I can’t believe I actually got to this point. O.o How long this has been in my mind.
Sora glanced around the kitchen as she entered; an assortment of ingredients was spaced around the table with Ashley and Alice standing in the center. Ashley looked up as she shut the door behind her.
“Sora, you’re up earlier than I expected; I was sure you’d need to rest longer after all you did yesterday.”
She forced a chuckle. “Well, I had a bit of a fiery awakening. How about you two; you didn’t sleep at all?”
Alice leaned back against the table while holding her left arm, avoiding eye contact. She shook her head. “No—I’ve had a lot on my mind—and Ashley’s been explaining to me how humans live beyond the Red Gate. There’s—just so much to think about.”
Ashley giggled. “She’s got more questions than my kids at a dinosaur museum, and no, I’ve been too stressed to sleep. It was the same with anything big in my life—I’m the type to throw-up before going on stage; it’s hard for me to rest when I have something important to do the next day.”
“I thought that only happened in movies,” Sora commented, noticing Alice rocking her new yoga pants and silk shirt. “You two been cooking all night?” She asked, walking to stand by the outer edge of the square table.
“Oh, heavens, no,” Ashley laughed. “We’ve been talking most the night; we started cooking an hour or two ago … it’s kind of hard to tell without a clock; cooking by eye can be hard with some dishes.” She mumbled, glaring at the magical device housing all the cooked items.
“You made some amazing looking dishes,” Alice whispered. “I’ve never thought about using Felora Eggs in such ways.”
“It was pretty fun experimenting with their ingredients.” Ashley released a sigh as she glanced back at the closed door. “I heard Kari came back a bit ago.”
Sora groaned, running her left hand through her damp hair. “Yeah, I showed her the clothes I made her and offered to take her to the shower to get ready. She’s probably listening to us; I think she can hear just as good as me.”
Ashley shrugged, continuing to put different ingredients in pots to be stored. “That’s fine. I’m not really put off by her.”
Sora’s brow creased. “Really?”
“I have nothing against her,” Ashley said, putting some sort of peppers in a pot.
“Hmm—is that right.” Sora folded her arms. “I know it’s probably not the best time, but … what do you think of Kari? If you’re uncomfortable talking about her with her upstairs, I can take us into my Core or try to create a sound barrier.”
“No, I don’t mind her listening,” Ashley said with a soft smile. “To be honest, I wish the best for Kari; she’s had a rough life, and I couldn’t imagine my daughter going through the same thing.”
Sora swallowed, glancing at the ceiling, but she didn’t hear Kari say anything as she washed herself; she was surprisingly quiet. “You wish the best for her … you don’t hate her at all—even after Eric held you hostage for so long?”
“That was a horrible story,” Alice mumbled, moving to put a few pots back in the refrigerator.
Ashley’s lips dropped into a sad smile as she glanced between them. “Eric’s actions are his, and not Kari’s—they’re also what make me feel so much for Kari. How would I explain it?”
She sighed, pausing in her clean-up. The only sound in the room was Alice’s soft movements as she continued to work. Ashley tried composing her thoughts; after several seconds, she folded her arms, staring down at her bare feet to paw the wooden floor.
“I—can’t begin to imagine the horrors that girl’s witnessed and felt. I looked into her a bit at first, but didn’t have the full scope; kids disappearing was what first drew my attention to Eric. From what I’m aware, she showed up in Miami when she was thirteen years old, connecting the dots from everything I’ve heard from Eric and you … her life was a living nightmare—still is.
“I can’t help but blame her mother for most of this, but I know that’s not fair too—I don’t know what state of mind Alva was in. It’s just tragic … Kari first lost her sister … that must have been a shock.”
“I guess,” Sora muttered. She stiffened as Ashley’s expression almost mirrored her aunt’s. “What? Am I missing something?”
“I know a little bit about what it’s like to have your heart broken … the shame … hate … that eats at your heart. When your world falls apart, and all you can see is what you lost. I broke … it was about the second week of being under Eric’s control—all I could think was how weak I was; I can still remember it.”
