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Brief History in Rokugan
Kitsune are not from the human realm. The first kitsune probably travelled to the human realm out of curiosity. As more kitsune returned to tell others how interesting things were in this realm, more of them started visiting. Eventually, even some of the high families of the kitsune went over, and they even began forming dens in the human realm.
At some point, however, kitsune realized something fantastic.
Humans could be Enlightened.
It was a curious thing to them. There were few enlightened kitsune, though many sought to be Enlightened. Enlightenment was the only way to to keep from Fading, the only way for one's spirit to remain intact after death. There was no kitsune afterlife, once the spirit faded and dispersed, it was gone. No one knew what happened after that. If Inari knew, he did not see fit to tell others.
So, suddenly, the kitsune were brought face-to-face with a choice. Humans obviously were not very understanding of other beings - the tragedy of the kitsu terrified the kitsune. But somewhere under all of the fierceness and roughness of the humans, was that ability to be enlightened.
Thus, the desire to interact with the humans arose. Some even managed Enlightenment, and those few told others that it was not something they could do on their own. Time with the humans was key to understanding.
But kitsune are wary creatures, and while the desire was there, the curiosity strong, there was still the understanding that humans did not "play" well with other races. Some began, cautiously, to make their way into human society - some in the quest for enlightenment, some out of sheer curiosity, and some out of interest in human arts. A few even managed, in those early years of the Empire, to enter the great clans for a time.
The rest of the kitsune, however, found they had a new problem. In the early years of the Empire, the dens were still in a state of fluidity. The dens were placed in suitable natural areas, and each den spread out a certain amount to avoid abusing the resources of the land. But humans bred like mice. Faster than mice, some pointed out, as the Nezumi weren't nearly that prolific. As humans expanded, kitsune moved their dens to avoid the humans, but this lead to a great deal of conflict between established dens and those who were moving to avoid the humans. Smaller dens simply disbanded and the kitsune moved to other, larger dens that were further away from the humans. Some dens began actively trying to frighten humans out of the woods and away from the dens.
However, when it came time for the larger dens to pick up and move, conflict arose. No Den Lord can order another Den Lord, and no Den Lord would allow themselves to be cowed out of their land by another kitsune. Fighting arose between some of the larger dens. Even dens that were not yet in danger began to enter into the conflicts in a bid to gain a buffer zone from the humans and from the other clans. It was a time of unprecedented hostility.
In the span of fifty years, several major dens managed to wipe each other out.
Inari was not amused.
The remaining Den Lords were summoned to Temple to receive one of Inari's few direct orders. Dens and territories were to be laid out based on the current den order, and no den would be able to move itself. If a den found themselves in danger of needing to retreat from the humans, a petition would be sent to Temple. The Temple Master would conduct the meetings and arrange for the den to be moved to one of the now empty territories or, in the worse case scenario, help disband the den. Den Lords retained their rights and responsibilities, but no one could found a new den. Ironically, this freezing of the territories left a few "dens" with only one or two people, and in one instance, one person was the sole descendant of two Den leaderships. Temple gained the duty of maintaining the empty dens so that they would be ready in case of an emergency move.
The remaining Lords were chagrined as they realized the full extent of their losses and at the same meeting further resolved a more radical idea. All kitsune of a certain age would gather in one den to train and to work together with others of the different Dens and lines for a period of perhaps 50 years. It was agreed that the proper age group would be those old enough to be considered nearly adults - those who were just beginning to learn how to control foxfire, work with the kami, or who were just learning how to defend themselves. Were the kitsune interested in war with other races, it would have been a mandatory military conscription.
It was, as far as they were concerned, a reasonable solution to getting kitsune to interact and network as well as a way to centralize and stabilize training of youth. Before, if a youth wished to study a particular fighting style or skill, a Den Lord had to find a way to either safely send the youth to where a teacher lived (given the violently protective nature of the mothers, this was not an optimal solution) or to coax a teacher to stay in the den long enough to train the youth. With all the youth in one location, a given teacher could be chosen to stay at the training den and teach the students as they were needed. Further, a den with a rare specialist (blacksmith, use of certain rare weapons, etc) did not have to worry that the training den would "steal" their specialist and would be less likely to resist a request that the specialist visit for a time to train a given student.
