~~It is believed in the Kingdom of Cheon Yeoreom (A thousand summers), that humans never caught foxes, but foxes allowed themselves to be caught by humans…~~
It was once a single tail.
She trotted happily across the country side, near the little village, paying no attention to… and not really caring about… her essence as a creature.
‘What am I?’
‘Who am I?’
These were questions she absolutely never asked herself! Much easier to be free and care about nothing… Blissfully living each day to the fullest…
Until her first kill.
It wasn’t her fault. She had been hunted by a cruel man, who even succeeded in grabbing her. Instinctively, she had lunged at his throat, and his life had flowed out from him.
She had run and run, refusing to stop. Till she reached a high mountain. She looked into a nearby lake at herself. It was a familiar sight.
But for once, she hated herself.
“I will not leave this place. I will remain here… Safe from humans, and they will be safe from me.”
It seemed easy enough. There were plenty of fishes and small animals to feast on. She even ignored the fact that she now had two tails, and lived merrily on the mountain. But then, as humans often do, a boy wondered up the mountain.
She ignored him and he ignored her. No reason not to share space. He fed from the numerous fruit trees. She happily chased her animals. Naturally, they grew a bit close as time passed.
He would stroke her fur fondly, and she would use her body, which had grown bigger, to hit big fruit trees, shaking off unreachable fruits for him. He swam further into the water to catch fishes for her, and she allowed herself to be both blanket and pillow on cold nights.
Their easy companionship continued for a while, till his attackers came looking for him.
The boy was the son of a very rich man. He would fetch plenty of money. He had run into the mountains to escape the kidnappers, but the two greedy men had tracked him for days.
With strength she didn’t know she had, she had attacked and killed them. The boy had run away in fear, while she fought, and she never saw him again. She had awoken the next day to see more tails.
She now had four.
Centuries passed, and her tails increased in number, each one harder to acquire than the last. She wasn’t really trying to get more, but after she had saved the boy, sooooo long ago now, more and more evil men had come after her.
She had changed habitats three times, learning about herself along the way. She was an ordinary fox, who had become a mythical fox, because of her own ignorance.
“You killed someone.” A five hundred year old cat had once told her.
“‘Humans never catch a fox, but foxes allow humans catch them’. Don’t you know the saying?”
“I do.” The confused fox had replied. “What does it mean?”
“It means, my child, that every fox can become a mythical creature, but they choose not to. If a fox kills a human, they are blessed with an additional tail and new strength. They become immortal beings.
“However, most foxes turn away from such a fate. Immortality, my dear, is very lonely. So, a fox, caught by a hunter, would allow itself to be killed or taken away. They would never kill the hunter.” She shook her head gravely.
“You will continue like this till you become a ‘Gumiho’, a nine-tailed fox. Then you will at least be able to mimic humans.”
“I see.” The fox replied sadly. “No one ever told me.”
“That is always the case with an abandoned fox.” The cat had said, sympathetically.
She had been more careful from that point on, and yet, her tails increased. Her very existence attracted greedy hunters, who wanted something she apparently possessed, called a ‘fox bead’. She had never seen it, but another wise old creature had told her about it.
“It is the source of all your power.” The eight hundred year old snake had hissed at her, in her four hundredth and sixtieth year. “I can see it clearly. If you lose it, my little fox, you will be destined to follow whoever has it, and if it is destroyed, you will die.”
A thousand years had passed, and she had nine complete tails. Now, she could even see her fox bead. Life had become more interesting, as she could transform into a human girl.
She would spend her days going into villages and towns to play. She even met more Gumiho, who walked amongst the humans, and she learned all she could from them.
On one of her adventures, she ran into a familiar face.
“It’s that boy.” She said to herself, staring at the grown young man. But it wasn’t possible. That was a thousand years ago. She shook herself, and would have left him alone, going on her way, but he walked up to her.
“I recognize you, Gumiho-ssi.” He bowed and walked away.
Curiosity was a dangerous thing.
