SNOW RED BLOOD WHITE
"Go not up to the mountains in winter
Lest your breath be frozen
Your heart be stolen
Your soul befallen"
In a time neither here nor now, there lived two brothers named Arthur and Alfred. They traveled around the country, making their living as hunters. One winter evening a terrible snow storm blew while they were crossing the plains, forcing them to take refuge in a nearby village at the foot of a great dark mountain.
Seeking shelter at the only inn in the village, the brothers dried their clothes by the fire while listening to stories told by villagers who were waiting out the storm as well. The people in the inn spoke of the snow demon dwelling in the mountains behind them. They told of how the demon rode the skies on his giant wolf, luring lost children and wayward travelers to their deaths by the cliffs. He was the cause of the constant fierce storms that raged around the mountain and the village, and any who dared to trespass on his mountain for unholy purposes were never to be seen again.
Alfred was immediately attracted by the story of the giant wolf in the mountains. Moving closer, he asked the villagers to tell him more. Arthur shook his head and pulled him back, saying that it would take a worse fool than them to go hunting for such a beast in the best of weather, much less when no one knew if the wolf actually existed and in such a storm as was raging outside the door.
An old man who was sitting by the fire looked up and assured them that the wolf and its master were as real as the floor beneath them, and that it would indeed be a fool's mission to go hunting for them.
"Have you no thought for your lives?" he asked, wrinkled hands trembling as they clenched the top of his walking stick. "None who have gone there have returned sane, if they ever returned at all! The demon is as cruel and unmerciful as he is old, and he does not look kindly upon those who venture upon his mountains, especially when their purposes are such as yours. Be warned! Stay away!"
Yet Alfred continued to plead for more news on the wolf, saying that a hunt like that would finally allow the brothers to settle down for good. Exasperated, Arthur threw his hands in the air and retired for the night, leaving behind strict orders to Alfred to do the same and to put out his head any more thoughts of going after the snow demon and his wolf.
But Arthur's words fell on deaf ears, for much later that night he woke up to find Alfred's bed cold and untouched. Seeing that his hunting gear was gone, he knew at once that Alfred had disregarded his warnings and had gone off to search for the giant wolf in the mountains. Cursing his sibling's stubbornness, Arthur pulled on his clothes, picked up his own hunting gear and set off towards the mountains himself.
Fighting his way through the heavy blizzard, Arthur walked for what seemed like hours before finally finding his brother, clinging to a huge rock in the middle of the forest to stop himself from being blown away by the fierce winds howling around them. Arthur cuffed him around the ear and was about to give him a good tongue-lashing when the storm suddenly picked up and blew even harder than before. The brothers saw that it would be impossible to make the way back to the village through the heavy hail and were prepared to spend the rest of the night huddled as best as they could under the trees when Alfred spotted a wooden hut some distance away from them.
The two men made their way towards the little hut with much difficulty, the wind seeming to push them back for every step they took. Upon finally reaching the precious shelter they pushed open the door and tumbled in, both as eager as the other to escape from the freezing tempest outside. The hut was empty and bare, having nothing more than a floor, four thin walls and a roof to shield its occupants from the weather. Nevertheless the brothers were grateful for not having to wait for morning in the wild winds outside and did not complain. Settling themselves down on the floor, they lay down and soon fell fast asleep.
Many hours later, Arthur was wakened by the sound of the wind hammering fiercely on the wooden shutters and door of the hut, as if by the pounding of many fists. A chilly draft of air entered through the gaps and blew across the floor, making him sit up and shiver as the walls rattled hollowly around him. Afraid, he laid a hand on Alfred's shoulder to assure himself that his brother was still sleeping next to him.
Suddenly, the door was thrown open violently. Snow and sleet and hail whirled into the hut, forcing Arthur to shield his face from the sudden blizzard which blew in. When he lowered his arms, he saw standing before him a figure in white. It was a man, thin and pale, with hair and eyes as black as coal. He wore long loose robes the same color as the snow which swirled around him, making his wide sleeves flutter and dance in the wind. Arthur stared at him in astonishment, the unearthly beauty of this stranger striking him dumb with awe.
The man's dark eyes flickered over Arthur for a second. Turning his glance from him, he bent down to take a closer look at Alfred, still fast asleep. Without blinking, he exhaled a white mist from his lips, as if blowing smoke from an invisible pipe. Immediately Alfred was frozen over with white frost. His breath stopped, his body slumped over to sprawl lifelessly on the floor, and when Arthur reached out a horrified hand to touch him he found his brother to be as dead and cold and still as ice.
Furious with grief, Arthur whipped around to confront his brother's murderer, only to back away in shock as the man's face was suddenly not more than an inch away from his own. The stranger cocked his head slightly. Red-rimmed eyes roaming over Arthur as if taking in every single part of him, he placed a thin finger on pale blue-gray lips and smiled slightly.
