DISCLAIMER: None needed really, as this is my story, although I should perhaps mentioned that I've borrowed a bit from Japanese folklore.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Like everything else I've written this story is also available at my own fic site, http://ryufic.blogspot.se/
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To rosmari.karlssonfaltin[at]telia.com
By Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson
She was born one night high on the snow-covered mountain, greeted into the world by the worst snowstorm to have passed in an age. When three days later her weakened mother gathered enough strength to hold her newborn child in trembling pale arms and venture out from the barren cave where the birth had taken place, the rage of the elements gentled and stilled as if to greet the infant kindly. For this reason she was given the name Koyuki, from the light dust of snow that crowned her tiny head in blessing.
Although born in the higher places of the mountain where few creatures ventured and none lived, Koyuki would spend most of her childhood, indeed her life, in the area just below there, in the vast snow-covered forest where life was harsh but still thrived in the same way it had since the mountains themselves were young. The forest teemed with struggling life, but for all the vastness of their mountain, there existed no other creature like Koyuki and her mother there. Koyuki's childhood was marked by white and silence, but she was happy. Koyuki's mother was her whole world, her mother and their mountain.
Time passed and Koyuki grew older, as all children do. Eventually she was old enough that, despite not yet being adult, Koyuki's mother would trust Koyuki to make her own paths over the mountainside. It was their purpose and sacred duty to guard and protect and nurture the mountain, and as such mother and daughter travelled far and wide in the forest to tend it, Koyuki already skilled enough that she could do so on her own. It was not a lonely task, for even without the mountain around them to keep them company, mother and daughter were bound in ways no distance could break, always knowing each other's presence even when the other was not nearby.
Then the day came when young Koyuki, she who danced with bare feet in drifts of snow without feeling the cold, felt a chill sweep over the forest and an unfamiliar emotion fill her heart. Koyuki felt fear, and the mountain itself whispered in warning around her, causing her heart to pound unfamiliarly in her trembling chest. Instinctively Koyuki raised her head to stare into the distance in the direction she knew her mother was located, and for a moment she held her breath.
Something bad was moving on the mountain that day, and it was moving towards Koyuki's mother.
Naked white feet raced over the snow in an effort to reach her mother in time, but to Koyuki's dread as far as her senses could reach the mountain had gone silent, a horrible silence unlike any Koyuki had experienced before. In her heart she could feel her mother's call, warning Koyuki not to come near, and Koyuki, disobeying her beloved mother for the first time, tried to make her feet move even faster.
It was over before Koyuki managed to reach her mother's side, and Koyuki knew this. The horrible soul-wrenching pain she felt inside suddenly, and then the silence in that place inside where her mother had always existed, made this abundantly clear, yet Koyuki blindly raced on. Her mind went blank with the pain and her body continued on its own, until she stumbled into the clearing where her mother's body lay.
Koyuki's mother lay there, broken, blending into the snow yet soiled horribly by vast amounts of red blood. Koyuki fell to her knees next to her mother's body, but even as she reached with numbed hands and even more numbed senses for her cherished mother she knew that life had already left this shattered husk. The tears that in fear and urgency had been pushed back began making their tracks down white cheeks unbidden, and sounds behind her wrenched Koyuki's attention away from the body of her only family.
There were four of them, these dark and hideous creatures, and the mountain itself recoiled at their wrongness. Koyuki's senses did as well, even their stench was foul and full of smoke and death and dirt, and their voices jarring and harsh, cutting the air like their bodies cut the snow when they moved. Koyuki had never seen these creatures before, yet she knew what they were... her mother had spoken of them, in a few warning whispers and always with a promise to tell more when Koyuki was older and better able to understand.
The humans moved towards Koyuki with voices and tools raised, filling her senses with their rage, fear and killing intent, the blood of Koyuki's gentle mother staining their clothes and their weapons. These cruel and horrible beings had ended Rikka's life and left Koyuki alone in the world.
A madness overtook Koyuki then, there was no other way she could describe what happened next. Rage and fear and grief welled up in Koyuki in such great amount that it drowned out everything... and the mountain responded. The skies turned as black as Koyuki's grief, and the winds as cold and as raging as her fury, driving the humans backwards in the snow. The cold trapped them in place, and when Koyuki began screaming the cold froze flailing limbs until they were solid ice. The cold continued until the contorted shapes burst into clouds of tiny specks of dirty ice, which the raging winds claimed and carried far, far away from there, erasing all traces of these beings save for the still body of Koyuki's mother.
Koyuki screamed and the storm continued to rage until Koyuki had screamed herself into a deep, exhausted sleep. Snow covered them both as the weather gentled, and underneath this blanket of white Koyuki slept for a long time, the forest standing silent watch over its now solitary guardian.
