Daughter of The Moon
“Sora?” Her sister’s voice was like the wind through reeds. “Sora? Are you in here?”
Sora said nothing, just barely flinching when the door slid open, baring her to light. Warm hands rested on her shins as Mio edged closer.
“What’s wrong, Nee-chan?”
The voices outside burst with volume, her parents unable to keep their argument from little ears. While the words were muffled, Sora had heard them many times before.
Mio sighed, sitting cross-legged in front of her and resting her doll-like face in her hands. “You’re worried about the full moon.”
Her shoulders shook, fingers digging further into her calves. She nodded against the caps of her knees.
“What if nothing happens?” Sora whispered. “You know what the legends say.”
The legends had been little more than family history when Sora was a child, sitting on her father’s lap as he explained about the Tanin, those who were Other. There were the Amabie, the sea people whose scales reflected the water of their birth, and the Furi, whose tails enabled them to climb tall trees and eat the high-bearing fruit, and even the Inugami, who would follow their wards with wagging tails and panting mouths. Their family was of a different clan, the Kitsune, the impish foxes that gave good luck and misfortune alike.
“All the Tanin have gifts,” her father had explained. “But, only the women can transform, become the creatures that are our souls.”
“Why is that, Tou-san?” Sora had asked.
“It is the moon,” Her mother had answered from the kitchen, bearing cups of tea. “Women have moon’s blood, and thus are guided by its call. Men do not have moon’s blood, and so are not pulled by the moon as women are. That is why women can become fully Tanin when they bleed for the first time.”
Sora startled, fear curdling her blood. “Bleeding? Why bleeding? Does it hurt?”
Tou-san laughed, ruffling her hair.
“You don’t have to worry about that, my son.” His words were stones in the pit of Sora’s stomach. “That is something for the women to worry about.”
Seven years later, sitting in her closet, Sora was still worried. She worried about whether her parents would let her keep her long hair, which she like to tie in a loose bun at the nape of her neck. She worried about the three hairs on her chest, sprouted between two flat planes that refuse to bud. She worried about her grades and the kids in school who weren’t sure how to address her and her teachers who kept saying, “He’ll grow out of it.”
Most of all, she was worried that the moon would never call to her blood.
“Ah, little sister,” Mio sighed, resting their foreheads together. “The legends are legends for a reason.”
“But, it’s not fair!” Sora sobbed. “You had your first moon two years ago and Tou-san and Kaa-san were so proud of you, Mio. You’re the prettiest Kitsune they had ever seen, they said.”
“But, then there’s me,” Sora continued, tears burning her cheeks. “And, they get angry when I say watashi rather than boku. They push me into soccer and baseball, even though they know I hate it. They keep trying to get me to cut my hair!”
“Hey,” Mio interrupted. Fingers pressed against Sora’s chin, forcing her to meet her sister’s eyes, dark brown and warm. “You’re my sister, right?”
Sora’s chin bobbed.
“That’s what matters, then.” Mio pressed a soft kiss against her forehead. “Kaa-san and Tou-san can say whatever they like. You’re the one who best knows your own self. Well, you and the moon.”
Her stomach squirmed, fear gurgling. “But, what if I don’t change?”
Rising to her feet, Mio held out her hand, and Sora found herself once again standing.
“That doesn’t make you any less you.”
When Mio and Sora emerged from their room, their parents immediately fell quiet, the angry words still heating the air between them. The silence echoed throughout dinner, and Sora felt her parents’ eyes on her even as she stared into her soba.
“When does the gathering start?” Mio asked.
“Sometime around eight,” Kaa-san finally answered, though it felt pulled from her mouth like taffy. “The girls that have come of age will be presented first, of course, and then we’re free to change as we wish.”
Tou-san’s brow furrowed in thought. “I think Taki’s girl will be coming forward. And, maybe Yume, you know, the grocer’s daughter? She seems to be about the right age.”
“What about Sora?”
The clink of her father’s glass on the table was like a bomb going off. “I don’t see what Sora has to do with this.”
Sora’s hands trembled; she hid them in her lap. Next to her, Mio’s mouth was set in a petulant line, her eyes flashing yellow.
“You said all the girls that have come of age,” Mio snapped. “That includes Sora.”
Kaa-san coughed into her hand, as if Mio’s words were caught in her throat and choking her. “We’ve been through this,” she began. “Sora is a special child, and this phase of his will soon come to an end.”
