Next week will be from Mimi’s POV to finish up the night, and then we’re back with Sora. Poor Mimi T_T … leading is such a rough job … and when you’re the middle-Vulpes.
Kari ran her hand through her shoulder-length, black hair; she was lying against a soft sofa, head resting on the armrest as she watched Holonie teeter back and forth on her chair. The drunk Vulpes’ eyes fluttered a few times as she tried to make her out, hiccupping all the while.
“You’re the—the strangest thing—hair and—and ears … wait—you have any—any ears? What—to you?”
A sigh left Kari’s lips as her eyes rolled back, and she dropped to the floor, landing with a hard thump. “You have to be kidding me.” She mumbled.
The Vulpes stationed outside rushed in at the sound, bringing in a gust of wind from outside; she seemed flabbergasted at the sight that greeted her. Halonie’s dress was hiked up to her thighs; her drink spilled across her front as she lay sprawled out on the floor, mouth open, completely undignified.
“W-what happened? Is—did she drink the—the Elrinic juice?” She asked, face turning ashen. “If—if Mimi…”
That smell … is it going to rain soon? I guess I can just stay here; it seems like most people are leaving the streets anyways, and I don’t think I’m ready to go back. Should I even go back?
The single-tailed black-furred Vulpes was rubbing her collarbone, fervently glancing between them.
“Hey,” Kari snapped her fingers, shifting to sit against the back of the sofa.
She jumped, swallowing nervously. “Y-yes?”
“C’mere,” Kari beckoned with her index finger.
The woman’s arms started to tremble as her uncertain yellow eyes shifted between Halonie’s sprawled out form and her. “W-what?”
“I said, c’mere,” Kari growled, starting to get annoyed.
She slowly inched toward Kari, but almost jumped to her when she snapped, “hurry it up! Good,” she glanced back at Holonie, “now, we’re not going to mention any of this to Mimi, got it?”
“B-but—we’re not supposed to…”
“To drink the whatever-juice? Yeah, I heard, but you’re not going to mention it. Right?”
“I—I guess not…” She said with a sharp quiver at her tone.
“Good. Now, do you guys have some bedrooms or something upstairs?”
“C’mon, girl, speak clearly,” Kari took a deep breath to calm herself. “Look at me. I don’t care if I’m the bad guy, okay?”
The Vulpes swallowed, nodding rigidly. “Bad—guy?”
“Why do I even care … if you have to tell Mimi or whatever, then just say I made Holonie do it. Got it?”
She slowly nodded, looking even more confused. “You—made Holonie—drink it? You don’t know the name, though.
“As long as you understand,” Kari grinned with a short shrug. “Now, go pick her up and take her upstairs; could you clean her up and put her in bed while you’re at it?”
“I—I guess … she’ll be out of it all tomorrow, too.”
“Hmm,” Kari eyes the fidgeting women. She seemed to be one of the lower-ranked Vulpes. Man, Holonie must have known what would happen if she drank all of that. “That right, she sighed. “What’s your name?”
“Ma’am?” Kari couldn’t help but chuckle. “This translation crap is pretty funny. Just call me Kari, cool?”
“I’ll be down here, so, just take her upstairs, get her cleaned up, and let me know when you’re done. On second thought, I’ll come up in a bit. Don’t worry about updating me.”
Braelyn swiftly moved off to hoist Holonie over her arms; she didn’t seem too troubled hauling her upstairs. Kari analyzed her Spiritual Network as she moved toward the back and climbed the stairs with the unconscious Vulpes.
For being low-rank, her Spiritual Network isn’t as damaged as the others. I suppose she’ll go far in this society, given time. She’s got the potential to outstrip all these sorry excuses for Vulpes.
Slumping to her back again, she brushed her hair out of her face, staring up at the large wooden planks of the ceiling as it creaked. The sound of running water start on the third floor after a few minutes and Holonie’s drunken titters followed; she was hammered, mumbling and falling to the floor again, Braelyn spewing apologies as she washed her.
These Vulpes are so compliant. There has to be some kind of magic at work; you can’t just wipe away a creature’s nature with social structure. I can’t do much to help her with that, though. Sora might be able to … she’s gotten so strong recently; somehow, she even temporarily broke past my natural resilience toward magic. I was extremely weakened, but still…
Her vision slid down to her bare feet and blood stained elastic garments; there were rips in the fabric, but it was made of pretty tough stuff.
I want to help Holonie, but how? I can sense that she’s trying to fight something, but neither she nor I know what that is. That juice is strong to pull it out like that … is it from the Spiritual Plane? Mom did talk about food that could affect the spirit.
Getting up, she walked to the counter, sitting on the stool she’d chosen before. Picking up the half-empty bottle, she brought it up and sniffed the opening. It was strong and unfamiliar.
