Urban Tales of Demons and Spirits
Vol 3 Book of Exchange – Chapter 57 The Nine-tailed Fox
First Published on Chaleuria.
Chapter 57 The Nine-tailed Fox
I lowered the torch to see the words carved under the murals. They were difficult to read, so I had to narrow my eyes and get closer.
‘On the mountain of Qingqiu… there was a beast, it was in the shape of a fox but had nine tails. Its roar sounded like the cry of a baby. It ate humans, and if a human could eat its flesh, he would be immune from poisons and illusions.’ I was quite familiar with the first sentence, which was from the book ‘The Classic of Mountains and Seas’, describing the nine-tailed fox.
However, as I kept on reading, I found that the following was new.
‘The fox had four feet and nine tails. During peaceful eras, it was an auspicious symbol. The great Yu, when he was 30, married the daughter of the Tushan Family, who was a nine-tailed fox. A hundred years later, after the great Yu passed away, the white fox left. No one managed to find her.’
It was a little hard for me to recognize the words. Although it was written in ancient Chinese and difficult to understand each word, as a Chinese language student, I managed to understand the gist of it.
This paragraph was probably about the origins of the nine-tailed fox. It said the nine-tailed fox was once an auspicious animal during peaceful eras. The great Yu’s wife, the daughter of the Tushan family, was a nine-tailed white fox in the legend. But after the great Yu’s death, she disappeared and people couldn’t find her anymore.
The passage of time eroded a long paragraph in the middle of the text, so I had to skip it.
‘…There was a country called Qingqiu, which had red walls, green tiles, carved beams, and paintings. When the nine-tailed fox attacked the country, its people suffered greatly. The fox was a man-eater, ninety million people ended up in its stomach. Once the fox was full, it committed all manner of evil and turned the country into a living hell. Humans couldn’t find a way to fight back.’
After I read this, I frowned. The entire paragraph talked about how evil the nine-tailed fox was. It didn’t mention why it once was an auspicious symbol or explain the reason why it suddenly became so vicious. The full text just described the various crimes the nine-tailed fox committed, detailing how this monster harmed humans and how people were scared of it.
I focused on the words on the wall and totally forgot to pay attention to my surroundings. Just as I finished reading the first half of the story, the flame on my torch suddenly flickered.
Was it the wind? I didn’t pay attention to the flames and continued reading as I was curious about the story.
There was another paragraph, and since its font size was bigger than the first two paragraphs, it must be important. I got closer to it and continued reading.
‘The country of Qingqiu had a saint, who was also the princess. Her name was Qingyu. The princess was twenty years old. She was erudite and had psychic power. In the 16th year after the establishment of the country of Qingqiu, the nine-tailed fox attacked the country, and the king sacrificed his daughter as an offering to the monster. At that time, Qingyu cleaned herself and put on new clothes. She sacrificed herself at noon…’
However, while I was reading, the torch flame flickered again, and this time it shook violently.
It was the wind, wasn’t it?
No… it’s not right.
This place was surrounded by huge walls, and there was no ventilation here. How could there be wind here?
For a moment, all the hair on my body stood up, and my heartbeat accelerated. I didn’t turn back. I gathered all my courage and raised the torch a little higher. That way, I could see everything behind me through the reflection on the nine-tailed stone statue.
I slowly raised my head to look at the reflection. As I expected, I saw a black shadow on the stone statue. Judging by its position, it was probably standing right behind me.
It must have been standing very close behind me, otherwise, its reflection wouldn’t be so clear.
I stood there, frozen, and didn’t dare to move an inch.
What was it? When did it get behind me? The flame on my torch shook once while I was reading. Could it be the time when it showed up behind me? But why couldn’t I feel its breath?
Just at that moment, I suddenly felt a slight coolness at the back of my neck, as if a refrigerator door was opened behind me. However, it was a little different, it was more like… a person breathing.
There was definitely something standing right behind me, it was so close that I could feel its breath on my neck!
What should I do? My hands began to sweat, and after a minute the torch handle was soaked by my sweat.
I couldn’t stand still here, just waiting for it to leave. However, my brain seemed to stop operating because of the fear.
I thought that I should turn around quickly and hit that thing with the torch. Then it would depend on fate to see whether I would survive or not.
Just when I closed my eyes and prepared to hit it with the torch, a voice suddenly stopped me.
