The Fox and The Djinn isn't creepy. Or scary. And it's certainly not gross. But it is set at Halloween time (actually, All Hallow's Eve) and features characters from the Breakshield fantasy series. Yes, including Kitsune. Everybody loves that little fox. Including me. Especially me...
So, without further ado, I give you The Fox and the Djinn
Morgan stumbled along the winding trail, half blind in the semi-darkness, damp clothes sticking to his body as the rain pattered around him.
Autumn rain. Cold rain, chilling him to the bone.
Kitsune ran ahead, scouting the way, crimson fur sparkling with jeweled raindrops. She glanced back now and then, making sure Morgan followed, adjusting her course based on his directions.
Morgan slowed and reached out, searching for the marker’s signal and finding it just a couple of miles ahead of him.
Not far now, he thought, though the trail might prove him a liar. A couple of miles as the crow flies could be hours upon hours when on foot following a rock-strewn trail in the dark. Nothing to be done about it. Stop complaining and get going.
Pain washed over him, white hot, throbbing with every pulse of his heart. Blood dripped through his fingers from the still-fresh wound, soaking the thick wool strips of his torn pants leg. Morgan curled into a ball, hands pressed to the jagged, bleeding row of gashes carved into his skin. Hadn’t seen that last Pack beast. Kitsune had tried to warn him, but it was already too late.
“Damn,” Morgan hissed, teeth clenched tight against the pain. The warmth of blood coated his fingers. The skin beneath felt hot to the touch. “Damn, damn, damn.”
Poison in that Pack beast’s bite. Slow poison—a long, drawn out, painful death unless he found a Healer. Soon.
A soft sound of footsteps as Kitsune padded to his side. The fox leaned down, furry face wrinkled with worry as she whuffled at his face.
“’M’alright,” Morgan mumbled, pushing the fox’s licking tongue away.
Kitsune whined softly and scooted in for another lick.
“I’m up. I’m up.” Morgan rolled over and gathered his legs under him, pushed himself to his knees, and then stood.
The world tilted, see-sawing from one side to the other. Morgan swayed with it, sipping at the air in short, sharp breaths, waiting for things to settle and the pain to subside. He moved a step forward—tentative, questing—took another and another with Kitsune right beside him, watching him all the while. Half a dozen steps and Morgan thought his abused leg just might behave itself. But ten steps later and it buckled, pitching him to the ground.
“Wrong again,” Morgan gasped, gripping his wounded leg. “Dammit.” Two miles, just two miles to the marker. But they’d never make it. Not tonight, not with that pain inside him, the woods around them quickly fading to dark. “Kitsune,” he called, reaching blindly, feeling the fox’s soft fur slip under his fingers. “Find us a place,” he told her. “Somewhere to hole up for the night.”
Kitsune whined softly, nose dipping to snuffle at the wounded leg. She sneezed loudly and growled deep in her throat, smelling the poison inside the wound that was eating away at Morgan’s insides.
“Just for tonight,” he promised. “Tomorrow…” Morgan trailed off. Tomorrow might be better or much, much worse. No way of telling, but he wouldn’t lie to her. Wouldn’t make false promises. “Go,” he told the fox. “Find us something safe. Somewhere out of this rain.”
Kitsune slipped off into the woods while Morgan crawled to the edge of the trail. He propped his back against a tree and stretched his wounded leg in front of him—a throbbing, aching mass of misery. Blood pooled on the ground beside him, weeping from the gashes the Pack beast’s teeth had left. He pulled the leather satchel from his shoulder, flipped it open and fished around inside until he found bandages, pulled them up and started to strap the mess up. Couldn’t do anything about the poison—only Kurou could help with that—but at least he could keep himself from bleeding to death out here in the middle of nowhere.
As he tied the last bandage off, Kitsune returned, stepping silently from the trees, tongue lolling out one side of her mouth. She yipped at Morgan, took two mincing steps forward, and looked back.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.” Morgan levered himself to his feet and limped after her.
Things went fuzzy for a while after that. Morgan stumbled along in the fox’s wake, limping and falling, picking himself back up only to fall again. Kitsune stayed with him, never straying far, keeping one eye on the way ahead and the other on Morgan following behind. At some point the trees thinned and he looked up to find a ramshackle barn sitting in an overgrown field with nothing but trees and trees and more trees as far as the eye could see.
Not much, really—from the looks of it, a good, stiff wind might knock that barn over—but Morgan followed Kitsune to it, grateful for any shelter that would keep the rain off their heads.
