The Nine-Tailed Fox did, dressed in her favored outfit of a human woman from the Heian era, with the kimono and head veil to demurely cover the lower half of her face. It was only the distinctly vixen slant of her eyes that gave away her sly nature as she smiled coyly at me, a cultured court lady with a flirtatious look.
With a candle in her hands she spoke of an old woman who lived deep within the forest in a house of her own making, a lovely sweet-smelling place that lured children inside. But those who went in never came out, for the woman cooked the children in stew and served it to their parents. In the end, the ghosts of the children ripped their parents apart in their fury.
The youkai clapped and cheered at that wonderful story as the Fox blew out her candle and just as the candle fire went out, the bonfire next to me twisted and cracked with the snap of bone and a figure crawled out from the middle. An old woman with a face like a demon, her spindly limbs were gnarled and tough, her mouth a gaping mass of flesh and teeth and her hair was thin and white.
Her head spun in a circle until she locked eyes with me. I tried to shuffle back, hearing the distant roar of the Parade, the dry cloth of the gag against my tongue. She crouched low and lunged at me as two large hands clamped around my throat.
The desperate grasp for air clouded the pain when my head slammed onto the ground. I choked and coughed, tried to thrust her off me. Then I felt her grip loosen and opened my eyes to see a large butcher knife rusted with dry blood. The cleaver came down to the screaming joy of the youkai.
Blood rushing to my head, I could feel my eyes start to roll up and kicked blindly. I felt my foot connect with something hard and the grip loosened. Relief slammed into my gut as air rushed back and I rolled away in the dirt. The gag had loosened and I wheezed like a marathon runner, saliva dripping from my mouth.
I heard the harsh cackle first, like a rusty bell, before I ducked the first swing. Strands of my hair were cut off, and I was crawling and rolling away like a caterpillar, hands bound as metal sliced through the air.
The hag was swinging like a mannequin, there was no real purpose behind her movements – she was the puppet for this show. It was a risk, but I could almost see a sort of pendulum pattern to her swings. It was a stupid move, but it was either risk this or get my head chopped off.
I lay on my front, ignoring my instincts, screaming at me for not moving and focused on the movement of the knife. The hag cackled in triumph, raised her arm in a long arc. Just as it came down, I raised my bounds hands.
The cleaver cut skin, but more importantly, I felt the hair that held me captive release. I lunged away just in time, hands free to dig through my pockets for two spell charms and threw them at the hag. The charms slammed streaks of power into her, and screaming, she vanished into thin air. That bit of insubstantial nothing had almost killed me.
For a moment, the only sound was my panting. Then the unhappy murmurs started, stirring within the group. The old Tanuki broke the moment of disappointment, “We shall continue. There is time and many more tales to tell.”