It could be some kind of spiritual fruit, but why use something like that? Could their council have plotted this entire thing? I don’t know how strong they are, but they might be dangerous enough to threaten me. Sora will be fine with her connections, but I can’t help Holonie if I’m dead…
She took the bottle back to the couch, taking a swig; the slight burn rippled down her throat before fading. She was becoming accustomed to the sweet flavor.
Who am I joking … how? And why would I … or, why do I want to get involved? Because, I do. Am I feeling a bit guilty about Sora? That’s stupid; why would feeling guilty about Sora make me want to help Holonie? What’s wrong with me?
I must be deranged. I mean, I guess Sora didn’t even know she was a Vulpes until a few weeks ago, and I just treated her like dirt the entire time. Why am I ragging on myself now? I don’t know … I just feel guilty … flawed. All I was trying to do was protect the school … my territory. I could have at least talked to her, though. Why didn’t I?
She growled, taking another gulp of the strong liquid. Turning on her side, she stared at the bare wall.
It doesn’t matter. Sora’s fine, now, but … if I want to help Holonie, then I need Sora. Okay, but why would Sora help me? She has no reason to; she only took me here because of Eric … damn, Eric … why’d he negotiate with Sora for this? None of it makes any sense! I’m in a realm filled with Vulpes … stuck here. Helping Holonie and figuring out what Aiden’s gonna do are the only things left for me. I … why’d I shout at Aiden? He’s always been nice to me.
She shifted to her back again, closing her eyes and crossing her arms, tapping the bottle against the side of the couch.
I need to move, and if I want to move forward … to just start, it all leads back to Sora and Aiden. Can I just go back with my tail between my legs, though … swallow my pride?
Her heart felt hollow at the thought.
What pride? I don’t have anything to be proud of. A daughter of Fenrir? Please … what has being a Fenris Wolf ever done for me? Why was I even proud of that in the first place? Because I was told, I was special? I’m not special … I’m pathetic. My mom sacrificed herself for me … even Eric … I’m totally pathetic. Why am I worth saving, huh? Why…
She moaned, hugging herself as tears suddenly appeared in her eyes. “Pathetic … stop…” she sniffed. “I’m worth something … right? Then—then, why do I feel worthless?”
What have I done? Build a fake family that were all killed because of me. What else? Bully Sora because … because what … it made me feel better? Is that it? Is that all I’ve done? Hurt people to feel better? That’s so pathetic…
After a moment, her body shivered; the quakes increased until it became uncontrollable. She cried silently, trying to find a way to move forward; her mind kept returning to Sora. After several minutes, she began to regain control of her emotions, wiping at her eyes and nose.
I need to make amends with Sora and Aiden. What about Eyia? Would it even be worth anything? The granddaughter of her father’s killer saying she’s sorry … sounds hollow; I’d punch me in the face. She hates all Fenris Wolves … I could feel the depth of that hatred, but she tempered it for Sora. Again … Sora; Sora connects everyone.
Fen and Jian are only here because of Sora. Aiden and I are connected to Sora. Eyia and Jin follow her, and so do the humans. If Sora left, none of us would have anything binding us together. Did Aiden do this?
Aiden’s probability ability could have tied us into Sora’s path, but everyone else? Is there a grand purpose behind it all? I can’t see how it ends; I’m being chased by my uncles, and Aiden was probably used as a shield to prevent that … provided by my mom. He’s just a tool. That’s wrong! This is hell! I have nothing, and I’m not worth anything.
Why keep me around? What did Sora see in me or hope to gain? I’ve spent, I have nothing left. What’s her angle? Why didn’t she leave and be done with me the moment we stepped foot here? She already fulfilled her obligation to Eric.
“This is so confusing!” She groaned, rubbing her eyes. “Sora can settle it … I’ll ask her tomorrow. Can I, though … she should say … I don’t know, trash? Why keep trash?” A low growl shot through her throat as she got to her feet. “I can’t think of a single reason to have me around, so, what’s her excuse? I tried to get rid of her!”
She dropped the empty bottle beside the couch, scratching the top of her head with an annoyed rumble in her throat. Walking upstairs, she found Braelyn putting a groggy Holonie in bed; she was in the nude, but it didn’t bother Kari as she entered. It took her a few seconds to calm down as she watched the fidgeting Vulpes work under her cold glare. “She’s all ready?”
Braelyn jumped at her tone, nervous gaze flitting to her. “Ehrm—yes, Kari, I—umm—I washed her, but—but we don’t have any extra clothes here. This is a—a Transplanter house … it’s for temporary visitors during festivals.”
“I see,” Kari nodded absently, leaning up against the doorframe. Picking between her teeth as her stomach growled, she stared down at the floor. “Hey, Braelyn … what do you think your life is worth?”
