Sora’s body was lax; she didn’t know what to do. She’d barely gotten to use her new abilities, and now they were restricted. It felt so infuriating, and now both Wendy and her dad were hostages again. She was more caged than she’d ever been with Kari. A depression sunk into her heart. Why is fighting even worth it?
The smell of the pork only made her more discouraged. They leave me alone and torture me with food. The minutes stretched in silence. They must know about my sense of smell! Stop it! Sora counted down another minute before her muscles started regaining strength as the drug wore off and the sweet scent of the pork kept getting stronger. “This is cruel!” She yelled.
Her ears pricked as she heard noise from the doorway. “This room is off limits and why are two monsters…” The man’s voice cut off with a grunt, and the door opened.
Sora was stunned to find a short Chinese girl tentatively enter the room as the lights flipped on; her eyes were instantly drawn to her black furry ears and two tails. Her scent carried to her, and she was surprised to find it quite lovely, like mixing a few flowers. She smelled someone else beyond the doorway that wasn’t human; he had a musk that tickled her nose.
Wide-eyed, Sora asked, “You’re a Vulpes?”
She was bewildered by the girl’s hesitation; she smelled fearful, and tiptoed into the room, keeping Sora in vision the entire times. Next came the second largest man Sora had ever seen, only slightly smaller than Green and he held an unconscious guard in his left hand. In his right were the most delicious pieces of food Sora had ever seen in her life, her mouth began to salivate.
Be cool Sora, be cool! Monsters, they’re monsters, just like me, and they aren’t supposed to be here. That should be a good thing. The large man shut the door behind him and dropped the man to the floor in a tangled heap.
Hope began to brim in her chest as she asked, “You two aren’t with Diane?”
The Chinese girl gulped and looked very flustered as she asked, “You—wouldn’t happen to—to be—Mia?”
Confused, Sora shook her head. “No, my Mom’s name is Mia, the Nine-Tailed Fox.” Her eyes snapped to the cameras. Stupid! Why am I so stupid?
Licking her lips, the girl slumped into a stool and glanced her over with unsure eyes. Hesitantly, she kept stuttering and muttering to herself, trying to work through some mental struggle. “Mia is—is your mother? No—no—that can’t be … there is no Founding third generation Vulpes. There’s—there’s only Mia and Inari—the Vulpes Goddess’—the eldest.”
Sora was utterly perplexed. She already gave it up anyway, so hiding it won’t help. Why is the alarm not going off yet? “Mia is my mom—my Dad said she was … my Mom’s a Goddess?”
Shaking her head, the girl bit her lower lip for a moment. “No, no, no—you aren’t even fully Japanese—wait—why—how are you not Japanese? You’re a Nogitsune—no white—and not fully Japanese?” The girl looked to the large man for answers, but he seemed as speechless as her.
Glancing back to where the guard lay unconscious, Sora breathed a deep sigh. Alright Sora, game face! You need to get free, and this is your best opportunity! Putting on a light smile, she said, “If you get me off this table, I can tell you.”
The girl huffed and nervously chuckled to herself. “Definitely a Vulpes, but not a Vulpes, half a Vulpes … how?”
Looking up at the man, Sora pursed her lips, feeling a lot better than before with company, even more, another Vulpes. “Could you help me out, Sir?” She hummed as he stumbled back into the overhead cabinets, causing some of them to snap inward. A few of the buns fell to the floor in his hurry to back away. “I won’t bite!” Sora pleaded.
The girl chewed on her lower lip for a moment before taking a step forward, then stopping, and stepped back. Sora watched her with a mystified expression. “I only have one tail,” looking at the girl’s tails. “You have two; I doubt I could hurt you and I’m sealed, by that witch of a woman.” Sora tried to argue, attempting to look down at the two papers on her stomach.
Working around her lips, the girl slowly nodded. “I can see that.” Finally, the girl drew out her breath and stepped forward. Sora swallowed as the girl’s fingers came up to show claws and she cut the straps binding her to the steel table.
Smiling widely, Sora lifted herself and suddenly frowned as her trapped tail kept her from rising further. Trying to get a better angle, she found that a hole was cut into the steel table and bronze clasps were holding her tail in place. The girl was already searching through the drawers and found a plain white medical gown. Frowning with dissatisfaction, she tossed it on the steel table.
