Beneath the midday sun, a young and lonely monk trudged through the alpine hinterland. A backpack surpassing the size of his torso weighed him down, filled with pencils, ink, paper and other associated equipment meant for scholarly pursuits. Sebastian slowly walked back towards his monastery, constructed atop the precipice of a snow-capped mountain, miles from the town of Garginion from where he procured these items. As that modest settlement was housed in the valley, and his abbey amongst the high rocks, it proved to be an arduous uphill climb.
Stopping, the youth whipped his doused forehead of perspiration, grunting with fatigue. It never ceased to amaze him how the temperature could change so severely as he climbed the mountain. Up above, he would freeze if he didn’t wear heavy clothing… but for now, performing this duty for his wizened elders during high summer made him feel like he was about to die from the heat. Spoken from the heart, the man hated the drudgery of his tasks, the menial-standing of his noviciate, and the chastity of his vows. This was not the sacred glory that he had imagined serving the Lord to be.
In Garginion, midsummer was approaching, and all the unwed virgins had all been brandishing their loosest and most comely of raiments. Ostensibly, this dress was enforced upon them due to the immensity of the heat, but Sebastian wasn’t so naive as to not know the real real… they all competed for the stares and admiration of young men such as himself. It had birthed a scandalous milieu more suitable for mythic Babylon than anything befitting of Christiandome! The sinful excitement from their gorgeous faces had made his mind drift from holy things. Oh why had he joined this order? A life of celibacy now seemed unbearable. If he could only sneak away during the night somehow… but no. The journey was too long do be done conspicuous. He would be locked within its wall while the celebrations raged.
Unstrapping his enormous backpack, the novice had finally decided that his sweaty clamminess was simply unbearable. From previous travels, he knew that a pool of fresh and crystal-clear water lay enticingly nearby. A quick dip in it would soothe him. Leaving his load, he moved off the path towards its direction, eager to be assuaged. Surrounded by thickets, one could not behold the pond before passing through their willowy shielding. Muscling his way through the greenery, the man was stunned to see that the clandestine pool was already occupied. A naked body was present within its coolness. His astonishment redoubled when he realized that the bather was a girl…
…And what a girl!
The cenobite beheld a world-shaking beauty with bulging eyes. She stood in the pool with her back towards him, her upright figure only half submerged. The upper curve of her pert and pale buttocks stuck out from the water! With no clothes to preserve her virtue, the youth was free to marvel at the fullness of her feminine magnificence. In suppleness and grace, she was like a well-bred chatelaine, soft-hued and without imperfections to her lissome shape. Her hair, however… it spoke of something more primordial and wild. Drenched, he could still discern that it was sandy brown and would billow thickly down her shoulders once dried, a mane more worthy of a lioness than a woman. A red circlet with golden embroidery encircled her head and held it back, keeping its strands out of her visage… the decoration adding to her sense of pagan wildness.
The combination of all these erotic traits made the monk feel like he was losing his mind. She seemed unearthly, unreal, too good to be true. Inhuman. The adolescent realized that he must have happened upon a fabled nymph… the pre-christian histories always spoke of their appeal, of finding them in their baths!
Combing fingers through her abundant hair, the girl inadvertently exposed the bountiful swelling of her leftmost breast-mound, that projecting nipple visibly as well! Just at that moment, the suns aurulent rays struck her wet skin and made it magically glisten, turning her into something truly divine. Sebastion felt harder in his pants that his walking stick.
Then he had to ruin it by stepped forward. An unseen branch broke underneath his sandal, alerting her to his presence, and the nymph spun with animal agility. The damsel quickly folded both arms over her succulent decolletage, so that each appendage covered one breast each. Gorgeous, malachite-colored eyes stared back at him with no fear yet with much intensity. That water-level was so tantalizingly close to uncovering the sacred delta of her feminine sex! He could even see that she no hair on her pubic mound!
“Sebastian…” the nymph purred, honey-voiced as an angel. “Long have I awaited you to come for me…”
The novice gaped. “How do you know my name!?”