It took some doing to get inside—vines had crept in, growing thickly across the barn’s doors—but Morgan wrenched and tore and finally forced the doors open, stumbled inside and collapsed on the ground. “Kitsune,” he breathed, calling the fox to him. And then the darkness rushed in, dragging Morgan down and down and down.
Morgan woke to firelight. To the pop and sizzle and distinctive smell of bacon cooking. He blinked in confusion, staring at the flickering flames. He didn’t remember starting a fire—hadn’t even gathered the makings for one—much less cooking bacon.
“Kitsune,” he called, pushing himself from the floor. He tucked his good leg under him and stretched the other toward the fire, pressing at the wound in his thigh, hissing between his teeth as pain shot into his hip. “Kitsune,” he called again, and then froze when he spied a woman watching him from the far side of the fire.
Kitsune sat beside her, paws crossed primly, looking completely content.
Morgan frowned. He flicked his fingers, beckoning the fox over. “To me, Kitsune.”
Kitsune looked at him then the woman sitting beside her. Nipping a piece of bacon from the woman’s fingers, she trotted to Morgan’s side.
“Who are you?” Morgan asked, pulling the fox close, rubbing at her fur.
The woman smiled at him—too many teeth inside that mouth, far too many for her to be human—and then dipped her head and clapped her hands together before spreading them wide.
Strange gesture. Stranger still the look of this woman. Opalescent scales covered her head and face, the entirety of her body, shimmering in the firelight beneath wisps of silken clothing. She murmured something—a greeting, he supposed, voice soft and flowing, like water running over stones—but Morgan could find no meaning in her words.
“Who are you?” he repeated, hand touching at his waist, searching for his sword. Nothing there. He cast his eyes to one side and found his belt lying nearby. He reached for it, eyes never leaving the scaled woman across the fire. “How did you get here? Where did you come from?”
The woman stared at Morgan’s lips as he spoke, brow furrowed in concentration. A glance at Kitsune and she touched two fingers to her forearm, plucked a scale from the dozens there and held it out.
Skin like mercury showed beneath, silver and shining, reflecting the fire’s light back. Morgan considered a moment and then held out his hand, accepting the scale, shivering with chill as it touched his palm.
Kitsune sniffed the scale and then licked it, whuffed loudly and flopped down on her belly, deciding it was boring.
“Are you my new master, then?” The woman’s words came clear this time.
Morgan blinked in surprise, pointed at the scale and then quirked an eyebrow in question.
The woman nodded and pressed a hand to the bare skin of her arm. “Communication is…difficult sometimes. I’ve learned to adapt,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
Morgan considered the scale a moment and then curled his hand around it and touched two fingers to the badge at his throat—the one where Kitsune slept when they were travelling, energy trapped inside the silver, soul merged with his.
Kitsune’s ears perked up, gold and green eyes shining with sudden interest.
“Are you my new master?” the woman repeated.
Morgan frowned at the question. “I am master to no one—certainly not yourself.”
The woman blinked in surprise, hand reaching, touching the leather satchel lying on the ground beside.
Morgan’s satchel—he’d know that battered carryall anywhere.
“Who are you?” he asked again.
The smile returned, rueful this time. “Hadiyyah-ak-atmarak-usuunaluu-kietma-anhanran-uletmar.” She bowed her head, repeating that odd gesture with her hands.
The woman laughed softly as Morgan valiantly stumbled his way through her name.
“It’s a mouthful,” he admitted, smiling despite himself.
“Hadiyyah-at,” she said, smiling as she touched her fingers to her breast. “And you are Morgan Quendalen. And your friend there,” a smile for the fox at Morgan’s side, “is Kitsune, if I’m not mistaken.”
Hadiyyah smiled secretively and laid a finger alongside her nose, free hand stroking the battered leather of the carryall beside her.
Morgan stared at her and the faithful satchel he’d carried all these years and finally put two and two together. “You’re a Djinn,” he said, blinking in surprise. “The Djinn from my carryall. The one the trader told me about. The one I hear crying…”
Morgan trailed off as Hadiyyah’s smile faded. She sat there, hands clasped loosely in her lap, eyes swirling with color as she studied Morgan’s face.
“I called to you,” he said more softly, “but you never came. Why now?”
“I could not before. But now…” Hadiyyah’s lips twisted. She raised her hands, gesturing at the barn around them. “Tonight is All Hallow’s Eve. The one night when all ghosts and spirits are able to find their freedom. If only for a little while.”
“And when All Hallow’s Eve is over?” Morgan asked quietly. “What then?”
