The pair of Stralon drawn wagons struggled through what appeared to be a snow covered field, despite their maps indicating it being a road. The vast amount of snow, slowly descending to the ground, combined with a light fog, reducing visibility and hindering the caravan's ability to navigate through traditional means; using landmarks and guideposts during the day, and celestial patterns at night. The latter proved impossible in the haze of twilight, while the former unnaturally blurred in a sea of white.
These hindrances were not completely natural, however; they were being stalked by a magic wielder, who was manipulating the elements to trick and disorient the small group of settlers. Hidden behind the haze, a short female with snow white hair that faded into a soft purple hue stayed just out of sight. Her long pointed ears, vixsh in appearance, allowed her to listen to the travelers and their singular bodyguard as they discussed how to proceed through the weather. Her trio of long fluffy tails moved behind her, a playful rhythm swirling them to match her clawed hands as she directed the winterous mix around her victims.
The kitsune's snowy skills and illusions continued to steer the travelers around in circles by deceiving their senses. She would shift the snow to cover tracks or make false tracks to confuse them on where they had been, or had not been. Landmarks would be hidden by fog, snow, and illusionary magic, and she would create false landmarks using snow and ice to sculpt similar shapes, hiding the flaws in her work with an icy haze. She listened to their conversations, and watch their actions with keen eyes to see what worked and what did not, as she manipulated the group to their destination. Or, rather, hers. The challenge of directing them where she wanted without them to go without them discovering the unnatural forces working against them. Such confusion brought her joy; each moment of their stubbornness or confusion brought a new exciting challenge for the trickster. savored the frustration and dread leaking from the group.
What should have been an hour trip through the kitsune's territory had turned into hours. The caravan was so turned around, they were completely lost when they arrived at the destination the mischievous kitsune had chosen for them. Yet, despite being chilled to the bone and exhausted, both mentally and physically, the small caravan had arrived.
The caravan rolled into a small village, if you could call it a village with only 14, mostly single story buildings. The large two story ones in the middle of the village clearly served as both a residence on the upper floor, and a storefront on the ground level. No one was in the cold street until the caravan arrived in the midst of the village. Suddenly the upper room door above a blacksmith's shop thrust open, and a muscular man studied the frostbitten wage with desperate eyes. In an instant, the man charged down the stairs toward the caravan, arms wide with welcome and excitement.
Hidden in a nearby alley, the kitsune watched and listened as the large man startled the ragged merchants, stumbling out to feel civilization beneath their shoes. The caravan's singular protector moved forward to greet the man, his blade sheathed, though clearly visible, to his side. The kitsune smirked, flicking her wrist, and sent a tiny wisp of icy magic toward the bodyguard. The magic would accurately land on the sword where it met the hilt, freezing the weapon inside its protective sheath. A light click escaped the kitsune’s mouth as the wisp connected, with the warrior clueless of the interaction, as he greeted the blacksmith calmly. The blacksmith, undeterred by the sight of a sheathed blade, responded with a bellowed series of questions, asking for a healer, doctor, or medicine.
The brief exchange between the two men brought joy to the kitsune's face. Her plan had worked; the merchants happened to be carrying the very medicine that the villagers needed to help cure many of them of a mysterious ailment, a disease which ravaged the bodies of many, including the blacksmith's own wife and daughter. The caravan's escort, after discussing with his employers, agreed to give the blacksmith all the medical supplies they needed, in exchange for warm beds and food until the weather passed. The response from the blacksmith stunned the man, who was suddenly embraced in a warm and sooty embrace. Realizing the strength, the blacksmith blushed and lowered the guard, apologizing for the embrace. Turning around, the blacksmith bellowed in a mighty breath a proclamation for the whole village to hear; the holiday festivities were to commence, and to be the finest in generations! With this, the blacksmith shook the man’s hand, firm from resolve and the cold, and promised the best Christmas feast the weary travelers had ever experienced. As the men bowed and the blacksmith rushed inside, the three tailed woman silently clapped as her ears wiggled with glee.
