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Authors: Paul Kidd

The Way of the Fox

BOOK: The Way of the Fox
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The Way of the Fox
Spirit Hunters [1]
Paul Kidd
Kitsune Press (2014)

 

 

 

Spirit Hunters

Book 1: The Way of the Fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spirit Hunters Book 1: The Way of the Fox

©
2014 Paul Kidd

 

[email protected]

 

Cover and art by Angie Kae (Kaemantis)

 

With many, many thanks to my volunteer editors:

Ian Malcolm, Brin McLaughlin and Tamara Carmichael.

 

 

Dedicatio
n

For Furry Fandom. As crazed and as loyal a merry band as anyone could ask for.

 

With many thanks to Sensei Katie Noad and Noriko Shimada of the Keishinkan dojo, and to all the dedicated students of
Katori Shinto Ryu
, for all their training and their patience.

 

And grateful thanks to Paul Hume and Bob Charette for their wonderful RPG game
Bushido
, that gave me so many samurai adventures in my teenage years.

 

 

 

“To face enemy arrows without fear. To be steadfast in service, and loyal unto death.

-
       
That is the virtue of the warrior.

 

To be first man into danger, and the last man to leave. To be fair in the division of spoils.

-
       
That is the virtue of the Bandit.

 

To live in benevolence and righteousness. To speak out against wrongs, even at the cost of ones own life.

-
       
That is the virtue of the sage.

 

To anticipate disaster, and to avert it with a jest. To draw the fangs from the wicked, and to show the world that wit will ever vanquish mere swords…

-
       
That is the virtue of the Fox.”

 

The monk Meishū:
Admonishing the rebel lord Sanuki nō Tazadane before the latter’s attempt to annexe the lands of Kitsune Mountain.

 

Lord Sanuki’s castle and treasury both mysteriously burned to the ground two days later…

 

 

 

The Sacred Isles…

 

 

There is a vessel w
ithout sides, ever full, yet ever empty.

There is a river without end. Ever still, yet ever flowing.

Through it and within it, all the myriad things are formed.

- Tao…

Around us and within us, never seen, yet all encompassing.

Motion never ending. Life without end.

 

Eight
worlds coalesced out of the primal energies – for it is the nature of the Tao to take on form.

Eight
worlds: Seven supernatural realms forming a ring about the eighth – about the mortal plane.

There,
at the hub of creation, the mortal realm prospered and diversified. From the oceans and the air, the myriad lands arose, and upon them the beasts and plants, the herbs and metals, with the elemental spirits in all of their profusion. The primal animal spirits grew in power, spreading their mortal kin across the world. At heaven’s edict, the first men began to appear. Spirit and man performed great deeds, and the stories became legends. Tribes joined to become peoples, and the first ancestors of the nations arose.

 

 

At the far edge of the mortal realm,
great, rugged islands arose up out of the waves.

They were lands of majestic mountains and wind-swept, lonely shores –
of tall forests, of bamboo groves and whispering mountain streams. There were hot springs steaming upon snowy mountainsides, and quiet places where the great kami spirits dwelled. When the first men arrived, they found a land already steeped in ancient magic.

The Sacred Isles: Land of the Rising Sun.

Few now remember the terrible ordeals of the ancient age – of the time before the emperors: only the archives of the kitsune reach back so far. Clan battled clan, until the counsel of the foxes finally prevailed. When the Oni of the demon realm invaded the mortal world, it was the peoples of the Sacred Isles who defeated their attack. It was Tennu, the man destined to become the first emperor, who slew the Lord of the Oni, and sealed shut the demon gate forever. The terrible magics faded, leaving nothing but tiny, unseen cracks in the barriers between the worlds.

 

 

In the Sacred Isles, the i
mperial court brought a golden age of art and order: painters and poets, holy men and philosophers. To the old religions and philosophies were added the schools of Buddhist thought. The Sacred Isles blossomed with a culture rich beyond all words. Yet as the years became centuries, the imperial court became more and more focussed upon its own inward affairs. Warrior clans were settled in the wilderness, there to tame and farm the lands. The warriors embraced their own codes of honour and of loyalty, and became the samurai.