In the years to come, when Koyuki minded the forest alone, human intruders were few and far between, but there still were a handful of straying travellers whose paths took them too far up the mountainside and thus into Koyuki's realm. While these encounters were never pleasant Koyuki still managed to avoid causing more death, as her actions the day her mother was murdered weighed heavily on her conscience, and the humans of the villages below learned well to fear the mountain's white guardian. The tales of the more violent encounters, when men came into the forest intending to kill, sometimes even intending to kill Koyuki herself, was often whispered in the villages on dark nights, frightening the young and spreading the word of the dangerous monster of the frozen peaks. The tales of how Koyuki at times had, unseen and unheard, steered a lost and confused wanderer back to the path down the mountain before the cold claimed his or her life were never mentioned, but Koyuki desired neither thanks nor fear. She merely wished to be left alone.
Time passed by, and if generations lived and died in the villages below Koyuki never noticed. She herself grew slowly until finally she was an adult, and although her life was solitary and upon occasion lonely, she felt content. Koyuki needed nothing which the forest did not provide for her.
Until one day when the forest alerted her to the presence of yet another human trespasser. Somewhat annoyed that these awful creatures did not seem able to learn to stay away from her domain Koyuki carefully made her way towards where the presence was felt, making sure not to be seen until she could decide whether it was just a lost wanderer that had stumbled into places he ought not be, or whether it was someone she must deal with more directly.
As she caught up with the human this time Koyuki was surprised to note that the creature had ventured surprisingly far into her realm before calling notice to itself, something which was rare indeed. Koyuki could also feel no malice, no anger or intent to kill coming from this person, though fear, grief and shame called out to her clearly. Thinking it was a lost wanderer Koyuki drew closer still yet kept out of sight.
The blood on the snow around the hunched figure crawled up against the base of a gnarled tree alerted Koyuki to the fact that this human was badly wounded, and it was easy to see that the cold and the trek into the deep woods had drained what remained of its strength. This creature would not be able to turn back where it had come from even if Koyuki lent it aid.
As she was not a cruel person Koyuki felt a touch of regret at the knowledge that this creature would end its life there, alone under a small tree in the forest, but death was a part of life on the mountain and nothing out of the ordinary. When the mountain claimed a life it just did, and Koyuki had learned not to try to intervene.
Something was different about this human though, something which made Koyuki pause and take notice.
Perhaps it was the voice that did it. The human was speaking to itself, and although slightly raspy and out of breath from its ordeal, the human had a surprisingly pleasant voice. It reminded Koyuki of how long it had been since she spoke to anyone, how long it had been since anyone spoke to her, and Koyuki was overcome with a longing to continue to listen while she could.
From what the human spoke of Koyuki realised it was being hunted by its own, that other humans had inflicted its wounds and chased it into Koyuki's forest. Indeed they were chasing it still, as when Koyuki stretched out her senses she felt a presence of several humans on the edge of her territory.
Her attention snapped back to the human before her as to Koyuki's shock the human lay down in the snow and wept. The sight brought back memories of her own tears at her mother's death, and impulsively Koyuki decided on a course of action.
Silently asking the tree to shelter the human until her return, Koyuki set out at high speed to intercept the group of humans skirting her borders. By the time she caught up with them they had committed themselves to a path into the forest but had not yet gone so far that Koyuki normally would do more than convey a warning by wind and cold to turn back. This time however for some reason Koyuki found that she wished to frighten, and frighten well.
It was with a sense of satisfaction that she watched, moments later, the noisy humans run away from her in abject terror, several of them dropping their weapons in their haste, and all of them marked in some way or other by frostbite or tiny cuts that served to remind them what ice and frozen winds could do at Koyuki's bidding. Unlike the bleeding human Koyuki had left behind to chase these intruders away, none of them were seriously injured, not even the one Koyuki had seen fit hurl a ways down the sloping ground with a gust of wind. Koyuki did after all not wish to cause harm or death, even to them.
As she raced back to the bleeding human in the forest it occurred to Koyuki that she was indeed satisfied with her actions... but if she also knew why she had chosen to do this it would make her feel much more at ease.
When she returned she found the human already unconscious beneath the tree. For a long moment Koyuki debated with herself, honestly at a loss at what to do. The human would die if left there, and carrying it to the edge of Koyuki's forest would be of no help even if the other humans did not come back to finish what they had started. Even if Koyuki pitied the creature for its suffering and its grief, she really should let the mountain have the life it had decided to claim.
It was with some consternation Koyuki instead found herself carrying the somewhat bulky form of the unconscious human on swift feet back to Koyuki's own nest, the sanctuary where truly no human should ever set foot.
