The following “prologue” started as just a quickly typed narrative to go along with one of my latest drawings. But after a number of requests for some sort of ending, I came up with a little something.
Like my art, I have trouble keeping things simple and following the prologue below, is the end of the story.
It was just a game. Played by she and her sister countless times over many human lifetimes. It was just a game, to pass the time, a challenge by each in turn. A human was chosen by one, and the other would craft a mask that would allow her to take the human form most appealing to the chosen. Then she would have a “chance” meeting with him to start. He of course would want to get to know her better but she would resist at first and string him along. She would tease him, build his hopes and desires, then dash them, only to repeat the process. Humans were so easy to fool, so lustful, so petty, so blind to the world about them. Ultimately, she would take the relationship as far as marriage, almost, then she would vanish, leaving him heartbroken and mournful. But they deserved it those humans. If only they could learn to truly see….
It was only a game and started like all the others but somehow, felt different from the beginning. He seemed interested but puzzlingly, resisted her charms. She continued but he remained cool to her but polite. She knew he was interested but didn’t know what was wrong, so finally she changed her method and approached him in the way she had hoped he would.
He continued to resist her advances but finally relented and agreed to have a meal with her and talk.
But it didn’t go like she planned and talk was all that occurred, even though she tried to take it further. She came away confused but with grudging respect for this man… and a curious desire to continue the relationship, not because of the game, the challenge, but for herself.
Her sister questioned her relationship with the chosen as “the game” progressed but she denied any true feelings for him. But she knew she was lying for the feelings that had been kindled within her, feelings she had never experienced before were real. And she craved more of them.
But her sister also suspected the truth and kept a close watch, for this was something not of the true nature of their kind….. but she began to resent what her sister was experiencing none there less.
Though not her true name, he knew her by Miko and he finally started showing the feelings toward her that she had been after from the beginning and the relationship blossomed. It was no longer a game now, but something deep and real, for she had learned and now experienced those feelings herself.
But her sister recognized this and resentment grew to become jealousy.
Eventually, they agreed that they were to wed and a small, private ceremony was planned. But when the time came to exchange vows. Her sister appeared unexpectedly, approached the couple in human guise of her own,
and without a word, reached out, grabbed the mask which only she could see, and dashed it to the floor, breaking the mask and the image spell, revealing to all present, her true nature.
Horrified at the thought of how her love might react, all she could think to say was “ I am so sorry, it was just a game, It wasn’t suppose to be like this...” then turned and ran.
She had not noticed his expression when she was revealed though and it was not what she would have thought, for he was one of the rare humans that could “see”.
He had known from the beginning what she was but just played along for a while till he noticed the change within her then nurtured the change till he was sure it was real, then let the rest take its course.
She ran but he unexpectedly pursued, calling to her, “MIKO!” repeatedly and pleading for her to stop. But she made it to the woods and disappeared, making her way to her home ground where she collapsed in the agony of pure heartbreak and sorrowed made even more poignant by the fact that like love, it was nothing she had ever experienced before.
“Miko,Miko, Miko” Kept repeating in her mind and she couldn’t make it stop. Then she wept, something seldom experienced by her hind. She would return to him if she could but the mask was broken and could not be repaired nor could it ever be recreated, it would never be the same.
So she sat in the growing gloom of evening, oblivious to all but her pain and the name Miko that was still echoing within her mind.
A lone fire, where once there would have been many, hovered about her, dimmed but still an unerring beacon to the one who continued to search for her.
**** **** **** “It Was Just A Game” requested ending
She had reached the edge of the wood well before him and he knew that any further pursuit would be futile. No man could catch a kitsune in its own element and few who tried ever came out unscathed if at all. But he hesitated for but a few heartbeats before entering the forest boundary, for despite what she was, he loved her, and he knew in his heart that she felt the same for him. So into the gloom he plunged, the thickening canopy reducing the light and visibility as he went. He still called out her name but with less frequency for he was tiring quickly, but he continued on. Then blindly, he pushed through a thick line of brush that blocked his way, only to fall headlong into a shallow wash and tumbed till he reached the bottom and endind up in the small rivulet that flowed there. He was physically unhurt but his spirit ached as he was finally coming to the realization that he’d never see her again. He nearly broke down then but instead steeled himself. He couldn’t give up, he wouldn’t give up, she meant to much to him, perhaps as much as life itself. So he pondered the task at hand, as he caught his breath.