Far away from the elaborate culture of the court, the great samurai clans slowly grew in power. R
ebellions and clan feuds began, staining the lands with war. To maintain order, the court created its own clans of imperial samurai, led by imperial magistrates chosen for merit. Imperial law kept trade flowing, and helped to smooth the ruffled feathers of rival samurai lords.

And so there settled a peace of sorts. The warrior clans grew ever larger, and the court once again sank itself deep into its own affairs.
The Oni were long, long gone, and it seemed as though the world would last forever and unchanged.

 

Though as any fox will tell you: all stasis is an illusion.

 

As years complacently turned into centuries – Evil began to find its way…

 

But the Tao is balance.

W
here there is darkness – there must also be light.

 

Where there are evil spirits –

There will be Spirit Hunters.

First Encounter:

Silent Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

On a quiet, abandoned country road in the far backwoods of Omi province, Asodo Kuno’s ordered life went suddenly and unexpectedly to pieces.

It was the hour of the dragon, in the early morn.
A quiet, empty old dirt lane wound off beneath the trees. Dew sparkled on deserted fields: the tramp of Kuno’s sandals rang loudly in the damp, still airs. High above, dew-speckled spiders webs glistened like tiny strings of jewels.

With eyes on the road and back straight, Asodo Kuno pushed onwards without pausing to enjoy the scenery.
The samurai spirit burned bright within Asodo Kuno’s soul: he had a plan, and he had ambitions. Filled with drive and purpose, Kuno marched on towards his chosen destiny with chin high and irreproachable dignity in his heart.

 

In the great monogatari, the opening lines go thus:

 

“The sound of the Gion Shôja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the colour of the sâla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.”

 

Kuno had been taught the first chapter of this epic when he was but twelve years old. It was definitely
required reading
. He had thus, in effect, been properly forewarned: the universe has a definite talent for muddling even the best of plans…

Asodo
Kuno was a young man in the peak of life – a samurai of stern and courtly bearing. His hair had been neatly shaved at the front, and was tied in a long and elegant queue behind. His robes were neat, and decorated with the imperial
mon
. His armour was a study in sheer taste and style: the close-laced plates had their silk lacings gradated horizontally in purple, in lavenders and yellows, simulating the blossoms of the iris flower. He carried his swords through his belt edge-uppermost: the sign of a man who fought only on foot. Although the hour was early, he had already marched many weary
ri
along the road. He intended to march many, many more.

As Kuno
moved down into a dell beside a quiet stream, he became aware of a great scatter of chicken bones strewn beside the road. Beside the trail a great, languid flash of orange fur glimmered in the dappled sun. A brush tail waved sinuously back and forth amongst the weeds.

A fox woman lounged upon a fallen log
like a reclining Buddha, eating a roasted chicken leg. Beside her, there were the embers of a camp fire and a pair of backpacks ready for travel. The fox woman had a long, clever pointed muzzle, and great, green eyes filled with humour. Her body was human in size and shape – excepting for its lush pelt of fur, her fox head with muzzle and long pointed ears, and her long, elegant red tail. She wore a priestess’ robes decorated with images of peaches – with each peach missing a single bite. The fox called out to Kuno in a loud and merry voice while she wriggled her black-furred toes.

 

 

“Concerned with place and with ambition, we fear failure!

Concerned with dignity, we fear ridicule.

Measuring ourselves against the wealth of others, we convin
ce ourselves that we are poor.

So the Sage realises that self worth comes from within
. By releasing anxieties, he embraces the freedom of the Tao.”

 

She sat up with pointed ears pricked high. Her eyes were bright and brimmed with laughter.


Good morning, samurai! Good morning!”

Kuno c
ame reluctantly to a halt. There were many tales told of fox spirits – of their irreverence, their thievishness and endless schemes. But they had been companions to the first emperor, and slayers of demons. Kuno halted at the edge of the stream, and gave the fox woman a polite and measured bow.

