They say that love is blind.
Whoever believes that is an idiot.
When I first saw him, I knew there was something different about him. Love at first sight? Maybe, but that sounds stupid, too. It was more like, “Hey, he’s hot and look at him beating the crap out of that other guy.” Because when I met my love, it wasn’t under the moonlight, or as the sun beamed through bright skies; no lovebirds were chirping, nor was there a field of roses. There was blood, lots of blood.
Stretching south of Tokyo lays the Izu Archipelago.
There are nine inhabited islands in total.
That day, I had just arrived at the island of Hachijō, or Hachijō-jima, as we call it, on a mission as the head of security, a role appointed to me by my master, Kamiko Tokugawa, head of the Tokugawa clan, here in Japan. The thing about being appointed the head of anything is that you must take part in whatever it is you are heading, and that is a hard thing to do if you find it's painfully boring. It was no secret that I hated my job. I mean, it’s not so much that the job was a bad one, as it did afford me some luxuries within my clan, but I hate having to do things on a set schedule.
Nothing kills excitement like a routine, so I would often find ways to break that routine, even in the smallest possible way. That day, for example, two lower-ranking members of my clan should have accompanied me, but instead, I decided to swim alone the three hours from Aogashima, my home Island, to Hachijō-jima, another island owned by my clan. My goal for the day was to do a headcount of the prisoners who lived there. In and out—that was the plan, and I did not want anyone slowing me down.
At that time, Hachijō-jima was a place of exile, appointed so under the rule of previous leaders of the Tokugawa clan. It was a prison island for whoever pissed off the Tokugawa. You mess up; you go here. This volcanic island is isolated enough that it would be impossible to escape without a proper ship or boat.
With Kamiko-sama as a leader, the Tokugawa had begun adopting fewer strict rules. Only the worst of criminals were being sent to Hachijō-jima, and even they had a relatively comfortable life once there. Two years before that day, the Tokugawa clan provided the prisoners living there with material to build houses, and so they had managed to create a small village at the center of the island. Gone were the days of weekly executions and torture. Life was better for the criminals now, but only so many people can be stuffed into an island before they group together, and come up with a plan for revenge. That is exactly what they did.
I did not know this at that time, but the inhabitants of this prison island had decided they would raid the next ship to arrive with more prisoners. By this period, there were close to five-hundred already in exile, so it was easy for them to take over a ship guarded by a dozen soldiers. However, victory would not come so easily.
The prisoners overlooked one simple fact that proved to be their doom: the island itself was never guarded. They never asked themselves why the Tokugawa would place them, people with one common enemy, all in the same island, and leave them unsupervised. The answer was simply that they did not.
It was then, as it is now, a secret. But the Tokugawa, along with many of the other clans, has always had an undisclosed weapon.
And one might ask: So, what? Isn’t a fox but an animal? Well, yes, but not Sacred Foxes. These foxes are massive, standing as tall as a man. They can think, calculate, and plot. They feed on the life force of humans, which gives them strength and speed far greater than that of any other animal. Unlike average foxes, Sacred Foxes can grow up to nine tails, each tail granting them a new magical power in addition to the last. Some foxes, depending on their number of tails, even have control over the elements and can conjure illusions in people’s minds, yet their best weapon is that these foxes can take on human form. One could be standing next to a Sacred Fox in human shape and not know it. I know this because I am a Sacred Fox too—a one-tailed.
And so, my love story began.
Upon arriving at the island on that hot summer morning, I discovered that the prisoners had banded together, and launched an assault on a ship that had just pulled into the harbor. They climbed aboard by means of ropes and makeshift ladders. The soldiers had the higher ground, so they easily killed the first wave of attackers with their firearms, but the prisoners rushed to the boat faster than the officers could refill their rifles with black powder.
Hiding behind some boulders, I could see at a distance how easily the boat was being overtaken. I scanned the area and found something peculiar. Among these hundreds of people, there was one who stood out. He appeared to be directing the attack. He was shouting orders to the prisoners, but he was not marching with them.
There was a loud explosion. A cannonball rolled across the rocky shore taking with it anyone it touched. That’s when he began walking forward. Darkness came over his eyes. This man, who appeared to be the leader of this revolt, rushed toward the cannonball. Was he dumb enough to think he could stop it?
