A/N: Written as a challenge on , this story is my first forte into the world of Japanese mythology. More to follow in the future.
A light fog was covering the village, but it was at its lightest around the Inoue family home and its neighboring shrine. There always seemed to be fig coming down from the hills and since the home was at the base of a tall mountain it seemed to come down every morning just as the sun was rising.
Sixteen year old Yoh walked along the cobblestone path of his family garden, having rose during the early morning far sooner than even his mother. She remained in bed even after the rest of the house hold got up and ready for the day. Yoh's older sister was already at her favorite place in the garden, sitting on the bench at the edge of the small pond. He could hear her flute playing blissfully in the morning air.
She had her eyes closed, fully concentrated on her playing that Yoh was able to sit down in the grass next to her and she remained in even playing. Her final note went smoothly, and she opened her eyes, "Yoh, you're up early. Something wrong?"
Yoh shook his head, "No. Just felt an urge to get up." He had that feeling that if he stayed in bed he would have missed something important happening, but he wouldn't tell that to his sister. She fawned over him enough as it was, in his mind anyway. Ayame, who was in her early twenties and beautiful, had other things to worry about and Yoh didn't want to be her center of attention even for a second. Deciding to take the chance to change the subject Yoh took the initiative, "Sister, how is Jin doing?"
Ayame placed her flute on her lap, "He is well, last message he sent me he said that he would be by to visit in the evening." Yoh noticed a smile come over his sister's face. Jin was Ayame's husband-to-be, he had proposed to her at her last birthday, and both families consented to the delight of everyone. Yoh had been there to see it.
Getting back up on his feet, Yoh went on and walked along the stone path back to the house, and he waved back as his sister bid him to be good for the rest of the day. The boy went along to the front of the house, and once he went outside he saw that his grandfather was talking with Hideki again.
"Be careful Hideki," said Grandfather Yoshi. He was aged over sixty but didn't seem to show it even though his face was wrinkled and his hair white as clouds.
Hideki tied the sheath of the katanna to his hip, bowing respectfully if not nervously back to his Grandfather. "I will. I'll be back." He left without another word.
Yoshi bowed back and then saw his youngest grandchild standing on the steps, "Ah, Yoh! So good to see you this morning."
Yoh lowered his head and went on down the stairs to greet his grandfather, "Thank you."
The old man, standing mostly up straight, walked hand in hand with Yoh towards the bridge over the creek near the house. The stream was wide but it was shallow and quiet for the most part. It had been higher years before, when Yoh's parents were his age but in the years since it had receded. The bridge remained as a reminder.
"I trust you listened to Ayame's flute this morning?"
Yoh nodded, "How could you not, she plays it better than anyone else I know."
"A natural talent she got from your mother, no less," replied Yoshi, stopping in the middle of the bridge and looking down into the stream.
Yoh watched his grandpa as he waited for some sort of response, but instead he heard something coming from somewhere else, though he could not put his finger on what it was. Something had his attention, and it was coming from the forest.
"Don't think about it Yoh."
The boy snapped in his grandpa's direction, coming out of the distraction he had been in, "Huh?"
"Hideki said he found the body of a mutilated cow on the side of the road near the village this morning. Looked as if a wild animal got to it. Best steer clear of the forest for awhile."
"But Grandpa, there's nowhere else to go for any sort of fun, it's quite quiet around here."
Yoshi chuckled, "Sorry, Yoh, but your father told me not to let you near it. You go there and you'll be in really big trouble, okay?"
Yoh sighed, feeling his day go downhill fast.
Then a sound came, what sounded like the rustling of trees just off the path by the bridge. The suddenness of it startled Yoh, but didn't faze Yoshi somehow.
"Feels like they know it too," Yoshi said.
"Who?" asked Yoh, feeling curious as to what his grandpa was talking about.
"The spirits of the forest. No doubt they know of the beast that is in our land by now. Or they already took care of it. Who knows."
"Grandpa, what 'spirits'?"
The older man smiled, "Yes, well, I used to tell your older sister and brother all sorts of stories when they were young but your father was pretty strict. No sense of imagination, that son of mine, he made me stop before you were born."
"Stories? Ayame and Hideki never spoke of such to me."
"Why wouldn't they? Your father made them promise never to say anything. Afraid to give you nightmares no doubt."
