1. Kari (The Bully Wolf Girl Turned Shy Friend!)
2. Sora Moore (The Fox Fiend!)
Recap: Kari was finally able to overcome her trauma that was inflicted by her brother, yet in doing so, learning a horrible truth … Her mother knew what she would be subjected to … Still, she can’t hate her mother, and in the end, the gamble did bring her to Sora—her first real friend.
Kari’s heart’s strengthening with every bit of effort those around her put in to support the broken little sixteen-year-old Fenris Wolf girl. Now will this meeting with Sora go?
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Kari stayed in her mother’s comforting arms, allowing her broken heart to rest for at least a short while, but eventually, Alva pulled her away with an encouraging smile.
“Kari … all good things come to an end … to be replaced by a new event of life that brings with it the unknown.”
A lump formed in Kari’s throat as she held her mother’s hand. “But … But does it have to come so soon?”
“Always,” Alva replied, forming a chair to allow them both to sit. Her smooth fingers rubbing the back of Kari’s hand. “The possibility for growth, healing, and solace is built in the present with an expectation for it to rise into a solid tower in the future.”
Kari’s eyes fixated on her mother’s fingers, taking a deep breath between words. “I can … kind of understand where Eric was coming from—and it helps me not feel so scared of him—even if he’s just so messed up and wrong … I kind of get it.”
Alva lifted their arms to draw Kari’s attention to her compassionate face. “Kari, who was Sora’s monster?”
Her lips tightened, quickly diverting eye contact as her muscles tightened. “… Me,” she whispered.
“Has she been able to overcome that?”
Kari hesitated, eyes scanning the broken Miami building that surrounded them. “I … don’t know … She acts like it.”
“He-he-he,” her mother’s laughter caused a low groan to pass through Kari’s throat as she glared at the gray-haired woman before her.
“Kari…” Alva scooted forward a little in her chair, her sizeable puffy tail swinging around the open back to lift her chin. “You cannot lie to me. What do you know about Sora?”
Waving her mother’s tail away, she scratched her tickling neck while avoiding her mother’s amber irises again. “I … guess you’re right … Sora overcame her fear of me and … and asked me to be her friend—but … humph, but she’s so aggravating sometimes.”
“Why?” her mother pushed, head tilting to the side a little, which shifted her wild gray hair against her shoulders and neck.
“She teases me when she knows I’m not comfortable with some things!” Kari growled, thinking about their time in the spa with the other Vulpes, Eyia, and Jin. “Sora just keeps making fun of me, and … and…”
“Embarrassing you?” Alva giggled.
“Yes! It’s—It’s humiliating, Mom…”
Her mother shook her head. “Kari, do you honestly believe Sora really has any room to even consider anything romantic or if she is even attracted to you in that manner?”
“I don’t know…” Kari mumbled, thighs tightening uncomfortably while having this conversation with her mother. “She’s a Vulpes—a Vulpes Founder, at that.”
“Exactly,” Alva whispered, creating an image of Sora’s smiling face next to them. “Sora releases stress in a different way than you … The girl hasn’t even had the chance to explore what she needs in a romantic companion, much less knows what she likes—you’re both sixteen years old, and you have an eternity to figure that part out.”
Emilia appeared beside Sora, fidgeting and looking around in the awkward manner that characterized her; the girl’s much more womanly figure was in stark contrast next to her mother.
“Sora doesn’t have the luxury of such feelings and thoughts because of the complicated mess that is her life. You’re resisting out of instinct on something that isn’t even there, Kari,” Alva whispered.
Kari’s brow furrowed, licking her lips and pressing a hand against her stomach. “You mean…”
“No … Sora needs a best friend—someone who can lighten her heart and help shoulder the burden of the hardships that compress her—not a romantic companion. I know you aren’t attracted to her in that way, which isn’t bad,” Alva urged. “She’s your first ‘real’ friend, though, and you’re scared of everything you do around her—you’ve never practiced before. All you’ve had are siblings and an annoying adopted brother.”
A long puff of air shot past Kari’s lips. “… It’s just so hard to tell sometimes … That stupid fox flirty nature of hers is just … too much sometimes.”
The back of her mother’s chair materialized, allowing space for her tail as she leaned against it and crossed her legs. “For the last three years, the only ‘friends’ you’ve had were human girls, terrified of upsetting you—of course, you’d be uncomfortable having an equal relationship with someone, Kari. Sora is trying to help you open up in her own way.”
