1.Sora Moore (The Fox Fiend!)
2. Kari (The Bully Turned Shy Friend!)
3. Sora Moore
Recap: Kari finally got the courage and built herself up to stand with her back straight, telling Sora that she’s ready to own up and try to be who she really wants to be. Sora welcomed her with open arms … Kari’s first real friend T_T Mama’s crying!
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Sora watched Kari leave with a smile; she was still in a state of shock.
Kari … asked for my forgiveness?
She turned her gaze toward the heavens, eyes hardening; a wave of negative emotion was flowing like a tsunami, and she was beginning to see it being channeled into the City Tower. A question surfaced in her mind as she returned to the square.
We’re making progress … But how can these Vulpes survive with such concentrated harmful energy permeating their lives?
Mary came into view as the Vulpes opened up a path for her; thousands were congested into the area, whispers passing between them about the results. Mofupsi was floating nearby, giving her a small smile as a red-furred, nine-tailed fox hovered beside her.
Eyia was keeping a watchful eye on the pair while sticking by Mary. The psychiatrist was trying to ignore the throng while getting a better understanding of Zeri, and from what Sora could distinguish from her lightly guarded spirit, her heart went out to the innocent, bright-eyed boy.
Letting Mary do what she loved, Sora motioned to Eyia to join her; the human had the entire Realm as her shield and was fairly reserved and critical, which gave Sora confidence in leaving her to her own devices—Bathin was enough of a scare to have the woman on-guard.
“Where is the Fenris Wolf?” Eyia asked, tone letting Sora know she was suspicious.
Sora sighed. “Kari’s preparing herself—speaking about that,” her inquisitive green irises turned to Mofuspi. “Are you already done selecting who’s going to take over?”
Mofupsi weaved behind the charming red-furred Vulpes with a soft giggle. “Well, when you’ve reached the higher-tiers, there is a very small list of candidates, and Juliana managed to kill her competition without so much as a scratch! You’ve been practicing while I’ve been busy,” she pouted.
The redhead giggled, pulling back her long locks to follow Mofuspi’s movements. “I must if I ever want to face you. I still have much to learn, but there is a shocking amount of information in the library.”
Sora folded her arms; the Vulpes around them were listening intently to the two nine-tailed women. “And will she be able to keep up the status quo in the fifth level?”
Juliana folded her hands across her lap and hummed, giving Zeri’s back a slight smirk. “Oh, I have lived here and know it very well. I have my own thoughts on a few things … Once you reach the Tower, you are given, heh, quite the awakening. Speaking of which…”
Mofupsi folded her hands behind her back, doing a slow twirl in the air while staring up at the sky at the onlookers. “Indeed, Juliana … I have been speaking to the Area Supervisors, and, of course, you Outsiders managed to not only humiliate one but kill another—so far as I am aware, which has questions being asked.”
Eyia huffed. “It is not my fault that your supervisor broke the contract we formed.”
“It is not,” Mofuspi whispered, her yellow irises studying Eyia with a small smile. “However, it certainly has changed some of the thoughts of where you should be placed within this contest; after all, you are not normal contestants.”
“We have our own objectives,” Eyia replied with a dismissive wave. “We are progressing as the format dictates, or are you telling us they have forfeited?”
Juliana shook her head. “On the contrary, they have asked for a rather interesting assessment to be done.”
“Which is?” Sora asked.
Mofupsi put a finger to her lips as she winked. “That will be our fun little secret; we can’t ruin the surprise! I have been closely monitoring your progress.” Her vision narrowed with a thoughtful smirk, creating a barrier around the four of them so no one could listen in.
“You’re such a tease,” Juliana giggled, studying the confused and wide-eyed Vulpes surrounding them. “Maybe I should distract them a little myself.” She gave Sora a thoughtful look, focus sliding to her two tails. “A Vulpes Founder … I am looking forward to what is to come—Still, I cannot comprehend how you will fight our Grand Champion.”
With that, the woman rose into the sky with magic blooming around the area to lift every four and five-tailed Vulpes into the air to introduce herself.