Yoshi walked on until he found a large rock near a small cluster of trees, just off to the gate leading into the forest. As he sat down, Yoshi invited his grandson to sit next to him. Yoh did without thinking twice about it, his urge to learn more compelling him to do what he was told. "Listen Yoh, what I will share with you will not sit well with your parents so please, keep this between you and me, alright?"
Yoh nodded quickly.
"Alright. You see, Yoh, the forest that has been here since this world was created, and even then the gods above created spirits to protect it from those who would harm it. Everything has a spirit to protect it, from the forest to the mountains, to the rivers and the oceans. It's all got a guardian to protect it. Now, the forest here is unique in that it's protected by the Kitsune spirits."
Yoh tilted his head to one side, "Kitsune...fox spirits?"
Yoshi nodded once, "That's right. Not just one or two, but a whole family of fox spirits protect this forest and, as luck would have it, our family as well. Back way before you were born, a fox spirit was horribly wounded in a battle with another demon, and while he was hurt no one would help him because of the supposed bad luck his kind brought to those who got close. However, one man did help nurse him back to health. One of our ancestors. As a way of honor, the fox offered to repay him with anything, and the ancestor replied that he couldn't think of anything. So, the fox spirit said, 'Then my blood is yours. For the kindness you gave me, my family will defend your land, and your kin for the rest of eternity.'"
Yoh's eyes were wide, "Eternity? As in forever?"
Yoshi nodded, "While your father believes it to be nothing more than a legend or folly, I was told by my father that even when he was young his father told him the same story. That the fox spirits were still watching over the Inoue clan, even after hundreds of years. You see, kitsune spirits are well known as fulfilling their duties and loyalty. Sure, they are more widely known as tricksters that deceive humans, but I believe that these spirits are different, and that we should not be afraid of them."
Yoh looked towards the forest, the fog slowly pouring past the large boulders and trees around the gate. "Why don't they show themselves? If they are watching over us, I mean?" Yoh had to think about it after he finished. Sure, if what grandpa said was true, what hadn't he seen anything in the woods all his life?
Yoshi laughed again, "You probably did, Yoh, but you didn't recognize anything out of the ordinary at the time."
Yoh again appeared confused, "What do you mean?"
"Kitsune's are known to work well with illusions and magic. They are masters of disguise and shadow work. They can appear as human as you or I one instant, and then the next they appear as nothing more than a fox running in the wilderness. That is one of the reasons why they are so feared, but are also respected." Yoshi turned to the forest, a large flock of small sparrows came out of the trees and into the cloudy sky. "Still, Yoh, they are also not meant to harm us. I have never seen one in my life, but I always felt that they were watching over us. Just like the story, they are honor bound to watch over us until the Inoue family vanishes from this world."
The boy had to process all that he had just heard. A story about a family of foxes protecting his family? And his father had been against this why? Why didn't he let his older siblings tell him these stories? They didn't seem scary to him, and thus he couldn't understand why.
"Grandpa, is there anything in the legend about our family actually seeing these foxes?"
Yoshi slowly shook his head, "Like I said before Yoh, I don't recall seeing them when I was your age, and if anyone else did they certainly didn't tell me about it. But, sometimes that is a good thing, especially when it comes to the kitsune clans. They do their duty and such, are better off without our interference."
Yoshi stood back up and started to walk back towards the bridge, but Yoh had remained behind to remain staring at the forest, as if he was waiting for something to happen.
Sadly nothing did, and he ran to catch up with his grandfather.
The morning gave way to afternoon and then to evening before Yoh thought of returning home. The sun was beginning to set in the west, and before too long it would fall behind the mountains overlooking the valley and it would get dark. The impending darkness didn't bother his mother though. The whole house was lit up thanks to the torches Yoh's mother Aya was busy lighting.
Ayame was still in the garden, and Yoh wondered if she had ever left since he last saw her this morning. Still, she had that smile etched onto her face, no doubt due to her fiancé Jin arriving within a few hours. Hideki had returned earlier from his personal scouting mission, but he had not spoken a word about it to anyone. Yoh was surprised to see his father had returned home from the main village and he was in the main room of the house overlooking the bridge that led to the forest just beyond the property.
