The rumor was that this man knew everything. That he could find anyone, anywhere. It was the last hope she had to find her son. A shot in the dark. Literally. It had taken ages to put together enough facts and directions to find the place. It was tucked away in a dark corner of the world. Away from the GPS everyone used these days. The only sign it had been there after the domes was the fact that it was in a small one. It was dark as night in there from the outside. Vegetation visible from the outside. It looked like one of the last surviving pockets of a rain forest on earth had been saved in it. Like it was being guarded. If his power was to be believed it probably was.
She’d had just as much faith she would find nothing when she got there.
She’d scraped her hands raw trying to get in through the door. It was old and rusted, none of the metallic shine the rest of existence had. The glass of her helmet fogged with the effort. Then as if she’d only been doing it wrong the seal finally broke and it pulled open. Flakes of rust fluttering down to her feet. When she stepped in the door snapped closed behind her causing her to jump. The only way was forward. Her eyes turned to the world in front of her. It looked as if it had never been touched by human hands. Artificial sunlight didn’t break through the jungle that had been waiting for her.
There was a soft glow to the place. Little dots of light flying around. Her hands reached for her helmet and it came off with a hiss as she pressed a release. She inhaled deeply, testing the air and it tasted cleaner than any recirculated air she’d ever breathed. Padding over to one of the large plants here gloves running over it. Some didn’t even look real so large and overgrown. She’d never seen so many plants alive. The air was wet but not humid. It smelled like it had just been raining and a faint hint of clove.
Renewing her resolve and setting her shoulders she headed towards the center of the small dome. The only accompaniment to the sound of her feet against the Earth was crickets she couldn’t seem to spot, the rustling of leaves now and then that made her breath quicken. Some of the plants started to look familiar. Ones that she’d come across in books that were supposed to be extinct. It felt like they were pulling back to guide her through the forest. She’d brought a blade to cut through anything but the thought made her feel a little sick, she’d be destroying a treasure.
She’d hunted for maps of the inside but found none. As if paper couldn’t even speak the secret. Out of desperation she’d come anyway. She realized now no map could have been made. There were no walked paths where she moved. It was a sanctuary. Terrifying and beautiful at the same time.
She was overwhelmed with the sudden feeling that she shouldn’t be there. That no one should be here. Everything outside a glare of digital light and metal. One of the glowing dots of light flew passed her face and she realized it was what she could only describe as a pixie. A small being with legs and arms like a human but wings and it gave off the light she’d been seeing. It landed on her shoulder and tied knots into her hair and chattered in a soft kind of language she couldn’t understand.
It made sense that magical creatures would be drawn here.
She couldn’t gather how long she’d been walking through the trees. Her clocks and dials all seemed to have stopped completely. She’d stopped to eat at one point though the trip felt shorter than it should have been. Hunger never quite set in. She just felt she should have eaten. Then a brighter light seemed to cut through trees. Her pulse sky rocketed. The trees cleared out and in a wide circular clearing was a house or what was left of one. It looked as if it had been a grand house once now it was just a few rooms. The walls falling apart barely concealing it. The top floor gone. A set of stairs twirled around a cherry blossom tree that provided a sort of shelter and was slowly dropping petals into the house.
There were long red ribbons tied around branches on the tree that hung in rivulets they hung down to hold a sort of cage with a soft white glowing lights in them. It gave a soft glow to the clearing. The house didn’t look dirty but it had obviously fallen apart due to age. The room left facing her was what must have been a library at one point. It was circular the opening facing her direction. Long shelves covered the wall and books of varying aged appearance were sitting on them.
It was still beautiful and she imagined when it was at its full glory it would have been a lovely home. A kind of home people didn’t have anymore. It was soft and warm not cold and metallic. It was a culture shock. She saw a flash of orange go by and felt the fox go over her feet but none of that was as shocking as the person seated in the center of the room on the floor.
She hadn’t been sure she would find him.
His face stood somewhere between the shape of a fox and a human. the shape of his face was Vulpine in appearance. Sharper features than she’d expect from a human. His eyes were closed but she could see the slant of them. Long white orange and red tipped fox ears pushed up out of his silvery white hair. His head was tilted down like he’d been regarding a book that was folded over one of his legs that were crossed underneath him. Nine white tails with orange tips that darkened to a blood red rose up behind him but didn't move. His clothes were of an older style. A sort of suit jacket and vest that wasn’t of this era. However, they didn’t look aged.
He sat in complete silence and didn’t even lift his eyes to look at her. For a moment she thought he really was a statue. She walked up the steps tentatively a breath held in her chest. The steps were worn but steady. The only movement she could detect was the small rise and fall of his chest with his breath. His eyelashes rested against his cheeks white as his hair. He still didn’t move. People had said Immortals could rest like stone when they got old enough. Her eyes fell to the book and scanned over it, leaning forward out of curiosity One of his hands was folded over it. His fingers grew sharp at the tips, darker with the same orange red that colored the rest of him.