His pursuit had ben aimless and he realized he could never find her like that, so how should he proceed? He had always felt at home in the forest, frequenting it often in search of the finer or more exotic wood that he used in his crafts, for he was a skilled sculptor and woodworker. He had other skills too, or gifts really, talents he kept to himself, like his ability to see things as they really were, things of enchantment that others could not, as he was able to “see” Miko for what she was. Another gift he had, though he had never really thought about it much was his uncanny ability to find things, such as the wood he used. When he went out looking for a specific type, no matter the rarity, he always seemed to find it. He just “Knew” where to go. His father had been that way too…and his grand father and his before. Old family tales, told now more for entertainment, spoke of how the males of his family as far back as could be remembered, had always been gifted with various talents or luck. And the reason for it, which he had always looked upon as theatrical dressing for stories sake, was that many, many generations back, a kitsune had wed one of his ancestors and produced offspring, and the males in the family line, from then on, carried a blessing along with the kitsune, blood.
He sat for a time and thought about this. “Could it possibly be true?”The events of the past months suggest that there really could have been such a union. So he changed how he had looked at the situation and thought of it as if he was looking for his precious wood, a very specific kind. He then climbed back out of the wash and shook off the leaves and moisture he had gathered from his spill, then stood quietly for a moment. then he relaxed and cleared his mind and pushed aside the helpless that kept trying to creep in. He closed his eyes for a moment, took a few deep breaths, then opened them and looked around slowly. He did not expect to “see” anything but did hope to get a feeling for direction which he did readily. And it was the direction he wished the least to go, up. He had been steadily climbing a ridge line for the last hour, but gradually. Now the direction he felt he had to take was straight up the ridge, steep, rocky, and dangerous. He had been on the other side just once in his life and it had nearly taken it. It was a place of woods far thicker than where he was now, and the trees there were of ancient growth with the tops so thick and interlaced with others that a ray of sunlight hitting the ground was a rare thing indeed. Then there were the rocky ravines and crags, their boundaries often hidden by dense brush. Then to top it off, there was the ever present mist, usually in the form of a low ground fog that deadened sound and distorted vision.
But regardless of the physical challenge he knew he faced, he redoubled his efforts, and finally topping the ridge, did not hesitate, and descended down into the dark, forbidding landscape.
He traveled slowly, looking ahead more with his feelings than with his eyes for vision in this place was deceiving, and should not be readily trusted. But he continued on steadily, uncannily avoiding unseen pitfalls, hazards that would have ended his quest or more.
As he moved deeper into the eldritch wood, he started to feel other things beside the directional sense that remained strong. He started to feel the presence of other things, animals maybe, but in some cases he felt that it was something more. Tales were told of this place and was rumored to be the home of creatures of legend, like the one he was after, and other things far more….sinister. Then he thought he actually started to see what he had been sensing, but they were as shadows, fleeting, nebulous, at the edge of his vision. Then lights, again only peripheral but there, he was sure. He could track them sometimes out of the corner of his eye, but if he turned his head to look, whey would wink out or disappear behind some obstacle. Ghost lights, or foxfire when associated with the kitsune. For the most part, he ignored them and continued to follow his senses. Then a light appeared before him, dim, distant, but directly in the path he was traveling. He paused for a moment and stared at it but it did not vanish. His heart beat quickened. “Could it be her?” he thought. And as he watched it, a feeling of familiarity overwhelmed him. It is her, he knew it and he continued on but with a redoubled pace…and with much less caution.
He was now traveling a much straighter path than before but was encountering more obstacles, so his progress actually remained about the same. Time passed and the day was growing late, but the light, the bacon before him remained at an even distance, disappearing occasionally but always reappearing on about the line he was headed.