After carrying the human inside and gently arranging the larger body on Koyuki's own sleeping place, it occurred to her that she did not know what else to do. A critical look at the torn and bloodied garments made them the first priority, and Koyuki with some difficulty managed to get them off her unconscious patient. The blue tint to the human's skin reminded Koyuki that these creatures required heat to survive, and she who had no need for heat nor light managed a small fire which warmed the small space rather quickly.
Water came next, for drinking but also for washing blood of the wounded limbs so that Koyuki might better see the extent of the human's injuries. It was with some surprise that Koyuki while cleaning the blood away discovered that the human in front of her was female, and despite size and colouring, not that differently shaped from herself. More bulging muscle of course and a few more harshly slanted planes, perhaps, when compared to Koyuki's own slender white shape, but still enough alike to be eerie. It was almost as if they were of the same kind.
Shaking the strange notion out of her head Koyuki set about to heal the gaping wounds with her abilities. From similar situations with small creatures of the mountain when Koyuki was a child she knew that although her powers would close that which was ruptured and no evidence would remain to show where the wounds had been, she could not substitute for the blood and strength lost that way. If she truly wished for the human to survive, Koyuki would have to lend it... no, her, some of Koyuki's own strength until recovery was underway. Was she willing to go so far as to share some of her own life-force with a human?
Snorting slightly in annoyance at herself and the situation Koyuki nonetheless pulled her blanket over the naked form on her bedding, and set about to prepare for the coming night and day, knowing that once she had shared herself with the human she, too, would sleep deeply and for some time.
Once the fire was stocked and tended and all traces outside properly covered, Koyuki allowed her garments to shimmer into mist and disappear before nudging not entirely gently the unconscious human further towards the edge of her small bedding. Little space was left by the cave wall for Koyuki to squeeze into, leaving her with the unpalatable position to drape part of her body atop the human, but if Koyuki was going to share her very life-force with this creature, actually touching it seemed a petty thing to have qualms about.
She wondered briefly what her mother would have thought of these events and of Koyuki's sudden and inexplicable involvement with one of these ghastly humans as she slid silently underneath the blanket to arrange her body as well as she could.
It was not until after the strenuous procedure by which Koyuki shared her strength with the prone figure that the startling discovery was made. Once her concentration was no longer needed for that particular usage of her abilities and Koyuki relaxed against the human woman's side, something her senses had noted but which Koyuki had pushed to the rear of her consciousness stepped up for attention.
Oh, what heat... what sweet, delicious foreign heat. She who felt neither heat nor cold gasped at the sensation of the human's skin against her own, never had she imagined such a wonder as this. Even though just warming back up from her frozen state the heat coming off this human's body seared against Koyuki's skin, and she trembled in pleasure, instinct causing Koyuki to burrow in closer, to try to absorb more even as immense fatigue overcame her and Koyuki was plunged into deep, dreamless sleep.
When next Koyuki awoke a day had passed, much as she had expected. The strangely addictive sensation of heat remained and Koyuki allowed herself another moment to revel in it, opting to study this human a bit more closely while she still slept. The blue tinge was gone, leaving the human coloured a dark reddish brown compared to Koyuki's own white skin, and it looked more healthy this way. It looked perhaps a bit coarse to Koyuki's eyes but it was surprisingly smooth and soft to the touch, much like the dark and slightly knotted hair that Koyuki found rather pretty.
The sleeping face was built with strong features, but smooth and even and not unpleasant to look at, unlike the hideous other humans Koyuki had seen. Since Koyuki had cleaned the human herself the lack of dirt was not surprising, but she had not expected the human's scent to be as pleasant as it was, a curious earthen scent that was compelling and not overbearing to Koyuki's sensitive nose even though the human woman had started sweating in fever. This was not at all what Koyuki had come to expect of humans, and she wondered what set this one so apart from the others.
Koyuki got the fire burning better again and the sweating human washed and attended before leaving for a brief survey in the night, though especially giving the restlessly sleeping woman water proved difficult and somewhat messy before she came up with a better way, and Koyuki was still too tired to remain gone for very long. Still, the night was calm and uneventful, and Koyuki returned at dawn with more wood before lying down to sleep once more. Several days passed this way before Koyuki's strength was back to normal, yet the human did not have as speedy a recovery. It worried Koyuki that the human would not wake for more than brief moments, during which her mind was addled with fever visions and dark tidings, and never quite coherent. Koyuki's voice and touch seemed to soothe the woman's fears in those moments, and so Koyuki still remained by her side more than she had quite intended.
It would have been about what Koyuki expected if when the time came that dark eyes opened to peer tiredly at the surroundings without the haze of fever dreams clouding them that fear had replaced the fever, at least when the gaze turned wearily towards Koyuki herself. Koyuki knew well by now what fear her very appearance instilled in humans, fear and rage in equal amounts, and she was somewhat unsure of what she should do when her charge would react to her presence the same way. This did not happen, however.
