Following the meeting with Mimi, Kari walked at the group’s tail, Olivia leading them. Kari was operating on the last fumes of hatred she felt for her brother, the hope that he was alive so she could end his existence herself. She did her best to silence the torrent inside by listening to their guide answer questions, but that only displaced the rage boiling within her.
Kari’s eyes slid to Olivia, glaring at her back as she answered another painfully obvious question that this realm was oppressive toward humans. What did Sora expect out of her kind? This is Vulpes nature, manipulate their surroundings to get what they want, yet … their spiritual network releases a sense of sincerity that doesn’t make sense. They don’t act like the Vulpes my mom warned me about. I still don’t get this realm’s humans either, but why should I even get involved? This is their problem…
Sora looked back at her, brow creased. “Something wrong, Kari?”
Kari’s cold gaze slid to her. Seriously? Why does she care? “Mind your own business.” She snapped, huffing before her vision fell to the cobblestone road. She shouldn’t care … I bullied her for so long. My brother manipulated that, but that’s not an excuse. I definitely took out my frustration on her, but … she saved me? Sure, she made a deal with Eric … but what would you expect from a Vulpes when trapped. She’d betray my brother the first chance she got … but, she doesn’t act like she hates me?
Her face flushed, nose burning. She didn’t tell me to go … why? What? Fighting back her emotions, she cleared her throat. There must be a reason … some manipulation! It’s not just some kind gesture; she’s a Vulpes … I was her hell for so long. There’s a reason why she hasn’t told me to leave … where would I even go? Is this how Sora felt when I told her to leave? I don’t understand her!
Aiden studied Kari with concern. “Sora…” Kari glared at him. “Nevermind…”
Olivia stopped in front of a massive three-story building. “This is one of the town guesthouses. There are two Vulpes that are charged with maintaining it and providing visitors their needs. I will be by in the morning to guide you back to the Town Hall. I’ll introduce you before returning to my duties.”
Kari swallowed uncertainly. Should I go in with them? Eyia definitely hates me … I guess my grandpa killed her dad. I can accept her hate, there’s a reason for it, but still, she tolerates me because of Sora. I have no doubt Eyia could kill me; my instincts tell me that she’s hiding her real strength. I just don’t understand them! I’d never settle for anything other than killing Eric … if he was in front of me, my enemy, I don’t care, I’d attack no matter what, but she tolerates me because of Sora. Why?
“Thank you,” Mary stated.
Olivia nodded and opened the wooden door. The first floor was large and open, well lit by floating balls of fire. There was a bar in the back, a staircase leading to the next level beside it. Couches, armchairs, and tables were spaced around the room, and a single door led into a branching room to their left.
Two Vulpes with faded pink fur stood stiffly as they entered. They wore simple white long-sleeved dresses that were fitted to their frames. They seemed to be in their early twenties by appearance, both their hair was straight and fell halfway down their backs.
“Oh, Olivia—are these new guests?” The Vulpes to the right asked. They both twitched nervously as their scents carried to them. These Vulpes are a bit different than the others I’ve seen. Especially the one to the left; her spiritual network is scanning her environment. It’s short range and not that well hidden, but dangerous … no wonder her spiritual network is a mess.
Olivia nodded. “Yes, Liz. You and Alice will take care of their needs. Answer their questions if they have any. I will be by in the morning to take them back to the Town Hall—yes, there are monsters among them. Don’t cause them trouble or pry for information. Understand?”
Alice and Liz shifted a bit as they glanced at them but nodded. “Understood,” Liz said. With that, Olivia turned and left.
Liz cleared her throat, rubbing her left shoulder for a moment. “So, umm—I’m Liz, and this is Alice.” Alice nodded stiffly. “Would—what do you wish to do first?”
Kari started to grow frustrated with the calm yet energized atmosphere Sora created. She stood behind the group as they talked about food. This is ridiculous! Why am I here? What should I do? Eric’s dead … there’s no possible way he could fight that demon! How could he do this to me? How could he leave me with nothing? Why am I cursed?