“What should I do?” she mumbled, shoulders and ears drooping a little. “I … I feel so useless … I cause issues with Eyia and her, which forces her to play mediator—and I know she hates that … she has enough on her plate.”
“See?” Alva returned.
Kari’s eyebrows pulled together. “See … See what?”
“You’re only thinking about how she feels … I have to pull your teeth to focus on anything else because you still haven’t forgiven yourself for what you did to her. Sora’s been trying her hardest to bridge that last gap to be real friends with you, but you keep smothering it.”
“But I … Right … So, what should I do?” she asked in frustration. “She wants to make me a part of her little circle but … I don’t know how to talk to those other girls, and a few of them hate my guts—Eyia would have already killed me had Sora not stepped in … every time.”
Her mother smirked, resting her cheek against the back of her hand. “Laugh.”
“Really, Kari. Sora wants to hear you laugh because she gets enjoyment out of emotion—she feeds off of it. When you’re down and apprehensive, she feels it, and it subconsciously affects her. Laugh … play the stupid games she wants to get into because that’s it … She’s not serious; she’s trying to release stress in a positive way.”
Alva’s lips fell, and she glared at Emilia. “Honestly … I’m concerned about Sora, Kari.”
“Why?” Kari asked, following her gaze. “… Emilia?”
Her mother was silent for a moment while studying the awkward girl. “I am indebted to Inari and have no doubt you are correct; she has far more of a scheming mind than I, out of necessity with the opponents she’s had to deal with over the eons.
“However … I believe her desire to have some hand in creating a new family member has caused consequences that she may have seen and been willing to deal with in her own mind, yet that Sora was not prepared for.”
“…” Kari’s gut tightened; her folded arms pressed against her chest. She couldn’t have an opinion on it … it didn’t feel right to her.
Alva nodded. “I know, Kari, but it is something you need to be aware of. Sora was, by no means, ready to be a mother, and Inari may have the knowledge that one’s views change once having a child, yet lacks the true understanding of what that means within her Core.”
Kari could see what her mother was saying; it was so outside of her own comfort zone that she realized that Alva’s concern wasn’t only for Sora but for herself. “Are you saying I should do something?”
“No … not necessarily,” her mother whispered. “I’m just warning you. Sora will need someone to be there to help her through the trials that are to come, and to do that—to beat this next event, and the powers I am going to be releasing within you as you progress, you must accomplish one of the most difficult tasks for any intelligent creature.”
Kari’s skin prickled at Alva’s concerned tone and eyes as they turned to her. “What … Who do I need to face?”
“No one,” her mother lifted a finger to point at Kari’s chest, “but yourself … If you want to continue to build this friendship with Sora, you must discard your self-hatred.”
Sweat broke out across her forehead, and a shiver ran down her spine to her tail. It sounded so ridiculous … but she didn’t know if it was possible. “I … Mom, I don’t love myself … How can I?” she asked, hands slowly closing around her shoulders as a shiver ran down her frame.
Her mother shook her head. “No, Kari … you don’t have to love yourself … You just can’t hate yourself.”
Kari’s voice was a squeak. “How?”
“Sora’s already helped you through much of it, my daughter,” Alva replied, leaning forward to put a hand on her knee. “Your life was unmanageable … and you finally broke down and accepted that, which is why you’ve clung to Sora … She’s helped restore comfort and solace to your life when she’s around.”
“Mmrmm … Okay…” Kari whispered, trying to ease her tight muscles. “N-Next?”
“You’ve already been over everything wrong you’ve ever done to Sora and seen the torturous things you’ve done to the humans.”
A tear ran down Kari’s cheek as she looked at the shattered floor. “… I brought Eric into Lori’s life … I made her a target … all the girls that Jenny infected. I used them to make myself feel something … something better than the hell Eric put me through.”
Alva’s hand tightened against her knee. “Right … And did Sora forgive you?”
Her heart and mind returned to the time Sora and her Cores temporarily bonded, more tears falling around her trembling lip. “M-Mhm … I—I don’t know how … but she did.”
“Will punishing yourself return anything those girls lost or the damage you caused to Sora?”
“No … It’s only to try and make yourself feel better … to seek a justice that can never be brought.” Her mother leaned forward to kiss her forehead. “Kari … have you asked Sora to forgive you?”
