Prologue

Secret Tears

In the light of the full moon, she stands alone.

Hand in hand with a beast as white as snow.

That will soon be painted red.

Engaged in battle with Hell.

Time is the only thing that will tell.

The secrets within the silken snow.

Tainted by things she does not know.

Lacrimation weaves through all her tales.

Until the day when Hell must die by her nine tails.

Chapter I

Dancing Pink Turns Red

"Ha!"

With a deafening crack!, my right foot connected with Marcus' strong, sculpted jaw, making him stumble back a few steps and his blackish-green hair fall in his face. However, he still held his ground, then swung to his full height, only a few centimeters taller than me.

"That was good," he murmured, making my heart skip with rare praise. But his eyes scolded me. "But you can do better."

My head hung lower than it already did.

"Stand up straight, Azul!"

I obeyed, swinging my head up at incredible speed, which made my snow white hair fall around me majestically. I glared at him.

"That was better than good," I objected loudly, refusing to be embarrassed again.

"Not really," he sighed. "This is one of the first times that you actually landed a hit. A poor one that didn't even knock me down." His pitch black eyes scrutinized me, making me feel like he could see through me again. "You have to improve, or you will fail Lady Kaguya."

"I'm trying my best!"

"Then I really have to think of just giving up."

"Then it will be you who failed Kaguya!"

"Perhaps, but you'll receive most of the blame for being unable to learn."

I had to look away.

"I think it's best that you took a break (not that you accomplished anything). Maybe you should eat something (and replenish your non-existing strength)."

"Don't add stuff to the sentence thinking I can't hear."

"Away with you!" He yelled, officially dismissing me.

The wind whirred through the trees, causing them to make a sound like tinkling magic. This stirred the cherry blossom petals from their rest, and they danced in the wind. In the light of the moon, they almost seemed to glow a luminescent pink. Extremely bright compared to the dark shrine behind us, which loomed like a demon.

I turned on my heel and stormed in the opposite direction of Marcus, who's face was softening as he saw that he kind of hurt my feelings. I knew he had good intentions; he was just really harsh sometimes. So I mostly endure it in silence, allowing my expressions to speak for me.

Twigs and slices of grass stuck to my white sock feet as I travelled back to the shrine. It didn't bother me. Sometimes I had human flesh stuck between my toes, so this was trivial.

It's not really my fault; I'm a demon, and I have to eat. A very special demon. I have been this way since the day I was born, and I never planned on changing it. That is, unless if my training didn't succeed.

A long time ago, a heavenly being known as Kaguya descended to Earth, supposedly due to a celestial war. She's very secretive, and the legends may not be very factual. She was praised and loved all over, but a certain race of demons found this disgusting.

They also saw it as an opportunity.

They played many pranks on and devoured many of Kaguya's people. Therefore, she placed a curse on them that they would have to serve and protect her until one became human.

Tragically, this would happen to be my kin.

Many generations have passed since then, and I am now supposed to be the dominant guardian. But I'm terrible at any kind of fighting and rarely feast on human flesh. I'm a disappointment, to say the least. I wish I could be stronger, so I could fulfill my duty.

But on another note, I wish to be free.

Sometimes, I am totally indebted to my cause; protect Lady Kaguya. But others, I resent my ancestors for moving this curse to me. I wish I could choose my own future. I wish I could see the world beyond this shrine. I am supposed to be kept here for my entire training, then be transferred to Kaguya's shrine and protect her there. Nothing in between. No opportunities to see anything else in the world.

I stopped walking, then looked up to the sky. The moon was a long way from being full again, but I was itching to get out of this body and turn into my true form. My tails itched beneath my skin, pining to be loose and released.

Suddenly, I heard the heavy sound of flapping wings behind me. I whirled around only to see Marcus coming, black wings carrying him through the forest of cherry blossom trees.

"Look, Azul," he said while landing in front of me, shifting his wings behind his back so they wouldn't take up too much room.

"What do you want?" I growled, not in the mood for talking.