"I had thought to treat you the same as the other trespasser," he said in a voice as dark and deep as the depths of the mountains. "But I cannot help feeling some pity for you, for you are strong and handsome and have the most beautiful eyes which I have never seen. The nights are long in the mountains, and I am lonely and in need of a companion. I shall keep you with me instead."
Arthur's eyes grew wide with horror at these words. He rose to protest, but the other man lifted an arm and swiftly swept one of his long flowing sleeves over him. Arthur was blown off his feet, the very breath knocked out of him. White blurred his vision, and the next thing he knew he was flying high over the land, the wind burning its icy fingers across his face and hair.
Finding himself face down on something huge and furry, Arthur forced himself to open his eyes and look down. At first he saw nothing but a huge expense of white fur rippling under him. Then massive black eyes turned back to blink at him, and he saw that he was astride the very same mystical wolf the villagers had spoke of and that Alfred had left to hunt down. They were high up in the air, the wolf's powerful legs striding clouds and mist as it ran upwards and onwards towards the mountains.
Fighting back tears of grief and rage, Arthur struggled to throw himself off the galloping beast. A cool hand pressed down hard on the small of his back in warning. The same dark voice from the hut caressed his ears, freezing his blood and flesh.
"Jump," he said softly, his other hand gripping tight Arthur's shoulder, "And tomorrow none of the villagers at the foot of the mountain will rise to see the sun again. Now, which will you choose?"
Arthur stopped struggling, his hands clenched into fists at this threat. "Demon!" he spat venomously, hatred and defeat in his voice. The demon slowly ran a hand down the line of Arthur's spine and said nothing in reply.
The giant wolf rose to the highest point of the mountains and entered a cave set deep within the cliffs. They disembarked and the beast curled up at the mouth of the cave like a huge guard, which was its usual practice as Arthur was to find out in the time to come.
Arthur learned many other things in the time that followed. Winter was eternal this deep in the mountains; there was only the night, the clouds and snow that blew forever, as well as the mist-covered moon which loomed so close sometimes it seemed to Arthur that he could reach out and touch it if he were to try. The wolf was indeed a guard, which lifted its head and watched Arthur closely whenever he came too close to the mouth of the deep cave they had landed in. The animal had no name but the snow demon did, biding him to call him "Kiku". No fire was lighted in the cave, but fireflies and a single paper lantern which floated high above the roof of the cave gave them enough light to see by in the winter darkness.
Arthur had expected to meet the same fate as his brother and freeze to death gradually, but Kiku had draped a large animal fur over Arthur's shoulders when he saw that he was shivering. Arthur supposed it must be a magical fur, for the minute it was on him he was warm all over and never once felt any of the winds which blew around constantly.
Kiku seldom left Arthur alone. He would sit opposite him, hands folded neatly in his lap and hidden in his voluminous sleeves, simply watching him quietly with large, unblinking eyes. There were times Arthur woke up to find Kiku's head on his shoulder, eyes closed with sleep, the wolf curled around them both like a giant rug.
Sometimes he would leave the cave and return with gifts for Arthur. Among these presents were a perfect snowflake frozen on a withered black leaf and stones of the most wonderful colors he had never known existed. Arthur did not know how to accept them at first and tried to give them back, but Kiku would always press the gifts once more into his hands before retiring to his place next to him, and Arthur soon learned it was enough for him to accept them and that the demon did not seem to expect anything in return. Kiku cooked for him as well, sending his wolf out to bring back prey from the forests below and retiring to the back of the cave to prepare it. Arthur did not know how he could cook without a fire but it was done, and so delicious was the food that he almost wept when he first tasted it.
But despite these little acts of kindness, Arthur still did not give up hope of escaping. More than once he had tried to leave the cave but he knew it was futile, both from the close eye demon and beast kept on him as well as the thought of the village at the foot of the mountain. It was as if the two of them could read his mind.
He had also thought many times of avenging his brother with the gun he had happened to have with him when Kiku had spirited him away, but each time he reached for the weapon the wolf would raise its head and growl softly while its master cock his head and ask in that soft, dangerous voice, "I wonder how the village is doing. Would you like to know?" Each time Arthur would withdraw his hand, biting his lip in frustration. He could do nothing to his abductor, not as long as the demon held the villagers captive as well.
But finally there was a day when Arthur woke up and found himself alone. Hardly able to believe his eyes, he searched the cave as far as he dared and saw that indeed both Kiku and his wolf were gone. Wrapping the fur cloak tightly around himself, Arthur quickly moved towards the cave's exit. Stepping out, the cold blizzard winds blew strongly around him, rocking him from side to side as if trying to blow him back in. Gritting his teeth, he moved forward one step at a time until he finally stood at the edge of the cliff. He looked down and saw the sheer drop into blackness below him. His heart swayed for a moment as the darkness surrounding him crept silently into his thoughts, and he thought of the villagers and the demon's smile, as thin and dark as the back of the moon.
