I’m working on the background for several characters here. The problem with the existing version of Wind and Magic is that the characters are two dimensional to me, so writing short stories about them helps me to build them up in my mind. It also helps me to build the world they live in. This one is based on Japanese Folklore, but with my own twist.
The Kitsune Stories are primarily about Yumi (Sakura) as she was growing up. The first one “Blossom and Kitsune” was a spring time one and I felt that I needed to see Yumi at different ages, so after the nastiness that many of my friends have experienced this winter, I thought a Winter based one would be good…
So I’ve been working on the opening to “Snow and Kitsune” recently. This one is set several years after “Blossom and Kitsune” so everyone is a little older, and in the case of Yumi’s mother, a lot more tired… who wouldn’t be with a pair of active twins and an eleven year old Ichao Student…
I thought I would show you the fruits of my elbow grease… hope you like it!
* * * *
A cold, dry wind whipped around the bare rock of the Ikazuchinokami Mountains. Snow fell steadily down in the lowlands of Tenshi Shima, covering the Human settlements in an unusually thick winter blanket.
Maiya perched on an outcrop at the northern end of the range, the wind tumbling her nine gold tipped tails into a spiral. The scarlet scarf around her neck fluttered at the same time, occasionally whipping across her sensitive black nose, yet the Kitsune remained still, eyes closed and breathing calm. Stars sparkled in the sky around her and on the horizon the moon was just rising, coating the clouds below Maiya with gentle light.
“Maiya. You need to retrieve her again.” Shuaruji Inari’s voice floated into her mind, disturbing the Kitsune’s meditation.
“Again? That child is turning out to be meiwakuna, not shukufuku.” Maiya stretched, extending her tails as straight as she could, despite the wind’s attempts to tangle them together. “She’s supposed to be a blessing to this world, not an annoying brat. Last time she was jealous of the presents her baby brother and sister were receiving.”
“It may be more serious this time, Kichōna.” The Harvest God’s voice sounded weary and Maiya sighed.
“I will retrieve her and make sure that she remains at home.” Maiya shook her thick white fur. “Go back to sleep, Master. I’ll wake you when Spring arrives.”
A phantom hand caressed her back and she felt Inari’s smile bathe her in warmth, before he broke contact with her mind. Shaking herself again, she set off down the mountain, bounding from rock to rock. As she passed through the clouds and her paws touched the first of the foothills around the mountains, she summoned the power of the earth and dissolved into spirit form.
The Castle at Atamasanshi lay almost silent, only a few Guards patrolled its walls, the majority of them huddling in the towers for warmth. The wind was negligible and the snow dropped down in thick sheets, obscuring the vision for anyone looking out of the many windows inside the walls.
Maiya rematerialised inside the private gardens of Lady Hamano Maiku and began to sniff around in fox form. She pricked up her ears suddenly. That’s Lady Maiku. She’s in the Pagoda.
Treading softly across the top of the thick snow, relying on her power to stop her from sinking, Maiya crept up to the ornate stone wall of the pagoda and peered in through the cherry petal shaped cut out. The two women sat at a heated table laid with a teapot, cups and a plateful of dainty blossom shaped cherry mochi. Maiya could see the sparkling edges of a warmth spell containing the heat from the table.
“Where has she gone, Kenmai? It is the depths of winter and not even my husband’s best trackers can find her.” Maiku wiped her eyes with a soft kerchief that her maid handed her and sniffed. “I don’t understand why Sakura ran away either. I was talking about her future…”
Morita Kenmai sighed. “You spoke of her marriage chances again? She is only eleven, Maiku. A husband is a long way away for her, and she will have a less than normal life than the average wife.”
“You speak of her powers as if they will influence her life in more than a spiritual fashion.” Maiku snapped. “She must be a wife first, Ichao Mistress second.”
“Do you remember nothing of the day the Ika-Zuchi-No-Kami went on their rampage?” the other woman flung her hands into the air. “By Izanami’s right hand, Maiku. She is beloved of the Gods and has a destiny to match. You cannot expect her to humble herself to a man in such a fashion.”
Maiku sighed. “Thank the gods that they only blessed me with one such child. I could not handle more than one with Ichao Gifts.” She poured them both tea.
“It is her gifts that have brought this unnatural winter upon us.” Kenmai said, picking up her cup and settling back onto her cushion. “I came upon her in the gardens below the castle several weeks back. She was talking to a girl with blue-black hair, pale skin and bluish lips. The girl carried a flute and I felt a chill emanating from it.”
“A Yuki-Onna?” Maiku sat back on her cushion abruptly and almost tumbled off it. “Why would a Snow Fairy be talking to my daughter?” she straightened.
“All Yokai would be interested in the power lying dormant within her.” Kenmai sighed. “I don’t however know exactly what was happening at the time. The Yokai sensed my presence and disappeared as fast as snow on a hot tile.”
Maiku frowned “But why would a Yuki-Onna bring this weather upon us? Surely Sakura could not have angered her.”
“I very much doubt that Sakura has done anything to the Yokai at all, but we do not understand the motivations of the Spirit World and Yuki-Onna are notoriously fickle and touchy creatures.” The Ichao Mistress sipped her tea.
“Then it is all the more important that we find her.” The lady stood and began to pace around the Pagoda. “She has run away before. Normally she returns unscathed and happier than when she left.”
“Then we should do nothing.” The other woman frowned and looked straight across the pagoda, meeting Maiya’s bright golden gaze. “She will return by herself.”
