It is only an hour walk up through the rings of the city and out into the road, which led to the mountains and the mainland. However, with a broken rib or two, it was an agonizing two-hour hike, using a stick I found as a cane. The location Ikiru directed me to was halfway in between the city and the foothills.
Rarely would I consider asking a Kitsune for help, but in this case, I think it’s needed. Ikiru said casually, revealing who we were meeting with.
It took me a few minutes to find the shrine with Ikiru’s guidance. It was off the side of the road covered mostly by overgrowth in a grove of the slowly thickening forest. The sky had faded into the evening, and the twilight was almost finished. Perfect timing.
Look inside the stonework there should be what looks like a ball.
Bending over to look inside the small house like shrine was agonizing on my ribs, but there indeed was a ball like object inside. It was smooth and white in the shape of an onion. As the last rays of sunlight for the evening caught it, there seemed to be a fire deep within the marble. Taking it in my hands with Ikiru’s instructions I breathed across it, muttering a name as I did.
I stood there for a few minutes feeling impatient. “You told me this would work.”
I said that was a Kitsune’s star ball, I never deal in absolutes.
“Great, what am I supposed to do now?”
Well, it SHOULD have worked… these are Kitsune after all, and though I’ve never dealt with this one before, they have their own way of doing things…
That was a surprise. “Never? You made it sound like you knew her?”
As Ikiru and I were arguing, there was a rustle in the brush behind me. I spun on my heel, hand on my sword. Years of war had one good holdover in my current work, you can never be too careful… especially when it was a beautiful woman staring at you through the bushes. She had brown eyes, which were almost russet like a fox’s coat. Her hair was a matching russet red that fell loosely down past her shoulders. I was silent as she stepped softly out of the bushes revealing a beautiful blue Kimono though I could see her feet were bare underneath. Evidently, the sound she had made before was for my benefit, as now she made none stepping into the clearing.
“Well now, what is it you think you’re doing with that? Oh, great Yashimuro Jin?” Her voice was soft and beautiful as the rest of her.
“You know me?” I responded simply. Lamely.
“Of course, in your short time in Naoshima, many of the spirit world now knows your name.”
Famous in the spirit world is not a good thing. Ikiru reminded me. Great.
I wasn’t sure how to respond, again. Hey, I never claimed to be a master of wordplay.
“Will you return my star ball oh great hero?” She said to me in a tone of amusement that could have been that of mockery. However, it seemed pleasant, like one friend to another.
“I need your help, I didn’t realize picking it up would be a problem…” I said holding the ball but not putting it back. This was my only source of information according to Ikiru, and I wasn’t letting it go.
Don’t tell a Kitsune you didn’t realize something.
She returned me a warm smile. “A Kitsune is always loyal, so will answer your questions. Here, as a sign of good faith.” She walked over to me, so close that I could smell her sent, like pine. I winced as she placed her hands on my broken ribs and suddenly the pain I’d been suppressing for the past few hours vanished. “See? I helped you.”
Careful, she’s manipulating you.
Manipulating or not, healing broken ribs is a favor I was happy for. The Kitsune stood there smiling, waiting. I examined the ball in my hand again. The small fire inside had begun to increase with the Kitsune’s presence. “It is of no use to you mortal.” She added, a bit sharper now. “I have helped heal you. Now, return it to my shrine, and the aid you presently desire I will lend.”
You lose all power over her if you give that up.
Her eyes began to narrow into slits with a sharp intensity which made me suddenly realize this creature was one of the most powerful I had ever met and while I held power over her she most certainly held grudges.
Cautiously I held the ball out to her. She took it swiftly, placing it again inside the small rock shrine. Where its glow lessened and faded until it was gone, leaving us only lit by the fading twilight. The edge of her lip tugged up into a smile as she returned her gaze to me. “How kind of you Jin, can I call you that?”
Don’t have to tell me twice. “Yes, ma’am, thank you for healing me. How should I address you?”
She winked at me, her demeanor entirely changing again. This caught me somewhat off guard, and I may or may not have let my jaw drop at this… “Your friend seems to already know my name having summoned me, but simply Oona is acceptable for a hero like you.”
Shit, she knows I’m here.
That was a first, I realized no one else had ever known about Ikiru after all these years.
I gave a bow at this and then asked, trying not to let on. “In that case Oona-sama, I’m in need of information regarding magic being used in the city, that of blood magic in particular.”
There was a pause for a moment while I maintained the bow. After a second I let my eyes wander up, afraid Oona had left. Thankfully she hadn’t. I could just see her eyes closed deep in thought suddenly open with a slight smile still pressing against her lips. She noticed my gaze and widened her smile and gestured for me to stand upright. “You are inexperienced in the ways of magic aren’t you young Jin?”
“You could say that. I have some experience but…”
With a wave of her hand, she cut me off. “Well then, I’ll let you in on a secret.” Her eyes inclined upward and after a moment I followed them. The sunlight was beginning to recede, and a few stars were almost visible through the treetops. “When powerful magic is being invoked such as this there is always accompanying signs in the stars.”
“But what should I look for?” I asked with no response. Looking back down she had disappeared this time. I thought I could almost hear laughter echo again through trees. Looking back in the shrine, the ball was gone now.
A shiver ran down my spine as I turned to head back to the city. Was every lead a waste of time? I asked myself.
That’s dealing with Kitsune for you, vague and unhelpful.
“Then why did you send me to her?”
Still more helpful than you think.