Demon hunter Akakiba keeps many secrets from his human companion. The fact he's a werefox isn't the worst one.
In feudal Japan, magic is dying. As a demon hunter, Akakiba finds this problematic. The evil he's been trained to destroy is disappearing and, along with it, the shape-shifting abilities of the clan he left behind. With his only companion, a determined young human named Yuki, Akakiba traverses the country slaying demons and performing odd jobs.
But when an army of demon-possessed humans masses to exterminate his clan, Akakiba must put aside old feuds and protect his family–-all while hiding an important secret from Yuki. Will they find a way to defeat the demon possessed before it's too late? With magic dwindling, will it matter either way?
Sometime later, the boy woke.
“I’m hungry,” he said shyly. “Are we there yet?”
“Do you want a rice cake, um, you?” Yuki blinked. “Uh, you never gave us your name.”
“I’m Taro, because I’m the firstborn in my family,” he explained as if they couldn’t figure out that a person named “eldest son” was likely to be the eldest son.
After discovering Taro’s name, they also discovered that once he was finished being awed into silence, it was very difficult to get him to stop talking.
“Why is your name Akakiba?” Taro asked. “Is it a warrior name?”
“No. It’s the name I was born with.”
“Why would your parents pick that name?”
“My father is named Kiba, the fang. My mother is Akahana, the red rose. They compromised with Akakiba, the red fang.”
“Oh. Do you always wear your swords?”
“Even when you sleep?”
“Even when you take a bath?”
There was an all-too-brief moment of silence before Taro asked another question. “Why is it the Fox clan and not the Dragon clan? Foxes don’t fight demons, dragons do.”
Yuki intervened, perhaps sensing Akakiba’s growing impatience. “Foxes fight demons too. Don’t you know the legend?”
“There’s no legend with fighting foxes,” Taro asserted.
“Is that so? Then I can’t tell you about it since it doesn’t exist...”
Yuki’s voice softened as he began. “A long time ago, when foxes were more than mere animals and possessed great powers, it wasn’t rare for them to take our likeness and live among us unseen. It so happened that a fox disguised as a beautiful lady fell in love with a strong and honorable samurai. They married and lived happily for a time.
“One day, a dog wandered into their garden and started chasing the fox lady. So afraid was she that she turned back into a fox and leaped to safety on top of a wall. Having witnessed the scene, the samurai begged her not to leave, swearing to love her forever even if she were a fox. She heard truth in his voice and returned to him. They had many children and lived happily for a time longer.
“In those days, demons were strong and cruel, and they despised foxes for their willingness to side with humanity against them. One such demon descended upon their home and killed the samurai before the fox lady’s eyes. In her anguish, she took up her husband’s sword and slew the monster.
“The fox lady’s sorrow was, however, too great to bear; a wasting sickness took her, and she was soon on her deathbed. Sensing her death approaching, she told her children that they were to become slayers of demons, for nothing else would allow her to rest in peace. Her children obeyed and founded the Fox clan to honor their mother. Ever since, the Fox clan’s warriors have been fighting demons wherever they can be found.”
Akakiba glanced at his friend with surprise. “I didn’t know you knew the legend.”
“I didn’t know it before. Someone in the village told the story during the festival. You should have told me. It’s interesting.”
Akakiba heard the unspoken reproach: You never tell me anything. But why should he? There was no need to speak of his clan. He himself hadn’t dealt with them in years, not since he rebelled, left the clan house, and found Yuki.
Taro spoke up. “But how did the fox lady know how to use a sword?”
Akakiba and Yuki sighed in unison. The road would be a long one.
“Hindsight is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it?”
Sanae was glaring. “Brother, that’s no way to behave with a guest! Jien is an honorable man, and I need no protection from him. I would also say you have no right to pretend to care about my virtue after abandoning me for three years! Honestly! What’s the matter with you?”
It wasn’t his habit to defend himself, but in this case, it seemed important to tell the entire truth. “Jien’s about as honorable as a snake! When we first met he told me he’d been wounded by a demon and beseeched me to carry him over the hill to a village where he might get treatment. I later learned that, in truth, he’d been caught spying on bathing girls. Their guardian had beaten him up and thrown him out of the village so he couldn’t get treatment there!”
“It was an accident,” Jien said. “I got lost, and hearing voices, tried to follow them. That’s how I plunged headfirst into the hot springs. And that old woman was as frightful as any demon I’ve ever seen!”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Anna Frost is a Canadian girl who spends winters writing and dreaming of summer. An overdose of Japanese culture and media has led her to write fantasy inspired by Japanese mythology. In a shocking break with literary tradition, Anna does not live with cats. Instead she lives with chinchillas, which can be just as demanding and evil as cats.
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