In the end, a then relatively minor Den was chosen to host the training grounds and to oversee the training. Den Chigonoha was at the time a modest den that had founded itself in the region between the Lake of Sorrows and the Red Lake in order to help clear out the restless spirits who wandered the area. It was not very populated, by human or kitsune, and it had plenty of room to expand, though the current residents, historians who worked with ghosts, were not interested in doing so.
Chigonoha's Acting Den Lord En'Arashi was a militarily minded kitsune who was well known as even-handed man with no particular enemies among any of the other Dens. While he had an impressive career as leader of various dens defenses and scouts, he was carefully respectful of other's territories and was plainly not interested in the responsibility of leading a den. He was also just recovering from the death of his mate, the previous Lord of Chigonoha, and had been patiently waiting for the new Lord, his mate's sister, to arrive and take over the operations of the den. He had been, actually, looking forward to taking his sons to a den that was less... bookish... and away from the sad memories of his mate.
The incoming appointed Lord had no interest in training. She was a healer and was recovering from a terrible wound she received in an accident - mauled by humans. The pair, neither interested in the duty that was thrust upon them by the passing of the previous DenLord, agreed to work together to spread out the various odious tasks and duties of running a den that would soon be overrun with the kitsune equivalent of teenagers and twenty somethings. Kaikahun, the healer, and En'arashi, the warrior, paired off the duties with En'arashi as the Lord in charge of all military matters and Kaikahun as the Denmother in charge of any social and health issues.
Though Chigonoha had been chosen as a location with space to expand, it had a relatively difficult to protect boundary. En'arashi himself had been chosen as a "safe" person to have in charge of a large mass of young adults equipped with any combination of weapons, but his duty effectively included both the security of the den and being headmaster of a small town's worth of solid schools. Fortunately, Kaikahun was healer enough to keep up with the myriad of injuries that the school and scouting military guards tended to amass, especially once she co-opted a set of students to train in medical arts.
Chigonoha managed to thrive under the unlikely joint management of the pair, and in the decades since has become an institution nearly as accepted as the silvers themselves. Small-scale negotiations and meetings between dens started to be held in Chigonoha, as a third-party neutral den who had interests on all sides. Soon, only the most difficult or heated debates went to Temple (something the Temple Master viewed with much relief). Because of the nature of the Chigonoha den, with its members of all lines and all dens, and its widely accepted neutrality, Chigonoha den became not only powerful, but it is the one den that is most likely to take the steps to associate with humans, when and if it is needed.
With the recent surge of Taint and rise of more and more oni and Tainted, some of the kitsune have begun retreating to their own realm. The extermination of the Nezumi sent more back to their realm. Still, a stubborn group of kitsune remain. Many of the younger kitsune who were born to the human realm are not interested in returning to the woods of their realm. Others have begun to realize the true danger implicit in the Tainted and the Shadowlands. The mere presence or the Tainted killed the woods, the very earth. If the humans ever lost to the Tainted, their world would not be the only one affected, younger foxes realized. As the human realm withered, their own realm would begin to decay as well. It would only be a matter of time before the fight would be at their gates.
Alone and highly susceptible to the Taint and the illness it spread to living things, they would never stand a chance. The Silvers have long since begun trying to help humans in subtle ways. In recent years, several dens have begun making the commitment to seeking out those ill areas and healing them. Dangerous work for a kitsune, but one that they can manage, if they are careful and strong enough. Still others have begun to wonder more loudly in council sessions and debates if there is a more direct way that they can help. Their hope, after all, resides in more than one way in humans.
