1. Sora Moore (Our Vulpes Founder with a new daughter to protect)
Recap: Sora gathered everyone together and told them about what they’d found; she helped some of them with entering their Core and then went into her own to confront Shadow—she’s gotten kind of close to Shadow … which might be affecting her in some ways.
She squared off against Eric and used EVERYTHING she’d learned to just barely kill Kari’s pompous, abusive brother. Now, as her aunt works at unlocking the opening steps of her father’s side of the genetic tree, Sora must pretend to be cold and ruthless in this upcoming game.
If she plays her cards right and collects enough negative energy … she could get her family back! LET’S GO!
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Sora’s gut tightened as a soft breeze brushed up against her body, and she realized the sun was falling, light dimming across the city; it suddenly clicked in her brain how odd the match start was.
She did a slow turn, noting the massive breadth of the streets and height of the buildings. Thousands upon thousands of Vulpes were lined up across the wall, many showing signs of vicious battles in the past.
One of the biggest surprises was the fact more than half of them weren’t wearing clothes at all; scared, maimed, malnourished Vulpes with damage to their tails, ears, hair, and skin.
Her gaze fell upon one group of what appeared to be 11-year-old girls, naked and huddling together while glaring at a two-tailed Vulpes that had likely caused the severe gashes across their back, forcing them to tighten up against one another to give her enough room to place her palm on the wall.
It was clear that two-tailed Vulpes were the major predators with the distance many gave them.
Blood painted the polished marble roads; she could see signs of the city’s magic gradually cleaning the areas, but not fast enough to cover the struggle for all these foxes to battle their place on the wall.
The scene was right out of a nightmare, her green irises falling to groups of dead or dying Vulpes, missing tails or limbs, and left on the road; everyone was focused on the soon-to-start game and not the possible nourishment the bodies could provide.
Packs of Vulpes factions were dotted within doorways or rooftops, acting as a deterrent for their own pack leaders to get to the next area, passing on seniority and getting rid of their biggest rival within the group. The motivation to get your strongest person on the other side was considerable with the perks they could offer you once they made it.
Sora was more sickened by her own cold reaction to the horror than the scene itself; she’d prepared herself and had to sacrifice part of her human moral paradigm to be okay with this scenario. Emilia, her family, and finally having the trail of misfortune that followed her end, was worth struggling through this pit of blood. However, she made a promise in her heart.
This will be the last Harvest Festival.
Kari hummed, looking up at the colossal wall above them with a slight frown, clothes receding into her body as she changed into her Fenris Form. The display caused several dozen Vulpes’s muscles to tighten; they glared at the intruders yet didn’t move their hands from the wall.
Vulpes bodies littered the street, seemingly killed while touching the wall and thrown away for the butcherer to take their place. Her sharp nose caught the carnage for miles; hundreds upon hundreds of the corpses dirtying the immaculate city with blood.
It was like the African pictures she saw of the starving people, but it was so much more graphic in real life.
The swollen bellies and deathly thin limbs of a few small girls caused her jaw to tighten, and she was forced to turn away to not show weakness; these women would do absolutely anything to secure a place. She couldn’t make them innocent targets because of her own detest for what she was a part of.
Sora was reminded of the tirade Fen went on about how privileged she was as a Founder. She enjoyed the nourishment of multiple power sources that were all universally available and instantaneously absorbed, such as elemental attunement, which pulled in sunlight, moonlight, the force within the earth, among dozens of other types of food supplements.
She ate out of pleasure; it had no real nourishing effects on her, and if her throat was dry, it was from a mental impact, not a bodily reaction to any lack of resources.
She could draw upon the Spiritual Plane, one of many nigh-unlimited sources of sustenance she could naturally pull from, which was always within her grasp.
Eyia took one glance around and pointed up at the looming shadow of the wall above them. “We may use the free space above; it appears these Vulpes do not understand the many forms of flight.”
Sora groaned internally. I knew I should have practiced it!
Her lips pulled in as a shadowy substance began frothing off Kari’s fur, and she rose into the air with Eyia as a raven feathered cloak appeared on her back.
Clearing her throat while doing her best to ignore the tragic nature of her environment, Sora mumbled, “I … didn’t really practice that. What’re the basics again? I’ll do a quick study of it.”
Several three-tailed Vulpes within the area trained their ears on them; their entrance had been met with silent study, and the women with more tails seemed to know they were a threat to be tread lightly around.
She couldn’t help but linger on one small fox, probably still not old enough to properly transform like Luna and Rayla had been; her thin, raggedy tail was pressed between two legs, finding her own spot on the wall.