Her teeth ground together as she glared at the floor, the Vulpes finally getting in range to sense Sora’s energy. Alice muttered, “There’s—so much and so many types. Way more than Lady Mimi. There was just so much…”
Aiden’s brow creased with concern. “What’s she talking about?”
Kari sniffed at his statement as he studied the pink-furred Vulpes. It’s so obvious, Aiden. Didn’t mom teach you how to detect information gathering magic? Sora’s pulling in a ton of energy; her spiritual probe had a reaction to Sora’s elemental conversion. Somehow, Sora’s natural attunement exploded recently, and a small amount touched the girl’s spiritual network when she tried probing the energy around Sora’s spirit. Her smell and spiritual network indicate she’s sincere, so she probably does it unconsciously. Everyone’s so clueless!
She walked further into the room and dropped into a couch, folding her hands behind her head. She closed her eyes, thinking as Sora’s group continued to discuss the topic. I don’t know why it took so long for her elemental conversion to expand. Sora’s energy just exploded the day after I told her to leave … I thought she was actually planning on fighting, which was true, but she’s still so confusing. She wanted to fight, then tricked me into hurting Lori and just backed off … maybe I can’t understand a Vulpes’ mind.
Taking a deep breath, she puffed it out in a long stream. I have to believe Eric’s still alive … he can’t be dead. No one can kill him but me … he owes me that! The seething rage seemed to die as if ice shot through her. What’s my purpose if Eric’s dead? Why am I here? Why was I even born?
She swallowed a lump in her throat. I was so naive … humans, they had everything. Is that why mom always had us take human form? She knew everything, so why wouldn’t she protect me?
Fighting back her burning nose again, she took a shuddering breath. Why am I thinking about this still? I haven’t thought about this … since her death. Of course, Eric couldn’t have killed her; I’m stupid for even believing that was possible … so stupid. She killed herself, okay … why? She told Eric to eat her and absorb her power … why? Why couldn’t she protect Tiri? Why couldn’t she hunt my uncles? She was invincible … so, why? Why would she do this to me?
Her mind turned back to the movies her girls had shown her; she loved them, the romance series, drama, family shows. Humans have so much … so much that I want. Why couldn’t my family be like those families? My mom had the power to fight anyone … so, why didn’t she fight for it … fight for me?
She opened her eyes as she heard Fen and Jian leave, sensing Fen’s own frustration and self-loathing from the waves her spiritual network released. What right does she have to feel that way? Her teeth locked as the Valkyrie’s cold glare and chilling energy directed toward her as Fen left. There it is again … why doesn’t she just attack me? What if she does? Should I defend myself?
Kari licked her lower lip as she stared up at the ceiling; hearing Sora talk with Wendy. I … don’t think I would. I keep telling myself, but … I can’t bring myself to believe Eric’s still alive. He left me with this hole in my heart … my mom, my brother, everyone leaves me. Lori … I knew Lori was consumed with hatred, but … she stayed with me. Jenny wanted to be real friends, but again, all manipulated by my brother … nothing was real. Eric built me a sand castle, then … he smashed it in front of my face…
Feeling another pulse of Eyia’s energy, Kari shot up. “What? You want to kill me? Do it!”
Aiden stiffened, rising to his feet. “Woah, Kari!”
“Shut-up, Aiden!” Kari snapped. “If she wants to kill me, then knuckle down and do it!”
Jin chuckled but kept her eyes closed as she laid against a couch, Githa continuing to sleep through their spat atop her cushion. Eyia took a deep breath before her icy aura faded.
“Why?” Kari growled. “You hate me? My grandpa killed your dad? Then take revenge on my family!”
Eyia frowned, glaring back at her, but her cold intent was gone. “I would have, at first, but I was unsure of your relationship with my sister. However, it is clear that she wishes for you to be protected. She spent time and energy in forcing you to follow us in our escape, protecting you from Bathin. Why don’t I attack you, despite my hate for Fenris Wolves? Discipline. I am not ruled by my hate.”
