A Tail’s Misfortune — Chapter Fifty-Five: Fen’s Game

POV: Kari (the daughter of Alva; granddaughter of Fenrir; Wolf 3rd Gen Founder)

Recap: Kari just had an encounter with Frankenstein and Nilly. Inari and her mother are concerned about the unexpected meeting, but Kari’s a little frustrated that she can’t really follow the conversation and is now focusing on figuring out what Fen’s been up to.

A sharp gust of wind blew Kari’s short black hair into her face, obscuring the grove of green-leaved trees surrounding her.  She growled before pulling it behind her ears as she walked forward.

The hard dirt floor soon became more noticeable as she focused on the soft reflex of the sole against her foot, and the gentle breeze pressing against her skin and clothes drew her attention.  I still can’t believe how strong Sora’s getting … she can create so many things, but I guess if my mother had taught me more, then I’d learn more about my own abilities.

Kari’s brow furrowed when no one responded.  Her mother and Inari had gone silent in her head, likely talking privately to not disturb her, but she was still shocked that Inari hadn’t made some offhanded comment about Sora.

A small smile touched her lips as she looked up at the sparsely clouded sky; she was a little surprised with how much lighter she’d felt after Sora had forgiven her.  She didn’t quite understand it, and still felt the guilt, but something large had been taken off her shoulders, and now she had her mother.

It’s nice mom’s able to talk to someone, even if it is an annoying Vulpes like Inari.  It sounds like they have some history, too. What’s it like for her, though? How hard is this for her?  If I were trapped inside someone’s head, then I’d be crawling at the walls, and no, you guys don’t have to answer that if you’re listening.  I’d like to have my mind to myself, thank you.

Her mother released a short chuckle.  “Yes, Kari, I’ll leave your inner thoughts to yourself, and Inari has agreed to do the same.  Only in the instances where you ask us a question, or we feel like we need to respond to the current situation, then will we intervene.”

Thank you, mom … I am really happy that I have you with me, even if it’s like this.

“I’m elated to have this time with you, and you needn’t worry about Inari; she’s trudging through a swamp of possibilities, busy plotting after that last conversation with Frankenstein.  The revelation about Nilly has really stirred her pot.”

That’s good … I’m just trying to get through the day.  I don’t need her foresight.

Her mother responded with a light laugh before saying, “Take your time.  You’ve all gone through such a rough time that this time to relax a little has been good for you.  Inari worries about everything, and can sometimes lose sight of the smaller picture. Just do what you think is right, and learn as you go.”

Kari slowed, eyes wandering toward a few voices.  Her left hand gripped her shoulder at the calm and unsuspecting tones; she didn’t know what it was like to feel so at ease, being so unguarded.

She caught sight of a girl in her late teens with long, light brown hair talking to two men, laughing together as they worked.  She listened to the conversation as she continued down the dirt road.

“You slipped in the shower this morning?”  The girl asked as she plucked fruit and dropped it into the baskets the two men were holding.  Both men appeared to be around the same age she’d seen of most the human males around town, between thirty and fifty.

One of the men chuckled; his long brown hair that was tied up swayed in its binding.  “That’s so funny!”

“Everyone else thought so, too!  It isn’t the first time, but everyone laughed; I’m the only one in my district that has fallen in there.”

“Did you get bruised?”  The girl asked with a smile, dropping a few of the apple-like fruit into his basket.

“A little, but nothing serious.”

“You’re the town’s biggest clutz,” the other man chuckled.

“I kind of am, aren’t I?”  He replied with a hearty laugh.

Turning away from the conversation, Kari continued on her trail, vision falling back down to the dirt floor as she thought; the compact ground seemed to have been created from countless years of travel, and there were impressions that the carts had made over time.

How did everything get so bad?  When I left the forest, Jenny seemed to know exactly what to do and who to talk to … it was all on Eric’s orders, though.  Still, I can’t really hate it because of the world humans opened up to me. That was all because of Eric and Jenny, even if it was all a lie.

Humans had such an orderly society … it was nothing like mom’s forest.  These humans and Vulpes remind me a little of that; it’s very different but similar in a lot of cases.  What am I supposed to become? I’ve done terrible things to people, but can I just start again?

A lump dropped down her throat, and she turned around, walking backward to look back the way she’d come; the path leading to the town was a straight line, she hadn’t gone all that far.

