Kari closed her eyes, head resting against her arms as she thought. Where did it all go wrong? Was it always wrong to begin with? I don’t know…
She sighed as Holonie swallowed softly, her fearful scent tickling Kari’s nose. “I guess I should start with the basics; those fox twins, Luna and Rayla, they said they weren’t taught anything about Founders. Is that right?”
“Oh, you know Luna and Rayla? Umm, no … I don’t know what Founders are. Are they … building blocks?”
Smiling softly, Kari opened her eyes, staring at the polished wood bar; the dark brown wood seemed old but well maintained. “Huh, I wonder what that would be like, to live without knowing history’s drama.” Holonie’s tails pressed against each other stiffly, fur bristled.
Kari buried her face in her arms, black hair sliding across her skin. “Ugh, I can’t believe I used to enjoy those history bedtime lessons … it’s been so long since I’ve heard mom’s voice.”
“So,” Holonie cleared her throat, “this is the history—that—umm, beyond the gate?”
Nodding against her arms, Kari closed her eyes. “Mhm, that’s right. I guess you don’t know anything about what’s beyond this realm?” She was silent for a moment, listening to the mutters of Vulpes outside, the previous barkeeper directing Vulpes away.
Sighing, Kari shifted her head to the side, glaring at the back wall. “Founders are like— the creators of everything. I don’t know who created this realm, but it must have been a group of powerful gods … or a Founder. They would have learned how to do this from Founders in any case.”
Holonie shuffled nervously. “Eh, could you tell me—what’s the difference between a god and Founder? The only gods I know of are—are the Vulpes Council … I was taught that they created this realm and give us everything we enjoy … that they’re the only gods.”
“That right?” Kari muttered. “Who knows, maybe they did create this realm, but they would have learned it from a Founder. They are not the only gods. If they learned how to create realms from some other gods, then whoever they learned it from got it from a Founder … my point is that everything traces back to the Founders.
“And what’s the difference? Hmm, there are many types of gods, and you could call Founders gods. However, Founders were the first gods, they founded the structure; Founders helped other creatures advance to obtain godlike powers. My mom didn’t tell me what was before Founders … honestly, I don’t know if my Grandpa told her.”
“Wait,” Kari moved her head to the side to look at the two-tailed fox, tails tightly wrapped around each other, pressing against her chest. Holonie’s brown eyes reflected her fearful scent. “So—you’re one of these—these first gods—these Founders?”
Kari pursed her lips before a rumble reverberated in her throat. “You have anything to drink to calm you down? You’re really stiff, and it can be a long story … I don’t even know why I’m telling you any of this … am I just trying to sort it all out?” She moaned. I don’t know…
Breathing with relief, Holonie nodded; she took out two cups from below the bar and selected a pink colored bottle. “Okay—can—would you like some?” If only…
Shrugging, Kari closed her eyes again. “I guess, but I can’t get drunk … well, not that I know of. My body is pretty resilient; I can’t really be poisoned.”
“I see…” She poured a glass for both of them in any case. She sipped at one of the cups and Kari noticed a strong fruity smell with some form of hot spice mixed in. Well, I’ve never smelled that kind of drink.
“So, yes, you could see me as a goddess or whatever,” Kari stated dully. “My Grandpa was Fenrir, the first and most powerful wolf that ever existed. He had three children … apparently, it isn’t easy for male Founders to have pure offspring since other races aren’t strong enough to handle the birth of Founders. Our spiritual organs, our bodies, the resources we require—there are tons of reasons why non-Founders have it rough with Founder offspring. But, Grandpa apparently found ways … and that’s how my mom and two uncles were born.”
Kari glared at the cup in front of her before sitting up and taking a sip; the fruity flavor had a slight burn that was new to her. She smacked her lips, brow furrowed as she slid the liquid around her tongue. It has a kick, but with a slightly sweet taste.
Swallowing, she set the cup down. Resting her arms against the counter. “Huh … they were all from different mothers … who knows what happened to my grandma; my mom never talked about her.” She sighed, “I don’t even know who my dad is…”
She stretched her back out and tapped the counter. “Wow—I can’t believe I never thought about that. I’m not surprised though, family sucks.”
“You have some really odd words. Mmh—family?” Holonie asked, testing it on her tongue. The drink seemed to have a high alcohol content because she was already loosening up.
