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They indicated a person standing near one of the bonfires. He was tall, fine-boned and fair featured in a way not unlike the more graceful of the Crane. Height and width of shoulder marked him as male, but his hair swept down his back in a long fall of gold-lined red that ended near his hips. Elaborate hair clips of carved ivory and gold held his hair back from his face and kept it from falling over his shoulders. He did not show tails like the much smaller woman standing next to him, but fox ears rose among the hair and clips like dual points to a crown. He wore no visible weapons, but his stance and bearing made his training plain. His head was tilted down slightly, listening to the woman that barely stood to his chest, even with the old-style raised geta that she wore. As the two humans approached, however, the nearest of his ears swiveled and tilted towards them. He made no other acknowledgement of their presence until they stopped and politely stepped forward to catch his attention. The woman next to him stopped speaking - the humans had never once actually heard her voice - and both kitsune turned towards the incomers politely, ears raised in a listening pose, though their expressions were merely that of one politely waiting. The smaller woman, with disappointingly normal black hair, was almost an unremarkable beauty but for the ears and bright eyes. The male, however, had the force of presence and air of assurance not unlike commanders, a regard made almost painful by the calm gaze of the sharp eyes that were a weirdling mix of pale brown and grey.
The two humans had a frozen moment - they had expected beings that were more like the almost wild Kitsune clan, not these creatures who would not have been uncomfortable in high Court. It was a difficult moment, made worse by the man's air. Something about him was a weighted, waiting presence that stirred up every instinctual fear known to man lost in the woods and hunted by frightening creatures snickering and howling into the night.
Abruptly, the female kitsune poked the man and flattened her ears at him. He looked down at her and flattened his ears back, but when his regard returned to the two humans, they found that they had been released from whatever had gripped them a moment before. He could have been any prosperous Crane artesian.
The woman spoke up in slightly accented Rokugani, "Do not to mind him too much, please. He is grumpy."
Like many kitsune, Ki (tree) has had many different names throughout the years. No one really remembers what his original name was, and truthfully even among the other kitsune few remember a name for him other than “Denmother Chigonoha’s Tree guard” a title that has been reduced to the brief nickname “Ki.”
Previous names that others do know include Tazuhi (crane, fire) and Tatsusui (dragon, water). Older kitsune sometimes call him Tazuhi Tatsusui, as if the two first names somehow combined to make a complete name. He did join two of the families, and for a time carried the names, but few kitsune care enough about human interaction to ask him which two.
For reference, and the sake of any hard-working scholar who might just happen to come across the names, they are Kakita Tazuhi and Mirumoto Tatsusui.
Ki was born in the early years of the Empire, and currently holds the distinction of being the oldest kitsune to be neither silver nor gold. He was born into one of the spear-wielding dens, a line of tall, lean dark red kitsune. Due to a childhood accident, however, where a leg and an arm were broken, he never spent much time learning the spear. Annoyed with his family’s constant mollycoddling of the long-healed injuries, as soon as he was old enough, he left the dens to wander the human lands. He made friends with a wandering swordsman who was on his way to the Crane family competitions and ended up participating in the events. He ranked mostly due to some training by the other man, pure instincts, and a touch of kitsune inhuman speed. In the end, he chose to join the Kakita line because he felt taking the Kami’s name was too presumptuous and rude.
He learned more slowly than his human compatriots, but he was a determined student at the sword. He spent most of his spare time in extra practice, so that he might minimize the gap between himself and the humans who seemed to learn with disgusting ease. Fortunately, penmanship came more easily to him, for while the symbols were different, he already knew how to write. Similarly, he showed quite a talent for paintings and other small arts, because he had learned to enjoy such things to pass the time while recovering from his childhood injuries. He only spent a few years among the Crane, enough to significantly improve his skills, but when talks of arranged marriages became serious matters of conversation, he made himself disappear.
He traveled then to the realm of the Dragons, because as a student of the Crane he had already visited several other of the major families but he still held a curiosity about the Dragon Clan. Certainly, the higher ranks of the Dragon were more than aware that he was not human, just as Doji-kami had known the instant she set eyes on him, but they chose to indulge his curiosity. A teacher waited for him there, a short woman born into the samurai ranks of the Mirumoto.
He spent some time learning the Niten technique of the Dragons, quite a bit more than he had spent among the Crane. Here he did not learn among a group as he had in Crane, to his immense relief. He learned as much about the Dragon view on life as he did weapon work, and emerged from this training with patience and pragmatism in measures virtually unheard of in kitsune.
Again, he contrived to disappear before it became too apparent to most that he was not human. Unlike his time in the Crane, he did not meet the kami of the Dragon, but he was watched carefully for most of his time there.
