I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 9

InuYasha's little house seemed crowded with four adults, two toddlers, and a kitsune, but it was a comfortable crowd, the type that only good friends enjoy. Dinner was over, Sango's stew pot empty and the dishes were washed and put away, but no one was really ready to leave yet.

"Tell us a story, Kagome," Shippou asked. He was sitting in her lap, ignoring the looks InuYasha was sending his way. "Do you know any stories about kitsunes?"

"Maybe," she said. "But why don't we get Miroku to tell us one? I know he knows more stories than I do."

"I could tell the story about the kitsune and the tanuki," Miroku volunteered.

"No way. That may be Hachi's favorite story, but I don't want to hear how a tanuki tricked a kitsune into getting beaten up," Shippou said.

"Ah, but it's true purpose is to remind you not to be impious and to teach you that knowledge is better than trickery," the monk said. "This is a lesson you need to learn before you try to tease Kaede-sama again."

"Ha! You're a fine one to talk about trickery," Shippou said. "Not my fault she can see through fox magic." He rubbed his head, as if he could still feel what happened the last time he tried.

"Maybe when you learn to hide your youki better, or your tail," Miroku replied. "Until then, it's probably a good idea not to try to impersonate people around her. Even I know that it takes wisdom do know when to do trickery." He picked up his daughter Noriko, and put her on his lap before she could move towards the irritated hanyou, who was in no mood to have his ears tugged.

"What happens in the story about the kitsune and the tanuki?" Kagome asked. "I don't think I know that one."

Shippou, gave them both a disgruntled look and went off to sit by himself.

"Ah, a kitsune and a tanuki decided to have a contest to see who had the best magic. This kitsune was rather unrespecting of the Buddha." Miroku began. Lifting up his cup, he took a small sip of tea. Noriko used this opportunity to wiggle out of her father's lap.

"The kitsune knew that the tanuki had an interesting habit. Whenever he would see an image of Jizo-sama, who especially watches over children and travelers, he would get hungry, stop and take a break to eat. So the kitsune, running to a place where he knew the tanuki would be passing, went and turned himself into a statue of Jizo. It was very realistic. When the tanuki passed by, he saw the image, and said, 'Hmm . . . I'm hungry. Time to eat.'"

"Even Hachi isn't that stupid," InuYasha mumbled.

"Oh yeah?" Shippou said. "Look who he has for a friend."

Miroku, ignoring them, continued. "The tanuki sat down, took out some rice balls. He offered one to Jizo-sama and bowed his head. When he looked up, the rice ball was gone. He got confused, wondering if he had even put it there. So he put out another one, bowed his head, prayed 'Namu Amida Butsu,' and raised his head right away. The rice ball was also gone. He put out a third rice ball, but this time, he lifted his head before the prayer was through. What he saw was this: the statue of Jizo-sama was standing there with a half-eaten rice ball in its hand. The tanuki yelled 'Hey!' and grabbed the arm. Suddenly, the statue turned back into the kitsune's usual form. The fox smiled up at the tanuki and said, 'Now it's your turn.'"

Noriko made her way to Kagome's lap.

"Now we reach the part about wisdom," Miroku said. The other twin, Yusuko saw where her sister was, and began toddling that way. "The tanuki was unhappy about how the kitsune tricked him, and so he thought a moment. 'About noon tomorrow, I'm going to change into the lord from the castle and come by this road. Be sure to be here and watch.'

"The kitsune was there waiting the next day, waiting to see. Finally the procession reached his hiding place. First, there came the sweepers yelling 'Down! Everybody down!' Next came a long line of samurai, and then finally, the palanquin in which the lord was riding. It was all very impressive and majestic. The fox was amazed at his friend's skill, and ran over to the lord's basket.

"'Tanuki-sama! Tanuki-sama!' he called, 'You have beaten me. This is amazing.' But this was not a transformation by the tanuki at all; it was the real thing. The tanuki knew the lord was going to be going this way. One of the samurai carrying a staff came over to the kitsune. The kitsune was beaten indeed. He never tried to steal the tanuki's rice again."

"Stupid story," Shippou said.

Yusuko tried to squeeze into Kagome's lap next to her sister.

"Getting kind of crowded there, girl," InuYasha said. He picked her up and put her in his lap, wiggling his ears at her when she started to pout.

"Inu-oji," she said, laughing. He delicately caught her arm when she tried to use his hair as a ladder to climb up towards his head.

"Doggie uncle?" Kagome asked. "They call you that?"

The hanyou shrugged.

"Shippou-chan," Kagome said, watching the little kitsune turn his back to everybody, still irritated. "My grandfather used to tell me a story where kitsune used tricks that taught wisdom, too."

He peeked over his shoulder at her.

"You want to hear it?"