Moments later the blacksmith returned, joined by other residents to assist in the unloading of the much needed medical supplies. Others, weaker from age, busied themselves in preparation of the holiday festivities. As the feeling of mirth flooded from the now smiling merchants and their gracious hosts, the kitsune continued to smile. Her tails twitched as she realized what this meant; there was going to be a party, and she hardly looked the part! She turned and silently left for her den. There were only a few hours to prepare for the evening's festivities.
Hours passed, and the once gray skies cleared and glittered with pinpricks of light. The clear open air, graced with the ancient Clemmedeus’ gaze, lay vast and dark as the vixsh-eared maiden in white returned to the village. Hiding herself just outside the largest structure, the home of the village elder, she peeked inside; the once broken villagers and frozen merchants, the merriment of the season lost to them just earlier in the day, now laughed and enjoyed their holiday feast. The strongest from each party, the blacksmith and the bodyguard, continued in and out of the party, arms loaded with plates of food and drink to tend to those too weak from their recovery process.
The kitsune watched the others celebrate and socialize, her tails swishing with anticipation. Yet she knew this was as close as she was allowed. A past riddled with fear and mistrust of others drove her to isolation. She knew the stories, the old tales of the unlucky vixsh spirits of the mountains. It was her anxiety of these very villagers’ fears of her that kept her at bay. A part of her knew the villagers did not truly fear her, as they would inevitably leave her offerings of food and gifts at the shrine at the edge of the village. Yet the superstitions of yesterday locked her in the present, as she could only watch from the outside to enjoy it "with" them.
As Clemmedeus drifted overhead, the party continued. Hearing another bottle open as the laughter rose in octaves, the young kitsune began to worry how long the offering would be. If she had been forgotten. She watched as they finished dinner and dessert, moving on to games and songs, with no one taking food to her spot. Her stomach whined in protest, its emptiness growing as her previous joy wilted.
A quick count of those happy, full people came one short, the kitsune noticed. Missing from the singing, growing to a din in her ears as her hunger grew, was the bodyguard. Probably off eating her scraps, she thought enviously. After watching for another half hour, the kitsune turned and left, her ears laying low as her tails dragged across the pillowy snow. She was alone, hungry and cold, as the ones she protected and called friends forgot all about her.
As she drifted ahead like the whirling snow, she saw a familiar sight in Clemmedeus’ light; a small wooden stand adorned with carvings of simple, yet elegantly violet vixsh. It was her shrine. Before a note of sour resentment could spread through her mind at the thought of that, she noticed it had something on it. Darting up to it, she did not see her normal container of food and gifts, but instead a small note. The note, handwritten by a fine, yet firm hand, revealed the location of her offerings; the meal was being kept indoors in the nearest home to her shrine, in order to preserve its warmth from the cold weather. Emotions leapt from hunger to guilt to curious surprise. Who had delivered her meal? How long had they waited, before bringing it indoors? And why? She studied the note and turned toward the nearby small single story home, a faint warmth escaping from the windows. A claw of fear scratched her spine, as a roar of hunger rippled her stomach.
Driven by hunger and a complaining stomach, she tentatively approached the home. As she reached the front step, her mind was racing with envisioned escape plans from some unforeseen trap. Squeezing her delicate palm, she formed a frozen bubble of magic, crystallizing a snowflake shaped icicle at the heart of the orb. She felt her body getting tense as she grabbed the handle with her left hand and slowly opened the sturdy, wooden door. The plan was set; with her prepared frozen orb, she could flash freeze an attacker, or possibly freeze the solid flooring as a distraction, and make her escape. To keep an element of surprise, she flung the door wide open. The scene before her blinded her for an instant; a warm fire flickering in the background, as a display of food lay carefully on set plates on an oaken table. Between the food and fire sat a slouched, yet strong figure: the travelers’ bodyguard. As the door slammed against the front wall, the man looked up from the fire, eyes wide as he registered his expected visitor.
"Hello. I…umm…well…are you here for your…umm…food?" He stumbled on his words at first as he looked her over, regaining his composure after a quick shake of his head. "Sorry. You certainly were not what I was expecting”. The kitsune eyed the man as he said this, bracing for some superstitious and snide remark. Yet none came forth. “You are far more beautiful than I imagined this region’s mysterious vixsh spirit to be.” A blush seemed to cross the man’s scarred, yet still youthful face, as he extended an arm and motioned toward the fire. Settled in the flames sat a small cauldron, lid covering its softly bubbling contents. “You can take your food and leave, though I think it would be better to eat here where it's warm… maybe enjoy some fresh tea on this chilly evening."
