This is the second part of the Kitsune Chapter One. Read part 1 here. There’s just a few days left until the release!
Once again in fox form, she flew through the forest undergrowth. She could smell blood in the air; the boar had not been completely unsuccessful. I thought humans of this region knew to stay away from this forest. I wonder what madness drove them in here. She leapt over a fallen tree. It does not concern me, I suppose. Though I would have liked to learn more about that human. He was interesting. She laughed at her own curiosity. That is the first time I’ve ever thought that of a human.
As she ran, she spread out her senses. She had felt nothing since the boar, and then as she approached her destination, she noticed an overhead shadow, which leapt from branch to branch, keeping pace with her. If it was a Yokai, they had cloaked their spiritual energy, making them invisible to her probes. And if it was a Yokai, it also meant they were more powerful than her. She reached a clearing in the woods; the trees circled a grassy area open on all sides. It was a convenient spot to confront her stalker, one where she could escape from if need be.
She transformed back into a woman and said, “Come out, I know you’re there.”
It dropped out of the tree to her right. She tilted her head to look at him, as if she were merely curious and not on the defensive. His tunic and split pants were black and he wore a white mask over his face. The mask had only two dark holes for the eyes, no space for a mouth or nose.
“Can I safely assume you are here to welcome me?” Rin asked.
The messenger did not appear to be amused. “What business do you have in the guardian’s forest?” was his monotone reply.
“I am the Dragon’s messenger.”
The warrior’s hand hovered over his sword. “And what message might the Dragon have for Akio?”
“Are you Akio?” Rin asked, though she already knew the answer.
She laughed. “Then I am not inclined to answer your questions, now am I?”
“You saved that human, why? You know I must report this to the guardian.”
She shrugged. How could she explain such a whim when she did not even understand it herself?
“Do you plan on taking me as a prisoner to Akio, then?” She held out her hands as if she expected him to bind them together.
“No, but I will escort you to his palace.”
She waved her hand. “Lead the way, then.”
Rin followed after the warrior. He walked with an upright rigid air that one would expect from Akio’s guard. He did not turn to make sure she followed. Not that it was necessary, he could stop her in an instant if she tried to flee. The guardian’s palace was hidden in the middle of the forest, the entrance guarded by a long rope bridge over a canyon. They crossed the bridge, which swung back and forth. Rin glanced over the edge at the chasm below. Low-hanging clouds blocked the bottom from view. The palace building itself was hidden amongst the trees, some twined with the building, as if it had been here since the dawn of time and the trees merely grew through the structure. The verandas and covered walkways were shaded by the canopies of trees to the point where Rin could not see where the building started and the trees ended.
Once they crossed the bridge, they climbed up a narrow set of stairs, which ended at a double door. There were two guards; both of them had the head of deer and the body of men. They wore armor, painted red, over black gathered pants and tunic. They stared straight forward, ignoring the warrior who had come to fetch Rin. The warrior moved silent as a ghost into the courtyard beyond. It was slated in marble, twisted with black and gold flecks. The roots of a large tree grew in cracks of the marble, like veins. She followed after the warrior, who gave her no instruction but seemed to expect compliance.
They climbed a smaller set of steps into the main building. Here the floors were covered in tatami, bamboo mats, and at the far end of the room on a raised platform sat the forest guardian, Akio. He was a massive creature who dominated the space. He had the head of a boar and instead of hands he had hooves. He wore several layers of bright silk robes. The sleeves draped over his arms and pooled on the ground near his thick meaty thighs. Yokai attended him, all of them animal hybrids like the guards at the door, a few monkeys, and a few more deer women served him platters of dumplings and fish cooked in a thick dark sauce. The warrior who had come to fetch her knelt down before the boar and laid his head down to the ground.
“My lord, I found this Kitsune wandering the forest,” he said in a formal clipped tone.
The boar ate messily; dark sauce dribbled off his snout and onto his bright yellow kimono. He glanced over at Rin like one does a buzzing fly. He had small beady eyes like the creature who had attacked the young lord. But unlike the dumb animal, there was cunning staring back at her.
“You are a messenger of the Dragon,” he said. His voice rumbled and shook his massive gut.
“Is it that obvious?” Rin replied. She could not help but taunt him. Her position as a messenger gave her immunity.
Akio did not seem amused. “Does your master forget that I have forbidden any of his court in my domain?”
“Ah. As the Dragon has often reminded you, your domain is within his kingdom and therefore you are his subject.”
The boar laughed. “You are brash for someone with such a low status.”
He thinks to humiliate me. Well… “That jibe might sting more if it were not coming from a mouth full of food.”
He jumped to his feet, knocking over platters and spilling a jug of sake in the process. Rin grinned, not backing down an inch.
“How dare you insult me in my own palace!” he roared.
“I would chastise you for being rude as well, but I feel it would be a futile effort.”
“You insolent worm. I should have you locked away to rot.”
“And then you would have a real war on your hands,” Rin replied.
The boar narrowed his eyes. “Who are you really?”
“Just the Dragon’s messenger, nothing more.”
“I find that suspect.” He sat back down on his cushion. And then he leaned forward, his hooves folded in front of him.
“The Dragon asks that you attend a feast,” Rin said.
“Does he now? Is this his way of distracting us from his human lover?”
Human lover? She had expected tricks from Akio, but this was too farfetched even for her to imagine. The servants that sat beside him leaned in and whispered to one another, giving her furtive looks. A doe towards the front gave her a slow smile. Rin smiled back, full of honey laced with poison. They cannot possibly know me. I am just being paranoid.
The boar grinned, revealing crooked yellow teeth. “You know about it, I am sure. They say the Dragon has become ensorcelled by a human woman. There are rumors he has even abandoned his palace in favor of dancing to the human’s whims.”
She tried to picture the Dragon with a human. She had spent so much time avoiding him she could not recall where she had last seen him. He leaves from time to time and he’s been known to take human lovers but never for long and never serious. “That’s the problem with rumors, they are often misleading. Don’t you agree?” she said.
The boar shook his head. He waved his hoof and the servants rose as one and filed out of the room. Rin watched them go with a growing sense of dread. She may have bitten off more than she could chew with Akio.
“I have no time for your games. I know the Dragon wants to lure me out of my palace, but I am no fool. You thought to trick me, but you’re not nearly clever enough to play this game.”
“I never intended to enter a game of wits with you. There’s no competition where you are involved.” She examined her pointed nails.
He grinned at her, revealing yellow teeth. Perhaps he missed the insult. “You would have done better to come groveling if you wanted to play a spy, Rin.”
Her mouth dropped open as her stomach sank. How could he possibly guess her motives? She had told no one of her intentions, not even Shin. “You—”
“Yes, I know who you are, and I know you are no mere messenger. You would have been better served to not break my laws as well; I might have let you go otherwise.” He waved his hoof and guards approached from all sides. “Take her prisoner.”
Find out what happens next by reading, Kitsune.
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