The girl’s brows furrowed at the question as she moved to the opposite sides of the room to dim the fires. “I don’t … understand your question. What do you mean, what is my life worth?”
“Hmm,” Kari shifted her jaw around, glaring at the wall. More terms they don’t understand. How would I teach it? “Do you know … ah, what about that juice downstairs?”
“The Elrinic juice?” She asked before standing a few feet away, fidgeting with her dress front.
“Yeah, and you don’t have to be nervous,” she sighed. “I guess I am a little intimidating. Can we just talk for a bit? I just … just talk to me, kay? Shoot,” she bit her thumbnail as the woman flinched at her tone. “I’m—I’m sorry…” She cleared her throat, finding it hard to get the words out. “Why is it so hard?” She muttered.
“W-what’s hard?” Braelyn squeaked?
“Apologizing,” Kari took a deep breath before moving beside the door. She slid down the wall to her butt, pulling her knees up to her chest. “It’s okay … if you want to go, you can.” She whispered.
Braelyn hesitated before hurrying out, but she stopped halfway down the stairs; after a moment’s pause, she slowly returned. “I—umm—I have a little time. So—umm, what did you want to know about the Elrinic juice?”
Kari nodded, feeling a little better, being able to talk to someone. “Is it valuable?”
“Yes, it’s precious,” Braelyn’s tone turned fervent. “That’s why—why Lady Holonie should—shouldn’t have opened it.” Her volume quickly dropped during the latter half of the sentence. “Y-you made her?”
“Yeah,” Kari lied, quickly glancing over the topic. “So, you know what valuable things are?”
She knelt in front of her. “Mhm.”
“So, connect that value to yourself … how valuable are you?”
“I…” She paused, thinking about what she was asking. “I don’t think—I’ve ever been asked that before?” The silence stretched for more than thirty seconds, only broken by Holonie’s light breathing. “What—am I comparing my value to?” She finally asked.
“How about Holonie,” Kari offered.
“I’m nothing compared to Lady Holonie!” Braelyn promptly stated. “Lady Holonie is in charge of the Elrinic juice supply count … I’m a lowly attendant that helps were assigned each morning.”
“So, less than dirt?” Kari muttered.
“Dirt? Umm,” Braelyn scratched her left ear as it twitched. “I think—I think I’m worth more than dirt? I mean, dirt is used for a lot of things, but—but I think I can be more useful. Without it … I don’t know what would happen, though…”
A chuckle bubbled up Kari’s throat. “You’re taking this way too seriously … but maybe—maybe that’s what I need to do. Sora’s useful … even back at school. She had money, and a lot of the girls would use her for it. She wouldn’t fight back—at most run … so you could relieve your stress on her. She was a dirty fox, so you didn’t have to feel bad. All of that and more, but … is that really what being useful is? It was convenient, but was she being useful or used?”
“I … don’t understand any of that.”
“I figured,” Kari’s head pressed back against the wall, eyes closed. “I feel bad … terrible … awful.”
“I feel that way when I don’t fulfill my duties or—or I mess up,” Braelyn’s ears sagged with her tail. “I guess—yeah, I just want to be useful to The Council.”
“What about yourself?” Kari’s tone was soft. “Don’t you ever want anything?”
“Umm—to be praised, I suppose. If Mimi could tell me I’m doing a good job, that’s all I need.”
“Living for the satisfaction of others,” Kari mumbled. “Did I do that? No—it was a lie. I was trying to make myself feel better. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to make someone else happy … not once. Even back home, when everything was peaceful … it was all about what I wanted.”
“How can you even do that?” Braelyn asked with fear and a slight bit of awe. “That’s like—like—like not for The Council?”
“I just do…” Kari replied. “I wake up, and I go after what I want, but … I guess I’ve got it now. I’m free … Eric’s gone … everything’s gone. I can do whatever I want, but—but I don’t know what to do.”
“You could serve The Council,” Braelyn said hopefully.
She chuckled mirthlessly. “Yeah, I think I’ll pass on that one. I’ve seen enough of how this society operates to know I want no part in it. Sora, though … she’s happy, really happy, people like being around her. I saw it first when—it was the day she confronted me; when she was changing into a Vulpes—she’d changed. It was like something had awoken inside of her—I suppose it did.”
“She—wait,” Braelyn was working through her statement with a puzzled look. “Sora—changed into a Vulpes? You can do that? What was she before?”
“You’re right; I don’t know anymore.” Kari’s tone turned curious. “She did smell like a Vulpes, but … it was faint. I just suspected that she’d hidden herself well and used some crafty magic … maybe even possessed a body,” Kari muttered. “She changed from mostly human to Vulpes … a Founder to boot; no wonder she was suddenly so strong.”
“Do you—dislike this Sora?”