"Does it have tanuki in it?" he asked, moving closer.

"Not this one. But it has monks and samurai." Noriko, unhappy that her sister was in InuYasha's lap, wiggled out of Kagome's hold, and moved closer to InuYasha.

"Why don't you tell it, Kagome-chan?" Sango said, as she lay her sleeping son Naoya on the small blanket she had spread out next to her. He barely moved as she put him down.

"Yes, please, Kagome-sama," Miroku said. He poured more tea in her cup. "Always good to hear new stories."

"I guess I will, then." She reached over and filled the monk's tea cup in return, and then her husband's. Picking her cup up, she took a sip, and began.

"Once there was a man who was really very simple and uninformed, so his neighbors called him Kashikoi-sama," she said. "For some reason, he began to believe he was as smart as his nickname of Wise One and began talking and giving his opinions about everything like he really knew what he was talking about."

"It's lucky that some of us actually do know what we're talking about, isn't it, Sango my beloved," Miroku said.

Yusuko shrieked at that moment because Noriko decided to pull her hair. Miroku got up and picked her up and secured her in his lap. Yusuko abandoned InuYasha and went to her mother, who soothingly rubbed her head.

Once things had quieted down, Kagome continued.

"One day, he and some friends had come together for a celebration. While they were drinking saké and eating, somehow or other, the talk got around to kitsune."

Yusuko took that moment to begin toddling towards the young kitsune, snagged at the last moment by Sango who realized what she was doing. "Shippou!" the girl cried, holding her arms out to him. Shippou jumped on InuYasha's shoulder.

"You like living dangerously, don't you?" InuYasha said. There was no real threat in his voice.

"Better you than her," Shippou said, holding his tail defensively.

Kagome shot looks at both of them, but continued her story. "Now on this occasion, Kashikoi had drunk a lot of saké, and it made him even more opinionated than normal. After hearing several stories about people being fooled or frightened by kitsune in their area, he declared that only the foolish or easily led could ever let a fox do that to them. Wise and intelligent people like himself could never be tricked that way. In fact, he declared, he doubted kitsune did much of this type of thing. Most people, he said, who thought they had been in a run-in with a fox probably had just scared themselves.

"The other people at the celebration just shook their heads, because Kashikoi was always declaring this or that. They didn't want bad luck on their hands and were about to ask him to leave. His friend Takeo tried to talk sense to him. 'You shouldn't talk that way!' he said. 'We know of at least twenty people who had been tricked in one place alone. Are you saying they all were men who fooled themselves or were weak, or someone human tricked them?'

"'Yes,' Kashikoi told him. 'That's exactly what I'm saying. And to prove it, I'll go out there tonight!'

"'Well, let's make it worth your while. You come back with no fox tale to tell us, and we'll buy you five jugs of saké. But if anything happens, you have to do the same for us,' Takeo said. Their friends roundly agreed. It would get rid of him, give them some peace and quiet, and if Inari was merciful, they'd get something to drink out of the whole thing. Soon all six of them stood up, and with much loud noise and rude singing, they got torches and escorted their friend out into the night and towards the place the kitsune liked."

Shippou snickered. "He was kind of stupid, wasn't he?"

"And I suppose you're thinking about pranks you would pull on him right now, aren't you, brat?" InuYasha said.

"I was thinking what the guys at the last youjutsu exam would have done to him," Shippou said. He jumped off InuYasha's shoulder and landed next to the fire pit. "First, they'd - "

"Shippou-chan," said Kagome, looking at the kit. "Can I keep telling the story?"

"Oh," he said, sitting down. "I'm sorry."

"Anyway," Kagome said, "Kashikoi's friends took him there, and Takeo announced loudly, 'Hey, Kitsune-samas, we have someone who doesn't believe in you here. We have five jugs of saké that say you'll show him what you can do. Don't let us down!' And laughing, they all walked off."

"Some friends," Sango muttered. Naoya began to wake up and she let Yusuko loose to take care of him, putting the baby over her shoulder.

"The first thing Kashikoi noticed once his friends left him was a rustle in a nearby stand of bamboo. Looking carefully, he saw a fox dart into the bamboo, and he went to investigate. Not seeing anything more, he walked down the road where he saw the wife of the village headman. 'Why, hello, Kashikoi-sama! How unexpected to see you out here tonight. I am just going to go visit my father in the village. Will you walk with me?'

"Suddenly, Kashikoi became suspicious that a fox was trying to deceive him. He knew that there was no way the village headman would let his wife walk between villages after dark. While agreeing to walk with her, he began to look for telltale signs of fox magic, like the tip of a tail showing at the bottom of her kosode, or if her clothing seemed to glow in the dark, but for the life of him, he saw nothing. Yet he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Still, he tried to be civil and agreed to walk with her.