“Curiosity literally killed the cat.” The wise old cat had once told her. “Never be curious about a human.”
But now she was curious.
Week in, and week out, she silently followed him, and he seemed completely oblivious to the fact. But then, on random occasions, he would turn and smile at her. Then one day, while following him, he vanished from her sight.
“Where did he go?” She wondered aloud, then jumped slightly, when she felt someone tap her shoulder. She turned to find him close. Very close.
“You’re not the only one following, or watching me, so I’ll make it clear. Go back home, or you’ll be in danger.” He turned and simply walked away, while she tried to process what happened.
After being around for a millennium, she didn’t need too much warning. Back to her mountain, she went, and there she stayed. But fate was a powerful thing.
It happened to be her mountain that he went to escape attackers, and she saved him.
He was being chased by five men. She was in her fox form when they arrived, and she attacked them so quickly, that they didn’t know how they died. He himself didn’t see anything.
“So this is how my ancestor must have felt.” He commented. “Torn between being thankful and being afraid.”
“Your ancestor?” Her two feet touched the ground again, as she transformed into a human. She had a perfect figure, wearing a simple grey temple hanbok. Her hair was vivid red. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Unfortunately, every time he had seen her before now, he had always been closely watched. Now, he did what he had always wanted to do. He boldly caressed her cheek. Her eyes widened at the strange contact.
“You are a very beautiful person…” He said, then he leaned in for a kiss…
Everything was familiar, and yet different. For starters, she could swim and catch her own fish, and he could get his own fruits. She rarely transformed into a fox, so he could neither stroke her fur, nor could she become his pillow.
Rather, he became her pillow and blanket.
They sat together for long hours each day, entertaining each other and telling tales, her, about her many years. He, about his own adventures and family.
“It was my great great great great great great- I’m not sure how many greats, but he was my ancient ancestor. He ran away from you, but he never forgot. He always said he saw visions of the future, and even drew many pictures of you… Both as a fox and a human.
“All the stories and pictures have been handed down for centuries. They look like you. I was just trying my luck that day, but your reaction told me I was right.”
“So you didn’t recognize me?”
“Your aura was strange, but everything else…except maybe your hair colour, and that atrocious temple outfit, was normal.”
“Tch! Leave my outfit alone…”
“Who are the men chasing you?” She asked several times, but he always said the same thing.
“They are dangerous men.”
She ventured down from the mountains sometimes, just to make sure no one looked for him. She didn’t know, but he often did the same thing as well, leaving tracks that led far away from them.
The men that chased him, could kill a Gumiho.
Everything changed one dark night.
They had been together for almost four years, the time going by quicker than she could imagine.
Every night of those four years, he would study an amulet, which he always wore, very carefully. She had asked him what the amulet meant, and why he studied it so religiously, but again, he replied simply.
“It was a very special gift from my father.”
That night, he studied the amulet, and his countenance changed. He tried to act like all was normal, but deep down, she knew otherwise. By the next morning, he was gone.
Three days passed, and he didn’t return. Throwing caution to the wind, she went to find him. Her sense of smell was no joke, so it was easy. Unfortunately, she also found his attackers. He was tied to a post in their midst. She listened for a while, before she went in.
“…where are their mountains? You’ve gone around protecting Gumiho, and to what end? Tell us where their mountains are.” One of the men demanded, veins popping angrily out of his neck.
“Sorry, but you will have to search each mountain one by one.” He answered in a bored voice. His family, for many generations, had the gift of finding Gumiho, or vice versa. Gumiho actually approached them, feeling safe with them, somehow.
He supposed, when his ancestor had stayed with the gumiho, she had subconsciously imprinted a bit of her essence in him. It had probably been passed down through blood.
Many tried to abuse their gift, and a few succeeded. However, many more failed, and several of his ancestors had died, refusing to aid greedy hunters like these!
“Your family has been a nuisance for generations, especially since you have this amulet. It warns you that we are coming, right? But even you could not suspect that a child would poison you… We had to be more creative. We will kill you if you don-.”