Kari’s teeth shifted against each other as her words struck a chord, reminding her of another motivational speech from the humans. “Discipline? For some belief?”
“For my sister and the bond that brings.”
Snorting, Kari smirked. “Sister? You keep saying that like it means something. Family will stab you in the back the moment it suits them.”
Eyia’s vision dropped to the floor, she seemed deep in thought, yet Kari’s instincts told her she wouldn’t stand a chance if she attacked. “The hardest walk you make is the walk you make alone, and I walked alone, fought alone, hurt alone, but that is the walk that makes you the strongest.”
Her eyes rose, blue globes penetrating Kari. “That is the walk that builds your character the most. Do you know what it’s like walking that path? The centuries of solitude with only enemies surrounding you, but my father promised me that it would be worth it in the end, and if I showed what I was made of, then the right people would show up in my life. They did, and I must be disciplined to keep that. Destiny will present you opportunities, but it is up to you to take hold of them. Faith in that is action.”
Her words struck Kari’s heart on so many levels that it stunned her, and she could sense Aiden’s shock. What … that … how can she tell me that? She hates what I am, but responded sincerely … did she offer me advice based on her observations of me? You…
She swallowed nervously as Eyia continued to stand guard by the door, the silence stretching. After a time, Kari walked to the door and left, Eyia shifting to let her by without incident. I need to think … there’s just too much…
Briskly walking through the streets, she tried not to think, but the thoughts and feelings came anyway. Discipline … discipline … I was disciplined! I did everything I could! I waited, I fought, I sought help, I learned, I grew stronger, but nothing worked! I lost everything! I’m a wolf with her leg stuck in a trap, and I don’t even know how to get out! I’m pathetic!
The spandex covering she wore melded into her skin as Kari transformed into her Fenris Form, Vulpes and humans screaming in shock and panic as she ran, wind pressing against her body as she raced through the streets. What do I do?
She ran out of the town, through the fields, and entered the forest, moving as fast as her legs would carry her. Slowing, she finally stopped against a massive tree, dropped to her side, and began to cry. It’s not fair … I tried … so hard…
The animals weren’t even afraid of her as they moved about, more curious than cautious. Kari’s emotions gradually became more manageable as she listened to nature, the sounds reminding her of her mother’s forest. The trees were ancient, reaching as high as the redwood forest she’d seen in pictures, but these giants had bluish tinted trunks and orange leaves that hinted Autumn. The woods were filled with several different types of trees with different shapes and colors, shrubs of varying design could easily hide wildlife, but they seemed completely at ease with her.
Taking a shuddering breath, Kari closed her eyes. What if I did what Eric wanted? Would it be different? Did he want me to kill everything? I don’t even know what he wanted … I never listened. What if I listened to mom more? Did she tell me this was going to happen and I just ran off to practice hunting? If only I had listened more … mom would still be here … what if I played with Tiri more. If Tiri were alive, I’d never chase her off for scaring away my prey, or I’d share more. I’d even let her sleep next to me … even if she was too warm.
Her saliva was thick as she swallowed a mouthful. Lori … why did I even get mad at her? For not telling me about Devin? Trusting in me? Jenny … if only I realized it. I was so stupid … would they be alive if I did what Eric wanted?
Kari’s senses started to dull as her heart seemed to plummet in her chest; time stretched as the hollow feeling only increased. It doesn’t matter though … they’re gone. Mom … Eric … Tiri … home … Jenny … Lori … everything’s gone. Aiden’s free, so he’ll leave. I’m alone … completely alone, and my uncles want to use me as a sex slave to give them more power. What is there to live for? My only worth is being used and thrown away. I don’t even know how to die though … I’ll only enter a hibernation state if I try drowning myself … I don’t know how to die. Maybe if I just keep biting my arm off, then I’ll eventually bleed more than I can heal, but I’ll likely just pass out and slowly recover until I gain enough energy to heal again … why was I even born?