Ashley closed her eyes, pressing her fists against her chest. “Breathing in … breathing out … knowing—hoping to die. Out of all the emotions I felt … by that second week, they’d all burnt out, and the only thing left was hate, but even that starts to fade. Halfway through that second week … my heart stopped beating.
“I’d fractured … it was when I held a thirteen-year-old girl down for Eric—when I helped him pour Jenny’s saliva into her mouth. I lost all feeling … I couldn’t … I did my part, I tried my best, but I was now the monster … everything I fought against—I couldn’t feel … in fact, I blocked out most of,” she swallowed and sniffed, “most of what I did after that. I was already dead inside.
“Kari, though … she’s had to fight a monster like that for—for years—I can’t imagine that kind of willpower. That it took this long for her to break is—powerful—but I also know she lost something to do it; the scars on that girl’s heart … it’s unimaginable. I admire and feel terrible for the girl; first, her sister, then her mother, and she thought it was her brother the entire time. I can’t—if my children—I can’t let them go through such a hell—never.”
She tucked her lips under her teeth as her face set. “I won’t let that happen to them.” Opening her eyes, she cleared her throat before looking up at her. “At thirteen, I was worried about boys, my looks, and rebelling against my parents. Kari had a homicidal brother obsessed with her—a murdered family … no help—no one truly there for her. What life support did she have?
“Who can really reach in and pull her out of the ocean of tragedy she’s stuck in? Aiden? He’s just as broken as Kari.”
“Are—are you saying?”
Ashley shook her head. “I’m just telling you my feelings, just like you asked, and I can’t separate you from that. I’d given up all hope—I was empty—but it was you that brought me back … the frenzy … I was better of dead … glad for it to be over, and then you…”
Her cheeks had long turned red, and her chest fluttered. “You have no—no idea—just how hopeless and broken I was … I was dead … utterly dead inside—and you brought me hope; you pulled me back. Because of you, I have another chance with my family.”
She took a deep breath. “Thank you, Sora … your spirit lifted me back from a … a place without hope.”
Sora’s throat caught; she looked down at the table in front of her. When Ashley finished, she took a long breath before swallowing. “You—were a victim. I—Kari bullied me for years … I guess I did have people there to help me deal with it, but…” She couldn’t finish the sentence.
A sad smile touched Ashley’s lips. “I’m just telling you my story. You asked me what I think of Kari, and I told you what I went through—what I did … I can’t judge Kari. All I know is that when I was Eric’s slave … I would have given my voice to tell my kids I love them one last time … my fingertips to touch them … my eyes to see them … just one last time. It took me shattering to see how I wanted to live.
“I can’t say—just how broken we all are—but now I’m ready to fight without rest. Life is a war, and we must pick our battles. I know what I’m fighting for … but what is Kari fighting for?”
Sora tucked in her lip; after a moment, she shook her head. She knew the answer; she’d already talked about it with Inari, but she didn’t want to say it.
Ashley didn’t respond, allowing the silence to stretch. After a while, she shook her head. “I can’t say—I think that’s what we’re all trying to figure out here. Everything’s changed, and we’re doing our best to keep up. Inari helped us take our first steps. Who’s helped Kari move on?”
Sora growled lowly as she glared at the table. “I—thanks for telling me what you really feel.” She mumbled.
“Did it help?” Ashley asked with a forced smile.
“I guess—it’s along the same lines of what my aunt said.” She sighed, scratching the back of her head. “Life’s too complicated.”
“That we definitely agree on,” Ashley chuckled.
“So—when are we going to get your family?”
Ashley smiled at the wall of food behind them. “Inari said that they’d be there after we eat breakfast.”
“I see,” Sora said, following her gaze. “That’s why you prepared everything early.”
“Every second,” Ashley whispered. “Anyways—what about you? I still need to wait for the others to wake up … I don’t even know if I can eat with how twisted my stomach is.”