Sora flipped her hair out as she tied the gown at her neck and back. She growled as she renewed her efforts with her tail. Huffing, she looking up at the man, trying her best impression of a puppy dog, pleading for help, which resulted in him bump into the back cabinets again, crushing them.
The girl shook her head. “Jian, if she really were Mia, she would have already scorched this entire area to the bedrock.”
Jian nodded but still didn’t move. “That’s true, but, Fen, she has red fur—she says she’s Mia’s daughter and she smells…”
Fen cut him off, “C’mon, don’t be rude, Jian. Help the girl free her tail; it’s utterly irascible having your tail bound!” Hesitantly, Jian complied, reaching down and snapping the tungsten shell.
Smile returning, Sora hopped off the bed and stared down at the guard quizzically. “Is it alright to go around knocking guards out? Won’t they sound an alarm?”
Fen huffed. “Honestly, I’m surprised they haven’t already. That imp should be running out of energy soon … unless he’s stealing some from the guards. I wonder where he wandered off to? Probably to extort some guard, maybe he’ll get himself killed leaving the base.” Sora didn’t understand but kept her eyes trained on the guard.
She caught Fen’s shrug. “Don’t worry about it; there’s four more in a closet down the hall—well one’s the cleaning person—he happened to be in the room when we dumped them off. I thought—you were either Mia or Inari and thought you were here to—help. Though—I guess that was just wishful thinking—they wouldn’t waste time on someone like me.” She finished with downcast eyes.
Nodding slowly, Sora took a seat and apprised the girl that had released her from her steel prison. “I said I’d tell you the story if you freed me. Do you want to hear it now? I also have more questions to ask, if that’s alright.”
Walking over to grab a bun off the half-empty tray, Fen put it to her mouth before frowning. “Perhaps it would be better to talk elsewhere.” She sighed, “but honestly, there’s no safe place to talk, and I’d say we’re on borrowed time. So, here will do.”
“I figured,” Sora said, still looking at the unconscious guard.
Nodding, Fen sat on the stool again. “Yes, I played a little trick on some of the staff, but it was a bit too easy … I suppose there’s something amiss.”
Looking at the top right corner of the room, Sora hummed. “Cameras, I bet someone’s been following your actions.”
They paused as the lights around the room turned red, and a siren sounded in the hall. Fen’s eyes narrowed. “Was that the Bodach that was caught or are we the ones that are about to be attacked?” Fen’s brow furrowed. “How can they see us though? I don’t feel anyone watching me or hear anyone following down the halls?”
Sora shook her head and pointed at the room’s camera. “That records things and sends it to screens so people can watch.”
Fen looked at Jian with worry. “I’ve seen a lot of those around—even in the room we escaped from.” Jian nodded with a frown as he stared at the camera.
Pursing her lips, Sora rested her hand against her cheek. They already said my mom’s name, and I even said she was my mother. Mom’s renowned or infamous from what I’ve gathered. What will Diane do now? Wait for more information and then grab me or maybe they don’t know who my mom is; even monsters seem to have limited knowledge of her. She eyed, Fen as she looked down at the floor, concern written across her smooth features. However, she said my mom’s the eldest alive, along with my aunt.
After several seconds the lights turned back to normal, and the siren ceased. Looking around in confusion, Sora hummed. “I guess it was someone else trying to escape. Maybe that’s why they haven’t noticed us; their attention is somewhere else.”
Breathing a heavy sigh, Fen smiled. “Probably that impish fiend. The idiot probably ran out of energy and transformed right in front of someone.”
Sora lifted from her sitting position and stretched. “Well, I guess it won’t take them long to figure out you’ve knocked out some guards and released me.” She listened for a moment but didn’t hear anyone coming. “No one is on the way, so they could be fishing for information or waiting for some other purpose, maybe they have their hands full right now with that other escape. For now, we shouldn’t talk about things they either don’t know, or we don’t want divulged.”
Sora leaned up against the table, detecting a sudden change as Fen breathed a frustrated sigh, which she followed by scrutinizing her. Her lips pursed for a moment before she said, “In the meantime, we should get you some clothes. At least they gave me clothes as plain as they may have been.” Winking, Fen said, “It may surprise you, but modesty is the best initiator of charm!”