After several minutes, she got back up and slowly made her way back to town, eyes low. Maybe I can ask Eyia to kill me? A spark touched her heart. No … is it like the Troll? I just … why don’t I want to just lie down and die? I could challenge her. Yeah, I could do that.
The sun was beginning to set as she entered the town; news of her transformation seemed to have spread because the Vulpes quickly moved to the sides of the road or ducked into buildings, but she paid them no mind. Will Eyia even do it? Jin and Jian wouldn’t hesitate, I bet, but I feel like Eyia would be the cleanest. All it would take would be a single slash…
Her attention was diverted as a gray two-tailed Vulpes exited the crowd that gave her ample space along the road. Six feet tall in her Fenris Form, she stared down at her; she was extremely nervous, shaking violently, and it was obvious she didn’t want to confront her. “Umm—can—Uh—I—I ask—ask what—you—you’re—you doing? Not—not in the house—the place Olivia guided you?” She stammered, hand pressed against her chest, creasing her standard white dress, but Kari noticed a yellow stripe along the sleeve.
Every person trembled as Kari continued to stare at the Vulpes blankly. Why would she block my way? Is she being forced to? I guess they are pretty hierarchical here, like a pack … if someone ordered her to, then she would need to obey.
Sighing, Kari reverted back to her human form, causing the Vulpes around her to gasp. Her expression was neutral with a slightly depressed tone. “Why?”
The Vulpes’ trembles escalated. “Wh—Why?”
“Why did you stop me?”
Hands knotting against her chest, the Vulpes glanced to the left before her tails stiffened, ears peeled back. “Will—will you c—come with—with me? I—I can get you—you a drink—if—if you’re thirsty?”
Kari took a long breath, staring at the Vulpes. Why does it matter? What else do I have to do, die? “Sure—whatever,” Kari said neutrally.
Swallowing, the Vulpes nodded mechanically. “If—if you could just foll—follow me to that building—over there…”
Kari complied. When they entered, she found it half the size of the place Olivia had taken them. There was a bar, smaller than the previous one, but with a lot more bottles. There were stools and tables spaced around the interior, and it looked like it was a bit fancier, something taken from the early bars she’d seen in old human films.
“What is this place?” Kari asked, taking a seat.
The Vulpes motioned for the sole occupant, the Vulpes behind the bar, to leave as she replaced her. “Umm—it’s a spot for two-tailed Vulpes to come. My name is Holonie, if you were wondering” She said, losing a bit of her nervousness.
“Okay, Holonie, and what do you want with me?” She asked, taking a seat behind the bar.
“I—well—Olivia—she—well, you see, she heard about a giant monster making whirlwinds as it ran out of the town and—she wanted me to see—ask if you needed anything.”
Sighing, Kari nodded, placing an elbow against the bar, she rested her head against the back of her hand. “Help? Okay, can you kill me?” Kari muttered.
Holonie stiffened. “Eh—what?” She squeaked.
“Can you kill me?” Kari repeated.
Licking her lips, her brown eyes shot to the door before returning to her. “I—umm—are you serious? Why do you want me to—to kill you?”
“Does it matter?” Kari groaned, head drooping to the counter. “I don’t expect you to do it … I’m going to ask one of the other monsters to kill me. That’s where I’m going.”
Studying her a bit more closely, Holonie seemed genuinely confused. “Well—I didn’t expect that … I half expected you to eat me.”
Kari smiled slightly with a light chuckle rumbling in her throat. “I don’t blame you.”
“So,” she cleared her throat. “I mean—I don’t want to get in your way, but—I can tell you’re a lot stronger than anyone I’ve met … in that other form you make everyone quake with fear, but—why do you want to die? I mean, you’re more powerful than Head Supervisor Mimi from what I can tell. So why?”
Kari tilted her head to the side, resting on her arms. “You seriously want to know?”
Holonie nodded. “I do—I just—I don’t get it. If I were half as strong as you, I bet I could go to the Capital!” Wow, she’s honest. Well … I suppose it couldn’t hurt.
“Okay,” Kari sighed. “Where do I begin…”
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