The kitsune's senses seemed to go crazy taking in the man’s words and the smells of the table. Oh, were the man not here and his trap not so cleverly hidden, she could give in to her hunger and embrace the amazing food she waited for each year. And the warmth of the meal brought forth smells she only dreamed of from outside of the villager’s homes. But she could not succumb to such base desires; this was clearly a trick, and one which could end with a blade through her eyes. Wait…
The kitsune’s eyes, still dancing feverishly between the table and the man, narrowed as she spied around the room, looking for his once sheathed weapon. Seeing only the man, the food, and all other furniture set against the nearby walls, the kitsune turned toward the man and stepped forward. "What are you doing here? In a house not of your own?” At this, she motioned around to the walls, littered with trinkets from a family of more than one man.
The man considered his answer carefully, as if weighing the best way to explain the situation. “The couple who owns this house have graciously provided me with sleeping arrangements in their loft for the evening," the bodyguard nodded toward his left, a door closed against the wall. As he turned back to check the small pot over the flame, he added. “I would advise closing the door from the cold, unless you wish for me to re-heat the food before you”.
Annoyed by such a request, and realizing she was still standing in an open doorway, frozen ball of ice grasped in hand, the kitsune blushed and stepped forward, door closing as the orb whispered away from her claws. Taking another step forward and regaining her composure, the kitsune looked toward the food. “Why are you not with the others? Surely you can’t be alone. Not with me…” The kitsune turned her head lightly, her ears twitching about as they searched for the slightest indication of others in hiding, of a potential trap.
The man, still facing the flame, chuckled slightly at the accusation. "Honestly, I wanted to see if I could meet you alone. It’s not every day you meet a vixsh spirit, let alone one who causes such suffering to weary travelers…” At this, the man turned his head, a knowing spark glinting in his eyes.
The kitsune's ears dropped down into an apologetic slump, her focus snapped to the man as she realized her previous trickery was caught. As her tails, previously swinging anxiously from side to side, went limp, she cut off the man. "Wait! I didn't mean to cause any suffering…”
The man looked back at her with a warm smile as he cut her off in return. "No worries. As you can see, my associates and I are unharmed, and clearly you meant us no harm." Another chuckle as he joked, “besides, a little suffering is fine when compared to the good it brought.”
Still weary of this sudden hospitality, the kitsune’s felt a smack of guilt against her thin form. A frown, soft against her gentle face. "So I did make you suffer?” She stuttered quietly, ashamed at her silly, stupid games. “I…I was just playing."
Realization of his joke stopped the man, who’s smile dropped as he looked toward the discouraged being. Rising up from his seat, the man’s face carried a look of deep thought. Standing in silence for a moment, he bowed his head in acknowledgement. "Please do not take my joke to heart, miss. You brought my group here and in turn brought both hope and health to this village.” He reached forward to grab a copper chalice set on the table before him, its twin still glinting on the table in the flickering light of the fire. “And in turn brought hope and warmth to me and my employers! For instead of another night outside, camping in the cold on this festive evening, we are celebrating it with others!” At this, he raised the chalice to the ceiling, as if to toast it, before bringing it down for a quick drink. A droplet of water escaped from his lips, splashing the wooden floorboards silently as a howl began to erupt from the flames.
He turned and removed the cauldron from the flame, setting it on a stone slab as he opened the lid. The smell of the brewed herbs and bark filled the air with smells of spiced murtstem and sweet nustlewood, causing the kitsune’s nose to quiver with pleasure and comfort. Scooping some into two nearby cups, the man raised one toward her, inviting her to accept the beverage. "Would you join me for dinner, please," his request filled the air as much as the lovely smells from the cauldron and food had. His eyes, as light and blue as a cloudless sky, stunned the kitsune. Such eyes could never mean her harm, she realized. So foolish to think this could be a trap.
As she warmly smiled toward his offer, the kitsune reached and grabbed the extended cup. The man, though confident in his previous speech, seemed nervous as she took the cup. Nervous? A chill crept from the kitsune’s back as her anxieties returned, ever so slightly. Was this man truly afraid of her, like all the others? No. He had every opportunity to flee. He must be nervous about something else.