“Long have I known of your presence within these mountains, of course my love… I am one of the pleasure goddesses your dusty old tomes speak of. Your beauty bewitches me like a slave. I cannot bear to be without you any longer. Come, let us consume our fate-bound love!” she pronounced, drifting backwards so to descend deeper into the liquid pool’s embrace.
Lust-crazed, the monk felt like he was foaming at the mouth as he began to remove his robes. His vows to God and the Monastery were like an extinguished flame. All his attentions was single-mindedly devoted to that pristine beauty. Doffing sandals, robes and loincloth, he dove into the water. He was going to be the one to mate with Aphrodite herself!
With Sebastian splashing after her like an eager hound, the woman swam outward towards the center of the pond with practiced grace. Guided headlong like a ballista’s projectile by his stone-hard rod, her coy and strange avoidance didn’t register to the monk. However, as he himself reached the center, her trajectory begun to arch around him. For being so lightly built, she glided through the pool of water like a fish. It was impossible for him to keep up with her expert strokes. Soon enough, she had rounded his position, and was heading back towards the shoreline!
“My love, what are you doing!?” the turncoat monk cried.
A cackling, girlish laughter assailed his ears. He now realized that something was devastatingly wrong. His hot blood turned disconcertingly cold. That mirth in her voice was supremely mischievous. Spearing through the water, the Goddess disembarked at the place they had dived in. Beholding her pale and glistening buttocks as she waded ashore, the youth was horrorstruck to see her start collecting his clothing! Why was his pagan beloved doing this? They were going to be together, to wed, have lots of children as they grew old together!
A test… it must be a test! Swimming with mighty power-strokes, he exerted all the vigor of his muscles to close their distance. This effort brought him onto land just as she dashed away through the protective tickets, his brown monk-cloak wafting in the wind behind her. That glee-filled laughter pouring from his love filled the forest, a high tenor birdsong of amusement. Naked, Sebastian sprinted through the tangling branches, emerging on the other side just before she managed to completely disappeared from view.
That last sight of her made him gape anew. It was not a girlish lass he saw speeding away from him. It was a… phantasmagoria of some kind! He beheld the tails of a fox… nine of them! They all swirled after her figure with the same billowing thickness of her hair. But why would Aphrodite have appendages like that? And why was she running in the first place? Did she prefer the woods?
Her laughter kept resounding long after she had left him, echoing away like a slowly fading love.
The monk was left standing there, undried waterdrops streaking down his flesh. He looked down and saw that his erection was still painfully salient.
And he had no clothes.
Had he just been duped!?
Kida strolled through the woodlands like a pompous aristocrat, smile so wide that the grin nearly clove her face in twine. Her many tails vacillated back-and-forth due to the gaiety of her stride as she laughed her amusement. She inclined her head towards twittering birds, a tiny bow as if their calls were congratulating her over the slyness of her ruse. That was the most fun she had had in weeks. It was just too bad these monks never left behind any interesting stuff to loot!
Depositing his vestments, she gave brief thoughts about the future. After daring to return to his monastery, the monk would undoubtedly report this event to his abbot. After all, was there any better explanation for showing up naked than “a demon-nymph bewitched me and stole my clothing?” It might not be enough to save the inviolability of his vows, but Kida felt sure he would miss monasticism so much if they kicked him out.
Still, she better stay away from the clan for a couple of days. Kitina grew enraged over every little interaction she had with humans. Yet, that was no great burden… she preferred to spend much of her time in the wilds around the town, and Kida felt sure that this episode would blow over quickly. Its legacy was that of salacious tavern rumors, not dangers. Nothing to worry about. Kida draped her fur about herself and with a moment of will, the kitsune transformed into her animal shape, a fox halfway between the side of a large dog and a small pony… and not nearly fully grown yet… as she started running through the timberland, crying out for the sheer joy of it.
Nothing to worry about. After all… it wasn’t like he had seen her tails or anything!
“Dolt! Imbecile! Clod!” Kitina roared, chasing Kida around the table with fist belligerently clenched and shaking in the air. “I do not have a fox for a sister! I have a donkey for a sister!”
Kida screeched like a tiny ferret, vastly fear-eyed as she circled the furniture at maximum speed, trying her best to keep out of the grip of the furious Guardian. She was in for a clobbering. Kitina would catch up with her eventually. Her long-legged sister always did.