Hadiyyah grimaced and pointed with her chin at the satchel. “My master—my master of old,” she explained, catching Morgan’s eye, “laid a glamour on this carryall. One that created a portal to another place. A place of wonders where time has no meaning. And then he bound me to it, keeping me prisoner.”
“Prisoner,” Morgan murmured, cheeks flushing with shame. “I had no idea. The satchel—”
“Was sold to a trader. And another trader after that. And another, and another, and another. A long line of traders laid claim to that battered satchel before it came to your hands.” Hadiyyah lifted her chin, staring at Morgan across the fire. “You did not make me prisoner, Morgan Quendalen, but you are the satchel’s keeper now, which makes you my master as well.”
“I told you before, I am no one’s master,” Morgan said harshly. He shifted and stifled a groan as pain shot through his leg.
Kitsune crowded close, licking at his face.
“She cares for you.” Hadiyyah’s head tilted, eyes flicking from Morgan to Kitsune to the wound in Morgan’s leg. “She worries. She can smell the poison. It will kill you, you know, if the wound goes untreated.”
Morgan nodded and left it at that. “Is it true what they say about Djinns?” he asked, turning the conversation back to her.
Hadiyyah’s smile returned, looking rueful and sad now. “It is. Nine hundred and ninety-nine wishes are mine to grant.” She paused, catching Morgan’s eyes. “And with the thousandth I die.”
Morgan went very still. Kitsune whined at his side. “And how many wishes have you granted over the long years of your life?”
“Few,” she admitted. “My master was…protective of his wishes.” She bowed her head, staring at the hands folded in her lap. “He died with the granting of just ninety-nine. And so I pass from hand to hand, master to master, bound to this enchanted satchel until the last of those wishes are granted and I can finally be free.”
Morgan went cold all over, heart beating slowly, the misery in his leg thumping in time. “Is there no other way?” he asked her.
Hadiyyah shrugged her shoulders. “One, perhaps.” She nodded to the leather satchel. “Destroy the prison and you destroy the glamour that holds me there.”
“And once it’s gone?”
Another rueful smile. Hadiyyah ducked her head and studied the hands folded in her lap. “Then I’m free,” she said softly. “No more wishes.” She raised her eyes, looking Morgan straight in the face. “No more me.”
Morgan shivered, cold settling around his shoulders. Death. It always comes down to that. Death and freedom, indelibly intertwined.
“Will you help me, Morgan Quendalen?”
Morgan closed his eyes and bowed his head. This, too, was familiar territory. Ground he’d covered far too many times.
Kitsune whined softly. Morgan opened his eyes to find her tugging at his hand. He uncurled his fingers as Kitsune nipped his sword belt in her teeth and backed away, dragging it with her as she worked her way over to the satchel and flopped down on top of it.
“That’s a no, then.”
Kitsune yipped softly and tucked the sword belt under her leg.
“I’m sorry,” Morgan said, catching Hadiyyah’s eyes. “Kitsune—”
“Is protective.” Hadiyyah offered a lopsided smile. “You are lucky to have each other. It gets…lonely…sometimes.” She trailed off and ducked her head again, tracing the lines of her palm with a thumb.
Kitsune studied her a moment, green and gold eyes shining brightly in the firelight. A glance at Morgan and she surged to her feet, trotted to the back of the barn and climbed a creaking, dilapidated set of steep stairs to the hay loft above.
“What on earth?” Morgan stared after, wondering what the fox was about, listening to the sounds of Kitsune scurrying about and getting into just about everything she could find. A flutter of commotion, some squeaks and squawks that sounded strangely indignant and Kitsune came barreling back down, trotted over to Hadiyyah and spat a sodden lump of feathers into her lap.
The lump flapped and fluttered and shook itself from head to toe, showering a laughing Hadiyyah with spatters of slimy fox drool. “An owl. So pretty.” Hadiyyah cupped the tiny brown-and-white owl in her hands, murmuring in her slippery tongue as she lifted it up. The owl whooed softly and hopped up her arm to stand on her shoulder. Hadiyyah smiled and stroked a finger across its creamy breast. “This one is…saw-whet, I believe?” A glance at Morgan for confirmation. “Thank you, Kit—where she’s going now?”
Kitsune took off again, heading outside this time to rouse some finches and sparrows, even a tiny tufted titmouse, from their nightly rest, carrying each one back to Hadiyyah and dropping them in her hands.
Hadiyyah cooed to the little birds, soothing them with her fingers, carefully cleaning away the fox drool before adding each new arrival to the menagerie perching on her shoulders. Meanwhile, Kitsune kept collecting, gathering more and more creatures from the world outside.