Mofuspi followed their rise, her smile continuing to rise. “She’s such a sharp Vulpes—young, considering where she’s landed. In fact, she reminds me of myself a little.”
Eyia released a low sigh, brushing back her bound blonde hair. “It is already well into the night; are you going to have these slow proceedings postponed for tomorrow?”
A surprised look passed over the woman’s face. “Postpone? Absolutely not! No, we are just getting into the interesting parts. We have seen you perform, Eyia … When Kari passes the next level’s test, then there will be a change.”
Sora’s eyebrows furrowed. “When?”
“When.” Mofupsi’s eyes pulled in a little as her lips lifted. “As I said, I have been keeping close track of the three of you. I am an outstanding judge of strength—it is how I am in my position, and I know the other Vulpes Council Members are beyond my capabilities. I am there to perform a simple task … An honorary member if you will, which I suppose everyone else was, too, and I am grateful for you exposing the truth.”
Pressure rose in Sora’s chest as she realized Mofupsi wasn’t just the battle junkie the others made her out to be; she was cunning and recognized something was off from the start yet played her part. “Why did you want to fight me yourself?”
“Hmm…” Mofupsi looked up at the sky, her vision moving between every floating Vulpes. “I suppose you could say I am chasing colors, and it’s taken a lot to get this far—how I’ve been pulled into this game … There’s always an end goal … I need to understand what that is.” Her face brightened as her teeth flashed. “See? I can’t wait to see how you sparkle, and I have no doubt you will reach me at this point.”
Sora turned her gaze to Eyia when a grin split her lips. “I … see. You wish to grow.”
The woman’s tongue slid across her lips as she laughed. “Time has slowed for me since I’ve taken this position, and I’ve read all the books Juliana spoke of … There is a limit to the power a Vulpes can reach in this area—My dream is to find a reason not to fight.”
“A reason not to fight…” Sora slowly repeated. Mofupsi wasn’t talking about a peaceful solution but being so overwhelmed that she couldn’t push forward. It sounded ridiculous, but she wanted to be broken. “What are you exactly searching for?”
Mofupsi’s hands tightened around her back. “I … can’t say. Hmm … I’m searching for something that might not exist, and I’ve wondered if that makes me a dreamer or … just a fool … I don’t know. What if it’s a wish and my heart betrays me—if I’m never satisfied … to scream until my heart comes out of my chest. Can I ever be satisfied?”
Eyia seemed to instantly catch the implication because her stern complexion had softened with understanding, listening intently. “Ragnarök … the climatic end of the turning that is the height of one’s life.”
Silence followed as they watched the silent speech of the new leader over the level address the apprehensive Vulpes; a change in leadership was another form of anxiety and negative emotion that would have an effect, and Sora realized the Founder’s energy in the earth was protecting them against it—it had to in order to feed upon their self-sustaining Core strength that the Tanuki needed.
After a time, Sora’s fingers curled into a fist; her aunt was working at unlocking her father’s side of her powers, which she believed would be enough to combat Mofupsi. At least, she hoped that was her aunt’s plan because she could never tell.
Wait … How does my Father’s spiritual genetics affect Emilia? Can she have that part unlocked, and when is that appropriate?
She shook her head, scratching her temple with a low groan as Mofupsi and Eyia tore their eyes away from the silent speech and their own thoughts to look at her.
“Something wrong, Sister?”
“No … kind of,” she mumbled, releasing a long puff of air. “It doesn’t matter in the end—Just silly thoughts.”
Mofupsi chuckled. “Well … I am glad I am not the only one! Now, I will teleport all of you to the next stage when Kari has returned, which should be in the next minute.” A curious curve shifted her smile at Eyia’s dampening expression. “I felt another flutter in my heart … She has made a drastic internal change since I first became aware of your party, Sora … And I do not understand how you are accomplishing it.”
Sora’s hands tightened around her back. “If I accomplish what I want … Mofupsi, I am going to make you a promise.”
“Oh? I’m listening.”
Eyia’s eyebrows pulled together. “Sister—you cannot mean … I do not believe it is a wise promise.”