“Fanatical monks have been scurrying throughout the forest for two days and two nights, carrying crucifixes and splashing holy water on every stone with even a hint of moss on it!” the Guardian screamed during the hunt. “Their accursed incantations ring out so loudly that I can barely get any sleep at night… and do you know what they are yelling? Exorcismus vulpes foveas! Do you know what that means, Kida?”
“I don’t speak Latin,” Kida protested as she dodged beneath a table, rolling to come to her feet on the other side. They were in an earthen hollow underneath a great oaken tree, tunnels connecting the pit too many other underground rooms. This was their clan-home. They lived hidden amid nature, away from humanity and its overrated civilization, but it still was a palace of orderliness compared to how some of the townspeople lived.
“Exorcism of the Foxes!” she yelled, narrowing her eyes at Kida as she tried to circle the table and catch up with her. “Do you think you could explain that to me!? By Brighid, how in the hell do the monks know of our existence!?”
“I’m-sorry-I’m-sorry-I’m-sorry!” Kida repeated so speedily that the words melted together.
This wasn’t the first time that Kida had managed to jeopardize their secrecy. Kitsune were amazingly long-lived. She herself was already 80! Existing next to the town of Garginion had made some local folklore emerge, farmhands and woodsmen speaking of fox-nymphs stalking through the forest. These had long been considered mere myths, the tales of the drunk and long in the tooth… until Kida’s frequent jokes at the towns expense had made sightings and signs of them become a lot more common. Now Kitina had heard that there were talks of alerting the Vatican of demons!
Along the rims of the earthen wall stood two twins, Cassandra and Sophitia. Their dark pupils sailed in circles around the whites of their eyes as they watched the sisters loop around the table. Both were nearly Kida’s age, having tagged along when they visited the sanctuary. Their hair and fur where dark-blue, contrasting starkly with the alabaster fairness of their skin. Like most of their of their people, the only thing they wore was their fur, which in their humanoid form that had turned into particularly sparse clothing, keeping their midriffs exposed and their dressed too short for to be proper human attire.
Irked, Kitina elected to hurl herself across the table, intercepting her sister’s path. The tall woman’s feet stomped down upon the earth right as Kida was about to storm straight into her. Heart leaping and unable to stop sprinting, the fox-girl transformed into her animal shape and attempted to dive straight between her relative’s legs She almost made it, getting her entire vulpine torso through the opening and experienced the hot elation of performing a clever ploy before her momentum ceased abruptly with a harsh rebound. The Guardian had managed to reach down and clasp hold of her tails. With anger-fueled strength she hauled her sister up into the air, Kida squirming as if she was about to be eaten. A Kitsune’s tails were almost as powerful as her arm, yet that helped little when she was up against the strength of the Guardian.
“Now, tell me what you did!” Kitina growled. “In detail!”
Kida’ shape shifted again, still held upside-down by a fistful of her tails near the base, her head almost touching the ground. Kitina was easily strong enough to heft her in such a manner. The woman was a fantastic athlete and more than a head taller than her mischievous sibling. She could easily have been the model for an sculptor whom sought to immortalize the perfect athletic figure… where it not for her tails and fox-ears. Her colorations was more on the dark end of the brunette spectrum as opposed to Kida’s lighter shade. Likewise, her skin was more tawny and sun-kissed. Coupled with a chiseled visage that always seemed set in stern and industrious miens, she could appear quite intimidating. Even in her human form, the Guardian always carried her vulpine features with her, making that look of fire wildness seem even more pronounced on her brow than it did Kida’s.
“Talk!” she barked, shaking the sister as if she were a rodent in her jaws.
The circlet-wearing girl spilled the beans as fast as possible. She explained everything about her temptress-scheme with the monk. Muttered explanations about how “he didn’t seem to like monasticism anyways” fell on deaf ears.
“Kida!” Sophitia lambasted with a sigh, seemingly genuinely upset with her recklessness. “You should be ashamed of yourself! By frivolously playing around you’ve not only broken our rules but also endangered the Clan with your sloppiness! A Kitsune must be held to higher standards!”
