"It's really coming down," Hanana murmured, peering out the window.
"They weren't joking around, were they?" One of her "sisters" stepped forward to join her, staring out as she adjusted her glasses. "When the baker said they got a lot of snow, I thought it was, you know, a foot or two."
Actually, there wasn't two feet of snow on the ground just yet, but it was coming close.
A week ago, the day after Hanana's unsuccessful "flower-venture" in town, one of the villagers--the baker--had come knocking. At first the family had thought someone had finally come around to try and actually be friendly, but it wasn't quite the case. "Winter's coming," he'd said, his tone having a strange edge to it. "Right around the corner, so to speak." He'd gone on, telling them to bar the door, close the windows as tight as they could, and under no circumstances were they to leave their home. Since they were out on the very edge of town, right by the forest, the demon would surely come for them first, he'd said.
Hanana had been about to tell him off for frightening her adopted-sisters--both of them had looked very confused and a bit nervous, Aruru edging behind her a bit and grabbing the pink-haired girl's sleeve, but the man waved it off. "I'm only doing the neighborly thing and warning you all," he shrugged. "When the snow dies down, someone will come by to see if you need anything. Til then..." He'd shrugged again before turning and shuffling down the path back to the village.
And then poor Hanana had to tell her sisters that the village had some old superstition but they shouldn't worry about it themselves. "Every town has some little story, right?" she'd said with a small smile. "It doesn't mean they're all true!"
The other two had exchanged glances, clearly not convinced.
And now, with snow falling faster and faster, with no sign of stopping, more than they'd ever seen at once before, the two were convinced that the stories were true after all.
"I'm sure it's nothing," Hanana said, looking over her shoulder, trying to force her mind away from the sight out the window. "This is a new place, after all...the weather patterns can't be the same everywhere."
"I'm not so sure, Hanana," Eruru said as Aruru rushed past to close the curtains. "The story says that the weather just changed suddenly. It's supposed to be subtle, over time, right?" She swallowed. "Such a dramatic change so suddenly...something isn't right."
Hanana didn't have an answer to that. Because really, the more she thought about it, she was right. Sure, maybe a demon wasn't really out there, but...something had happened, right? She didn't know what, but something had.
She didn't want to believe the story but she couldn't deny there was something odd about it.
Maybe that'd be a good excuse to leave the town...It wasn't like they had any real reason to stick around. No one had talked to them for a while, and even now they didn't sound very friendly. There wasn't much here for them either--the girls had wanted to see the word beyond their hometown, for their own individual reasons. It had taken a while, but they'd finally been able to save enough money to leave, and come here, but there was really no point in staying at all. No new opportunities, distant townspeople, and--and Hanana almost hated to admit it because it did sound rather childish and selfish--she couldn't see a flower anymore.
She'd never thought she'd see the day when that happened.
Well, why not? This could be a good excuse--it didn't seem like any of them were happy here anyway. Yes, after the winter season had passed, she and her sisters would pack up their things and--
"Hey girls..." Aruru spoke up suddenly, having not moved from the window all this time. One hand gripped the curtains tightly as she stared out into the flurries. "No one else likes to come up here, do they?"
"Not if they can help it, I think..." Eruru said. "Why?"
"Someone's outside right now."
In an instant, all three were at the window, staring at the spot where Aruru was pointing. Hanana had to press her face to the window, cupping her hands around her eyes in order to try and see better. It was difficult to make out, but sure enough, there was someone out there! Some dark figure in the distance was shuffling along, pausing every now and then before continuing.
The first thing that came to Hanana's mind was that story. He saw someone near the forest...thought someone had gotten lost.
"They were right!" Aruru pushed herself away from the window, hands over her mouth. "Shut the curtains, hurry!"
"That's...that can't be right!" Hanana answered. She shook her head, as if to erase the story from her mind, and went for the door.
"H-hey, wait a minute, where are you going?!"
She grabbed a coat, put it on. "I'm sure someone's just lost is all...You can't just leave them out to freeze to death, that's horrible!" She could just imagine it: someone had gotten locked out of their house somehow, and couldn't find a way back in. And no one would let them inside their own shelters because of the story. Then when that poor person would be found, frozen to death, they'd all just think...Hanana shuddered involuntarily. No way! No way, that couldn't happen! See what rumors will cause? she thought to herself, turning the knob. "I'll be back--no matter what, you girls stay indoors, okay?"
And before her sisters could stop her, she'd shut the door behind her.
She should have brought a scarf, a hat, or mittens with her. The moment she stepped out, she'd started shivering, teeth chattering a bit. The pink-haired girl hugged herself, rubbing her arms to get some feeling in them. Wow, winters really were bad here...
...all the more reason to help that person ahead of her.
"Heeeey!" she called out, a hand cupped around her mouth. "Hey, stop!"
The figure ahead stopped, seemed to turn to look at her.
"Over here!" she shouted again, moving her free arm in a "come here" gesture. "Over here; I'll get you inside!"
The other person turned and ran the opposite direction. Into the forest.
"No, not that way! You won't be safe there!" Without thinking, she ran after them, cupping her hands over her mouth and breathing on them to warm them again. "Wait--I just want to help you!"
In retrospect, this may not have been her best idea.
She was in the forest now, and while the trees kept some of the falling snow at bay, they did nothing for the cold. And she really wasn't dressed for this, even in her coat. Hanana sneezed, rubbed her numb nose with the back of her hand, and pressed on. She could still see that person ahead of her--actually, they seemed to be slowing down. She didn't know they were getting too tired or cold to go on anymore (like she felt she was) or if it was something else...
never mind why they'd run off in the first place. Maybe they were shy or...or they thought Hanana was the demon; that'd be a funny story to tell her sisters.
...if she ever got back. She was already feeling sluggish, legs barely listening to her. When she tried to call out again ("Wait, please!") her voice came out as a hoarse croak.
But no matter how miserable she felt, she kept telling herself that the other must be even worse--they had to have been out in the cold longer, they were exposed to the elements longer, and she could never--would never--just abandon someone. Not if she could help it.
She smiled weakly as she finally noticed how much closer she was--just enough to barely make out the features of their clothing.
"Y-You...can't be out here," she croaked, reaching forward with a numb, trembling arm. "You'll...you'll f-freeze...."
That was it. Too cold, too much at once for her. Her already-fading vision started to darken, and she could just barely see the other person jerk around to look back as she grazed his shoulder.
The last thing she actually noticed was bright, shining blue.