“Don’t look back!”
I was shocked by the voice and didn’t dare to act rashly. The only sound I could hear now was my heavy breathing.
But soon after, the voice was raised again with a commanding tone that I was familiar with.
“Put out the fire and hold your breath.”
“What?” I couldn’t help but ask, wondering if I heard it wrong.
“I said, put out the fire!” The voice behind was filled with determination, making it hard to reject.
“You have to trust me,” the voice said, stressing each word. “Put out the fire and hold your breath. Don’t look back and walk three steps to your left, can you do that?”
I swallowed a little and nodded nervously.
“Don’t nod, answer me.”
“Yes,” I secretly clenched my fist and stressed it again. “Yes, I can.”
“Okay, then put out the fire now.”
I took a deep breath. I trusted that familiar voice, so I threw the torch in the water. The blue flame immediately went out. The room instantly became dark again, and I couldn’t see anything.
“Hold your breath and walk slowly.”
I nodded subconsciously, though I knew that the person behind me couldn’t see me. As the voice instructed, I walked three steps to the left. Nothing happened. The coolness on my neck disappeared, and nothing weird jumped on me.
“Did you move three steps?”
“Yes, I did,” I answered hurriedly. But as soon as I spoke, I let out a breath, and I clearly heard something in the dark began to move. I hastily covered my mouth with my hand.
“Good, now turn around. Move five steps forward.”
This time, I did exactly what he instructed without hesitation.
“Now, turn right again and walk three steps.”
I did it again, but as I moved, it became harder for me to hold my breath. I desperately covered my mouth and nose with both of my hands. When I walked the last step, I couldn’t hold my breath anymore.
At that moment, someone grabbed and pulled me into his arms.
It was him. I was sure of it.
That familiar voice, familiar temperature, and familiar embrace.
Wen Jiubo whispered above my head, “It’s okay, you’re safe now. You can breathe now.”
I gasped in his arms. My tense limbs suddenly loosened now that I wasn’t afraid anymore, I felt powerless and exhausted.
Oh, right, the torch…
The room suddenly lit up. Wen Jiubo leaned against the wall and handed the torch to me.
My first reaction was to turn around to see the thing that almost scared me to death. But what I saw once I turned around dumbfounded me. Behind me was a completely empty room. Not only did I not see the monster that attacked me, but the altar and the nine-tailed fox statue that I studied for a while also disappeared.
Nothing was there, as if what happened just now was only a dream.
“How come…” I stuttered. “There was a room over there just seconds ago, and there was an altar, a huge statue of nine-tailed fox, and there were words and murals…”
“Did you see them?” Wen Jiubo suddenly interrupted me.
“The words and murals, did you see them?”
I was dumbfounded and didn’t know how to answer, so I remained silent.
Wen Jiubo glanced at me and seemed to understand something. He stopped asking me further. He turned around and whispered,
“What you saw wasn’t reality.”
“Huh?” I couldn’t understand what he meant by that.
“What you saw was not real. Here is the junction connecting the worlds of Yin and Yang. The altar and statue are not real. Those things were destroyed hundreds of years ago, and what you saw was nothing more than memory fragments.”
“Memory fragments?” I asked, “Whose memory?”
“Mine,” said Wen Jiubo. He slowly stood up with one hand pressing against the wall. His movements were really slow as if it was difficult for him to move.
Then I began to notice that there were some brown stains on his clothes, which looked like… blood.
“What’s the matter?” I immediately became anxious. “Are you… injured?”
“Sort of.” Wen Jiubo smiled bitterly, and then I noticed that his face was very pale. Something was wrong. It was hard to imagine how he used such a firm voice to help me out when he himself was in such a feeble state.
I was shocked and immediately touched his back. I felt some sticky liquid in my hand. It was blood, which was dripping slowly from the wound on his back.
It felt as though my brain overloaded, I was unable to think logically. I went through so many dangers and tried so hard to reach this ghostly place so I could save him and yet, I was still too late, he was gravely injured.
“Who… Who did this?”
I was furious. I had known Wen Jiubo for such a long time, but I never saw him as weak as this. He always looked invincible to me. He always had a backup plan and had the whole situation in control. He could always come up with the most perfect solution to save more people.
Wen Jiubo… Was he really a nine-tailed white fox? The same evil nine-tailed fox that was depicted in those murals?