"They eventually reached her parents' house, but just as her father and mother came out to greet them, he took a knife out of his belt and said, 'Stand back! I know this girl is not your daughter, but a fox out to trick us all!' While her parents watched in horror and tried to pull him away, he tortured her, trying to get her to reveal her true form, and when that didn't work, he used the flame from his lantern to set her dress on fire. 'Mother! Father!' she cried, but there was nothing they could do, and she died."

Yusuko, finally realizing she was free of her mother's hand, chose just that moment to crawl over to pull Shippou's tail, and he shrieked.

"Yusuko, leave Shippou-kun alone!" Sango ordered.

Shippou jumped on Miroku's shoulder.

"Got caught up in the story, eh?" Miroku said.

Shippou crossed his arms. "Feh," he said, in an odd imitation of InuYasha. "You need to teach Yusuko that my tail's not a toy."

Kagome laughed. "You should have seen the look on your face, Shippou-chan!"

"Well, what happens next?" InuYasha said.

She nudged him with her elbow. "Let me see . . . Someone got a big stick and hit Kashikoi over the head and he fell unconscious. When he awoke, he was tied up, and a fierce looking samurai was standing over him.

"'You must die for your murder!' said the samurai. 'I am going off to tell my master and also her husband what has happened. Expect the worst!'

"'But I could have sworn she was a fox!' he cried. 'I saw the fox. Why would the headman let his wife wander around after nightfall?'

"'Our poor daughter! Whatever shall we tell her husband?' cried the parents.

"A Buddhist priest came by, attended by a young boy and a servant. Hearing all the noise, he asked what the problem was. A servant led him in to where the parents and the official were, and he heard their tale of woe. He turned to the unfortunate man. 'Why Kashikoi, is that you?' he asked. 'I thought you were a good man. You always had a donation for me.'

"'Yes, Dono, it is I. I thought I saw a fox turn into this poor woman and I killed her. But I really thought it was a fox out to trick me! If you can do something to save my life, I would do anything.'

"'Well then, let me talk with the family,' the priest said, then took the others away into the back and had a conference. Kashikoi stayed still, trembling, not daring yet to hope. After a few minutes, the priest came back to him.

"'Well, Kashikoi, you have one chance,' said the priest. 'You can shave your head and become my disciple right now, or the samurai-sama will take you to be tried and executed.'

"'Yes, do it right now,' said the girl's father. 'He was trying to protect us, even though it was an evil fate.'

"' Do you agree?' said the priest.

"Kashikoi, speechless at this turn of events, just nodded his head. The priest untied him, had him kneel in like he was praying, and began to shave his head while he chanted. After the ceremony was done, Kashikoi stood up and bowed deeply to the priest. At that moment, he heard a loud burst of laughter and the sun broke over the horizon. When he stood up, he was alone. Everything that happened during the night felt like a bad dream. Reaching up to the top of his head, though, he knew it wasn't a saké dream, because he had no hair. The foxes had fooled him after all."

"Yes!" said Shippou. "That's the way top-ranked kitsune do things! That would have gotten great marks on the exam."

"Hmm," said Miroku. "So what became of Kashikoi?"

"They say he went back to his friends," said Kagome. "He covered his head with a handkerchief, and told them the tale of what happened, and at the right moment, revealed what the foxes had done. Although his friends laughed at him, he paid his debt without complaining. Afterwards it is said he became a monk of great holiness who went out of his way to be compassionate to those who thought they had all the answers, but didn't. And he always remembered to do acts of kindness to the foxes who put him on the right path. Or so my grandfather told me."

"Hn," InuYasha said. "You would think he'd be mad at them, instead."

"Well, many are the paths that lead to enlightenment, my friend," Miroku said, looking thoughtful. He glanced down at the sleepy child in his arms, looked at Sango, who tilted her head towards the door. He gave her a little nod in return. "I think, though, it's time that we leave you two alone and put our children to bed. Thank you for the story, Kagome-sama."

"Can I stay here tonight?" Shippou asked. InuYasha's eyes narrowed, his hand reaching out to clasp Kagome's.

"Remember what we talked about this afternoon, Shippou?" Sango said.

The fox kit sighed. "I forgot." He jumped off of Miroku's shoulders and crawled into Kagome's lap. "I'll see you tomorrow, Kagome."

She gave the kit a little smile then ruffled his hair. "Sure thing, Shippou-chan."

Sango stood up, and handed off the sleeping Naoya to Miroku, grabbing Yusuko by the hand. "Remember to come over early if you want your cooking lesson."

Kagome smiled, getting up herself. "That would be good. I really don't know how to cook well in a fire pit. We did it a different way at my mother's house."

Bidding her friends goodbye, she let down the mat door and fastened it shut.