When Magojiro, the swordsman Ki originally met in his first excursion into human lands, died he had his Kakita Blade sent to Ki. Magojiro, childless, decided to bestow his sword upon his long time friend - who he knew was a kitsune and while also a childless man, would live far longer than the human span of years. Ki carries this sword to this day. Ki does not recognize the prestige normally associated with these blades; the sword is important to him because his friend gave it to him (though he does certainly appreciate the fine steel of it).
In the hundreds of years since Ki left both Dragon and Crane lands, he spent time perfecting his style, and he spent quite some time travelling around the Empire. He was often called upon to teach other intrepid kitsune how to write the human language, or to give hints on how to survive the social niceties of the humans as their world grew more complex and structured. For the most part, though, he has passed most of his life quietly. He is not particularly interested in running his own Den, and contents himself with seeing to Kaikahun's safety.
It is possible that anyone who has access to some of the ancient records of the swordman with whom Ki had traveled know that the being “Kakita Tazuhi” was a kitsune, for Ki eventually did tell the swordsman. Similarly, if Doji-kami felt like making a note of the kitsune’s presence, scholars may be aware, but no other among the Crane discovered Ki’s origins. Among the Dragon, however, almost certainly the Clan Champion knew about the kitsune pupil (if they cared to think about it), and any of the more perceptive Dragon of the time may have made note of him. Whether any of them know that he is still alive, however, is a question of serious debate. He acquired a Kakita Blade from the Crane once his friend died, and similarly was given a wakizashi from the Dragons. Neither of those have ever been returned to either family - though the Dragon would be less concerned with this than the Crane (both because of the differences in clan outlooks and because the Dragon involved quite honestly knew that he wasn't human). These blades currently rest in a daisho stand inside one of the Denmother's formal meeting rooms when Ki is not wearing them.
He is completely devoted to the care of Kaikahun, the Denmother of Chigonoha who is now sometimes merely called “Kai” (ash). She loves him dearly, but not in the way that Ki would prefer. Still, he guards her and assists her in her work, hoping that she will someday either accept him or that he can at least see to her happiness until she finds someone else with whom to share her regard. He's more than a touch irritated when Kai falls in love with a human, but despite his jealousy he manages to become cautious friends with the man. Still. He's waiting and dreading the day when the brat dies.
As one of her guard, he lives in the Denmother's home area.
Ki is well past the age when most kitsune go gold and lose their touch with reality, but while he does have liberal gold markings, he has not lost his grasp of reality. He has moments where he briefly does lose touch, but these moments are rare and he usually recovers quickly. The Denmother has noticed, as have the other of her guard, but no one else. Those who do know for the most part keep quiet about it; Ki is aware of the times he loses his grasp of the “now” and the others fear that pointing it out or mollycoddling him will make him deteriorate faster.
It is widely believed that Ki has maintained himself past the golding age because of his devotion to Kaikahun, though a minor group of kitsune scholars have begun to serious debate if his time among humans somehow strengthened his spirit in a way that has allowed him to remain. There is no way to actually prove or disprove either theory. Kitsune who are not closely associated with Chigonoha have running bets on when he will completely go gold, and other bets on what will happen when he does, but anyone who makes such commentary or betting near a kitsune who does have ties with Chigonoha should be fully prepared to get thrashed. Those who are close to Chigonoha regard Ki with a mixture of reverence and adoration. His time with the Dragon gave him almost unspeakable amounts of patience for a kitsune, and he quickly became the uncle that the younger kitsune went to with their troubles while they were working through their training at Chigonoha.
While Ki’s official rank is merely that of one of the Denmother’s guard, the combination of his age and demeanor has afforded him with a significant unspoken status no less than that of the Denmother’s or DenLord’s. Frequently, Ki handles minor issues around the Den and, as Kaikahun is not married [or isn't until she bumps into a particular Lion], often is regarded as the unofficial surrogate father of orphaned or estranged kitsune in the Den. En’arashi and Kaikahun both recognize the work that he does and see no reason to limit his status, especially as the Den grows large enough that a third administrator and leader is less of a luxury and more a necessity. Similarly, Ki affords both of them the due respect of their stations (even though he regards En’Arashi as overly young, and wishes that Kaikahun would relax more because she’s stressing herself to an early retirement), and he is careful not to overstep his bounds.
Some of the more traditional kitsune pressure Ki regularly to try and get him to take over control of some den or another, but he always refuses. This annoys those kitsune, because they often feel that his abilities are wasted as a mere guard of a denmother, even if it is a Denmother for a very large den.
In general, when Ki does decide to let his opinion show, all of the kitsune around him pay attention. He does not directly involve himself in politics often, however, making the instances when he *does* voice himself all the more potent.
