I stormed into the onsen and slammed the sliding door so hard behind me the frame rattled. The woman behind the desk jumped, her human form failing a little, fox ears and three tails flickering into existence briefly. A kitsune, a spiritual being hunted to near extinction for their magical tails, and for more… unpleasant purposes.
“You seem troubled, Mistress Okita. Is there anything I can do to ease your worries?” Her tone was gentle, but tainted with the magic of a glamour. I shot her a look and her next sentence held little power. “I apologise, I was merely thinking for the safety of the inn. You have been known to be quite destructive in your bad moods.”
Sinking down to remove my boots, I smirked. “You always did know how to charm a girl, Koto.” Tossing them loosely to the side, I stepped up onto the wooden floor and took a cup of tea from her. “My long-time handler sacrificed himself for me, and this,” I said, pointing to the stinging cut on my face, “This was done by that treacherous bastard Mochizuki while my back was turned.”
Koto raised a gentle hand to my face, and I felt the warm electricity of healing magic. “And you’re sure you didn’t provoke him in any way?”
Embarrassed, I remained silent. I had provoked him – perhaps not enough to kill me, but enough to warrant a reaction. I was pissed off, and I took it out on him. That probably meant I owed him an apology, but I wasn’t about to utter a single syllable to that coward until he apologised for my face.
“Did I ever tell you the story of me and my sister?” Koto began, her voice tinted with magic, but not the coercive kind. “It all started two hundred and sixty four years ago. By the standards of most of my kind, we were little more than children, but we weren’t unintelligent. Just unused to what family meant.” Her voice washed over me like a warm flow of water, comparable to the very springs the building was host to. “We had a huge argument because she fell in love with a human. A foreigner, at that. He was a Britannian naval officer, sharply dressed with fine features – certainly interesting to look at as a human with a very storied past. But as you know, we live far longer than humans, and she was so young…”
I felt her hands running through my hair and across my shoulders, searching for more injuries to treat. “What happened?”
“I tried to warn her that her first mate should not be from a short lived species, but she wouldn’t listen. She was in love with the man, and nothing I could say would change that,” Koto continued, unbuckling my armour to reach a minor laceration on my side, presumably from diving out of the window a few days back. “She eloped with him, possibly back to his native England. I didn’t see her again until twenty years ago. As it turned out, after his death, she was heartbroken. She wandered hopelessly looking for a place she could connect to the spiritual world, but her spirit was so weak, she could barely cope. On one hand, it was pathetic – a creature of her power, mourning a simple human – one with the barest hint of magical talent. On the other, she was still my sister, and I had missed her dearly.”
The point she was making here was obvious. Stupidity and selfishness had caused her and her sister to grow apart, to become sidetracked with their own thoughts rather than considering the other person’s feelings. I nodded solemnly as the sensation passed through my side and up into my body, suggesting that the wound was infected. “So what did you do?”
“I killed her.” Koto jabbed her claws in my side as she said that, and I yelped in shock. She giggled and withdrew a few fragments of glass. “Just kidding. I welcomed her back, as any true sister would. I listened to her side of the story, finally.” The fox spirit set the glass into a small container and healed up the small cuts with gentle fingertips.“Your issue is different, however. I provoked someone who meant a lot to me, who still held love for me even when I disagreed with her following her dreams. You, Okita Kanon, provoke those who hold no love for you, merely the simple bonds of camaraderie. Do not allow your own rage to sever these ties… otherwise those you have abandoned may sever bone and sinew.”
I grimaced and set my hands out as she passed me a kimono. “And what of you, Koto? Do you hold any love for me?”
She smirked and set herself on the counter, crossing her pale legs so that the silk of her kimono brushed back either side of them. “We kitsune find you humans very entertaining… and I do consider you a close friend. To earn my love however, you’d have to show a degree of skill that… can’t be earned on the battlefield.”
All I could do was look at her blankly. “Are you propositioning me? Or am I misreading this situation?”
Her expression still coy, she drew a smoking pipe from under the desk and lit it. “You can read it however you like, Kanon. We are but characters in a book, and our relationship is to the reader’s interpretation.” She sauntered over to me and blew a gentle ring of sweet-smelling smoke around my face, leaving her red lips pouted ridiculously. “How about you and I… read between the lines?”
I walked straight past her and towards the washroom. “I’m going for a bath. Read that and see how it entertains you.”
As I passed through the sliding door, I was convinced I heard her saying something about ‘ship fodder’, whatever that would mean. I shook my head and shoved my boots into the rack, before undressing and selecting a basket for my clothes. Ready to relax, I almost went to wash myself off, but returned to grab my dagger. Now wasn’t the time to lower my guard.