At first the tired human did not quite seem able to focus her sight, and once she did the dark eyes did for a moment widen, accompanied by a flash of surprise and something else which Koyuki could not quite make out, but there was no rage and no real fear, only perhaps a sense of resignation. It startled her badly when the human mustered a weak but toothy smile and a feeble motion of greeting. It caused Koyuki's cheeks to heat unexpectedly and her own responding greeting became somewhat more effusively polite than she had intended, something which seemed to amuse the human a great deal.
Koyuki pouted in indignation and embarrassment and fussed with her clothing, not looking at her amused patient until the human croaked something unintelligible with a voice unused for quite some time and a throat gone far too dry shape anything recognisable. Koyuki immediately went for water, and, without giving it much thought, put a finger in the human's mouth to pull her jaw to open and administer it the way she had done thus far. It was only the overwhelming sense of embarrassment that washed over her coming from her patient that alerted Koyuki that the situation had changed and it was perhaps no longer such a good idea. Somewhat bewildered as to exactly why Koyuki still resolved that she would find another way to bring the human water next time.
The human did not stay awake for very long after swallowing the offered water, and it worried Koyuki even more that it seemed her charge was not recovering her strength at all. She remained awake only long enough to whisper her name and receive Koyuki's name in return, before the weak mumblings became incoherent and sleep beckoned her back under.
At least the brief communication had left Koyuki with a name to call the stranger, and for a while seemed although Koyuki could tell no improvement in strength, at least the waking moments grew a fraction longer and more frequent. During the snippets of communication managed in those brief moments Koyuki learned quite a bit about her new companion.
Hikari, for that was the human woman's name, was the eldest child of four as well as the only daughter born to a family of farmers of little note or wealth in the village furthest up towards Koyuki's mountain. Her childhood and passage into adulthood had held its share of hardships beyond the hard work and sometimes poverty that life beneath the mountaintop could bring, as Hikari was found too tall and strong for a woman of her village, betraying a heritance from mother's blood that other humans tended to frown upon. When Hikari in her ninth year unwittingly bested the village boys in skill and strength it brought the consequences that the marriage contract Hikari's father had arranged for her at birth was annulled, and, after her own father had vented his anger upon the child, she was from that moment on considered ugly and unfit for marriage. She had come to learn to expect and bear a certain level of violence from her surroundings, and though reasonably welcome in work, her person was otherwise shunned.
Koyuki wheedled out through the sparse conversations and the emotions that accompanied them that as Hikari entered adulthood there had been one that did not shun her presence. Another young woman at the village accepted Hikari's friendship, but something bad had happened and this was the reason the men in rage had tried to end Hikari's life. It took some doing but Koyuki managed to grasp the likely course of events, though she did not quite understand them herself: Hikari had become enamoured with her friend, so much so that she had dared approach the other girl and confessed her feelings.
The other woman had encouraged Hikari's affections and returned them in kind, or so it had seemed, sharing a few forbidden moments in secret. When the two had been found out however the other woman had turned and blamed Hikari, claiming ignorance to Hikari's intentions and that she had been forced by Hikari's superior strength. This time the brutal beatings had been meant to kill, and severely injured Hikari had fled the only way she could, up the mountain where few among the villagers would dare to follow even in their rage.
Koyuki came to realise that whatever the events that had brought Hikari to the forest, Hikari had not only expected to die, she seemed to wish it as well. This also seemed to be the reason why Hikari showed no fear before Koyuki's visage, the dark-haired human thought she had nothing left but death and thought whatever way Koyuki would choose to end her life would not be any worse than what the villagers would have given her.
It annoyed Koyuki somewhat that after all the effort she had put into healing this stubborn creature, the human opted to lay there and fatalistically await her end without trying to fight it, nevermind the fact that Hikari thought Koyuki would go to such lengths only to kill regardless later.
Once she had wrapped her mind around these thoughts, Koyuki scolded her human patient at length, to which Hikari wide-eyed and abashed apologised, and appeared to reconsider her assumptions regarding Koyuki's attentions at least.
Koyuki found that despite having to scold the silly human at times, she still enjoyed it greatly when Hikari was awake and able to talk for a while. She found that like her scent, Hikari's voice was pleasant and appealed to her senses, and it had been so very long since Koyuki had been able to merely speak with someone without threatening them with bodily harm. She also enjoyed the ebb and flow of emotions coming off Hikari, or at least when Hikari was not caught up in misery and depression, especially the thrill of particular embarrassment Hikari emitted when Koyuki disrobed and lay down with Hikari at night. The sensation was nearly as pleasant as the desirable heat Hikari's body contained and that Koyuki incessantly craved.
