Kitsune Nights

Chapter 2: The Eidolon

When Mother’s soft breathing turned into gentle snoring, April went into the kitchen, cleaned the remaining dishes in the sink, and blew out the candles before a final check on mother.

Finding her sole guardian asleep, April retreated to her room. At once, it seemed the world was moving again. The rhythm of the clock dissipated as she hastily removed her skirt. Rather than donning her nightgown, she slid into a pair of dark trousers that were concealed atop her dresser. Then she replaced her blouse and slipped into worn boots.

Without a moment’s hesitation, she climbed through the window and skittered to the edge of their property and into the woods.

The crisp night air bit at her ears and nose, but such things never bothered April. Spring, summer, fall, and winter – she loved them all and counted their passing as blessing. She let out a howl of delight and then burst into a fit of giggles as she neared her first destination. Oh, she could breathe again! Out in the night as she was, free of obligation. Never had mother noticed her nightly absences and so she need not feel guilty for stealing away in them.

April reached an old birch tree and stretched her arm into the large knot on its ancient trunk. She withdrew a small package containing writing charcoal and her most precious possession: a bound journal.

Equipped as such, she trotted to the crossways to decide where the night would take her. “Left to the ranch lands, straight to the belvedere, or right to the beach? Which shall it be tonight?”

Her eyes trailed upwards to the star speckled sky and sighted dark wisps. “To the belvedere; it may yet rain,” she smiled and took the path she had chose.

And sure enough, rain it did. At first, she felt only large, scattered drops through the forest canopy above her. But as she neared the belvedere pavilion, her garment became speckled with the light droplets racing across the foliage.

The pavilion was her favourite haven; overlooking the ranch lands in one direction and the lake on another, the belvedere made her life seem something other than small. And that’s what April needed right now, to feel that life was more than just sitting at a bedside. She snuck out every night until she was wearied from her noctivagant activities and had the strength to smile for mother the next morning. She chuckled considering that Mother’s attempts to protect her daughter had resulted in a proclivity to nightly adventures. As a girl, she would not have dared wandering off at night, amidst the nightly creatures and the rascals. But now she playfully danced under the stars or swam in the warm lake. For tonight though, she would enjoy the rhythm of the rain as she wrote.

The belvedere was built in ages past, by some long forgotten king. With columns holding up the roof of its round platform, it looked a bit like an ornate, oversized gazebo. In the center was giant hearth that could house a fire nearly big enough to warm the whole structure. A few bricks had been misplaced from the structure, but it remained firm. Nowadays it was occasionally used as a shelter for travellers, but rarely enough that April had claimed it as her castle.

After checking the pavilion to ensure her solitude, April wound her way around the belvedere deciding which view would best inspire her writings. Having found a satisfactory perch overlooking the ranches, she withdrew her journal and struck a candle.

She sighed contentedly as she wrapped her hair around a finger and contemplated the words to pen. There was much to say, but little she wanted to write. She had exhausted her mind of self-pity and she would not deign to recite the events of the day. Such things did not suit her lofty castle overlooking the vast land. The things to write about here were adventures and hopes, stories and dreams.

The rain intensified and it caused the smile to return to April’s pensive face. The patter of rain was always so free, so sporadic, and so unlike the ticking of a clock. Minutes or hours flew by as she peered from the top of her journal to the twinkling land below. Her fingers were ever busy writing or twisting her hair into knots. She yawned eventually, beginning to feel the lull of sleep. Her arms rose in a stretch and then she planted them behind her, leaning on them. She opened her mouth to speak aloud to herself, but closed it instead. Somehow, she felt she ought not speak; such a sensation was usually symptomatic of being in the presence of others. How peculiar, she thought to herself. She’d heard nothing but the increased intensity of the rain. Nor had she seen anything to indicate otherwise. And yet, there was a niggling feeling that she was no longer alone.

Unable to shake the notion, she peered around her. The clouds had grown heavy and dark; even with the candle beside her, she could barely make out the shapes of even the vast pillars supporting the belvedere’s roof. Her eyes settled on the darkness, searching it out. She heard the rumble of the heavens as the summer rain became a storm.