“Yeah, family, like your brothers, sisters, mother, father, family line.”
Holonie shook her head, taking another sip of her drink. “I don’t—oh, like pups … I don’t know any of that. Children are brought to the,” she began to hiccup. “The Capital—for … something. Then at like … two, I think, they’re moved around the realm.” Her tolerance level is crap. Humans can down alcohol like crazy, but I guess this stuff could be different. It certainly has an odd flavor.
Kari hummed, staring at her arms. “Maybe that’s for the best … not having a family to disappoint you—hurt you.”
“Yeah—umm, I don’t know though.” Holonie pursed her lips. “I sometimes—I have—I want to know like … my pups, you know? I’ve had—three? No, four, yeah, four…”
Frowning, Kari looked up at her slightly flushed face. “You’re a mom?”
“What’s a mom? I don’t know what that means. Is it like a—a pup handler?” They don’t even know what a mother is? This realm translates our speech, so it literally isn’t in their dictionary. Such a strange place.
“What’s a pup handler?”
“Well, I mean, it’s self-explanatory, right? They handle the—the pups that we get. Usually, human females—they do that kind of thing. Vulpes handle different—other magical things, but—we don’t have any—many here. Pups like—like Rayla and Luna. There aren’t that many, so we all know them. There’s human pups though…” She’s basically wasted? She hasn’t even finished a single cup.
“Does that mean,” Kari paused. “What about your mate? Can you not keep the pups?”
Holonie’s brow creased as her tails loosened up, lying across the bar’s edge. “Nope, all pups are—they’re dedicated to the Council. And mate … what’s that? You have some really odd words…” She hiccuped with a giggle.
“Like—the person you stay with, that you bred with to have your pups?”
“What? That’s a part of the—the harvest festival. The Council requires the yearly consummation of the harvest. That’s what this,” she held up the pink bottle with a devilish giggle, “is suppose—supposed to be used for, hehe.” She suddenly looked scared, “Oh, don’t—don’t tell Supervisor Head Mimi!”
A drunken smile spread across her lips as she winked. “Sometimes I get—sometimes I sneak some!” Is this the extent of the mischievous nature left in these Vulpes? That’s actually pretty sad, they’re nothing like normal Vulpes … and this harvest festival … something’s definitely wrong with this place.
“So,” Kari supported her head with her left hand. “You’re saying, the Vulpes Council requires you to breed at specific times and to do it while intoxicated on this liquid? What about finding love and growing closer as a family?”
Holonie’s face squished with confusion. “Huh?” She scratched at her hairline. “Umm, I don’t know what love has—has to do with breeding. I mean, family? What’s that even?”
Kari frowned. “The twins, Rayla and Luna, they’re family, sisters. They came from the same mother.”
“Oh!” She nodded. “I get ya’ … yeah, that’s odd. Usually, two similar—look alike Vulpes aren’t sent to the same place. It did seem a little strange, but sisters … wait—huh, they could be from the same Vulpes.” Her eyes widened as if the thought had never crossed her mind. “They came from the same—Vulpes? Wow, when that happens, they really—actually look alike? Is that what makes them—what was the word? Sisters?”
The silence stretched as Holonie looked down at her glass with a deep frown, obviously trying to work through some complicated thoughts. Kari was stunned. Family is a completely foreign concept to these Vulpes? I guess if children are taken away from their parents at birth and moved around a lot, then there wouldn’t be any information on who was related to who … that’s crazy. They’re really okay with this?
“No,” Kari sucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “That’s not how sisters work. Sisters don’t have to be twins or look alike. Sisters are two girls from the same mother … well, or the same father. You have half-sisters, then step-sisters, not related by birth, but one of your parents remarried…” Kari trailed off as Holonie’s eyes seemed to be doing circles.
“Huh? That’s—it’s like—huh? So complicated … families are confusing.”
Kari scratched her temple. “Eh—not really. I guess it is really odd for you though … since you’ve never heard about this, but this is pretty standard across realms. This is the first realm I’ve ever heard of that has no clue about families.”
Holonie leaned back against the shelves behind her, forcing some bottles dangerously close to tipping. “That’s crazy … really?” She looked floored by the information. “How many realms—are there beyond the red gate?”