“Good morning, Kitsune san.”

And with that, he would have been gone. The fox, however, sat up in great eagerness. She tossed aside her chicken bone with glee.

“It
is
a good morning! Every moment is perfection. Every instant, an entire universe. Embracing the Tao, I shall be treasured and loved by all the myriad creatures! Abiding in a mustard seed, I shall gaze down upon the stars and mountains.” She took a sudden interest in Kuno’s clothing. “Oh hey, is that imperial mon
on your sleeves there?”


Yes. Indeed it is.”

In recent decades, clans of samurai under the direct control of the
emperor had been decreed – clans that oversaw the administration of Imperial law. They were driven by the Confucian principals of the court: a meritocracy, with positions open for men capable of passing tests and examinations. Kuno resigned himself to the need to speak.


I am Asodo Kuno, junior deputy of the sixth rank. I am in service to the Imperial samurai, assigned beneath Magistrate Masura.” Kuno bowed again, making ready to cross the stream. “Good day.”

“Aaaah! A deputy!”

The fox came forward – wonderfully full of life. On close inspection, she seemed to be dressed as a priestess or shrine maiden, although she was well armed: a short sword was tucked in the right side of her belt, and a long, sturdy spear leaned against a nearby tree. She certainly showed none of the demure qualities usual to a well-born woman. She stood beside Kuno and indicated the world around them both with a great sweep of her hand.


A deputy? An actual deputy? Fantastic!” She directed his gaze off across the ford. “So what do you see?”

The fox rippled, changing form.
Her muzzle vanished, replaced by a far more human semblance: the face of a sly young woman much given to laughter.

She was fair skinned, with a hint of fox-like colouration still upon her face.

She had green eyes, a pointed nose, and long hair of a startling fox-orange tipped with white, all tied back in a pony tail. Her ears were pointed, and her bottom retained its luxurious, expressive tail. No one would ever mistake her for anything but a fox.

Much to Kuno’s annoyance, he found that she was also taller than him by at least three hand spans.
She had taken already Kuno conspiratorially under her arm. She showed him the road beyond the stream, bubbling with her own cleverness.


There! There! Aaaah? Aaah! Yes – yes, do you see it?”

Kuno looked awkwardly about the deserted road. The shallow stream trickled through a muddy ford. Weeds grew through the dirt surface of the road. He gazed upon the desolate scene, and
slowly drew his brows into a frown.

“There are no footprints in the ford?”

“None!
Aha! No footprints!” The fox was delighted. She also smelled strongly of roasted meat and damp leaves. “No footprints in the ford. No footprints on the road – no wheel ruts, hoof marks. No one’s used this road for months. It’s all covered with weeds.”

The fox woman seemed delighted – quite certain that she was making some great, astonishing point. Kuno could only look along the road and give a scowl.

“This is definitely the way to Ayamejo – to Iris Castle. I was given clear and precise directions.”


Yes yes yes – I mean it’s a
road
. It has to go somewhere. Not a good road, I’ll give you that. But no one’s using it!” The fox pointed off into the fields. “No one harvested the winter crops out of that field. There’s leeks – and wild chickens.”

“Wild?” Kuno gave a frown. “
How do you know that they are wild?”

“Well they are by the time I’m finished with them.” The fox woman planted hands upon her hips and regarded the deserted road with an almost delighted air. “Oh this is promising. Very promising!”

“Promising?”

“Oh – something nasty is running around here someplace.” The fox said the words with relish.
“Very nasty indeed…”

“How do you know this?”

“Trust me – I’m a fox!” The woman led Kuno back to her campsite. “Right! Come on! You can come along with us.”

Kuno
felt the day rapidly slipping out of his control. “Come along with you?”

“To investigate!”

“Madam – who are you?”


Oh – we’re Spirit Hunters!” The fox handed Kuno her pack, and filled it rapidly with her few belongings. “This is your lucky day!”

