Takeru Inoue arrived in the forest north of his home clutching his school bag. He had yawned for like the hundredth time in the last hour, having to get up much earlier than he wanted to on a school day. Yet he had no other choice when his mother literally pulled him out.
'Go to bed earlier and you'll wake up earlier, she says. Well mom, it's not my fault that I was kept up most of the night,' thought the fifteen year old Takeru. Dressed for school in his dark green uniform, his hair was unkempt and still showed signs of bed hair.
As he walked deeper into the forest, which still had a rather thick layer of fog at nearly eight in the morning, he felt the need to complain aloud. "Why does she come here so early in the freakin' morning anyway?"
He got quite a ways in before he was stopped by the sound of a whistle. Out of the fog ahead of him came a stranger in a dark blue loose kimono and wearing a white and red kitsune mask. On his left hip was the easily recognizable handle of a samurai katana. "State your business here or leave at once..."
Takeru at once straightened up, feeling the air suddenly change around him. "Inoue Takeru, I've come to pick up Megumi. We're supposed to walk to school together..."
The stranger didn't say anything until after he removed his mask. Behind it was the face of a young man, who surprised the young human by giving a toothy grin. "Master Takeru, it's good to see you again."
Knowing who he was talking to Takeru relaxed his shoulders. "Shingo? Since when did you become the kitsune clan's door man?"
The older man scratched the top of his head, the black fox ears that were atop his head twitched having heard the sounds of the forest around him. "I just so happened to be walking the forest line, I'll have you know. Unlike my other siblings I am not above doing menial tasks to alleviate my boredom." Dropping the subject right then and there Shingo motioned with his hand for Takeru to follow, "Anyway, I'll take you to my sister. Come with me."
The two went deeper into the forest along a special path known only to the kitsune clan and its servants. In the forests of Mt. Fuji humans knew the area enough to steer clear of it and for good reason. Legends of monsters dwelling there had scared countless generations of Japanese up until the end of the Second World War. Though largely tall tales, there were still some that believed the monsters and demons, better known as yokai, lived in hiding from human eyes. Takeru knew this was true, though until recently he had thought of them as nothing more than stories to influence tourism.
That is, until he found out they were real, and that his family had a deep connection with one family of yokai.
The fog lessened along the path and after entering a clearing surrounded by thick bamboo poles Shingo stopped and whispered. "We're here."
For a moment Takeru wanted to ask if they were in the right spot as he walked around Shingo, which was when he noticed the figure ahead of him. The figure was a girl with long dark hair tied up in a bun, dressed in the girls uniform of Takeru's school that consisted of a cherry blossom pink jacket and forest green short skirt. Topping it off she wore black stockings that covered the skin of her legs. Like Shingo she too had a pair of fox ears on her head.
She stood stock still, samurai sword in her right hand, and didn't acknowledge the presence of the two.
Takeru had found who he was looking for. "Hey-"
Shingo stopped him with his arm and slowly shook his head. Knowing his sister she wouldn't like to be interrupted when she was in the midst of her training. So Shingo came up with the idea to hurry it along. Using the wind itself he swung his own sword in the air. The result was a gust of wind shook the area around them and the leaves fell from above.
Takeru didn't know what was happened, though he distinctly heard Megumi speak, "Kaze no dohru, Shinohana!"
Like a serpent poised to strike Megumi unsheathed her sword and with the grace of a dancer she swung in all directions of the wind, slicing through the cloud that fell around her. Grace and precision, not to mention the expertise she held with the blade, kept the leaves from touching her. When she was done, the ground she stood on was devoid of leaves in the shape of a perfect circle. For Takeru he had never seen such movement with a sword, and the fact that a woman had done it impressed him even more. She returned her sword to its sheath, and that was when she noticed Takeru and her brother.
"I see you came," she said, her voice cold in tone.
Takeru didn't know if she was talking to him or her brother.
Shingo shrugged his shoulders, "Beautiful work sister, but I am afraid it's time to go to the human world for a while."
Megumi gave a stare at Takeru that gave him a chill. "Fine."
She walked past the two and went back down the path they had just taken to reach her.
"She always this pissed in the morning?" asked Takeru as he began to follow Shingo back to the forest entrance.
"Not since Father had ordered her to live in the human world," answered Shingo. "She is more at peace when she is in the family home, and even more so when a blade is in her hands."
'I could see that,' thought Takeru. In the few short weeks that he had known the woman Takeru could easily tell that Megumi was not a typical girl. She liked the katana, trained with it every day, and would rather fight with it than not use it at all.
As they went down the path Takeru noticed a little shrine that had been hidden by the fog earlier, and Megumi was on her knees praying before it. Out of respect Shingo and Takeru both stopped and waited for her to finish. The shrine was a stone with inscriptions on it but where so weathered that Takeru couldn't make out who it was for. Fresh flowers and offering littered the ground around it.
After a few more minutes of precious time went by Megumi got to her feet and approached Takeru and her brother. "I am ready to go now."
Shingo smiled, "Praying to our ancestors for a good day, sister?"
Only Megumi's eyes turned to her older sibling, "Praying to them to get me out of this predicament as soon as possible before I commit seppuku, brother."
The idea of committing ritual suicide in the 21st century would have made anyone think it was a joke. Yet Takeru knew that she was serious.
Despite her response being dead serious, however, Shingo seemed to take it as a joke. "Ha! As much as you hate the arranged marriage sister, I know you well enough that you'd never take the easy way out. It's not in your nature."
Megumi's bother had nailed that right on the head and she closed her eyes to avoid showing how right he was. She opened them in time to speak to Takeru, the first time since he had come to pick her up that she had done so. "Let us be off."
Yet as eager as he was to get going Takeru had to point out a couple things that would not fly with him. "Um, you shouldn't bring your sword and what about those ears? People would ask too many questions."
Luckily for both of them Shingo had the answer to solve both problems. "A simple incantation should fix this. Hold please."
Using a paper talisman he had been carrying with him for just such an occasion Shingo pressed it against his sister's sword and in an instant it changed size and shape into something that easily fit in his sister's hand.
"Now it's a hair pin. That way you can carry the sword at all times but make it fashionable at the same time," Shingo said with a smile.
Not even taking a moment to look at it, Megumi put the pin in her hair, putting it near her left ear. A compromise she could live with, which was better than leaving her sword behind altogether.
That just left one other thing to handle, and Takeru pointed right at it. "And her ears? You have a spell for that?"
Shingo was way ahead of him on that, though instead of an incantation he held up a rather adorable light pink skullcap. Megumi's expression was one of disgust.
"Do I have to wear that?"
Shingo handed the cap to her, "Takeru doesn't want to draw too much attention, and you're bound to stir up trouble little sister so please, do us all a favor and wear it."
Sighing loudly she took the hat and put it on, and Takeru found that it looked almost natural on her.
"Now can we go? I want to get this over with," she said, her irritation at an all-time high and Takeru dared not make her angrier.
"I'll walk you to the gate," said Shingo as he started to lead the way.
Takeru expected a threat from Megumi or some sort of angry banter, but she didn't even give him a passing glance as she followed her brother.
A breeze came through and Takeru let out a breath. 'I don't know how this will go…but I hope it isn't worse than this…'
As he went to catch up to the kitsune siblings, he could not have known what the future held for them all. Time would tell, and it was only the beginning.