He looked down at his feet, covered in black boots. "You are getting better. I just have a hard time controlling my temper. You're progressing slowly but surely, however Kaguya is growing restless on me. And I was taking it out on you. So..." He looked everywhere but me.

I crossed my arms over my chest. "So...?"

He finally looked me in the eyes, his full of dark sincerity. "Sorry."

"That's better," I nodded, walking away.

"Hold up! I just prostrated myself before you and that's all I get?!"

I glanced back. "What more did you want?"

Maybe it was my imagination, but I could have sworn his face flushed a bit. "I don't know, accepting my apology?"

"Apology accepted," I muttered. "You're a good teacher..."

His face brightened.

"... But you're probably getting old, tengu."

"What?!" I was already on the move. "I am not getting old! Compared to other demons, I'm young!"

"Not to me."

"You spoiled brat! I'm going to make sure to go harder on you next time!"

"Sh," I said suddenly, surprising him. "Someone's at the shrine."

We darted through the woods, me with my incredible speed and him with his pitch black wings, those of a crow. Marcus was a tengu, a crow demon of sorts. He can bend the will of other crows to his own, and transform any time he wishes (I can only fully transform on a full moon).

Stealthily, we slipped through the back screen door and moved to the front with the twisting shadows. The shrine was empty except for us and a few servants, so living here was close knitted but far away. There was a silhouette of a hunched over woman outside, and it looked as if she had adapted a praying pose.

"Please, gumiho-sama," she whimpered. "Spare my village from another raging disaster. My daughter has a newborn, and I wish for him to see many things around this world."

Another request about bending the laws of nature? Do people think I am some kind of god? (Actually, yeah...)

She clapped once more and shuffled away. I could hear her dragging footsteps even as she neared the edge of the mountain.

"They're praying to the wrong person," Marcus sighed.

"I have some pent up anger that I can't wait to take out on you."

"Yeah, if you could only land a solid hit..."

"I've had just about enough of you!"

"Whatever." He moved his hand to his face and covered his eyes. He heaved a large sigh. "I'm going to hunt. Make sure you don't get into trouble."

"I won't," I promised, thinking nothing bad could happen in at least ten minutes.

"Make sure you don't get into trouble."

"You don't have to say it twice. I get it."

With a final suspicious glare, he was gone in a burst of black feathers. They seemed to gleam in the moonlight streaming through the slits called windows. This place was almost like a prison.

Hardly anyone was here right now, so I felt like snooping around. I had every right to; Marcus seemed so secretive and this was my shrine. After all, it's a fox's job to deceive and lie.

I was a bit hungry, but not in any mood to hunt. And Marcus wouldn't take long, so I went straight to investigating by skulking into his room.

It was as threadbare as always, or this was all I had seen in the few times I had been in here for hiding or training. The tatami mat floor was a deep green, and there was one circular window that practically lit up the whole room with its direct view of the moon (that made me think that this should be my room). The only hint of furniture was the futon he slept on, and some remnants of his feathers scattered about.

But of course, he had a small closet where he kept practically everything. I got caught tearing through it once when I was a pup and curious, and he makes sure to protect it with his life. But I've learned a few tricks without him; maybe just instincts. It was in my blood to trick, lie, fool, and sneak around. So of course I knew how to get in.

I scratched out the sutra he had slammed on the door, leaving a large claw mark. I flexed my hand, long nails disturbingly protruding. Carefully putting my hands between the two screens, I slid them open at the same time. There was a lot of sheets of paper, some ripped and torn from my little adventures. It smelled of ink, old tree, and something bitter that was a tengu's scent. That made me scrunch up my nose.

One piece of paper stood out more boldly than the rest, because the ink on it was darker, as if it had been written with a lot of pressure on it. I might have been imagining it, but I swear I smelt slight saltwater, like he had been crying on it. But Marcus never cried. At least, as far as I knew.

Out of curiosity, I picked it up and inspected it. It looked like it had been written recently from the way that the paper didn't crumple and the ink still seemed a tad fresh. Marcus' writing was neat; the strokes seemed perfect and precise, probably from years of practise.