Everything I’ve done … Sora and that one girl … why can’t I remember her name?  Did it start with … I can’t even remember what it begins with. I know I bullied her, too, and I’m sure my group did.  It felt so natural … I was a pack leader, it was my territory, but I let them go wild.

I just brought my wolf nature to the school.  Then, I felt so scared to lose everything again … I had to keep a firm grip on my place, or I’d be lost … and that happened.

She flipped back around, vision falling to the floor.  Once I lost it all … again … I still want revenge for that, but not as much as I thought I would.  I just felt empty. Sora opened her heart to me … she let in a wolf. That’s completely illogical! Yet … she did it.  She forgave me … and I still don’t know why … how.

Kari breathed a long sigh, noticing several dozen human and Vulpes’ eyes on her as she continued down the dirt road; they carried their carts with clipping and weeding tools, and tarps to collect the fruit.  Every one of them seemed to know exactly what their job was and who their companions were.

She silently sorted through the scents of hundreds of Vulpes and humans, paying them little mind while following the musk of Galian, the man that claimed to be a part of a group called the Inner Brotherhood that Fen had created.

That’s why I need to do whatever I can to help her.  Even if I don’t understand how Sora could forgive me, it’s just like mom said; I just need to learn how to forgive myself and work one day at a time to find my path with Sora.

Her nose twisted as she glared at the side of the road.  If Fen’s trying to plot something against her, then I’ll figure it out … then we’ll see what I need to do about it.

The sun was now cresting the mountains, sending a glow across the valley, and a cold breeze blew down from its rocky slopes, but the morning chill didn’t bite her senses.

From the long sleeves and pants on the human and Vulpes’ bodies to the slight shivers she saw sliding down their frames, it was clear that they were affected by the cold.

She examined the difference between the humans and Vulpes as she walked along the dirt roads, quickly identifying the two-tailed supervisors with a black stripe on their sleeves, but even they seemed to be involved in the picking after checking different products.

The tail color of the Vulpes was vast and ranged between many different shades that she hadn’t seen before, but every person she saw was happy to do their work.  They talked about simple topics, but one of the major discussions ran between the rumors about them and Fen’s promises.

Kari filtered through the conversations until she found something she was looking for; it was about sixty meters away, obscured from vision, but her keen ears easily identified Fen’s name being used.  It appeared to take place between two Vulpes, and she slowed as a few sentences caught her attention.

“I heard Besilli say something about a two-tailed named Fen, but she wouldn’t say much.”

“I was there!”  The other said, and like Galian, it appeared like she was trying to be secretive, but doing a terrible job at lowering her voice.  “She’s the great herald, and she showed us visions of such terrible and amazing things that are beyond the Red Gate. She showed us the things we were to do and how each of us has a part.”

“We aren’t supposed to go beyond the Red Gate, though?”

“Yeah, we thought that, too, but the herald told us that we aren’t going through the gate.  She was just showing us what was on the other side.”

“Oh, I didn’t think about that.”

“It makes sense, right?”

“Yeah, it does.”

They paused for a moment to set their full baskets in a cart before returning with another.

“So, what’s it like?  I’ve never heard any stories other than what Rayla and Luna tell about the cave.”

“Oh, that’s nothing; there’s so much more!  Humans actually rule behind the Red Gate, and there are almost no Vulpes.”

“No way…”

“Yeah, and they don’t even know about The Council!”

“That’s impossible … how?  It’s The Council.”

“That’s not all, but Fen, the great herald, says there’s going to be a new festival coming!”

“Really?  The Vulpes Council is giving us a new festival?”

“No, no, this has to do with the rise!  You know how weeds are our enemies?”

“Yeah, that’s why we pull them up and make them into fertilizer with the rotten fruit.”

“Right, right, but the Vulpes Council are like weeds!”  She whispered; this time, she managed to lower her voice.

Kari’s face darkened as she listened, slowing to a stop.  These people are so gullible!  Even the Vulpes are turning against their gods.  She can’t actually buy all this, right?  

“The Council gives us everything, though.  How are they like weeds? Is it because weeds give us fertilizer for trees, and so they have a purpose?”