She couldn’t make out anything on the cover of the book and she looked back to his face. This time his head was tilted up and his eyes were regarding her curiously. They were completely black besides an orange iris in the center. She shot back with a half scream leaving her throat. The Kitsune. He'd been given names in all kinds of different languages. The Lost One. The Giver. The Dark Fox. The Unnamed. No one knew his real one.
He was a legend and yet here he was real and he was staring at her. The reflection of the soft lights across his face making him appear more like a spirit than something solid. Her heart leaped up into her throat slamming hard there. She’d found him and she couldn’t make herself talk.
“What do you seek here?” His voice was deep, strong and seemed to echo with age. What she imagined those old redwoods she'd seen pictures of might sound like if they could talk. Though the forest was warm she felt a chill go down her spine with a drop of sweat following it. “You’ve come quite a long way for the attention of a relic." He knows her name somehow, she hears his voice echo it in her head. Quiet. In different tones. Persistent. She realized his fingers are more like claws and she wonders the thought like a pin prick, if he was always like this. If he had ever been something more human. she really hoped he had been. His eyes narrowed sharply and she nearly jumped out of her skin.
"To ask a favor of you. Something important.” She doesn’t know how to speak to him. How refined or ceremonial it should be. She errs on the side of ceremony. A silent wince of a feeling goes through him. Maybe laughter but the only sign is the brief crinkle of skin around his eyes. One of his ears flick and she tries to focus on something other than the emptiness of those eyes.
“It’s rude to ask favors of people who don’t know you.”
“I thought we could…learn about each other and be friends.” This time his laughter manifests into a sound. It’s rough around the edges. It scares her more than anything else.
“All mortals seem to think I’ve gone senile and have reverted to an infant where the promise of your friendship for the brief moment you visit me is worth something. The only thing it offers me is you leaving after you get what you’re looking for. You are not here for me. Don’t try to play me.” The last few words are so out of place in his mouth she almost smiles. His voice is tired and amused. He doesn’t sound angry with her. She knows Kitsune are cunning she has to find a way to drive the conversation her way.
“You must be lonely. No one here but you.” His eyes don’t widen but he takes a deeper breath. She’s struck a nerve.
“You’re here because I can hear and see anything.” He gestures with a hand in a circle as if to signify the world. A curl of orange smoke follows it and fades as he continues talking. “Loneliness is the least of my worries.” she’s the one who takes a breath this time, he can do what they say. His eyes are lit with amusement again, but a cold kind. “Be quick and tell me what you want.”
“My son has gone missing.” The amusement leaves his eyes like a match getting blown out. Her voice is soft but there’s no sympathy in his eyes. “I’m afraid he was taken. You must already know why I’m here.”
“I require you give a voice to it.” His tone is impatient now. “You think I spend my time finding missing persons?”
“He’s all I have. I promised him I’d always come for him and…” He raises a hand to cut her off like it isn’t important.
“What if he doesn’t want to be found? What if he’s dead?” It feels like he’s reached out and smacked her. His head tilts. Observing her reaction.
“What if he isn’t the way you left him?” An anger seethes in her stomach and she’s on her feet glaring at him. He doesn’t seem moved by her passion. The only movement he makes is to close the book on his leg and slide it behind him like he’s protecting it.
“You don’t have family. You can’t understand how this feels. Cut off from everything here…” He’s on his feet and stretched to his full height staring down at her before she even sees him move to stand up. He's tall. He towers over. Thin. Almost like he's been stretched out over the years into this creature between human and immortal. His eyes shine like when a fox's eyes reflect a light.
“You think I’ve always been here? That I was put here to serve greedy creatures who only see what they need? To do you favors? I have family. I have had love.” The world darkens around them like it's shrinking in. His very mood effecting the air around them. It feels harder to breathe, like a flame sucking all the oxygen in. His voice is quiet but violent and he’s looking at her like he could tear her apart with a thought.
She realizes then he probably could. She’s on the floor again and shrinks back away from him as much as she can. Something that looks like…hurt crosses his eyes like the reflection and is gone just as quickly. His shoulders relax and he turns from her and picks up the book off the floor. He walks over to the shelf to put it back in an empty spot. She expected him to glide or just be there but he walks like she would. His fingers linger on the spine like it’s an old lover. For a moment emotions cover his face. The moment feels private enough that she looks away. As if he’s forgotten she’s even there. He murmurs a few words like he’s talking to the book.
It sounds like I know you would. you’d want me to.
“I didn’t mean…don’t you want to help? Why else would you have let me in? You must know what I wanted before I left home." Her eyes are on the ground.
