The Shadow Fox
Chapter 1 The Prophecy
Mack led the group into the living room just as Jiichan was emerging from the kitchen, carrying the teapot and eight porcelain teacups on an antique tray.
A moment later Fiona and Yara, the two waterborne Changers, arrived together.
Fiona looked in Mack’s direction and raised her eyebrows. Did you learn anything else about the golden kitsune? she thought to him. Another useful ability Changers had was being able to speak telepathically to each other. It came in handy when they were all in their animal forms and speaking English, or even just speaking out loud, wasn’t exactly an option.
For the last few months, Fiona had tried to help Mack find more information about the golden kitsune in an ancient book of Changer history known as The Compendium. It had family trees, the locations of Changer bases, and detailed accounts of Changer battles, but the book only allowed certain people to read certain pages. It never really gave you the whole picture, much like the First Four.
Nothing yet, Mack thought back, still feeling frustrated.
Fiona gave him a sympathetic smile and joined the group around the coffee table, where Jiichan was carefully pouring tea for each of them.
Mack and his friends had waited a long time for this day. Fiona’s eyes sparkled with curiosity while Gabriella, a superathlete in both her human and Changer forms, was ready to leap into action and do whatever needed to be done. Even Darren, who’d had doubts about his new Changer life, waited a little impatiently to hear what the First Four had to say.
The First Four exchanged pleasantries about the weather and sipped their tea. It was all Mack could do
not to shout, Spill it already! Tell us about the prophecy, but he knew that would only slow everything down and upset his grandfather.
Ms. Therian caught Jiichan’s eye and nodded. “It’s time, Akira,” she said.
“Before we begin,” Jiichan addressed Mack, Gabriella, Darren, and Fiona, “I want to be sure that each of you is ready. Once you embark upon this path, there is no turning back. You’ll be more than Changers; you’ll be leaders in training. That’s not something you can walk away from. It’s also something we’d hoped to delay for a few more years, but as Yara would say—”
“The cat’s out of the bag,” Yara finished.
In the tense silence that followed, Jiichan’s dark eyes took in each of the younglings, one at a time. Fiona nodded solemnly, as did Gabriella. Darren hesitated and then did the same.
“I’m ready,” Mack said. “No turning back.”
Ms. Therian stood and carefully reached into her satchel, pulling out an exquisitely carved box made of silver maple. Mack recognized it immediately. It was the box that held the Changing Stone—the stone that
had revealed their Changer abilities to them on the first day of school.
There was total silence as she lifted the box’s lid and removed the large, round moonstone from the folds of midnight-blue silk. Mack remembered that it had been forged by magic thousands of years ago. A non-magical person looking at it would simply see a beautiful gemstone, milky-white streaked with color, like a giant opal. But when a Changer gazed into it, the stone revealed his or her true form.
But they knew all about their Changer forms now. . . . Why did they need the stone again? “We already know—” Mack blurted.
Ms. Therian’s eyes on his were enough to make him be quiet. More waiting, he thought.
“Stand with me and put your hands on the stone,” she said. “All together.”
Mack, Fiona, Darren, and Gabriella did as she asked. Then the First Four filled the spaces in between them and started to do the same. The whole thing was a little awkward, almost like a team huddle. But as soon as Jiichan, the last of them, placed his fingers on the stone,
it began to emit a shimmering light that pulsed and quivered. The magic drew him in, until Mack could feel the room around him falling away. All was dark. It was as though Mack had been transported somewhere else.
What is this? Mack wondered. Even though he couldn’t see anyone else, he thought he could still sense the presence of the others nearby. Where on Earth are we?
Mack’s thoughts were interrupted by the sight of a beautiful and ethereal woman, stepping out of the darkness. Her white robes fluttered against her dark skin as her long coiled hair swirled. Then, with a flick of her wrist, a scene began to materialize around him. That’s when Mack noticed her eyes—bright amber eyes that seemed to hold all the peace and joy and magic in the world.
Mack barely had time to wonder who she was when many voices began to talk in unison. Without anyone telling him, Mack knew in his heart that the voices were those of every Changer leader who had ever lived, speaking as one.
“In the beginning, when mankind was in its infancy, there was a woman named Circe. Circe wasn’t like other
humans. She could see and feel the magic that flowed through our world, and harness it. She used her magic to do good, creating abundance and prosperity for all who knew her.”
Mack watched as the woman he guessed was Circe calmed the stormy waters of the ocean, saved villagers from a mudslide, stopped a war, and healed the sick. Everywhere she went, it seemed, peace and happiness blossomed.
“As time passed, Circe found that she didn’t age like other humans did. In fact, she didn’t seem to age at all. Her gifts became stronger with time, and she decided to awaken those gifts in others. She took on five apprentices and taught them how to wield magic, but one of them, a girl named Morwyn, was the most powerful.”