Then after disappearing once more for a more extended period of time, the fire reappeared once again, but much brighter and closer and just off to his left. He quickened his pace further, all caution now left behind. It was just ahead of him now, slightly higher than himself and just on the other side of a line of thick brush. The foliage though, parted easily as he passed and as he finally stepped clear of it, he knew he had finally found her…. But instead, the light vanished and he found himself falling…..
“Curse him! No more games,” she thought, “this ends now!”
He was getting close and would surely find the one whom he sought but she didn’t understand how. He was just a human and shouldn’t have been able to make it this far. He shouldn’t even have tried after finding out the true nature of the one he had intended to wed. She was confused but really didn’t want to understand, she just wanted things to be as they had always been, between her and her sister. And an opportunity now presented itself. It would be so easy, just a common trick to mislead the foolish, a simple light to guide the way. It would be so easy….
There was an instant of free fall then a sudden deceleration but no impact. As he had stepped clear of the brush, he had been so blind to all but the fox fire, that was so tantalizingly close, that he stepped off a precipice along one of the deep, mist filled ravines which he had till now, avoided. He still had on the kimono he had chosen to wear for the wedding ceremony, but by now, the outer layers had been shredded and the ornate sash that had held them closed had disappeared hours earlier. And that is what had saved him, for the tattered outer robes had billowed out as he fell and had caught in the roots and brush sprouting from the rocky wall, leaving him suspended.
He hung there quietly for a time, taking in what had just happened. A glance around revealed little, for a thick fog filled the ravine that had nearly swallowed him. Looking up, he was barely able to make out the vegetation he had just passed through and determined that he had fallen about 5 meters. Looking down revealed nothing, for the mist obscured everything beyond a meter or two down and out from him and flowed past in streamers as though it were liquid.
Needing to test its depth, he reached behind him and managed to dislodge a rock from the escarpment which thankfully was at arms length. He then tossed it outward and listened. A sharp crack rang out from its impact with others of its brethren some seconds later.
She watched from a distance as he went over the edge and was almost disappointed when he fell without uttering a sound. It was too easy, too anticlimactic. She then made her way over to the opposite side of the ravine from where he plunged and peered down, nothing, not a sound. She would liked to have seen the body, but maybe someday she would visit the bottom….
Up was the only choice then and knowing what daylight, what little that showed, was waning, he did the only thing he could do and started to slip his arms out of what was left of his robes so he could make his way back up. But before he could complete the maneuver, he froze and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Something had come, something in which he sensed a dark malice. And that something, he also felt, had come looking for him.
He remained motionless, uttering nary a breath till the presence finally left, then remained so for a time longer.
Satisfied finally, that he was alone once more, he completed his task of disrobing and ascended to level ground. There was no chance that he could recover the remnants of his kimono but thankfully he still retained his fundoshi and footwear.
Still wary of the entity that he had sensed and the one more than likely responsible for his fall, he looked around using what locating ability he had. Nothing, though somehow that sense seemed even stronger than ever, more acute. And thinking about it he realized that it appeared to have been growing stronger as he traveled further into this place.
So he continued his quest and instantly located the original light, he had been following. It was brighter now than before and he began to get a feeling of distance from it also, it was close, and he knew it was what he sought and not a deception. He hastened on then but remained highly vigilant for dangers.
Miko had not moved from the spot where she had collapsed that morning. She still had periods of weeping, though they were becoming fewer as she sunk into a deep depression. “how can humans live with these emotions?” she thought.
“They hurt so much! How can they stand all this pain?” Then she realized that the opposite emotions, like love and joy, that humans experienced were just as strong and would balance out or even outweigh the negative. She felt that eventually what she was feeling now would fade, while, the memory of what she had shared with the one who taught her love would live on in her memory, and though bittersweet, she would cherish it always. But for now, she had to suffer.
This narrow vale was a place of power for creatures like herself, a gash in the world wrought by forgotten gods. But still, after countless millennia, power still seeped from the wound, magic that had created and sustained those creatures. And this glade, for the kitsune, was very special, very powerful, for it was the place of beginning and end, of birth and healing. She was born here and here she would stay till she felt renewed enough to continue life, though she would never be as she was before.
