Wind chimes rattled. Fireflies twinkled and danced. Mesmerized, Kit stood at the entrance to the tea house, gripping the door in a half-open, half closed stance. Night and a warm breeze at his back, the cool whir of a ceiling fan made the electric lights seem to flicker while the spicy scent of cinnamon blew into his face. He stared across the room, his mouth agape, where she sat in a booth near an open window.
White curtains of hair hid her face. A sprig of yellow flowers and purple berries clasped the center of the drapery facing Kit. When she turned, one curtain of hair fell across her shoulder. Her eyes flashed ruby-red before they turned chocolate-brown. A corner of her pink lips lifted in a teasing smile. He released the door and made his way toward her. The cinnamon scent grew stronger as he approached and sat down.
She pulled the sprig of flowers and berries lose, placing it on the table in front of him. “I know who you are, Kit Sanjin and I have need of your special skills.” She purred.
A sly smile spread slowly across Kit’s face. He looked down at the charm and with a single motion, swept the sprig to the floor. It floated to the wooden planks where fruit and flowers wilted to brown.
At the indiscretion, her eyes flashed blood-red. For a moment, the vixen’s face showed itself. The fluff of tail danced in the shadow of the lantern’s light.
Kit’s smile broadened. “And I know who you are, Momoko.” He dusted the palms of his hands together, releasing the pungent spice that remained embedded against his skin. “I will help you. Not because you weave a spell or try to seduce me with love charms, but because I believe in the same cause as you.”
The bright edges of her smile turned the angry frown upside down. This time, the visage of a fox crinkled and smirked. “This is why I chose…” She bit her lips together and lowered her eyes before releasing the next words. “This is why I humbly ask for your help. I am a simple fox with no talent for magic.”
Kit propped his elbows against the table top and leaned toward her, so their noses almost touched. “Tell me your plan.”
He drank hot green tea and slurped savory, fat udon wheat noodles as she told him a tale of unspeakable horror., her voice hushed and tragic as she spoke.
“For the last three months, at every new moon, a bright light has appeared in the forest. Terrified, we cringed in our burrows. The next morning, the newest litter of pups was found slaughtered in their nest, ripped from limb-to-limb. Their heads bitten off and missing. The mother fox lay nearby dazed and half-dead, covered in the blood of her children while blackened char covered the ground outside the den.
At first the blame went to the mother for the deaths of her children. But it soon became apparent that something evil and sinister stalked our clan.”
Kit nodded. “It is the same awful tale that I have heard over and over in hushed, disbelieving tones.”
Before he left the tea house that night, Kit slipped a square of rice paper from his jacket pocket and proceeded to fold intricate creases into the form a fox. When he sat the kitsune on the booth, two tiny eyes glowed ruby-red from the paper folds.
Copyright 2014 by Ledia Runnels