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This Short story is part of a writing project i started called

"Tales of a Fox and a Spirit"

Crystal and Aiko arrived two days ago in the small town of Summerridge. A few days before, they found in a small private library a book about old legends of this region. In there was the mention of a small shrine in the woods near the small town where a spirit is said to live. Sadly, there were no directions or something that would say where this shrine might be, only some stories from people who have seen some ghostly images and that the shrine always looked like someone was tending to it and its bright flower garden. But it was the only clue since a while to another spirit in this region, that might can help Aiko to find out what happened to her, why she was captured and put into her prison in these old ruins.

After arriving in Summerridge, Crystal started to ask around if someone might remember some legends or maybe has more information about strange places around the town. But mostly she only got strange looks from townspeople who found it strange that a stranger was interested in the folklore of this small quiet town. After a few hours, on her way back to the inn, she came across an elderly man, sitting in front of one of the houses, smoking a pipe. Crystal thought it wouldn’t hurt to try her luck with him and reached out to him.

“Good evening.” She said, “Can I ask you something?” He took a small puff and replied, “How can an old man like me help a young woman like you?” He squinted his eyes while examining Crystal who now stood in front of him. “I am a traveler and am interested in old legends and stories of old towns. I travel around the countryside and try to find places that are mentioned in old stories. I have heard in the woods of Summerridge should stand an old hunted shrine. But apparently, nobody knows anything here.” “Oh, you are talking about the old flower garden.” His eyes starting to get full of life “I haven’t heard someone talking about this old place for a long time.”.

He started to tell Crystal stories about a wonderful and quiet place in a part of wood only a half day-long hike up the hills. He told her that there were stories going around that this shrine was attended by some spirit and it only showed itself to people in great need to help them. But then suddenly one day it is said, everything went quiet and it was like this place stopped existing. He himself tried to find it in his youth but the only thing he found was an old and partly destroyed wooden gate atop some stone steps. They talked until it was nearly dark. He gave Crystal some rough directions then they said goodbye and she made herself on the way through the already through lanterns lit streets to the inn she was staying.

At the inn, Crystal started packing her small travel bag with provisions for a three-day trip.

“Do you think we will find something in these woods?” Aiko asked sitting on the bed, crossing her arms. “Maybe, Maybe not. But let’s check it out. It’s the only clue we have since we arrived here.” Crystal replied. She could hear the doubt in Aiko`s voice. Even if she never would admit it, she secretly hopes that they find something out there.
“You are right. It's just, the only one who could tell us anything, was an old man in his 80 who, at least after his own telling, was there over 60 years ago. I am just thinking if it's not lost time trying to chase some old legends? We could try to get to the next bigger city and try a bigger library to find out something new.”

Crystal understands what Aiko wants to tell her. “I know what you mean Aiko. And if we didn’t find someone who could have told us something I would have said let’s continue our journey. But there was something in his story that peaked my interest.”

“What do you mean?” asked Aiko.

Crystal continues “Think about it. The legend said that this place was known, only the spirit showed itself to people who were in need. But suddenly a whole area disappears and only a gate is left in the middle of the woods? Don’t you think there is something going on? The gate was what peaked my interest.”

“So, you think there is a magical barrier in place?”

“Maybe, or something else. But we only find out if we take a closer look at this place. Now get off my bed, so I can get some sleep, we have a long tour tomorrow.”

“What? I thought the nights are the time where you start getting active and doing your “work”.” Aiko said jokily, continuing “And where should I sleep? You can’t demand that I sleep on the floor!” holding her sleeve in front of her face to try to hide the grin on it. “But as long I am still trying to regain my strength I will take my leave into the amulet.” And with that, she disappeared.

“Silly Fox.” Crystal thought to herself. She knows Aiko doesn’t mean it mischievous, even if its told fox spirits are this way. She just has so much energy to let out, and Crystal would lie if she would say she doesn’t like it. It can get straining sometimes, but she would miss it if it wasn’t there. And with this thought she lies down on the bed and starts slowly drifting away.

Early the next morning Crystal made her way out of the west entrance of the town, the direction the old man mentioned the day before. Shortly after leaving the town, she heard a familiar yelp, and then something small pressing against her legs. “There you are little one.” She reaches down to pet Blaze, her little fox companion on the head. “Did you find a nice place to stay? Come on, let’s get going.” When she was sure, she was out of sight of the town, she felt relieved when she was able to let her beautiful black tail and ears with white tips come out again.

