Going Under, the first book in the Something in the Water series, arrives Tuesday, September 5!

 

Chapter I: Into the Woods [Foxtrot]

Chapter I: Into the Woods [Foxtrot]

autumn

For as long as there have been people, there have been legends. And as long as there have been legends, there have been rumors of demons and gods, of places where these creatures reside. Oh, you might say they are fictions, they are lies, but it is not so.

Why have we not found these places, then, you ask? Well, you see, the problem with these places is that we do not know where they are exactly. This is because they are anywhere and everywhere. If you listen to the voices of every land, then you will know that all people speak of these places, and you will know, then, that Demon Country must truly be everywhere.

One people tell of most often is the kitsune, the huli, the zorro, the renard—the fox demon. Oh, a tricksy, crafty beast, for certain. For as long as there have been foxes, there have been people to tell of these foxes and believe in their demonic forms.

Here, not far out of this sleepy little town, there is a great, deep woods. The road is desolate; it is not paved, but bumpy and rutted. People rarely travel on it, perhaps from town to town.

The countryfolk are like the folk in any other land; they speak of the lore. They say that deep in the woods, where men and women fear to tread, lies the land of the Kitsune no Youkai—the demon foxes. At night, travelers say that along this road you can hear the foxes barking, loudly, creeping closer and closer to your tent. They are not afraid.

The travelers say you can tell the youkai—the demons—apart from the beasts. The demons stand taller; their fur is thicker, their tails bushier, and they have a look about their faces of keen intelligence that makes it seem as if they may speak to you in your native tongue. Foxes are known for being solitary hunters, unlike their cousins the wolves, but here, the legends say, you may sit up in the night and find yourself surrounded by the beasts, their cat-like eyes staring out at you, glowing in the darkness.

The fox is known among all peoples to be a crafty hunter and craftier quarry. In some legends, the fox is a shape-shifter, who will take the form of a monk to steal your money, or the form of a woman to seduce you and swindle you of your honor. Other legends tell tale of the nine-tails—the king of the demon foxes, whose tails split once every hundred years. When the fox gains its ninth and final tail, it is believed to be immortal.

But these are legends and legends alone. We humans do not know the truth about the Kitsune no Youkai, for these stories are told to us by old men, who traveled many years ago, whose eyes were deceived in the darkness and shadows of the forest, who mistook the barking of their own dogs for that of the demons they believed to be there.

Only those who live there know the truth; only the Kitsune no Youkai would be able to tell you how the Kitsune no Youkai live.

Zuru knows the truth, for he lives in what his people call Kuni no Kori, the land of demon foxes and badgers. He knows the ins and outs of the forest and the language of his people. He has been to the places where foxes live, where they die, and where they are buried. Zuru observes all that his kin do, from the ordinary day-to-day existence of that smallest red fox to the largest demon fox, the immortal nine-tails—Ninesy, as they call him.

Zuru does not know his grandfather’s true name; all the foxes call him Ninesy, or Umisen’yamasen, which simply means old fox. Zuru’s grandfather is indeed an old fox; over a millennia has the old fox spent in Kuni no Kori, and his nine tails, the proof of his age, are magnificent to behold. As a small kit, Zuru admired them, banefully waiting for the day he would own such luxurious tails. His own, single tail did not suffice.

But Zuru has many years before he will possess nine tails like his grandfather. He has but three to pride himself upon, and many years before the fourth will come to him. Zuru, though he is still young, has matured, and he will now wait patiently for his tails.

Zuru, for now, has much time to frolic and be as he will. For the time will come when he must step to the throne. The time will come when his father Zorro becomes the next Umisen’yamasen, and Zuru will grow from being Crown Prince to being Emperor. Zuru is somewhat of an oddity among his people; he is the only child of the Emperor, and he was the only kit born in the litter. His mother, Kuai, was blamed for this, but Zuru was a son, and her soul has since been laid to rest. The Kitsune no Youkai see no reason to torture her name further.