“W-Why? Didn’t … Didn’t she forgive me?” Kari asked between sniffs.
“That’s not the point … Have you asked?”
She shook her head.
“No … It may be hard … harder than you realize, but it is the only way for you to move forward—my darling little pup—to mend your broken heart, and begin healing, to have relief and peace for both Sora and you … you must ask for her forgiveness.”
Kari wanted to deny her mother’s words on instinct but knew she was right in her thrashed heart; still, her mind returned to the last time she’d bullied Sora. In a panic, she watched the scene around them change to Miami High’s gymnasium, girls surrounding the exits as Sora was guided through the doors by Kayla and Violet.
She could smell the fear leaking out of Sora’s skin … see her trying to stop her shaking hands by gripping her backpack … the way her muscles tightened. Sora looked so much younger and vulnerable, yet Kari knew it was the girl’s spirit influencing her perception—this Sora was innocent of anything related to her heritage and what her future held.
“I … I can’t,” Kari cried, getting to her feet and walking to the wall while hugging herself; her memories played out regardless.
“I didn’t see you at lunch, Sora.” Kari’s ears twitched as she heard herself scratch the back of her head. “I was hoping to catch you before the school day ended, but I got a call that pissed me off—so I had to cool down a bit.”
She still remembered Eric’s smug tone on the phone one of the girls paid for, recalling how angry something sacred as a cellphone, a way to communicate that had nothing to do with her brother, had been tainted, and to learn about Sora’s trip to the police from Eric almost put her over the edge.
Really, this had nothing to do with Sora; somehow, she thought forcing the stupid fox to go home with nothing on but a towel—dominating her would get back at her brother … it sounded so dumb now.
“Why did you bring this up?” her mother asked; she’d moved from her chair to stand beside her, watching her bully Sora.
“Y-You know…” Kari whimpered, holding her ears down as Sora’s pleading voice punched her chest.
“Please, Kari, you can’t—if the hotel tenants see me like that, security—they’ll call my dad…”
Lori ticked her tongue. “Kari’s thinking, Sora; you need to be quiet. The whole psychologist thing probably made him think you’re an attention whore anyways—not like your mom’s around either.”
“No … no…” Kari softly cried. “I was … I was so bad to her, and I was just using her as a punching bag to … to ease my stress. How could I ever be forgiven for something like that?”
Her mother hummed, fingers gently rubbing her back. “… Yet she did, Kari. Sora released every ounce of fear and hate she felt toward you … It is you that has absorbed it … a necessity, of sorts; a dissolution of your former self, yet it has left you broken, and try as she might, Sora cannot help you if you do not allow her to bridge your division … It must start with you, allowing the light of mercy to mend your fractured soul.”
“How can I when … when I did that to her?” Kari wept. They were moved inside of the bathroom, girls assaulting Sora, holding her down as Lori used the scissors her best friend had given them to shred her clothes and hair, leaving her naked and traumatized on the floor. Wendy charged to clean up their mess to just cut Sora a little more—calculated. “I was Eric … ME!”
Alva stepped forward, cupping Kari’s face in her hands. “Kari … do you realize you’re continuing to hurt Sora by repeatedly slapping away her extended hand?”
Kari flinched, but her mother reached out to hug her. “M-Mom, but … but I don’t … how can I face her, and—and ask her to f-forgive that … That’s like … like Eric asking me to—to forgive him … I just … I can’t…”
“I know … I know,” Alva whispered, her fingers slowly combing through her thick locks. “However, there’s one important difference between Eric and you, Kari … Sora has asked you to forgive yourself—she wants to start fresh with you, and punishing her by doing this to yourself is precisely what is hurting you so much.”
“M-Mom … I don’t know what to do … I don’t … I can’t love … love this … me … what’s there to love?”
“What’s there to love?” Alva asked, falling with her to her knees as Kari’s trembling legs collapsed. She smoothed back her bangs, tenderly clearing her cheeks. “My beautiful little girl, more than you could possibly understand … Is Sora stupid?”
“H-Heh,” she sniffed, “yeah … yeah, sometimes.”
Alva chuckled, holding her head with both hands. “Maybe you’re right, but she isn’t all that naive … there’s something inside you that Sora sees … something she wants to befriend … Don’t you owe her that?”
