Blizzards struck the snowy mountain one after another. A lightly clothed figure wandered in the freezing wind. Her bare feet stepped into the snow while her hands played with the snowflakes she breathed out. The colder the weather was, the merrier she seemed to be.
She was a nameless and emotionless individual living a carefree life. She finally received a name when a passer-by pointed at her and yelled in a peculiar voice, “Snow youkai, Yuki-onna!” She eventually developed emotions when she met him — Karasutengu.
Not having once stepped outside of the mountains, Yuki-onna was curious about everything in the realm. Every time Karasutengu visited, he brought along him something new: maybe an interesting experience, a special flower, or a delicious snack...No matter what he brought her, she awaited it in eager anticipation.
Yuki-onna: What are these...? They are cute. And they feel like jello!
Karasutengu: They are slimes, peculiar but kind creatures. You can find them wherever there are elements.
Yuki-onna: Then what are these? Why do they dance around snowflakes?
Karasutengu: They are water elves. They live in water; and they live for water. Only in water would they be lively.
Time spent with Karasutengu caused an unknown “thing” to surge from Yuki-onna’s heart, a “thing” that she had never previously possessed. It grew freely in her heart and delighted her, creating warmth in her snow-cold heart. Although Yuki-onna did not understand what the “thing” was, she liked it and was longed for it. Whenever she was with Karasutengu, the “thing” became stronger.
As Karasutengu grew, his responsibilities increased. He had to practice martial skills and learn youkai-jutsu daily. Hence, the busy Karasutengu visited less frequently. Even if he came, his stays became relatively short; merely seeing him was difficult now.
Since he started visiting less, Yuki-onna had been feeling pain in her chest, as if something was missing there. Such pain could be alleviated during Karasutengu’s visits but would strike again when he departed. She realized that the “thing” she adored was fading, and she had no way to retain it. To keep the “thing”, she committed unforgivable mistakes...
The pain in the chest could not be relieved. It tortured Yuki-onna daily, and she did not know how to describe it. She wondered where the pain came from and how it could be eased.
Later, she met a man by happenstance: his company seemed to alleviate the pain, and even allowed her to sense the “thing” again! Yuki-onna requested his stay but the man insisted on leaving. In desperation, Yuki-onna was forced to freeze him into an ice sculpture; only with this way would he stay with her forever.
To alleviate the pain, she turned every man she met into a sculpture and made them stay. However, it still failed to stop the excruciating pain. Her acts eventually stirred up villagers’ anger, prompting them to pick up their weapons and retaliate. Moreover, they hired an ascetic to eliminate her.
Even with their lamentation and resentment all targeted at her, Yuki-onna did not notice her mistakes. She was simply left feeling terrified. Karasutengu, now as Ootengu, knew that evil was not in her nature, so he shielded her from all attacks, shifting the blame onto himself.
Ootengu: Just stay here and wait for me, okay?
Angry Villager: Monster! Show yourself!
Ootengu: Hmph! No one shall cross!
The attackers were no match for Ootengu’s powerful youkai-jutsu and could only retreat. Only after seeing their departure did Ootengu felt relieve enough to return to Yuki-onna’s cave for her; yet, he failed to notice that someone was stalking behind him...^ When he returned to the cave, Yuki-onna was pacing worriedly. Seeing Ootengu return safe and sound, she hurriedly dashed at him.
Yuki-onna: You are safe!
Ootengu: Relax. I believe they would not dare come for you again.
Compared to knowing she would be safe in the future, seeing Ootengu safely return was a greater relief. The “thing”, yet again, surged within Yuki-onna’s heart. And this time, it was so intense and vigorous that it caused her heart to thunder. Just then, laughter came from behind them. They turned and discovered that the angry villager followed Ootengu all the way here...
Angry Villager: Now I can take you two murderous youkais out at one fell swoop!
Ootengu and Yuki-onna were already in the sights of the villager’s bow; even before he had finished speaking, he had already shot an arrow. Yuki-onna pushed Ootengu away, but she herself was hit on the shoulder. Immense pain shot up the wound, leaving her expression pained. Yuki-onna dared not touch the wound; blood peppered onto the snowy floor, blossoming into crimson flowers.
Seeing Yuki-onna harmed, Ootengu channeled his massive youkai-pneuma in anger; a fierce gust started to sweep the surrounding. The villager dropped to his knees, although it was not certain whether he was knocked over by the wind or scared by Ootengu’s sheer formidability. Just as Ootengu was about to kill the villager, Yuki-onna reached out and grabbed Ootengu’s hand. Ootengu looked at her in bemusement when she answered calmly:
Yuki-onna: I did indeed take lives of many. It is not difficult to understand their hatred and anger...
Yuki-onna: If this could pacify some of their rage, a little wound is nothing.
The villager seized the chance to escape. Ootengu and Yuki-onna’s fingers now interlocked, as if nothing could ever part them again. Yuki-onna passed out in Ootengu’s embrace just then...
Yuki-onna passed out in Ootengu’ s embrace after stopping him from killing the villager; compassion grew as Ootengu looked at the charming lady in his arms. He could not bear leaving her alone in the cave anymore. Hence, though he knew it was against the rules, he decided to bring her back to his home and care for her there.