Chuckling lightly, Sora noted Fen’s curve-accentuating dress. What is her definition of modesty? More notably, Sora noticed Fen’s white and black tails. She’s a two-tailed Vulpes and Chinese, which means she’s a húli jīng. All the stories I’ve read said húli jīng are very tortuous and evil; am I just seeing a disguised personality? Jin and even Eyia were first cautious when speaking with me; I should stay on my guard. Sora’s eyes locked on Fen’s white tail. White also signifies allegiance to Inari, whom mom supposedly hates. Maybe that’s why she feared me, thinking I was my mother?
Fen smoothly lifted from her position and motioned for Jian and her to follow. “We’ll first go to the clothes area, and we can plan from there.” On her way past Jian, she plucked a bun off the tray and tossed it to Sora. “Your stomach has been screaming this entire time, please shut it up!” Fen laughed. “With your energy being drained you’ll need something to keep your body running.”
Catching the bun, Sora dug into its contents, following Fen into the hall. She savored a few more buns as they walked down the halls. She detected the guards were watching, but not questioning their movements. Something is up, but what? If I can find a guard, not in sight of a camera, I could hypnotize them to tell me … maybe I shouldn’t try, I’m not sure how much of my abilities are being suppressed.
Fen led them to the changing rooms and quickly picked out a few dresses, which Sora turned down. “I’d prefer something I can move more freely in.” She said with an apologetic smile.
Fen nodded with an understanding look. “Very well, how about these!” She pulled out light blue low-riding skinny shorts that stretched slightly for comfort and a cream-colored top.
Sora accepted the two pieces of clothes and continued to search around the room until in delight, she found her original clothing, but realized how beat up they were; the fight made them unusable. It had been placed in a locker with all her previous belongings, even her cellphone. Quickly taking it out, she wasn’t surprised to find it dead. Sighing, she pulled out her bra and purse. Fen looked confused at her actions but didn’t question.
Going into a separate room, she changed, relieved the pants just barely came up to her tail. Staring at her purse for several moments, she breathed a heavy sigh. I bought this after one of Kari’s pack members stole my previous one. I never thought I’d have it here, let alone be in this situation. Resolving herself, she left the room without it.
Fen looked her up and down with a bright smile. “Not bad; I haven’t seen women wear bottoms like that, but it does have a certain appeal, and it doesn’t cover your tail.”
Sitting on a bench, Sora nodded and asked, “What now?”
Fen shook her head. “I don’t know. I just didn’t want to be locked in a room, but with the wards, we are still locked in the base.”
Sora’s gaze shifted to Jian. He’s not a Vulpes and not human. Fen must have noticed her scrutiny because she said. “Jian is a bai-hu.” Sora shook her head, signifying she didn’t know what that meant. Looking slightly confused, Fen continued, “A Bai-Hu is—like—a tiger.”
Nodding, Sora said, “So you can turn into a tiger like Kari can turn into a wolf?”
Fen’s left eye lifted at her statement. “I guess or like we can turn into foxes; we just have harder times at hiding our non-human origins.”
Brow furrowing, Sora shook her head. “I can’t,” she cut off and looked around the room at the multiple cameras.
“What was that?” Fen asked.
“Nothing,” Sora said, lifting from her seat. “We should walk around a bit, listen and try to catch any odd smells.”
Fen’s demeanor turned nervous. “I’ve heard some things about a Korean dragon being held on the lowest floor and a Valkyrie.”
Sora’s heart lifted at the news. “Jin and Eyia are down in the basement?” She asked with excitement, unable to restrain her relief. She swallowed as she said it, looking back at the cameras. Wouldn’t they have already realized we know each other? We were captured together; I don’t even know how long they were following us or maybe they were following Eric’s pack?
She was baffled by Fen’s reactive step backward. “You—know them?”
Nodding, Sora simply said, “I do.” Again, Fen looked up at Jian with worry, and it struck her. If she follows Inari—Jin won’t be too … excited to see Fen. Tentatively, Sora tried to study Fen’s emotions. She suddenly felt dizzy and began falling to the floor.