Mack watched as the five apprentices joined hands with Circe, and then one—Morwyn—stepped into the center of the circle. Morwyn had bright eyes, similar to Circe, but somehow, this feature didn’t instill the same peace in Mack as Circe had. Morwyn’s eyes were also angry and defiant. Mack felt a shiver of uneasiness creep up his spine.
After a brief pause, the voices continued.
“When they were ready, the five apprentices moved throughout the world. Four of them used their magical abilities for good, as Circe had. But Morwyn was different.
“Morwyn didn’t want to use her magic for the benefit of mankind; instead she used her magic to inflict pain and turn normal humans, whom she believed to be inferior, into her servants.”
Mack watched a trail of people stumble across a hot desert, following Morwyn. Their expressions—sad and frightened—made Mack want to turn away from the scene.
The Changer leaders continued their story. “When Morwyn’s fellow apprentices heard tales of the terror she had wrought, they threw themselves at Circe’s feet and begged her to make them stronger so that they could defeat Morwyn. But Circe knew that to defeat Morwyn, normal magic wouldn’t be enough. So Circe dug deeper, and awoke in her four apprentices something greater—a magic that was transformative—Changer magic.”
Mack watched with amazement as the four
apprentices transformed—one into a kitsune like him, another into a spider, and the last two into a bear and a sea serpent, respectively.
“With this new power the apprentices became the first Changers. They took on animal forms and defeated Morwyn, but Circe found she could not let them harm her prodigy. Rather, the dark apprentice was banished to the north.”
Mack observed as Morwyn, still defiant, walked away from the others, ultimately disappearing into a mist. Behind her he saw another long trail of followers. These people were not the same sad and powerless lot that he had seen earlier. These beings had an anger and malice that nearly matched Morwyn’s.
“In her exile, Morwyn found many followers who became the witches and warlocks we know today.”
Mack watched Morwyn’s followers form a circle around her. As if there was a movie camera pulling back for a wide shot, the circle got bigger and bigger and bigger as more witches and warlocks joined Morwyn. He shivered at their overwhelming number as the leaders continued the story.
Circe awakened the Changer ability in anyone she met who was in need of magic, and some of them passed that ability to their children, and so on. From the original Changer apprentices, the First Four, the Changers soon grew into millions.”
The vision pulsed again, and the Changers, Mack saw, quickly outnumbered the witches and warlocks.
“The Changers needed strong leaders,” the voices said. “The First Four apprentices stepped up to the task, and that title has been passed down to new leaders through the millennia. The First Four keep Changers focused on their sacred mission to guard and protect mankind, as Circe has done. Every so often, four new leaders are foretold, trained, and protected until they come of age.”
Mack saw a vision of himself and his friends on the first day of seventh grade, each staring in awe at the Changing Stone.
“Today a new age draws breath, one of peace between Changer- and magic-kind. Four younglings shall bear the banners of change. . . .
“The last of a powerful bloodline.”
Mack watched as the image morphed. He caught a brief glimpse of his older self as he Changed into a nine-tailed kitsune. His fur was white, like Jiichan’s, and the flames that licked at his paws were blazingly hot. He thought for a moment about the other seven tails he still had to earn. What would he accomplish in the future to win them?
“The heir of a wayward hero,” the voices said next.
Mack’s older kitsune form dissolved, and he saw Gabriella, now an adult, standing on a rooftop wearing what looked like the Emerald Wildcat’s outfit as she looked down over a nighttime city. Gabriella’s aunt Rosa was also a nahual, and she had once used her powers to fight crime in New Brighton as a superhero called the Emerald Wildcat. Is this Gabriella’s fate too? Mack wondered as the older Gabriella Changed into her black jaguar form and leaped into the streets below.
“The storm-born son of an ancient power.”
Mack next saw a shadow of Darren, who was now much taller and broader in the shoulders. Darren was stooping to pull up a group of people, one by one, from below. As he helped them up, each changed into a bird
and took flight. Finally, there was a crack of thunder, and Darren Changed too. Mack could feel gale-force winds on his face as Darren took to the skies, thunder booming overhead.
And lastly, the voices rang out once more. “The hidden daughter of a conflicted queen.”
A grown-up Fiona stood on a rocky shore, wearing a crown of coral and pearls, her red hair bright against her gray selkie cloak. She was leading hooded figures out of the ocean and onto the beach. She embraced several of them before transforming and diving back into the ocean, her sleek selkie pelt glistening in the sunshine.
A final vision formed. The older Mack, Gabriella, Darren, and Fiona stood strong together, looking ready to face anything. And then suddenly, Mack was back in his living room, and the light of the moonstone had faded beneath his hand.