Beautiful did indeed seek out Anzi. Believing his bride to be at her home, he rode his carriage there once the sun had abandoned its protection of Oye for the day. Her parents disappointed him, saying they hadn’t seen her since they last saw Beautiful himself. “Very well,” he said politely. “I will find her nonetheless.”
He went knocking on every door, sliding them open and demanding entry. Ennsu and other dead men kept watch over the town to be sure no women ran from house to house and Beautiful’s search could not miss Anzi. Many homes invited him inside and he thoroughly sought out his would-be bride. At the first one that would not let him enter, he declared, “In each home that refuses to honor me, I will send my men inside to fetch the first-born, be he babe, boy, or grown man, and rip him to pieces in the street.” After that, no one refused his entry, and yet he still could not find Anzi.
At last he set to burning the houses, his men tearing down the walls and setting fire to the roofs. Then all the young women, maiden or not, were pulled into Beautiful’s carriage, which appeared much larger on the inside than the outside and fit many more women than it should have. The White Death moved from home to home again, burning the wood and stealing the women, and any who tried to run had their limbs torn away by old Ennsu and the other living dead.
Eventually, complacence set in and the villagers simply stood outside in a large cluster, watching their homes turn to ash and their daughters disappear through the iron doors beneath the black pagoda. Beautiful sent Ennsu and the other dead away to burn the sun shrine, in case Anzi was hiding there, and then took the women from the inside the hollow hill, up the eastern stairs, to an enormous chamber high up in the pagoda. Each girl was terrified into obedience by his cold, amber stare, his merciless strength, and the wretched howling and screaming that rang through the wooden halls of the black pagoda.
“Do not leave here or my wolf will find you,” Beautiful told the three dozen young women. “He will chew off your feet so you cannot run away, and then eat you slowly from ankles to head. You will either be good girls and attend me at my leisure, or you will experience every excruciating moment of being devoured.”
The women would sate his rage and hunger for a time, but he hated to appear weak and could not stand disrespect. So when he found Anzi waiting in the first floor of the black pagoda, dressed in colorful wedding garb, he could not even stomach to wed her.
“I am where I said I would be,” Anzi said, though she and he both knew she had not been there when he went looking for her, particularly not at sunset, and now it was nearly dawn.
“I would have given you eternity,” Beautiful said, touching her face tenderly. “But now I cannot even suffer to know that you will live on and on in the wild, let alone to give you the privilege of sitting by my side until I grow tired of you.” The vampire grabbed Anzi by her black hair and dragged her up the stairs, where a different chamber awaited her across from where all the other girls were kept. Chains snaked across the floor and the stench of rotting meat hung thick in the air. “You went searching for Kyne, did you? Here he is, as he is.” He thrust Anzi into the chamber and slid the door shut behind her, locking it in place with a chain.
Anzi had not anticipated being locked up in the pagoda by herself. She had hoped, in her spying on Beautiful’s goings-on in Oye when she stole her wedding garb, to be locked up with the other girls, who seemed only held captive by fear. She certainly had not anticipated finding Kyne, and her poor husband did not look like himself. His limbs swelled thicker than his chains, his face stretched like a dog’s snout, and black claws grew from his fingers and seemed to have spread up his arms, across his shoulders and back. The transformed Kyne howled and screamed painfully at her, yanking at his restraints. The chain links did not bend, but the wood around their anchors began to splinter.
The colorful wedding garb deflated in places as the fox spirits slid out, their tails waving. “Not where I had wished to be for our trick,” said Trick, the Red.
“But our laughter will be great,” said Laughter, the Golden.
“And sneaking was welcome,” said Sneak, the White, last to emerge. “And here I never thought I’d enjoy being stowed in a dress more than running on my own four paws.”
The foxes quickly set to work breaking through the sliding door and its binding chains. “We need to move quickly to the hill’s iron doors,” the Red Fox said. “If the dawn beats us, we’ll need to wait another night.”
“And then the scheme is failed,” the Golden added.
“And we’d be too ashamed to repeat it,” the White agreed.
The first of the wolfish man’s three chains broke from the floor. “What about Kyne?” Anzi asked.
“We’re here only to play with Dagshire, in return for tricking us,” said the Red. “We have no business with your husband or what he does to you once freed.”
“Then I’ll make a deal,” Anzi said, watching the drool quiver from Kyne’s wolfish maw and his claws scrape the chains and wood. The second chain snapped up from the floor. “Take men’s forms and I will marry you.”
The foxes all looked to her. “All of us?” they asked.
“The three of you, my first, second, and third. The wife of three old foxes, to trick, laugh, and sneak.”