A pained laugh rumbled in Sora’s throat. “Already caught on? I guess I am pretty predictable, but … This is what I want to do, and I don’t have to put on an act if we’re in this little soundproof bubble! Mofupsi!”
Her head tilted to the left. “He-he-he … Yes?”
“I will not kill you but force you to submit!”
Eyia’s lips drew together. “It … will not be easy, Sister; she could pose a significant threat to me and Jin.”
A weight lifted off her chest as she redoubled her decision. “I don’t say this lightly, Eyia,” she returned with a confident smile. “I put my faith in my Aunt and my pride as a Founder—and whatever else I am,” she giggled.
Mofupsi wore a charming poker face as she studied her for several seconds. “Mhm … I can see you are determined to make this happen. I look forward to the confrontation. Show me how quickly a Vulpes Founder can rise to power … It is time to move onto the next stage.”
* * *
Kari took a deep breath as she entered the plaza, forehead creasing while looking at the thousands of Vulpes, floating around as some nine-tailed woman Juliana spoke about introducing ‘two’ new male Vulpes into the mix—twins.
It was a sick addition in Kari’s mind, and the news overwhelmed many of the Vulpes to the point of fainting. She’d be glad when they left this twisted Realm. Still, this place couldn’t compare to the swamp in her heart that she’d waded through over the past few days.
You have to work for your prize, Kari told herself as she cracked her neck and managed her bangs. For the first time in years, she was ‘okay’ with who she was, and as her mother said, it wasn’t who she was but who she was becoming that mattered. It’s not where I’m at … It’s where I’m facing.
She was building block upon block to get closer to the goal; to get to know this new her that was slowly taking bloom … It was a mystery that terrified her, but despite that fear, she had the courage to take the step forward—everyone began their journey at the starting line, and this was finally the time for her to start the marathon.
Kari made peace with Sora, and to a degree, herself, but now she had to accept what she was—a Fenris Wolf.
She focused on Sora, standing beside Eyia and Mofupsi; their voices were being subdued by a sound barrier, but she wasn’t concerned. Seeing a smile on Sora’s face made Kari happy, though. Stepping through the sound shell, Kari’s brow instantly pulled together as Sora clapped her hands.
“Right! You ready, Kari? Mofupsi is going to teleport all of us to the next area, and ‘when’ you dominate the fourth level, she’ll have a surprise for us!”
“Umm … I’m a little lost,” Kari mumbled, catching Eyia’s worried frown. “What’s this surprise?”
Mofupsi flashed her teeth with a wink. “He-he! You gotta play the game to find out. I can sense something crawling inside of you to get out … Something dreadful! I can’t wait to see.” She put a hand on her hip before looking Kari up and down. “… Do you fear death, Kari?”
“Death?” Kari snickered, and a newfound strength bloomed in her chest as she recalled everything she’d learned from humanity, her experience, and the time she’d spent with her mother. “People can list reasons without end to be afraid because at the most fundamental level, ‘comfort’ leads to ‘life,’ but is a comfortable life without struggle worth living?”
“Huh … An interesting answer.” Mofupsi mused, but Kari wasn’t finished.
“Am I afraid? Yes. Fear is like an open flame … If you cannot control it, it will burn your world to ash and leave you in ruin … Learn how to control it—that fire can cook for you—provide nutrients, and warm you on a cold night. Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy, but in the end, fear and confidence are necessary for evolution—the fear that you could die at any moment makes life worth living. Satisfied?”
Sora seemed to be puzzling through her statement while Eyia was giving her a brooding look.
Mofupsi slowly nodded. “Fear … can make you strong … brave, and even wiser. You are not wrong. Hmm … fear and confidence are what make life worth living?”
Kari wouldn’t back down from the Vulpes’s searching yellow eyes, recounting some of the human motivational sayings she’d memorized during her time on the sports teams in Miami. “If I’m in pain, it means I’m growing … If I’m afraid, it proves there’s a risk … It matters to me if I cry … I take what hurts me and use it to drive me forward.” She felt awkward spouting what would have been written on a refrigerator magnet, but Mofupsi seemed to eat it up.