“This is going to be interesting,” I said to myself.
The ball rolled relentlessly, and he ran likewise. Any second now. I giggled, waiting to see this idiot be taken out, but in the next moment, he was no longer a man. His body expanded, ripping his clothes to shreds. Fur covered his skin. He grew claws and fangs and tails.
“One. Two. Three. Four.” I counted. Now, he was a four-tailed fox. “You mothafu...”
Four tailed foxes are telekinetic. They can move objects with their minds.
Just as the cannonball was about to reach him, the fox willed it to a stop with his mind. Then the ball stayed there, perfectly still, as he ran past it, and then he willed it back to where it came from. The cannonball rolled across the deck of the ship, killing three of the guards aboard. The fox charged on. With a single bound, he jumped aboard the ship and began his attack on the crew. He destroyed them in ways that the hundreds of prisoners with their power combined never could, but he did it with such confidence, such elegance in this raw power, that I nearly forgot he was killing officers of my clan.
“Holy shit,” that’s all I could say, before running away to report what I had seen.
No. I won’t. Not yet at least.
I was fascinated by the spectacle unfolding before me.
The vast majority of Sacred Foxes are female. Even within the Tokugawa clan, the largest of all the Fox clans in Japan, there had never been a male fox. I had met males before, but they were all snobby officials of other clans, and none of them had more than two tails.
Foxes with more than two tails are even harder to come by than males, yet there he was, a male with four tails. How could I not be curious?
So, instead of running away, because anyone else would have; instead of informing Kamiko-sama, because it was my duty, and instead of not being a dumbass, because I knew better; I did the opposite and sneaked closer to the massacre.
I just need a little peek. A closer look, and then I will go. I took my real form—my fox form. If I was going to move nearer to him, I wanted to be in the stronger of my two shapes. The transformation from one body to the other is always painful. First, your bones begin to bend and mold, then your muscles expand and contract, ripping and healing almost at the same time. The first few transformations take the longest and therefore are the worst, but with practice, it can all be achieved in a second.
I moved in, cautiously crawling closer, masking my scent. The color of my fur, which is also that of my hair when in human form, matched the color of the sand almost perfectly, aiding me in moving seemingly undetected.
I had been watching over these prisoners for a decade now. I thought I knew them all by heart. Part of my job was to run perimeters around the island, making sure no one was going in or out without my knowledge. Then, when did this fox sneak in?
As I neared the battle site, I slowed down, questioning whether I had come too close. It was clear that I would not best this fox in battle, so I wanted to be close enough to satisfy my curiosity, but not so much so that it would cost me my life. From where I was, I could see his features. He had just transformed back into his human form, and it’s not like the transformation comes with clothes. So yeah, my little peek was more like an eyeful.
I mean, I knew this fox was the enemy, but something about watching him, covered in blood, walking with such authority just made me feel so captivated. The prisoners were now in control of the ship, and it was all thanks to him.
He jumped off the boat and back toward the village. I kept my eyes on him, as he made his way past the crowd. Fights broke out among the prisoners; they all wanted to be the first to board because those first to leave the island were more likely to regain and keep their freedom. They knew that if anyone had informed the Tokugawa of their uprising—which was my job—eventually a bigger ship, a better-armed ship, would arrive. So, time was golden. There were five hundred men, and the small ship they had stolen could not accommodate everyone. The fox continued to walk, quite unconcerned, almost as if gaining control of the ship was his only propriety and not the prisoners’ escape.
This conduct, and the fact that the prisoners did not react surprised at seeing a man turn into a beast puzzled me.
The sun was beaming down now. I followed the male at a distance, concealing myself behind trees and boulders. A cool breeze blew from behind him and in my direction, cooling me and bringing with it the scent of his skin. It was sweet and salty. I stopped behind a rock, lowering my body as close to the ground as I could as not to be seen, and watched him. There was no rush in his step. He was calm. Sedate. He advanced to a hut smaller than the rest. I knew the person who lived there, a former spy for a small mercenary faction, known for his kickass infiltration skills. And it all made sense. If anyone was going to sneak someone in, it would be this guy. But what didn’t make sense is that most people were trying to sneak out, so why would a fox want to infiltrate a prison? What was there to gain from this?