“Umm, more than I can count. I’ve heard of several dozen from my mom, but there are way more than that. Founders themselves have many realms that they’ve created.”
“Why—aren’t we taught that?” Holonie’s ears were pressed back as she stared down at the floor uncertainly. “Uncountable realms—gods, Founders, families … there’s so much more.”
Kari shook her head. “Huh, no clue.” She muttered. “I don’t know why your Council never told you any of this, but they’re probably trying to use you.” Her nose twisted as she glared down at the bar. “Everyone’s just in it for themselves.”
“But—but,” Holonie hiccupped as tears formed in her eyes. “They gave us everything—we take from them. They give us rain, they give us—us food and sunshine. They—give us life … they don’t take from us?”
Sighing, Kari shrugged, mumbling, “Maybe—what do I know?” She laid her head against her arm, glaring at one of the pink bottles. “I don’t know if it’s right or not. I don’t know this council, and I don’t know you, but you guys are all sick … I know that’s not good.”
“Sick? Sometimes there are sic—sick Vulpes, but … what does that have to do with—with anything?”
Shrugging again, Kari huffed. “I don’t know. This realm is strange. There’s energy that’s helping to keep you guys alive, infusing every inch of it. It’s definitely fox magic by how it makes my skin prickle, but why your Council doesn’t fix the real issues rather than putting a bandaid on it, I don’t have a clue. If they were all-powerful, then they should be able to fix your spiritual networks. Why don’t they heal you?”
“I—what do you mean? What’s a—a spiritual—spiritual network? How are we sick?”
Kari took a long breath. “Look, I don’t care—you’re spiritually sick … go ask Sora or one of the other monsters if you want to know about that … why am I even here?” She groaned.
Holonie cleared her throat, showing a slight smile. “Umm—I don’t know. How did you get here?”
“Right,” Kari whispered, closing her eyes. “The story.” Pulling back her hair, she let the sounds of the crowd outside and in the neighboring buildings calm her nerves. I don’t have any direction … what direction can I take? I’ve always been manipulated. Humans … humans knew all the answers though…
She thought back on some of the speeches she listened to, trying to piece together some of the advice and encouragement they brought when she was looking for anything to pull her back from her mother’s death. Lori was the one that showed her the videos. She began reciting the ones that bubbled back into memory.
“I have learned that nothing good comes without work, and a certain amount of pain. Pain is the feeling of weakness leaving your body. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength; I used to fight the pain, but the pain is not my enemy, it is my calling to greatness.
“It all comes down to how badly I want it. How hard am I willing to work to achieve what I want? I must work on myself, model the greats, commit to something every single day that puts me in a positive state of mind.”
Holonie’s head tilted with question. “I don’t—huh?”
Kari opened her eyes, lifting her head as she ignored the Vulpes in front of her. “That’s right … I haven’t been committing to something. Don’t waste time with meaningless things. I will work harder than the rest; I will challenge the best; I will fight through any of life’s tests. It’s easy to give up when times are hard; it’s easy to settle for an average life.
“It’s easy to just go with the flow and do what’s comfortable … it’s supposed to be hard, if it was easy, everyone would do it. I need to find something that’s meaningful. There’s no shortcuts and no excuses that will help me find it, only sacrifices that need to be made, and I have nowhere else to go but up. I need to find it…”
She turned to Holonie. “What meaning is in your life?”
Holonie swallowed at her intense stare. “Uhh, wha—meaning in my life?” She stammered. “It’s to—to do my job … I learned a little math to manage the work and perform my duties each day.”
Kari shook her head. “There’s no meaning in that. Do you do it to help those around you? To get a better promotion in the hierarchy? To produce something great?”
“Wha—what? No—we’re taught not—not supposed to seek promotion, but to accept whatever—is—is given us.”
“You’re taught to be a gear in a machine then?” Kari sniffed, downing her cup in a single shot. The liquid left a slight tingle in her mouth but faded in seconds. “There’s something deeper though, I can see it. I know there’s something—just like me. You’re searching.”
Holonie looked at her with astonishment. “You—a—a single drink—all of it? You—not phased at all?”
Kari stared at her, searching for something to reflect in herself. “The humans beyond the gate, they’re amazing, powerful, driven. They’re weak, but strong—I kept listening, trying to find it, but … I couldn’t reflect it. I see something though—in you, something that’s like it.”