With the cup in hand, the smell of the tea stronger than before, she silenced the anxiety in her mind, letting it melt away as she gently nursed a sip of the drink. Its warmth flooded her in a gentle embrace. This must be what the blacksmith’s hug earlier felt like, she pondered, as the sweet aromas danced in her mind. Opening her eyes again, she saw the man had prepared himself a cup, and was watching her, and expression of contentment on his face. Embarrassed by the observation, she nodded her head and moved gracefully toward the table. Her simple gesture instantly brought a wide smile to the man's face. As she sat, the man seemed genuinely excited as he scooped servings of food onto her plate. As the meal was prepared, the kitsune closed her eyes again and evaluated the odors. Roasted blight-breast, stuffing, mashed rootwins, and a medley of roasted and glazed vegetables sang beautifully from her plate. Across the table, as if begging to join, plates of sliced fruits warmly radiated sweet smells of syrups and juices, their different colors arranged as clearly by their smell as they were visually. She opened her eyes, the mixture of fragrant and savory smells of the room overwhelming her senses, as the kitsune noticed the man setting his own plate. As the man sat down beside her, the kitsune took a moment to consider her situation, and knew she had to carefully proceed.
Still smiling sweetly toward the man, the kitsune requested another chair for her tails to rest on. Not wanting to be rude, the man nodded, turning to the nearby wall to get a chair. While his back was turned, the kitsune silently switched the two plates. A swift arrangement of both plates of food in a manner that reduced the chance he would notice the swap, she hoped her quick action would not be noticed. As she settled back into her seat, the man was back with another wooden chair, setting it beside her as she gracefully raised her tails, set them on the chair, then carefully pushed closer to the kitsune. The man, seemingly content with his work, settled himself back into his seat.
The kitsune watched as the man took the first bite of the food, his mouth eating the meal she desperately longed to eat. As she watched, hoping not to seem too conspicuous at her lack of eating, she noted the lack of convulsions, spasms, foaming, and overall death or suffering coming from the still eating man. Content in her evaluation, she happily began eating the plate of food, the tastes complimenting the previous smells in a harmonious serenade.
After several minutes of silent eating, the man looked up at his guest. “If you don’t mind my asking, what should I call you? In my travels and studies, I’ve only heard legends of the vixsh spirits, or…what is the old tongue term?”
The kitsune swallowed some of the cooling tea, thinking how best to proceed. “The term I’ve heard the villagers use is kitsune, though the name I was given at birth is Nilya. My mother told me it meant ‘endless blue’.” At the thought of her mother, Nilya looked down, hiding a frown as she held back a now forming tear.
“Ah! Like the melting snow! How beautiful!” The man smiled softly at Nilya, seeing the change in her expression. Realizing his guest was upset by the topic, he quickly added, “now, I have to ask…” And in seconds the man unleashed a flurry of questions, ranging from her favorite hobbies, why she lives near the village, and how she managed her glistening white tails. At that last one, the three tails, previously resting in the chair, began twitching with excitement, as if knowing they were being spoken about and praised.
After some time, the man looked toward Nilya with a laugh, a smile in his expression. “Why, you are such a delight to spend an evening with, Nilya! So polite and helpful! It seems odd the villagers should be worried about you and your games.”
At the mention of the villagers, those people who seemed to forget her and her role in the evening’s festivities, Nilya was once again taken aback. “They see my actions…as worrying games?” She shook her head, as doubts from earlier began creeping back into her mind. “I just…I just try to help them, and still they fear me…” A light sob escaped her throat, as she wrapped her tails around her, attempting to form a protective cocoon.
“Oh! Oh no, no!” The man, shocked at the reaction, raised his arms to comfort Nilya. However, before reaching toward her, the man seemed to realize his actions, and set his arms on the table, resting his hands on top of each other. “All I meant was they seem to worry when anything goes wrong, thinking it might be a trick from you.” At this, the man unclamped his hands, and took a sip of the tea. A moment later, he continued. “They otherwise do love you, and just as much praise you for when good things happen. Hence,” the man spread his arms across the once-full table, now just scraps and dirty plates, “the delicious offering”.