Kari’s eyes widened. “Mom … t-that’s not fair! I can’t … You can’t tell me that!”
“Isn’t it true?” Alva asked, motherly smile in place. “Allow Sora the agency to forgive you, Kari, and by asking for forgiveness yourself, you will open the doors to discover what worth ‘she’ has found in you.”
The air in Kari’s lungs locked in place as she slowly fell forward into her mother’s bosom, her strong and comforting arms closing around her.
“But … I really don’t think there’s anything good in me, Mom … No one should want to get close to me.”
“He-he-he,” Alva’s chest shook against Kari’s left ear. “Darling, isolating yourself doesn’t feel good … it puts you in a sense of comfort that numbs you … You’ve already done the hardest part, though.”
“… Doing the whole Core bonding thing with Sora?”
“Yes. You’ve taken the first step, and now you must commit. Everyone knows you’re not perfect, Kari. Do you expect Sora to be perfect?”
“Exactly. Don’t expect it of yourself … it’s not worth it. Stop destroying yourself, and start building again with those surrounding you … even Eyia, in time. You’re the one hurting Little Wolf … allow others to show you what they see in you before judging yourself for what you cannot see; honestly, I don’t know what else to say—you’ve been running from yourself, afraid of what you’d find.”
Taking in a deep breath, Kari let it rattle through her chest on the way out, arms cold in her mother’s arms. “I just … I feel what’s broken can’t be whole anymore … How can I even love anyone when I just can’t love myself?”
“Kari,” her mother’s voice quaked, liquid dropping on the top of her head. “No one can ever hurt you like you hurt yourself … How can anyone show you they love you when you only give them half of who you are? You are not beyond help,” she whispered, arms squeezing her shoulders. “Allow Sora to be living proof that you’re lovable.”
“… I’ll try.”
Her mother pulled her on top of her, allowing Kari to look into her eyes as their hair fanned around them. “My gorgeous little girl … Until you hold your own child in her arms, you will never know the depths of what love really means … To feel their soul blooming with your tender care, and then you’ll know that there will always be someone that loves you … no matter what … I love you, Kari.”
“Mom…” She fell atop her mother, crying in her arms. “I’m sorry … for everything I’ve done … I’m sorry.”
She laid with her mother for what seemed an eternity until she could get ahold of herself. Clearing her throat and cheeks of liquid, Kari rolled to the side of her mother, staring up at the girl’s locker room ceiling.
“… What do I need to do, Mom?”
Alva found her hand, interlinking fingers to hold their arms in the air. “The most courageous thing you could possibly do … ask Sora for forgiveness and release the vitriol in your heart … allow yourself to start building a foundation for your powers to stand upon, and then … then you will find friendship.”
“You … you make it sound so easy,” Kari mumbled, left arm falling across her eyes to blot out the bright lights. “I’ll at least be somewhat useful to Sora, though … if I can’t do anything for her, then I can’t be a friend.”
A sad laugh shook her mother’s stomach. “Oh, Kari … in time, you’ll learn what real friendship is. Sora will need your help, and you’re right; this is the next step that will allow you to be there for her.”
“Okay.” Kari sat up, a mountain on her chest, yet her legs and arms felt lighter than ever. “What about my powers? All I know how to do is transform, bite, and slam things with my body. I told Sora I’d handle this next trial, but honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Her mother joined her, giving her a smug look. “That’s the easy part, honey. You may think you have tapped into your powers in the past, but you really haven’t—you’ve never been in the state of mind to accomplish it, and the moment you do, it’ll become crystal clear why Fenris Wolves are universally feared.”
Kari’s head drooped, tail smacking her face. “Really, great talk, Mom, but could you be less vague?”
“There’s the Kari I remember,” Alva snickered, leaning over to kiss her forehead again. “Blegh—are you shedding again?”
“M-Mom!” Kari mumbled, cheeks darkening.
“He-he-he. Alright. You know what to do,” she whispered, fussing with her hair again. “If you do this, you open the gate to your powers, but you’re still on the kitty level here.”
Alva snickered. “Yup, not even a puppy, my little kitty wolf.”
“T-That’s so mean!” Kari gasped, never expecting those words out of her mother’s mouth.