“Kari asked to talk with me alone. I planned on going on a walk with her; I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t holding you up from seeing your family.”
“Mhh,” Ashley’s eyes dropped to the floor as she frowned. Her lips soon lifted into a bright smile. “Okay, the others will probably be up by the time you get back—hopefully.”
“You sure? I can wait.”
“No—no, it’s fine. You go have a talk with Kari. I’m waiting on these sleepy heads upstairs, not you or Kari.”
“Okay … I’ll try to not make it too long.”
“Don’t worry about it, Sora,” Ashley motioned to the door. “Go on, Alice, and I will have everything set up by the time you return.”
“Sounds good,” Sora moaned, not looking forward to this exchange, but Kari was finishing up her shower. “Thanks, Ashley, Alice.”
“No—thank you, Sora,” Alice said with a grateful smile. “It might hurt—but I’m thankful for what you’ve done for Liz and me.”
“Don’t mention it,” Sora said, smile fake as she left the kitchen.
It hurts her, but she’s thankful … maybe I should have read their Spiritual Networks. No … that’s such an invasion of their privacy. Man, these powers really need a limiter, or I could go crazy with them.
She looked up as Jin released a delightful hum. “Things sure are looking fun this morning.”
Sora forced a chuckle. “That’s one way to put it.”
“It seems Kari is finished with the shower,” Eyia stated, looking up at the ceiling. “Do all societies use such devices?”
“Eh,” Sora scratched her right shoulder. “I don’t really know. Jin or Githa could probably tell you more about that.”
“Oh! I have stories,” Githa jumped up on the back of Eyia’s sofa, tucking her front paws under. “You want to hear? I have lots!”
Eyia smiled at the fluffy white cat to her left. “I enjoy stories.”
“Wait a minute,” Jin chuckled. “You have full stories about showers?”
“Loads!” Githa cheered. “Lots and lots of them.”
Sora shook her head ruefully. “The things you must have seen, Githa.”
“I know! I see lots of stuff … poor little creatures,” she said with a tearful tone.
Jin stiffened. “Poor little creatures? You—make it sound like we’re pathetic.”
“Sad … sad, indeed,” Githa sniffed. “You’re so lucky to have such a great one such as me! I will tell you about the story of the golden shower of Athena and the amazing fluffy kitty!”
Kari descended the stairs, huffing at Githa’s statement. “I think that’s my cue to leave. You ready, Sora?”
Sora stretched out her neck, trying to ease her tension. “Yeah, the sooner, the better.”
Without a word, Kari moved to the door, and she followed. Githa sniffed. “Your loss!”
Kari opened the door and walked out, Sora closing the door behind them as they stepped down the stone steps to the damp cobblestone walkway.
The soft morning breeze struck Sora’s exposed skin; it was cold, but she wasn’t bothered by the change in temperature. There was a hint of light beyond the mountains to their left, towering above the forest; the snow on its peaks had increased through the night. There wasn’t a soul walking the streets, and besides their own building, she didn’t hear a person awake.
It seems everyone gets up around the same time. Everyone on the same clock to accomplish their work throughout the day … everything is so orderly.
Kari was silent as they walked, causing Sora’s eyes to wander. She took a quick note of her clothes; she’d done a good job judging her size, but she had cheated with a mental image. Her hair was still damp, and it looked like she’d combed it out with her fingers.
Sora’s focus shifted between the buildings and warehouses around them; every one looked like they’d been constructed with the greatest of care.
Just how long did it take for them to build all of these, and how often do they have to destroy them to make new ones? This world’s supposed to be really old, but everything looks so well maintained. It’s like they have weekly polishing done to the entire town. Maybe they do … I suppose they can’t do things with the fields all year round. A life of complete service to one’s duty…
Her attention shifted to Kari as she finally spoke. “Why’d you make me clothes?” It wasn’t a demand, but a soft and honest question.
“Umm—well, Aiden asked me to.”
“Yeah, but—why? I thought you hated me.”
Sora shrugged. “I don’t know … he asked, and I just did it.”