Nilya, watching the man as he spoke, slowly unwrapped herself at the end of his speech. She composed herself, resting her tails back on the nearby chair, still twitching slightly, as if wishing to return around their master. “I fear the villagers didn’t appreciate my help. That they would see me and fear the worst of me. Like I’m nothing but a monster of bad luck.” Nilya wiped a tear off of her cheek as she said this, the truth coming forth. “Deep down, I play my tricks to help them! Or at least to be close to them. It’s so lonely sometimes. I just…I just can’t do this anymore!”.
At this, Nilya jumped up from the chair, tails flailing about as her emotions began to overwhelm her. She knew the villagers were afraid of her. She knew they would never accept her. As she walked away, she could here the man attempt to convince her to stay. To keep talking to him. This man. This random man, a bodyguard from outside of the mountains… sure, he showed her kindness and friendship. But he would leave when the weather cleared. And then what? Return to the loneliness of the mountain, where the villagers would just forget her again? No. Better to leave now, than to keep thinking things will be different.
Before she could reach the door, she felt a firm hand placed on her left shoulder as the man grabbed ahold of her. The man’s muscular arm halted her retreat as panic filled her mind. Panic quickly flashed into fury as her paranoid mind twisted the man’s unspoken intentions. He had tricked her! It was a trap, he had intended to capture her!
“Let me go!” Nilya yelled, turning around with her tails in a frenzy, and her claws extending as she swiped at the man’s face, her long nail digging into his left cheek. The man withdrew from her instinctively as his left arm reached up to cover his bleeding face, as Nilya pulled back against the wall. Her eyes narrowed as a veil of frozen droplets began rising from her eyes and claws, shaping themselves into miniature daggers. “I won’t let you hurt me! At least the villagers forgot me! But you, who showed me kindness…betrayed me!”
The man dropped to his knees and raised his hands high, blood streaming from the left side of his face. In the flickering light of the dying fire, scars etched across his fingers and palms. “Please listen. No one is trying to hurt you. I didn’t want you to depart yet, and I acted rashly to stop you. I do not mean to harm you.” The man looked up at her, his blue eyes glistening with tears as he looked up at her. “Please”, he looked into her eyes, and for a moment the same loneliness she had felt earlier sparked again from within her. “Can we keep talking?”
Nilya watched the man and considered her options. The man appeared defenseless, without his weapon by his side. And to give up his pride, when clearly being a warrior…he must truly mean his words. “Very well,” Nilya nodded, the icicles melting to puddles around her. “I will stay.” She crossed her arms, claws retracted. The man, nodding as he rose, leaned over and grabbed a cloth from the table. As he walked over to the fire, Nilya stood still, watching the man cautiously. Once he reached the fire and sat down, Nilya approached.
Soon Nilya was standing in front of the flickering light, still going strong this late into their evening. The man held the cloth to his wounds, eyes lost to the chaotic movement before them. After a few moments, Nilya spoke again. “Now please,” Nilya began, “I have some questions of my own.” The man nodded, and gestured toward the seat near him. Both still facing the flames, Nilya began.
Nilya did not want to waste time asking questions about the man. Not for a lack of interest, but because her thoughts were still flying around, and she needed something to anchor herself to. A story.
“Please. If you don’t mind. Tell me what brought you here. Tell me,” she reached forward and flipped his palms over, revealing the etched scars in the orange light. “Tell me how you received these scars, yet remain so kind.”
The man took a moment to think about what to say next. He turned his head, looking into the fire. After a few seconds, he began his tale. Nilya listened as the man went into great lengths, detailing his life in the Kingdom of Halosin. It was in the kingdom he began, born to a middle class family. As was standard for the males in his rather large family, he joined the King’s Academy from an early age, and eventually was knighted. Years of service led to the man being tasked with defending a village from an incoming swarm of Atterbane. Yet in doing so, the fraction of the swarm instead was redirected toward a smaller settlement, of only two or three families. Going against direct orders from his commander, the man abandoned his battalion to defend the families, and in the end was scarred and unsuccessful. Though he was recovered and the Atterbane vanquished, the man was removed from his battalion due to disobeying his orders. And with such a loss of honor, his own family saw his desertion of orders as a betrayal to the kingdom and their very name. Cast from the only family he knew, the man left the kingdom, traveling through the Deathforest to the south. It was there the man met a spirit, a lost young girl bound to the woods. Warning the man of threats to come, and of monsters lurking all around, the man left with purpose in his life; to protect those from the monsters, and to ensure safety and peace to the powerless and forgotten people. Through his journeying, the man became a bodyguard to the merchant’s guild, and had since been traveling with various employers, with the goal of protection and security burning strong in his heart.
