The Snow Maiden

I was always a straight B student. Because a C made me look dumb and an A wasn't worth the effort. Scoring an A is for suckers. This pissed off the wrong people (my parents), so I was punished by being sent out here: a village in the snow country. But instead of building character, I met this village's darkest secret: the girl in the snow. She was dead and she changed my life. - UPDATES EVERY MONDAY, WEDNESDAY AND FRIDAY!

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My latest story! I think it's the best yet :)
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17. Chapter 17

What was Miyazono trying to tell me?


The mountains are tall and the emperor is far away. 


Out here in the mountains, the rural folk deal with incidents on their own. You could say that they have their own justice system.


Is she saying that whatever happens in this village will never leave this village? That if a crime happens, the villagers decide for themselves what to do?  That the outside world will never know? 


Wait, did Miyazono suspect that I found something in the forest? I'm pretty sure she did. But the way she phrased it…it sounded like something will happen to me if I kept poking my nose into this. 


But what did she suspect?


I never got the chance to ask her. 


Aunt Reiko found that Miyazono could manage me quite well and so she handed the reins over to her and for some reason, Miyazono really started to pile on the work. Hell, she worked me harder than Aunt Reiko did. 


Why?! I always thought that Miyazono was nice. But now she suddenly turned into a demon. No matter what time, she always found something for me to do. She even forced me to work as the kitchen boy even though Aunt Reiko had previously explicitly forbidden me from setting foot in the kitchen out of fear that I'd screw something up. 


Clean the kitchen, clean the lobby. Clean the floors and the lamps. Wash the bedsheets and yukatas. Clean the toilets and sweep the baths. 


Every night I dropped dead into my futon and slept until Miyazono woke me up, told me to get dressed and help prepare breakfast for the guests. I had to ask her if I could get a minute to brush my teeth. She reluctantly agreed. 


Seriously, what the hell was going on with her?


Every day I wanted to complain. But to whom? If I told Aunt Reiko, she'd laugh in my face — literally, and then go on to give Miyazono a promotion. And I couldn’t tell Miyazono to cut me some slack. I don't know why. Something in her eyes told me to keep quiet. 


There was only thing that kept me going: Yuki. 


I had to find out what happened to her. 


The mountains are tall and the emperor is far away. 


After five days of Miyazono's work schedule, my body adjusted and I didn't automatically fall unconscious at the end of the day. Every muscle fibre hurt, every cell in my body begged me for rest, but when I finished my work at midnight, I went down to the lobby and put on my clothes and shoes. 


"Where are you going?" 


I turned and saw that Miyazono stood there with her arms crossed. Her expression stern. I still didn't understand why she had suddenly changed like that. I still remembered how we had hunched over the guestbook together, speculating what kind of illicit relationship I had walked in on, giggling like a bunch of kids. 


But this time I didn't have to be afraid. I had finished my work and could do whatever I wanted with my sleep time. Miyazono couldn't stop me. Aunt Reiko couldn't stop me. 


I said, "Just going for a walk." 


"Isn't it too late for that?" 


"I just want to go outside." 


I didn't wait for her reply; I just walked out. I wasn't even afraid of being punished for my rudeness. Miyazono literally couldn't pile more work on me without bending the laws of space and time. 


I breathed deeply. It's been while since I've been outside. The cold air filled my lungs and suddenly the tired fog in my mind cleared. Hands in pockets, I trudged through the snow. All around me, things were sleeping: the cars, the buildings, every soul. It was like as if the whole world had gone to bed and I was the only one left. 


I glanced behind me. Miyazono stood at the entrance, her arms around her waist. Some indescribable mix of emotion on her face. I turned my back to her and kept walking. 


For the first time I understood what true darkness was. In the city, there'd be lights everywhere. Night wouldn't be so different from day. But out here in the mountains, the night was infinitely deep. The street lights were a vague glimmer in the darkness, the paths barely illuminated, the whole village a different world. 


I reached the edge of the village. I glanced behind me. Just in case. Nobody was following me. No footsteps other than my own. I guess Miyazono decided to stay put. 


I swallowed. At night, the forest was intimidating. No lights, only a dark hole that seemed to swallow everything it touched. The moonlight lent a faint glow to the snow, but the trees prevented that silver light from penetrating Yuki's home. 


"Yuki?" I called out. 


Nothing. 


"Yuki?" 


I waited. And then waited some more. But she never answered. 


I stepped into the forest. For a few moments I couldn't see anything and when my eyes adjusted, I could still scarcely make out anything. This was a world of its own. A world where I could hopefully find the dead. 


I walked for a few minutes and then stopped. "Yuki?! Hello? I've brought you another drink!" 


A gentle breeze blew past me. It stroked my face, like a silk ribbon blowing past, like a mother stroking the cheek of her child.


“Yuki?!” 


More wind. This time it wasn’t so gentle. 


"Go home." Yuki's voice sounded from nowhere in particular. 


"Yuki?!" I frantically glanced left and right. "Where are you?" 


Her voice sounded from behind me. "It's not safe here." 


I turned around and saw a pair of footsteps behind me. 


“Yuki! I need to talk to you!" 


Silence. 


I asked, "Who killed you?" 


A gust swept across the ground, whisking up snow, almost knocking me down. "Leave this place, now!" 


There was urgency in her voice. It was completely unlike her usual self; relaxed, carefree, childish. I took several tentative steps back. Should I stay or leave? 


Yuki had fallen silent. As though she were waiting for what I’ll do. Watching for whatever danger she saw. 


I decided to listen to her. Whatever has her worried must be something truly terrifying. 


I said, "I'll be back." 


The way back was easy to find. Just walk into my own footsteps until I was out of the forest and then the moonlight would show the way back to the village. 


But when I stepped out of the forest, I stopped. A long string of footsteps were next to mine and they stopped right at the entrance of the forest. Like whoever it was, was too afraid to follow me in. 


My first thought: Miyazono. I knelled down. No, these were too large to be her’s. These prints belonged to a man. 


I stood and glanced about. Nothing to my left, nothing to my right.

 

I shoved my hands into my pockets. I knew what I had to do.

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