Eyia frowned. “It is a simple process for the level of control you have over your magic, Sister,” she stated, rising to join Kari. “Vulpes utilize their own spiritual energy, collect it around your body to act as a harness to be moved.”
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, knowing Eyia and Kari would watch over her as she entered the Outer Body Technique. It only took her an hour and a half to adapt to the proper method of forming the force.
Opening her eyes, she lifted into the air; less than a second passed from when she entered the state, causing whispers to spread through the ranks of naked Vulpes.
Sora’s focus darted to three Vulpes, all with a matching number of tails. They seemed to be together since they were next to each other, and the three actually took Eyia’s advice, trying to form their spiritual energy to fly.
No surprise, it was even cruder than what Sora had first attempted in the Outer Body Technique. At best, they could float a distance with the control they were demonstrating—still, something she didn’t expect.
The three were mumbling to one another, pointing out where the other was lacking to better increase their chances. They could have been friends, yet given what she’d been told, it was probably for another purpose.
Eyia lifted an eyebrow as Sora joined them, staring down at the three that had caught her attention, as well. “Impressive adaptability and willingness to learn from those around them; there is a high chance they will make it to the next level.”
They lifted their calm, hazel eyes to Eyia for a moment, and Sora wondered if they might have been sisters upon closer inspection. The three could have been triplets; it would explain their connection.
Judging by the defensive capabilities Sora saw, she could easily slip through without much issue, taking control of their Intelligence. The memorable bit was that each of the three was weak and strong in different areas, focusing on what the other lacked. It made her think they fought more as a unit, which would have been a pleasant surprise to what greeted her in the grim state of the 7th Level.
Sora created a simple noise cancelation weave, isolating their conversation. “Eyia … what do you think about their spiritual defenses?”
“Mmh? Weak,” She replied, blue globes analyzing them. “On Earth, they would be closer to newly awakened four-tailed Huli Jing, which is incredible, considering the other aspects I sense within them.”
Kari growled. “So, you’re saying they’re stronger than normal Vulpes on Earth?”
Eyia’s lips pulled together, glaring at the Fenris Wolf. “Yes. Although, if all the Vulpes in Level Seven were to attack you, it would be in vain, and you would consume them all. That is the terror of the brood of Fenrir.”
A hot stream of air huffed through Kari’s nostrils, her amber eyes glaring at the Valkyrie. “Why do I get the feeling you’re dissing me?”
“A time and place,” Sora sighed, folding her arms under her breasts while watching the desperate and ravaged women below. “By the way, Kari … When did you learn how to fly?” She asked, brushing her hair back as a breeze caught it.
She distinctly remembered Kari being unable to fly around or have the shadowy stuff her fur was producing when they’d first fought; even their fight with Eric was firmly grounded.
“Hmm?” Kari’s eyes narrowed a bit, shifting to the right. “Umm … It was my Mom, after Inari brought her back. It was one of the first things she taught me.”
“Does this mean your mother will be returning to life?” Eyia asked with a deep frown, glaring at the sky as it lit up with a bright light, showing Mofupsi. “I was unaware of this fact.”
Kari ignored her question; obviously, her mother returning was not a pleasant thought for the Valkyrie.
The bright golden-haired Vulpes had a dazzling smile on her lips as she stared down at the stiff and confused throng. “Yes, normally you’d be seeing the 7th and 6th Level Boss introducing the games, but this time is special!”
A massive illusion of Sora, Eyia, and Kari’s in her Fenris Form appeared beside her. “We have new contestants, and two of them aren’t even Vulpes! Yup, you heard right, Warriors; there are creatures outside our Realm that will be participating. We have … Eyia … Kari … and Sora,” she stated, pointing at each of them before a sly smile lit her cheeks.
“A bonus round will be added to the fun; after all, I love violence and competition!” She licked her lips with anticipation, causing Sora’s gut to churn with uncertainty. “Anyone who manages to kill them will automatically obtain a spot in the next gate, and of course, the Level Bosses can come up with whatever fits the already established rules and the powers granted to them.”
Her gleaming teeth shone as she grinned. “Have a thrilling match!”
Sora was heated, but before she could respond, Eyia giggled, blue eyes glowing with anticipation. “She did as I suspected; perhaps this tournament will not be so boring.”
“Battle obsessed Valkyrie,” Kari rolled her eyes. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Eyia smirked. “It was obvious for those that were not blind, but I suppose it makes sense, a Fenris Wolf would be the one to miss it.”