“Interesting … the climax of life … To have the best death, you must honor life—the addiction … the friction of the uncertainty … obsession and perception. Something drastic has changed on an emotional level within you. I look forward to seeing the results.”
In a flash of yellow light, all 200 Vulpes that were selected to progress to the next level were teleported with them; she allowed the magic to carry her to the new area rather than fighting it, and when her vision cleared, she was in the middle of a stadium, built to accommodate 2,000 Vulpes.
50 Vulpes of various shades and colors surrounded her; each of them had six tails and were floating in the air, opulent robes swaying with their movements as they leaned over to whisper to one another.
Kari looked up to see Sora and the 200 Vulpes she’d selected above her. A black-furred nine-tailed Vulpes appeared beside her, arms folded under her bust; she hid part of her face with her bangs, her visible lips giving her a half-smile.
“Kari, I gather.”
She grunted in response, groaning a little while stretching left and right. “I’m … ready whenever. Wait…” Her eyes narrowed while looking closer at the stands where hundreds of male humans were being kept by specific Vulpes, using them as chairs, carving various symbols in their bodies before healing them, or in general, entertaining themselves at their expense.
Seeing the humans abused by the Vulpes made her angry; they were defenseless, just like so many lives she and Eric touched.
“Oh … admiring the male population? We’ve just recently had a new influx due to the competition. We need a few more to make the newcomers salivate a little,” she giggled. “Oh, the things you can do with their backside—they are fascinating tools that can be trained in the most fascinating ways. Do you have any of them where you live?”
She settled on one particular man in his early thirties that was doing a back bridge, and the woman didn’t miss it. “Ah … we call him ‘Shaky’ because he’s only been able to last an hour in that position.”
“I see…” A wicked smile lifted Kari’s lips as she turned to face the woman. “How do you obtain one of these men?”
Sora’s face was stony while looking across the stands and seeing the naked, abused men that fulfilled every lustful, twisted, and horrific desire that entered these warped Vulpes’ hearts.
“Hmm? Well, to challenge the current owner, of course,” the woman giggled. “Competition is fierce, and the rules are simple,” she stated, holding out her hands at the arena. “However, the true prize is beyond them and what lies in the next…”
She trailed off as Kari turned away from her and magnified her voice. “I’m a rather greedy wolf,” she grinned, making sure to show her teeth in a manner she hoped was intimidating, amber eyes staring around at the throng “… I challenge every Vulpes here. I’ll show you what an ‘Apex Predator’ means.”
“What?” Her confused silver eyes darted to the heavens as Mofupsi laughed, clutching her stomach.
“I … cannot be more … excited! An Apex Predator? Show me … Mikala, a challenge has been issued.”
Mikala’s tails lowered a little with her cheer, giving Kari a questioning look. “You … wish to challenge every Vulpes with a human?”
“No,” Kari smirked. “I believe I said I’d challenge ‘every’ Vulpes here.” She turned her attention back to the stiff crowd; the humans appeared just as confused as everyone else.
Eyia’s frozen globes were the only thing that put a shiver in her, but she was prepared for the Valkyrie’s intense emotions. “Your true colors emerge, Kari … The Fenris Wolf’s greed knows no bounds.” Her icy tone sold the mood as her vitriol oozed from her spirit.
Kari leveled with her. “I am not here to win … I am here for one thing—to get stronger, and not a single Vulpes here can hurt me … not one hair on my body. Heh … I won’t even move,” her amber irises illuminated as a low growl rumbled through the air and made the Vulpes step back as a small portion of her tightly suppressed power leaked out. “Breathe fire at me, claw me, try to gouge out my eyes … I will give you five minutes to scratch me.”
She could practically hear the blood pumping in their ears as her confident words reached them, and Mikala folded her arms, looking up at her leader. “Is … What will they get in return for participating?”
“Me.” Kari instantly replied. “You enjoy slaves? Make me submit … before I do it to you.”
Mofupsi waved her hand. “There you have it, Mikala. I wouldn’t hold back if I were you, girls,” she said, giving the women a secretive smile. “Remember, all you have to do is pull one hair, cut one layer of skin … And you have a new toy.”
The confidence in them built again, whispers sweeping the crowd.
