Once a creature of the mortal world dies, there is a small period of time where the spirit hovers between the living world and the next. If left undisturbed, the spirit usually finds its way, and will fade. Humans have a harder time letting go… filled as they are with regret, hatred, and greed. Their weakness becomes their misery, causing their souls to distort; becoming tainted. They will always be the most foolish creatures.
It was in the heart of summer when I was born. My memories are faint, but it was the glow of the fireflies that resonated the most within me… lighting up as they danced.
Oh how they danced…
I lay motionless where I had fallen, wheezing softly as my limbs sprawled ungainly beneath me. Each drawn breath caused a sharp pain to pierce through my whole body, and I bared my teeth in a silent snarl as I trembled, feebly digging my claws into the soft dirt. It crumbled easily under my paw.
I had been the most powerful of my kind, the one all other creatures of the forest looked to in adoration and fear. They called me the Akuma no Kitsune: the Demon Fox. I slaughtered all of those who dared oppose me, both human and creatures alike; my skill was surpassed by none! It was trickery that had brought everything to an end. A sorcerer… one as red as the blood that was drawn from my enemies, with eyes to match, he succeeded where all others had failed. And as a result, there I lay, having fled like a worthless human coward.
Sighing, I slowly opened my eyes, attempting to fight through the blackening of my vision.
I was too weak to hold my true form, so I lay there, watching as the russet fur on my forelegs fell away to reveal pale skin. Clenching my eyes shut, I breathed heavily as the bones of my muzzle cracked and readjusted into my human face. Groaning, I rolled onto my back to relieve the pressure from my ribs. The change was always painful.
I raised a pale hand, gazing in fascination at the blood soaked there. Some of it mine, most of it not. I turned my head to look at the sky, from where I lay on my back, hand still outstretched. The fireflies lit up the night. Where there would only be a blanket of darkness, there were now dancing lights, made even brighter from the moonshine.
Where will I go after this? I wondered, surely a soul as corrupt as mine would have no place in the heavens. There was always Yomi, the gate to the Underworld. I began to grin, when a flash of glowing blue suddenly appeared before me.
I watched in wonder as a small butterfly manifested from the glow, fluttering over to settle on my clawed hand, and my eyes widened, as the blood faded away at its touch.
“My, what brings an injured fox to my doorstep? Are you alright?”
I turned my head slowly towards the voice. My wounds received from the Red demon were severe, and I grunted as another tremor of pain wracked my body. A wave of dizziness washed over me and I knew I would not be healing from this fight.
A man. A human man stood a bit away from me. His blond hair glinted from the fire of the lantern he held. From what I could see, the man was also wearing a butterfly-patterned cloak.
“Be gone… human,” I managed to growl, shaking at the effort to hold myself upright, “do not touch me filth, or I will not hesitate to separate your head from your body.”
My threat, it seemed, had not been taken seriously, as the human began taking measured steps towards where I lay panting in the dirt. He halted a few paces away from me, and crouched down to look me in the eye.
“My name is Mikage. I am the Land Druid of these parts. As it is, you are the one who has entered the confines of my Shrine. What is your name?”
“I do not have one.” I glared at the stranger, as I shakily moved to put some distance between the Druid and me. Huffing with the effort it took to reach the large magnolia tree at the clearing’s edge. I reached out a clawed hand, feeling the rough bark score across my palm as I clutched at it, and I lifted my chin in challenge from where I sat, daring the Druid to comment. His brown eyes appeared to glow behind those large glasses of his, causing me to furrow my eyebrows in confusion.
“It is always the wild creatures of these lands that cause the most pain,” the Land Druid spoke softly after a moment, tilting his head. A serene smile was on his face, and I watched him silently, like he was watching me, “Is that who you are Wild Fox? What could you have done for you to end up here? Dying on the steps of my Shrine? It seems like this path you have chosen has ended pretty badly for you.”
“An enemy,” I surprised myself for answering the man, hoarse as I was. My vision was beginning to fade rapidly, dark spots seeping in as I spoke, and I leant my head back against the supporting trunk. “A red Sorcerer—attacked a village, so I fought him.”
“Ah I see, and you tried to defend this village?” at my headshake, the Druid frowned, “Then what was your reason?”
“He was after something I had claimed as mine,” I replied, my breath hitching for a moment as I spoke, “A child. A human child blessed with a God’s favour. That child is now dead.”
I clenched my fists, the feeling of my claws piercing the skin of my palms doing nothing to prevent the ache within my heart. “I couldn’t even save one human child. I had put her there to be hidden amongst the humans. But, they let her die anyway! They have always been cowardly and weak!”
A warm touch to my shoulder caused me to turn sharply to glare at the Druid. In my stupor, he had made his way to my resting spot, only to reach out to me. His gaze was unrelenting, and I could see them filled with understanding.
“And yet you loved a human child this much? So much so, that you gave your life fighting a demon to protect it?”