But Arthur knew that he couldn't stay there forever, no matter the demon's threats nor his queer kindness towards him. Perhaps if he was fast enough he could get to the village in time and warn the people there to flee quickly. Dropping to his knees, he prepared to climb down the mountain.
A huge force suddenly slammed into him, sending him sprawling and sliding all the way back into the cave. Large sharp teeth flashed in his face and a monstrous growl rumbled through his body. When Arthur finally opened his eyes, he saw that it was the demon wolf pinning him to the cave wall, both paws pressed hard against his shoulders, muzzle so close to his face that all he could see were slanted black eyes. The animal's constant growl vibrated dangerously through him.
Kiku stepped into view from behind his pet. He kneeled and laid a cool hand against Arthur's cheek.
"I told you, didn't I? So many times have I told you, over and over. Do you not care for the village anymore?"
Arthur flinched as bony fingers pressed hard against his throat.
"Please!" he gasped, struggling uselessly under the weight of both the wolf and its master. "Spare the village! I'll do anything you want, just spare the village and let me go!"
Kiku's eyes widened at this, and for a moment Arthur thought he saw for the first time emotion in those deep, unfathomable depths. But it must have been a trick of the moonlight, because the next moment long lashes swept down and thin lips curved into that dark smile he knew so well by now.
"Did you know, Arthur?" Kiku asked, his other hand reaching up to cover Arthur's eyes. Arthur felt the weight released from his shoulders and Kiku climbing up into his lap to straddle him instead. "There were many others before you, up here in my cave. Each of them begged me not to touch the village. All of them offered me anything I pleased." Kiku's voice was right next to his ear now. Icy lips touched him and he shivered involuntarily.
"But none of them could give me what I wanted."
Teeth as sharp as icicles closed down, and Arthur screamed as his ear was brutally torn away from him. Pushing Kiku away with a mad force born from pain, he stumbled sideways and crashed into something. Arthur looked up. A pair of empty eye holes stared back at him. To his horror Arthur saw that he had knocked over a pile of bones he had believed at first to be the animal remains of the wolf's meals, but were instead as human as the ones inside him.
A hand grabbed the back of Arthur's shirt and jerked him back sharply. Arthur now found himself in Kiku's lap, their positions reversed from before. Kiku ran his tongue languidly over the blood streaming thickly down the side of Arthur's head, one hand closed tight over his jaw as the other wrapped itself around his waist.
"All of them begged for their lives," he said wistfully, fingers caressing Arthur's side. The man winced as Kiku breathed over him. Stopped by the cold mist from Kiku's lips, the blood on his face froze into tiny crimson crystals and clung painfully to his skin. "They offered so many things, yet not one of them asked what it was I truly wanted." Arthur gasped in pain as nails as sharp as claws dug into his side.
"What is it!" he cried. "The thing you want so badly! Just what is it!"
Kiku gently tilted Arthur's head back far enough so that he could look into his eyes. His lips parted to say something, but the words were lost to Arthur as the hand at his waist curled in and ripped the flesh from his belly. Bright red blood spilled into the air. Kiku lovingly ran his stained fingers over Arthur's face amid the man's screams and convulsions, admiring the way the blood flowed down his prisoner's cheeks.
"You become what you partake of," he mused. "You asked why I chose to bring you here instead of killing you like the other human. Didn't I tell you then?" He looked down and smiled beatifically. "Your eyes are the most beautiful green that I've ever seen, and I adore beauty."
With that, he plucked out Arthur's left eye.
Lost in the black and red fog of pain and terror that pierced and seeped into his very being, Arthur somehow found himself upright and outside the cave again. Staggering, he saw only blood and snow and ice around him. Howls and unearthly cries filled the air, and it was only when he put his fingers to his mouth he discovered that they were coming from him.
This must be hell, he thought muzzily, and it was almost a relief when his feet slipped and he fell backwards into the blackness of the rocks below. The wind battered him relentlessly as he plunged downwards. A vision of Kiku in the cave, the stone floor and walls around him painted red with Arthur's blood, his head tilted back and holding up to the dim light between thumb and forefinger what he had last taken from Arthur, flashed before Arthur as he fell.
Then the darkness swallowed him and he knew nothing else.
The next time Arthur woke up, he found himself at the foot of the mountain. The village peeked at him from between the trees, a mere footpath away. Clinging to a nearby tree, he stood up, hissing and moaning in pain from his injuries, his wounds now numb and caked with bloody snow. He forced himself to move forward, one frozen foot at a time.
The lights of the village were only ten steps away when the blizzard suddenly blew up again. A pressure on his back, a chilled hand pressing down hard over his heart and Kiku's voice in his ear, speaking as he had when he breathed over Alfred.
"Tell no one what you have seen and heard in the mountains. If you do, I will know, and I will come to collect what I desired the most but did not take. Remember what I say!"
Then there was nothing but white mist and the wind crying in the forest and mountains behind him, a demon wolf howling its call into the long winter night.