Kitsune are a race of demihuman creatures whose appearance blends that of a human and a fox. They are considered to be inherently magical beings and are common in Japanese folklore, often being referred to as Fox-Spirits. Kitsune are one of the species native to the Yuriban Underhill; the relation of Yuriban kitsune to the Japanese variety is unverified. Notoriously long lived, kitsune on Yuriba are considered to have a lifespan that generally lasts approximately 1500 years.
Fox-girls, while sharing a similar appearance to kitsune, tend not to have any supernatural abilities. Generally speaking, on Yuriba true fox-girls are created by receiving the blessing of the Hunyanniichuan spring. While two non-Jusenkyou created fox-women may conceive a naturally born fox-child, their offspring would not be a kitsune. Typical fox-girls have only one tail and do not manifest any of the magical abilities associated with Kitsune, nor do they possess the longevity of the species.
The most striking physical characteristic of kitsune is generally the presence of multiple tails; however, this feature only occurs in kitsune past a certain age. The number of tails range by age and maturity and are often considered to be a measure of the Fox-Spirit's mastery of magic and spiritual power. Kitsune are born with a single tail, and may grow as many as nine. Japanese sources have referenced, on rare occasions, rumors of unique individuals possessing as many as 20 tails; these rumors are unconfirmed and seem unlikely to be true.
A kitsune's tails are reputed to be the source of its magic and Japanese legends speak of driving out kitsune by cutting off their tails. They also warn of the danger of this practice, as it can lead to severe retribution if unsuccessful. Kitsune tend to be very protective of their tails, and touching the tail of a Fox-Spirit without permission has lead more than one unsuspecting victim to an unwanted transformation (usually into something the Kitsune might like to eat). While each Kitsune matures at its own rate, standard studies of the species reveal that a typical Kitsune tends to grow one new tail each century of its life (instances of slower or more rapid growth of tails have been documented). Native Yuriban sources state that tails may be granted or removed by more powerful kitsune or the kitsune's deity.
Among the Japanese variety, once the usual maximum of nine has been reached, other physical changes sometimes occur, and legends speak of Kitsune having their fur turn silver when they reach one thousand years in age, and gold if they live to see five thousand. (Gold fur has yet to be confirmed as it is such a rare occurrence that no individuals have been found who could be studied and documented properly.) The same does not seem to apply to Yuriban kitsune, as native kitsune under these ages with relevant fur colors are known and gold and silver fur can also appear on those affected by the Hunyanniichuan spring, which grants a Fox-Human appearance.
Magic and Transformation
Kitsune possess a wide variety of magical abilities which range from place to place and family to family, even individually within a family. Many of them are elemental in nature (particularly in kitsune with some trace of elemental ancestry), though kitsune whose magic focuses on things like music or art are not unheard of. Among the Yuriban kitsune, at least one is known whose personal magic was used entirely to fuel her strength and speed, granting her incredible physical abilities but very little 'standard' magical skill.
Among native kitsune, age does seem to be related to power in certain matters; as a kitsune ages, they tend to develop specific, strong gifts at three points in their life. What is called the primary ability is apparent from birth, and will usually be that kitsune's strongest – for example, Whisper's primary ability is healing. A secondary ability usually appears at around 500 years of age, and while significant, is less strong than the first again. Finally, on achieving the age of 1000 years, a kitsune develops a weaker tertiary gift. These magics are not related to ability or skill with divine or trained magic; merely natural magical 'knacks' the kitsune has that can vary among dozens, if not hundreds of possible variations. Examples seen in Overhill Yuriba alone have included oracular visions, stone shaping, creation of sound, and improved physical strength. Like most abilities, while the kitsune has the potential to excel in these areas, training and time are required to improve and hone their personal skills.
The most common ability possessed by kitsune is transformation. In nearly all branches of the Fox-Spirit family, the ability to change their own physical form is commonly found. Kitsune can transform into animate or inanimate objects, but the most well known transformation is that between a full fox and the humanoid form. A kitsune's mastery of magic can be seen here, as many younger Japanese Kitsune are unable to completely and convincingly assume a near-human form. While a master of transformation will appear completely human, novices are often seen sporting fox ears or tails (sometimes even paws) and some retain all or a portion of their fur and other canine attributes.
It should be noted that in Yuriba (where Kitsune are well known if not common) it is not unusual for even masters of transformation to retain their ears and tails, simply as a mark of racial pride. Transformation skills also develop slightly differently among native Yuriban kitsune; very young kitsune are unable to control shifting between a fox-form and a more 'human' one with tails and ears and often shift when tired, sneezing, surprised, bored, not concentrating... well, often. As they grow older, they gain control over their body until their shape only changes when they desire; skilled shifters are able to gain an anthropomorphic form that blends vulpine and humanoid features, or to choose to only shift specific parts of their body.