Sora practically bit her tongue as the harmful waves of energy flowed up to them; she had more than learned how to manage negative emotion at this point, but it was still a bit spooky to her. Great … Eyia’s gone into battle mode, and we’re up against an army…
However, Mofupsi wasn’t done. “Sora and her party are outsiders yet powerful additions to the contest, and I want to know exactly how far she can go as a Vulpes Founder … She is extremely young for her power … Beyond any Vulpes I have come across; she may have two tails, yet that is more representative of a five to six-tailed Vulpes. Will that help you, though? We shall see your determination and willpower!”
“Now!” She gestured to her side as a pretty gray-furred Vulpes took the place of Sora and her company’s illusions. “I will return the Festival to the 7th and 6th Level Boss, Kestirva.”
Mofupsi vanished with the woman’s slow bow, her succulent voice showing amusement upon the transfer. “Intriguing.” Her red eyes shifted to the three, her looming presence far above them. “If you say they are of quality stock, High Champion, then I will keep my eye on them. This Festival’s openings are … 100 slots for Level 6.”
A shiver ran through the crowds and down Sora’s own tails as she continued; it was probably a lower number than before by their reaction. “However … given the new format, and my ability to add my own flair to the proceedings…”
The sleeve of her delicate dress covered her hand as it rose to her lips, eyes smiling. “Entry to the 6th Level will be granted to any Vulpes that manages to cut five ounces of flesh off the three newcomers’ bodies. That is roughly … 182 spots off just Sora’s body alone. Oh, and if you manage to bring me a single tail … that girl will be put straight to the 5th Gate.”
Sora’s fists tightened, her mind turning cold at the incentives being levied against them; this system was cut-throat, and judging by the threatening waves pulsating up her tails and prickling her skin, they were now the prize.
The gate only allowed a hundred in … their bodies would bring hundreds more if they managed to get to them. However, a dark smile lit her lips, fingers easing; this was actually exactly what she wanted, but it could be so much more. Allowing her Shadow more access to her heart was the right play.
She was not the same frightened little girl that had just discovered her powers a little more than three weeks ago; Sora had trained for months, considering the time distorted methods she’d gone through, and Inari prepared her for this such event.
Tens of thousands of Vulpes leveled their malicious intent at her, yet it pales compared to creatures such as Bathin and Githa. In fact, Bathin wouldn’t have even considered this worth his time, summoning a small part of his legions to do the dirty work since his time was worth more than every Vulpes’s life in this area. Not to mention, the Eric she’d fought and killed would have slaughtered this entire city himself.
I’m no longer a helpless petite teenager.
This confidence was new with Sora as she turned to grin at Kari. She’d have to work extremely hard using her red lightning to hope to score a deadly blow against the girl beside her; she was practically Supergirl in wolf form at the level of magical strength these Vulpes possessed.
Eyia … Eyia was a walking angel of death to anyone that stepped up against her … literally.
“I think they’re underestimating us,” She snickered.
Kari grunted an amused chuckle while Eyia stretched out in the air. “Be on your guard at all times; those that do not expect to discover defeat often find it.”
“Note taken,” Sora mumbled, dropping the sound barrier.
No, Sora knew she was the weakest link in her party, yet what she lacked in physical aptitude, she made up for in raw magical utility.
Shadow pushed for more, though, and Sora wove the magic to project her voice across the city with a desire; her tone could have made Eric proud at the level of arrogance it held. “I am Sora Moore, Third Generation Vulpes Founder; my grandmother brought the entire Vulpes race out of the mud and into the realm of magic.
“Heh, think about that for a moment,” she giggled, “and just try to conceptualize it because your overlords have tasked you with the impossible. A child has a better chance at getting to the 6th Gate than any of you have at even discovering where I am.”
She smirked at the naked women glaring up at her, seemingly lost on parts of what she was telling them. “No, I have another idea, Kestirva … my own game.”
“Oh?” The woman asked with a thoughtful look; dozens upon dozens of other figures were now appearing around her, representing their actual size rather than the giant overhead. She was attracting the six to nine-tailed Vulpes’ attention. “Go on.”
“I won’t kill a single one of you … because you’re not worth it! He-he-he, seriously, though, you’re so weak that I don’t need to. The moment this game starts…” She leered at those below them. “You’ll know the difference in where we stand; hate me for being born better than you.”
Kari curled into a ball in the air, laughing her head off; she was probably more or less laughing at her total change in demeanor, though. Eyia was stoic as ever, preparing for combat.
“Hoh … what a bold statement,” Kestirva whispered, her large eyes narrowing. “It seems you have … quite the hate beginning to be built. How will you really fare? Ttouch the wall … it starts in one minute.”
