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Alone at last! Tukiko climbed the cabinet, made the leap to the shelf and then to the glossy stand where the sword slept. She glanced at the doorway, but the Boy still searched the garden and she did not hear Dai-Osho approaching. Satisfied, she turned her attention to the sword and the swirl of energies she felt. The tassel distracted her and she batted at it, watching it swing. She reached for it again and the world exploded around her. The roar of sound made her jump and she scrambled to hold on as the walls and ceiling shuddered. When the shelf fell, she tumbled to the ground, tangled with the display stand and the sword as the shelf landed on top of them. A second boom vibrated the walls and floor, dust rained down and the shelf that was now the roof above her head was peppered with falling debris. She flattened herself in the tiny space, listening to the warning cries of the other fox. Men yelled, angry and afraid. She heard Dai-Osho's calm voice giving directions and waited for him to come. Then the barks turned to screams, mingled with the shrill cries of Boys. Through the narrow window between the boards she saw dark things pass. One stopped, blocking out the light. She closed her eyes, made herself fit the sword she was laying on, and focused on Dai-Osho's lessons, just as he taught the boys. She let the sounds wash over her, exhaling away the currents of energy that tried to gather around her. She drew in deeper and deeper, letting the sounds of the Boys fade away. Noting with sorrow Dai-Osho's final cry and then letting that go too. Only now. Only this. A lotus blossom in its pool of quiet water, closed up tight against the night. She had no measure of time, but when the steady fall of rain bought her back, the screams were silent. Nothing clanged or crashed. But the cloying smell of blood and death held her in her place. She dozed uneasily, waking to the sound of footsteps.

A joint, multi-national special-forces strike team went to investigate various portals, and places of legendary power. Usually the portals, and their mundane frameworks, did not survive a portal activation from the enemy. No one was sure what the Dwimms were searching for, only that they were looking for something, or things. It was investigating the ruins of a Shinto shrine in Japan that Tamas found a destroyed fox kennel on the northern side of the ruined shrine. Japanese mythology taught that foxes could serve as guardians of the gates and keep demons from entering the shrine, so the placement made sense to him. The team found the bodies of several monks, many boys, and about a half dozen fox as well. One of the troops, Sergeant Mariko Sato, said she knew the Shinto rites, sort of. As brigadier general, Tamas gave the order to follow her lead. It was the best they could do. While preparations were made, Tamas poked around the ruins, toying with his lunch.

She peeked out past the jumble of wood and plaster. The doorway was bigger now. One side smashed in, pieces of it cluttering the room. A man stepped in and Tukiko gurgled disapprovingly at the heavy boots he wore. Dai-Osho was very clear that humans not wear the outside things inside. The tantalizing smell of food prompted forgiveness and she crept out from her hiding place.

‘Trashed;’ Tamas looked around. ‘In an earlier time, I’d have shown more respect;’ he thought, nudging a fallen chair with his foot. But the place is barely recognizable for what it was anymore.

In the wider space, she felt very small. Her nose told her Dai-Osho would not return. The Boy would not find her. The kits she had played with that morning, would not answer her call. Alone. Now it was not a victorious thing, a prize and opportunity, now it stretched out past the walls and into the great emptiness that held the stars.

A whiff of food snatched her attention back and she looked up at the man looking down at her. He tossed something in front of her, and she only needed a moment to decide she liked the unfamiliar smell. It was not tofu, or fish, and he had more.

She looked at him, at his food, and did her very best Sit Pretty. She licked her lips and watched him hopefully. When she was rewarded, she pounced, giving the food an honorary shake to 'kill it' and settled neatly to eat, chirping in gratitude between bites.

Tamas laughed quietly as the kit did her best ‘not begging but would really like more food’ pose. He gave her the rest of his lunch; he’d lost his appetite anyway with the sense of loss here. He’d only been eating because the troops needed to see him eat. They bugged him about it otherwise.

The man was ready to leave. She could tell when he brushed his hands and legs like the Boys did and stood. She looked back at the ruin of shelves, the fallen stand, and the sword Dai-Osho had kept. Maybe the man could fix it. She chirped the way that made the Boys turn to look and slipped back beneath the boards to grab the tassel.

Tamas stopped at the sound of the fox’s voice and turned.

To her surprise, carrying the sword was impossible. It tangled her legs and she could not lift her head high enough to pick it up from the ground. With effort, she dragged it clear and then sat to catch her breath, looking at the man to see if he understood. The glossy black stand looked broken, but maybe the man could fix that too.

“What, I should take that, you think?” he asked of the fox as he stepped toward the sword. The fox yipped and backed away. The tsuba, the cross guard, glinted redly in the sunlight, beckoning him forward as well. Reaching the spot where the katana lay, he bent down and picked it up by the scabbard with his left hand.

Take it? She looked at him. No, fix it. She backed out of the way and sat to watch him.

In contact with the katana, he now sensed power in the sword. Akin to the Dwimmerlaik and what he knew he’d been exposed to during the war, what he felt growing inside him. As he examined the katana, he got the sense that it was examining him as well. His right hand slowly moved and grasped the hilt and drew forth the blade. The blade flashed, though the sun was behind clouds at that moment, and Tamas felt as if some bargain, deal or pact had been struck. He sheathed the sword and attached it to his belt.

Tukiko blinked at the light, feeling the energy at play. And the man had a place to hook the sword, like he was the new stand. It was not the fix she was expecting, but the sword Dai-Osho tended could not stay on the ground. She chirped in satisfaction and followed the man from the room.

“You approve then, little one?” Tamas asked of the fox kit. “Well that’s something good at least on this day.” He bowed his head towards her.

Outside there were more men. She could smell the Boys, the fox, Dai-Osho and the other teachers mixed with dirt. Even some of the trees in the garden were broken and she could smell them bleeding over the scent of crushed flowers.

Tamas shook his head, wondering what had happened and moved on. Rejoining the strike team, one of the men pointed out to Tamas that he’d acquired a pet. Tamas frowned thoughtfully, looked around and then down. There was the fox kit sitting patiently not far from him.

The men spoke and she looked up to find them staring at her. So many strangers made her uncomfortable and she inched closer to the man who carried the sword.

Tamas sighed, shrugged his shoulders. “It would appear that so I have.”

She listened to them, then, over all the other smells, came a stench, and the memory of the thing in the doorway seized her as if it were happening again. The horror of what they had done froze her in place, then filled her with rage and grief. She would not be hiding this time. She had not been with Dai-Osho, but she would be with this one.

Stalking silently out past the gardens and the red gate, to the raw mountain her home stood on, she peeked between the rocks and saw Them. They had things that did not belong to them. Things that belonged to the Teachers and the Boys. The sight of them made her angry and she growled.

Not sure what this was all about, Tamas nonetheless alerted the strike team and followed the vixen. His hand drifted down to the sword hilt and felt it thrumming slightly or vibrating; the strength of it growing as he looked south. The pair crept up to a rock outcropping and peering over or around it depending on one’s height, spotted a group of Dwimmerlaik. The vixen growled again, barring teeth. Tamas nodded in agreement and set the strike team up in an ambush that worked wonderfully well. He got the mental impression that the sword was satisfied with things as it had been used to kill the enemy during the fight.

Dwimmers. Dwimmerlaik. Dwimmies. When the fighting was done, she listened to the men talk, saying their words for the monsters as they sorted through the carnage and tended to their fallen. She stared hard at one, listening to its last breath gurgle wetly, then fade to nothing, memorizing every detail so that she would always know them later.

Page last modified on November 02, 2015, at 01:17 AM