But whatever slight increase in strength that had allowed Hikari's moment of coherence waned, and even greater fatigue seemed to seep in to replace it. Koyuki was anxious but did not know what to do, as she was already sharing her own strength and the results were that abysmal. There simply were no injuries left to treat.
The answer came when Koyuki attempted to feed the semi-conscious Hikari some more water by the new method of simply holding a handful of snow to Hikari's open lips and cause it to melt no faster than Hikari could swallow. This time however Hikari grasped Koyuki's arm with weak and trembling hands and pulled down, filling her mouth with the snow and swallowing it greedily.
Koyuki jumped back in startled outrage, certain that Hikari was attempting to cause herself harm, and in her upset pulled the blanket off Hikari's body to lay her head down to listen for whatever adverse reaction she would have to the frozen matter. She was prepared to use her healing powers once more when she heard the strange sound emitted from Hikari's insides once the snow had reached her stomach.
It was then that Koyuki realised that unlike herself, humans like Hikari needed... to eat. The land itself sustained Koyuki's energy, and so the act of eating was something unfamiliar to her although she still drank water upon occasion, though very rarely compared to her human companion. In a state of panic Koyuki wondered what she could do, if Hikari like the animals of the forest required sustenance that way. She did not know whether humans ate the flesh of the furred things, some particular type of growing thing, or even the burrowing life found under the bark of trees. How was she to find out which was needed, and how would she get it to the mostly unconscious Hikari?
As Koyuki raced through the forest in search of these things she recalled how humans other than Hikari seemed awash in the rancid stench of rotting furred things and swimming things, and although Hikari did not, surely that was a sign? Grateful that she could avoid chasing down some small furry life with the intention of ending it, Koyuki made her way towards the lake, treading fearlessly and effortlessly across thin edges of ice to plunge her white arm into the rushes and pluck a squirming silver-scaled thing half as long and thrice as wide from its depths.
A few tears traced down Koyuki's pale cheeks for the painful struggle of the creature in her arms, as she raced back through the forest to return to Hikari's side. She would have spared the silver creature had not Hikari's suffering face been clear to her mind's eye, and it was with a pain in her heart that she felt the helpless animal die finally as Koyuki was about to enter the cave where Hikari rested. As she knelt beside Hikari's still form and put her burden down, with a small involuntary shudder, Koyuki wondered how she was to feed this to Hikari.
How did humans go about such things? After some consideration Koyuki used a sharp piece of ice to cut small slivers of the wobbly flesh, all the while inwardly asking the creature for forgiveness for the disfiguration and convincing herself of the necessity for the next step of her plan. Though fighting against her violent revulsion and overwhelming need to expel the sickening matter from her body, Koyuki chewed the slices as best she was able to before feeding the squishy mass to Hikari, the same way she had given her water before.
Once she had accomplished this to satisfaction the rest of the creature was secured away in snow for use in the upcoming days, and Koyuki herself spent a long time fervently purifying herself from the ghastly deed, while inside the cave Hikari slept on with a certainly far from full stomach yet at least no longer starving.
Days passed this way, with a clearly noticeable return of Hikari's strength. By the time there was nothing left of the fish to eat, Hikari had gotten strong enough to sit up by her own power. A second trip to the lake to bring another large silvery-scaled creature would be the last one Koyuki would need to make, as once that too had been finished Hikari was recovered enough to move about and, with some small aid from Koyuki at first, catch her own food. It relieved Koyuki greatly that not only did Hikari seem to be recovered at long last, but she would not need to go through the heartbreaking procedure of ending yet another creature's life when Hikari was strong enough to do it herself.
Somewhere during her being nursed back to health Hikari lost any lingering apprehension towards Koyuki she may have held and, while troubled by dark thoughts and sorrow at times, smiled and laughed and seemed to enjoy Koyuki's company. Koyuki as well enjoyed the presence of her human companion immensely, only now fully realising how lonely her life had been since her mother's death, and somehow never ceasing to marvel at the things Hikari would think to say or do. Surely this woman was not of the same kind as the vile beings that Koyuki despised, it simply could not be so.
Among the many things Koyuki came to admire about Hikari was her inventiveness. When it seemed that Hikari could not follow Koyuki out into the wide forest on her journeys because the soft white snow did not carry her weight, leaving Hikari embedded nearly to her hips in her attempt to follow Koyuki, Hikari wove circlets of slender wood to put upon her feet that somehow allowed her not to sink very deeply in the snow. Other wonders included the wooden cups and ladle that Hikari carved after Koyuki had fetched her one of the humans' forgotten blades, and the woven basket Hikari slung over her shoulder when they travelled, ready to carry whatever they needed back to their cave. That Hikari patiently explained to Koyuki that these things were not of her own invention but rather skills that had been taught her as a child did in no way lessen Koyuki's admiration.