"You would have me act as some kind of God.” He’s amused but there’s a sour note to his voice that wasn’t there before. The tone a parent might get when explaining to their child why they can’t have sweets any time they want, for about the fiftieth time. “Answering prayers for people who turn their eyes to the stars and wait for some force to take care of their problems?” He makes a tutting noise at her and she believes with out a doubt that he has been a parent.
“Better than some sort of quest.” Her eyes look up at him again. She sounds petulant but a smile actually curves his lips. Her heart slows down just barely and she moves to sit up.
“The ‘quest’,” He even does the air quotations with those clawed fingers as he looks down at her. “Is to prove how badly you desire your answer. It protects people from themselves. From me.” He pauses and his tone drops. “I’ve tucked myself away for a reason. Can you imagine someone like me in the hands of a murderer? A crime syndicate? Or god forbid the government?” The way he says it has a tone of humor. The muscles in her shoulders relax.
“This is where I must stay.” He regards her for a beat. “And I don’t call them quests. I call them adventures.” He’s smiling and looking passed her like he isn’t quite talking to her. She has to resist the urge to turn around. Then his eyes are back on her. They seem endless and no expression colors his face. She feels like he’s sizing her up.
“Please. I have to know what’s happened. You understand.” she’d begging now and she can’t even manage to feel ashamed. She’d give anything. He’s quiet for a long time. She counts the breaths he takes while she holds hers. Without any kind of signal he raises a hand and a parchment folds out over it and orange sparkles of light trace over it.
“For your sake I hope you can read old maps. If not she’ll help you.” Her eyes are welling with tears and she doesn’t even care what he means by the back half of the statement. He held out a hand to stop her from speaking. “Don’t thank me. I can hear the gratitude.” His eyes are soft, warmer. “Words can’t explain the relief you feel.” She holds her hands up for the map and he passes it over. The orange sparkles dissipate and they’ve left behind the lines of a map.
“I believe a favor is in order however. Now that we know each other.” His tone is more familiar. Her body stiffens. She’s heard of the cunning of old creatures. Kitsune specifically. She only asked to know where he was not to leave. She’d been sloppy. He could kill her just for the pleasure of it. He'd certainly shown he was capable of it.
“Yes?” He eyes lift from the map and she sees hurt there clearly, like she’s disappointed. It makes her feel sick and her chest ache. He says nothing but leans away from her and holds up a hand. A book flies into it. The age and dirt flying off of it so when it arrives it looks as if it came right off the press. It was so odd to hold a book. She'd heard of them but all of them used tablets, ear pieces to read them stories. Books hadn't been in circulation for a very long time. This felt different. Powerful. Heavy.
It looks like the book he had over his leg but this one seems brand new. He extends the book to her with both hands but doesn’t let it go like he’s not quite ready to.
“Take the book and read it. Simple favor. Pass it on or reread it.” Confusion passed over her face.
“Of all the things….” Her eyes narrow at him and she purses her lips at him. “Is it a trick?” He laughs and it seems completely genuine and he sounds younger.
“You’ll like the writer. You sound like her. But no it isn’t.” And he smirks. The first expression of the kind he’s made since she’s arrived. She finds he actually seems…charming. He finally releases it and she turns it over running her fingers over the bump of the author’s name. Her eyes go back to him. Obvious affection in his face, not for her but the book. He isn't looking at her anymore.
“Who is Willow Cynara?” Her voice is hushed and he lets out a soft sigh. A sigh someone lets out after a first date and they watch the person walk back into their house. Happy and melancholy at the same time. He smiles like he can’t help it. He sighs like just hearing the name relaxes him.
“Someone unique. Special. I told you I had love.” His hand moves across the cover once more before he pulls his hand back. “I like to read it again through new eyes. It’s like a new adventure. My favorite book. As long as I can hear it somewhere it keeps me centered.” He jerks his chin up at her like he’s sending her off. She feels odd tingles against her skin and watches him sit back down.
She turns to walk away and she hears him speak again.
“I have a daughter.” The soft affection on his face again. “Not a son. Good luck.” He returns to the way she found him, a silent sentry. His face clear.
A moment later she finds herself in a space port. The bright lights and smell a shock through her system. No one even turns and looks her direction. The book and map are still in her hands and she put a hands over the map. It exaggerated the shake of her hands. Her head feels like it’s spinning and she hears a soft caring feminine voice in her head. It’s got excitement in its tone.
What sort of adventure is this?
This is my entry into the 2019 January Fiction competition with the theme “wonder.” That was one of the main feelings that I wanted to convey in this story. The main character has never seen anything like this. Everything outside of this creature’s domain is dreary and dark. She literally experiences a sense of wonder in this place. It’s beautiful, inexplicable and at least a little bit scary.
Thank you for your consideration!