Sora could feel the animosity bubbling across tens of thousands of souls, directed right at her; she was now the target to every Vulpes that had an ego within the 7th Level.
“I’ll go further than you could imagine,” Sora whispered in response.
Eyia summoned her spear, armor sparkling into rainbow lights as it formed around her figure. “I trust your lead, Sister.”
Sora snickered. “It’ll be pretty obvious.”
As she waited for the countdown, she studied Kestirva in the sky; her focus was on them. The woman was able to conjure the huge illusion by herself, which was impressive on its own merits. Then again, she was a nine-tailed Kumiho, judging by her gray fur.
“Touch the wall,” She repeated, “and … begin.”
Sora wove the spell she’d prepared, instantaneously generating hundreds of magical illusions of her party that had one purpose … causing chaos. They shot in all directions, blurring them as the throng separated, which caused the stunned Vulpes to either freeze or panic.
In the mess of bodies, she cloaked her friends with an invisibility spell.
A sly grin moved Eyia’s expression as she generated a noise isolation field. “The trickster in you comes out, Sister. I am very proud of your progress! You managed to create quite similar spiritual identifiers within the weak illusions, giving all the indications of sound, scent, sight, and ethereal markers.”
Kari nodded. “When did you learn that?”
“Like … just before we came,” she chuckled. “Any spiritual attack will destroy them, but they’ve got to catch one first, and they’re acting like I would, so … fat chance on that.”
The Fenris Wolf’s amber eyes moved between packs of Vulpes that shot after her distractions, noticing the dozens staying behind; among them were the triplets. “How much energy did you use?”
“Mmh, not much at all…” She trailed off as a life-sized projection of Kestirva appeared within Eyia’s sound barrier; her colossal figure was still above following the match’s progress with amusement.
“My, my, my,” She whispered, eyeing Sora. “You really are something special; it would take a three-tailed Vulpes with decent perception at that level to penetrate those clones, and none of the contenders below are at the strength to penetrate this invisibility spell. Well done. I see why the High Champion is so intrigued by your existence.”
Her attention fell to the sisters, suddenly in motion, heading right for the gate. “Although, a few seem to have grasped the implication of such a display.”
“The smart ones,” Eyia replied, following their progress as they took to the sides of buildings to outpace the horde.
Kari’s tail slapped Kestirva’s illusion with an annoyed grunt, scattering the easily disreputable unguarded spell; the woman put no effort into it, which was probably the wiser move overall. “We should get going.”
“Rude,” Kestirva mumbled, rematerializing the disrupted force within a second.
Sora, Eyia, and Kari shot across the sky, moving just above the large six-story buildings.
Her ears burned with the sound of women dying in the streets, buildings, and sewage, hoping to gain an edge by jumping below into the winding grid. One particular cry caught her attention, though.
Sora’s head darted left as the terrified plea of a child cried out for help; six Vulpes of various tail-length barring down on her. “S-Sister … w-where are you … I … I’m scared…”
One woman giggled. “Did you think I’d forget about what your sister did to my left arm and chest?”
“W-Who are you … I just … I just want my sister…”
“You don’t remember me?” She growled, prowling forward with the others.
It was over twenty buildings ahead of where they currently were; it wouldn’t take long to get there, but should she interfere? She had to make a decision.
“Hmm … my, you are a pretty one,” Kestirva mused, floating beside her. “I do wonder what your plan is, though … perhaps you can make it to the 4th Level with your current strength, and yet … how will you contend with those that are much stronger within the 4th? Do you understand the advancement format at that Level … hmm?”
Sora branched away from the woman; Kari and Eyia reacted to her change of direction without hesitation.
One of her clones was using the 3rd-story of the buildings as a platform to escape the horde swarming her, but her focus was on the roof of the 6-story building above her where a crying child was falling.
The child had jumped off the ledge when she saw no one was coming to her rescue.
I can’t save everyone, but I can save one child … at least one. She determined, wrapping the raw magical energy inside the area around the little fox girl to provide her a protective cocoon.
Darting down the next street, she curved back to the center road that would take them to the 6th Gate; it grew closer by the second.
Eyia and Kari gave her an emotionless stare before returning their eyes to the front; Kestirva reappeared, and they didn’t know how Sora wanted to play her decision, which meant silence.
A passion burned in Sora’s breast; she had amazing friends that understood her.
Sora’s green irises fell on the tiny Vulpes, unable to take on human form; her fur was matted with blood, but not her own. She’d probably tumbled over pools of it on her escape from the six Vulpes, who were looking for revenge for whatever this girl’s sister had done to them.