A long time passed, and Koyuki and Hikari settled in well together, only the act of sleeping still causing some occasional moments of discomfort as Hikari still seemed prone to get embarrassed when Koyuki pressed her naked body against Hikari's in obvious pleasure. Still, Hikari grew the habit of holding Koyuki close and the two slept soundly this way despite the impracticality of their small bedding. Then one day Hikari wanted to know how long she had been with Koyuki, and Koyuki, whom had never learned to measure the passage of days and nights that way, could give no answer. Hikari then spent most of that day deep in thought before finally selecting a slender piece of wood the same length as her arm and marking it with a single line at one end.
There was no talk of leaving the mountain or of any wish to return to her fellow humans, and Koyuki breathed a sigh of relief. She had already come to realise that she did not ever want to part from this precious friend, and had worried lately that the day might come when Hikari would chose to return to her own kind. That very thought made Koyuki clutch Hikari a bit more closely in the night, wishing desperately to keep the soothing sound of Hikari's steady heartbeat right next to her where it belonged.
When the length of wood was covered with small marks that represented days, Hikari had a few things to discuss with Koyuki. By counting the days Hikari had discovered just how little and how seldom it was that she actually ate, and this in turn had made her wonder why it was that since waking up in Koyuki's cave Hikari no longer felt cold, and that even the sunniest day on fields of endless white could no longer blind her eyes.
Koyuki explained how she had shared her own lifeforce with Hikari in order to save her life, and how she was sharing it still. It seemed as if it was because Koyuki did not need to eat, did not sense the cold, and because her sight was never daunted by light or darkness that Hikari was spared a little of the same while sharing that essence. After Koyuki had soothed Hikari's fears that Koyuki was causing herself harm in her generosity, no further objections were voiced, and Koyuki was relieved that her friend did not seem to mind this connection between them.
There was one other thing that Hikari had on her mind, however, brought up by the discovery of how much time did pass seemingly unnoticed on the mountain. The cave in which they lived was comfortable enough, but it was small, and it had never been meant to house a fire or store fish for any amount of time... Hikari had thought about it for a while, and asked Koyuki if she thought the forest would consent to Hikari building them a home.
It took some explaining for Koyuki to understand what Hikari meant to do, but once she grasped the idea Koyuki led Hikari out into the forest until they found a glen where the shape of the land and the surrounding trees would hide a small house well from prying eyes until one was right upon it. It mattered little since Koyuki would intercept any straying humans well before they had wandered anywhere near that far into the forest, and even should such a home be discovered the cave would remain to return to, further up the mountain.
Koyuki wandered far and wide in the forest, alone, finding the right trees and carrying them back to the glen and the waiting Hikari. Hikari for her part used an axe Koyuki had managed to locate at the edge of her land to cut and shape the wood as needed, and then Koyuki would, with frightful ease, do what would otherwise take the strength of several men and jam the shaped timber deep into the frozen ground. The work was hard yet they both enjoyed it, and before too long a small hut with a tiny wooden veranda, a roughly shingled roof and a somewhat crude chimney stood in place.
The structure was simple but sturdy, held only one room with the painstakingly crafted fireplace in the centre, a floor of wood shingles and twigs that would, much later, be covered with mats woven from thin strands of bark, and had on three of the four walls holes with thick and sealable hatches in lieu of windows. The door was equally thick and, like the window openings, could be sealed with a sturdy bolt if needed. Hikari had not stopped there, but also crafted a low table that stood on one side of the room, shelves along part of the back of the room and a place to store their water and cups, a snow-packed box on the small veranda were Hikari intended to store her food, and finally on the other side of the fireplace, their bed.
The bed was arranged with both their efforts, and made larger and softer than before. That they had space enough to attempt to make two separate beddings instead of one large one was a subject carefully ignored by both, even though Hikari blushed brightly when they covered the new bed with the blankets brought from the cave. Similarly it was ignored how even though they had a larger bed, the two of them still slept with Koyuki draped intimately over Hikari, both of them comfortably holding the other in their sleep.
Not a word was mentioned regarding their sleeping arrangements, mainly because Koyuki was ignorant to the possible implications, and Hikari, already burned badly by love once before, was just too scared of being rejected to say anything. Additional sticks signifying the passage of time was added to the first as their lives carried on, happily despite the unspoken things.
It was a small thing that in the end revealed Hikari's feelings for Koyuki, on a day much like any other in their lives. They had spent the morning playing around by the creek, until it was time for Koyuki to wander off to inspect the forest and for Hikari to trek upstream to catch herself some fish. They were both still laughing and smiling as they made to say their farewells, and impulsively, before she was quite aware of her own actions, Hikari leaned in to press a kiss to Koyuki's pale lips.