Yoh saw Hideki enter his father's room with haste, and just to sate the curiosity he had welled up inside, the youngster decided to drop in and listen. Too bad the door was closed and he could barely hear what was being said. He didn't get anything out of the conversation other than 'beast' and 'villagers'.
The shuffling of footsteps approaching the door made Yoh scramble for cover, just making it behind a large vase as his brother came out into the hall.
"Yoh, you shouldn't eavesdrop, it's not good for you," said Hideki as he put a hand on his sheathed sword.
The younger brother stepped out of hiding, "What happened on the road this morning?"
Hideki began to walk, "Nothing of note, a large cow was devoured on the side of the road. Wild animal attack from the looks of it. I was in the village asking around."
Yoh seemed intrigued, "Not too often something like that happens, even this far in the valley."
"Don't worry about it. If anything comes our way Father and I will handle it." Hideki spoke firmly and assuredly, despite being an apprentice samurai he was maturing quite quickly. He was being trained by his father after all, and Inoue Koji had once been an exceptional samurai back in the day.
Still, even with the assurance of his father and brother's swords, Yoh couldn't help but think that there was something more to this situation than what it seemed.
"I better make my rounds, take care little brother," Hideki said just before he left.
Yoh peeked into his father's room but didn't see him, and as he didn't want to bother him with questions he left the room.
Ayame was walking about the garden, still wearing her pink and white kimono and holding her flute win her hands. Normally she'd be inside helping her mother, but her excitement for the evening was probably a bit much for her to contain. Yoh wished he had some form of excitement, but with what his grandfather said earlier, he was unable to go anywhere.
The man began to transform, his arms growing warts and bubbling, his head got bigger and bigger and deformed into a frog-like head. Yoh fell backward and sank into the mud of the shallow water, and when he looked up at what was once a man standing before him was now a human like frog standing on two legs. A frog demon!
Such creatures had existed since the dawn of time, but Yoh had never seen one until today.
"Well, waiting in the marshes worked out best, I already ate a couple cows today, now-" the ugly creature leered down at the boy stuck in the mud and reeds, "I'll just help myself to a little snack!"
Yoh's face lost its color and he panicked, scrambling to his feet and trying o run through the ankle deep mush that he was trapped in. He didn't get far when the frog's webbed and slimy hands enclosed around his shoulders. Yoh screamed as loud as he could, and the demon opened his mouth to swallow him whole.
But then he stopped.
A barking sound came from the trees, a call consisting of three or four 'wow' sounds all in a row. The frog demon searched around the area, and though Yoh couldn't see anything, he had that feeling from earlier that he was being watched. He certainly hoped someone-anyone-would save him from being devoured by a frog monster.
A whistle was heard and the frog screamed in pain as something was driven into his right eye, a knife of some sorts. Yoh was instantly tossed to the ground and while knowing what just happened he didn't care and ran for the safety of the road. The Frog pulled the knife out of his eye and gave chase, all the while huffing and heaving and croaking in his attempt to catch up with the human boy.
Yoh took cover behind a rock and heard the frog shout again, he peered over the rock to see that it had fallen onto its large belly as soon as it reached the dirt road.
Flashes of black and white whizzed all around the frog as it struggled to get to its feet again, but something was keeping it down, and it was screeching in pain from the constant onslaught from its unseen attackers.
Yoh went back down and put his hands over his ears to keep the uncomfortable sounds of the frog as it was dying from entering his mind. To stop from hearing the sounds of punctured flesh and the splashing of blood as best he could.
Then it was quiet. No more screaming, no more agony, just silence.
Yoh was shaking with tension and nervousness as he peered over the rock again. He saw the still body of the frog demon lying on its belly like before, only there were multiple puncture wounds on its back and face and it's disgusting green blood was oozing out of the wounds and flowing into the marsh as well as soaking into the road.
Yoh looked around for whatever had saved him, but couldn't see anyone. Who had just rescued him? More so, what was going to happen to him now? Would they come back for him?
Another bark was heard, and Yoh snapped in the direction it came from, which was behind him. On the cliff above him, standing amidst the fog were the silhouettes of five beings. One stood in the middle, arms crossed over its chest, and there were two others on either side of it.
Yoh wasn't sure how to feel at the moment, his body was frozen on the spot, and he wasn't sure if he could pray at the moment.