stretched out between them as they were both lost for words. Only the sound of the house groaning against the wind and the crackling fire filled the air. Shoichi shifted uncomfortably in his bed, his eyes somehow finding the glinting blade that sat quietly near the doorway.

 

“That’s a pretty sword.” Shoichi said meekly, his voice sounding more like a squeak.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Don’t you put it in its sheath? Papa said it’ll grow dull if you don’t.”

 

“I lost my sheath in the mountains. The wind blew it away.” Yuki douji lied, rubbing the indentation in his chest. Its sheath was right here, hidden and bound clumsily in his yukata.

 

“Oh… That’s sad.” The boy admitted, shoulders sagging. Silence again.

 

“Why do-.” The boy started but Yuki douji cut him off, growing a bit irritated.

 

“Why don’t we get some rest. It is getting awfully late.” He offered to which the boy nodded.

 

Yuki douji was about to head for his own bed when he felt something tugging on his clothes.

 

“C-Can you stay here? Please?”

 

“Why? Is something wrong?”

 

“T-The wind… It sounds scary. Only for a little bit. Please? Just until I fall asleep.” The boy pleaded.

 

Defeated and utterly exhausted Yuki douji obliged. Sitting beside the boy’s bed. Content, Shoichi purred as he settled into his blanket and was asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. Yuki douji settled in as well. There were still things he didn’t understand about humans, one of which was fear. Still he understood enough from his time with the old couple to stay. Crossing his arms, he too closed his eyes and slept.

 

In the days that followed he would undergo the same routine. After nursing Shoichi he would leave for the day under the pretense of hunting and scavenging for food when he was just actually taking small morsels from the other villagers. This went on for days and before Yuki douji even realized he had been at the village for a month. Shoichi on the other hand was turning out for the better. After a week of regular meals and rest, the boy had managed to pull himself up and had started helping around the house. Bringing in firewood when needed, starting a fire when it got dark. Small chores, but still it had made him look a lot less sickly. Some fat had finally found its way into his scrawny limbs, his cheeks had started to puff out, and his skin had started to lose its pale sickly color. Yuki douji was pleased at the boy’s development, even bringing a pair of sweet bean filled manju that Shoichi devoured in an instant. However, no matter how he may emulate humans he was still youkai and had eccentricities that even young Shoichi started to notice.

 

Yuki-nii, why do you never sit by the fire?” The young boy asked one night. Lying belly down in front of the fire, wrapped in layers of blankets.

 

Yuki douji smiled at the nickname Shoichi had given him. “I prefer not to get too warm that’s all.”

 

“But its freezing!.” The boy protested, shivering to prove his point.

 

“Really? I hadn’t even noticed.” Yuki douji chuckled but of course he did notice. He even might have been the reason the house was as cold as it was. Chilling winds had always followed him wherever he went.

 

“You’re weird.” The boy pouted and fell silent. “Hey why don’t you ever eat with me?”

 

“I told you before. I eat outside when I’m hunting.”

 

“How about baths?”

 

“Outside when I’m hunting.”

 

“Liar! Its too cold to take a bath outside.” Shoichi frowned to which Yuki douji just chuckled.

 

“I told you. I don’t mind the cold.”

 

“Liar! Nobody can stand that much cold.”

 

Yuki douji laughed and sat down beside him like he always does before bed. “Enough questions. Time to sleep.”

 

Offering a slight protest, the boy eventually settled down and slept. Yuki douji on the other hand was wide awake. There was something that had been bothering him for quite some time. Something that he had been postponing for days, even weeks. He needed to go to Kyoto. He needed to end Tamamo-no-Mae. Staring silently into the fire, he contemplated what he was about to do. The thought of Shoichi alone was unbearable for him. It caused something to stir from inside his chest, a tugging feeling, an ache that he has never known before. It was long after the embers had died out that he finally decided. Snatching up his blade he quietly glided towards the door.

 

“You’re leaving too?” Shoichi asked. His back turned towards the floating youkai.

 

“I’m sorry. But I have to go.”

 

“Will you come back?”

 

Yuki douji winced. He doesn’t know what will happen when he gets to the capital. He doesn’t know what will happen when he finally drives his blade into Tamamo-no-Mae. Still he needed to give the boy something. A shred of hope. A lingering promise. Hovering gracefully, he took the boy’s right hand from behind and rubbed the stump where his pinky finger had been.

 

“I will. I promise.”

 

The boy sobbed. Perhaps he knew Yuki douji was lying, perhaps the feeling of being left behind was too much for him. However, before he could even sit up and stop the youkai from leaving Yuki douji was gone.

 

Yuki douji sped through the air. He felt hurt, a different kind of pain that he never experience before. He flew straight up the mountain, letting the wind have its way with him. Throwing him upside down, over and under.The same thing he was feeling inside his chest. Confused. Chaotic. When it finally stopped, he allowed himself to plummet straight down unto the snow, hoping the cold will help soothe this new feeling he had. It seemed as if the more he sped away from the village the stronger the aching became. He sighed.

 

“What’s wrong with me?” He asked the wind to which it gave no response. He touched his chest again, tracing the hollowed out sheath where his heart should be. This feeling, this strong aching pull he felt was completely foreign to him. It was different from the pull of negative energies he had grown accustomed to. It had felt cleaner. Purer.

 

“Is this… love?” He asked himself to which he got no answer.

