Sora was shocked to find an elementary girl sitting on an air-conditioning unit, examining her fingernails. More shocking was her black and crimson-tipped cat ears and ruby-ended two tails that weaved behind her.
The girl looked up at Sora as she made it to the roof. Her ink-black hair reached under her jaw and halfway down her neck, curling in. Her bangs covered most of her forehead and extended in between her eyes at the center. The sides of her hair formed around her ears and curved in under her large feline eyes, framing them.
Her left cat ear had a golden ring on the outer section, just above the center point. The slim girl appeared Chinese, with a slightly flat nose, curved mischievous lips, and fair, extremely smooth skin.
She wore a short, sleeveless, red summer cheongsam with golden bow-ties sewn around the edges. The slits cut in the dress were pronounced by fluffy bloomers that extended halfway down her thighs with frills at the ends.
Awkwardly, Sora straightened. “Hello—umm—how are you?”
The catgirl tilted her head and spoke in a high-pitched child’s voice. “Nilly’s fine. Who are you?”
“My name’s Sora. Wait, is your name Nilly?” she asked, slowly removing her hat and pressing it to her chest; twisting around her fingers, Sora fidgeted a bit.
“Fox ears!” Nilly shouted, her eyes somehow opening further. “You’re a fox!”
Sora shifted nervously. “I guess … Can we talk for a bit, Nilly?”
Nilly’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Nilly didn’t give fox Nilly’s name! How does Fox know Nilly’s name?”
“Because, uh, you keep saying your name aloud—like—third person?” Sora tried to explain.
Nilly pursed her lips in a manner that said she was unconvinced. Nimbly hopping off the air-conditioner, she dashed across the rooftop at a shocking pace. “Wait!” Sora yelled as she pursued.
Nilly leaped off the building and flew over fifteen feet to the next. Landing on one foot, she continued at the same astonishing speed across the next rooftop.
I don’t know what she really is, but she could answer some of my questions. I can’t let her get away!
Taking a deep breath as she hit the edge, Sora jumped across the gap and ruefully thought, And I’m going to die.
A film of exhilaration washed over her as her feet left the ground and soared twenty feet into the air to tumble across the rock-covered roof of the next building. Stopping, she breathed a long, painful groan, followed by a sigh as her eyes caught the fleeing girl. Nilly simply changed directions on a dime and jumped to another rooftop, continuing her acrobatic race.
Straightening, she examined herself and was surprised to find only a handful of minor cuts, though her body felt a bit strained. Grimacing, she examined the spilled contents of her purse, dusted her clothing off, and looked toward the direction Nilly had gone; she’d already disappeared. However, her ears were up and tracking every tingling ring of Nilly’s bell.
Retrieving her purse and hat, she patted them down too, frowning as she saw a few cuts in the leather. Replacing the items and stuffing her hat inside the bag with a frown, a short huff shot through her lips before walking to the side of the building and looked down at the alley. Hopping down, she landed on her feet, smiling at the acrobatics.
I don’t know why I can’t handle leaps, but I can handle drops fairly well.
Scanning the multitude of sounds, she found Nilly’s specific tingling ring and began tracking her through the streets. She didn’t care anymore if someone saw her ears. She continued her hunt without paying much mind to the tourists and locals around her.
It took over an hour of tracking Nilly’s movements before she finally stopped at the youth center’s playground. Sora was shocked how much of the city Nilly could cover in such a short amount of time. Lying on a slide, Nilly seemed to be sleeping; however, when Sora stepped onto the street just before the playground, she opened her eyes and lifted herself.
Sora was stunned to find Nilly had aged years; she now looked like she was in middle school and her attire had somehow adjusted itself perfectly with her development. She also had gained a new golden earring, just above the base of her left cat ear.
Nilly’s eyes followed Sora as she neared. “Who are you … oh, a fox?” she asked suspiciously, glaring at Sora’s ears.
Frowning, Sora said, “We met on the rooftop … I think … my name’s Sora … maybe you’re Nilly’s older sister?”
The girl’s brow furrowed as she seemed to be thinking hard on her words and a few seconds later, she shook her head. “Nope, Nilly doesn’t remember Sora and Nilly doesn’t have any sisters!” Sitting up straighter, she said, “How do you know Nilly’s name!?”
Humming thoughtfully, Sora tapped her lower lip with her thumb. Short-term memory? How about I try a different approach.
“You told me your name, Nilly. We’re friends!”
Nilly looked taken aback and her large eyes narrowed as she studied Sora closely. Both hands resting on the sides of the slide, she pushed off and flipped into the air. Landing on the slide’s edge with dexterous balance, she leaned forward. “Fox friend … does Nilly have a fox friend … Nilly does, but you’re not Nilly’s fox friend?”
“Sora could be Nilly’s fox friend,” Sora offered, kneeling to look up at her.