“Was he hot?” Cassandra asked asked.
The unvarnished insolence made Kitina snap her head in their direction. With a visage that looked ready to bark and growl, her eyes bounced between the two sisters, unable to determine whom had said what. It was a frequent source of frustration for the Guardian and the other Kitsune of the Clan. Cassandra and Sophitia were identical in appearance yet polar opposites in persona, and neither was the slightest bit interested in helping anyone else tell the difference… not when it would get Cassandra in trouble for her insolence.
Craning her head up, Kida gave Cassandra an easy thumbs up and a wink. “Oh, he was a comely one!” As far as she knew, she was the only one who had ever managed to tell the two apart consistently, and she had no idea where the difficulty for others lay. After all, they had completely different personalities!
Overcome with annoyance, the Guardian dropped her sister like a sack of turnips. Kida’s head dunk against the ground. She got back to her feet quickly, scuffing her scalp with both hands so that her pointy ears became repeatedly flattened.
“Foxfire is not a toy, Kida. Its no ordinary magic. Its a gift from the Goddess,” Kitina said as she walked away, sitting down cross-legged upon a divan, voice having become grave and controlled.
Kida kept combing dirt out of her hair and tried not to roll her eyes. Sis was getting religious again.
“Our ability to exist between forms, between nature and culture, between the mundane and the divine… these are not common or profane things, Kida. Our magic, foxfire, is connected to the very texture of creation itself. Wizards and warlocks may achieve their thaumaturgy by manipulating creation like a farmer manipulates his soil, but we are connected to it with our very souls. Foxfire is the reason that the northern lights inflame the sky. It’s out connection to Brighid and Inari. Does that not seem holy to you?” The Guardian asked.
“You talk like one of the monks, sister,” Kida replied, shrugging both shoulders. “This is just the way we are. Humans. Foxes. Us in between. It really isn’t as complicated as you make it out to be.”
The twins spoke in unison. One said something like “realistic,” while the other said something akin to “heresy.”
“And let’s face it, that girl doesn’t need our vigil anyway,” Kida quickly added.
“Guarding the Descendant of Amalissa is the reason we exist here!” Kitina fervently injected.
“She has a name you know. I believe the current incarnation is called… Marissa? Funny how names descend through families like that,” Kida responded. “But I understand your trouble… humans are so short-lived that one can hardly keep track of them! If the Fomorian wanted revenge, he could just sit down, stair at the sky, and wait… she’ll be dead soon enough.”
The Protector’s gaze darkened. She looked ready to give Kida a beating, and Kida wondered if she had actually provoked her sister to genuine anger for once. Then she curled her lips as if just having thought of something. “Maybe some responsibility is what you need, Kida. Since you seem so up-to-date on this current incarnation, you’re now ordered to go to the town of Garginion and oversee the Desce—”
“What!?” Kida blurted out.
“…dant, as well as ascertain how much damage your little misadventure may have caused us,” she continued as if Kida had not spoken at all. “How serious do these people believe in our existence, really?” the leader concluded.
Guard duty? And among the humans? That was always the worst. Being among them for short periods of time was fine, even fun, but needing to exert her foxfire continuously to hide her ears and tails could become so arduous when done for days. “But why? Is Marissa in some danger?” Kida pressed.
“The humans are holding their midsummer celebration. Festive times are always unruly times. Especially for young and attractive women such as her,” Kitina replied.
“Oohhh…” Kida cooed, making a very longwinded and knowing sound. “I see. Yes. Humans tend to have a proclivity for mating during summer so that their puppies pop out in spring to plant their weeds. Well I’m not going to get between her and some farmboy…”
Kitina rose, and Kida’s hands went up in a defensive position. With a smile, she hurriedly added, “Hey! I just assumed that you were worried about our ward’s coming generation, that’s all!”
“Kida,” she said, voice very acute. “I’m counting on you to accomplish this. I can’t myself. Those assigned to the Mountain where the Archfoe were supposed to be back yesterday to report and trade out with new protectors, and they haven’t made it yet, so I have to go inspect and make sure everything is alright. You will not give me an additional thing to worry about. Am I making myself clear?”