Thunder crashed outside, jolting me up and glancing out the window. The tatatata sound of rain splattered against the roof, and it even smelt fresher from in here. The moon seemed hidden now, the only light really coming from the clashes of lightening. Strange how I hadn't noticed any storm clouds earlier. Or maybe that was because an ame-warashi was passing by. Who knew.

I tried not to let that deter me from Marcus' heavily written note. As I quickly read through, I came to realize that he was angry because of me. Not because I wasn't progressing, like he said; because he was angry and worried that something might happen to me, for whatever reason. One paragraph in particular made my heart flip and cheeks flush.

Azulismiyarah (that would be my full name) is indeed progressing very well, though I keep encouraging her to work harder. Darkness is quickly encroaching and will not hesitate to pray on her innocent and defenseless soul. I am worried and terrified for her. There is something about that child that makes me believe in light and freedom, and seeing her smile seems to clear out all clouds. Yet she also frightens me. Her capabilities are still unseen, and her true form is much different than previous gumihos. Much larger and more threatening...

Not wanting to read any more, I had to tear my eyes away from the page. I had no idea what he meant by 'darkness is encroaching', and 'innocent and defenseless soul'. But it sounded like Marcus actually liked me. Maybe not love, but enough that he didn't dislike me at all.

Marcus wasn't a bad guy. He could be kind and sweet, and took care of me no matter what I say or do. He's always there, and I didn't know what I would do without him. He was my guardian, not technically, but it felt like he was always quietly watching over me.

I'm also proud to hear that I've been improving more than he led me to believe (haughty sniff).

Regardless, it made me feel guilty to be looking through his stuff. I wanted to forget about the letter and continue on in the way we have been. Nothing would change, and I was okay with that.

Well, except for one thing.

As to prove my point, I heard the shrine doors slide open with cringing force and a booming, cracking voice call, "Azulismiyarah!"

Damn it. As quickly as possible, I thrashed the papers in the closet, slammed it shut, and pretended like I didn't rip the seal. I slunk out of Marcus' room and down the hall, acting like I had never been in there (hehe, lies).

Hating that I was right, I cringed and shivered. Onibaba was back.

Onibaba was an old woman ogre, which is what the word actually means. She's my legal guardian for some twisted adoption reasons that I don't understand, and she's basically like some wicked stepmother. I hated her with everything I had, and Marcus tended to take her attention away from me so I couldn't be spoken ill of. But he wasn't here. There was nothing to stand between me and that witch.

She boomed in the hall, looking as haggish as ever. Her ears seemed to be extra pointy today, and her face was more jagged with skin flapping in the breeze (ew). Her hair was long and scraggly in a sorry excuse for a makeshift bun, dressed in a tattered kimono. Horns sprouted from her head to add to the menace, and her eyes glowed no particular colour with no pupils or whites.

"What are you doing?" She screeched in her shrill, witchy voice. "Why are you not training?! Where is Marcus?!"

I visibly cringed. "He was starving, and needed to hunt." Okay, that was kind of a lie, but I hated this woman and liked Marcus. You do the math.

"Then what are you doing wandering around?" She hissed slowly, like a snake. "Get to your room and continue training when he comes back!"
Although I flinched and flamed with rage, I obeyed. I could easily defeat her, if I could only unleash my true potential. But even if I did, I wouldn't be able to harm her. This was another issue with me. I hated harming anything. I stepped on a caterpillar when I was young and cried. I saw blood and freaked the hell out. This might seem like normal behaviour, and it is. For humans. But it was an abomination for demons, and also shameful. I couldn't stand up, couldn't say anything to stop it. So I relied on other people to guard me and protect me.

Which was my biggest weakness and why I would fail as Kaguya's guardian.

My room was very sparse, as well. Only a little cushion as my seat and a fold out bed, with a tall mirror and closet. It's not like I hated it; I just didn't know anything different.