Kari fell silent again as she slowed, looking at the ground.
After a few seconds, Sora sighed, growing a little irritated. “You didn’t even know about the clothes until I said something—what do you really want to ask me?”
“I … I wanted to ask—ask for your help,” she mumbled, rubbing her left arm.
Sora’s eyebrow lifted as she stared at her back; she was walking a few paces ahead of her. “You wanted—to ask for my help? Are you serious?” When she didn’t respond, Sora groaned. “What do you need help with?”
“Some Vulpes I met … I know there’s something wrong, but—I don’t know how to fix it. I was—I just wanted to see if you knew anything about that.
“Wait, wait … you—Kari—the wolf—wants to help a Vulpes?”
Kari swallowed, and a bit of heat rose in her voice. “Is that so hard to believe?”
Feeling less threatened and more annoyed, Sora rolled her eyes. “What if it is?” She huffed, mentally preparing herself for Kari to lash out. She was put a little off-guard when Kari released a long breath, shoulders sagging.
“I guess—that is kind of hard to believe. It’s true, though … her name’s Holonie, and I kind of like this other Vulpes’ name is Braelyn, too.”
Sora’s brow creased as she scratched her left fox ear. “I’m—having a hard time taking you seriously, Kari … did something happen to you?”
“No,” Kari growled defensively. “I’m me … I just—these Vulpes are just a bit special—okay?”
“They must be,” Sora teased. “What, are they secretly Fenris Wolves in disguise? Maybe they look like Jenny or L…”
“Hey,” Kari snapped, her eyes glowed a fierce orange before fading, and her complexion turned somber. “Please—don’t say their names.” She whispered, shoulder-length black hair swaying as she turned her head away.
Wait; what? Kari’s not acting anything like herself, but … that was a bit much.
Sora sighed, folding her arms. “I’m sorry—that was a bit far.”
After a short stretch, Kari scratched her neck before asking, “What was it like—being a human?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean—I know you really did go through a change … you’re related to Inari, which means your Mia’s daughter.” She let go of a weak shrug. “I don’t know how that all works, but I know you’re at least a Founder—and you do know—I mean, you were basically human for sixteen years. I just want to know what it was like.”
She glared at Kari’s back. “What—before or after I met you?”
“Just in general,” Kari mumbled.
Sora smirked as she recalled something her aunt had said. “Why do you want to know?”
Kari cleared her throat. “I—does it matter?”
“Without understanding why you asked a question, you will not grasp the answer. The nature of the question is important to dissect before identifying possible responses.”
“I see,” Kari hummed. “That seems logical.”
Sora’s teeth slammed together. She didn’t get upset or question it at all! What’s with… Her bitter thoughts vanished at Kari’s response.
“I suppose … it’s because I wish I were human.”
“Do I need to spell … deep breaths,” she whispered, “deep breaths … I hate Fenris Wolves. I hate everything about them.”
“You hate yourself?” Sora chuckled.
“That too,” Kari mumbled.
Sora was at a loss for words. I’ve taunted her … I’ve made her repeat herself … I’ve tried to act better than her … what’s wrong with her? This is not Kari! It can’t be.
“You’re sure you’re Kari?”
“Yes,” Kari stated with exasperation. “Please—just give me an answer.” She pleaded.
“Eh—well, that’s kind of a hard response. I mean, it’s not all that different from being a Vulpes … I guess I am less concerned about what most people think of me. I’m not quite as nervous as I was before. My human self was kind of pathetic—to be honest. I was really weak.”
“That’s not true!” Kari shouted as she stopped and shot a glare at her, causing Sora to flinch.
“What? How—how would you even know?”
“Humans are strong,” Kari stated. “Humans are weak, but they overcome everything! They don’t give up, and they build what they can’t do with their bodies. They can’t fly, then they build a plane. They can’t take a bullet; then, they build body armor … they’re amazing!”