A bright smile lit Nilly’s cheeks. “Yes, Sora can be Nilly’s fox friend!” Hopping off the slide, she nimbly walked over to the swings and started pushing herself back and forth.
She’s the most frivolous person I’ve ever met! Even my recent changes can’t compare.
Going over to sit on the swing next to her, Sora asked, “So, what kind of fox is Sora, Nilly?”
Nilly hummed thoughtfully as she bobbed her head side to side. Her twin tails weaving with the motions. Smiling, she said, “Sora’s a fox and a fox is a fox!”
She suddenly frowned and narrowed her eyes questioningly as she leaned back to study Sora. “Why doesn’t Sora have a fox tail? Foxes have tails,” she started counting with her fingers, “one tail, two tails, three tails, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine tails!” She exclaimed the last number and seemed to realize something. “Yes … why does Sora not have fox tails?”
Swallowing, Sora remembered what the Wiki page said: Kitsune usually have nine tails, and that signifies age and power.
“I don’t know. I just got my fox ears today.”
Nilly’s face dawned with understanding. “Nilly sees, Nilly sees, nine tails, nine days, nine stuff … foxes like nine.”
I didn’t even realize it! That first pain I had … it was three days ago, most likely at the start of the ninth day before my birthday. I don’t understand why sixteen is important for this to start happening, but it seems it is.
“Do foxes like the number sixteen?” Sora asked hopefully.
Nilly stared up at the sky and stiffened; Sora felt a strange shiver run up her back and prickle her hair. “Nilly needs to go!” she hastily stated.
Dismissing the sensation, Sora asked, “Why?” But Nilly had already dashed toward the youth center, jumping over bushes and fence lines to get there as quickly as possible.
Silently following, Sora frowned as a familiar sound echoed across the park as if expelled from a speaker, the sound of a raindrop. A smile spread across Sora’s face.
She doesn’t want to get wet. This will give me time to get more information. Why is she even in the city? Don’t Nekomata usually enjoy mountainous terrain … but that would be pretty rainy too?
Walking around the fence line, she hurried inside the building.
Entering, Sora listened for Nilly’s bell, ears twitching. She got a few wide-eyed looks from children around the entrance, but the parents didn’t pay her any mind.
Why are there so many kids here? School shouldn’t be over yet?
Finding Nilly a few rooms in, she followed the tinkles. Nilly was standing on a chair as she watched kids bowling, staring in fascination as the ball would hit the pins and come back.
Walking over to her, Sora asked, “Do you want to bowl, Nilly?”
Nilly’s head darted around. “Fox! Fox! What are they doing?” The kids were eyeing Nilly with interest but kept bowling.
“They’re playing a game,” Sora explained, sitting across from her.
“Can Nilly play?”
Going with Nilly’s flow, Sora said, “Sure, Nilly can play, but can Nilly first answer Sora’s questions?”
Dropping down to sit, Nilly nodded earnestly. “Nilly answers, then Nilly plays!”
Smiling, Sora asked, “Why has Nilly been following Sora?”
Nilly took a concentrated expression as she weaved back and forth. Folding down her cat ears for a full minute before opening her eyes, she gave Sora a blank look. “What did Sora ask Nilly?” She kept looking over at the bowling balls.
Sighing, Sora, followed her gaze. There’s no use in getting information out of her when she’s hyped up like this.
“Sora wants to play with Nilly. Follow Sora.”
Nilly hopped six feet into the air, doing a flip, and cheered. “Nilly plays!” The kids’ jaws dropped open.
Smiling, Sora brought her over to the counter; the attendant was looking at them uncertainly. Breaking the silence, Sora said, “We’d like some shoes and a bowling ball.”
The man’s eyes locked with Sora and his face altered, a wide smile appearing. “Yes—yes, of course!”
Nilly snickered. “Foxy fox magic.”
What? Did I just do something to him?
She watched in disbelief as the man started gathering handfuls of shoes and dragging them across the counter. He started gathering several bowling balls before Sora said, “Wait.” The man instantly halted his actions, halfway bent over.
“Sora’s not a really good fox!” Nilly snickered.
Anxiety welling in her chest, she said, “Please get us two bowling balls and wait.” The man complied.
Finding her own shoe size in the mass of footwear, she helped Nilly find shoes to her displeasure. “What’s wrong with Nilly’s shoes? Nilly likes Nilly’s shoes!”
“If you don’t have these shoes then you can’t play the game,” Sora stated.
Her expression instantly changed. “Oh! Ok, give Nilly shoes.”
She’s worse than dealing with a child!
Getting Nilly and herself into shoes, Sora stared at the man in fear as he stood still, waiting expectantly. Please say I can reverse this … did I just turn him into a slave?
“Nilly—how does Sora stop—fox magic?”
Rolling the bowling ball around the floor with glee, Nilly shrugged. “Nilly doesn’t know. Foxes use foxy magic then stop foxy magic.”