In human form, Ki is just shy of five feet ten inches, and appears to the untrained eye to be no older than his late twenties. Like many from the ranking kitsune lines, he is handsome in his human form and obviously would not have had trouble settling in among the ranks of the Crane. He has kept himself in remarkably good condition, and even someone who is merely passingly familiar with warriors would recognize a trained swordsman in his movements and demeanor. In his human form around other kitsune, he will sport the typical kitsune ears, though he rarely shows a tail. Around humans, however, when he is trying to appear human, he can make his ears look human and just has exceptional nails and teeth (someone looking for the teeth would have to watch him a very long time to notice the length and sharpness for Ki is well practiced at not flashing his teeth). He also has remarkable coloring to humans, pale skin, with straight, dark red hair highlighted strongly in gold, and light hazel eyes, a gem mix of light brown and grey. He can hide the eyes and make them a much less remarkable brown, but he rarely does so as it involves a minor illusion with air kami that shugenja would have a chance at noticing.
In fox form, Ki can make himself fully the size of a war horse, even, perhaps a finger or two taller. He usually sticks to the typical size of a large dog, however, because he doesn’t see the point in frightening others.
Ki is inordinately serious and focused for a kitsune. In many ways, Ki would probably be the easiest kitsune for many humans to deal with because he is pretty good at not acting upon impish impulses that might happen to cross his mind. People who get to know him will discover that Ki is incredibly smart and intelligent (or he seems to be more so than many kitsune, but much of that may simply be that ability to focus that many kitsune lack), with a scathingly dry sense of humor.
He is unfailingly devoted. Kaikahun and any of the children who look to him as an adoptive father know without a doubt that he cares for them and would do anything in his power to see them safe and cared for. Of these, Kaikahun and Ginyue are really the only two who understand that Ki would have an exceedingly difficult time turning down an order or request from the daimyo of either family that he spent time with. Of course, Kaikahun recognizes that any request or order that she did not like, she could countermand with a request or order of her own. Neither daimyo could trump a requirement from the woman he'd devoted himself to, and Kaikahun is ruthless enough to intervene, especially if she feared that allowing Ki to follow whatever order would endanger him unduly. It is not mere whimsy that places Ki's katana and wakizashi in the heart of the DenMother's home when he is not wearing them.
Compared to other kitsune, he is much more reserved in manner and sexuality. He is also far more patient than the average kitsune, and relatively slow to anger. Once he is angry, however, he holds on to it longer (for instance - he will be polite with a Lion's Pride, but will never be even remotely friendly to them, because some part of him is still angry over watching Matsu kill Hotoro-sensei). He plans, and when the plan is in place, executes the revenge swiftly, even if said revenge is something relatively minor (like, say, lining one's practice gi with the powdered Rokugani equivalent of poison ivy).
He can be unblinkingly ruthless. Some of this he learned among the humans, and some of it is just the practicality of age and a slightly different view point. The sole exception is with children - especially those young enough that they may be taught.
Ki does not panic, nor does he show confusion, fear, or disquiet easily (this is especially true if he is hiding his fox ears).
No one knows how many tails Ki can have. Since his return from wandering the Empire, he has never, not once, shown more than two in his fox form nor more than one in his human form. Since these are the minimum that any fox can show, it is fairly obvious that he simply does not feel the need or desire to show off or posture. More war-like kitsune recognize the sheer tactics of the move, as it completely deprives others of the ability to even estimate relative power levels. Other kitsune avoid challenging him for the most part, and Ki has never lost an actual fight with another kitsune.
Ki is ambidextrous, and can wield a weapon or write with either hand. He prefers his two blades in a fight, but he is also more than passingly fair with hand-to-hand or the bo and the heavy spears that some of the kitsune prefer.
Ki has an especially strong nose, even for a kitsune. He will freely admit now that he probably wouldn't have stayed among humans in those early years of the Empire if he hadn't have ended up in one of the few clans that stressed cleanliness. He distains perfume, and can be incredibly scathing to a person who doesn't seem to know how to properly use perfume (where it should be located, how much is appropriate versus overwhelming) or who uses a scent that clashes with their natural scent. His sight and hearing are fairly normal for a kitsune. He can read even in very low light, and is comfortable walking around in near absolute darkness. Though it may take him time to get used to a new location, he usually can hear a room or two over from where he is actually located. Most people assume it is his hearing that is phenomenal, because it seems easier to assume such once they realize he can hear well, but his true strength is in scenting.
For all that he took a fire and water name while among humans, his forward element is actually air. His deficiency is in earth (a fact that lead to exactly one teasing session after he became the Ki guard). Despite this, he has high willpower, and he has built his stamina to something frightening over the years.