A few hours later she reached the woods where the old shrine should have been located. The forest looks very thick and dark at first glance. No real paths are going into it. “This could get interesting.” She said aloud. “Do you have second thoughts, or do you fear to get lost or eaten by a wild animal?” someone suddenly whispers in her ear and Crystals took a tail stood up in the air. When she turned she saw Aiko standing there and laughing. “How many times do I have to tell you, don’t do this!” “Didn’t you say you love your ears because your sense of hearing is so much better?” Aiko asked. “Yes, but this doesn’t include bad mannered fox spirits who just can appear and disappear behind you.” Crystal replied. After calming down from this small fright she continued “Please stop doing that.” “But you make such a great target.” Aiko smiled, showing off her fang. Crystal tried to not react to her last comment and still concentrating on the outer rim of these woods.
“so, this is the place the old man said he saw this old gate.” Aiko said looking at these very dense standing trees. “it doesn’t look very inviting.” “It's strange.” Replied Crystal “why isn't there any sign of path into there. I have never seen a forest like this.” A sudden yelp brought her from her thoughts. Blaze was standing a few meters away from them and was barking at two small crossed trees.

“What do we have here?” Crystal could hear a more serious tone in Aiko`s voice. “This legend doesn’t look like it was just a fluke. This was an entry into these woods, that was definitively created by a magical being. It should make like a door to your house, so you only have one passageway into it and to get out of it. We don’t see it, because nature took over and started growing outside the bounds where the magic should work. Its best you use your daggers and try to cut a little bit away, when I am right behind these bushes should lie a small path. I don’t want to use magic, because I don’t know what will happen…except…forget it. Look if you can cut a way through it.”

“What was that?” Crystal thought. She knows Aiko now for something over two years, but the last part, there was a tone she never heard from her before. Normally she would try everything to show off her magic, why not know. And it was definitive no fear in her voice. But before she could think about it more a voice in her ear brought her back to reality “Earth to Crystal, would you please try cut a way through this bush.”

Crystal starts cutting, she knew there will be a point where her refusal against anything bigger than a dagger would come back and bite her – now was one these times. But she was in luck, she hadn’t to cut very far or thick branches, and after a short while she was through, and like Aiko said, there was a small path that looked like no plants ever grow over it.

“You see, I was right,” Aiko said out loud, waiting for acknowledgment. “Yes, you were” Crystal replied. “So, let’s see where it will lead us.” And with that, they made their way along this small path deeper into these dark and lonely feeling woods.

The deeper they got, the quieter Aiko was becoming. “What’s wrong?” Crystal asked her. It was like Aiko was in thoughts, something she has never seen on her. “Mmmh, oh nothing. I am just concentrating to not get surprised.” There was definitely something going on with her, but what? Did she feel something in the undergrowth, no this couldn’t be, Crystal would also have detected something, and Blaze is quiet. If there was something he would have already acted. So why is she suddenly so different?

A few minutes later the patch starts going up a hill and the dirt path becomes something like small stone steps. Crystal and Aiko follow the steps and at the end stand in front of an old wooden gate. It’s in a really bad shape. Partly destroyed, it's lying in midst of this place. You can only adumbrate the fine carvings and the color. When it was standing there in all its glory, it must have been a very beautiful sight.

“Crystal…” Aiko suddenly starts talking “…I have a very strange feeling. It’s like, I know this place, like I was here once in my life. But I can’t tell you why, I am really sorry, I don’t want to hide something from you.” “Don’t worry, you never gave me any reason to not trust you.” Crystal reassures Aiko and with a smile continues “And if you can’t remember then it’s, even more, a reason to try to find out what is going on here. Look the small path is continuing in that direction.” Aiko nods and starts smiling again.
They followed the patch a while longer until suddenly Aiko made a sign in direction of Crystal to stop. “What`s going on?” “There is something in front of you,” Aiko replied in a serious tone. “Are you sure, I don’t see anything.” Aiko made a small hand gesture in the direction she was looking, and a few feet in front of Crystal the air started to create wave-like ripples.

“So, someone covered this place with an illusion spell.” She says, while putting her hand through the ripples in front of her. “Let’s take a look what’s behind.” Crystal continues, while reading her daggers. “Are you ready!” Looking in direction of Aiko who started glowing, which signaled Crystal she was ready to unleash her magic against everything that might be behind this illusion. “Let’s go!”

