Shadow of The Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1)

By: Julie Kagawa

Excitement fluttered. A dozen or so yellow monkeys lived within the branches of an ancient cedar that rose above all other trees in the forest. On clear days, if one climbed to the very top, one could see the whole world, from the tiny farming village at the base of the mountains all the way to the distant horizon. Whenever I found myself at the top of that tree, swaying with the monkeys and the branches, I would gaze over the multicolored carpet stretching away before me and wonder if today would be the day I’d be brave enough to see what lay beyond the skyline.

I never was, and this afternoon would be no different. But at least I wouldn’t be here, waiting for an angry Denga-san to shove a broom into my hands and tell me to sweep every flat surface in the temple. Including the yard.

Drawing back from the statue, I turned around...and came face-to-face with Master Isao.

I yelped, jerking back and hitting the stone lantern, which was bigger and heavier than I and obstinately refused to budge. The ancient, white-bearded monk smiled serenely under his wide-brimmed straw hat.

“Going somewhere, Yumeko-chan?”

“Um...” I stammered, rubbing the back of my head. Master Isao wasn’t a large man; thin and spindly, he stood a head shorter than me when he was wearing his wooden geta clogs. But no one in the temple was more respected, and no one had such control over his ki as Master Isao. I’d seen him chop a tree in half with a flick of his hand, and punch a giant boulder into rubble. He was the undisputed master of the Silent Winds temple, able to quiet a room of strong-willed ki practitioners just by appearing. Though he never raised his voice or appeared angry; the harshest expression I’d ever seen him make was a mild frown, and that had been terrifying.

“Ano...” I stammered again, as his bushy eyebrows rose in patient amusement. No use in lying, Master Isao always knew everything about everything. “I was...going to visit the monkey family in the forest, Master Isao,” I confessed, figuring that was the least of my crimes. I wasn’t exactly forbidden to leave the temple grounds, but the monks certainly didn’t like it when I did. The amount of chores, training and duties they imposed on me when I was awake indicated that they tried to keep me busy whenever possible. The only free time I could get was usually stolen, like today.

Master Isao only smiled. “Ah. Monkeys. Well, I am afraid your friends will have to wait a bit, Yumeko-chan,” he said, not sounding angry or surprised at all. “I must borrow your time for a moment. Please, follow me.”

He turned and started around the pond, heading toward the temple. I dusted off my sleeves and fell into step behind him, down the bamboo trail dappled by sun and green shadows, past the singing stones where the breeze hummed playfully through the holes worn into the rocks, and over the red arched bridge that spanned the stream. A drab brown bird flitted to the branches of a juniper tree, puffed out its chest and filled the air with the beautiful, warbling song of a nightingale. I whistled back at him, and he gave me an indignant look before darting into the leaves.

The trees opened up, the foliage falling away, as we walked past the tiny rock garden with its meticulously raked sand, and up the steps of the temple. As we entered the dim, cool hall, I spotted Nitoru glaring at me across the room, and dared a cheeky wave, knowing he would not approach while I was with Master Isao. I’d probably be sweeping the steps until next winter, but the look on the monk’s face was worth it.

Master Isao led me through several narrow hallways, passing individual rooms on either side, until he slid back a door panel and motioned me through. I stepped into a familiar room, small and neat, empty but for a large standing mirror on the opposite wall and a hanging wall scroll beside it. The scroll depicted a massive dragon soaring over a raging sea, and a tiny boat tossed by the waves beneath it.

I masked a sigh. I’d been in this room a few times before, and the ritual that followed was always the same. Knowing what Master Isao wanted, I walked lightly across the tatami mats and knelt in front of the mirror, the only one in the entire temple. Master Isao followed and settled himself beside it facing me, his hands in his lap. For a moment, he sat there, eyes serene, though it felt like his gaze passed right through me to the wall behind my head.