“The truth hurts,” Alva replied, getting up and helping Kari to her feet. “Vulpes have a very different approach to their power than Fenris Wolves, and Sora’s had to go through a score of training that should have been natural to her when still a little pup with her mom, but she’s making progress.
“On the other hand, Fenrir was the King of Beasts, and only the bonds fashioned of materials beyond understanding could restrain him … A plot was spun against your grandfather that began with the Primordials who feared him, and the very pride that gave him his incomprehensible strength was the thing that ultimately confined him.”
Kari scooted back against the bench to face her mother. “… Courage is a Fenris Wolf’s power … Grandpa allowed himself to be bound to prove his strength, but he tried to take precautions.”
Her mother nodded, shifting her legs to the side while using the lockers to support her. “Indeed. Bravery is the confronting of something without fear; courage is the quality of facing something despite your fears—such as asking Sora to forgive you.”
“Right…” Kari cleared her throat, feeling sweat move through her pores at the very thought. “What does that have to do with Grandpa, though?”
“Confidence is the feeling of trust or the belief in one’s own abilities … which your uncles have in spades, but that has limits because confidence has a base in prior knowledge as opposed to tilling new ground as those that have courage produce.
“While your grandfather was courageous, he had too much trust in our enemies to play by the rules … Something, many of the Founders, learned after the truce was our differing natures. The Asgardians worshiped the Primordials as their creators, and in proxy, a plot had been schemed to trap your grandfather that didn’t break the conditions … Which sparked Ragnarök … And your grandfather couldn’t let that slight go, breaking the treaty and going against the Primordials on his own.”
Kari’s hands tightened in her lap. “Oh…”
“Mhm … He wasn’t the only one that was tricked by their plots to divide and conquer, which is one reason why Gloria has such vitriol. Trust in Sora, but be cautious, my daughter … forces are watching that want nothing more than to claim everything the Founders safeguard.”
A small smile lifted Kari’s lips as she looked up. “… I really can’t believe it—that I get to talk to you like this … It really is a miracle.”
Alva’s face softened. “I know … Inari certainly has done something I could never repay … Yet, she did it because she knows the effect you will have on Sora.”
A sad look moved her mother’s face. “The Second Generation Founders were close at one time … The aftermath of the war really tore us apart, but I could have reached out … yet I didn’t, and everyone branched into our own isolated directions—I sometimes wonder if it’s just circumstance or calculated on the Primordial’s part … It could just be paranoia from my isolation … Who knows. And yet, we fought their war for them … And I got left behind.”
She glanced up at something unseen. “To wake up alone … another midafternoon, the sun in the sky, but night’s closing in, and another day looking into a hollow mirror … It haunted me.”
“The truth is…” Alva chuckled, lifting a hand to show an image of her old sanctuary. “I created my own little place, filled with substances to dull the pain … pools of liquid so toxic it would even affect my body … I never had a place to go once your grandfather was trapped, shortly after the war—life grows harder when you love nothing else.
“I didn’t have many answers other than numbing my heart once I learned about my brother’s theory—I wasn’t going to be a part of it, and I walked this path against your uncles for so long … Preventing me from having a family … For what seemed eternity … And time just … just seemed to go on and on … on and on … and on and on … Life, stuck inside a bottle—all alone.”
Kari crawled over to her mother, lying on her back while staring up at the darkening illusionary skies of the world she fashioned before her birth; she’d never heard her mother so sound detached.
“Heh,” Alva held out an arm for Kari to lie atop it. “I know what it’s like to be depressed, Kari … knees too tired to pray to … whoever … whatever can open some path before me … a way out … and another empty pool of toxin … I’ve finished the entire batch.
“And it’s time to make another … One more experimental substance to somehow bypass my insane resilience to numb a pain nothing else could match … One more prayer for the child in me that dreamed of a family … And eventually, I found myself at the end of the road … unable to bear it … so tired … I tried to have a family,” she mumbled.
Her mother’s chest convulsed against Kari’s hand. “… All while trying to convince myself I’m not just a woman with broken dreams … Once … just once … let me feel what it’s like to have a child of my own, and … just like my father … one stupid, trusting decision … and I ruin my children’s lives before they even start.”
Kari cuddled next to her mother’s quivering body. “… I never knew how lonely you were.”