He is not particularly strong with a good portion of the kitsune nature spells, relying more on the water and air kami than the nature spirits themselves. Despite this, when he needs to do something with the nature spirits, they tend to pay attention and do as he asks. His foxfire skills, however, are the sort that even other kitsune fear. His kinesthetic training over the years has made him inordinately good at placing a foxfire ball in a location that he might not be able to actually see, but can calculate.
Ki is good at art and has impeccable penmanship, but he despises dance and dislikes playing music. He sometimes draws designs for Itoko's more formal and fanciful kimono, and the two of them have developed a good working relationship. Oddly enough, in his later years, he has discovered that he enjoys cooking, and he can be more than a touch possessive of his kitchen area. Ginyue is the only person he voluntarily allows reign in the kitchen.
Ki has no living, immediate family. Ki's mother was a large, spear wielding woman from a family mostly comprised of large, war-loving women. Ki's father was a smaller, very quiet man, more focused on diplomacy. Ki's father was more interested in art than war, and he was very interested in the humans when they first started up the Empire. Ki's mother and aunts often complained that it was Ki's father's fault that Ki became so interested in humans (probably true).
While Ki was still among the Crane, an illness struck his den. Most of the kitsune there died, quarantined by the monks from the rest of the population. One of Ki's cousins and her son survived, they moved south and towards the sea, where the family of the child's father lived. Such a plague was not uncommon at the time, but it grieved Ki greatly. He spent much longer among the humans than he normally would have because of this.
Ki regards Kaikahun as part of his family, even though they are not (and never will be) mated. Many of the orphans and children that Kaikahun adopts as part of her duties as DenMother regard Ki as their father. This is especially true for Ginyue, and Ki is inordinately fond of and protective of the "little" blacksmith.
Ki's tree lives in the kitsune realm. It is a rather large ume (a small type of Japanese plum used in various snacks, drinks, and foods) tree on the grounds of Temple. These leaves are quite easy for him to get, but he rarely needs or wants to use them for illusions or attacks.
((Excerpt from a scene done after humans and kitsune began to interact and trade. Ki was accompanying Itoko, shy and not as comfortable with money affairs or the spoken language of the Empire, to pick up some pieces that she needed for a clothing commission. The two humans were bringing the items and a request for a second piece. Ki's edgy because he doesn't have his swords. .... I don't remember off-hand why he couldn't bring them, but there was a reason and it annoyed him. :p ))
((Follows is the second snippet I wrote for Ki - I couldn't decide which I liked better, so here's the other one. This is a scene were a human Crane courtier had managed to discover who Ki is, and decides that he/Ki must be an elaborate hoax that the kitsune were trying to play on the humans.))
“Show me your stance!”
As a youth in the Crane learning the sword styles, he had been universally regarded by the instructors as the weakest student. It had confused them to no end that he was friends with Magojiro, who was universally regarded as the strongest student. Magojiro thought he’d become one of the best swordsmen, but Ki had more than once commented to Magojiro that it wouldn’t ever matter how good he became because people would always remember that when he was learning, he was the weakest student.
It seemed he had been right.
He quirked a small smile in the face of the human’s angry distain and rose from his cushion smoothly. The other kitsune in the room had frozen in tensed surprise and stared at the human, aghast. Ki ignored them. There had been changes to the Crane style in the hundreds of years since he had trained there; in some ways it had improved and in some ways it was merely different. It didn’t matter, though - his style was no longer simply Crane. His style now combined Crane and Dragon, and the change of the Crane style over the years still reflected the same mindset as it had at the foundation, though perhaps a touch more… artistic than it had been. Besides, Ki had something now that he hadn’t had as a youth training in the Crane ranks.
900 years of practice.
900 years of confidence.
Ki’s gaze flicked over the Crane man briefly, his dark gem gaze oddly bright looking as they cut across the man’s body in a brief assessment that left phantom incisions in the other man’s skin, and then Ki obligingly slid into the stance. Ki was tall, and any practitioner of the Crane style would have a false sense of confidence looking at him – shorter man wins, after all. But Ki slid down to the typical stance, and then kept going. Had he taken the typical stance height, the other man would have easily been able to arrange himself lower, but Ki had long since developed the balance and fluidity needed to go even lower.
The other man didn’t say anything for a moment, simply staring. Ki maintained a calm expression for a few heartbeats before gracing the other fellow with an ever so slightly mocking look and rising back up.
The Crane’s head jerked up and he flushed, “I didn’t…”
Ki smoothly interrupted him with an ever-so-polite raised hand in the court hand-speech that indicated the need for silence. His tone was polite and yet carried the weight and steadiness of his confidence, almost deferring in its gentleness as it regretted that the other man would soon stain the mats if they continued, “If you wish to study my stance further, you will need to retrieve your sword.”
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