Each kitsune den has its own hierarchy, and the dens all have a complex series of interrelations and ranking with each other. While the Empire has daimyo and clan champions who serve under the Emperor, the kitsune system is less defined. There is no singular Emperor of the kitsune, indeed the closest thing to such would be Inari himself, who does not directly interfere with kitsune on the human realm and who certainly doesn't go out of his way to manage the lives of the average fox. Inari commands the Silvers, priests and monks who frequently work as go-betweens of the various dens. It is generally the Temple Master's duty to coordinate and oversee any serious political or trade discussions, but she technically has no rank or status over the other kitsune aside from what duty Inari specifically assigns. Den Lords generally only concern themselves with their den and territory unless the Temple Master requires them all to pay attention to a given point or issue in the name of Inari.
In other terms, one could equate Inari with the Emperor, the Temple Master to a Prime Minister, the Silvers in general to court officials, and then the Den Lords to the leaders of various duchies/regions.
This system works only because the kitsune are not particularly interested in gaining territory. A Den Lord has responsibility to run their Den, but in general would find it too annoying or bothersome to try and take over another region - which they would have to travel to often enough to rule semi-effectively. Even more important to the kitsune, large conflicts or spikes in population that would precipitate the need for expansion are both very hard on the resources of the land. Every kitsune is sensitive to the health of the land and tries to avoid doing things that would harm it. Thus, while the Den Lord is highly territorial and protective of their area, they don't often try to take over other stretches of forest, especially if those are already occupied. This is especially true of any kitsune who remembers the conflicts.
Each den has a Den Lord. The Den Lord may be male or female. Typically, the Den Lord is appointed by the previous Den Lord, but the appointment does not always follow family lines. Den Lords are in charge of the operations of the den, including its safety, and the politics that relate to the den. Denlords do not have to be particularly strong fighters or shugenja, but it does help. Those wishing to move into a den must first get the Lord's permission, a process that is as easy or difficult as the Den Lord decides to make it.
Dens do not have taxes, per se, as kitsune do not have a monetary system. Most trade is done by trading goods or skills, so likewise "taxes" in the den revolve around giving tributes of items needed in the den or by providing labor for tasks or chores that need done. The amount of tribute that the den members provide is not a particular set amount, and is generally directly proportional to how much time the Lord needs to spend in the running of the den.
Members of the den look to the Lord as their leader. In a very small den, where the Den Lord has little responsibility or needs to devote little time to manage the den, the members of the den would not feel obligated to pay much tribute to the Lord. In a large den, however, where the Lord has little time to do their own hunting or cooking, members of the den will take turns doing regular day-to-day tasks and chores for the Lord, or will provide the Lord with goods to trade. In dens that are especially prosperous, the members of the den will generally give more than is strictly needed for tribute, as they wish for the Den Lord's mode of living to reflect the strong prestige and status of a healthy den with a good economy.
For instance, Itoko (the weaver of Chigonoha) regularly provides En'Arashi and his children with clothing, both day to day wear and formal wear. Other kitsune will aid Itoko in this process by providing her with trade goods she needs to obtain materials or by providing the materials themselves to her. Still other kitsune will help Itoko with day-to-day tasks of maintaining her home or food preparation so that she has more time to weave and sew the clothing for the Lord. Similarly, a kitsune might pay to have a craftsman make something for the Lord on their behalf.
In large dens, the DenMother or DenFather typically organizes and keeps track of the flow of such things. While the tribute is not required, all kitsune understand that they live in the Lord's territory by the Lord's will and not entirely on their own. A kitsune who routinely stints or avoids sharing the responsibility of the maintenance of the den will find themselves removed from it unless there is good reason for their lack of support.
While Lords may decide to demand more tribute than the den is giving them voluntarily, they are usually careful to keep things reasonable. A Den Lord may lose their position if the kitsune in the den leave in significantly large enough numbers to weaken the den or make the den no longer strong enough to function. Thus, a Den Lord who requires a great deal of tribute may find that his or her den members leave to go to dens where the burden is not so great. The Den Lord cannot keep the others from leaving, so Den Lords who are insane, overly cruel, unreasonable, or greedy quickly find themselves without a population to "Lord" over. When this happens, Temple basically revokes the Lord's status - forcibly if need be.