At the word ‘kill’, she entered the abandoned storage room angrily, walking slowly toward them.
“Ah! Isn’t that the revered Gumiho painted on your family wall?” One of the men commented as she approached. “In fact, wouldn’t she be the one who gave your family their unnatural talent?”
“Go back!” He shouted when he saw her. She halted her steps uncertainly. “Go back home! They can kill you-” One of the men slammed his head back to the pole.
“Why side with a mere creature, against a human?!” Another punched him in the stomach.
“Your angry frustrated faces, is enough payment-” they punched him again. “Get her!” They yelled in her direction.
She lunged at them, transforming to a red fox, as she went. They brought out strange looking arrows, but she was too fast for them. She sent all of them sprawling, then went through them again, eliminating them completely.
She changed back to a human and ran to him.
“Are you alright?” She asked and he nodded. She quickly undid the ropes. He took her hand and they ran outside. But there had been more of the men.
They were surrounded.
“Fire!” A voice shouted out, the second they came out of the building. An arrow whizzed. Stunned, She watched the arrow approach, but he grasped her shoulders, and placed himself in front of her.
She felt the arrow pierce his flesh, and he stiffened up at the impact.
“Nooooo!” She screamed. A loud, unearthly sound.
The men didn’t see it coming. One second, she had been standing behind him, partially shielded from their view. The next second, they were in agony. Without transforming, she razed through them, tearing them mercilessly apart. It was the most bloody killing she had ever done.
Feeling no form of remorse, she returned to his side, and he took her hand. She could feel his life force ebbing away slowly.
“You can’t get hit by those arrows.” He said. “They are designed with Gumiho blood, to kill you. You have to warn as many as you can find. Most don’t know about these weapons.”
She simply nodded as he spoke, tears running down her face.
“I loved you.” He said simply, and she nodded.
“Me too.” They didn’t speak again. They simply held hands, until he finally slipped away.
She took him back to the mountain, burying him there, amidst the natural beauty of, what was once, their home. Then she went to perform the task he had left her with.
She found as many Gumiho as she could, passing his message to them. She stopped when she thought she had done enough. A hundred years had passed.
On a rainy day, she removed her fox bead and placed it in his grave.
“If I could follow anyone, it should be you.” She said, as she covered the grave again. She transformed into a small fox, displaying only one tail, and went trotting, like she used to, along the country side.
This time, the hunter’s arrows were welcomed, and she didn’t even put up a fight…
The hunter was surprised to find a huge fox, where he was supposed to have shot a small one.
“Abeoji. Does it mean this fox wanted to die?” The son of the hunter asked him. He thought of the strange occurrence.
“Ye. It is almost impossible to catch a fox with a strong will to live.” Especially one this big, he mentally added.
Fifty years later…
The spring of that year was late, and the winter chill still descended on Cheon Yeoreom, mocking the meaning of the name. A lively young woman with vivid red hair, strolled absent-mindedly to the town pond. She sat on the ledge, as her maid finally reached her.
“Agashi! Please do not move so quickly!” The maid admonished panting. “It is unladylike!”
“I understand. I understand.” She said impatiently, waving her away. Her so-called fiance was supposed to pass by this way. If her father thought she would marry someone without seeing him, he was joking!
Mi Hyeon arranged her skirts around her, primly and properly, as if it wasn’t strange for a noble lady to be sitting on the ledge of the town pond. She folded her hands properly, when she heard hoofbeats.
Ju Won brought his horse to a halt, when he saw the funny sight. A young lady trying too hard, but failing, to look proper, and her exasperated maid.
“Aigoo…” He said to himself, about to turn away, but then she looked up, straight at him.
Their eyes met.
Ju Won looked away briefly. He didn’t care who his father wanted him to marry. This was the woman for him.
He stylishly jumped off his horse… why not show off a little… and headed to meet the young lady, who was hastily straightening her outfit…
Around his neck hung an odd jewel. He had found it the night before his father had suddenly arranged his marriage, to a noble lady he didn’t even know…