Morgan watched for a while, amused by the fox’s collecting, and then stretched out on the ground, chilled despite the fire’s warmth, tired and aching, his leg a writhing mass of misery.
A fat young raccoon joined the collection of birds, chattering loudly, batting playfully at a sparrow with its agile little hands. Next came a pair of skittering weasels, tumbling and bumbling as they rolled each other about. But when Kitsune returned with a tabby cat and six little kittens—one dangling from the momma cat’s mouth, the others perching like baby possums on Kitsune’s back—Hadiyyah finally told her to stop.
“Why?” the Djinn asked, plucking mewling kittens from the fox’s fur. She lifted one up and kissed it on the nose before setting it on the ground with siblings so it could suckle at its mother’s teats. The raccoon watched raptly, seeming fascinated by the cat and its six tiny charges. “What has prompted you to bring me such wonderful treasures?”
Kitsune yipped in answer and wagged her brushy tail, then walked over to Morgan and flopped down beside him.
“I don’t understand,” Hadiyyah said, looking over at Morgan.
Morgan struggled to a sitting position and pulled the fox into his lap, and then sat there, rubbing her belly and thinking for a moment. “You said you were lonely. Kitsune doesn’t like when people are lonely, so she brought you some friends.” Morgan went quiet, eyes drifting to the satchel, measuring the hours left in this All Hallow’s Eve night. “I can’t free you, Hadiyyah.” He turned his head, looking her straight in the face. “Not in the right way. Nor the way you want.”
Hadiyyah looked away, avoiding his eyes. She scooped a stone from the ground and tossed it to the raccoon, smiling to herself as it batted it between its paws. “I don’t want to die,” she said, smile slipping. “Not really. But I—I don’t want to be alone either. Not again. Not after so many years.” She caught her breath, gemlike tears brimming in her eyes, slipping slowly down the opalescent scales of her face.
The weasels uncurled from one another and scampered up her arms, scattering the perching birds as they wrapped around her shoulders and licked the tears from Hadiyyah’s face.
“Then don’t be,” Morgan said quietly.
Hadiyyah frowned in confusion, thumbing tears from her eyes. “Dawn draws near, Morgan Quendalen. I’ve enjoyed these hours with you and your little Kitsune.” She dipped her head, nodding in thanks. “But All Hallow’s Eve is but one day among many.” She flicked her eyes to the satchel, leaving the rest unsaid.
“The glamour. It binds you to the satchel, but not others.”
Hadiyyah nodded, looking confused all over again.
“Then take them with you,” Morgan said, nodding to the momma cat nursing her kittens, the raccoon hovering nearby. “Let them come and go if they wish but don’t…you don’t have to spend the rest of your years alone, Hadiyyah.”
Hadiyyah opened her mouth and closed it again, lips quivering, eyes shining with fresh tears. “I can’t,” she whispered, tears spilling down her cheeks. “I can’t take them with me.”
The raccoon blinked at her and wandered over to the tabby cat as the kittens finished their nursing. They were tiny things still and looked dopey and sleepy, ready for a post-milk nap, but they stumbled along peacefully as the raccoon and their mother gathered them together and herded them up onto the Djinn’s crossed legs. A last kitten lifted and the momma cat climbed up, the raccoon waiting until she found a place before barging in as well, adding to the mound of fur filling Hadiyyah’s lap. The birds twittered sweetly and then swooped low, flitting from Hadiyyah’s head to her shoulders to the rafters above and back down again.
Kitsune watched it all, panting happily, looking quite pleased with herself.
“I’d say it’s not your choice.”
Hadiyyah gave him a strange look.
“Kitsune has a talent for finding things in need,” he explained, scratching at the fox’s ear. He stroked a finger across the soft fur on her nose as he nodded at the animals piled in Hadiyyah’s lap. “They need you, every bit as much as you need them.” Morgan waited until Hadiyyah looked at him. “It’s their choice, not yours. Just as it was Kitsune’s choice to follow me all those years ago.”
Hadiyyah stared at him for a long time, scaled cheeks shimmering in the firelight, teardrops drying to diamonds in her eyes. She flicked them away and then scooped up a kitten, lifting it to her lips to kiss it softly on the nose. “I owe you a wish, little one,” she said, looking over at Kitsune.
Kitsune whuffled softly and rolled onto her back.
Hadiyyah laughed softly and brushed her lips across the top of the kitten’s head. “What do you think? Do you want to come with me?”
The kitten mewed softly and licked the tip of Hadiyyah’s nose before promptly falling asleep.