Once the Lord has lost their position, the remaining kitsune will, in effect, hold interviews and select someone to petition Temple for the defunct den. Temple sometimes appoints an interim Lord, especially if the den is large enough that it really does need an administrator. In the instance of a new Lord who was not appointed by the previous Lord, the new Lord must get the approval of Temple before he or she can officially begin duties. In general, this rarely happens as usually the Lords are very careful to pick successors.
Far more common is when a powerful enough kitsune challenges the current Den Lord for their position. Such challenges must be accepted, and are generally followed by a long series of tests. While these are truly challenges, the ending of such challenges are rarely decided by the Lord and are instead decided by the members of the Den. If the Den members don't want to change Den Lords or don't approve of the challenger, the members of the den typically contrive a way to remove the interloper. If the den members do want a new Lord, especially if they are fairly certain that the challenger will do a good job - the current den Lord will usually simply disappear at some point. Sometimes, the den members will let a Challenge run its course for a time, just to see how the Lord and the Challenger react to the various situations, but this usually only happens when a very young Lord is selected. The last time a Challenge went through the entire series of tests and competitions was sometime in the prehistory of Rokugan.
DenMothers/DenFathers are somewhat more complex. Not all dens have a Den Mother/Father, only the larger dens rank the need to have a second leader. The DenMother or Father can be either gender, and is responsible for the health of the people in the den, as well as any social aspects of the den. DenMothers or Fathers typically are healers, herbalists, or are proficient in some form of medicine. They are second in rank to the Den Lord, though the Lord usually shows a significant amount of honest deference to the DenMother or Father.
Denmothers/Fathers keep track of the tributes, help make sure that resources are balanced, and that the den has the supplies that it needs. It is the Denmother who would adopt and care for an orphan, who makes sure that all the children are getting appropriate lessons in a given discipline, or who would arrange for food and lodging for a guest. The Denmother also has a certain amount of say in many political discussions, depending on the exact nature of the discussion. It is common for the DenMother/DenFather and Lord to split up duties, depending on what needs to be done in a particular den and on the personalities of the DenMother and Lord. Were something to happen to the Lord, the DenMother or DenFather takes temporary command of the Den.
Sometimes, in smaller or medium sized dens the Lord's mate will act as a DenMother or DenFather, but a large den generally requires the attention of an actual appointed DenMother or DenFather.
The kitsune do not call their guards "yojimbo" perse, but the Lords usually rank at least one. The number of guards is proportional to the size of the den, up to five per Lord and Mother. These guards are often referred to as a "hand of elements," because the positions are nicknamed after the elements. Usually, a kitsune with a given forward element will be in that particular position (e.g. a kitsune's strongest element is Fire, that kitsune would usually be the Fire Guard). This is not, however, always true.
It is important to note that the kitsune do not see and cannot use void kami. Instead, their fifth elemental position is called "wood" or "tree" and is usually a jack-of-all trades sort of position.
The five guards are not bound to spend all of their time with their charges. Often, especially in cases where there are several guards, one of them may take a leave of absence to do some travelling or take care of business. Unless there is a volatile or dangerous situation, these requests are generally allowed.
Most of the time, and especially when the Lord ranks guards, but the Mother does not, these guards end up taking nicknames that match their position.
The average kitsune is not hindered by den boundaries. It is quite common for them to move about between the dens, though they must get permission from the Den Lord or Den Mother before they actually settle down in an area. On the other hand, however, it is fairly easy for a Denmother or Lord to remove someone from the den that they view as dangerous. It is polite, and overall advised, that travelling kitsune check in with the local den if they intend on staying in an area for awhile.
The one exception to this is for those kitsune who are travelling with a human, or who are pretending to be human. Most dens will overlook a kitsune in these situations, as it is impractical for the other kitsune to slip away from the group to check in every time they cross into a new den's area. However, if they are in the area for more than a week or so without checking in, they will get a visitor.
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