Kari swapped the subject to pull the woman’s gaze. “What’s up with giving over four hundred spots to people that can take us down, but only one hundred for reaching the gate? Isn’t there a limit and stuff…”
The Level Boss shifted her questioning eyes from Sora to Kari. “Simple, really.”
“It really is,” Eyia mumbled, causing Kari to glare at her. “It was an impossible mission. False spots for those too blinded by hope for advancement which only leads to despair.”
“Indeed,” Kestirva whispered, focus on the Valkyrie. “If Mofuspi stated that you are of such attention, then you will not fall at this level, but it will cause quite the stir,” she giggled.
She wasn’t wrong; glancing back, Sora was reminded of a furious ant hill, insects pouring out across every available space while madly ripping at each other. “So … this is the Harvest Festival…” Sora replied, keeping emotion out of her voice.
“Is that what you call it?” Kestirva asked, cocking her head a little. “… You are quite peculiar. I suppose you could call this a Harvest; we are gathering the strong through a refining process that will allow the most capable to rise to the top. What I am curious about is your little side mission,” she hummed, vision shifting to the child.
The girl had fainted after jumping; her stress too high to sustain her frantic mind.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sora saw more and more high-tailed Vulpes tuning in to observe the unorthodox game. This had to be a trap but was it by Niomie’s design, Mofupsi, or someone else … she was supposed to give up her authority and struggle through this … Loral was even a suspect, yet she couldn’t detect any lies out of it, and even Githa was convinced.
She couldn’t put a finger on it … her gut was churning, yet it wasn’t immediately apparent what was wrong. Something wasn’t right, and it was eating at her more she learned more about the setting they’d entered. Every Level would be set to Extreme Mode … even this super-easy free win had its challenges.
Sora turned her gaze to the confusion-filled eyes of the illusion next to her. “Why?” She asked, a smirk twisting her lips. “How mad would all of those ants below me feel knowing a child that any of them could wipe off the face of existence with a wave of their hand took their place in Level 6?”
Kestirva returned the expression. “Heh … wrathful.”
A thoughtful look moved Sora’s mouth. “Hmm … actually, how many children have made it to the 5th Gate?”
“Oh? My, you’re looking for enemies,” She mused. “I love it! Counting Jelixia’s youngest sister? Four sibling pairs, as far as my knowledge goes.”
“No others?” Kari probed.
“Mmh?” She shook her head. “Why would anyone bring a non-relative that holds no familiar attachments to be brought? They cannot siphon energy so freely from those not sharing their close spiritual heritage.”
Sora had to refrain from tightening her jaw. So … that’s the reason.
She turned around, magically taming her hair to look behind them as they went. The triplets were in the lead as far as she could tell with her senses; they were actually utilizing the basic information Eyia gave the throng to lighten themselves, jumping between buildings.
“… I’ll break all the norms here,” She whispered.
Far ahead of anyone, they arrived at the gate, Kestirva clapping with a cheery smile. “Well done … it’s a new record!”
Sora could see the crowds of Vulpes rushing through the streets toward the gate like ravenous wolves; the bloodbath within was sickening.
Turning to view the golden gate, gleaming in the dying light of the sun, she stared at the massive 0 on its front; no one had entered yet.
She manipulated the magic around the child, bringing her up to the door with Kari and Eyia studying the scene behind them. Her magic cut as the girl was teleported inside, causing the number to shine with a bright 1.
Sora’s attention moved to the sky, frowning as an illusion of the small, unconscious Vulpes displayed across the entire lower city, showing them the first to take a slot.
The battlefield slowed in shock, followed by confusion before ending in rage. Sora felt the death toll rise significantly, and she forced herself to smile. Her magic formed with her desires, and she made another announcement.
“How pathetic … no, it’s hilarious! He-he-he, you’re all such idiots! To think such a simple, low-level illusion would fool you … yet, here I stand, taking the weakest Vulpes in this entire city to claim one of your 100 slots.
“Think about that … I made it here without having to kill a single one of you weaklings and brought the weakest among you to the top without even taking a single step. I am so much better than all of you. It’s actually quite sad; you should all die. That is all! Enjoy your stay in Level 7.” She ended with a mirthful laugh.
Sora could practically taste the hate, anxiety, depression, death, and pain directed at her; she made her mark, but this was the sacrifice that had to be made to get everything she desired. It was the only way to make all of this right … her grandmother and aunts had to be revived. To end this.
Turning around, she went to Level 6. Their images popped up as they went.
“96 out of 100 remaining.”
Kestirva vanished with a low laugh. “This will be an interesting game.”
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