Something of note on kitsune trickery and 'robbery' as it is often referred to in human lore regarding the kitsune: According to kitsune culture on the main islands of Japan, a trade is any exchange of goods or services, even if one party is unaware of the exchange at the time. As such, a transaction that appears dishonest to one side may seem perfectly fair to the kitsune in question.
In a related vein, many kitsune are prone to indirect language and riddles. While often frustrating to those not familiar with kitsune culture, this circuitous behavior is considered polite in their culture. By not stating something directly, a kitsune both helps avoid offense and (accurately or not) flatters their conversational partner with the assumption that they are clever enough to figure out the true meaning of statements.
Kitsune In Yuriba
The Kitsune of Yuriba are likely a separate but related species to the main Japanese strain, however, they do not appear to be significantly genetically divergent, as their isolation in Yuriba likely only covers about 25 generations. Scientifically, only one gene has been discovered which clearly differentiates Yuriban kitsune from their Japanese counterparts, earning them their own classification as Vulpes polycaudal yuriba.
On Yuriba, the vast majority of the kitsune population live Underhill; their entire society exists on a separate plane than the normally accessible parts of the island. Details of the native kitsune culture are not well known, other than that they worship the Yuriban Pantheon. According to what little has been shared, native kitsune are often uncomfortable in what they refer to as the "material plane". By and large, the kitsune seem to have a fairly outwardly reserved culture, tending towards politeness, indirectness, and circuitous language. It often seems to take them time to warm up to people, with a certain tendency to skittishness that resembles their full vulpine counterparts. This does not, however, seem to suppress the species common fondness for subtle mischief and jokes.
Certain other vulpine traits do seem to remain among natives. Kitsune tend to need to eat more protein than humans, and their diet tends to be somewhat heavy on meat and fish. The majority of Yuriban kitsune engage in hunting and fishing recreationally as well as to provide for their own dietary needs, both with tools such as spears, bows, and knives as well as with their vulpine forms. Many also tend to be easily fascinated, at least briefly, by rapidly moving objects that set off their predatory instincts.
In the modern village of Yuriba, known kitsune are more integrated into society than many places and so they are simply looked on as part of the tapestry of various species which makes up the island's culture. As for their predilection for trickery, kitsune often comment that "I was simply trying to help her learn something" or words to that effect, showing that they consider the deception to be an act of 'tough love' or something along those lines. Generally speaking, kitsune are tolerant of ignorance but have no sympathy for foolishness.
Kitsune in other parts of the world
Kitsune are one branch of a larger Genus of Fox-Spirits which include related species such as the Huli-Jing (Chinese Fox-Fairy), Kumiho (Korean Fox-Spirit), and others ranging from as far east as Nepal, south into parts of Vietnam, and west into the Americas where nomadic groups of ancient fox-spirits followed the Asiatics across the land bridge and settled during the last ice-age.
Kitsune of Japanese origin are scientifically identified as Vulpes polycaudal japonicus. Kitsune in Japan are considered youkai, or spirit creatures, and it should be noted that unlike mundane species, spirit folk may vary greatly in appearance and characteristics across an Order or Family, and occasionally even within a Genus.
Kitsune families tend to be matriarchal, as female offspring are far more common than males even among the main Japanese population. (In Yuriba, of course, all kitsune are female and as such family power tends to default to the oldest living individual.) A typical family in Japan would consist of a mated pair, along with two to three daughters and possibly a single son. Grandparents commonly live with the oldest of their daughters as an extended family.
Most mated Kitsune on Yuriba are pairs or triad with other kitsune; however, relationships of larger polyamorous groups or across species boundaries are fairly common as well. As with all life on Yuriba, the kitsune produce via memetic exchange. Kitsune are capable of fertility from approximately age 150 to around 1400 years of age, in most cases; there is some variability in exact points, of course. Generally, however, native kitsune are unlikely to reproduce until around age 300 or older. While most births are of a single child, multiple birth, especially twins and triplets, are significantly higher than many humanoid races, occurring in about a quarter or all pregnancies. Kitsune children tend to spend approximately two years in infancy, five years as toddlers, and around fifty year to age through childhood. The onset of puberty typically happens between sixty and seventy five years of age, and lasts until near the middle of the kitsune's second century (approximately age 150). Outside of multiple births, the slow development of kitsune to adulthood has lead to birth patterns different from human norms; siblings are most often either three to five years apart, or separated by multiple decades. Births of siblings (half or whole) within a ten year span are referred to with the native slang term: near twins. Consequentially, sibling bonds among kitsune tend to be weak unless the siblings actually grew up congruently. With a tendency towards somewhat amorphous relationships and changing romances over the course of many centuries, native kitsune typically have fairly vast networks of relatives or near relatives, leading to a certain degree of 'pack' or 'clan' mentality among those with a past history, even after formal bonds have been dissolved.