 

He laid there for days on end, trying to sort his feelings. It was only on the fourth night when he caught scent of something and sat up. It was faint, barely noticeable. But he was familiar with this salty metallic scent, he had smelt it too many times not to. His pulse quickened, fear gripping through him as one thing immediately came into his mind.

 

Shoichi! 

 

Speeding through snow and ice, he reached the village in about an hour and found that the miasma had grown thicker and denser. He pierced through the thick veil and instantly felt his mouth water, his body fighting off the bloodlust and rage that threatened to take him over. He glanced at the other youkai that were prowling the empty streets. Eyes dilated in a fevered frenzy, siphoning as much as they can from the chaotic energy around them. Yuki douji paid no heed to them as he pushed onwards. Reaching his destination, he opened the door with a slam. Not bothering to let his feet touch the ground, the youkai glided through the empty house. Searching from room to room.

 

Shoichi!” He called out but didn’t get an answer.

 

Shoichi!” Still nothing.

 

Making his way outside, Yuki douji headed straight for the center of the village. A strong sense of unease building inside him as the scent of blood grew stronger and stronger. Reaching his destination, he felt despair grip his entire body. Bodies. Piles of them. Cold. Lifeless. He watched in horror as several men threw another one into the pile. Their blades were drawn and bloodied. He watched as several other youkai started devouring the corpses. Claws and fangs sinking into cold flesh. His chest tightened, his breath becoming ragged. He could see it again, the image of the old couple dissolving midst a raging flame. Shoichi, the little boy whom he had learned to love, lying cold and lifeless on the ground. He felt his breath hitching at his throat as he tried to stifle a sob. He could feel it, his negative emotions adding to the already surging storm around him, then, in an instant. He let himself be swallowed by the miasma. His hand holding the blade ceased to tremble, his breath slow and steady. For the first time in his life he felt cold. Numb. Setting his sights onto the men just a few feet away from him, he leaped, blade raised above his head, then swung it down fast.

 

He had killed them all in a matter of hours. youkai and human alike. He didn’t care. The rage had changed him. The bloodlust had consumed him. The two stubby horns he had were now long and black, his hair had grown longer now reaching down to his hips, his eyes once blue like the sky had turned crimson, the fingers on his hands and feet were now as black as charcoal. Even his clothes had been ripped, revealing his skin that had somehow turned pale like porcelain, the sheath in his chest once elegant and intricate was now covered with blood and scratches. He had turned into a demon. He was different. He felt different.

 

He squeezed the blade he held in his hands. Its touch the only thing that felt familiar. The blade had changed together with him. Its elegant curved edge now serrated, its crystal like appearance now jet black. He raised the blade high above his head, and somewhat felt pride well up inside of him. This isn’t the same blade that Tamamo-no-Mae had given him. This isn’t the same blade that the other youkai feared. This was something different. He had made it its own. It had tasted the blood of dozens of human and youkai and it hungered for more. Yuki douji looked towards the direction of Kyoto and started to glide. A small smile creeping over his face as he imagined running the fox through with his blade, the fox’s blood covering his hands. It excited him. It exhilarated him.

 

But then he stopped. He felt something tugging at the loose end of his clothes. It was a hand. A disembodied hand, red as blood. It was an Akateko, a small youkai born from death. It gripped Yuki douji’s clothes so hard that no matter what he did he couldn’t shake it off. Irritated, he snatched up the small creature and gripped it tight. Intent on crushing the poor thing.

 

It’s cold.

 

“What?” Yuki douji barked.

 

You’re hand… its cold.

 

Yuki douji’s grip loosened. “What are you talking about?” He asked but the small youkai gave no reply.

 

Squirming free from his hold the Akateko made his way up his arm. Surprised, Yuki douji swatted at the creature sending it flying to the snow, but it was relentless. Each time Yuki douji threw it the creature somehow manages to find its way to him. Climbing all over his body like a lizard. He had tried stabbing it, slicing it, encasing it in ice. Still it endured. Fed up, Yuki douji allowed the little creature to have its way with him. It crawled slowly up his leg and headed straight to his neck. When it reached its perch it gently rubbed itself on Yuki douji, caressing his cheek.

 

You’re cold… I like the cold now. The small youkai purred.

 

Yuki douji closed his eyes and found himself leaning into the creature. A small patch of warmth on his ice cold body. Yuki douji touched the small creature to pet it. He traced each crease it had, each cut and bump. Then his fingers felt something familiar. A stump where a pinky finger had been.

 

Shoichi?” Yuki douji gasped, tears welling in his eyes. His breath hitching at his throat. As soon as he spoke those words the small creature started rubbing itself harder on him, nuzzling itself into his neck. It was then that Yuki douji felt something inside him break. The dam that he had made somehow burst and was flooding him with emotions he couldn’t quite comprehend.

 

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Yuki douji cried, snatching up the Akateko and burying it on his face. His tears streaming down like faucets as he sobbed and sniffled. When he had calmed down Yuki douji was surprised to see he was back to his old self. No more black horns and fingers, no more red eyes, no more jagged edges and bloodied blades. He was back to normal. He looked at the sentient fluff of snow that had replaced the disembodied hand. Its long yellow ears twitching as it stared back at him with its small red eyes. He nuzzled the small creature with his nose to which it responded with delight. Setting the creature on top of his head he smiled. He felt lighter. As if a huge burden had somehow been lifted off his chest. Sure he still had to put an end to Tamamo-no-Mae but he would do it without losing himself to rage and hate. The small fluff jumped on his head excitedly.

 

“Shall we go Shoichi-kun?”