A
vast, calm mountain of a man came walking back from filling drinking canteens upstream. A massive samurai, wearing an armour laced in forest greens and yellows. His helmet hung carelessly from its cords at his back, and his sword and dagger were plain, businesslike and heavy.

The man carried a
tetsubo
– a solid iron staff longer than he was tall. The business end was grimly studded with spikes. It was the weapon of a monster slayer – a thing designed to obliterate helmets, armour and anything organic that might get in its way. Kuno bowed. The man with the iron staff returned the bow formally.

“Hmm.
You have met Kitsune Sura.” The huge man bowed once more. “Tsunetomo Tonbo. Of the Tsunetomo of Kitsune Mountain.”

“Asodo Kuno, in service to the Imperial Magistrate Masura.” Kuno spoke with great polish
, his accents flawless. “Good morning.”

“Good morning.” Tonbo passed a bamboo canteen to Sura.
He looked towards the forest road. “Asodo san – you are travelling south?”

“Yes.” Kuno looked along the forest road, trying to project an air of noble determination.
“I am on my way to the sword tournament at Iris castle. Magistrate Masura is presiding over contests of swordsmanship.”

T
he fox woman leaned on her spear. “Oh! So you’re helping with organisation?”

Kuno tried to be patient. “No, Kitsune san. I am competing. I hope to win the tournament.”

“Oh – winning! Yes – right… right. Absolutely!”

Sura made an innocent face as she looked Kuno over. She made a great show of holding her tongue. Kuno gave the woman his darkest glower.

“What?”

“Nothing!” Sura waved a hand. “Major tournament – I’m looking at a winner.
Got it in one!”

Kuno could only mutter
.

Putting her spear beneath her arm, Sura walked over to the ford and looked along the dark, dank shadows of the path ahead. She sniffed at the breeze, green eyes narrowed. Tonbo came to stand beside her
. Together, they gazed thoughtfully at the leaves, the weeds and shadows.

Tonbo leaned upon his heavy iron staff.

“What do you think?”

“Well… the road is probably watched…
” Sura tapped a finger at her narrow chin. “Why don’t you two take the road, and I’ll see what I can see from cover?”

“Good.”

Sura immediately busied herself kicking damp earth over the last of her camp fire. Tonbo joined Kuno on the road.

Tsunetomo Tonbo’s
voice was a deep, gruff bass filled with infinite competence. He nodded briefly to Asodo Kuno.


We should travel together, Asodo san. Kitsune Sura is concerned about the road ahead.”

Kuno looked dubiously at the fox. “Are we to place much store in her intuitions?”

“She is an exorcist priestess of Kitsune Mountain.”

“Ah. Ah – indeed…” Kuno considered. “Yes – let us by all means travel this stretch of road together.”

Sura came bustling past. She hung her canteen from Tonbo’s belt, stacked her backpack at his feet, then happily handed Kuno her spear.


Here – hold this!” The fox dusted off her hands. “Don’t mess with it! It’s sharp.”

Kuno glowered. The woman was most decidedly annoying.
“I know how to handle a spear, Kitsune san.”


No – it’s, like,
really
sharp!” Sura took a step back. “Right! And we’re off!”

To Kuno’s utter astonishment, Sura’s clothing suddenly fell empty to the ground.
A lump quested about inside her robes. Emerging out of the pile of clothing there came a svelte orange fox with bright green eyes. The animal shook itself, then looked up at Kuno.


Hey Kuno san! Is there plum wine at this tournament of yours?”

The man could only stare
down at the fox that now sat at his feet.


Plum wine?

“It’s a castle! Castles should have plum wine!” The fox shivered her tail in anticipation. “Oooh – I love that stuff!”

Kuno gathered up his dignity.

“We are gathering to hone our skills, and to contest honourably beneath the watchful eye of the chief magistrate of the empire. We shall not be drinking.” Kuno scowled. “And why do you ask? Surely
you
will not be attending the tournament?”

“Well maybe! It’s a great place to launch a business!”

“What business?”

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