It occurred to me that maybe this fox was helping the prisoners for personal reasons. He was not just being nice. Maybe he needed allies. But why these guys?
Taking care not to make noise, I walked in closer, now in my smaller, human form, and hid among some bushes, behind which I could watch him. If only the foxes from my clan knew that I had been spying on a bloody, naked man, they would never let me forget it.
He stood at the door of the hut for a moment. So, I waited. Why wasn’t he doing anything? He was just standing there. Then, without a sound, without even looking, he extended a hand in my direction and I found myself lifted off the ground and flying toward him.
Crap. When did he notice me?
The next thing I know is our bodies are pressed against each other, one of his hand is around my wrist, and his other arm is tight around my waist preventing my body from expanding and turning back into a fox. I can feel the heat from his bare chest on my breasts. I can smell the blood, and I can smell him. His breath sends mixed signals of panic and delight as he leans closer and asks, “Who are you?”
I did not say anything. He squeezed harder on my wrist, and I closed my eyes to the pain.
He shook me, repeating his question, “Who are you? Are there others with you?”
That is when I opened my eyes. I looked up at him, and he looked down at me, studying my face starting at my chin and moving upward. He scanned each section of my face as if committing it to memory. When he finally looked at my eyes, I could have sworn I felt his heartbeat quicken.
At that same moment, there was the sound cannon fire. Another ship had arrived and was now launching an assault on the prisoners.
He looked surprised. His grip loosened just enough for me to escape him. I jumped back and created some distance between us. He could have easily pulled me back with his powers, but what the hell was I supposed to do? I wanted to get away, but I knew that he could outrun me; he could kill me if he wanted to, but for whatever reason, he had not killed me yet.
The sound of cannons doubled in the distance. Surely, reinforcements had arrived to subdue the escaping prisoners. There was a sudden, deafening roar. I jumped further away from him. In the second it took me to land, he had transformed into a fox again and rushed toward the fight.
I was trembling.
Frozen in place, I started to recollect my thoughts. It was then that I realized that I had not been breathing. Who was he? Terror, gripped as I watched the four-tailed turn a corner and disappear. I felt myself drifting sideways. Despite my efforts, I could not keep my balance. My body submitted to the realization that my life could have ended a second ago and I fell heavily on one knee.
All the questions that I should have been asking myself since finding the four-tailed suddenly came to me.
At last, as if a fog had dissipated from my mind, it became clear that all my actions after laying eyes on the male fox had been completely unlike me. I felt as if I had just woken from a dream. I had been acting as if my curiosity was more important than my obligations to my clan, and it had nearly got me killed. If the second ship had not arrived when it did, he would have murdered me for sure. Only then did I realize that for a second ship to come, someone had to have informed them of the attack on the first one, and that was my job. I was the only Tokugawa on the island at that time. Who could have alerted them?
I did not know, but what I did know is that I had to stop thinking about him. He was a threat to my clan. He had to have a motive to pick these prisoners, trapped in one of the most inescapable prisons in Japan, over any other group of thugs and general assholes. Also, foxes with more than two tails are rare, and he was a four-tailed male. If anyone in my clan knew of his existence, then why had I not been t told about it?
The most logical explanation was that he had been sent here to free the prisoners. But sent by whom? Maybe the Maeda clan, whose members composed most of the exiled population in the island, were planning on declaring war on my clan and needed to increase their numbers to do so. Perhaps they had sent one of their foxes to liberate their humans so that they would serve as soldiers. This excuse was the most likely, but the Maeda was a clan with few foxes other than their clan leader, who was only a three-tailed.
Another thing bothered me—this one bothered me most of all. How had reinforcements arrived so soon? Who could have warned the clan in so little time as to have a response to the attack in less than an hour?
I transformed into a fox and ran toward the ocean. It was too late to bring in a report of the unrest, and I was about to get chewed up for that. I had screwed up in the past, but never like this. I mean, I could probably come up with an excuse for not finding backup for the seized ship, so that was the least of my concerns. What worried me is how little sense it all made. I had no answers as to why that fox was aiding the prisoners, or about who he was. I wanted to know, but there was no way of finding out by staying here, so I plunged into the water, with the sound of the cannon behind me, and swam to Aogashima.