They both froze in place, Hikari from the realisation what she had just done, and Koyuki from confusion. They remained immobile until Hikari just could not take Koyuki's steady, penetrating gaze any more and turned to flee, only to be stopped by Koyuki's hand on her arm.
In one swift move Koyuki spun Hikari around and met her lips an inexperienced but nonetheless determined kiss. While it was true that Koyuki did not understand the significance of the act nor why or what had spurred Hikari to initiate it, she had still been absolutely amazed, yes even intoxicated, by the swell of emotions pouring from Hikari during the all too brief touch. She craved to experience it again, and eagerly attached herself to Hikari's lips.
Briefly Koyuki wondered why the meeting of lips felt so different this time compared to the times she had pressed her lips to Hikari's in order to give her food or water while Hikari was weak, but it soon fled her mind in favour of much more pleasant things. Wrapped in Hikari's tight embrace and thoroughly instructed in the art of kissing, Koyuki was almost made mindless with the sensations. The tactile sensation alone was more than pleasant, and if this was something Hikari wished to do Koyuki was happy to oblige, but coupled with the delicious heat of Hikari's body and the swirling vortex of emotion, Koyuki was overcome.
They fell to the snow in a fevered heap, the small impact doing nothing to quell their passion. It was not until Hikari realised she felt smooth white skin underneath her hands that some sense was regained and she drew back, gasping for breath.
Koyuki was spread beneath her, silky white hair dishevelled and her clothing open and rumpled, the obi divested somewhere beside them. The usually pale features were flushed slightly, and her eyes burned through Hikari's newfound but very weak resolve to back away, give them time, like a burning beacon in the dark. When a pair of small but shockingly strong hands pulled her back down, all internal objections were instantly overruled in favour of more important things.
When Hikari introduced to Koyuki a way to experience the heat Koyuki so craved inside her own body Koyuki not only howled to the heavens, but the winds picked up to howl as well, and from the creek bursts of water shot out to become instantly frozen, almost like tall, slender ice flowers all along its length. Startled, and on Hikari's part somewhat embarrassed, the new lovers gathered their clothing before the wind stole them and raced each other naked back to their home.
The forest, as well as the fish, would be neglected not only for that day but for several days to follow, during which neither woman left bed for very long, much less their small house.
Although kissing and lovemaking had been introduced to their relationship, at that point words of love had yet to be spoken between them. It took some time still until Hikari took the time to find the words that would explain her feelings to Koyuki. Koyuki at first did not quite understand, the concept of love foreign to her like the act of lovemaking had previously been. Hikari refused to loose heart at Koyuki's confusion, knowing through the link they shared that at the very least Koyuki felt very deep affection towards her, and if Koyuki did not love her already then maybe she would allow Hikari to try to win her love somehow.
When stammered explanations only managed to partially explain Hikari's heart to Koyuki, Hikari thought of another way that might be easier for someone like Koyuki to grasp. Hikari concentrated on everything she felt for Koyuki and asked Koyuki to sense this and try to see if Koyuki's own emotions matched in any way.
The silent consideration that followed was nerve-wracking for Hikari, as was the hesitant explanation that Koyuki could no longer quite discern just where Hikari's emotions ended and her own began, but... Hikari's spirit lifted when Koyuki with a rarely before displayed shyness finally said that she believed so.
As they went to bed that evening, with Koyuki's resurfacing shyness, their union was considerably more focused on slow and soft than it had been before, of gentle touches and whispered words of love and commitment that would last a lifetime. Even so Hikari was delighted to notice ice-sculptures having formed shooting up from their water container during the night. Koyuki groused and tried to ignore her wife's teasing but only succeeding in adding to Hikari's mirth that day.
Years passed, and wooden pieces with markings of passing days were replaced with ones signifying the passing of years, and Hikari and Koyuki were happy. Somewhere along the line of passing years Hikari came to the conclusion that Koyuki must be prolonging Hikari's lifespan, as the human woman did not appear to age any more than Koyuki herself did. Only once Hikari had seen the coming and going of enough years to fill several human lives did her black hair acquire silver streaks at her temples, and her eyes a few small lines around them. That was all outward signs there would ever be of Hikari's age, and Koyuki remained the same as the day they met.
In the villages below life began and ended in the usual cycles, and Hikari's existence had long since been forgotten. The legend of the mountain's white mistress remained, although Koyuki on Hikari's suggestion made sure not to be seen on the rare occasion when humans still strayed into her lands. The villages themselves changed, but Hikari and Koyuki knew nothing of any of that.