Both carefully stepped through the wall. It felt for Crystal like stepping through a wall of water but without getting wet. When they arrived just a few seconds later on the other side, her eyes had to adjust to the bright sun. Crystal was prepared to face everything, but not what was now in front of her. Just moments ago, she was in a deep and dark forest and now she is standing at the border of a big clearing with the sun shining down. In front of her flowers where the eye can see and in the middle a few trees that surround something that looks like a building.

Crystal starts to ease down. She has never seen such a calm and quiet place. Just as she wants to put away her weapons she looks over to Aiko, who suddenly breaks out in tears and falls on her knees. Crystal drops everything and runs to Aiko concerned what happened to her. “Aiko, what’s going on, please say something, what happened?”

Aiko is sitting on her knees, her tail down and even dropping her ears, not hearing Crystal calling out to her and crying, she couldn’t hold back after seeing where they arrived. “I am home.” She silently cries. “I never thought I will see this place again.” She starts holding her hands in front of her face and just lets everything out. When Crystal arrived and dropping in front of her still screaming her name “Aiko, can you hear me, what’s going on, please say something.” Aiko can hear the concern in Crystal's voice, but the only thing she could say is again “I am home.”

Crystal quickly puts it together, she is not crying because she is hurt but she is overwhelmed seeing this place again. She takes her in her arms, holding her head in her hand and hugs her as tight as she can. “Sshh, its ok, let it out. You really scared me, I thought something happened to you, but I understand what’s going on.” In the meantime, Blaze also arrived by her side and puts his head on her leg. They stayed together for a while until Aiko calmed down.

“Thank you, Crystal, for everything. I know I am not always the best travel companion, I joke a lot and we met under not the best circumstances. But I am happy we met. I always was seen as something but never as a person. You always saw me as someone equal.” She smiled while looking at Crystal, her tears still glistering in the sun. “It's ok. I always said I am there for you and will help you. I didn’t say this because you saved my life, but I wanted to. I never had so much fun since we met, and I hope this won't stop.” Crystal replied, still sitting in front of her and holding her.

They sat a while on the flowery meadow. “So, Aiko, what is this place? You were whispering something from home.” Crystal asked. “This is, believe it or not, my first home, or better phrased the first place I settled down. I don’t know how long it was, but going from the way everything around here changed, it must have been quite a long time.”

“So, the spirit in the legends, was you?” “Looks like it,” Aiko replied. “I always wanted to help people, but spirits, especially we fox spirits always had a bad reputation. But sometimes when someone came here and prayed, I showed myself. Some fled but few stayed, and we talked. But I still don’t know why I left this place. All these illusions I put up, were more a security measure, but I don’t know why.” She nearly teared up again. Before this could happen, Crystal took her in her arms again “We will find out what happened to you, and if it takes time.” “Thank you again” Aiko replied again, her ears down and small tears in her eyes. Crystal stands slowly up and offers her hand to Aiko “Why don’t we check out your old home and you show me around.” She smiled at Aiko. “OK” Aiko replied, wiping her tears away before taking Crystals hand and standing up.

After a short walk, they arrive at the old shrine buildings. They all look like they have already seen better days. Even though all the magic that was used to keep everything in bay, time took its toll on this site. The color was fading away, one of the sheds crumpled, and the main building has lost his doors and windows to nature, but it still stands.

Aiko looks sad over her home “This was once such a great and beautiful place. But now.” “You know it's not that bad. The main building needs some renovations and the garden a little bit of trim.” What do you mean?” Aiko was a little bit confused. “I am saying we start renovating this place and building it up to become what it was before you left.” Crystal replies. “I still don’t understand?” “We need a place where we can stay, relax and plan our next steps. I have contacts all over this region, who also can keep a secret. So, what do you think?” She gives a smile at Aiko.

“Absolutely. let’s get started” replied Aiko. “But this time the bed in the bedroom is mine.” Smiling while showing off her fang.

The end of “The Shrine in the Woods”
Welcome to the first story of my writing project "Tales of a Fox and a Spirit".

I wanted to give some short words about today's story.

I will admit upfront that this story is a little bit strange to have been chosen for the first part. The Story behind it, is, that this was planned as a turning point in the big story I first wanted to write. Because this won't happen, but the idea still was floating in my head, I just had to write it down, and with some rewrites and  with cutting away some parts, I turned it to a small stand-alone story in my world, that still has to do with the overall part (even though the short stories will have something that keeps them together).

And please remind: This is only the second time I tried my luck in writing a story (and also in a foreign language), so don't expect some Shakespear work. If you have critique please feel free to comment, it can only get better when I know what was done wrong, but please keep "shit" comments away. And yes I know my stories won't be for everyone ;)
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February 12
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