I could not stop thinking about him, and not in the way that I should have. I knew he was their enemy, but for an instant, when I was trapped in his arms, my heart wanted nothing more than to stay there with him. In that moment, I was not so focused on the dying part as I should have been. Against all reason, I wish I could have said, “Hi, my name is Hitomi Tokugawa. I noticed you and your friends killed a bunch of guards and are trying to escape the imprisonment laid upon them by my clan. Could you guys not do that? And would you like to go on a date with me?” But I couldn’t talk. Not a word. I was shaking to the core, because for one, it’s not every day that I find myself fully nude, in the arms of a male fox, and two, fear of death is no joke.
The water was steady. Clouds were scattered above the sea, shielding me from the sun at times, and at times leaving me in the light. The waves were in my favor, so my trip was shorter than I had expected. I arrived at the island of Aogashima, home of the Tokugawa clan, at mid-day.
Emerging from the water, and taking my first steps onto the land, I saw a figure standing atop a hill, some hundred meters ahead. It was a fox, one of our Coast Guard, who at seeing it was me who had arrived, retreated and went back into hiding. Poor bastard, he probably thought there was finally about to be a little excitement in his life. I could never be a part of the Aogashima Coast Guard; their days are spent blankly gazing at the ocean, and what could be more boring than that? They only ever leave their post to question people entering the island, but because I am a Major in the Tokugawa forces, the coast guards don’t question my coming and going.
Aogashima is another volcanic island. I always thought Aogashima was pretty cool, because it is made of one small volcano inside a larger volcano. The caldera of the big one surrounds the habitable area, in the middle of which rises the smaller volcano. The little one was the active one of the two. Plumes of smoke routinely rise from the center of the island, yet, the people, all two hundred of them, lived here happily. They had become accustomed to living with this danger. If only they knew of the pack of man-eating foxes living secretly among them, maybe then they would flee in terror.
Foxes stay hidden for a reason. There was a time when Sacred Foxes and humans lived together in harmony. This was before they found out what we have to do to survive. When a field fox awakens, that is, when it becomes a Sacred Fox, not only are they now able to take human form, but they also develop an orb of light called Foxfire. This orb is always floating next to our tail, and it is our life force. If we become separated from it, or if it goes out, we die.
The way to keep the Foxfire alive is by feeding on the life force of humans. Long ago, it used to be that foxes could hide in the forest and hunt on humans for their next meal, but things are more complicated now. Kamiko-sama says that human innovation has forced us to change along with them. I guess I can understand that. Animal attacks are not as common now as they were when I first joined the clan, so I can only imagine how much more difficult it will be to stay fed in the future.
Thankfully, there are other ways to feed on humans. We can eat them and gain strength, but honestly, we don’t need their flesh to survive; what we do need is their energy. Eating sweaty farmers, drunks, and just about anyone is gross; that is why some foxes experimented with finding alternative ways of draining humans of their life force without having to eat them. Eventually, they did find a reliable way: sex. This was all before my time, but from what I hear, this was the driving force behind the so-called “Japanese sexual awakening” of the Edo period.
Let’s admit it, when foxes take on human form, we are far from ugly. We appear to be anywhere from seventeen to twenty years old, but a large majority of us look to be eighteen at most. Given our beauty, and the fact that humans tend to their genitals more than to their brains, extracting their energy through sex worked–for a time.
There was just one setback. As more humans took foxes as partners, and as more foxes joined brothels, a sort of sickness began to spread among the humans. What foxes of that era didn’t know was that through repeated intercourse with foxes, humans become weak, sickly, and eventually end up dying. Over time, this mysterious sickness raised more suspicion in the humans than if we had just eaten them. How was it that foxes were not dying or becoming sick while this plague was spreading? On the contrary, they looked more alive than ever. Neither the humans nor the foxes could continue to blame deaths on commonplace threats like burglars, neighboring villages or animal attacks, so suspicion turned to us. Humans eventually caught on. That is how the hunting of foxes began, a practice which continues to this day.