“No, you’re overthinking it!”  The other responded with a bit of exasperation.  “The herald said they’re like weeds, they’re bad for the tree, and The Council is bad for us.  What do you do with weeds?”

“You pluck them, robbing the roots of nutrients.”

“Right!  So, how do we rob The Council of nutrients?”

“I … don’t know.  They’re goddesses … how do you … I don’t get it?  I’m lost.” She said with a frustrated tone. “I don’t know the answer.”

Kari walked to the edge of the line where the two were located, hovering just out of sight; she could observe the group through a break in the trees.

She noticed several others Vulpes walking along the road break away from a throng to join the pair; they were carrying more work equipment and were likely a part of their group to help with the harvest.  All of them had a single tail.

“Hey, Cammie!  How’s the morning?”

“Oh, just fine,” the defector responded with a bright smile.  “I’m just telling Maty about the herald’s vision, and the new festival!”

“Ah, that’s good, but make sure you keep it from the higher tails.  We can’t let them know about the Night’s End Festival.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it!  I’m doing exactly what the herald told me to do.”

Kari glanced back at the road and judged that they were just out of earshot for most Vulpes; they may have good hearing, but it was nothing like a Founder’s.

This is spreading too fast.  There has to be some kind of magic at work to force their trust.  Sora might be able to influence people like this, but Fen … she isn’t nearly strong enough.  How, then? It isn’t Jian; Bai-Hu don’t have that power. They could just be this gullible, but … it just seems too pervasive.

What’s this Night’s End Festival, too?  They all have a purpose … Fen’s a scorned Huli Jing, and they’re notorious for their vindictive nature; she won’t go quietly.  She’s plotting some way to get back at Sora; she can’t take her rage out on her by force, and so it has to be something else. Wait, if they think I’m one of Sora’s apostles, then I should be able to just ask them about it.

She slid her tongue over her lips before nibbling on her lower lip, watching them continue their conversation, and she was about to walk out when a thought froze her.

How stupid can Fen be to tell them that we’re a part of the Festival?  That’s stupid … but Fen’s not stupid. Huli Jing may be easily offended and rash at times, but they’re crafty creatures by nature; they have to be clever, or they’ll die.  Vulpes have too many natural enemies.

Galian came right up to me and told me that I was an apostle of Sora’s, but she had no clue that Sora and I had become closer.  He said I was one of her apostles … there are multiple, and that must mean the others. I could be playing right into her hands.  If this is just pure vengeance, then it could get really ugly. The Council could force us out, directly into Bathin’s hands … my uncle’s jaws.

A shiver shot down Kari’s spine as she realized how dangerous the situation was; at first, she was angry, but now, this was a deadly game Fen was playing, and she’d skipped town for a reason.

There’s only one way to be sure.

Walking out from around the brush, Kari added a charming smile as she approached the group.  Their conversation died as they caught sight of her, and the way their faces lit up was as if she were a famous pop star.

“It’s one of the apostles!”

“I can’t believe we finally get to meet one of them!”

“Wait, what’s that smell … she smells strange.”

“Never mind how she smells; she’s with her holiness!”

Kari forced a chuckle as she met them.  “You can just call me Kari. So, umm, is there anything the herald told you to tell us, apostles, if we asked?”

Three of the Vulpes’ eyes widened with excitement, including the original speaker.

“Yes, she did!”  Cammie said with glee.  “Umm—she had us memorize it.  If you asked or said specific things, then it was like a code, and we’re to give you a response.  We need to teach everyone these, too! Do I get to tell you?” She asked, nearly jumping on her toes as her ears twitched and tail swished back and forth.

“I’d like that,” Kari said, doing her best to smile and calm the jitters in her stomach.

“Okay, I don’t really understand it, but this is what she told me to say, and said you’d know what it means.”  She cleared her throat before saying, “She said this,

“Played like pawns; their minds relentlessly confined.  Don’t you think it’s funny how the gods tell us how to live?  Don’t you think it’s funny how we’re all delinquent kids to them?  Just like these little chess pieces around us, bound thoughts and corrected common sense.  I can totally understand the tantalizing appeal of having such power.

“Well, then, which side will you stand on?  Do you want to play with them, or do you want to stay safe?  Put on a mask and pretend nothing’s amiss or struggle to help the slaves; it’s all the same in the end; every one of their lives will be a shipwreck.  So, if nothing will change either way, then why not play this little game of mine; won’t you play with me?”