Kida couldn’t help but notice how the Protector’s fists were tightening anew. She didn’t want to enrage her sister. They just had such different outlooks on the world and modes of humor, that’s all. She was the sort of Kitsune who was named Guardian before she had turned 200… while Kida was the sort of Kitsune who couldn’t allow the next obvious quip to slip her buy. “Don’t worry for the guardians,” she said with a grin. “I’m sure they’re distracted. Foxes like to get our cubs out in springtime as well, you know?”
Kitina advanced. Kida jolted and yelped, then bolted out the door as if flung from a sling.
Going topside, Kida squatted down in the grass. The twins followed her, as inseparable as always. She did a lot of pouting while Cassandra played supportive and Sophitia remained scolding.
“Narghai isn’t coming back,” she told them.
“You shouldn’t speak the Archenemy’s name so lightly!” the strict one protested.
“I just don’t want to be like mom and spend my entire life preparing for something that will never happen,” the adolescent Kitsune added.
“I understand how you feel,” Cassandra responded. “But this is very important for your sister. At least, do it for her. To get on her good side. Err… well… her better side.”
“I will,” Kida wheezed, truthful.
“Besides, guarding the Descendant of Amarissa is a great honor! You should be overjoyed to even be given such a privilege!” Sophitia chided.
“You think?” Kida blurted out, rising and turning around towards them. “Well in that case why don’t I and Cassandra go hit the lake while you go and sojourn with our little War—”
The twins eyes turned onto her with identical glares. Even a hint that they should separate tended to do that. They might be as different as winter and summer, but if you tried to get between them… well, Kida suspected they would be single forever, or they would drag the same man into courtship. By suggesting that, Kida had just foolishly pushed herself between them. Holding up her hands in a gesture of surrender, she rose and sprinted away from the Clan-home as if a horde of angry bees were at her tails, transforming back into a fox at the edge of the woods as she ran for the human town.
Amidst the coldest peaks of the Alps, there stood a steep and towering mountain, anonymous and nameless, as if designed to be forgotten by the earth. Upon approach it, however, one could feel a thick and tangible energy permeating the air, the likes of which was normally only perceptible to sorcerers and priests. Such was its arcane potency that flora and wildlife shied away from its very shadow. It was as if its very roc was a bane to life.
Nevertheless, feet trod confidently upon this unhallowed ground, heading into a dark and foreboding cavern. The the blood of the mountain’s guardians was already soaking into the rock, the mountain swallowing it as hungry as soil after a draught. Syllana watched what remained of her fellow Kitsune’s blood drain with eyes that were positively arctic in character. Supernatural flames still flickered lightly upon their charred-through corpses. They had been immolated in mid-sprawl, carcasses twisted and wrought from being consumed by intense fires. Ashen death-masks projected the agony of their last moments… and she smiled.
Unique among her kind, the Warlock’s hair and tails were jet-black as midnight, exactly the shade of those burnt-out remains. She had long-ago scorched away their natural color herself. It was part of her ritual to gain power, power enough to do what was necessary… power enough to turn her back on Inari and all the other fools who couldn’t see the truth. She could feel her foxfire writhing up her arm, burning it without consuming… the cruel, hungry flame as hungry for destruction as she was.
Cloaked figures whose heads were submissively bowed kept walking past her… her minions. Mere pawns, but useful enough in their own way. She gazed towards the mountain’s menacing aperture, its opening like a fanged maw. This day held more important things than mere remembrance.
Syllana penetrated that den of evil.
After a long journey, the cult reached the cavern’s innermost chamber. The fey light of cold blue foxfire dispelled the surrounding Stygian darkness. Within, they found an unnatural block of ice the size of glacier within that mountain, a never-melting prison whose fortitude neither heat nor normal magic could ever wilt. Bringing her flaming hand closer, the fox-witch’s glow unveiled to them a humanoid outline buried within that iceberg. It was massive like an ogre, sporting devil-horns jutting from its skull, the epicenter of this mountain’s despair.
“Narghai!” the fanatics screech, voices shrill and bestial, a hullabaloo of insane minds. Many prostrated themselves before the image. Others tore and scratched at their faces. A few deemed that urgent bloodletting was needed to appease this theophany, turning knives on their brethren. Only Syllana remained calm.