“Eons … ages without end of trying to deny the one thing you want, and when you finally work up the courage to do it … everything falls apart. All I’m trying to say, Kari … is that things could have been so much more different had I allowed someone to help me before things got too far … Don’t make my mistake … don’t let fear of rejection block every bridge … Break free of these oppressive bonds that I couldn’t.”
Kari took a deep breath, feeling the hurt in her mother’s words. “… Mom … if I can’t stop Sora from forgiving me … then you can’t stop me from forgiving you.”
Her mother’s shaking fingers pressed against Kari’s hand on her chest. “Oh-ho-ho-ho … no,” she painfully laughed. “Turning this around on me certainly hurts … Kari.” She turned her slick face to smile at Kari, cheeks shining in the orange glow of the sun. “You know how much that means to me … and the pain I feel … Thank you, my little kitten wolf.”
Kari’s eyes set. “You didn’t ruin our lives, Mom … It wasn’t you, and I couldn’t blame you,” she cried, “ever. So … So, don’t blame yourself … We all make mistakes,” she whispered, looking up at the burning heavens. “… I’m not just a girl with broken dreams, either … Am I a mistake?” she asked with a grin.
“No! Of course not,” Alva mumbled, pulling her into her arms again. “Oh … little kitten wolf … the teacher becomes the student. Who knows what will happen … All I know is that I love you more than life itself,” she choked. “I could never let you go … Thank you, Kari … Thank you for being my daughter.”
“A-And thank you for being my mom, Mom!”
“Oh … if only I could have had this moment with you when … No, this is enough,” Alva whispered. “Now … are you ready?”
Kari’s arms tightened. “Just a bit longer … just a little bit.”
“Heh … you’re spoiling me,” Alva giggled. “Just a little longer … then, we’ll go together; just know, Kari … you’re never alone.”
* * *
Sora groaned, stretching left and right as she filled the final position of the Vulpes that would be going to the next level with her; honestly, all the women here were kind of Zeri crazy. The innocent cinnamon fox boy was among ravenous harpies, ready to pluck every hair from his tail as a souvenir … In fact, many had fur collections of previous male Vulpes … personal shrines of the last male Vulpes that they carried with them to the next level.
Mary was going to stay behind, and the Vulpes were absolutely mystified by her lack of tails, having never seen a living human before, but the simple fact she was a woman put her on their hit-list.
A slight smirk lifted Sora’s lips as she cleared her throat, walking through the parting crowd to meet up with Mary and Zeri around the crying throng of Vulpes that had been selected to leave; an example had to be made to show ‘human power.’
“… Mhm. Oh, yes, Sora?” Mary asked, leaning to the side to see her; she’d already given her a memory infusion filled with all the details surrounding the districts and her thoughts, but the woman still wanted to gain her own impression of the women and Zeri.
“Could you show them with ‘just a desire’ you could create an iceberg the size of this entire district … just above all those onlookers to show them just how powerful a human can be?”
“Eh … sure?” Mary mumbled, likely doubting her ability, yet the Realm Core responded to her desire in kind, and a swirl of frigid air expelled across the entire city as a colossal block of solid ice instantly generated over the city. “Oh … OH!” Mary began to panic as all the Vulpes’s tails drooped, eyes wide as it broke apart in the air from its mass, beginning its descent.
“And now make it turn to smoke!”
“Y-Yeah!” Mary stammered, lifting her arms in a slight panic. “B-Be gone! Smoke!”
More than one illusionary Vulpes, observing the trials, vanished at the sight of the block, and the single-tailed to five all dropped to their butts in astonishment as mist obscured the whole sky in a thick fog, rushing below. Mary forced a chuckle. “Snap … eh, and that, be gone, too!”
“Good!” Sora said with a bright smile. “Now, you all know that Mary can wipe you all out with a single thought, so, be on your best behavior!”
Kari slowly walked back into the square by the whispers passing through the Vulpes; she’d lost track of her wolf friend for a while, leaving to calm down after Eyia and her got into it, which was good. Sora was a little worried that someone tried something to mess with her, but the Fenris Wolf wasn’t easy to handle; she knew from experience, and with her mother involved in helping her, she dismissed the concern of foul play.
Most of the Vulpes were still stunned at the display, and she half expected Mofupsi to show back up; it was a little shocking when she didn’t.
Eyia’s frosty eyes shifted to Kari as she walked around a few of the foxes too paralyzed by the display to move, still looking up at the sky, likely wondering if it had been an illusion, but unable to deny the dread the sight instilled.