“Sounds like a yes to me.” Morgan smiled and then grimaced as pain knifed through his leg. He touched at his thigh and found the bandage soaked through, the flesh beneath burning as the Pack beast’s poison spread.
Kitsune whined softly, snuffling worriedly at his hand. She glanced across the fire, begging silently with her eyes.
“Granted,” Hadiyyah murmured. She clapped her hands and then spread them wide, lifted the furry bundles from her lap and shoulders and piled them together on the ground. And then she walked around the fire and knelt at Morgan’s side, hands reaching, hovering just above the wound in his leg.
“What are you doing?” Morgan asked her, and then caught his breath, back arching, mouth stretching wide as fire tore through his thigh. He shoved at the Djinn hands, trying to force her away.
“Still. Be still, Morgan Quendalen,” Hadiyyah murmured.
One hand touched lightly at his shoulder while the other hovered an inch or so above the teeth marks in Morgan’s leg. The fire spread, burning red hot, wracking him with pain, and then a red mist trickled through the bandage, gathering around Hadiyyah’s hand.
A minute and it was over, the fire quenched, leaving a searing pain behind. Morgan gasped and slumped forward, brow resting against Hadiyyah’s shoulder. She closed her fist, crumbling red crystals between her fingers before tossing them into the fire.
“What happened?” Morgan gasped when he could finally speak at all. His leg still ached, the pain there as miserable as before, but the heat was gone, and the redness with it. “What did you do?”
Hadiyyah reached for Kitsune, touching the soft spot of fur between her eyes. “I granted her wish. My hundredth,” she smiled. “And that wish was for you. I took the poison from your leg, Morgan Quendalen. Your Healer must do the rest.” She turned her head, staring through the barn doors at the lightening sky in the east. “All Hallow’s Eve ends. When dawn comes I must leave.” She turned her eyes back to Morgan. “I have few more wishes to grant,” she said, favoring him with a smile. “Nine-hundred exactly, at last count. And just enough time to grant one more here.” She tilted her head, staring expectantly at Morgan.
“Think I’ll hold onto mine for a while.”
Hadiyyah quirked an eyebrow and then shrugged her shoulders. “As you wish,” she said, dipping her head. She clapped her hands together and spread them wide, bent down and kissed Morgan softly on the lips, turned to Kitsune and peeled another scale from her forearm, holding it out.
Kitsune snuffled at the scale before nipping it from Hadiyyah’s fingers, secreting it away with the little white stone she carried everywhere and always. A soft laugh and a kiss between the eyes and Hadiyyah stood and walked back around the fire, knelt down beside her little menagerie and pulled the satchel open.
Kitsune stared after her, whining softly. She flicked her eyes to Morgan, looking confused and upset as she leaned close and licked at his face.
“It’s okay,” he told her, cupping the fox’s face in his hands. “I understand.” He looked up. “Hadiyyah,” he called.
Hadiyyah frowned at him. “The sun comes, Morgan Quendalen. I cannot stay.”
“Go,” Morgan said, flicking his fingers toward Hadiyyah. “I’ll wait here until you come back. Promise. Just don’t take too long, ok?”
Kitsune showered Morgan with kisses and then climbed to her feet, trotted over to the satchel and nosed at the raccoon before pouncing playfully around the weasels.
“She wishes to go with me?” Hadiyyah asked, clearly surprised.
Morgan nodded. “She’s curious,” he explained. “It’s been a long time since she had other animals to play with.” He smiled to himself as a kitten wandered over and started batting at Kitsune’s tail. Outside the sky brightened, dawn finally breaking. The satchel flared to life, spilling out golden light. Then and only then did Morgan start to have second thoughts. “You’ll send her back to me?” he asked as Hadiyyah herded her menagerie inside the satchel.
Hadiyyah smiled sadly, one hand resting on Kitsune’s bright red head. “I do not hold her heart, Morgan Quendalen. No matter how far she goes, Kitsune will always return to you.”
Kitsune looked back at him, fox face smiling, green-and-gold eyes swirling in the firelight. And then she stepped toward the satchel with Hadiyyah and disappeared in a flash of golden brightness.
Morgan stared after them, feeling empty without the little fox. Unexpectedly alone. He lay back—hurting, exhausted—and traced his fingers along the fox shape carved into the silver badge at his collar.
Warmth there—a sense of presence he’d known for years and years and years. “Not so alone after all,” he murmured, lips curving in a smile.
Morgan closed his eyes and moved closer to the fire, letting the dreams take him for a while as he waited for Kitsune to return.