Memories Beneath the Snow
The winter air stabbed my lungs with invisible needles in every breath I took. The biting cold grew harsher with each passing second as the sun started to sink on the horizon.
Buried beneath a blanket of snow, all I had to fend off the frigid frost was the black coat covering my back.
Not even the thick gloves I wore made much of a difference, I could barely feel the trigger on my finger. A little bit of bile crawled up my throat every time I brushed against it. It was easy to push back down, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth every time.
Can I do this?
Of course I can. I’m already here. I’ve already trudged up the mountain carrying this thing, and I’ve already held my position for hours. If I went back down now, my aching numbness would be for nothing.
All I have to do is pull the trigger. I’ve done it a thousand times already. It’s a routine that my body is familiar with.
But… to aim it at a real person is…
As the temperature gradually dropped, I instinctively stretched my fingers to fend off the ice creeping inside.
My only backup while stationed on this remote cliff overlooking the villa were the few radio transmissions I occasionally received in my earpiece.
Through the scope, the golden hue that shined behind the window bars reminded me of a familiar sensation.
Even after the time that’s passed, that day remains vivid in my memories. Sat behind cold iron bars… surrounded by a golden fire that lit up the darkness… and the hand beyond it reaching out for me. The day that my left eye turned blue. The day of the Implementation. Memories that make me feel uneasy.
As the Professor’s “masterpiece,” the board held high expectations of me, and this was a simple mission. Eliminate the threat that infiltrated the Winter Corporation’s household. It was too easy, but…
A strong gust of wind suddenly sent shivers down my spine.
“This is a bother.” I spoke out loud.
Whether I was talking about my position, the cold, or something else, I wasn’t too sure. I just needed to keep my mind distracted.
Could I just abandon my station and return to the base? What would they say, or… what would they do?
I glanced around. Ahead of me, just a few feet away was the darkness of the chasm below, a haunting call that felt like it was pulling me in. Beyond that, the villa atop of the other mountain. To my sides, patches of ground and snow just before the edges of the cliff. In the distance, among the mountain range, the setting Sun.
The only way out was the dark-tree forest behind me, where they’re waiting.
There wasn’t really anything waiting for me when I get back. The chrome hallways, the hollow applause, that empty room. More routine check-ups with the professor, then more training after. Back there is just a little less cold than it is here, but I’d still rather not freeze out here.
But if I ran… where would I even go?
Even if the snow erased my tracks, they’d definitely still find me.
There was a buzz on the transceiver in my ear, “Wh— is a b-b-bother, 201?” Asked a feminine voice, though it was hard to make out what she was saying with all of the radio interference.
It was the only sound besides the monotonous rumble of the weather.
“This mission. What’s taking so long? I’ve been here for hours but we still don’t even know who the spy is. Not to mention, it’s getting harder to see with all this snow blocking my view.”
I was barely able to make out what was going on through the scope of the rifle. The night vision was the only way I saw anything, if not for the distance rendering them all as faint dots.
“D—termine who— watching— figure — out, 201.” The weather must be interfering with the transmission.
The contrast between the pale golden light and dark silhouettes gave me a rough idea of what was going on inside. It looked like the chairman’s daughter was in the middle of a violin performance. From what I could tell, the little girl with snow-like hair was the company heiress.
The scenery gradually grew into different shades of pale white as it grew darker.
I let out a deep exhale, and my breath became a white smoke. Looks like a blizzard is coming.
But as I idly awaited the performance, the butler standing behind the heiress moved oddly. I was ordered only to survey the situation until direct actions were necessary, but it became clear who the target was as it quickly became a hostage situation.
The violin dropped to the floor as the butler grabbed the girl from behind.
“The situation has changed: I’ve determined the suspect, and he has secured a hostage. I repeat, the suspect has secured a hostage.”
“Copy— — I repeat— — —” Static crackled from the other end until there was nothing left to make out.
Whose brilliant idea was it to make my first mission out in the mountains anyway?
Looking at the situation, I decided to act, with or without their command. I banked on the thought of using the radio interference as an excuse.
But the storm arrived sooner than I expected and launched its first attack.
A blizzard gale shook the trees, and shot countless pale pellets that hurled me towards the edge of the cliff.
Rolling on the cold, I instinctively got back on my feet — But I immediately realized how much of a mistake that was.