I slammed myself against my wall with the window and slid down into a sitting position. The only sound now was that of rain and the grinding of fabric against my skin as I moved. I hugged my knees to my chest and watch the lightening cast rays of light in my dark room. I allowed my thoughts wander to where they always did. The outside world compared to my terrible upbringing.

Under strict guard and education is how I was raised. From a lot of study needed for any kind of situation as Kaguya's guardian, I had been only learning of the outside world and modern day things from books/magazines. I could speak many different languages without a trace of Asian accent, English being my solid secondary language. I could pronounce L's and all, probably because I wasn't really Asian; I was a demon. I knew so much vocabulary except for new cuss words, and have immense knowledge of vast subjects, like science, math, history, literacy, chemistry, et cetera...

This was why my thoughts were expansive and descriptive. I could see something and scan through my mind easily for a lot of descriptive words. Like this room. I could see that it was dark, depressing, and lonely. In a way, it gave off an aura of discomfort and strong negativity, most likely from me storming in here to vent.

With all this and my looks, I could be considered supremely intelligent and beautiful. From what I have seen in coloured pictures (because it's rare to see snow around here; we lived more on a large hill than a mountain) my hair fell past my butt and was as white as snow could be if it were always untouched. It fell in my eyes, making it hard to see sometimes.

My eyes were very, very light blue. They were a colour that I did not have a description for, but I imagine that it makes some precious gemstones envious. I was very tall, lean, and well built (not so much that it looked sickly and, you know, un-womanly) and my breasts were... large. Compared to some models I see in magazines, I give them a run for their money. I am unashamed, as I was raised to be of my appearance, so I really don't care about nudity and the like (I'm a demon that transforms into something without clothes; I could be regularly nude, thanks).

But mostly, I wore a white robe shirt with a white obi, and white miko pants. Plain, I know, but I'm not supposed to wear colour. The only real shock of difference would be my eyes and collar, a deep velvet black with a silver buckle in the middle. They treat me like a dog (which I am, in a way) and keep me on an imaginary leash. Think I'm kidding? No. There's actually an invisible leash tied to the collar that keeps me in this shrine, unable to escape. Sad but true.

Enough about that. But maybe it's understandable why I want to be free. I've read so many books, and I want to experience many things written. I'm deprived of any kind of childhood experience.

I hugged my knees tighter to my chest as thunder exploded in my ears, making them ring. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying not to cry.

I've never been down a slide in preschool or anywhere, unable to hear that wooshing sound as I flew down and possibly landed flat on my butt. I never had frozen yogurt or ice cream on a hot summer day, feeling the cold spread through my body and taste the rich creaminess. I haven't been swimming in crystal blue water. Splashing in leaf piles in the fall. Having snow ball fights or making snow angels. Laughing with friends at a regular school. Falling in love and feeling butterflies in your stomach. Being so damn happy that you want to explode.

No helping it now. Thinking of all of this made tears slide down my cheeks, stinging my eyes and tasting salty.

I wanted to be free. I wanted to feel alive and have more purpose than I do.

It continued to pour outside, and cracks of thunder were starting to hurt my ears. Nevertheless, I still thought of sneaking out and maybe running away for a bit. Trust me, I thought of it before. But I just never had the nerve. Now that I've read Marcus' note, maybe it was better if I left. The rigorous training would continue, as would my regular life with Onibaba. I wanted to get out. But I had to act fast.

Onibabas were fast and had super hearing, but I might be able to do it in one shot. One solid blow to the wall from my claws, then just make a break for it. My heart felt like it was going to beat right out of my chest, causing aches and pains in my throat. I swallowed, though it seemed to get stuck in my throat.

First, I had to take so many deep, calming breaths that I thought I was about to hyperventilate (which kind of defeated the point). Second, I really had to think it through a lot of times. Like pros and cons. Third, I heard Marcus come in and started the freak out. Fourth, the freak out made me spontaneously combust by just bursting through the wall and making a run for it. The whole process worked out in the end, I guess.

A few seconds of high speed running outside, and I was already soaked. My hair had become more silver than white, and my clothes stuck coldly to my body. Regardless, all you could see of me was a flash of white in the woods. Thunder and lightning swallowed the sound of my footsteps bolting through the forest filled with cherry blossoms, and they seemed to dance heavily in the weather.