I took the long way to the Tokugawa residence. The whole way up the caldera, I thought about what I would say to Kamiko-sama. I could not think of justifications for the way I had acted earlier. Not even one. I mean, I would be pissed if I were her. We had lost guards, a ship had been damaged, and the death of the prisoners was going to unleash a political storm. I sighed and focused on walking, because my legs were starting to shake.
As I reached the top and began descending, I looked down at my home. The house isn’t so much of a house as it is a small palace. Guarded by an imposing black gate, and surrounded by taller walls, this house is our sanctuary. Here, we can be foxes if we so choose, without the fear of being discovered. So, when I jumped over the back wall into the property, I relaxed a little. I was safe.
As soon as I stepped inside, I am apprehended by two other foxes in human form. We preferred our human form while inside the house, because of the size issue. Anyway, I switched to my human form. They covered me with a throw. And when these two sat me on a chair in the center of the room, I knew I was in real trouble. Kamiko-sama came rushing in, and Madoka followed her.
Madoka, I hated her then, and I hate her now. She’s this petite fox who joined the Tokugawa roughly about the time I did. Her black hair, which fell to the small of her back, was cut straight at the bangs, and at the ends. She always dressed so formally, uptight, almost as if from a different era.
When new foxes join our clan, I have always taken it upon myself to make them feel at home. Sometimes, my sense of humor can feel a bit too rash. Most foxes get that I am only teasing them, but not Madoka. Her personality and mine are complete opposites. I once made a joke about how childlike she is, and she never did forgive me for it. I mean, I apologized, but she was not having it. Ever since, Madoka has taken every opportunity she can get to make my day a bad one. One could even say she hates me.
The thing is that Madoka is the only one among us who looks more like a girl than a young adult, when in her human form. She tries to make herself look older with makeup, but one look at her chest gave the whole illusion away.
Honestly. She was a child under her clothes. A fox needs to be womanly to attract prey, but lucky for her, she had that annoying power of hers. Madoka can make anyone she touches experience vivid hallucinations. Foxes usually unlock this power after growing their fifth tail, and it takes lots of effort to perfect the casting of illusions, but Madoka somehow managed to master this ability despite only having two tails. I suppose that is better than breasts, but I at least had that over her.
“What happened at Hachijō-jima?” asked Kamiko-sama, casting a glance at me that said she already knew the answer to this question, and I had better pick my words right.
“There was a revolt among the prisoners,” I said. “They attacked the ship carrying the newly imprisoned, and quickly took control of it. They killed every guard on board.”
“And why did you not interfere?”
“I was going to, but then I saw that there was a fox within the rebellion. A four-tailed. He was able to stop a cannonball using only his mind, and I knew I was no match for him.”
“Him?” Mrs. Tokugawa asked.
“Yes,” I said, and Kamiko-sama nodded, her brow tight, as if this detail had confirmed her thoughts, or validated an idea. I paused for a moment to examine her face, but there was nothing there anymore. Her attention was back on me, and I diverted my eyes to the floor. “It was a male,” I said.
“A male who is more important than your clan,” said Kamiko-sama, opening a wooden box which lay on the table, and pulling a pipe from it. She packed the bowl and lit it.
“No,” I said, louder than I intended. “Never.”
“Yes.” She took a drag. She paused for a moment, seemingly waiting for me to defend myself further. A dozen pretenses came to mind then, but before I could say something cheesy, like, that my clan was more important than anything in my life or something, she continued; looking away, and then back at me imperatively with every other step she took, “More important than the life of your sisters, more important than your home, and more important than your duty. We lost thirty humans in the attack. Thankfully, we were able to reclaim control of the island despite him being there.”
I was quiet.
I realized that there were no right words I could have picked. Kamiko-sama was right. I had acted as if my curiosity and personal interests were more important than anything else.
“Considering his power, and all the things that he is capable of, I am surprised that you made it out alive.”
“Do you know that fox?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Kamiko-sama, “his name is Araki Mataemon. He is downright lethal in both of his bodies. As a human, his skills with the sword are unmatched. He is that legendary swordsman who nearly ended the Tokugawa clan when he swore revenge on my grandfather, Ieyasu Tokugawa, and nearly made good on that promise with a decapitation attempt. Had it not been because of my father’s intervention, none of us would be here today.