“Dislike … more like hate … hated. I don’t anymore—not really. I’m kind of curious, to be honest. There’s something in Holonie and Sora that I want … something they have, but—I don’t know what it is. Everything I thought I wanted … I don’t really want anymore.
“I think—I think I’m lost, and right now, I’m drifting on an endless hunt, and she’s like the ghost of a deer. I can’t even see the trail, but—I think I can imagine it. It sounds stupid, but it’s the best way I can describe it.” She moaned, dropping to the ground, and a whimper escaped her throat. “I don’t know anymore…”
“Then—if you think she—I mean, I don’t really get what you’re looking for—like at all…” Braelyn paused, lying down across from her to look into her eyes, black hair bunching around her face, “But—I’d say to go talk to her. It couldn’t hurt, right?”
A soft smile curved Kari’s lips. “Maybe my pride, but … that’s worthless anyway. Thanks, Braelyn … I think that’s the first time I’ve ever thanked someone. It’s not that bad.”
Getting up, Kari breathed out a heavy sigh as the downpour started. “How long do the rainstorms last this season?”
Braelyn pulled back her hair as she got to her knees, looking up at her. “Umm—this is the rain to prepare for the harvest. It’ll last all night.”
“I see … Sora and the others are supposed to meet with Mimi in the morning. Do you know when Mimi usually starts working?”
“Well,” Braelyn hummed thoughtfully, lips pressed to the side. “Mimi needs to give out instructions to the supervisors, and I assume she’ll also be sending out instructions regarding you and whoever you came with. So—it might not be right in the morning. She meets with the supervisors after preparing for the day when the sun is creeping over the mountains. We don’t have many means to heal injuries, so we avoid working during the night.”
“Can’t you see at night?”
“Some Vulpes can see better than others; I can see pretty well, but there are many that can’t. There’s a rumor that those that can see better at night will live longer and get more tails! I’m pretty lucky since I can.” She chimed.
“And how old are you?”
“Twenty-six; I’m one of the youngest in the town,” she mumbled. “I want to help more.”
“I see…” No wonder her Spiritual Network isn’t that damaged; she’s still very young for the average Vulpes. “How long have you been in this town?”
“A year … I was in a mostly human settlement before this, learning how to speak and work from the Caretakers.”
“The humans that look after the young and teach them,” she responded. “Offspring are sent to the capital and then to…”
“Yeah, I heard the spiel; I just didn’t know they took care of you until you were twenty-five. What about Railya and Luna?”
“Oh, they’re specially chosen as the new Gatekeepers. Only those chosen can go beyond the Red Gate. They’re trained by one of The Council’s personal attendants. It’s a real honor!”
“I’m sure it is,” Kari huffed. “So … I should see Sora tomorrow. I think that might be the best option I have … why do I have butterflies in my stomach?”
“Umm—is—is that normal; you have living butterflies in your stomach?”
“No,” Kari giggled. “Geez, you guys are so literal. It’s an expression that means I’m nervous … I don’t know why I’m nervous. I’ve rarely ever been nervous in my life.” She whispered.
“Oh? That’s pretty impressive!” Braelyn praised. “If you don’t mind saying, when were you nervous? You seem pretty strong to make Holonie drink … to do something she shouldn’t.” She said, shifting her knees together. “Now I’m nervous,” she giggled.
“When … most of them involve Sora—oddly.” She leaned back against the wall again, folding her arms. “There was when Eyia glared at me; she’s definitely strong enough to make me hesitate. When Sora tricked me into hurting Lori, and … I was worried about her and not myself, that time … I did care about Lori more than myself, then. Huh … I was scared of Eric a few times, like when he was threatening Lori. I was nervous about Sora betraying me when we were fighting Eric, but she didn’t.” Kari trailed off.
Sora’s actually done a whole lot in the last two weeks. She’s broken chains and defied all odds. How much of that was Aiden, and how much of it was herself? I don’t know, but I want to find out. How can she build things while I just destroy them? I need that answered, and I need her help. The question is, what will she demand as payment?
Swallowing the saliva that had built up in her mouth, she looked down at Braelyn with a sad smile. “So,” she sighed, “will you be staying here for the night or going out into the rain?”
“Umm—I guess I could stay here. Did you want to talk some more?” She got to her feet, smoothing out her dress with a smile. “You aren’t as scary as I first thought.”
“Yeah?” Kari took a deep breath, scratched behind her neck. “Well—I’m trying to be nicer. Using force just seems to make people run away and hate you … just like Eric did to me. Wow, I’m horrible…”
They chatted a bit more before bed, Braelyn seemed interested with her life’s story; Kari felt like a massive weight was being lifted off her shoulders, and after an hour’s discussion, they both fell asleep to the soft patter of rain against the tiled roof.
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