She knows I am here. Maiya realised, blinking. The story of the Yuki-Onna was for my benefit, not the lady’s.
“My Husband is beside himself with worry. He dotes upon Sakura-chan, and is talking about sending the whole garrison out to find her, not just a few trackers.” Maiku shook her head. “I need him calm, or the treaty we are negotiating with the Alfheimian Trader will not be to our benefit.”
Kenmai stood up and with a few steps moved beside Lady Maiku. “I will bend all my power upon the problem. Tell Lord Hamano not to worry. I will bring the child home.”
The lady smiled in relief and bowed. “Thank you, Morita Kenmai. May the Gods bless you.” She turned, slipped her feet into leather boots, accepted the fur wrap her maid placed around her shoulders and left the pagoda, her maidservant following.
Kenmai waited a few minutes, looking out of the pagoda into the snowy garden. Then she turned to look directly at Maiya. “Come forth, Servant of Shuaruji Inari.”
Maiya trotted around the outside of the pagoda, found the entrance and shook herself into human form, her long golden hair gathered into thick braids and wrapped around each other, dropping over the back of a thick white fur robe. “Have I leave to join you, Morita Kenmai?”
“In the name of Shuaruji Inari, God of the Harvest, I invite you to join me for tea and cakes.” Kenmai bowed Imperial style, arms straight at her sides.
Maiya returned the bow and walked over the tiny bridge that normal spanned a babbling stream, but currently crossed a river of almost solid ice. She saw three tiny golden fish trapped in a bubble of water below the ice. Pausing, she muttered a command to the ice to allow them to escape into the shallow free running water below. The resulting crack echoed around the garden, but seemed to be ignored by the guards on the path.
“I see that the guards of this house are inured to Ichao now.” Maiya said as she entered the pagoda.
“Until I taught her to control the power she has been gifted with, the guards suffered continually. Our little Sakura has a very wicked sense of humour and I don’t think that a single guard was unaffected.” Kenmai smiled indulgently.
They sat down and a maid brought fresh tea. Kenmai poured, the soft splashing of the liquid in the cup filling the silence.
“What is the problem this time?” Maiya asked, turning her cup three times before drinking.
“As you may have heard, Sakura’s mother has been teaching the child of her place in society. Maiku is proud of her daughter and has already started looking for a suitable husband for her.” The Ichao Mistress’ mouth thinned disapprovingly.
“And Sakura has a problem with her mother planning out her future for her?”
Kenmai sipped her tea and nodded. “She feels that she has a different future than the one her mother paints in words for her and she wishes to go her own way. They argue a lot at the moment.”
“So after the latest argument, Sakura ran off and none can find her?” the Kitsune took a deep breath. “Where does the Yuki-Onna fit into this?”
Kenmai shrugged. “I have no idea.”
Maiya thought for a moment. Then she said “Can you conjure an image of Sakura for me as she was the last time you saw her? The last time I saw her was three years ago.”
“I saw her for her lessons yesterday before she and her mother argued.” Kenmai took several deep breaths and muttered a spell.
The Warmth Ichao faded slightly as the second spell was created and Maiya snuggled into her fur robe. On the table in front of them, a doll sized figure appeared. Waist length, dark red hair had been woven into plaits entwined with soft pink ribbons. She wore a thick winter kimono and a short fur cape with a hood in matching shades of pink and white. A pair of fur mittens hung on a cord from her belt.
I see that her mother is still dressing her like a child, but that face is a child’s no longer. She has such piercing green eyes. Full of thought and intelligence. Maiya studied the figure. “Has Lady Hamano noticed that Sakura is growing up? The last time I saw her, Sakura was still a chubby little girl. This is a young lady in a child’s clothes.”
“Both her parents dote upon her. They do not wish to see her growing up yet.” Kenmai sighed.
Yet her mother keeps talking about marriage and the duty of a woman to her husband. Maiya winced at the incongruity. “The last time she ran away, I retrieved her from the River where she was talking to the River Spirit, trying to persuade him to take her to ‘where the dragons live’. Luckily the spirit knew who she was, so had alerted my Master as to her presence.”
Kenmai blinked. “Three years ago she had a temper tantrum about the stuffed toy dragon her younger sister had received as a birthday present. When she returned from her adventure, she told me that the Dragons had said that one day she would have a real dragon as a friend, so her sister could have all the toy ones she wanted. She was going to wait for her real one.”
Maiya laughed. “That’s not what I remember him saying, but I suppose it is close enough.”
“Can you find her?”
The Kitsune took another long look at the girl on the table. “Her scent won’t have changed yet, so I can track her down. The most pressing question is where to start.”
“She was spotted walking down into town by the Gate Guards. He assumed that she would be going to visit her favourite Tea Shop and would return by sunset as she always did.”
“And the search was raised when she didn’t return?”
“Yes, immediately.” Kenmai sighed heavily. “The Warlord sent his men out into the town and turned it inside out. The proprietor of the Tea Shop said that Sakura had met and drank tea with one of her friends, then left alone. The friend said that Sakura had gone to her favourite thinking place along the coast. The guards checked there and could find no trace of her.”
Sakura glanced out the window of the pagoda. “Don’t tell me. The heavy snow started not long after that.”
The Ichao Mistress’ eyes widened and she gasped. “You think she’s gone to find the Yuki-Onna?”
Maiya stood up and shimmered into her single tailed fox form. “I will return her to you as quickly as I can, Morita Kenmai. Worry not about the girl and keep her parents calm.” She said into Kenmai’s mind.
Then she dashed out of the pagoda.