The collar around my throat kept tightening, so I knew I was getting close to the edge of the barrier that surrounded the shrine. And goddamn it if I hadn't thought past just making a run for it. What was I going to do about the collar?

Turns out, I didn't even get that far.

Not because Onibaba, Marcus, or any of the servants stopped me. Something I have never seen before did.

At first, it was only a feeling. A natural instinct that made all the hair on my body stand on end and my back wreak shivers. If I had been in my true form, I'm positive I would've been in a growling defensive stance right about now. Then came the sound.

To be perfectly frank, it sounded like somebody dying a very slow and painful death. A banshee dying a slow and painful death was more like it. It pierced my ears and kept ringing in my head, making it ache and twist. Actually, I collapsed on my knees and had to hold my hands over my ears. The ringing wouldn't stop.

Finally came the actual sight of them.

I would never forget the way they moved and how it made me freeze with fear and my heart stop. It was like flowing water, twisting and turning as it went in a stream. They were pitch black, and some flickering darkness like flames came off of their forms (I wouldn't entirely call them bodies). They didn't have faces, or masks, or anything. It was just what looked to be personified darkness.

And their number was large.

I was surrounded.

They circled me like they were lions stalking their pray. I was frozen. What the hell were they? My heart was finally beating again, but it was in quick, panicked bursts. It was obvious that they wanted to hurt me. But I was a terrible fighter. How in the world was I going to-

I didn't have time to finish, because they transformed.

Not their form or anything. But they actually shape shifted so they had faces. Glowing red slits for eyes. And their mouths had no lips, they were just black rectangles with so many rows of jagged teeth. They screamed. Oh, hell, did they scream. Now I knew what that earlier sound was, except it was multiplied by ten now. I thought I was actually going deaf.

They lunged from all sides, and I was positive I was going to die.

But then I heard the familiar sound of flapping wings and smelt the woodsy yet bitter scent of a tengu. Marcus had come, and the sounds of battle surrounded me.

I looked up from my balled up position. He was slicing through them with his naginata, easily at that. But there was so many. They kept sneaking up behind him and tackling him from all sides. I hadn't realized I had been screaming because their screams drowned mine out.

They got Marcus in a heap on the ground, making my heart practically stop again and my eyes widen in a frightened animal way. They had gotten my trainer, Marcus, down. He was the closest thing I had to a friend. He actually cared about me.

"MARCUS!"

All I remember after that was a blur of black and white. All I remember feeling was slicing through butter. All I remember hearing was their unholy screams slowly decreasing. All I remember tasting was blood, tangy and sour on my tongue. They didn't have any blood to shed; I'm pretty sure I just kept biting my tongue a bunch of times from all the pressure and turmoil.

It was finally over, and I only stood there, panting. Looking down on Marcus by many feet. I must have transformed. But it wasn't the full moon. However, I would worry about that later.

Marcus was still on the ground, making groaning sounds and unmoving. The scent of so much blood filled my nostrils. Normally, it would've smelt sweet and made me hungry. Now it just overwhelmed me.

Whimpering, I folded up my hind legs behind me and lay beside Marcus like a faithful dog. I nudged him as lightly as I possibly could, and my snout was bigger than he was. Very weakly, he reached out a shaking arm to stroke my wet nose. Then it fell in the mud.

The moon moved out from behind the clouds, and I howled. I howled like I never had before. This was all my fault, because I wanted to escape and he came after me. I only realized just now that he had been trying to keep me safe from that this entire time. How could I be so stupid?

A very large tear slipped from my glowing blue eyes, and it could've drowned Marcus. I moved around him so he could lay on my stomach, than laid my extremely long, wide, and white nine tails around him like a blanket.

The rain had stopped. The only sound was my large heart thundering.

And the once pink cherry blossom petals that danced in the wind were now tainted crimson red.