“Fine, fine,” Sora huffed, holding up her hands. “Yeah, I guess humans are pretty big about that, but I mean, they’re not the only race that invents things.”
“Oh, and who do you know that can adapt like humans?” Kari challenged.
“Umm—well, Founders can!”
“Really,” Kari sniffed. “Then why didn’t my mother overcome her troubles, huh? Why’d she just die … pathetic. Your mom isn’t even around.”
“Hey,” Sora’s nose twisted. “That’s not fair … I still have my aunt, and she says my mom has reasons to—to stay away.”
Kari’s brow creased with concern, and she rubbed her arm again. “I’m sorry—I just—I got a little angry. I watched humans and—and they have all these answers. I don’t have any … humans work hard and achieve their goals, but—but no matter how hard I try, I—I can’t do it.”
She slowed, and Sora could hear her fighting back tears; the thought of Kari crying was impossible for her to comprehend. “You—really want me to help some random Vulpes that you’ve probably only known for like—what, ten hours?”
“You’ve done less, haven’t you?” Kari defensively asked.
Sora was about to respond, but that’s me, but the thought also shocked her. Just how conceited am I being? I can help people, but she can’t? I mean, she really can’t … which is why she’s coming to me. This is so strange…
She swallowed, clearing her throat. “Umm—I just never really—expected you to actually care about anyone but yourself.”
Kari massaged her neck with both hands, groaning as she looked down at the cobblestone. “I—want to learn something.”
“Look—I don’t know,” she growled. “I’m…” she took a deep breath, voice softening again, “I’m trying to figure it out—I—I’m sorry … I don’t know how to—I haven’t had to ask for something before. I’d just demanded it and—and people would give it to me.”
Sora’s tails stiffened as Kari’s past demands resurfaced, and she glared at her. “Yeah, well, that’s what it’s like being a bully. You say jump, and I say how high or you’d beat me up.”
Kari swallowed, working her jaw around a little as she clutched her hands. “Was—that really wrong?”
“Are you kidding me?” Sora asked.
“You’re unbelievable!” Sora shouted, hands balling into fists. “Yes, that was wrong! You destroyed so many girls’ lives! And—and now you’re asking if that was wrong? Are you stupid?”
Sora was a little shocked to see Kari flinch. “I—just thought that’s what it meant by seizing your own destiny—I didn’t know…”
A sharp huff left Sora’s lips as she picked between her teeth. “Right, I forgot—you’re just a wolf. Of course, how could you ever understand someone else’s feelings besides your own selfish desires! Do you really want to help those Vulpes, or do they have something you want?”
“I—I do want to understand something from them…”
“Ah, there we go.” Sora shook her head at Kari’s focused complexion. “Oh, Sora has some money, right? Well, she doesn’t need it because she’s rich, so I’ll just beat her up and abuse her to get some of it. You sat there and made it possible for all those other girls to hurt me … for years—and oh, it’s justified because it’s rich little Sora … Kari’s cool with it … Sora’s got money.”
Sora sniffed as she began hiccuping, and tears appeared in her eyes. “Pick on the rich girl … yeah, that’s the right thing to do. Hurt—everyone close to her—because they get more than we do! Why’s Sora giving that girl more than me? Hurt Wendy. Oh—well now she doesn’t have any more friends, great—that’s just how a rich girl should be!
“You can’t just—just say you didn’t know it was wrong to beat me … to hurt everyone I know! It’s—it’s just wrong! You made people think I was crazy! What do…” She paused. Kari’s head was turned away, but she caught a tear run down her cheek. “You—are you crying? Really?”
“No—I’m—I’m just … what do you want me to do? I don’t know what to do…”
“Oh—so, that’s it, huh? Poor Kari—she’s lost everything, and now you want what, pity?”
“No … please—I don’t want pity,” Kari cried. “I—I don’t need it.”
Sora’s teeth ground against each other. “You—if you want an answer, then feel my pain! Would you do that?”
Kari looked up at her; it was as if she was looking at a stranger; she looked vulnerable, and all the vindictive emotions hidden inside Sora’s chest left their shadows. “Feel what I experienced for years.”