The more they talked the more questions they both had. The only information Nilya was unable to get from the brown haired man was his name. Whenever it was asked, he would change the subject, bring up his family’s names, or even joked. Nilya swore to herself if she heard him say “I’ll give you three guesses”, once more, she would finish the job her slash started.
Eventually, after several death glares from Nilya, the man decided to make the discovery of his name into a game. If Nilya could discover it before they had to part ways, he would grant her a prize. The prospect of the game excited the kitsune and she quickly accepted his challenge, her mind already trying to come up with a plan to discover his name. Though, for the plan to work, she needed a distraction…
Their conversation came to a slow halt with the slow crescendo of music through the open windows. The man looked up from his story and outside, his head following the sounds as they danced through the air. Nilya smirked, hiding the glowing tail casting an echoing charm into the wind. A clever charm, Nilya thought to herself, which had often been a useful trick to distract the villagers as she hid or pass messages to them of incoming events. But tonight, it would be used to amplify the continuing partying from across the village.
Despite being houses away, near the outskirts of the village, the sounds of sweet chimes and clinking hums caressed the walls of the room. As the charm echoed the songs, a surge of excitement roared within Nilya. She jumped to her feet, light clicks as her zori footwear bounced against the wooden boards. Wordlessly, she grabbed the man’s hands, and wrapped her soft, delicate fingers around his strong, callused fingers. Using her magic to empower her movements, with the mystical music guiding her steps, Nilya charged forward with a dance, dragging the more than willing man around the table in a playful game. With her other tails, she whipped the door and windows open, as more of the music flooded the home. Eventually, the man found his footing, and helped move the two along, spinning around the room like snowflakes caught in the wind. Eventually, the flurry of movement slowed, as the echoing charm wore off. Coming to a halt, the kitsune and the man stared at one another, unblinking for a quiet moment.
Nilya looked down between them, to see an extended hand being offered to her. She looked up at the man, who wore a crooked smile. “You did get the last dance. Mind if I get this next one?” The kitsune was taken by surprise by such a bold offer, and without music to dance to no less. Yet, something about the stillness of the moment felt right to her, and all she could do was nod softly, taking his hand as her tails swayed slowly back and forth.
As if timing his steps to the twitch of her tails, the man waltzed her about the room, moving with slow precision And delicate grace. It quickly became clear the man had been taught how to dance, unlike her, but she thought with his lead she did well. As they moved slowly around the room, the man guided his guest outside, following the snow covered pathway back toward her shrine. As they crossed the open air, Nilya brushed the snow around the pair up with her tails, releasing a flurry of loose powder around the pair. As if by some magic unknown to Nilya, the wind rushed about the pair, swirling the snow faster and faster around them, seemingly obscuring the two’s views of the world except for a clean glistening sheet of white.
Somehow, in the beautiful chaos of the waltz, the two were no longer near the simple shrine, but instead in the doorframe of the very house they started their evening in. Coming back in a completed circuit, the pair separated, the once solid frenzy of snow flurries setting themselves around the two. Despite the amount of snow once surrounding them, the two appeared dry, almost as if they carefully avoided even the mention of snow.
The experience made Nilya feel a little warm inside as she looked up at the man who stood more than a foot taller than her. In response he smiled down warmly at her, his eyes sparkling with joy. As if a magnetic force was drawing her in, a clatter of her tea cup, fallen over during the dancing and wind, abruptly shocked Nilya back to reality. As though bombarded by her fears once more, the sounds around her, once a symphony of natural beauty, now echoed hisses of doubt, thumps of the unnaturalness of her union. Though she was once lost in the moment, she knew it could not last forever. She knew she must depart from this man, this wonderful man, and return to her world, her cold, isolated world. The voice within her could not be reasoned with; it was her nature, calling her back, and would not stop until she returned to the life she knew. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, taking in more of the man to never forget this moment. “I’m sorry, but I need to go.” As she said this, she turned herself and began walking down the path.
