This story will be true until the night ends; only if the night ends will you know the story wasn’t true.
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There is a type of fox spirit whose power is measured in their tails. A three-tailed fox is adolescent, while a nine-tail is ancient and powerful. Still, even the weakest fox spirits have power. They send dreams, bend minds, take any shape they like. They can look like anyone, even your child or closest friend.
Naturally, such spirits are mischievous and mercurial.
There was a young three-tail who fell in love with a mortal noble’s son. While passing through the forest near his home, she saw him rescue a wounded rabbit and was intrigued. She followed him silently for a time, watched him go home and take care of the animal. But she had to take the form of a bird, and watch him from the air outside his window, because the boy’s father had invested in powerful spirit-wards.
The wards were thorough; every door and window was like a solid wall to the fox-girl. Soon she realized that around his neck, the boy wore a protective charm so that he wouldn’t see or hear spirits. She could only reach him through his dreams — and there only rarely, for he almost always wore his charm while asleep, to dispel enchanted dreams. And he almost never remembered his dreams upon waking. He could learn things in dreams, but not remember.
The three-tail fell so quickly that she could hardly think, hardly breathe. The world only held color when she was near him. Soon, she haunted the boy’s home. She wept at the threshold and she slept, night after night, in the nearby wood. She tried to speak with him, but of course his protections rendered her invisible; he thought her voice was only the wind. She became so distraught that her father noticed and decided to rid the world of this pesky mortal.
Her father was a powerful eight-tail, but he could not himself penetrate the wards, so he sought other spirits to do the dirty work. He found a lowly river spirit who specialized in water-borne illness, and he ordered the spirit to poison the noble’s son. But the three-tailed fox-girl — ever-watchful at the boy’s house — saw the water spirit sneaking about, and she threw herself on the ground to beg mercy.
The water spirit told the fox-girl: “My river is blocked, and this pains me. If my river is unblocked I will spare the boy,” and so she worked for weeks to open the river. She made alliances with animal spirits, to move stones and branches. She sowed omens in human dreams, showed them visions of clear-flowing water. The river was soon cleared, so the river spirit defied her eight-tailed father, and the boy was spared.
Several times, her father tried to arrange the boy’s destruction, and several times she outmaneuvered him. The fox-girl grew in cunning and influence as she built her network across the realm. Soon, she had another tail: she was a four-tail now.
Eventually, her father tired of trying to outsmart his obsessed daughter, and he took a new tack. He went to spirits all over the world to find new suitors for the girl. He told them that she was creative and charming and clever, and some of them believed him. The fox-girl received visits from handsome spirits, noble spirits, brilliant spirits. Star spirits came to shine with her, and air spirits made her laugh.
Yet none of those spirits held the humanity of the noble’s son. So, still, her heart remained with the compassionate boy.