A shock of light filled the sky, illuminating every niche in the belvedere. April blinked as her eyes adjusted to the change in fluorescence. She had seen a silhouette in that flash – a shape that should not have been had been etched near the edge of the pavilion.

Her muscles tensed and her heart raced as she willed her eyes to focus on the darkness where she had seen the shadow. She had checked the belvedere – no one was around. And yet...

She dared not move, but could not remain still. Her ears strained trying to discern the sounds of movement though the pattering rain. She realised she had ceased breathing and forced her lungs to silently inhale. The dark remained unyielding. No shape could she discern, no movement could she see, and no sound could she hear. She moved slowly, determined that her eyes had not cheated her. Something was there.

And it wasn’t just that she was no longer alone; whatever was hidden there was dangerous – a creature of the night, blending seamlessly into the shadows and exposed only by an unexpected burst of light. That’s why her heart was pounding. That’s why her breath caught in her throat.

Her hand carefully propped itself beside her as she slowly shifted her weight from a seating position to a crouched one. Her knees strained as she slowly rose, all the while, her eyes remained trained on the darkness where it lurked.

Forcing herself to turn from the shadow, she plotted her first step. She took another quiet breath as she inched herself forward, stepping on the pad of her foot, and gradually shifting her weight to it. Having completed her first step, she winced and glanced towards the pavilion edge again.

No movement.

Her left foot extended – dodging the journal laid out before her. Then her right. Each step took an epoch.

And then she stumbled, her ankle twisting as the stone beneath her foot shifted. Her uninjured foot stomped down to cease her descent and she cringed at the noise. Still only a whisper above the rain, but loud enough. It knew she was there. She was certain of it.

She twisted her face to see the phantom come at her, but it remained shrouded. She stepped more hastily now; knowing she was caught. She had to get away. She had to leave. It would be after her. Her pounding heart would betray her presence; she had nowhere to escape. She was near the edge of the pavilion, ready to sprint into the rain when a powerful, but tired voice startled her. “You need not fear me,” it said in a tone that seemed to fill the belvedere.

April stopped and spun towards the darkness. The voice seemed to be all around her; yet, it didn’t echo the way her soft footsteps had. “Who are you?” She called in a trembling voice, the alarmed pitch of her tone bouncing off the stone.

There was no reply.

April hesitated, looking from the shadow to her escape in the rain. Tired. The voice had sounded tired. Not threatening, just worn out. She knew that tone well, for her voice often sounded as such.

The sky lit up again revealing the outline of a dark-haired man. Thunder rolled as the light died. The storm was close – too close to be running through the woods. The sky flashed again, followed by the crash. April gathered her nerve and stepped back towards the center of the pavilion, fighting the urge to run. Tired. He had sounded tired, she reminded herself.

She was shaking – though from the weather or fright, she could not tell. “Are you cold?” she called out hoping the sound of her voice would embolden her. She grabbed a bundle of the kindling stocked beside the central hearth. “I’m going to build a fire,” she spoke automatically. She sparked the fire hastily, holding her hands out in relief when the kindling began to crackle. “The wind is picking up.”

The center hearth illuminated the whole pavilion and so April could make out the shape of the man still gazing outwards. Were it not for his speech earlier, she would have thought him oblivious to her. Curiosity got the better of her and she found herself moving towards him. She stomped her feet slightly, making her approach evident and hoping he would not deem her nearness as a threat. But he did not even flinch as she came to stand by his side. She bit her lower lip and she studied his profile.

“Are you alright?” April spoke, her voice barely above a whisper.

The man blinked as if deciding whether to answer or not.

April shuffled slightly. “If I’m bothering you, I’ll leave. But if I can help you...” She trailed off.

“You’re getting wet,” he stated without looking at her.

“Huh?” April vociferated and then glanced at her shoulder, noting the darkened hue where large drops had fallen from the pavilion roof. She sidestepped and offered a word of appreciation.

His head tilted slightly.

