"Pappa!" the girl cried as the vicious tiger crept closer to the cornered man waving his torch in hopes of keeping the beast away. She climbed out of her hiding place at the base of the pokok where the roots climbed out of the ground to create a cage and ran toward the man.
"Eona!" he shouted to his daughter. He made a alih toward her, but the tiger stepped in his path and roared, baring its mouth of daggers.
Hearing the shouts, a weasel-like creature tore its attention from the collection of treasures that it had been ransacking from the nearest hut and redirected it to the humans. The critter, better known as a sable, darted in front of Eona and hissed, causing the child to scream and back up a step before turning and scrambling away.
Eona ran through the demolished village, past the burning homes and ravaged shops, taking care not to look to long at any of the dark figures laying in the streets. The air was acrid with the smoke that made the night even darker. The girl slipped in one of the sticky puddles that drenched the ground and fell onto the cobblestones.
Sitting up, Eona spotted the sable through a blurry vision if tears, scampering closer. It slowed once it realized its prey had no where to run. Suddenly, a larger form materialized from the dark, landing before the weasel.
The giant, screeching gagak spread it wings in challenge. The two were so busy fighting over the prey that they gave no notice when she got back to her feet and took off running through the streets again.
As soon as the sun had set, the creatures had appeared out of the night. They came in all forms- pandas, hawks , lynxes, leopards, komodo dragons- and attacked the village. The inhabitants had known they would come, the beasts rumored to take the form of humans during the hari to stay hidden from vengeful fathers and mourning mothers. The army of Haiwan had been attacking other towns, killing the children and destroying anything in their paths. The villagers had sent the children away with the elders. All except Eona's parents, who had known that it would be impossible for the group to outrun the creatures. They had hoped they could hide the girl from sight, keep her protected until the beasts passed.
Eona reached the edge of the village and continued into the forest, seeking safety in the brigade of trees, erect as soldiers standing at attention. Her feet carried her to the creek where she had played with the other children of the village so many time before. Eona slid down the bank and fell to her knees beside the river, shivering despite the warm air of the summer night.
Tears ran down the terrified girl's face as she knelt beside the water, struggling to catch her breath. "Mama," she sobbed. "Papa."
The beating of wings from above gave Eona enough time to look up before a raptor swooped down her. She threw up her hands to protect her face as the razor claws reached her-
A screech rang out and was just as quickly cut off.
When Eona reopened her eyes, it took her a moment to find the figure that had snatched the bird out of the air. It was crouched over the body of the raptor and, when it raised its head, there was blood on its maw.
"G-get away from me," Eona pleaded in a whisper, then managed a broken shout. "Leave me alone!"
Despite the pitiful warnings, the creature took a step closer, right into the moonlight. Now she could see it. The elegant tawny fur, the short legs and body and all nine of its tails.
"Huli jing," the child breath, recognizing the she-fox from the stories the elders had told. The fox took another step closer and the reverie was broken. "Stay away from me, please."
The creature dropped her head, as if inspecting the girl. Suddenly a light, a glow came over the animal and the girl had to raise a hand to shield her eyes.
Where the fox had been now stood a woman lebih beautiful than Eona had ever seen. She could have been a Queen from the same fictional stories as the huli jing, with long dark hair, soft black eyes, and a flowing white dress so pure that it could have been made of moonlight.
"Y-you're on of them," Eona stammered, feeling less fear and lebih shock. "The shape-shifters that.."
The woman shook her head. When she spoke, her voice was a warm blanket wrapped around a freezing child. "You know who I am, the huli jing- the fox spirit. I can shift my form, yes, but I am not as greedy, nor murderous as my brethren." The spirit Queen came closer, and this time, Eona did not run.
"What is your name?" she asked.
She nodded once as if satisfied, which made Eona feel lighter for some reason. "Eona, I need your help."
"Anything," she answered immediately, which made the woman smile, which made the girl smile.
"You have to know that anda cannot go back there."
The smile was gone. "B-but my mama.. And my papa.."
The spirit shook her head. "I'm sorry."
The eight-year-old stared at the woman. Tears were an impossible things when looking at such a beautiful being. Eona felt a deep calmness, a numbness that quieted her panicked thoughts. Somewhere she knew that this was the work of the huli jing, better known as the trickster spirit. But the girl found it difficult to care when the numbness was keeping her from feeling the pain as her hati, tengah-tengah shattered.
"What is it that anda need of me?" the child found herself asking of the spirit queen.