A World Outside the Snow

General Takara reigned in his horse as he crested the top of the hill, and glared at his armies marching through the valley below. The wind was blowing more strongly now, and the air smelt tinged with ice. The man sighed as he contemplated his next move. He had expected to encounter the enemy forces in this valley, but so far they had seen no sign of any army - any life at all, in fact - besides their own. There'd been no report from the forward scouts, either; and now dusk was coming again. Yet another night risking the entire force by camping in a terrible location.

High above, Yuki and Kurayami floated on the air as cloud swirled around them. Picking up the thoughts of the men below, they glanced at each other and smiled.

"Fools," muttered Kurayami.

The wind had strengthened still further, and the valley was filled with the sound of its roar as it was funnelled between the mountains. Shouya swore as the fire he had been trying to light for the last fifteen minutes extinguished itself yet again. Finally fed up with his incompetence, one of his fellow soldiers grabbed the fire-lighters from his hands and pushed him aside.

Dejected, Shouya sat on the ground and shivered. This whole campaign had been a disaster from the start, and he was beginning to suspect his commander of incompetence although of course he dared not mention that to anybody else. Staring blankly into the night, he wondered what his wife and son were doing at that moment. Playing together, perhaps, or eating, or sleeping - maybe dreaming of him?

Twilight came and went, the coming night welcomed by Kurayami as he stood at the summit of a mountain, not even noticing the cold of the wind that blew his cloak out behind him. Excitement boiled through his veins as he contemplated the prospects of the night to come. There'd never be as good a chance as this again - tonight, they could end this war for good. It would be a glorious victory. It would be a glorious slaughter.

Shouya turned over in his makeshift bed, unable to get to sleep. The tents had been put up in a hurry as darkness fell, and now they were so unstable that every gust of wind made the soldiers within paranoid that this would be the time that it would blow away completely.

Fed up with his own anxiety, he left the tent quietly and sat down outside. His shivering intensified, but somehow being outside under the open night sky was comforting and reminiscent of his childhood. As he looked down at his knees, he noticed the first few flakes of snow settling on the ground next to him for a fraction of a second before being blown away by the next gust. By the morning, the whole army could be snowbound, but yet somehow... He knew he should warn his superiors, but right now he just didn't feel like it...

Yuki, sat on the ground by Kurayami's side, was feeling odd and keeping quiet. As the clouds rolled in over the mountains, she could feel the snow falling heavier and heavier with every passing minute, and spreading across the valley floor. She knew that she should feel happy that she was taking part in what would become a famous victory, but yet there was a nagging feeling of regret inside her...

Kurayami put his hand on her shoulder, and suddenly she felt confident again. She smiled and winked at him, while the weather down below became a blizzard.

Shouya turned to shelter his face from the wind, then scrambled back inside his tent. "This can't be natural," he muttered as he crouched in the cold darkness. Whatever was to happen this night, it was now in the hands of no-one else but the gods...

Kurayami grinned and stopped listening to the soldier's thoughts. "Ah, if only he knew how true that was..."

"Pardon?" asked Yuki, looking up at him again.

The man chuckled. "Don't worry. Come on, it's time to get started."

Yuki nodded, closed her eyes, and reached out with her mind into the darkness to rouse the archers that had been hiding in the foothills. With a wave of her arm, the wind died and the archers took aim; seeing the camp-site below them with eyes that the darkness did not hinder. They fired simultaneously, the noises of their loosed strings reverberating and echoing across the valley.

As the sound of half-choked screams and shouts filtered up from the camp, Kurayami motioned to the soldiers that stood behind him, winked at Yuki - and the charge began.

Tents erupted in a mess of cloth and a shower of blood around Shouya as sharp wooden rain fell from the sky. What little common sense he had left now destroyed by the horror he saw around him, he drew his sword and rushed at the enemy soldiers that had begun slaughtering their way through what remained of the camp-site. The man screamed and flung himself sword-first at the leader of the group who, seemingly in slow motion, raised her bow, closed her eyes, and fired.

A flash of pain coursed through Yuki as her arrow hit Shouya in the chest. Somewhere beyond the agony, beyond the blood and the darkness, there was a voice. A voice calling out to her from beyond the world...

"Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts and prepare for landing," came the voice again.

Yuki's eyes snapped open and guiltily surveyed her fellow passengers as a drop of sweat fell from her brow. None of them had even noticed her nightmare - as always, business class was full of company workers and executives so wrapped up in their own work that they barely acknowledged each other's existence.

The woman shifted her gaze to the window as the plane finally descended below the low-lying clouds. They were flying in across the water towards Seattle, a city that they said was almost always wreathed in cloud. Since it was also quite far north, Yuki supposed that it might then have more than its fair share of snow. But yet, would it feel right, seeing snow in this strange land so far from home?

The more Yuki thought about it, the more she began to wonder if she should have come to America after all. But still, it was to this land that she had been called, so it was to this land that she had come. And she'd just have to make the most of it.

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