“Geez- Just my luck…” muttered Ruri Fukumoto, leaning back glumly against the trunk of the leafy tree she was huddled under.
A sunshower, of all things. She hadn’t expected to get hit by one on her way to the store. The rain began pouring down so violently, she was forced to take cover in a thicket of cedars near Koho shrine, a small, aging structure built out of red-painted wood. Apparently, it was dedicated to a local animal deity, though Ruri couldn’t remember the name.
Sighing deeply, she fingered the hems of her soaked blouse. “Guess I’ll just go back when this rain stops.”
She couldn’t go to the store drenched like this, after all. Hopefully Amane and Shou weren’t too worried about her at home, considering they had seen her leave that morning without an umbrella.
The cold water pooled inside her shoes was making her feet sore, her wet bangs were sticking uncomfortably to her face, and even as she sat waiting under the tree for more than ten minutes, this crazy, sunny cloudburst showed no signs of letting up anytime soon. It was bizarre, really, how the sky was still bright-blue despite the torrents of rain flooding the ground.
Right now, poor Ruri could do nothing but stare blankly into space, her legs having gone numb from crouching for so long. At this rate, she knew she was going to catch the flu. Her tired eyes were even starting to make her see things: orbs of pale, white lights seemed to be floating in the distance.
The 9-year-old blinked in surprise. Somehow, the lights looked like they were coming closer. Although faint, she could also hear the shrill sound of flutes and the steady beating of drums mixed with the falling rain. It didn’t take long for her to realize that both the will-o’-wisps and curious music were slowly nearing Koho shrine.
"What's going on...?"
Startled as she was, this wasn't Ruri's first time facing strange phenomena, so she felt calm enough to run over to a larger cedar to hide herself. There she sat hugging her knees and bating her breath, hoping the grove was dense enough to conceal her from whatever this was.
Good grief! That's what I get for hanging around an empty shrine in this weird weather! Seriously, this is creepy!
She bit her lip to keep her frantic thoughts from coming out verbally, not wanting to imagine what could happen if she made any noise.
The ghostly lights were only a few feet away now. Footsteps were echoing across the stone path to the shrine, matching the rhythm of the drums and flutes. Judging from the volume, it sounded like there were many people walking towards the building, but Ruri couldn't hear anyone talking at all.
Curiosity always killed the cat. Deciding to risk it a little, she slowly peeked out from behind the tree.
A procession of kimono-clad figures were making their way through the trees, two pairs at the front and back carrying paper lanterns on sticks. The four near the front were dressed completely in black with eboshi caps on their heads, while the six near the back were wearing white robes over red trousers. Musicians on either side of the parade were playing reed flutes and beating small taiko drums. The tallest of the group was walking in the middle, holding a scarlet, paper umbrella over a snowy-white figure, whose face was hidden by a silken hood.
That's, a bride?
Indeed, the white figure was wearing a Japanese bridal costume, with the customary over-robe, obi sash, and large hood. It became clear that Ruri was witnessing a traditional wedding procession, which explained why they were heading towards Koho shrine. The groom, his family, and the priest were probably waiting there for the bride's arrival.
Still, a wedding in this downpour? Even if these figures really were spirits, Ruri doubted any creature would wish to get married on such a rainy day. She strained to get a better look without being noticed.
Her brown eyes widened when she glimpsed what was sticking out from the bottom of the figures' clothes.
Wait, aren't those things-?
Fox tails. Those were definitely fox tails. But none of the silent figures seemed to have snouts, at least from what Ruri could tell at this distance. The ones holding the lamps looked pretty much human, save for the tips of their furry tails poking out of their trousers.
Everyone in Japan knew fox spirits possessed various skills, including those of shape-shifting, possibly thanks to their connection with the ancient god of agriculture, Inari. Perhaps that's what these foxes were doing, in order to look less suspicious to outsiders.
Now that I think about it, sunshowers are called "fox weddings" sometimes, aren't they?
Many legends mentioned how rain falling from a clear sky signified the marriage of two foxes. At any rate, spying on spirits could result in incurring their wrath for generations, especially if they happened to be in a foul mood or in the midst of a sacred ritual. Ruri stopped peeking at the procession and shut her eyes, quietly waiting for the foxes to finish their ceremony.
After what felt like hours, the sunshower finally stopped, the music immediately faded away, and when Ruri stepped out of her hiding place, there was no longer anyone in sight. Without wasting a minute, the soaking wet and rightfully disgruntled child began running back home before another fox decided to lose their single status that morning.