The fallen Kitsune had been carrying a box with her. Placing it on the stony ground, she opened it and pulled out the enchanted item within. A soul-orb, an ancient magic of the demon-spirits of the desert… A blood-red globe that housed the spirits of ten-thousand creatures that she had collected herself. Men, Demons, Kitsune, Selkies and other mystic beings. She had first stolen the item from the Shahanshah of Persia, and its filling had taken centuries… Only the best of souls that she could find. All of those precious souls now swirled around within, trapped, ghostly white visages appearing then and then along its scarlet surface. She could almost hear them howl for mercy from within. They were right to bemoan their fates.
Syllana’s heart thrummed. At last… it was happening. This ancient power was to be unleashed… and with it, her ascendancy. The Fomorian!
Holding the soul orb upright, she spoke in eldrich tongues, reciting words not spoken since the fall of Atlantis. With her words she summoned forbidden sorcery, her fire coursing over the orb as it began smoldering like a tiny sun. It enveloped their visions in a blinding red and blue effulgence. The screams of souls being tormented filled the hollow as the glow began to seep into the ice… and then she heard the first snap as a crack appeared in its pristine surface. “Feast, my ally…” she whispered. “Feast, and be free once more.” The souls flooded through the cracks like a torrent of blood, and the ice cracked and cracked and cracked. The cultist’s madness intensified, the multitude swarming around like frenzied grasshoppers and insects. All about them came the insane chants of “Narghai! Narghai! Narghai!” Syllana genuflected as the prison came tearing down, dispersing into blocky pieces which were pushed out of the way as the monstrous buried figure strode forward.
An antediluvian evil had once again been unleashed upon the world… and Syllana smiled. “Welcome back to the world, father of scorn,” she pronounced, keeping eyes groundwards in a show of deference. There came a bestial growl, restrained, yet still giving voice to an eon-long loathing. Its malignancy silenced the many human underlings of the heathen Kitsune. Syllana felt something she hadn’t felt in a long while. Goosebumps.
This his voice… like the grinding of stones from the ogre-like monstrosity in the darkness. “The spawn of Amalissa still lives,” he said, as if having smelt it upon the earth.
“She does,” the sorceress answered. She had read and studied every ancient tome and grimoire that concerned the Fomorian, long before striking her bargain with him. She knew of his oath-bound quest for vengeance. The antemundane creature’s vow would need to be sated before they could direct their attentions against Syllana’s true enemy.
“The Kitsune protect her. They still live as well. With their magic ward, it’s impossible for me to touch Amalissa’s spawn before they are dealt with,” he continued, single-mindedly mustering his long-dormant thoughts towards retribution.
“Yes… but not impossible for your servants — those I have brought you — to touch,” the wicked-hearted Warlock replied.
She could feel the Fomorian’s gaze fix upon her, his stare bearing down heavily onto the top of her inclined skull. The sorceress had long-since predicted these interactions down to the very words spoken. She knew the Fomorian’s wraths and lusts. It was all part of her plan. At this moment, she had planned to reverently raise her gaze so to meet his red-eyed stare. But… at the attempt, the muscles of her neckline froze, stiffening in rebellion of performing this action. She was unable to do it. The realization made her tummy knot as if overtaken by war-time terrors. Goosebumps no longer seemed significant. For one moment, one brief, fleeting moment, Syllana knew doubt before she buried it beneath a sea of assurance that she knew precisely what she was doing, that she had walked this path for well more than a thousand years and would not be turning back now.
“Capture her,” he voiced, tone almost sibilant like the hissing of king-serpents.
Syllana nodded…. Then rose and strode from the mountain, the sanity-stricken cultists following her heels. Her jubilation warred with a primordial fear she couldn’t entirely escape, the horror of the ancient monstrosity running through her bloodstream. Steeling her nerves, she mastered this horror. This was but the beginning. The Fomorian might be presently her Master… but it would not always be so. She had taken the next step. Not the first… and not the last.
She marched to fulfill his task.
The village was merely a day’s walk away.