“Kari!” Sora cheered. “How are you … Are you okay?” she asked, eyes pulling together as she saw the conflicting emotions across the girl’s face.
“H-Hey, Sora … Can I talk to you in private?”
Her tone brought Sora’s lips together; there was a subtle feeling emanating from Kari that she’d never felt before, but it wasn’t nefarious; Niki and Yeven were behind her, looking happy. “Umm … Sure? We’re just waiting for Mofuspi to come back to get the next thing going.”
“Right … Umm, can you two stay here?” she asked, looking back at the two Vulpes that followed her.
“You’ve got it, Big Sis-Sis!” Zeri replied.
Yeven giggled. “Yeah, we’ll be here. Thank you, Kari.”
“He-he,” Zeri poked her sister’s back, “Yuphon’s gonna cry again!”
“N-no, I’m not!” she defended.
Sora snickered. “Looks like you two are doing better, and Big Sis-Sis, huh?” she asked with a questioning grin moving to the Fenris Wolf.
“Yeah … it’s a … not really a long story, but … Yeah, I just needed to talk to you.”
“For?” Eyia asked, folding her arms.
Sora resisted a sigh, waving Eyia’s objection away while dancing forward to grab Kari’s arm and pull her out of the throng. “Oh, yeah, it’s totally fine, Eyia! We’ll be right back … Watch Mary for me; heh, we don’t want her to wipe out all the Vulpes!”
“Sora,” Mary huffed, “that is not a good way for me to build rapport!”
She winked at Kari while jogging away from the group, Kari allowing herself to be pulled along. Making it a few blocks away, Sora gave her a thoughtful look, letting go of her arm to hold her hands behind her back. “Heh, man, I’ve been feeling a bit under pressure back there; thanks for saving me! Uh, so … What’s up?”
Her eyebrows drew together as Kari rubbed her left hand, took a deep breath, and let it go in a long stream before giving her a sad smile. “Sora … I’ve been struggling with … a lot.”
“Okay?” Sora frowned; Kari was serious, and this was the first time she’d ever confided in her like this. “Umm … do you want to sit down?”
Kari’s expression became strained. “Eh, yeah … that might help, but … but I don’t know if I can sit.”
Now thoroughly confused, Sora’s mind looked for answers. “Uh-huh … Umm, are … is it … urinary problems?” she slowly asked.
“W-What? No…” Kari replied, now sounding more confused than her. “I … We’re Founders … Humans have those.”
“Oh … Yeah, right, right,” Sora mumbled, combing back her copper locks. “Uh, yeah, right, umm … Sorry, so … what’s up?”
“Gloria,” Kari hissed, running her fingers through her hair and shaking it out with a low moan.
“Uh … Gloria?” Sora’s eyes darted to the left. “You’re gonna have to be more specific … What about Gloria?”
“No, gah … I’m just … You can make things so weird!”
A small smirk moved Sora’s lips. “Uh-huh, and who’s the one talking about Fairy Founders and random stuff?”
“Oh, like urinary infections … that we can’t have?” Kari challenged with a short huff.
Sora nodded. “Touché! Touché! Okay, yeah, heh, I can be random, but you gotta expect that from me! What’s up with you, though?”
“I just … I wanted to say I’m … I’m sorry!” she blurted.
Silence followed as Sora’s mind blanked.
“W-Well?” Kari mumbled, rubbing her arm and shifting uncomfortably.
“… Mhm…” Sora slowly nodded. “Yeah … I—I totally know what you’re saying … me shaking my head means I don’t, by the way,” she laughed. “Uh … cool? We’re good? What are you sorry about … Kari?” she asked in concern as the girl’s shoulders slumped. “What’s going on?”
Kari tucked her lip under, running her hand across her neck while holding her elbow. “Sora … I know I did so…” Her voice caught, and a lump dropped down her throat before she was able to take a shuddering breath. “I hurt you … for years, and I don’t … I don’t know how to handle that,” she whispered, her face coloring as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Kari … didn’t we already go through this?” Sora mumbled.
She shook her head, nose turning bright red. “No … Not really on m-my part … I c-can’t really f-forgive myself … I just see everything I did to you when I close my eyes…”
“Kari…” Sora moved forward to hug her, but Kari took a step back and took a deep breath while holding up her hands.
