Sora’s eyes shot open as sharp electricity coursed through her body, spine rippling with simultaneous stimulations that sent a jolt of pain throughout its entire length. Eyes squeezing shut, Sora’s breath exited with heated whimpers. Her fingers dug into the couch as spurs burrowed into every inch of her body.
Not again! How many more—nights will this happen? ‘Till my birthday?
She lost track of time, the pain making her toss and turn, blood boiled within her veins. She didn’t know what to grasp to ease her torment; ice and fire permeated every fiber. Once it passed, she felt utterly exhausted; she didn’t want to twitch, her lungs worked hard enough. It didn’t take long to pass into a fatigued sleep.
* * *
Waking, she felt sore. Lying still for several minutes, she was shocked to find herself in bed, not the balcony. Looking over at her digital clock, she groaned as it filtered into view.
Five fifty-three A.M.—Saturday. Two days gone again… She weakly grabbed one of her pillows and forced its weight against her face, moaning, “So annoying!”
She removed the pillow, brow creasing as she recognized a familiar scent in the air. Nilly brought me inside … why? How long ago?
She took a few more sniffs. “Hmm, I’d say … two hours ago,” she muttered, “so, three thirty-ish?”
Why is she following me and then shows no sign of knowing who I am? Maybe it has to do with her changing age; who knows with a monster cat…
Throwing off her blankets, she began to slide to the edge of her bed and yelped as her bottom back cried out in pain. Quickly shifting to her side, she looked down to find a fluffy, white-tipped reddish-orange tail resting on her bed; it trembled slightly as she watched it.
Dropping to her side, she rested her head against her mattress, hair bunching around her left ear, folding against a pillow. “Congratulations, Sora,” she grumbled, “you’ve got a tail. Nilly will be ecstatic.”
Sliding off her bed, she found it hard to keep balance; her weight seemed to have shifted. Struggling to stand, she dropped to the floor, belly first. Huffing, she pulled back her hair to see, her body still telling her it was exhausted. “Fantastic, now I can’t even walk right.” Swinging to her side, she examined her trembling tail.
I guess it’s like my ears. I needed to get used to them, and now I need to get used to a tail. At least I don’t need to soak in the spa for an entire day!
Shakily getting to her feet, she had to latch herself to her closet door to not fall again. Looking back at her tail, she found it had moved her pajama bottoms down slightly. She judged that it was about at her beltline on most of her pants or maybe a little below. Taking several minutes to learn how to move it back and forth, she smiled. “I’m a natural!”
It took her several more minutes to thoroughly learn how to maneuver it. She giggled as she brought it up to brush against her neck, the fur causing a tickling sensation to prickle across the stimulated area. It felt no different to move it than her fingers or feet, just natural, but it did seem to affect her balance.
Letting go of the door, she unsteadily tried to figure out how the tail helped her balance. She soon found that her tail not only helped her balance, but her weight distribution had shifted, and her tail movement affected her momentum. Slowly trudging to the balcony, she collapsed on her sunbathing chair; she sighed with relief as the open sky seemed to energize her.
I feel so much better! What is up with the sky?
She relaxed for thirty minutes, enjoying the dark night sky just before sunrise. Feeling a little better, she walked back into her room and grabbed her phone before returning to the balcony. Taking special care to position her tail, she dropped onto a couch with a sigh.
Now, let’s see if Dad got my message.
Unlocking her phone with fingerprint ID, she frowned. He really is dark, no messages.
Sora smiled wryly. Maybe he’ll stay longer this time when he finds out I’m a fox girl.
She dropped the phone to her side. Right, because when he gets back, he’s going to wonder why his daughter has fox ears and a tail … Does he know anything about this?
“Like he wouldn’t warn me if he did,” she scoffed, but doubt ate at her heart.
Shaking her head, she put the thought out of her mind and got up. “Well, I better start getting used to this tail. It seems the open sky has some kind of healing effect on fox girls because I feel great now!” Hopping around and running through the penthouse, she slowly became used to the new movement style.
“Hmm,” she walked to her room and took out a black knee-length skirt, trying it on. Bending her tail to poke out under the frills, she tried to walk. It worked if she didn’t move too fast.
I’m going to have to cut holes in all my pants and shorts. I might as well add my dresses and skirts with it. Though, if I wanted to, I could hide my tail if I wear a long skirt, but it would also make my movements limited. And great, my standard belts are useless now … why am I thinking about modifying my entire wardrobe? Should I even try to hide it? I might as well just incorporate it … it is attached to me. Wow, what a thought…
Her lips pursed as she examined her bushy tail. “Well—Nilly doesn’t seem too concerned with who sees her tails. Why’s that?”
The only answer she could think of was that she didn’t care. She thought back on Nilly’s clothes; it looked like her dress and bloomers were made with an exit for her tails.
Thinking about it for a moment, she bobbed her head back and forth. “I did walk around yesterday without a hat. I mean, it’s Miami! People do much crazier things.”