She finally drifted off to sleep but was haunted by shadowy dreams where she was hunted by an unknown creature. And in the distance, the name Miko echoed off dark and foreboding hills. Miko, that was her name now, the one given to her at birth now seeming meaningless. Miko. Miko. Miko….
The sun had set some time ago but instead of the light fading with it, within the woods, it had become lighter The fog still remained, but visibility increased as the ghostly illumination appeared to come from the very mist. He knew he was close now as the foxfire that guided him was now bright and clear. But he slowed his approach instead of hastening for he felt something happening that he didn’t understand.
He started to feel as though something was building up within and about him. He had felt as though his special gifts had been strengthening as the day passed and he neared this place and the one whom he sought. But now he felt as though a static charge was building around him, it was tangible and the very air surrounding him seemed to hum with it. There was a tension now that he felt could break like a thunderclap at any moment…Then he saw her.
The fire that had guided him so faithfully was now just drifting aimlessly above a still form on the far side of the glade into which he just entered. He could not yet make it out clearly but it was her beyond doubt. He watched for a moment to see if is she would notice him but she made no movement or sound. And neither did he call out to her, not yet, for somehow he knew this place was special, akin to the temples he attended within his own religion, and its sanctity should not be violated by voice above whispers. So he started his approach, treading lightly but halted after only a few steps. He felt as though he was being watched but that feeling came from no direction in general or rather, from everywhere. He felt as if he were being judged. He glanced around knowing he would see nothing but her, then moved forward again.
The tension about him that had been building was tangible, the hum he had felt about him had now moved within and seemed to flow in his veins as did his blood. He feared what was happening but he set the fear aside in favor of what lay before him.
She was just a hand full of meters away and could see her clearly now. He had known her for what she was, had “seen” he with his sight gift, but not like this. He had seen her as human for the most part, but with the face of a fox superimposed upon her human one to varying degrees, and he would occasionally glimpse her tails, so he knew she bore five, the mark of a powerful creature indeed. But now, lying there before him, still maintaining human form though
fur covered as was natural for her kind, wedding kimono long discarded, his breath was taken away for she was truly the most magnificent thing he had ever seen.
All else forgotten now but her, he let her name escape his lips. “Miko?” Nothing. “Miko”, he repeated, taking a step nearer, but still nothing and he repeated this till he was beside her. Then he knelt down and lightly laid his hand upon her shoulder and repeated her name once more…..
Her sleep was fitful and the dreams continued. The hunter in the mists still pursued and was getting close and the name, her name, still echoed within her head and wouldn’t stop. Then one last time, the name sounded and it was deafening. She woke then and brought her paws to her ears in a vain attempt to block out the sound, and opened her eyes. And still half in a dream state, she saw a face and she started to panic, the hunter had found her! Then the hunter spoke her name, softly, with tenderness, and she gained recognition. “No”, she whispered, “it can’t be true, it can’t be!” and she closed her eyes once more and started to pull back from his touch.
But he kept his hand on her shoulder and spoke again. “Miko, it is true. I’t’s me, please open your eyes, I’ve been searching since you ran off.”
And she did so and looked up into his face and studied it. “It, it is you! How….”
“Your fire guided me much of the way.” he interrupted and motioned to the bright orb that was now hovering at arms length.
A myriad of thoughts raced through her mind but one feeling drowned them out. Shame. And with that burden, she looked away and repeated what she had said that morning, “I’m so sorry, it was just a game. It wasn’t suppose to be like this!”
“But the game turned real.” he said, adding to her statement. “ Miko. Miko, it’s I who should apologize to you. I should have told you weeks ago, I know what you are, and I knew what you were from the beginning.”
H-how?, was all she could think to say.
He gave a sly smile, then said, “It’s just a talent that runs in the family. It’s in the blood.” Then he reached out with his other hand and cupped her cheek. The tuft, It was so soft he would remember that first touch of it forever.