April returned to chewing her lip, unsure of why she wanted so badly to speak to this enigma. After all, he didn’t seem safe. He was a fair amount taller than she was and had a compact muscular build. It was a figure that spoke of strength, but also finesse. He was no farmer, labourer, or even common swordsman. And there was a hardness to his face that told her to retreat. Even without the sword casually hung at his hip or the dagger at his side, he was dangerous.

And yet...

Deciding her course, April retrieved her journal papers and pulled one from the bindings. She scrawled something on the paper and then returned to the dark man. “I have to leave now, but here...” Without finishing her sentence, she slipped the leaf or paper into his hand.

Pivoting on her foot with the intention of leaving, April had not the time to react.

Lightning flashed and then she felt his arms pull her to him. Terrified as she was at the rapid motion, she didn’t have time to cry out before his hand slapped over her mouth. Her eyes lifted to meet his as he bent over her face. “Listen well for your life depends on it. Don’t move.” He instructed, his eyes locked on hers.

April nodded, unable to look away from his orbs – a rich brown that appeared almost reddish in hue.

His gaze lingered for a moment before he withdrew his hand and spun around. As he did so, she found herself embraced by a set of furry arms. Two of them wrapped around her waist, pulling her into his back; two more slid down the sides of her arms concealing her skin behind their voluminous mass; and the remaining five limbs fanned outward like a peacock display.

Though she managed to stifle a cry at the sudden entanglement, April couldn’t resist the urge to squirm away. Alas, the arms were insistent, pulling her tighter into his back.

“So this is where you were hiding,” a voice called out from a distance.

April stopped moving; she felt a shiver run up her spine. There was something about that voice that made her very frightened. Then she remembered the eidolon’s warning not to move and became very still. She leaned her face against his back, further concealing herself in his shadow.

With her ear against his body, she could hear his voice resonate in his chest. “My presence hardly seemed necessary,” he said.

“And yet, I requested it.”

“Then I shall return with you.”

She wanted to see the speaker, to know the face of one whose voice could be so terrible. And yet, she found herself clutching closer to the eidolon. There was a colossal difference between the fear she had felt from her eidolon to this newcomer.

There was a crunch on the ground from the direction of the newcomer’s voice. Was he coming nearer?

“Are you being deliberately obtuse?”

“I know not what you mean.”

“You feign ignorance, though it was you who taught me such tactics.”

“This debate seems insubstantial. Do you wish me to return with you or not?”

There was a pause as the newcomer moved closer. April could hear his approaching footsteps on the gravel path.

“I will forgive your indulgence on account of your continued loyalty,” the voice finally spoke. “But you are attempting to conceal something from me Kaze and I do not approve of secrets between us, old friend.”

“Again, you speak in riddles. I have naught to hide.”

April pressed herself tighter against him, feeling the weight of his lie. Yet, Kaze spoke his mistruth without hitch. “I was merely unnecessary for the night’s objectives.”

“Tch,” the other voice snorted. “Then have your night alone, I am tired of you anyways. You never did understand sport, old friend.” The ekename seemed a malicious joke the way he spoke it.

“By all means,” Kaze’ arm moved as he gestured towards the center of the storm. “Continue your sport.”

“Tch,” the other man snorted again. Gravel crunched and then there was silence.

The furry limbs released April almost immediately, though she was remiss to relinquish the security she felt clinging to Kaze’ back. He turned to face her and with a proper view, she recognized the furry limbs as tails.

“What are you?” she asked, mesmerized by their flowing motions.

The tails faded from sight, as invisible as they had been when she first saw him. “Inconsequential,” Kaze remarked.

April nodded, sensing that asking further questions was unwelcome.

“Forget everything that happened tonight,” Kaze instructed in his powerful voice. “Go home now, before he recalls the fire.”

“Hmm?” April pondered his remark. Though she did not linger long on the thought of fire she noticed the chill in the air; it had been warm when she had been pressed against his back. She blushed and suddenly could not meet his eyes anymore.

“Thank you,” she managed to say, her eyes still lingering on the floor stones. By the time she had the courage to look up, he was gone. She spun around looking for a trace of his escape, but to no avail.

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© Mara Jule