"He's not doing very well," said the priestess while giving me an understanding look. "To be honest, I have never seen anything like this before. The only thing we can do is pray to Lady Kaguya to make him well again."

Nodding, I dismissed her. This was the sixth priestess that had said that. Marcus was in a critical condition, and no one knew what was wrong with him. I tried my best to explain all the events that took place on that night, and Onibaba yelled and wailed like Hell was freezing over and she was being trapped in the ice.

Hoping no one would stop me, I slipped into his room again. Every time I saw him, my heart seemed to shatter a little more. He always had sweat beading his pale forehead, panting like a woolly mammoth in summer, and eyes squeezed shut like he was trying to will it all away.

I kneeled beside him and touched his face gently. He felt too hot, then too cold. It alternated like that between every five seconds, and it made everyone at a loss. Especially me. I saw those things firsthand. What had they done to him?

"I'm so sorry," I whimpered again, my voice breaking as silent tears streamed down my stinging cheeks.

He moaned like he wanted to say something, but that was it. He was unconscious again.

"I need to talk to you," hissed Onibaba from behind me. I nodded, extremely reluctant, but squeezed his hand and stood up to go. His temperatures kept alternating even when he wasn't awake.

Onibaba led me to the shrine's main room, which was very wide with a throne like seat at the top middle. There were many scrolls hanging from the walls with either very old script or pictures of demons destroying humans. The one scroll that I could read always threw me for a loop.

In the light of the full moon, she stands alone.

Hand in hand with a beast as white as snow.

That will soon be painted red.

Engaged in battle with Hell.

Time is the only thing that will tell.

The secrets within the silken snow.

Tainted by things she does not know.

Lacrimation weaves through all her tales.

Until the day when Hell must die by her nine tails.

It was obviously talking about a gumiho, though, when it said 'her nine tails'. I was a gumiho, which was a nine tailed fox. So this poem always struck a chord deep within me.

"Sit," Onibaba ordered. I sat on a small pillow in front of her. "Marcus is obviously in no condition to train you."

I cringed and more tears almost fell down my red, splotchy face. I didn't want to think about that. I also didn't want to think about how I transformed when it wasn't a full moon.

"Therefore," she sighed. "You can no longer stay here."

Normally, I would've rejoiced. But now I had no intention of leaving Marcus. I voiced that opinion and she just shook her head and told me to shut up.

"We have nobody else to train you," she continued. "And if those things came after you here, we can no longer protect you. More of them will come here looking for you. You can't stay."

Putting aside further arguments, I asked another question. "Where would I go?"

"Somewhere far away from here," she muttered. "In the far east."

"Of Japan?"

"Of Earth."

Shock was plain on my face. "You want me to go across the world?!"

"It's the safest place for now," she said. "Probably somewhere in Canada. They have a good climate there, and you'll be able to be at good temperatures. Plus, no demon would think of looking there. It is a peaceful country."

"But, again, how can I go across the world and leave Marcus?" I demanded, fresh tears sprouting in my eyes. "It's not like he's going to die."

"Nothing is set in stone." She set her cold, colourless eyes on me. "You must go. As Lady Kaguya's guardian, at no time can you be injured. If you get killed by whatever the hell those things were, we're all dead. And we can't have that."

"This isn't fair."

"Don't be a brat. Nothing in this world is fair and just. Your curse is proof of that."

My emotions were in roiling turmoil, like waves crashing to shore. I knew I would be safer away from here, and I was finally getting the freedom I had always dreamed of. But Marcus was like this because of me. How could I just leave him behind?

"No arguments, Azulismiyarah," she finished firmly and finally. "I already have everything set up. A human friend of mine- don't give me that look, I get around." I let my eyebrows fall back into their original position. "She's willing to take you in. More frankly, she was ecstatic about it. Get packed and get out."

I was really offended that she just threw me out. "Will you swear that you'll take care of Marcus?"

"I won't swear anything to a liar like you."

That stung. "Swear." I quickly added, "Or I'll never leave."

"Fine, I swear. Now leave." She glared at me with all the force she could muster. "And never come back."