I do not know of another fox with four tails currently alive, making him our strongest enemy. I thought him long dead, but his return spells trouble for us all.”
“Then why didn’t he kill me?” I ask, looking up at her. “He had me captured.”
“I cannot say, but you are lucky to be alive,” said Kamiko-sama. “There are numerous tales of the atrocities he has committed. Entire villages have been decimated overnight by his hand. He is a monster. Hitomi, you are indeed fortunate that Madoka and Sora happened to be passing by there when the attack began. They were returning from one of their missions. Madoka was able to contact a nearby ship, and request reinforcements, while Sora followed you, thinking that you were planning on taking on the four-tailed on your own, but it seems that you were more interested in other matters. I blushed, knowing what she was hitting at.
“Furthermore, you made the irresponsible decision of going to Hachijō-jima alone. You know the rules, Hitomi. Foxes are never to travel alone. You have your previous shows of loyalty to our clan for not being treated as a traitor. Were it any other fox, I would have found their choice of traveling alone as suspicion of treason.”
Kamiko-sama took a drag and turned her eyes to me. I saw Sora was trying to conceal a smile. I cast my eyes down. The gaze of my clan leader was powerful and made all the foxes under her command bow beneath its weight. Besides, I knew what she meant—if I were a newborn, I would have been executed on the spot.
“I’m sorry. I will do better.”
“You will do better here,” she said in a voice like a violent hiss, then taking a second’s pause, and another drag, she continued, “Starting tonight, Madoka will take full control of Hachijō-jima, and of your squadron, you will no longer hold the rank of Major and will stay in the house, not to leave the island until we figure out what to do with you.”
This part is the part that would forever mark Madoka as a bitch, as far as I’m concerned. She knew I was angry. She knew that everyone would think she had saved my life, and now she disguised her final blow as an act of consideration.
Madoka looked down at me with a condescending smirk on her face, but her words were so soft, so caring in her intonation, that even I almost believed her when she said, “I think that Hitomi would be better off joining one of the military divisions. She is hardly the type to stay indoors. Perhaps the Coast Guard would be a good option for her.”
Honestly, what a bitch.
Kamiko-sama was pensive for a moment. “Yes,” she said at length; “Hitomi, find a spot among one of our three divisions. You will remain there until further notice.” Then she turned around and walked away, Madoka walking closely behind her.
I started, wanting to protest, but I had no argument against this decision. Madoka had won again.
Having lost not only my authority over Hachijō-jima, but also my rank of Major, made me of the same status as the youngest of us. Ugh. No one would respect me now. It is one thing never to have power, and another to have power, and then lose it. A drop of rank makes others think themselves equal, if not superior to you. After all, you must have done something truly stupid to have lost your authority, and they, having lost nothing, feel as if they have one over you.
My demotion also meant that I would have to resort to hunting in the lowly sides of town, feeding on drunkards, farmers, and prostitutes, while the officers got to choose their prey from among elite and influential humans. And now, thanks to Madoka, I had to join one of the small groups operating within Aogashima. There were three in all: The Coast Guard, Human Relations, and General Operations. Some were better than others, but they all meant being told what to do.
I cannot believe that Madoka had suggested I join the Coast Guard. All they do is stare at the ocean day and night. Boredom would kill me, and I guess that is why she mentioned it. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to find my way.
General Operations was the best choice for someone like me, because they were not stuck having to do the same assignments every day as the other two did. I had been part of it for a while, when our clan was small and before duties were divided by branch. But that was a long time ago. Back then, we were all equal and now, even within General Ops, there are ranks, and depending on your rank you are assigned different missions. These can be anything from going to the market to espionage. I knew that I would have to start at the bottom and climb my way up the ladder before earning the type of freedom I was used to. So, the next day, I paid a visit to the one in charge of General Ops.
Akane was a two-tailed, red fox. In her human form, her thick scarlet hair made her as beautiful as it made her intimidating. She was a bit of a hard-ass, but she was well known for not being afraid of getting her hands dirty when needed, despite her high ranking within our clan. I respected Akane, and she knew it, even with our different senses of what constitutes good behavior. Besides, she was not a fan of Madoka’s obvious ass-kissing. At least we had that in common.
I transformed into my true form, and ran to the forest, looking for the scarlet fox.