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You ended up nursing a stray rabbit. She laid her back to your chest, grimacing as a dark affliction seeped from her wounds. In particular was the foot she twisted when scrabbling over the forest hills—it secreted yellow filth and swelled twice over; the limb was worse than useless. But even if she survived her wounds and ailments, the miasma that she took in and breathed out would consume her in due time.
Still, it was only fair that she should live long enough to see the demise of her assailants, so you eased her pain by providing her physical foundation to lean on. Her condition was rougher than she had initially let on: Inaba, after an attempt to move her wounded foot, bit on a bloody sleeve to muffle her cries of anguish. She did not mind that she found herself resting under the warmth of a curse god, but perhaps that was because there were no other alternatives.
“Who are your enemies?” you asked, awaiting the inevitable footsteps to come.
“...Hunters,” the rabbit said through gritted teeth. “Of the East. They’ve come to find the youkai that had ransacked their village.”
“This ‘youkai’—was it you?”
“No!” she said vehemently, then wincing after. “It was not us,” she reaffirmed, tempering her spirit. “We rabbits do not put needlessly put ourselves into conflict. But youkai or not, it doesn’t matter—they are chasing down all the rabbits in the forest.”
“Ever the same, foolish humans,” you laughed in derision. “I need no more explanation than that. Why waste time trying to figure out why humans do the things they do? But they shall regret the day that they set foot into my domain.”
“This forest is your domain?”
“The forest was my domain the moment I set foot inside it. And inside is my property.” You stared at the wounded youkai before you. “Henceforth, you are my property, doubly so since you have sworn yourself to me. Should you continue to amuse me, you shall remain that way.” The once unceasing footsteps had been reduced to trudging, lumbering stomps. “And let it be known that I do not like others touching what is mine.”
A force of humans finally arrived to the chase—you did not count but it was no more than a dozen. The men, simply put, were a consort of fools. They had no priests, no priestess, no miko and, despite their numbers, had nothing but raggedy weapons. Sticks, they effectively had, against youkai. It was no wonder they pursued this Inaba with wild conviction: The rabbits were all they could hunt.
You set Inaba down and walked forward. Who would be the foolhardy one to brandish his weapon first? The answer was: no one. Not a single human braced for battle. No, they dared not move once you caught them with your eyes. Did they think, that if they did not move, then you’d find your attention wandering to more interesting sights?
“Why are you here, humans.”
There was only the silence of to-be dead men.
“Humans. Do not fail to answer me again. I said, ‘Why are you here?’”
“I—W-We—!” A man cried before his answer dissolved to foamy gargles. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes, but the hunter could not blink them away as his body jerked and stiffened. The whites of his eyes ballooned to a swollen pink. Yet, despite the harsh irritation, the man, unwillingly so, put a hand to his eyes and scratched. He scratched an itch that did not exist, and yet it was not enough for the man. Eventually, his senses left him until he was no more than a writhing specimen for the rest of the hunters to see.
The men were at odds: Their continued silence would cost them their lives. Yet the one who spoke first died. Then, all at once, their formation crumbled. Few knelt in prostration, while many others turned-face and discarded their companions to flee.
Disgusting. To think that they would leave their brethren behind to run to safety. But they could not run. It mattered not how far they traveled—the moment they took in the miasma, they were under your grasp. All with their tails between their legs fell to the earth, a thick black fog enveloping their bodies. Wicked shrieks echoed through the lands. And when the fog dissipated from the bodies, all that was left were viscous pools of blood, waste, and regurgitation.
“Rise,” you commanded. “And you are required to answer no more. I do not care now.”
The ones who put their heads to the floor stood back up shakily.
“For your respect, you are all allowed die harmlessly.”
The remaining ones nodded out of dull acceptance; a few wept to themselves.
A hunter lifts his head. “Why do you do this? Why do you continue to curse our lands, O White Wolf of the West?”
“I need not explain myself,” you reply. “I am a god. And I shall not waste my time with mortal reasoning.”
“May you be forever scorned!” a second hunter screams. “May you suffer the same fate as those that have deserted us! Curse you, Wicked White Wolf! Curse you, you limb-ripper, you venomous snake, you cruel, cruel executioner!”
You nodded, and so, they all fell—all but one. The very last human, the one weeping like a child, was left. It was not that the human wept like a child: They were a child, so it was more exact to say that they wept as they should.
“No,” said a voice softly. It was from behind: Inaba, struggling to prop herself up with her beaten hands, spoke. “Do not. Not him.”
You stared at her. “Should they not all perish?”
“He,” Inaba rasped, “is like one of us. A rabbit. Look at the boy.”
The child was an indiscernible age, but it was true that he stood several heads below the rest. All the boy used his weapon for was to keep himself standing. Even without your help, the boy looked like he was a moment’s away from death. Skin, bones, and a ghastly complexion. The only color on the boy’s face were his eyes and cheeks, pink from weeping.
“They—they told me that Mother and Sister would get food, lots of food, if I joined. They said, ‘You’ll be paid well, Kota’ and things but I didn’t really pay attention.” He rattled on. “I didn’t know—I couldn’t have known—I didn’t even know about weapons, and, and, and… hunting. I don’t know lot of things. They said catching something. I thought—food. It, it, it… it wasn’t.”
Inaba looked to you. Her eyes warmed to a deep, crimson sympathy.
“Hah.” You grinned. “You humor me so, Rabbit of Inaba. And here, I thought you’d spare no witnesses.” Moving to the boy, you placed a hand to his shoulder. The dark mist around him scattered. He was now free. “Go back to your village. Tell them what I have done to your companions. Then lie and embellish—as much as you can. Speak of the Cursed White Wolf and do not stop speaking. Preach of his powers, his curses, and it does not matter if it does not make sense or is the truth. So long as you do not stop preaching. You do that, and you shall go free. But don’t think to disobey, because I shall know. And if any villager dares touch a rabbit again, then they shall answer to oblivion. You may go.”
He nodded and scampered away, wasting no time to his escape.
And then you were left with a wounded rabbit.