Mikala’s lips pulled in, likely sensing something off with her. “It … has been sanctioned by the highest authority. Begin.”
Three Vulpes darted forward in an instant, each grabbing a clump of her hair and tugging; Kari kept herself grounded with her spiritual force, unmoved by their tugs and gravity—not a hair was damaged.
More soon joined, claws ripping at the clothes Sora made her and tearing sections out; a few even tried biting her, which had no effect. It was clear they weren’t going to win this way and thousands were floating into the ring within ten seconds. Of course, the strongest ones made it to the front with the others left to support.
However, one Vulpes in-particularly parted the groups as she walked across the stage; a red-furred, six-tailed Vulpes gave her an appraising smile. Several cheers went out from the others; she was clearly the big dog on the level.
“Show her who’s the strongest, Yusui!”
“Burn her to ash!”
“No, we need her as a slave!”
“She’ll be fun to play with,” a black-furred Vulpes whispered, eyeing her up and down. “Jesebia’s men have some interesting tools they showed her that could be fun to watch.”
Kari loosely held her hands behind her back, not saying a word as she slowly channeled more and more of her power—in truth, it took a bit to call since she’d buried this side of her for so long. A condescending smile was centered on their leader.
“I wonder,” Yusui whispered, walking around her. “Some of the men have fragile ears … what if I put my nail…” A thin, sharp appendage grew from her finger as she lifted herself into the air to hover around Kari’s head. “Oh, you are the tallest creature I’ve ever seen … Can I just … penetrate this little membrane…”
Her ear didn’t twitch as her nail tried to insert into her ear; nothing this arrogant Vulpes did could hurt her.
“I … Can’t?” Yusui growled, arm tensing and shaking a little as she put more strength into it. “What about the nose? Hmm … ugh … eye it is … What are your eyes made of … Stop looking at me like that!” she shouted, causing several Vulpes to back away with their tails falling between their legs.
Fire birthed along the woman’s six tails, and the orange flames roared around her; in a bit of agitation, she felt her clothes melt in the heat, leaving her naked.
Standing in the flames that cracked the tile underneath her feet, Kari slowly shook her head. “Four minutes left … Is this the best you can offer?”
“You … Your hair must have been damaged! Overseer Mikala?!”
The black-haired woman shook her head above them with Mofupsi.
“N-Nothing?” she repeated, looking at the fire continuing to rage around Kari’s naked body; her eyes continued to brighten.
“Time’s ticking—Can’t you do linked spells, or have you lost all of that over a hundred years of drowning in your pleasures?”
Hot air seethed through Yusui’s teeth. “If you want to be ash on the wind, then so be it…”
She retreated, motioning for everyone to back off, with herself acting as a medium, two hundred Vulpes linked to the magic, and funneled as much power as they could into the woman’s Foxfire as she hovered in the sky. The blaze of her tails increased until it lit up the arena with orange light and forced Vulpes back; the flare rising from her six tails was the size of a swimming pool.
Unfortunately, it was poorly controlled and not all that more powerful. “Disappointing,” Kari mumbled after watching her gather the energy over the past three minutes. “Is this the best six-tailed Vulpes can offer? My brother would have had every single one of you for breakfast.”
Sora’s eyes were practically sparkling. “You’re so strong, Kari! That’s … I’ve never sensed that energy inside of you before … Is that…”
“No, Sister,” Eyia mumbled, “she has yet to even release the power of a Fenris Wolf.”
“No way … Kari, you’re so cool!”
Kari’s ear twitched; if there was one thing she hadn’t expected, it was someone calling her ‘cool,’ but she swiftly regained her composure upon seeing the men. The humans were watching in disbelief; of course, most of them were probably traumatized for life. There were probably things that could be done to help, but Kari figured they’d be just as lost as her when freed.
Yusui’s ears twitched with annoyance. “I am the strongest Vulpes! I’ve been the strongest Vulpes for five-hundred years!”
“You’re weak,” Kari scoffed.
Flipping in the air, her long flames blazed through the air, leaving a trail of flickering light as it whipped across the cleared stage; stone exploded from the rapid moisture that was vaporized within its structure, causing dust to erupt around her.
