Friday Fiction: The Snow’s Shadow – part 1

Here’s part one of a story I’ve been working on. Part 2 of 2 should be coming up next Friday. Forgive me if I have butchered any Japanese, I haven’t run it all by my favorite translator yet.

The Snow’s Shadow

In a land that the people call Nihon and in a city that was once called Edo, there was a school that no one knew existed. Describing the area surrounding this school would be a fruitless exercise, for it cannot be seen. Listing for you the steps to reach its doors would be a folly, for your feet will never tread upon its grounds. Suffice it to say, the school existed, though the Nihonjin know as little of it as the rest of the vast world.

From this invisible school issued forth invisible students. They could be seen, but only as it suited their purposes, so they were called invisible. The students were called shinobi. In some years hence, they will also be called oniwaban, which has a more savory aura, and they will not be so invisible then. That is for other tales.

There were mature, expert shinobi in this school, walking unseen among the Nihonjin, but this tale does not concern them, except as corollary. This tale tells of the chibi sasuke and chibi kunoichi: the little ones.

If the concept of little shinobi is amusing, think of the tiger cub learning to stalk or of the falcon’s chick spreading her wings for the first time. Deadly things learn their deadly arts when they are smallest. So it is with the shinobi.

The garb of the shinobi is their skin. By tradition, they are swaddled in clothes as black as night. Their eyes are all that is left visible. This is for the benefit of the young shinobi as well as their parents. Tiny shinobi in garb the color of night are difficult to locate.

It is said that as shinobi grow, their second skin grows with them and becomes a part of them, as they become a part of the shadows. This may seem outlandish, but this is the first failing of most Nihonjin when it comes to the shinobi. The laws of this world are suggestions to the shinobi. It is also said that only fools speak to the wind, but the shinobi have learned much in this manner. To borrow the words of one of the poets of the western world, there are more secrets in this world and the one beyond it than the nihonjin will permit themselves to recognize.

Over time, the little shinobi are taught to breath in the light and exhale shadow. They are taught to exist as a perception, to live as an inkling. They stand astride the wall separating this world from the next. They learn the language of this plane and the ones that surround it. They also learn a great many deadly arts.

The world of the shinobi is vast, but it is by necessity rigid. Secrecy is delicate. This is why the shinobi who was called Shiro did not have a life that mirrored that of his peers. When he was an infant, he was swaddled by his parents in a white cloth that was so pure it was blinding. They offered him no explanations or apologies.

There is a special cruelty wielded by youth. It cuts more sharply in a place of rules and structure, where tradition can lend credence to any number of otherwise outlandish taunts. While his peers busied themselves with matters of the darkness, Shiro had a very different matter to contend with. The shadows spurned him. He was welcomed only in the light, and even there he was hard to look upon. Being hard to look upon is a very different thing than being hard to see. One cannot help but be aware of something that challenges a gaze, rather than redirects it.

The little shinobi were merciless with Shiro. This is unsurprising as they are trained to be fearless in all things. They cursed his name and mocked his parents for what they were sure must be a legendary display of foolishness or cruelty. Why else would a young boy be subjected to such bizarre conditions? He was beaten and abused by the more violent of his peers, who were convinced that his very presence was a threat to the existence of the shinobi. He existed outside of the order of the world, they claimed, which was in violation of the principle law adhered to by the shinobi. He was told that his master would only tolerate him for so long, and that one day he would be wiped from this plane like any other abomination.

Shiro was largely impervious to these taunts and took the beatings as a matter of course. He was, after all, undergoing the same stoic training as his counterparts. The notion that his master would disapprove of him was something that gnawed at him. The parents of a shinobi supplied little beyond an origin. The master became the entirety of existence for the young warriors. He was the source of all wisdom and praise, as well as the final judge in all matters.

The master, known to all as Fukurō, the Owl, but never addressed as anything but Master, was in fact entirely unperturbed by Shiro. Was a difficult student any less of a student? What use is a teacher who can only instruct the simplest of pupils? The Owl saw to it that Shiro was given instruction the same as all his peers. He must learn the principles and methods of the shinobi. To separate him entirely would be an injustice, and would only reinforce the words of the other students, that he was different, that he needed to be sequestered.

It seemed to Shiro that he was not performing well. Devoted as he was, it could not be denied that the teachings of stealth could not be applied in the same way for Shiro as for the rest of the shinobi. The techniques he knew well, but their application was lost to him. Fukurō, however, withheld any criticisms. The other students took this to be the definitive sign of his shame at such an unacceptable pupil. Shiro took this to mean that he must strive harder to please his master.

When Shiro was almost of age, when all shinobi emerge from the school to seek their way in the worlds, Fukurō asked for Shiro’s presence after his normal lessons had ended. There was much whispering about this event, as it was the old Owl’s most overt gesture towards a student who had led a most tumultuous life in all other aspects.

The details of this meeting are a matter of conjecture. Shiro never spoke of it and Fukurō was famous for his secrecy. What is known is that after their discussion, which stories say lasted from a few short moments to days on end, Shiro walked out of the school and into the world and it was assumed that he would never be seen again.

  1. #1 by Eric Thomas on September 11, 2009 - 10:25 AM

    Interesting…. can’t wait to read Part 2.

(will not be published)