Sora massaged her temples as their antics started drawing a crowd of children. All I did was ask for something, he looked at me, and he suddenly became my slave … What is that? My eyes had some kind of effect on Lori, but this seems completely different. Before … I just walked away from Lori … but I did something different to Lori; I could feel everything Lori felt.
Smiling at the man timidly, Sora said, “Thank you for your help.” Turning to Nilly, she said, “Alright, let’s g—” she cut off as an elementary kid stepped up to her. He was glaring up at her ears.
“You’re too old to have fox ears!”
Well, that’s rude!
Sora sighed, and bent down to his level, a wry grin spread across her lips and she leaned in to whisper in his ears. “They’re real ears. Touch them!”
The boy’s eyes opened wide as he slowly reached forward and poked her ear. A tingling sensation shot down its length as they twitched. The boy leaped back and then moved closer, rubbing them with an awed expression. Pulling away, she winked at him and put a finger to her lips.
The boy nodded, looking like he had an important secret. He motioned to his friends; they followed expectantly, asking if her ears were real. They ran off, leaving Sora with a smile.
Sora yelped as Nilly jumped on her back and started playing with her ears. “Nilly likes fox ears but likes fox tails better. Foxes need fox tails!”
Sora slowly got her off but found that Nilly was half the weight she should have been. Laughing, Nilly ran over to a lane and threw her large bowling ball without an ounce of strain. It raced down the path and knocked every pin flying; Sora was worried it had done damage to the machine. Nilly cheered, dancing around in a circle.
Nilly’s going to wear me out!
Sitting down, she glanced back at the man behind the desk. He was shaking his head as if in a daze, staring down at all the shoes with a confused expression.
He doesn’t remember any of it. I think what I did with Lori was different than what I did to this man. With Lori, I exploited her emotions, her weaknesses. With this man, it’s like I hypnotized him … but I didn’t even mean to. It’s dangerous not knowing how to control my new … abilities. I don’t know what else to call it, Nilly and even Lori called it fox magic.
Sora’s eyes snapped open. Wait, Lori knew about me being a fox! Why didn’t I question it before? Because of the link? So … Lori knows about this fox transformation, maybe for years. Kari and her pack have called me a fox since almost the start. Lori herself seems different and now after my change, I realize a very distinct horrible smell that surrounds Lori and even Kari to some extent.
Her attention snapped back as a shadow appeared inches from her face, leaning backward in surprise, she found Nilly’s grinning face. “Such a bad fox!” she giggled, dancing away, tails twisting around her hips.
Working around her jaw, Sora swallowed nervously. “Nilly, are … foxes bad?”
Nilly giggled. “Foxes are foxes!” she repeated while throwing Sora’s ball down another lane, cheering as it dropped every pin. “Nilly’s good at the game!”
Sora smiled. “Right, foxes are foxes.”
I decide my own actions … At least I hope I do.
Ears pricking, Nilly looked to the exit and shouted. “It’s over! Nilly chase time.”
Chase … as in hunting?
Sora pointed her ears toward the door and listened; she found only light pattering from drips. That was a quick shower.
She sighed as Nilly slipped her shoes back on and ran through the door. I have a feeling that I’ll see her again, at some point.
She checked Nilly’s and her bowling shoes and balls back in at the desk; the man didn’t even seem to recognize she’d gotten shoes or bowling balls. Humming with concern, she went to the Italian restaurant. She ordered rabbit to satisfy her unruly stomach, and after finishing three servings went back to her hotel, Howie was out for lunch, another staff member filling in. Turning on the news, she watched more political drama happen between Congress, the President, and the House.
Her thoughts turned to Mr. Quest. He always made the comment that the power should be returned to the states. The country was called the United States, not the United Government. Sora herself didn’t care, which was what Mr. Quest said was the biggest problem with today’s generation, but the thought of him made her smile.
Back when things were at least a bit normal.
Sora giggled as she heard the President state that he wouldn’t negotiate any further with the House. “That’s a little childish,” she laughed further when they started talking about polls and who was to blame for the possibility of a shutdown. She felt oddly amused at the debates, trying to pretend everything was normal.
She sat up straighter as she switched to local news. Mr. Quest’s face popped up after a few minutes and the reporter said:
“Earlier today there was some kind of animal attack at Miami Beach Senior High School. There have been no sightings, but the wounds received by school teacher Henry Quest were sustained by some form of rabid animal. The emergency response teams are searching Miami Beach for any traces of this predator. It’s considered to be very large and dangerous. Specialists suggest something the size of a tiger, be aware and please call…”
Sora bit down on her thumbnail. Could that have been Kari’s brother? She did do that damage to the classroom? I’ll have to talk to her about it tomorrow … It looks like my confrontation with her will be sooner than I thought.
She finished the night on the balcony couch, watching the sky and ocean. They gave her a peaceful sensation, and the slightest hint of panicked thoughts that had crept in vanished without her noticing.