A lump dropped down Kari’s throat. “How?”
“You can drop your defenses, can’t you? Allow me to show you what you did.”
Kari’s shining amber eyes fell to her tails, and she sniffed back her tears. “Okay.” She whispered.
“What? You really think you can handle it?” Sora asked, the spite in her heart increasing.
“It doesn’t matter … if that’s what you want, then—then I’ll do it. I said I’d pay any price for you to heal Holonie and Braelyn.”
Her teeth started to hurt as they tightened, and she watched Kari’s defenses drop; there was still a layer of resistance, but it was just her natural resistance, and she knew she could break past it. It’s fake … it has to be fake! There’s no way Kari would sacrifice for anyone but herself!
Yet, Sora was dumbstruck; the evil that had plagued her for years was leaving herself wide open. If she wanted, she could easily attack her Core, destroy her.
Fox Fire lit across Sora’s fur as she glared past Kari’s Spiritual Network and how weak she was in that moment. She felt the warning and knew she shouldn’t, but everything she’d fantasized for years was in front of her eyes.
She attached an emotional thread onto Kari’s Core and fed everything she’d felt, pumping her despair, pain, and hate through the link. The sadness on Kari’s face only fed her search to find every event scarred on her spirit.
Yet, at the same time, she realized her mistake and why she’d felt those warnings; the link went both ways, and she’d opened herself to Kari’s own life in equal torrent with the width of the tether she’d attached.
She understood Kari’s emotions as they surged through the opening. Kari truly felt regret and the emotions that returned cut at her heart, the desperation to find a path through a splintered world.
In separate folds of her Intelligence, in spite of her efforts, the balance was far from equal. Kari was struggling through a blizzard of cold pain, lost in an abyss of doubt. The constant search for catharsis to stem the flow of fear and suffering.
“What should I have done?” Kari whispered, tears falling to the cobblestone beneath them. “Should I have killed them? Should I have left … but then I wouldn’t have known … I should have just died with my mother.”
Sora looked at the mist around them as the world faded; nothing else existed but them in this black emotional space that existed between their Cores, linked by her magic. She found it hard to swallow as common ground opened inside her heart with the pain they shared. Even though she was the cause of that pain, she realized that in sharing Kari’s misery, she might have saved her life.
She shook her head, feeling the contrast of Kari’s emotions before and after her desperate escape; it hit her like a wave. “You did die with your mother,” Sora whispered. It was different, but the pain Kari felt was even greater than her own. “I’m—sorry…”
“What do you have to be sorry for?” Kari asked, eyes reflecting her anguish. “I ruined your life … hurt so many people. All—all for myself.”
Sora took a long breath as she sat down on the dark floor, looking at Kari’s feet. “No … Eric ruined our lives. I glossed over that and blamed everything on you—but you’re even more broken than I was … you were so strong.”
Kari slowly sat with her, looking to the side. “I’m not strong. I don’t know what to do … how do I build something—do I deserve to create something? All I’ve done … I’ve hurt so many people.
“I just—didn’t want to hurt … I wanted what everyone else has, but it was—it was all fake. I would have died for Lori … she hated me, though … feared me. Everyone feared me—no one really loved me. I don’t believe Eric ever loved me … I don’t know what it was, but not love … love’s supposed to be warm…”
Sora was silent for several seconds as their emotions swirled around each other. “I—thought Jenny liked you?”
“No—she feared me too … her whole life was fear. I realized that watching you and the others … the bond you all share. I knew it from watching humans, too. Why … why couldn’t I have just been born a human.”
Brow creased, Sora’s eyes lifted to study Kari as she hugged her knees. “Is that why you always stay in your human form? You don’t want to be a Fenris Wolf … you really want to be a human?”
“Humans have so much … they build so much, but all wolves do are devour and destroy … tear each other apart. I don’t want to hurt anymore … to destroy, but—how do I build? You can do it—without even trying. It’s—amazing … just watching it feels … I feel bad because—because I want it.”