* * *
Sora’s eyes widened as she stared across a dark, fathomless ocean. Looking around, she saw a rocky shore and jagged rocks that suck out of the ground like spikes; some were as tall as her hotel. The mist had thickened and stretched over sections of the ocean. Turning, she only saw a wall of white clouds blocking her vision of the mountains. Examining the area thoroughly, she found snow beginning to fall around her that quickly escalated into a blizzard. She knew she was cold, but it didn’t affect her as it should. All her senses were dampened again, making her feel naked, unable to gauge threats.
The snow mixed with the fog and made her weakened vision nearly blind. She trekked through the snow, noting that she left footprints. Everything feels too real for it to be a dream. Where am I? Stopping at a cliff that dropped fifty feet, she followed its edge. She didn’t know why she kept going other than staying still wouldn’t give her answers, so she walked.
The space seemed timeless, but it clearly passed with every falling ice crystal. She started climbing a small hill that continued upward until it evened out onto an overhanging cliff that dropped onto a clouded cove. At the top of the cliff Sora found a blurred dark shape, but what initially caught her attention was a glowing spear, Eyia’s spear.
* * *
She blinked and was staring up into Jian’s passive face. She yelped as she was abruptly dropped five feet to the concrete floor, her head striking the ground. Rubbing the back of her skull while tittering in pain, she asked, “What was that for and—what happened?”
Fen eyed Jian with a smirk. His back was turned to her as he stared at the doorway. Fen moved a little closer and knelt beside her. “I apologize, but Jian’s been caring for me for some time. He saw you falling and caught you. You could say, against his will; it’s more of an instinct for him.”
“Then it was his will to drop me?” Sora asked, lifting herself to a sitting position while trying to figure out what happened. Eyia’s spear, then it had to be Eyia, but why would I have … it couldn’t have been a dream; it felt too real, a vision? Whatever it was, it was the second time I’d been there. Why?
A mild laugh left Fen’s throat as she stood. “That’s correct. You might say he’s a little shy. As to why you fell, don’t ask me. Maybe you’re running short on spiritual energy.”
Sora frowned. “I’ve been really low on spiritual energy before, but I can’t recall passing out because of it.” Fen’s amused laughter annoyed her a little. “It’s happened to you then?” She challenged.
Fen nodded. “Of course. We’re essentially spiritual beings, meaning most our nourishment comes from some natural source. That means our bodies function off that energy. We can get a little from eating and drinking, but it’s fractional to our energy attunement.”
Lifting her shirt, Sora frowned at the piece of paper. Making up her mind, she attempted to peel it off. Why didn’t I think about it before! However, she couldn’t get her fingernail under it; it just seemed to pass right through it.
“Oh, to be young,” Fen noted, amusedly watching her attempts.
“I’m sixteen,” Sora said in frustration, abandoning her efforts. “Why can’t I get it off?”
Drawing out a deep breath, Fen said, “Sixteen—and to have that amount of energy drawing into you…” She sniffed. “Well, for starters, that ward is attached to your spirit, not your skin. Remember, we’re spiritual beings, the spirit produces spiritual energy, if that’s on your spirit then it can suck out all the produced energy.”
Sora slowly nodded with understanding. “So that’s why I fainted … my body is demanding energy to function, and this seal is taking most of it?”
Grinning with narrowed eyes, Fen said, “I assume you tried using your spiritual energy for something, and your body lost the energy it needs for minimum functionality.” Lying on the ground, Sora stared up at the ceiling. This just keeps getting better. She straightened as Fen continued, “However, there is a very odd thing about you.” Leaning closer, Fen lightly bit her lower lip. “The amount of energy your soul is creating far exceeds my own recuperative abilities. Yet, your body is using all that energy. Just for survival?”
Sora frowned at her statement and glanced at the cameras. She really doesn’t know how to keep her mouth shut, unless she’s doing this on purpose. Fen put a hand to her mouth, but Sora could tell she was hiding a smile by her eyes. Yes, she’s telling me she has information that could get me locked up and studied more.
Starting to get a better understanding of Fen’s personality and not liking where the conversation was taking them, Sora said, “Let’s walk around a bit.” Getting to her feet, Sora began walking out of the room. She suspected Fen followed out of boredom and Jian just followed Fen. She walked down halls she’d already taken, hoping to find a recognizable scent; hoping to see her father or Wendy, and sooner than expected, she did find a familiar smell.