“He knows better,” Tou-san agreed. “Don’t you, son?”
That word punctured her chest, and Sora wanted to press her hands against the wound, keep the blood from dripping down her ribs. She knew what her father wanted her to say, but the words burned like acid in her mouth and they couldn’t get past her teeth. Beside her, Sora could feel her father begin to vibrate with temper, his hands clenching into fists on the kitchen table.
Before Sora could say anything, Mio’s hands slapped down on the table.
“Stop calling her your son,” Mio snarled. Her ears were pointed and ruffed with red fur. “Sora doesn’t like it and you know it.”
“I call him what he is,” Tou-san barked. “He is my son and he always will be.”
“Sora is a girl!” Mio’s claws raked against wood. “And, she knows herself a lot better than you do.”
“You have no right to speak to your father that way,” Kaa-san bristled. “Your father and I are Sora’s parents, not you.”
“Then listen to her!” Mio begged. “She’s been trying to tell you for years, but you won’t listen!”
A chair clattered to the floor as Tou-san surged to his feet, his eyes fully gold and blunt teeth bared. “He is a boy and it’s about time he started acting like it!”
Three heads turned as Sora stared down at her lap, her mouth still warm from where the outburst had blazed through. When she looked up, her eyes burned blue.
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.” Her voice was snow-cold. “Don’t talk like who I am is something you can fight over. Who I am is not for you to decide.”
Kaa-san tried first. “But, Sora, we just want you to understand-”
“I know what you want to me understand,” Sora chewed out. Her teeth were suddenly too large for her mouth. “But, you’ve never asked me, have you? You ask my teachers and my coaches and the neighbors, but you never ask me.”
Tou-san had slowly slumped back into his chair, his eyes dark brown again. “But, Sora—”
“And, you know why?” There was no answer. “You never ask me because you know what I’ll say. You know I’ll tell you the truth, and that’s something you’ve never wanted to hear.”
Fingers laced through her own, and Sora managed to give Mio a small smile. “My sister asked. She listened to my answer.” She turned back to her parents. “Will you do the same?”
The silence was answer enough. Sora pushing her bowl away and rose from the table. She almost made it out of the kitchen before her feet stopped beneath her.
“I’ll see you beneath the moon tomorrow,” she finished, lingering just for a moment before hiding herself in her room.
She did not unearth herself the next day, content to spend it catching up on reading and ignoring the heated words once again seeping through the thin walls of the house. Mio brought in her lunch and had elected to stay, cuddling up against her in bed and playing on her phone. When there was finally a knock at the door, Mio’s head was on her stomach and Sora’s fingers were tracing spirals through her hair.
“Come in,” she said, refusing to look away from the words on the page.
The door creaked open. “It’s time,” her mother informed them.
The car ride out to the country was a silent one. The windows were down and warm summer air washed over her. Sora kept her gaze outward, counting the soft lights of fireflies waking up to welcome the sunset. Like an anchor, Mio’s hand threaded with hers kept her from drifting too far. Kaa-san and Tou-san said nothing, not even to acknowledge their arrival as they pulled up to the wooded clearing.
The shrine had stood watch over the woods for hundreds of years, the stone fox guarding its front almost smiling at Sora as she passed. Adults milled around, catching up on the latest gossip while their children chased after each other in the fading light. One of the men turned, waving them over.
“Hello there!” Yamada-san greeted. “How was the ride over?”
“Fine enough,” Tou-san answered. “Has Kimoto-sama started the gathering?”
Bells sounded throughout the clearing; all heads turned.
“It seems she is starting now,” Yamada-san pointed out. “We best not be late.”
Sora followed the others further into the clearing, where the grass was short and brushed with yellow flowers. The clan formed a large circle, and in the center was Kimoto-sama. Her cane was held firmly in her wrinkled fist, her eyes already slitted and glowing amber.
“Welcome, my kin,” she announced, her voice creaking like an old tree in a storm. “Once again, the full moon is upon us. We celebrate our connection to the earth, our bodies raised from the dirt. We celebrate the wind, the howl of it that surges in our bones. We have the hearts of beast, fierce and strong. We are Kitsune!”
The air hummed around them, small currents of electricity caressing Sora’s skin. She shivered, her pulse thrumming in her temples like a drum beat.