I turned my head away, jaw clenched, as I forced myself to ignore the feel of his hand remaining on my shoulder, providing constant warmth. “The child was more than those abominations could ever be. She was different... Though it was not enough. My power was not enough,” I gave a humourless chuckle, “And now I am going to die as a demon, unable to follow her…my Rin.”
At this, Mikage became silent for a moment; I cared not what he was thinking. He spoke suddenly but softly, forcing me to quash the wave of dizziness threatening to overcome me, so as to hear him clearly.
“Come with me, back to my Shrine. Come with me and be my Familiar,” at this I startled, looking wide eyed at the blond haired Druid, “Let my power guide you Wild Fox. Be reborn with a new life.”
As I stared at him, surprise appearing to have muted me for a few moments, time seemed to have slowed for our exchange. The clearing had stillness about it, as if the whole of the forest held its breath upon my answer.
“Are you mad?!” I questioned sardonically, wrenching my shoulder from his grasp, hissing lowly when the violent movement caused me to pull at my wounds. I glared at him, “What makes you think that I, the great Akuma, would go so low as to serve you?” I could feel myself recoil in disgust at the thought. I was not some ‘pet’ to be kept! The whole idea was ludicrous!
“But to refuse would mean to die here at this very moment Wild Fox,” the blond Druid murmured, drawing his cloak further around himself, as if it would protect him from the chill that only talk of death could bring, “Forgotten in the paths of history. Is that what you seek as your fate?”
Giving a silent snarl, I knew I could not allow that to happen, I had worked too hard only to be struck down now. But the Land Druid is right. I looked away in frustration, feeling the steady trickle of blood running through my fingers, where my hand was barely covering the jagged would in my side. I am dying. At this rate, I would not survive to see the next sunrise.
I fought the rising panic within me. For this reason, I would have to bear being bound as the Land Druid’s Familiar, even if it goes against every bit of what I am.
“Land Druid—” I began, my words hoarse with the effort, before I was interrupted.
“Please, call me by my name, Mikage. I would feel much better if you did.” The strange Druid gestured for me to continue. I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Mikage,” I spoke reluctantly now, shifting to sit upright against the tree, “you know of my desire to live. You know of my wish to continue roaming the forest for all the times to come. If becoming your Familiar will guarantee all this for me, then—then this is something that I will agree to.”
As the Dru—Mikage moved to speak, I growled, “But make no mistake, I am simply accepting this to save my own life. I refuse to bow and scrape over you and your petty whims!”
I braced myself for the expected backlash of anger. Steeling myself for the inevitable rage of a Druid crossed. What I had not expected, however, was the now familiar feeling of Mikage’s warm hand resting on my head. Baring my teeth, I glowered up at the man ready to snap, before hesitating at the look on his face. It was a look of… affection.
He is strange, for a supernatural being, not arrogant like the ones I had previously come across, nor is he bloodthirsty.
Clenching my jaw, I forced myself not to shrink at Mikage’s touch. I would not give him the satisfaction of seeing me uncomfortable at the foreign feeling.
“There would be no bowing Wild Fox,” Mikage spoke softly, giving me a kind smile, “you will be well cared for, in my charge. Free to wander the grounds of the Shrine as you please. Your only role would be to help me in the protection of this land.”
Migake’s soft brown eyes glinted with a serious protectiveness, “Are you capable for this duty? It would mean you must leave your fearsome name behind. You would not longer be known as the Akuma no Kitsune. I would give you a new name.” We stared at each other in silence, neither of us breaking our gaze. Slowly, I lifted my chin in response, voice as clear as it could be whilst enduring the dull ache that was spreading through my limbs.
“I accept you offer, Mikage. I will stay by your side and serve you as your Familiar.”
At my declaration, Mikage pulled back from me, a serene smile on his face. Watching him, my eyes widened as the Druid began to glow with a golden light, his eyes a luminous brown. Reaching out a hand, Mikage placed it over mine, and I stared in awe as the light once again enveloped me. I let out a relieved sigh as it caressed the jagged wound that my hand was covering; Mikage’s power coaxing the pain from my body.
“Let go of your pain, Wild Fox,” Mikage murmured as he worked, his golden light now fully surrounding my body. I inhaled sharply at the power that reverberated through me. It was exhilarating and overwhelming all at once, “surrender your desires, and I will heal you.”
Closing my eyes, I felt myself being lifted from the harshness of the clearing’s floor as my mind began slipping away. I was beginning to hear the whispers of the world beyond the living, and my vision was growing dimmer. Briefly, I heard Mikage’s voice, muffled as if there was a great fog.
“You will have a new name,” the voice was saying, “I give you the name Hotaru, in honour of the fireflies that signify our first meeting. For your new life.”
That was the last I heard, and I felt a numbness creep up my limbs, making their way towards my heart. Feeling only a sense of peace, I took my last breath. And grew still.