A second gale spiraled at me.
An icy blast that sent me a few feet up the air and slammed my back against the cold ground, knocking the wind out of me, and some of the bile. The fierce winter air piled up the pressure and sapped away at my strength.
It was as if the winter tried to crush both my spirit and my body, and demanded that I stay down — But I’ve always been too stubborn for my own good.
I got back on my feet and spat out the fluid in my mouth.
The harsh winds bombarded me with a barrage of tiny white cannonballs — thousands of invisible needles pierced my cheeks. Burning explosions filled my ears and overwhelmed my senses, leaving me clueless and disoriented.
It was already hard to stay upright, but the iron-soles on my boots nearly caused me to slip and fall into the darkness below, like a consequence of defying nature.
The frozen storm wasn’t something I could fight, nor was it my enemy. It was just something in the way.
My lips cracked, and my body was on the verge of freezing, but my eyes continued to search for my rifle. I had to return to where it was, even if I had to crawl.
I couldn’t tell how long it’s been. My body recognized that it was somewhere between thirty seconds and a thousand years. I glanced over and found the yellow dot in the distance, and used it as a guide to find the rifle. My elbows ached as I crawled, forward, and forward still.
Until — I slipped.
My heartbeat raced as I found nearly half of myself dangling on the edge. My entire body trembled relentlessly as I pushed myself back to safety. But… the light ahead of me meant I wasn’t too far off, and just a few feet away, I found the firearm half-buried by the blizzard.
When I made it back to my initial position, my hands stiffly curled around the trigger. My heart was still pounding, and I couldn’t see anything beyond the blur. I quickly realized that it slid a few feet from its initial position due the harsh winds.
I readjusted my view, scouring the area below. By the time I found the yellow dot in the distance, the scenery had changed.
The butler held the heiress by the arm, his gun pointed at the CEO. I couldn’t get a good aim as the white flakes flickered through the scope, but I could still barely make out what was going on. The heiress struggled while her arm held up by the shouting figure beside her, all while the others had no idea what they were supposed to do. But among them, the CEO got up and raised his arms.
Visions suddenly flooded my thoughts, a phantom-like sensation gripped my arm as I remembered being dragged out of the rubble by the bearded old bastard, surrounded by fire, dust and debris. The complete opposite of where I am right now.
A harsh heat suddenly traveled across my body. My breathing grew heavier as thoughts began to cloud my mind.
My sight became clearer. Between every pale flicker was a clear snapshot of everything through the window, down to the brown, wooden floorboards, to the expressions of the people in it.
I finally got a good aim at the target, but there was no guarantee that it would hit him.
What if I missed?
Did I even need to save the girl? My mission was to protect the CEO, and eliminate the spy. She could simply pass off as collateral.
Each passing second was critical — no time to think about this.
The target’s grip on the heiress grew tighter as he yelled out his demands.
All I had to do was pull the trigger. But the heiress… No, the girl, began to cry.
As the tears streamed down her face, I remembered… the sad face of the person beyond the bright flames, who reached out their hand from inside the Sun. The one only meters apart, who was still beyond my reach.
But right now, even though this girl was a mountain away, I could still…
Every inhale made my lungs ache, so I took one last deep breath. It was easier to hold my breath.
The deafening explosions of the blizzard’s attack into the back of my mind. All that remained was pounding in my chest, but even that was pushed into the back of my mind. The thin frost enveloping me vanished from my thoughts, as my mind filtered out any and all distractions. Clear like the snow.
Ice turned to vapor, like I had been set on fire.
My eyes focused on that single sight, waiting.
The heiress bit the arm of the butler, her teeth dug into his flesh, and in response, he reflexively threw her against the wall behind him.
A space opened up between them — and an opportunity for me appeared.
But the CEO took the same chance to charge in recklessly. Though the assailant no longer had his hostage, he still had a gun.
The window grew smaller, devoured by the isolating snow. But I still had a chance.
In the shrinking space between them, my finger pulled the trigger on its own.
Snow, wind resistance, trajectory, all of those lost meaning the moment the bullet left the muzzle. With a faint blue glow in its sparks, the bullet acted the way I needed it to, the way that I hoped that it would.
A quick shot from the rifle. In less than a second, the scent of gunpowder was immediately blown away.
The sun had set.
Through the shattered glass, I saw the shocked, silenced faces of those staring at the blood-splattered wall.