Then he brought her face back up so he could once again see her eyes and she, his. “”Miko, I love you! More than life itself!” And it was true for he realized now that without her, his life would be meaningless, empty. But as she was about to reply, he was struck in the back and almost involuntarily, he stood bold upright. It felt as though he was on fire… from the inside. He spun around to face his attacker, and there she was, still some meters away but he recognized her as the intruding kitsune from this morning, and now the creature that had tried to take his life perhaps an hour earlier. But even with the recognition of his foe, he could do nothing to stop the second fireball that struck him in the chest and he collapsed to the ground.
Miko, at first caught off guard and still reeling from her lovers words, now sprung to her feet and put herself between him and her sister. “Why are you doing this?” she screamed “Why!!!”
“Because this is not our way and you know it! This human has corrupted you and I’m going fix it, I’m going to end it here and now!” And she threw another fireball at the prone form but Miko deflected it with her own.
Another was thrown but was again deflected. Then before a third was thrown, Miko sent another directly at her sister who just barely avoided it, being caught off guard.
“You would attack your own sister?” she screamed, anger now becoming rage, and the next attacks were now directed at Miko.
Kitsune were a breed quick to anger and Miko should not have been an exception. But yet she remained calm despite the assault by her own kin. She had learned to love, thanks to this human she now protected and she would never regret that. But had she learned other things as well… and if so, would they be a strength or weakness?
Fireball after fireball was thrown but she was able to fend them off, though she was still too physically, mentally, and emotionally drained to have full use of her powers, so she just couldn’t mount a counter attack. She didn’t know how long she could keep this up, nor what to do.
Though physically stunned by the attack, he never lost consciousness and saw or heard most of what transpired after he went down. The pain had been excruciating at first and felt as though fire flowed within him instead of blood.
But curiously, that faded quickly and just added to the tension that had been building around him, but he was still unable to make little use of his limbs.
Miko was defending him from the attacker but clearly was out matched. Sister? The other was her sister? He didn’t understand what was happening but he wouldn’t let her get hurt because of him. He had to do something. He had to move, to stand, to help fight the one who was now attacking his love, his…. mate. It should be him that was defending her!
So with every grain of willpower he could summon, he made his hands move, then his arms. his legs were next and he finally managed to forced himself up onto his hands and knees, and with this physical accomplishment or perhaps it was because of the shear mental effort, the thunderclap that had been threatening, broke silently around him.
There was a blinding flash which apparently only he could see and he felt the ground tremble beneath him. A fiery glow then lit his body from within and his vision changed, losing much of the color perception, but what it was replaced by more than compensated for the loss. The world about him became sharper and clearer than he could ever have imagined. Every detail was visible and for just a moment, he turned his attention from the conflict in front of him and look around. And for just an instant, he saw them, the watchers, kitsune in their truest form.
There were dozens of them, maybe more, scattered about the glade and all had their fiery eyes fixed on him. But this vision lasted just an instant before they faded back into the mist. That is, all but one, and that one approached him with purpose.
When it stopped beside him, it looked him up and down then seemed to nod in approval. Then it spoke and all the world about them seemed to stop. “Many generations have passed but your blood is still strong and you are recognized and welcome here and will receive what is needed and deserved. Yes, you are ready and quite worthy, so rise and fight for your mate. And you, as once was given to another a long ago, have my blessing.” Then she turned to leave.
His eyes widened in stunned recognition. The stories had been true and as she began to fade from sight as had the others, he called out to her, “Thank you grandmother, you honor us.” Then she was gone and the world resumed its chaotic motion.
And so, as he started to rise the rest of the way to his feet, still using shear will, the fires within him finally burst forth to reform about him as he himself was reformed…..
She sensed her sister weakening and knew within moments she would disable her enough to finish off the human trash she protected. She really didn’t want to hurt her sister but it had to be done to save her. So she now summoned what power she could into what she hoped would be one last effort before she would be able to end the interloper.
Miko saw that her sister was preparing for another attack and sensed that it would be the most ferocious yet, but still had only one flame herself to command and defend with where her sister had many.
She was about to strike when a glow appeared about her sister and a second foxfire joined the first. Then a second and third, and they kept appearing till a dozen or more floated above and behind her. “How was she doing that?” she wondered, “She never had that kind of power!” But that thought trailed off as a creature she had not seen for well over a century stepped out from behind her sister and she froze, her gaze going to it, with her sister all but forgotten.