The man, to Nilya’s surprise, did not grab her again. Instead, with a simple call, he said, “I understand. It was wonderful meeting you, Nilya." She stopped, turning around to see his face. Even with the embers of their fire lighting his back, she could see the man was trying to keep his smile from fading as he said his good bye. Nilya nodded her head in response before looking back up at him and noticing where the man had stopped their waltz. The man, alone in the doorframe, was standing beneath a mistletoe. Her eyes grew wide with a wicked idea. Though the thought had not initially crossed her mind, the thought of kissing the man was by no means a bad one. And perhaps this could be a fitting way for her to end the night, giving the two lonely souls a special gift this festival night. As she wordlessly concocted her plan, the man followed her eyes, and caught sight of the hanging plant, and returned her gaze. While her eyes sparked with excitement, his eyes sparked with affection.
Taking a step toward the man, she pointed at the mistletoe and smiled coyly. “Of course, the festival would not be complete without its most sacred of traditions.” Taking another step toward him, she directed her tail to playfully flick the top of the mistletoe, shaking the settled snow off of it as it gracefully drifted between the two. “I cannot give my first kiss to someone who I do not know their name,” she added, lowering her voice to a shy whisper.
“Varik.” The man replied quickly, almost too excited by this utterance. “My name is Varik Ward.” At the announcement of his name, Nilya couldn’t help but break out into a genuine grin, before reducing it back to a shy little smile.
Nilya slowly pushed herself on her toes to raise her up to kiss Varik. the last second, the kitsune swiftly moved so that she could lightly kiss the man’s cheek, before pulling away from him. Smiling mischievously up at the man, who wore a mixed look of confusion, embarrassment, and the traces of fading hope, Nilya giggled and said, with a smile across her face, “Sorry Varik. You’ll just have to do far more to earn my kiss. But the trick of setting up that plant, now that was a clever ruse!” Nilya’s face then twisted into a mischievous smile as she closed her eyes while her ears wagged at the human, “Too bad I got it to work for me and not you. So it appears I discovered your name…” Nilya flicked one of her tails to playfully flick the man’s nose. “And that means I earned a prize.”
Trying to regain his composure, Varik ran his right hand through his short hair. He breathed, taking in the crisp night air as he considered his situation. “I guess you did win,” he smiled, placing his right hand on his waist as he extended his left arm forward. “And I promise you, I will get you your prize when we meet next. I promise.” The kitsune raised an eyebrow, but nodded and shook his extended hand, her cool hand warmed by his touch. As he took his arm back,Varik continued. “Besides, if I gave you your prize now, it would be whatever I had in my pockets”, he winked, pulling forth a satchel of coins, a notepad, a feather, and what appeared to almost be a miniaturized version of his blade, sheath and all. “It might look impressive,” he joked, “but none of this would make a good enough prize. I want to make it special.” He then smiled warmly at Nilya.
Nilya returned his smile with a genuine one of her own as she said, “When we meet again then. Do not keep me waiting too long.” She then turned around and started to walk away. As she strolled down the once snow coated path, she turned and waved her right arm at the man, as her three tails waved in rhythm with her arm. Before she reached her shrine, she could hear him calling goodbye over the wind, almost like a sweeter version of the wind’s howl from before. Holding onto that thought, Nilya spun herself rapidly, using her tails and magic to sweep up snow around her into a white cloak. Once surrounded, she looked up toward Clemmedeus and smiled. Shifting her magic to her legs, she jumped, accelerating upwards, high above the treetops. As she could nearly touch the clouds, she slowed her descent, making sure to enjoy the freedom of the moment; the wind around her, the clean crisp air glancing off of her protective winter veil. The village's lights flickered out below her signaling the festivities had finally concluded. As she continued her descent, she couldn’t help but smile again, thinking about how the evening had unfolded. After this moment of reminiscing, she sped her descent, returning back to the frozen ground. As she continued on her way back home, she began humming a soft tune of the villager’s music, as she faded into the wind.
Written by Nathan Sanborn