After a second’s notice, panic erupted and they all started to scatter — except for the CEO, who remained composed, and his daughter, the white-haired heiress, who remained stunned on the floor.
Someone quickly came to her side. Her legs trembled, but even as they assisted her, she went over to the dead man and began to cry over his body.
Even if he was a spy, maybe she… cared about him.
In front of me was a vast expanse of cold and darkness, with only the warm glow of a damaged home in the distance.
As I got up from my post, I still felt the trigger pressing on the tip of my finger. After the hours spent on the frozen cliff, it was over in an instant.
Even the blizzard’s first wave of assault had ended.
Marching down the mountain, I felt something had become… off. My feet refused to take another step further in that direction, and it still felt like I was on fire.
I wandered deeper into the forest, going through tree after tree, aimlessly walking to clear my own head.
The snow piling on my back grew heavier, and as I continued to drag myself forward, my gun slipped from my shoulder. My arms and legs were like logs and swelled underneath my coat, while sharp pain radiated through my veins, like was a rhythmic crackle pulsating across my body with every heartbeat.
White flakes continued to fall on my head as I slumped my back against a tree. My knees buckled, I could barely keep myself upright. When I glanced over to the rifle that rested on the white ground, I was no longer able to hold back the budding feeling — and it all spewed out of me as I hid behind the tree.
The pure white was stained, and there was a bitter taste left in my mouth that I couldn’t get rid of.
Why? Why was it so easy?
Even after I fought the storm, and even though I could barely stand up after, I finished the mission. …All it took was the pull of a trigger.
My stomach continued to churn, while my throat continued to heave. But there was nothing left for me to spit out.
When I wiped my face, I realized that my nose was leaking blood.
A breeze swept through the forest. The storm was not done with me just yet.
I could no longer stay upright, even the gentle tap of the cold wind caused me to collapse like a house of cards. My left side sunk into the cold white sheets, while the white pellets gradually piled on top of my right. Even still, I felt numb towards it.
I watched with my right eye as the snow buried my rifle, as if it were erasing its sins.
But a crackle of electricity suddenly cut open my sleeve and broke open my glove. The inside of my flesh was glowing, and the veins within radiated with a blue light.
A stream of voices and screams flowed in my head. Violent, booming voices.
“You took the wrong vial!”
“That was the experimental!”
The vision of that day. I could still feel the burning heat of the star inside the facility, and see the face of the one who was trapped inside it.
What was that person’s name again? I can’t remember anymore. Or… did I ever even learn about it? It’s strange how these memories feel so vivid, but certain details feel like they were burned away.
As those memories continued to eat away at me, the only thing that registered outside my own memories were the footsteps that beat against the snow. But… I felt too tired to even raise my head.
Even though my body was swelling and aching, even though I continued to sink deeper into the snow. Even though my thoughts were a complete mess, one thing remained that kept me focused. The feeling on my trigger finger.
Just let me be buried here.
Better here than returning to the empty, concrete box.
My vision flickered. The soft splashing filled my ears, and my eyes shot open as the unfamiliar feeling of water surrounded me. My eyes began to focus, and the only sight to see were the countless stars in front of me.
This place… this dream again.
I floated on the surface of a cold body of water, and above me was a wide endlessness of stars that made me feel at ease.
Directly above me was a bright star that pulsated like a heart.
Yet, even in this place, my mind still lingered on those memories. The cold and rusted cages, the bright yellow flames, and then the burning ashes and dust of the facility. Lastly… here. In this sea of stars.
If only I could get rid of these haunting memories. Yet a part of me doesn’t want to let go. Because I don’t want to forget… about the one trapped in the golden sun, the one who gave me my name…
“Felix? Felix? Are you awake now?” A voice called out to me.
When I came to, the burning sensation was gone. My entire body felt heavy and my breath was cold. As if I was trying to get up while soaked in freezing water, it was difficult to get up when I felt myself being pulled back down.
But as I managed to drag myself upright, I found a lady with ashen white hair sitting in front of me, covered in snow. She had a green clover necklace dangling on her black suit, and in her hand was a pale mug. Behind her was a bright red spear standing atop the snow, which made me feel uncomfortable.
“Yer awake.” She let out a relieved sigh, and spoke in an accent I was not familiar with. But I immediately recognized the voice. This was the woman who assisted me from the radio.