Yuki-onna slowly opened her eyes. The sight before her eyes was utterly unfamiliar. She was laying on something soft and what she was wearing had been replaced with a kimono. She quietly walked out of the room and strolled around the house, not recognizing where she was. Just then, she caught a glimpse of Ootengu in discussion with someone she did not recognize. She decided to eavesdrop...
Ootengu: I will keep her here no matter what! How can we watch one suffer and not give help? Will it not be against the principles we hold as Tengus?
???: I understand...but she is a murderous youkai! If we let her stay, Humans might strike us for her!
Ootengu: Father, did you not teach me to hold onto our morality?
???: Morals are important, of course. But you also need to look at the big picture! Your emotions are now clouding your judgement!
Ootengu: She stays no matter what! I am not asking for your opinion; I am simply informing you of my decision!
Ootengu left in anger. His father shook his head and sighed...
???: Alas, what a troublesome youkai! What a shame it would be if my son loses the chance to be the clan head; for her?!
Yuki-onna felt as if a knife had been plunged into her heart. Water droplets flowed from her eyes. She wiped them away in bemusement; yet, the more she wanted to hold them back, the more vigorously they streamed down her face. Even though she desperately wanted to stay with Ootengu, she did not want him to sacrifice everything for her. Hence, she decided to leave quietly, and never contact him again...
Ootengu: Thank our lord, I have finally found you. Do not run around like this; you are still not fully recovered! Don’t you know this is dangerous?
Yuki-onna: Enough! Murderous youkais like me would only attract Human raids!
Ootengu: You overheard my conversation with my father, right?
Yuki-onna stood, palpably shocked. The expression on her face was the perfect answer.
Yuki-onna dropped to her knees, exhausted. Ootengu dashed to her and caught her in his arms. He channeled his youkai-pneuma into Yuki-onna, but to his surprise, she shoved him away! Yet, he continued unfazed, withstanding the punches she threw at him and pulling her into his embrace. At first, Yuki-onna still struggled. But the more she did , the tighter he held her. She eventually gave up. She calmed before Ootengu whispered into her ear:
Ootengu: I do not mind what they think. All I care about is you.
Ootengu: I will do anything for you; anything I do for you is worth it.
Though tears flowed incessantly from her eyes, Yuki-onna felt profound warmth and safety. Ootengu wiped the tears off her face, and suddenly picked her up in his arms. Yuki-onna blushed as her heart forcefully pounded, filled with the “thing”. Yuki-onna in his arms, Ootengu sauntered back to his house. Although neither of them said another word, the distance between the two’s hearts was the smallest since they had met.
Yuki-onna wandered around. When she passed through an open field, she ran into a few bored children. Hoping to establish friendships, Yuki-onna walked to the children. She manifested ice and snowflakes of various shapes in the air, and played along with the children. At first, they all had fun. However, upon seeing this, the children’s parents hurriedly ushered the children away; they berated:
Child’s Mum: I told you to be careful with outsiders. We don’t know what she would do to us!
Yuki-onna: I, I just...
The parents did not even bother listen to her explanation and took their children away, their expression palpably full of disgust. Left alone on the open field, Yuki-onna could not help but feel aggrieved and helpless.
That night, Yuki-onna sat by the lake as usual when snow suddenly started falling. She played with the snow — her favorite thing in the realm. The white snow started to build, but Yuki-onna still had no intention of returning home. As she loved snow, she found a shred of familiarity when she was now covered by snow. She threw herself onto the snow and memories replayed themselves in her mind...
Yuki-onna: ‘When I first met the Tengu, the weather was way worse than now, and the snow was far thicker.’
Yuki-onna: ‘I saved him merely out of curiosity. Who could have imagined back then that he would be the one who eventually gave me my redemption?’
Every experience she had with the Tengu had become precious memories she cherished. Regardless of whether the experience was happy, angry or sad, he was there beside her, sharing her feelings and helping her overcome the challenges.
Without even Yuki-onna herself noticing, the Tengu had already filled up her heart and memory, unable to be erased. Recalling her changes, she could not help but burst into laughter. Suddenly, Ootengu walked to her and crouched, asking curiously...
Ootengu: Why do you seem so happy?
Yuki-onna: Suddenly reminiscing about a lot of things...When we first met, you were lying on the snow like I am doing now!
Ootengu: Right! I was lucky to have met you, or I might have died.
Yuki-onna: Right. And then you introduced the world to me. Life back then was so carefree.
Her eyes unfocused, Yuki-onna gazed off into the distance, as if still lingering in her memories. Ootengu stared at her; he held her hand and firmly said:
Ootengu: Hey, how about leaving with me?
Yuki-onna: Have you lost your mind? Everyone expects so much from you. How can you let them down? If we leave, you will lose everything...
Ootengu: Yes, indeed I will lose what I have here. But I will not lose everything...
Ootengu: Because I will have you and freedom.
Yuki-onna still did not know what that “thing” was; but she believed that as long as she was with Ootengu, she would never lose it again. Although they have met for so long, this was the first time they hugged each other. Maybe there would be more challenges and difficulties lying ahead, but if they could be together, nothing could hinder the two anymore.