“Me, build? I—don’t think you—well, I guess building is kind of like a relationship.” Sora mumbled. “You have to start block by block, and it’s pretty easy to tear down.”
A melancholy smile touched Kari’s lips. “I knew you really wanted me to go … I’ll ask Eyia to kill me.”
Kari nodded. “I just—I want it to be over.” She cried.
Sora took a long breath, but try as she might, she couldn’t glare at her worst enemy. “I’ve known—been told what you’ve been through, but—I didn’t actually feel it. They were like empty words to me, but now—I want to know the real you.”
“Real me? What do you mean?” Kari asked, wet eyes rising to meet her.
A compassionate smile lifted Sora’s lips. “I don’t think I’ve ever met the real Kari.”
“Then … what am I? If this isn’t—isn’t the real me, then what is?”
Sora took a second to calm her own heart; she was shocked by how calm she felt as she explained it to the terrified girl in front of her. Kari couldn’t respond as they went through every scene.
She created an image of the looming behemoth she feared, ordering her clothes stripped and existence banished from her kingdom.
“The you I know was a monstrous giant, filled with hate and pain, fueled by a desperate desire to find a place where she belonged and escape the hellish past of her family. Obsessed with erasing anything that could threaten her dream.”
Sora looked to her left with Kari as she formed a magical copy of the girl in front of her, red-faced and slick with tears; her amber eyes tortured with turmoil and agony, utterly horrified by the savage visage of herself looming above them. “You’re terrified … but you’re not this person anymore. Your own face haunts you.”
Making the devilish image fade into smoke, she replaced it with a scene that was very clear in her memory; the first time she’d seen Kari hesitate. An uncertain beast, sitting with her pack in the parking lot as she watched the arrival of enemies that made her feel vulnerable.
“Eyia and Jin … two enemies that you knew you couldn’t beat, and for the first time since building your empire, you felt weak. Eric had kept his distance, for the most part, building a larger territory around the school, but leaving you alone for Jenny to cultivate the growing monster you were becoming.”
She moved to their fight, followed by her defeat at the hands of her brother before the final struggle against the thread that prevented her transformation. Next, she showed Lori’s death, followed by Jenny; the torment that coursed through Kari’s soul sent tremors shooting down her frame.
“Everything you build and tried to protect shattered; piece by piece, the world you’d created was burned away, and in the end, you gave up.”
Her lifeless eyes stared into the darkness as she was left alone, blood dripping down the golden threads binding her until a group of people loaded her on a cart to be taken to the arena.
“The last thing you had was revenge; the hate you felt for your brother drove you to move. However, he sacrificed himself so we could escape, making me promise to bring you to this realm with me.”
Sora looked at the reflection of herself as they entered the realm. “I was a different person … I changed yesterday. I learned a lot from my aunt … saw a lot, and now, I realize that you’ve changed too. You had nothing, and so, you searched for something—anything. And you found a path that brought you here … to ask me for help … willing to sacrifice your own life to find a way forward.”
A tear fell down Sora’s cheek as she looked at the shattered teenage wolf-girl across from her. “You’re not the same … I’m not the same. I can’t save you from the monsters of your past, but I can offer you … something my past self couldn’t.”
A lump dropped down Sora’s throat as she swallowed and held out her hand. “Kari, would you like to be my friend?”
Kari’s eyes widened as she wiped her red nose and sniffed. “Even—after everything I did to you?”
“You need a real home, and I’d like to help you build one—if you’ll let me.”
Her hand lifted, but hesitated and began to shake; Kari’s amber eyes locked onto her green irises with a desperate plea. “This isn’t a trick?”
A welcoming smile brightened her wet cheeks. “I’m not that nasty … even though I am a Vulpes.” She chuckled.
“Thank you—Sora,” Kari cried, taking her hand.
Sora leaned forward and hugged her new friend as they wept. “We’re all broken … aren’t we? You won’t be alone anymore.”
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