The woman then handed me the mug full of a dark… brown… thing. “Here, drink up.”
Steam rose from it. The warm wisps were clearly visible in the cold weather. My fingers shakily held onto the mug, the heat from the mug was soothing to my stiff palms. I guess this is what happens when you’re buried under the snow.
But as soon as I took a sip, I immediately stuck out my tongue. Whatever this is, it wasn’t chocolate. “… Uhm, what’s this?”
“It’s coffee. You should warm up after what happened.” Her answer sounded like she was hiding her accent.
“It’s… bitter.” Sticking out my tongue, I answered timidly. So this is coffee…
“Is that all you have to say?” Her tone suddenly changed slightly, sounding stern.
“What?” My voice quivered slightly as I shivered from the cold.
“I ordered you to return, but you acted on your own accord, nearly shot the CEO, and disappearing immediately after the mission—”
My voice wavered and shook as she raised her arm, “I-I didn’t.”
“… and ye saved a life... I’m glad.”
She reached her hand out to me, and I shuddered, remembering the professor’s hand grabbing my arm.
But all she did was place her hand on my head. I closed my mouth as she ruffled my hair, and as I turned to look up to her. Her eyes had shined with a soft, fiery glow, like embers that radiated against the snowy-white everything.
“Ye were up against a blizzard, yet ya’ still fought hard.” She slapped my back as a soft smile formed on her face. “You’re a good, kind person, aren’t you?”
“That being said, I’d prefer it if ya followed orders. But good job, nonetheless.”
“Th-thank you, miss…”
“Nocturne... is my codename. Call me Luna, Luna Aster.” She introduced herself with a soft, warm voice.
“Felix, I know. It’s nice to meet you properly.”
“You’re lucky I found you when I did, otherwise, you would have frozen to death.” She scolded.
“Right… I’m sorry.” I absent-mindedly took a sip, but it was still too bitter for my taste and I accidentally spat it out.
“Let me fix that.” She took the mug off my hands and headed back to the parked car a few feet away.
As she did, I take a second glance at the weapon. I feel a little comfort in knowing that it wasn’t going to be used on me.
After a minute, she returned and gave me back the mug.
I took another sip and asked, “Sugar?” It tasted much sweeter than before.
“Two creams and three sugars, to be exact... It’s me favorite.” She answered warmly.
“It’s… nice. Thank you...”
My fingers still shook, but the tightness in my chest softened.
“It’s tough, eh? Taking a life, and the feelings that come with it…” She spoke in an understanding manner. “Ain’t something a thirteen year old boy should ever have to go through.”
“Ye have a long journey ahead in this cold, cruel world.” She smiled as she turned her head to the winter sky. Her ember eyes contrasted with the pale snow and dark skies that she stared into the distance. “But don’t worry. I’ll teach you.”
Through her glowing eyes I realized… She was just like me.
I discovered a few things today. The guilt of having taken a life... and the sweet taste of coffee that washed it away. It wasn’t a fair exchange, but I had to accept it.
In the car, lights flashed through the window, there were bumps on the road, and the heaters let out a calm warmth that felt nice after being buried in the snow.
I lost myself into the dark and grays of the outside. As the monochromatic scenery grew dull, I noticed my hands shivering still. I looked at the lady sitting in front of me, typing on her computer with a frustrated look. But as she noticed my stare, she returned my gaze. The light of her ember eyes were warm, a very comforting warm. I couldn’t help but feel at ease, and I fell asleep as we made our way back.
There were many things I wanted to forget, and some things I didn’t. Fortunately, as the years passed, the day of the “Implementation” gradually became a hazy blur.
I still have visions of the fires, and of the professor’s face dragging me out of the rubble and injecting that prismatic fluid inside me. But… whenever I try to remember more than that, I start to feel the pain all over again.
At least, for now, I had someone to watch over me. Someone who prepared me for the future to come.
Unlike those ephemeral lights flashing from the window, which left as soon as they came, I will always remember the taste of my first coffee, and the sweetness of her smile.
“Felix?” A voice called my name, and I opened my eyes and saw the face of a black-haired girl in front of me. I could feel the jet descending.
“We’re here. Are you ready?” She asked.
I grabbed the briefcase to my side, and clutched the four-leaf clover under my shirt, “Yeah… I’m ready.”