The legend predates when the very first house was erected on the banks of the river. The very first fisherman that started his family right on that spot, long deceased, would ramble on into the wee hours of the evening to any that would listen - after the single house became seven. Children held onto his story with bright, curious eyes and eager ears, and adults casually dismissed it to the nonsense of an old man. Even in the dead of winter, when the water's edge was layered with ice, he sat on his little wooden porch and rambled on. In fact, with the coming of a mist from the river from the early morning or any natural occurrence, or any snow that left the village isolated from travelers would have him in a hushed panic and rambling on until it passed.
It was the 98th winter of the little village of Rasan when one of the young boys became of age as a man. His name was Katou. He had just returned with his father and uncle from a fishing trip out on the river, and the first snowflake of the coming winter had just fluttered down from the grey sky to pass by his nose. The first thought that crossed his mind was Old Man Oda on his porch. He helped ensure the haul was brought from the boat back to their family home, and tore through the village like a messenger boy on a mission. The young man, just barely scraping at five feet, quickly made his way along the dirt roads with his gata sandals clapping in his wake. A cool breeze rushed from the waters and carried the second sign of winter in it's bite, ruffling the already riled black hair on his head and trying to knock him over - but his eagerness would not allow him to fall in the dirt.
He found the weathered, old cottage with little issue. The village had expanded at a distance from that original house and left it standing relatively alone at this age, and the steep state of disrepair was a landmark of it's own. The owner was, indeed, sitting on the worn bench that was seen on that little porch, staring out to the calm waters of the river though seeing anything but them with his milky eyes rendered useless from age. Old Man Oda was feeble and much of him was wearing out after so long, his beard thin and wispy and white - as well as anything that remained about his wrinkled skull. Even his robes were withering away. But he seemed rather unbothered, or perhaps he simply couldn't see it with his degrading sight.
Katou stopped just at the mismatched stepping stone path that led to the porch and bowed, calling out "Oda-chan! Good day!"
The old man turned his heavy head slightly towards the direction of the young man's voice, and a smile pulled the wrinkly cheeks taut to express his joy. "Good day, my boy. Come, come. Come sit with me," he wheezed, gesturing with a trembling hand.
He did not need to be told twice as he hurried along the stones and up the 3 low steps onto the porch, slowing his movement when his sandals flicked on the wooden planks as he shuffled over to sit beside the old man. "I just saw the first snowflake, Oda-chan," he said in a hurried breath.
"Yes, yes," he replied with a long, slow nod of his head. "I know."
Katou whipped his head around to look at the man's profile. "How could you know?"
Oda chuckled at this. "I can feel the cold in the air. It's coming. Winter is coming again."
"Right, right. Even the water is colder now. That's... that's why I came to see you, Oda-chan. I was wondering if you would tell me about that beast again, and if it might show up soon."
The old man sighed deeply, the sound rattling in his chest. "I've seen it. I've heard it. But it doesn't show every time, and that is what makes it more terrifying. It seems to show itself at certain times under certain conditions, but even then it may not appear."
The young man wrung his hands in anticipation, but swallowed the lump in his throat. "I know... but I just wanted to hear it again."
Hearing the story of The Hayaineko always sent chills up and down his spine, but it was also fascinating. The last time anyone had suspicions of it's presence in or around Rasan, it had been almost 15 winters back when he was just a tiny child. The murmurs and whispers of anyone aside from Old Man Oda in regard to the creature bounced about his mind as he made the leisure walk home. The sun had all but sunk over Mount Katsuuji on the horizon and the little light remaining was trapped in the colorful sky. Anything that illuminated the earth was from the street lamps being lit and the lanterns over the doors.
Then there was a subtle sound on the wind. Katou almost didn't catch it, but then it happened again. Was it a... whistle? It was a long, droning, high-pitched sound. The boy stopped in his tracks and turned his head about, trying to catch the sound once again. It was eerily quiet for a few seconds more, and then he heard it again - coming roughly from the west. He hopped onto another dirt path and hurried along it after the sound, taking him to the edge of the village where the world was steadily growing darker outside the field of fire lights through town. When the road gave away to natural ground he slowed to a stop and listened once more.
Once again the trilling sound rang out - much clearer than before - as the brush a short distance away rustled almost in response to his very arrival.
Katou's heart skipped a beat and began to thump faster within his breast. What was making that sound, and what was that close to him? As much as a part of him warned against going any further, a considerable part of him wanted to venture forward and see what was there. Was it the Hayaineko? The Swift Cat? Was it actually here now, before the snows even started? If it was then he could see it, and see if it was as terrifying as the old man had said.
He managed to scoot one foot forward to be met with silence. He carefully shifted the other forward, and still nothing. So he took care with each little step off the beaten path as he inched closer to the forests that stretched on endlessly westward. After a few paces the trilling sounded off again for a considerably longer roll this time and the brush shuffled a little more, and so he stopped. The silence resumed and nothing changed, so he steeled himself with a deep breath and moved forward again. He came almost without reaching distance of the leaves, and before he could even think to try and extend his hand he noticed a small, dark bump poke out. It wiggled in a subtle fashion, like that of the neighbor's pet dog or the village stray cats when they sniffed at something new. It seemed to chase the fear from his spine away and replace it with a familiar warmth, and a relieved smile tugged at his lips. With the size of that nose, it had to be a cat.
"What are you doing out here?" he chirped, not expecting an actual response from the feline. Even if they could speak, they were not very well known for giving anyone more than a tipped chin and the upward flick of a tail. Painfully vain little creatures, they were.
Then the nose vanished into the brush in the blink of an eye. A second blink would catch a figure zip out from the other side of the foliage to dart behind a tree - further into the dark. Katou straightened himself up and trotted off after the animal with a playful chuckle. "Hey, where are you going?"