The third chain snapped, but as Kyne charged for the door, his wife vanished from before his eyes. The foxes swirled around her, spiriting her through the unlocked opening just as Anzi had snuck them into the pagoda. Anzi and her future husbands then ran to the very bottom of the pagoda, into the hollow hill, where Anzi threw open the iron doors leading to the village. Smoke choked the dark sky and fires lit the village, but the sun had not yet risen. They still had time.
“Our last act as foxes comes, from today until your mortal death,” the Red Fox told Anzi. “Return to the women and lead them out. Kyne will be hunting his master by now.”
Anzi did as she was told while the fox spirits fulfilled their end of the secret plan outside. She went back through the iron doors into the hollow hill, up the stairs into the pagoda, and up more stairs until she found the three dozen young women and beckoned them to follow. “The White Death won’t hunt you,” she told them. “Soon he will be no more.” She led them down the eastern stairs, while the foxes moved up the western stairs so they would not meet, and Anzi and the other women left through the iron doors in the hill. “The sun is rising. We’re safe to return to our families.”
As the sun emerged from the horizon, the foxes emerged from hill and closed the iron doors beneath the pagoda, now with men’s hands, standing on men’s feet. Then the three found Anzi with the other women, traveling to the center of decimated Oye. “Now, we wait,” declared Trick, the Red-haired Man.
“We will not wait long,” said Laughter, the Golden-haired Man.
“I believe I hear it all happening now,” said Sneak, the White-haired Man.
Reaching his most private room at the top of the black pagoda, Beautiful found Kyne tearing at his bed, howling and carrying on. “I see you’ve finished your wife and are hungry for more,” the vampire said. With one swift flick of his wrists, he grasped Kyne’s head and snapped his neck. He would have Ennsu and the dead men clean the creature up when they returned. “I’m feeling a bit hungry myself. I believe I’ll have a bride.”
In his mind, he believed he had a long supply of women who might be bred or taken as he wanted, for food or fun, and he’d send one or two to the foxes as supposedly reluctant payments. He would fill Oye with new people, with more obedient girls than Anzi, and his time of rule would go on as it had for many years.
When he slid open the door to the women’s chamber, he did not find anything like the women he’d put inside. What he found was nothing like the women these new intruders had been years ago either. Their hair hung wild and black across whitened, half-naked bodies covered in sores, scratches, and torn wedding garbs. Glowing red eyes shined at Beautiful, seven-inch claws pointed at him, and his surviving brides’ mouths all hung as loose as their ripped clothing, wailing through pointed teeth and flailing their red tongues.
Illustration by Darryl Fabia.
Beautiful slid the door shut and ran, but his discarded wives broke through the wood, now aware of his presence and starving for anything—spirit, demon, blood, it didn’t matter. They chased him down the east stairs to the pagoda’s base, where he remembered the sun had come out. Then he ran up the west stairs and they chased him to the top, to his private room, where they cornered him. He fought away one, and another, but soon their claws were too much. They ripped through his nice clothing, their teeth tore through his skin, and their wailing stabbed so maddeningly at his ears that he couldn’t stand it anymore.
The highest wall of the pagoda splintered on the side facing Oye, breaking as the vampire charged through the wood. He sailed into the air, escaping the claws of his crazed wives, and he burst into flames like the houses of the village as he hurtled downward in the bright red sunlight. Inside his room, the sun’s light stretched through the hole and struck the wives. They flickered alight like their dying husband and the top of the pagoda exploded in a white-hot flare, turning the tower into a torch. All the red lanterns glowed now, and soon they would burn away.
“A beautiful end to a seedy trick,” the Red-haired Man said, taking one of Anzi’s hands.
“And we must journey and start a new village,” the Golden-haired Man said. “There will soon be demons hungry to scour this place, now that Dagshire is gone and our tricks and deals are void.”
“And it is time we wed,” the White-haired Man said, taking Anzi’s other hand. “For I see no more fitting an end to a trick than to marry the tricked one’s intended.”
The three spirits married Anzi once they crossed the burned out sun shrine, for the disciple remained, though he did not know how to bless her fate with foxes. A new village was formed elsewhere, better than Oye, for though raiders and demons sometimes came hungering, no girl had to worry each season if she would be a vampire’s bride, and there lived three spirits who relished in deceiving anyone who threatened their new home. Anzi gave them children and gave them her years. When she died, she took to living with her husbands in the wild. Her shape changed to run with them as foxes and wind through the land of a thousand demons, and together they plagued the nights of men and demons with sneaking and trickery and laughter.