Yusui was breathing heavily after handling so much energy that didn’t add to her power but simply provided fuel to widen its scope—she wasn’t skilled enough to use it as a multiplier.
Taking a deep breath, the time ended, and Kari called upon the power she’d rejected for years. A strength she’d never felt grew in her chest as fur sprouted across her skin. Her senses sharpened, durability amplified leagues beyond anything she’d felt before, and every fiber of her being infused with an intoxicating, indomitable will made manifest—a chaotic force followed.
* * *
Sora’s mouth dropped open as her sharp eyes scanned the dust, spiritual eyes studying the change that came over Kari.
A red aura of what she could only describe as ‘disaster incarnate’ bubbled to the surface in the form of a rippling wave that pulsed the environment, sending shockwaves across every atom.
“What … is she…” Mikala whispered.
“A Fenris Wolf, and my friend!” Sora’s grin turned forced as a sense of danger quaked through her bones from a dangerous predatory aura that exploded with the rest of Kari’s hidden strength. “Just … Just don’t make her mad!”
Eyia wasn’t smiling; her cold blue eyes appraised Kari in a way she’d never seen before. “You okay … Eyia?”
“… I’m fine,” she replied in a monotone voice.
Sora hugged herself as an offensive wave of energy like Eyia’s cold pressure exploded from Kari, and a shiver ran through her skin; she was forced to strengthen her spiritual defenses as the oppressive weight of the energy dug into her veins.
Every Vulpes froze in place; it was as if a natural calamity had descended upon them once the dust cleared to reveal Kari, four meters tall, the air vibrating with the overpowering sense of domination her aura emitted in waves of traumatizing realization that death was near.
The humans only barely brushed against the cataclysmic compulsion, which Kari swiftly redirected to not permanently scar their souls by the intense force. Half the Vulpes lost control of their muscles on instinct, unable to breathe from the magisterial pressure constricting their Core—it was as if Kari’s jaws were locked around every one of them.
Her voice was still the same to Sora, but she had no doubt the horrified women heard a demon ripping into their hearts. “I am a Fenris Wolf … The Walking Calamity … Cataclysm made flesh … Alva is my mother … Fenrir, my grandfather. I will no longer hide from what I am.”
Her head lifted to Mofupsi as she slowly clapped, her smile, which seemed to have frozen for a second, now widening. “… Clearly, you have won this contest—if you were not holding back, they would have died, voiding Sora’s rule … To generate such an aura of fear that you can literally kill is … new to me. My deduction was correct. Sora…”
Kari rose into the air, crimson aura licking off her dark black fur as she stood before the Vulpes; Mikala was more terrified of the idea she represented than her power itself since she was too strong to be affected by it at this stage.
“What deduction?” Kari growled, trying not to make eye contact with the Valkyrie, who hadn’t even blinked since her transformation.
“You three are advancing so quickly that I want to see if it can be accelerated even further … I’m taking you to Level 1. You will now be facing those that have recently received their ninth tail, and if you manage that … the Tower is beyond, and three Vulpes are waiting to test your strength for themselves.”
Eyia’s frozen eyes moved to her for the first time. “I will handle the next area myself.”
Kari’s jaw tightened, knowing the Valkyrie was using every ounce of her discipline to not strike her down where she stood, and this was a means for her to focus on something else.
“Are you sure … Okay…” Sora mumbled, catching Eyia’s gaze. “All the humans?” she asked.
Kari looked down to see the Vulpes still catatonic. “Hmm … take them to a place away from the Vulpes. I don’t need them tainting what is now mine.”
“Done,” Mofupsi said with a snap of her finger. “Now … Let’s get to the final challenges! I’m itching to test you out myself, Sora … What will you show me next?”
Sora couldn’t help but feel so proud of Kari. Yes! She internally screamed. Kari’s finally accepting who she really is! Oof … No hugs yet, though … We’re still pretending to be douche-gang ultra. Once we get in private, though; I’m going to … How soft is her fur now? “Hmm…”
“What are you looking at?” Kari mumbled.