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Kitsune clan of the Scarlet Forest

The thick fog of sedition

The wind attempts to disperse

Foolish

The warrior-poet Takumi slowly stroked his brush upon the parchment. The thin lines of the hieroglyphs assembled into perfect forms. The fox mastered the art of calligraphy no worse than the sword. Today, a difficult task stood before him – describe the new era, which began at the isolated Sunrise islands after the Cataclysm.

The storm breaks the mighty oak

The acorns are orphaned

The Earth has cracked

The crisis hit some fifteen years ago. Takumi did not know what effect the Cataclysm had on the rest of the world, the islands did not have much contact with the gaijin. For the race of beastmen, this turned out to be a catastrophe. Volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, typhoons… Fire and water destroyed hundreds of kitsune and other creatures. And what nature did not finish, other island dwellers did. Because of the shogun’s death and the destruction of his clan, war and chaos began in the country.

The hens quarreled

Feathers flying everywhere

The fox prowls

Being an experienced warrior, Takumi himself went through several decades of local run-ins and great battles. He remembered the blood of his close ones, dripping from his blade and at times it seemed that this very blood dripped from the tip of his brush, instead of ink. A warrior during the day, he changed his guise to that of a poet in the evening – an actor of the Noh theatre, he called for peace with his finely honed rhyming, trying to convince opposing sides that war will only weaken the islands and make them susceptible to their enemies. When his words did not reach the hearts of his audience, Takumi became an actor of Kyogen instead – he created cheap pamphlets, and allowed himself jokes of lowest order. All was in vain. War overtook the Sunrise islands, and marauders seeking easy plunder arrived from the continent.

Do not summon plague

Upon both your houses

It will come

As if all the calamities thrown upon the Sunrise islands were not enough, the gods sent its inhabitants another trial. With the mortal gaijin came a gaijin god, yakuna-kami, who came from hell –  yomi – a god of plague. The kitsune were dying from the swords of other kitsune, they were dying from the swords of foreigners, and now they were dying from disease. Just as for the humans, wolfen, goblins…war and plague did not distinguish between the races. The feudal lords, bent in their old ways continued trying to hold to their old traditions, completely ignoring external threats. The new generation however, just as in all times of change desperately sought out a leader. And so they did. There were rumors of foxes going out at night into thick bamboo groves. Not all returned, but those who did changed.

Many Stars light up the night sky

But there can be one son

Inari

 

The crisis affected not only mortals, but gods as well. Many small clan deities were completely forgotten due to the eradication of their clans and worshipers and so they faded from Signum completely. Gods larger still held on, but they clearly lacked devotion. And the gods – kami began to search for other paths and other followers. And so it was that the goddess of affluence Inari found followers in the Scarlet forest clan, displacing the remaining weakened gods. Takumi remembered well the reception which princess Fumiko arranged for the avatar of the goddess.

Tea fills the cups

fans and hints flutter

War

 

The warrior-poet was present during the reception and sat humbly behind a bamboo curtain, writing down what had transpired for the future chronicles. The bardBenjiro was responsible for entertaining the guests that day, and it was as his fingers plunked his samisen that the dialogue between Fumiko and the avatar of the kami took place – a majestic priestess, who arrived atop a dragon:

– How do you like your tea, goddess? Is it as good as the emperor’s? – The sorcerer-princess took the relaxed posture of a host, but only to the extent to which it did not seem insulting.

– The Emperor’s tea is not quite as strong, gracious Фумико. And the tea bushes have been beaten up quite a bit by recent storms. I prefer a strong drink from healthy bushes. – The priestess practically emanated with confidence, and almost all those present were drawn to her.

– Alas, my bushes can hardly be called healthy. The Cataclysm has weakened the Scarlet forest as well. The guardians of our tea plantations have disappeared, the rows are not as neat and straight, and the leaves grow yellow. What’s worse – some of the younger leaves have been stolen. I have heard they now grow upon the field of a new master. – Fumiko glanced meaningfully at the groups of younger kitsune.

– Perhaps I could suggest a new gardener and new caretaking methods? It would be a great shame, if such wonderful tea went to waste.

– I am afraid not all of my subjects shall welcome such changes. – The princess’ look shifted upon a group of elderly foxes, amongst which a robe of a follower of Inari could be seen. – Some still speak of the return of the old gardeners.

The old house is rotten through

Rats crawl from the cracks

A new order

After the reception, talks began in the clan of the Scarlet forest to accept the patronage of Inari. Many of the younger generation of foxes met this idea with exhilaration, for with such a powerful patron the clan could not only distinguish itself, but conquer the Sunrise islands. Some of the younger ones even imagined themselves as Shoguns. The elders remained more restrained. Some muttered about the return of the old overlords of the clan. Others considered the change of a deity to be a great crime and invoked keeping heads low. Perhaps the storm would simply pass. Takumi was not always present at Fumiko’s court, but during one of his visits, he noticed a new splendid altar to Inari.

The strong relies on strength

The wise – on wisdom

And the strong

Under the patronage of Inari and Fumiko’s leadership, the clan of the Scarlet forest began growing stronger. The elders grumbled less, as they watched their clan, never regarded as the strongest, gain more and more power and the respect of its neighbours. Even the perpetually gloomy veteran Saburo recited his unchangeable «such would be unheard of during the time of the shogun» only a few times a day. The youngsters were all fired up, like dried reeds from an accidental spark. A constant visitor of taverns and squares, Takumi heard many a time talks of how the clan will come to rule the Sunrise Islands with his sharp ears. Of course, even a geisha could rule the Sunrise islands in words, but it genuinely seemed that the situation was improving.

People need goods

But the gods cannot do without people

The wheel turns

The turning point happened when the sorcerer-monks of the river monastery joined the Scarlet forest. After the Cataclysm, the river kami grew weaker, making the monks weaker in turn. It was said that even the ghost carps – river spirits in the form of fish  – had not appeared for several months now. And how could one be a monk-on-carp without a carp? Inari promised the foxes from the monastery to restore the balance of nature, after which their magic shall return to full strength. Such a promise could not leave the sorcerers indifferent.

What is a poet?

Merely a willow on a river bank

ripples on the water

Takumi set his brush aside and stretched out. The story, which he dutifully transferred onto the parchment, was unfinished. Just as the story of the kitsune of the clan of the Scarlet forest, the goddess Inari, princess Fumiko, the monks from the river monastery and many others. But a good poet always knows when he should take a pause and simply observe what transpires.

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