“I’m like the—humans beyond the gate?” She hiccuped, looking down at her empty cup before eyeing the pink bottle.
A smile began to spread across Kari’s lips. “That small spark of a Vulpes hidden within; that subtle desire that’s brought out with that drink. I’m not blessed because everything went right, I’m blessed because I have fight—you’re subconsciously fighting this system.”
A sharp quake ran up Holonie’s frame. “Wait—no, no, no—I’m not—I’m not fighting the Council … the Council teaches us—gives us everything.”
“Look at the cup in your hands.” Kari pointed.
Kari picked up the pink bottle, leaning forward to fill her cup a quarter full. “Who taught you to sneak a little of these drinks?”
Holonie’s arms were shaking a little as she stared down at the liquid. “I—umm—the teach—my teacher. She taught me—how to count and—if you accidentally—I mean, by accident—drink—I mean, broke a bottle or two … no one would notice…”
A light chuckle rumbled in Kari’s throat as she took a drink from the bottle. “Right, I’d expect no less of a Vulpes—your nature, bleeding through. It must have something to do with your tails; your spiritual network isn’t nearly as damaged as the others. Devious like any normal Huli Jing.”
“I—I’m not devious,” Holonie’s face flushed further as she turned her back to Kari, sipping a little at the cup before coughing.
“Right—you can’t help yourself,” Kari rose to her feet. She walked to one of the few couches in the room and dropped into it, swirling the bottle in her hand. “Didn’t you let it slip that you’d be in the Capital if you were half as strong as me?”
“That wasn’t—wasn’t a slip,” Holonie huffed, turning back, her face was even more flushed. “I—I would be! Then that—that prissy little do-gooder Felumi would—wouldn’t say I wouldn’t—wouldn’t make it as a—a three-tails!”
Kari leaned her head back against the armrest. “Prissy little do-gooder? Does Felumi make fun of you?” I was right! This constrictive social construct can’t suppress the nature underneath. I doubt she’ll even remember any of this when she sobers up. That means, my nature, all this pressure my brother’s thrown on me over the years … I can overcome it. If this Vulpes can fight this brainwashing system … I can overcome my brother’s manipulations!
“Make fun—fun of me? Pfft,” Holonie’s tails flipped to the left as she lurched forward to rest against the bar, knocking over a few bottles, they smashed against the floor. She jumped a few seconds after the crash before glaring at the floor. “See—Felumi made me so—so mad—that I broke the bottles! She acts—so much better than me!”
Closing her eyes, Kari took a deep breath. What was it that human said? When challenges come up, I don’t say, why me? When tough times arrive, I never think, why did this happen to me? I say, how can I use this? I say, what can I gain from this? How can I ensure that I improve my life, so this never happens again?
Kari opened her eyes, staring at the irate Vulpes across the room from her. That’s my blessing. Not what I’ve got to work with, but how I work with what I’ve got. Not that I was handed everything, but that I had enough fight in me, that I had enough belief in me, to go after my dream … and what do I want? A home and people to share that with. I need to find the courage to keep going, to push through the pain, to rise through the darkness, and succeed.
She licked her lips. It doesn’t matter where I am in life; if I don’t feel blessed, I won’t be blessed. I need to appreciate the gifts inside of me before I can see the gifts outside of me. I need to know my worth before I’m worth anything. I think I can find all of this if I help this Vulpes understand herself, then I’ll understand myself. Well … I’ve found my path, time to follow through.
The image of Eyia’s powerful presence flashed in Kari’s mind, making her spine tingle. Discipline. All champions have discipline; the humans, Eyia … Sora. Her eyes widened. Sora’s showed her character … how disciplined has Sora been recently? If you haven’t worked for it, bled for it, then you don’t deserve it, and you won’t get it. Has she always been disciplined?
“What’s—up with—with you?” Holonie asked, hiccuping softly as she stared at her.Kari smiled at the unsteady Vulpes. Sora … she actually helped me, but I need to show my character now … even if it hurts.
I hope you enjoyed Kari’s chapters. =)) I know she’s one of those characters that people either love or hate. It’s interesting to see her development as a character from the start and what’s been discovered about her.
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