Kuai had come far from the North, where a clan of Kyuubi no Yoko lived in their own version of Kuni no Kori. Long ago, there had been a great famine in the North. Members of that clan traveled far to the South, and eventually happened upon Kuni no Kori. At some time, though not even Umisen’yamasen could remember when, the Southern nine-tails had gained greater precedence than their Northern cousins, and they had come to claim the title Emperor. Still, the royal family paid homage to their roots, by selecting all of their brides from their Northern kin.

Zuru, like any fox, is mischievous and sly. Despite being the Crown Prince, he hardly is regal or refined. He delights in pranks, and though the elder foxes frown and say he won’t be a fit emperor, they forget that he is simply a fine example of their species.

Zuru, like most nine-tails, possesses the power to shift his shape as he so desires. Perhaps this is why we humans will never know the exact whereabouts of Kuni no Kori; should we ever spot a nine-tails such as Zuru, we would never know it. If we did know it was one, we would never be able to follow him back to Kuni no Kori—he would lose us, or change into a blade of grass, a leaf, and disappear right before our very eyes.

Zuru, for now, plays pranks, and goes his merry way. His jokes are harmless, for the most part. Most often, he takes the form of a real fox, the kind we see roaming our countryside. He enjoys this, to look at humans up close. He tells his father it is so he can perfect his transformation—one day, he might even take the form of one of our vixens, just for kicks, he tells Zorro.

But, to be true, Zuru is merely curious. He enjoys watching us, observing us. He thinks we are very strange creatures, and he does not understand us much at all.

Today is another day of observation for the young nine-tails. Zuru has spent all day lurking along the laneways and ditches. It’s a bright September day, so lovely that you might think it was still summer. The leaves on the trees say otherwise however; the maples are clad in their fantastic autumn wardrobe: yellows and golden browns, oranges and brilliant reds.

Zuru weaves his way through the dry weeds that choke the ditch. They stand upright and tall, despite being dead. The fox snorts in annoyance at the burs in his fur. He will lick them out later. He plunges on.

The ditch begins to climb and so does he. He walks out into the open. The fox stands, and he sniffs the air a little bit. He is standing on asphalt, a few loose stones kicked up by summer rains and passing traffic digging into the pads of his paws.

A tall man is standing there, swathed in black. He looks down his nose at the little fox. Zuru’s three tails wag happily in recognition. His golden fur shines in the sunlight. The man crouches down, and tosses the nine-tails a piece of sandwich.

Zuru comes closer, nabs up the morsel in his mouth, and chews. The man reaches out and touches Zuru’s head; he allows this. The man continues to pet him, but looks up, down the long, rutted road.

Far away, they hear the rumble of a car. Zuru looks up at the man, waits for another morsel. It takes him a moment to notice, but when he does, another piece is instantaneously offered.

The car draws closer. The change in Zuru is so subtle, as if it happens by magic or animation. His tails come together, and his fur turns red. He bears the markings of the red fox, and his eyes are green and slit. The car drives by. The people in it point and shake their heads. “Look,” they say, “how disgusting. That poor fox. It won’t know how to survive the winter.”

He smirks as he watches the people in the car drive by, just as the human who’s feeding him smirks. When the car has faded from sight and sound, Zorro’s ears twitch, and he gets to his feet. He pats Zuru’s head; the fox looks up at him with reverence.

“Go on,” he says to it, “tell Lorne I want to speak with him.” And he turns his back, his nine tails swishing behind him and sweeping the ground of leaves and burs.

He listens to his son trot into the woods; he can hear it all the way to the river, and that’s a good five miles away. His claws dig into his forearms, his canines bite into his lower lip, and he grins.

Today is going to be a good day.

—–

[Notes: This is a piece I wrote a while ago … digging it out of storage! I’ve always liked the lore around the shapeshifting fox, so I wanted to play with some of the various myths. This does eventually have some boyxboy content, although it’s mostly on the sweet side of things. And I guess ears & tails? Anyway! I hope you enjoy it.]

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