Miko waited for the assault and knew this may very well be the last for she was nearly spent. She readied herself as her sister was about to cast the next volley but for some reason paused midway through the motion. Then Miko noticed that her sisters attention was no longer even on her, but slightly to her right and… behind.?
Finally sensing the new and powerful presence, she spun around to see what it was, then took a step back in shock.
Not it but him, and she now understood her sisters reaction, for little more than an arms length in front of her was a creature that had not ventured into forest in an age and he bristled with fire that made both she and her sister’s pale in comparison. Then she looked up at his face, and into eyes that blazed like hot coals with fury and was instantly overcome by dread.
Kitsune were a fearsome creature when angered, the males markedly more so than the females. And the dog, who stood at least a head taller than herself, was clearly beyond anger… and he, seeing that she had now turned her gaze on him, in turn, turned those fiery eyes to her.
Male kitsune, this place has had them before of course, many having been born on this very spot. But the males, unlike the females, were wanderers and would vanish to places unknown for very long periods of time before returning to their home ground.
Miko nearly turned to flee in panic but managed to maintain control and stood her ground. “What was he doing here?” she thought.Then his eyes met hers and everything changed.
First, those fiery orbs that burned so bright only seconds earlier, dimmed and took on a softness that was counterpoint to what they had been, and the blazing aura that had surrounded him subsided along with the menace that radiated from it. Then he smiled, something evident only to another fox. It was warm and caring and something she had come cherish as she came to love the human that had taught her so much.
Then her eyes widened and she glanced over to the spot where the one whom she had been protecting had fallen. Her lover, her mate, was not there! She looked instantly back up at him then back again to the ground to make sure, then back to him and she took another step back to get a better look at him. She then saw the fundoshi and a smile came to her face as well, though this was really not the time for it as it was mostly born of humor, for a kitsune, in their own element, shouldn’t be wearing anything, let alone one she recognized.
A myriad of questions instantly came to mind, but as before, when the word “How” was uttered, he interrupted.
“I’ll explain later.” He said, then went about preparing an attack of his own that would end this conflict once and for all. Then, gathereing all of his own fire into a tight cluster, he raised his arms and cast.
Miko watched him do this and her eyes went wide with horror! Though her sister had been trying to kill him, the attacks she and her sister had made on each were merely intended to disable, for kitsune rarely intended to do serious harm to one of their own kind. But she saw that the energy gathered by her mate, whether he intended it or not, was of sufficient strength to utterly destroy. And her sister, still rather stupefied by the appearance of this strange male, was in no condition to mount a defense.
“No,” she muttered, then “STOP!”, at great volume. But it was too late to halt the cast. But an instant before impact, the fireball did stop, then separated once more into its component parts, only to hovered about their would be target.
Miko’s sister fell to her knees then, stunned and confused over what had transpired over the last moments.
Miko, as her mate turned once again to facer her, started to speak, but for a third time, was hushed, this time with a touch on the nose with the tip of a claw. Then he spoke and said, “What shall we do with her?” and nodded toward the still kneeling figure.
“Nothing,” replied Miko, “but I’ll go speak with her… and do that again and I’ll bite it off!” and ended the statement with a snarl. She started toward her sister then, but turned to face him once more and continued, “And you have a lot of explaining to do yourself!” then continued on.
While she did this, he plopped down where Miko had sat in despair only moments earlier, and tried to think of how to take what had just transpired. A new form, a new life, it was overwhelming and he shook his head. He had so much to learn.
The sisters finally rose together with one departing in haste while the other returned to embrace him.
“What did you say to her?” He asked.
“Not much, basically just to come back when she could be more civil… and more human. I don’t think there’ll be any more trouble from her.” She replied.
“So, what do we do now?” he asked.
“First,” she said after a little thought, “come run with me.” Then she added, “On all fours.” Then seeing the change of expression on his face, she sighed and said, “I’m only going to show you this once….”
Moments later, two creatures and ten tails could be see dashing through the wood that both would now call home. Apparitions, fleeting shadows to any without the ’sight’, in this place of mists and legends where few mortals dared to venture.