Kimoto-sama opened her hand. “Let the kits come forward.”
Two girls took hesitant steps into the clearing. Sora knew the long-limbed Sasuki from math class, and she once had shared a train ride with Yume after a class trip. Both stood in front of Kimoto-sama, their hands clasped in front of them and eyes lowered to the ground.
“My children,” the old one began, “both of you have had your first moon’s blood?”
A blush smeared their cheeks before they both nodded.
“Then, you know what will happen?”
Sasuki was the first to look up. “We will hear the moon’s call,” she stuttered. “We will hear it and become Kitsune for the first time.”
The old one nodded. “Indeed, you shall.” She gestured upwards to the tops of the trees. “Can you feel it now? The humming of the old magic? It sings in your skin, a song that you have always known.”
Somewhere, Sora could hear chimes; they whistled through her veins and echoed in her knees.
“The scent of the earth follows you,” Kimoto-sama continued. “It is on every breath you take, seeking refuge in your lungs.”
Sora gasped, the heavy aroma of moss and loam soaking her mouth. She could almost feel vines curling through her chest, blossoming between her ribs.
“You are daughters of the moon.” The old one’s voice rose upwards like a prayer. “The moon is in your blood and claims you as its own.”
Something deep with Sora’s heart howled, radiating through her like thunder. One of her feet edged forward, then another, then another. Soon, she was walking to the center of the clearing, to the old one and her outstretched hands. Whispers sounded around her, rustling like the sharpened breeze through leaves.
“What is that? Isn’t that Tsuji-san’s boy?”
“What’s that boy doing?”
“He dares to interrupt Kimoto-sama?”
Their words sluiced over her like the babble of a brook, cool against her heated skin. Kimoto-sama’s wizened face turned, her amber gaze locking onto every step. Fear seared through her, her steps stuttering for that sharp second. But the old one only smiled, beckoning her forward.
“You are Kaede’s child, are you not?”
Sora did not dare glance over her shoulder, could not bear to see her mother’s face. “I am,” she whispered.
Kimoto-sama tilted her head, assessing. “There are some who would say you are their son.”
Sora could only nod.
Like a crack of lightning, the old one laughed. Bright and bold as the full moon, echoing upwards to the trees until they seemed to part. The clearing was bathed in pale light, and it struck Sora like a bell ringing. Fire churned in the pit of her stomach, but it did not burn. It spread through her, sinking deep into dark places that she had dared not look and filling them with warmth. Her eyes closed, sinking deep into that feeling, her blood rushing until her heartbeat was all she could here.
When she opened her eyes, the world had changed.
The scent of maple and pine flooded her, sharpened with the sweet smell of earth. Movement caught the corner of her eye; the bright, black eyes of a rabbit shone between grass blades before tearing off into the underbrush. Instincts reared upwards, desperate to chase it. She took three quick leaps forward before stumbling to a halt, as the trees loomed upwards so much taller than before. Her breaths were fast, nostrils flaring. A branch cracked, and she jumped backwards to see Kimoto-sama kneeling before her, smiling.
“Look at you,” she breathed. A wrinkled hand reached forward. “You are truly beautiful, daughter.”
Her heart skipping, Sora finally looked down. Instead of hands, she saw delicate paws digging into the earth. She turned, smacking into a plumed tail as white as snowfall. Joy lit up inside her, bright as moonlight. Yipping, she nuzzled the old one’s hand before tearing around the clearing, howling in celebration. Other voices joined her, and Sora saw the two other girls, ash-gray and fiery red, zipping past. She chased after them for only a moment before something barreled into her. When she looked up, a cream-colored Kitsune was smiling above her. Sora grumbled good-natured as Mio groomed her, paying special attention to her ears and cheeks.
I knew. Mio’s voice was like an echo in her mind. I knew you were my sister. You always have been.
Sora, even as she loped behind her sister like a bolt of white lightning, knew that this was not the end. She knew that her parents would still have trouble accepting the truth, the walls still holding witness to their words as they stumbled to call her daughter. She knew that the strange looks would only get stranger, and the gossip even more hushed. She knew that each day would be a battle for the world to recognize her for what she was.
Sora knew, racing through the woods of her clan and all the Kitsune before her, that this was not the end. It was only the beginning.
She raised her voice, howling upwards for the moon to hear.
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