Finally Hikari felt a weariness creep upon her with the passage of untold scores of years. She knew then that although Koyuki had prolonged her life to unimaginable length, Hikari still could not live forever. Although on the outside she still looked like a young woman despite the silver in her hair, Hikari's soul could feel the weight of the years and knew she would soon be called to rest.
Explaining this to Koyuki was no easy task, as she whom had accepted death as part of life on the mountain could not accept that she would one day have to loose her beloved. As fate would have it, Koyuki was granted years to reach acceptance, while Hikari grew weaker and weaker with each passing one. Finally Hikari had no strength left to leave their bed, much less their home. Nothing Koyuki did could help anymore, all she could do was to remain by Hikari's side, offering her all the support and love her heart held to the end. The end came quietly one night as Hikari fell into a sleep she would not awaken from.
The storm that began on the mountain at that moment would rage for days and become a legend of its own among the humans below. They said it was the worst storm to be seen in an age.
In the heart of that storm, in a small hut deep in the forest, a woman in white tucked the covers around her beloved's still form and then went from wall to wall in their home, touching the wood while whispering something under her breath. With her touch the wood, previously looking as fresh and strong as the day it had been cut, darkened and crumbled in on itself almost to the point where the building threatened to collapse.
Finally Koyuki stood at the centre of what remained of her home, right in front of the fireplace, and concentrated deeply. Hikari had explained to her the human custom of leaving markers at the graves of loved ones lost, and Koyuki would make sure her beloved would have the best marker it was within Koyuki's power to give.
Ice shaped at Koyuki's fingertips and grew, twisted and shaped until Koyuki, somewhat weakly, nodded in satisfaction. Then Koyuki turned to the fireplace and let the fire out.
She lay down beside her love, wrapping them together as if to sleep, and with one last kiss to a cold cheek poured all her remaining power into an element not her own. Around her the fire roared, given life and strength enough to consume all.
When the storm calmed several days later not even ashes remained of the small hut in the woods, or the women that had lived there. Only a single structure of ice remained, a shape that no fire would ever be able to touch.
Around the ice that marked the grave of its last guardian, the mountain went silent.
Generations passed, and the mountain without its guardian grew barren and harsh. Little life endured there, even the once so mighty forest shrank in upon itself, the threes growing small and sparse upon the snow-covered slopes.
The villages both grew and shrank in size, until finally only one remained, one that grew into a small town. What was left of the mountain was quickly harvested by human hands, and once there seemed to be nothing else left, the mountain slopes themselves became a place for human entertainment. Humans built ways to easily scale the mountainside, and people came from far and wide to throw themselves down the snow on a variety of items, one more colourful than the next.
Then came the day when a small group of young men in an attempt to impress upon each other their skill and adventurous spirit chose a path down the snow that had not been cleared beforehand. One young man in particular happened upon a path which took him through the gathering of ancient trees that was all which remained of what had once been the very heart of the mighty forest. The man dipped and swerved, and in one particular little glen, took a tumble that cost him one of his skis and left him stuck with one foot in the edge of a snow-covered boulder.
Alerted his friends came to his rescue, but in the process of freeing the young adventurer snow was dislodged from the presumed boulder, revealing to the shock of the young men a face carved in ice underneath it.
The men returned the next day with tools, and the next, and the next day after that... until they had through joint efforts completely uncovered the shape in the ice. Others were summoned there, and soon reporters followed, experts of various kinds, people who wanted to solve the mystery of what had soon been verified to be an ancient sculpture of ice. The sculpture won quite a bit of fame, though there were as many believers that it was some kind of elaborate hoax as there were those that believed the story, as told by the locals, to be true. The local priests claimed that the sculpture was a holy item, raised by their ancestors in tribute to the goddess of the mountain, and after media's interest moved on to other things, the priests managed to get the spot officially approved of as a holy site, cordoning off the area with sacred rope and creating a passable route to hike up there for prayer and holy rites. People still came from far and wide to say a prayer before the sculpture, and maybe to buy a tiny glass replica of it to bring home as proof that they had been there.
At the base of the sculpture there were markings, writings in the old tongue, and after some debate a translation was made and entered upon a plaque by the spot where visitors were allowed to go to view the sculpture. What the words actually meant beyond what was written was debated back and forth without there ever being a conclusion all agreed upon.
The sculpture was shaped as two women standing on a small base, one taller than the other and both of them embracing, their faces rendered with minute detail. The base was simple, decorated only with the writing that traced around its upper edge in two neat lines.
"Here rests Hikari, daughter of Tsubomi, whom dared love where others but dared hate, and Koyuki, daughter of Rikka, last of the keepers of the mountain."
"In snow did I enter, in flames do I leave
In between I regret not, for I was blessed with love"
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