The other Vulpes looked utterly confused as she finished.

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“I got to say it, though!”  Cammie squealed.

“The herald was so nice,” one of the new members said.

“She was!”  Cammie responded.

Kari’s solemn face fell as she glared at a trunk to her left.  I knew it … this is all a part of her plan, and her message implies that these Vulpes and humans are being compelled by some kind of magic, but it’s not from her.  The others were acting kind of strange at breakfast, but I thought everyone was just awkward around me.

They have no clue what it means, either … have they never heard the words slave or pawn before?  If not, then they’d have no idea about the context. She chose her words carefully, and a game sounds fun to them.

Mom said that Sora knew something about this mind-stuff … I haven’t been paying close enough attention to everyone else.  Although, I have had a lot on my mind…

The thought caught her by surprise.

I’ve had a lot to deal with … I really have, but everyone else is going through their own troubles, too.  We’re all floundering in the dark, trying to pick up the pieces of our lives. I need to be strong, though, I can’t make excuses. 

Kari was silent as the others laughed and talked about different things in the Human Realm, discussing the strange objects they were shown and the dream of seeing them in person.  One of the motivational talks she’d listened to came back to her, restoring her resolve.

Take ownership; take extreme ownership.  Don’t make excuses; don’t blame any other person or thing.  I made the decisions that lead me to this point, and I can take the actions necessary to get out of them.

Get control of my ego … I’m not the smartest person and not the strongest.  It’s no one’s fault but mine … take ownership of everything in my world … the good and the bad.  I can be a help to Sora and the others … but first, I need to conquer myself. Right here, and now.

My mistakes, my shortfalls … all my problems are within me.  I failed to fight off Eric; I hurt people on purpose, and I can start making up for that now … that’s my mission.  Take ownership of my life.

Discipline my emotions so I can make good decisions … play this game of Fen?  No. This isn’t a game. I need to learn everything I can, and it starts with what Fen investigated.

Fen has an extreme hatred for Inari and now Sora … goddesses that deny her the power she seeks.  She has a twisted view of what it means to have power, and is now lashing out after her path to that goal was closed.  She’s puzzled something out about this realm that I haven’t yet and is exploiting it.

Can I convince them that Fen’s not on good terms with Sora?  No, I should first gain the information she had to come up with this plot of her.

The Vulpes fell silent as she broke into their conversation, adding a pleasant tone.  “Can you tell me everything you told Fen … all of you. Tell me everything you can; I want to make sure that she has all the right details for what her holiness plans.”

 “Oh, of course!”  Cammie cheered, but it soon diminished as she caught sight of another detachment of Vulpes walking down the adjacent path; one of them was a two-tails.  “We need to keep working on the harvest, though; we’re getting close to finishing up the last batch before we start preparing for the Harvest Festival.”

“I’ll help you while we talk,” Kari urged.

They all gave her bright smiles as she began helping them pluck apples and put them in baskets.  She told her about their daily lives, the festivals, and the stories they were taught. Kari stored all the information, and with their help, she was able to puzzle out what points Fen had focused on with the Vulpes.

The human side was a mystery to her still, and might hold information she needed; after an hour’s work, she broke away from the Vulpes, zeroing in on Galian’s scent.

In the time she’d spent with them, she learned that Fen had made it where anything negative said about her was taken as a joke, and there wasn’t anything she could do to convince them otherwise.

Moreover, the Night’s End Festival was even a mystery to most of them.  Each person was supposed to bring specific things, and they all seemed utterly random.  Tonight was the start of the festival, and it began in the town center; somehow, with the magical influence that was over them, Fen had convinced them to gather for this festival in such a manner that nothing she said stuck.

Kari nibbled on her lower lip while growling and moving off the path to walk down one of the orchard walkways.  She passed a multitude of people but soon became confused as his trail led to several other human scents, and they soon began moving off the row, zig-zagging through the grove back toward town.She stalked after them, brow creased with concern; skipping the harvest didn’t seem like normal behavior from these people, and his earlier comment about how this was a waste of time returned to her mind.  What are you guys up to?


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A Tail’s Misfortune — Chapter Fifty-Four: A Message
A Tail’s Misfortune — Chapter Fifty-Six: The Inner Brotherhood