Fiction: The Snow’s Shadow – part 2

Those were the lost years for Shiro. His peers graduated from the school that no one would ever know existed and walked the world in shadow, practicing their many arts. Some were pleased to know that Shiro had vanished. Others were crestfallen that he was never able to learn to be like his brothers and sisters. In time, nearly all forgot about the young shinobi who was fated to fail.

Fukurō thought otherwise. Careful study of the tales reveal that Shiro had been sent by his master to train in isolation. As wise as Fukurō was, he could not teach Shiro what was needed. Fukurō was himself a creature of the shadow, and he knew he could only walk beside Shiro for a short distance before Shiro must find a new path without the old man’s guidance.

The tales all say that Shiro was not seen for many years, but this is foolish. No shinobi is ever seen that does not wish to be seen. To say the shinobi were not seen is to say that this world is vast. It is the kind of statement that is not worth the breath it would cost. Shiro had been told to seek the way of the light and it was there that he could be found if any knew the secrets to watch for. He spoke with the sun and the sky. He walked among reflections and lived in the open world. As other shinobi greeted the dusk, Shiro greeted the dawn.

Seven years passed before Shiro returned to history. Seven years after his student’s departure, Fukurō was taken from his school. There existed only a very small number of schools in Nihon. As time passed, the shinobi began to seek more glory, to become more visible. They fought for reputation in a way that was unknown to their forefathers, who only needed approval of the many kami that governed all things. This new generation looked for the approval of the Nihonjin and the pleasures their money and favor could grant them. So it began that schools would fight amongst themselves. They would perform elaborate feats to claim their dominance. The kidnapping of the famed master Fukurō was seen as particularly daring display.

He was taken to Fuyō-hō, the most majestic peak in all of Nihon. It was surely Fukurō’s wish that his students and his school would absorb his teachings and respond in the grand tradition of the shinobi, with patience, precision and stealth. His students, though, were clearly lost without the strength of his presence. They reacted with the rashness of youth and organized immediate and foolish rescue ventures. Many students were lost during the attempts to scale Fuyō-hō. The fortress Fukurō had been taken to was near the mountain’s peak, which meant that any attempt to approach was difficult to hide, the distance to traverse being so great.

Distance is typically no concern for the shinobi. Stealth, when executed properly, has no end. Picturesque Fuyō-hō is known for the majesty of its snow-capped peak. The techniques of the shinobi were of little use upon the vast stretches of pure white snow. Even the cover of darkest night did little to disguise their ebon movements against the fields of ivory.

Attempts to return Fukurō from his captivity continued to meet with failure and soon they became less and less frequent. When they had stopped altogether, Fukurō’s captors declared their victory. It was at this time that Shiro enters the tales once more.

Shiro understood that to conquer his rivals, he must first tame Fuyō-hō and so his journey up the mountain was slow. He moved during the day, melding with the light and learning the secrets of the mountain. Breaching the fortress would only be half of his journey. Once he had retrieved his master, he had to ensure he would be able to return with him and Shiro understood that this was not a task that his master, wise and skilled as he may be, could accomplish on his own.

As he advanced, Shiro would take note of every available shadow and create shelters where there were lapses. He spoke to the mountain and asked it to shift the snows. He coaxed the growth of the trees and bushes. He made a home of the mountain and learned its secrets and only then did he know the time was right. During the day he moved through snow as blinding white as the cloth that covered his skin. At night he buried himself, becoming as much a part of this new home as he could.

This was the lesson that Fukurō passed down to his student. Shiro had learned to live in and be a part of the world. He had taught himself to adapt and to forge pathways where none existed. While his fellow students had learned their craft well, they had not learned to find their own way and were limited in ways that Shiro was not, for all the many freedoms they seemed to have earned above the Nihonjin. The shinobi trusted in their teachings, but Shiro had learned to trust in himself.

After weeks of scouting and preparation, Shiro was finally ready to rescue his master. He approached the fortress atop Fuyō-hō at the peak of the sun’s domain over the world, knowing that this is when it would guarded least. The shinobi would only be expecting what shinobi know, the tricks of their forefathers and the tricks of the Nihonjin.

Providence smiled upon Shiro’s infiltration, as there was not a cloud in all of the sky over Nihon that day. The snow upon the ground was a blazing white and Shiro moved gracefully through the light, whispering to the snow as he went, and it gladly covered his footfalls as he proceeded, happy to have the company and to be flattered by his respectful nature.

Whereas the shinobi would sink into the darkness surrounding a fortress wall and swim up its depths to the parapets, Shiro found another path. The darkness ignored him as stoically as it always had. He paid it no heed as he strode ably up a sunbeam to enter the fortress. He then began his quest for the center of the fortress, which was surely where Fukurō was being held.

To the guards scattered atop Fuyō-hō, Shiro was nothing more than the light reflecting off the snow, the artifacts of vision after closing one’s eyelids, a strange reflection in a pool of water. He was invisible to them in a way that none of their other brethren had ever been. And so he reached the center of the fortress.

When he opened the door to Fukurō’s cell, it is said the old Owl stood and addressed his pupil. “I am proud of you, Yuki Kage.” Shiro was confused by this, and was concerned that perhaps his master had been mistreated and that his mind had wandered during his captivity. “I am your faithful student Shiro, Master.”

At this, it is said that Fukurō laughed. “You are Yuki Kage. You are the Snow’s Shadow. Bright as daylight itself and invisible as the unseen. And I am no longer your master.” Before Shiro could protest this unprecedented statement, Fukurō put his arm around his former pupil and said, “Now, Master, will you teach me the wisdom you have learned in your travels? Fuyō-hō is grand and I fear I will not be able to return without your guidance.”

Shiro’s heart swelled at this praise and he turned back to the cell door and stepped out with his former master into the light of legend.

I had intended this to be a cute little fairy tale take on the Ugly Duckling, but with less of a “It’s cool, you’ll grow up and be beautiful automatically, so don’t worry about it” and more of a “You are unique and this is your strength if you can discover it”. I had planned on it being a very light and fluffy piece. And then I decided that I didn’t want to say “ninja”, I wanted to use a more traditional term like “shinobi” and from there I decided I wanted to use the proper terms for Japan and its people (“Nihon” and “Nihonjin”) and then from there I realized that I was writing an entirely different story than I had intended to. The core is the same, but almost nothing else is as I had envisioned it. So… I guess this is a fun example of writing guiding itself, which is one of those things that when I read articles where authors say it I just want to smack them in the face for being all smug about their craft: “Oh yeah, the words just write themselves”.

  1. #1 by Oliver Grigsby on September 30, 2009 - 5:54 PM

    Finally got around to reading the second part of this. Really dug the story. I liked where the writing took you 🙂

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