“N-No, I … I need to do this…”
Sora’s left arm tightened across her stomach as she held her wrist. “O-Okay? I … I’m really okay with it, though.”
“T-That’s the problem,” Kari cried, trying to clear her throat. “I’m not … And—And I know I don’t deserve … I don’t … but … but will you f-f-forgive m-me, Sora … I … I don’t…”
Sora’s eyes widened as Kari broke down again in front of her, nose burning at the radiating emotions the broken girl’s spirit radiated, and she fought past Kari’s arms to embrace her. “Of course … Kari, I told you, and I’ll tell you every time … We’re friends … I forgive you!”
“W-Why…” Kari wept, arm refusing to close around her back, lying stiffly against her sides. “Why would you … How could you…”
“Because … we shared each other’s pain,” Sora sniffed. “I know what Eric did to you … those terrible, terrible things … a brother should … should never do to their sister! I … I want to be there for you since … Well, you don’t have anyone, and … and I felt that way for so long, too—praying someone would be there for me. Will you let me be here for you?”
“I … I don’t deserve it!”
“And I don’t care if you do! I’ll be there anyway!”
“I … I do want it,” Kari cried, fingers twitching before slowly rising to wrap around her back. “I do … I’m just … I hated myself for so long…”
“… You don’t have to anymore … I’ll take it all away because—because that’s what friends do.”
“T-Thank you, Sora … I don’t know how to be a friend, though.”
“Then we’ll learn together, huh? I’m not an expert, but we’ll figure it out!”
Kari’s chest fluttered against her’s. “I felt so alone.”
“Never again,” Sora assured. “If you’re feeling like this … ever, then just let me know, or … or give me a sign, or something because I want to be there for you. Oh, you—you did!” She hugged her tighter. “You came and got me … See, we’re friends!”
“Friends … forgive one another?”
“… Thank you,” Kari squeaked. “I don’t know why … but thank you.”
They sat that way for several minutes before Kari pulled back.
“U-Umm … I need to—ahem—get ready for my fight.”
“Are you sure? I can do it,” Sora whispered, clearing her cheeks with her hand.
Kari shook her head with a bright, red-faced smile. “No … No, this is something I have to do … really, Sora … I don’t know how you can forgive me, but … but I’ll accept it and try to not make you regret it.”
“Never. I’m not going to regret it!”
“He-he-he … I’m going to go, and … what would you say, freshen up?”
“I would not say that,” Sora chuckled.
“Yeah … Okay, rich girl…”
The joke came out of left-field, and Kari certainly sounded awkward saying it, but it was the first attempt the wolf had made at actually telling one. “Wow! Look at you!” Sora laughed. “That joke sucked!”
“H-Hey, I’m trying…” Kari mumbled, looking away with a pained smile.
“I know, which is awesome!” She cheered, jumping forward to hug her again. “Alright! You go huff and puff and blow their clothes off for me!”
“W-what?!” Kari stammered. “You have the weirdest jokes, too…”
“Big bad wolf?” Sora asked, pulling away to lift an eyebrow.
“Eh … never heard of him,” Kari mumbled.
“Oof … yeah, we got some work to do, girl,” Sora giggled. “Okay, so, what do you need to do to get ready? I’ll help!”
“Umm … well, to be honest,” Kari scratched her neck. “This is something I need to figure out myself.”
“Cool! Still, seriously, Kari, if you need—no, even if you would like some company, then I’m always game … well unless Emilia’s got her claws in me,” she chuckled. “I do need to spend some more personal time with her.”
Kari smiled. “You really do, and I’ll pester you about it.”
“Finally!” Sora sighed. “Someone has to knock some sense into me because I’m little Miss Hypocrite here, wanting to spend time with my parents while going off on all these distractions when my not-so-little girl is pleading for my attention. Please, knock me upside the head whenever you can!”
“Eh, he-he-he … Let’s not go that far!”
Kari laughed, brightening Sora’s mood. “Alright. Give me five minutes, and I’ll be ready.”
“I’m looking forward to it! Dazzle me with the strength of Fenrir!”
“… Something like that,” Kari mumbled, waving her off before running back toward the gates. “See you in a second.”“Sure thing!” She frowned, putting her hands on her hips, tails flicking to the left while glaring up at the sky. Now … what is keeping Mofupsi?
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