The soulform didn't move, but let Bryant cautiously inch past, turning its head to watch him. He had no idea who it could be, but he knew it was most likely a kitsunekage- it was incredibly rare for an ordinary person to share enough of a relationship with a kitsune to be given a soulform. For kitsunekage, it came naturally.
As he passed into its blind spot, it turned around so as not to lose sight of him. The sudden movement startled him into bolting, which seemed to amuse the soulform. It followed him, simply walking.
He bypassed the wall of thorns surrounding the village and fled for Adan's house. He heard the sound of the soulform taking off, launching itself above the trees. It wheeled and landed in the big clearing in front of Adan's house, the wind from its wings knocking Bryant down.
Bryant climbed to his feet and looked around. Everyone was out of their houses, watching interestedly. The soulform was either expected or known- it had to be, or nobody would be outside.
The soulform shuffled its wings and stepped forward. Bryant wavered. He didn't know whether to run or to stay. The villagers obviously didn't view the graifseng as threatening, but it was so huge, Bryant couldn't see it any other way.
Behind the soulform, Adan stepped out of his house and walked right past it for Bryant. He put his hands on the boy's shoulders and gently pushed him forward.
Bryant froze. The situation was both frightening and ridiculous- this was a massive soulform, but it was a soulform, not a mere animal. Why it had come to him first, however, instead of going directly to the village, he didn't know.
Adan apparently realized that standing there wouldn't work and shooed Bryant inside. The young ninja gladly complied.
Once inside, he began to gnaw on a strip of dried meat that he'd stolen from Adan's pockets and waited for something to happen. He was very hungry- he hadn't had anything to eat all day, and not much the day before that.
The door opened. Through it came Adan and an older man Bryant didn't recognize. Adan was saying, "And he usually won't bother even showing himself in that situation. So no, he's not the boldest ninja, but he can empty your pockets and you won't know until you check them."
"A thief, then?"
"Only if you have food."
Adan looked over at Bryant, who was savagely tearing small strips off of the dried meat, and absently patted his pockets. He reached in, frowning, and pulled out the small pebbles that Bryant had used to replace the weight of the dried food.
"Obviously, you had food," said the other man with what might have been a smile.
Adan excused himself and left the room, presumably to replenish his pockets.
The man said to Bryant, "Hello, grandson."
Bryant wasn't surprised. Mixed evenly with a peppered ash color was straw-colored hair. Added to that was a white patch on each of the man's shoulders in the shape of a stylized jay's head, symbolic of the Fallenson family.
This was the Lord Fallenson, more often called Lord Kashi. Bryant had no idea what his great-grandparents were thinking by the name- who in the world would want to name their child after a long-extinct cereal company?
He smiled crookedly and replied, "Hello..."
"I imagined that you would be bigger at this age, not to mention braver and less of a thief."
Bryant's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. Was that a slight tone of reproach that he had heard in the last half of the sentence? He couldn't tell. Lord Kashi's face showed no hint of it.
"Adan told me that you weren't very talkative."
Bryant finished off the piece of meat and discovered an entire dried peach half, which was glorious until Lord Kashi plucked it from his hand.
"Forget the food," the older ninja growled, "and pay attention to me."
Bryant decided to pay attention, but only because he wanted the fruit.
"Now, the reason I came here is because Adan wrote a letter. He told me that your mother had been killed and that the only people who would take care of you, including himself, are busy all day. I do have my own duties, but don't think I can't handle you as well. As for what Adan said about the general attitude here about you- I don't know about that. But while I'm here, anybody who messes with you answers to me, as do you. Is that clear?"
"Yes. Somebody has already bothered me today, but you haven't done anything about it, so maybe it's a little too clear."
"What did they do?"
"They took my peach half, and I haven't gotten it back, either."
Lord Kashi, looking somewhat embarrassed, gave back the piece of fruit. Bryant ate it slowly and carefully, as if it might be the last food of a famine.
"You haven't eaten much for a few days, have you?" Lord Kashi asked.
"Whatever I could get my hands on," came the reply between bites. "Some stuff you wouldn't see other people eating. This that I have now, I would fight for it."
Adan came back; he held something in a napkin. He gave it to Bryant, who pulled back the cloth to reveal a chicken leg. The boy devoured it, stripping the meat from the bone and proceeding to gnaw on the bone itself.
Lord Kashi looked a little green. Adan, noticing this, asked, "What? I thought you'd be used to that, having raised four sons."
"I actually fed them," Lord Kashi replied. "I never had to see that kind of savagery."
"Neither he nor Raven could ever cook, so he doesn't get meat often, or much fresh food, for that matter. It's a shame, since he's a good hunter."
"I also noticed that he makes me feel guilty for I don't know what- does he do that on purpose?"
"I don't know, but he does it to me too..."
Bryant tuned out the conversation and ate everything he had. He slipped away to find the kitchen, leaving the older ninja to distract themselves. He had some food to find.ns 220.127.116.11da2