Taking off her clothes, she took out yellow undergarments, a half-hem yellow short skirt, flip-flops, and a light green closely fitting V-neck t-shirt. She took care of her morning routine before grabbing her purse to head out.
I feel like I’m done being frightened of Kari. I’ll finally see what’s been plaguing me all this time … whatever she is. It’s Saturday, so she’ll probably be at the gym … she’s always at school doing something, probably to stay as far away from her brother as possible.
Punching the elevator button, she smiled as Howie appeared. “Howie! What a surprise. Taking over for Ron?”
Howie nodded cheerily. “I took yesterday off, so I’m covering a bit for Ron today. He’s with his wife.”
Howie nodded with a half-smile. “Ron told me she’s the arch-nemesis of ice cream; she’s killing them by the hundreds. How about you? I heard you’re feeling sick this week.”
Laughing at his joke, Sora nodded. “Yeah, lady problems,” she said with a wink. “Not something men like to talk about.”
Lips pursing together, Howie nodded again with a raised brow. “I appreciate the pass. I see you’re feeling better, though? What’s with the tail, too?” he asked while bringing them down to ground level.
Sora shook her head with a grimace. “Depends on the day … I’m sure it’s the same with Stephanie. Probably why Ron took the night off,” she said, dodging the tail question.
Licking his lips uncomfortably, Howie rubbed his right shoulder. “You’re not … telling me you’re pregnant, are you?” he asked shakily.
Sora’s eyes popped. “Oh, no! Heh, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.”
Howie breathed a relieved sigh. “Glad to hear that. With Stephane … I think you’re right about her needing Ron. Last time I saw her, she had this … look. I didn’t want to stay long or butt in with her and Ron, so I booked it. I heard she likes cold baths and crime novels, though…” he said in a mystified tone.
“Isn’t a cold bath bad for the baby?” Sora asked.
Howie shook his head with a shrug. “I asked the same thing. Apparently, their doctor said it’s fine, but normally he’d advise against it.”
“Odd,” Sora commented, “but if the doctor said it’s fine.”
Examining her ears and tail again, Howie asked, “What’s up with the new accessories?”
“Just a fashion statement,” Sora mused, giving him a wink as the doors opened to the ground floor. “See ya, Howie,” she said while darting out of the elevator. She froze as she entered the lobby; her nose picked up something bizarre. Taking a deep breath, she analyzed the scent.
What is this smell? I can’t describe it.
“Everything okay?” Howie asked.
Waving behind her, Sora muttered, “Yeah, see you later.”
Walking over to the lobby, she focused on a single woman that sat in a comfortable armchair, an elegantly designed parasol next to her, and resting on the arm of the chair was a closed paper fan.
She was wearing a black slit dress and black mob cap with a large black bow. The hat sat on bleach blonde hair that was tied into several locks with thin black ribbons. Her waist had a black non-reflecting belt around it and the layered dress folded around her curved form. Fingers to wrists, the woman’s hands were covered in black silk gloves that flared at the edges with strange designs.
The long sleeves and high neck were very out of place for Miami, and her face was hidden behind a newspaper. Sora’s sharp eyes caught the writing on the paper; forget the language, it was covered in odd symbols in mismatched places.
The woman’s fair long legs were bare and shifted to cross the opposite way, emphasizing her black four-inch ankle crisscross-strap stilettos; the motion made her tiered dress flutter.
Frowning as she studied the lady, Sora found her hands behind her back, drawing in deep breaths. The scent was coming from her; it almost seemed intangible. It was as if it was impossible to categorize.
The more Sora’s eyes traced her, the stranger her presence became. Her outline seemed askew; it didn’t fit properly like the woman had been cut out of reality and pasted back into place.
Her eyes centered on the woman’s features as the newspaper lowered to show a soft, carefree face. Sora placed her in her early thirties or late twenties. The thing that snagged Sora’s vision was her irises, deep purple. Staring at her for a moment, Sora snapped out of her reverie as the woman smiled curiously, resting her gloved fingers against her right cheek with a slight tilt of her head.
Smiling apologetically, Sora waved and walked out of the hotel. Continuing onto the sidewalk, she suddenly realized that the woman’s actions had made no noise. Not watching where she was going, she ran into a man. She was shocked to find him thrown sideward and into the street, almost being hit by a car. Sora frantically latched onto him as he shouted in astonishment.
She managed to stop him from falling completely into the road. “I’m so sorry!” Sora apologized in worry. “Are you alright?”
He was younger than she’d thought, possibly close to her age. He had a blue T-shirt, slim cream pants, and white sneakers; golden hair, solidly built, and no facial hair.
He looked down at her with an impressed grin. “You have quite the pile driver there, girl!” he said in a slight Russian accent.
“Hey, Aiden, you good?” A young man ran up to them with concern; he looked like he was going for the thug look. About five-ten, white sleeveless shirt with black baggy jeans; a gold chain and rings completed the look. His sharp tone died off, brown eyes appraising her. “Huh.” He rubbed the semblance of a goatee.
Grabbing her shoulder reflexively, Sora laughed nervously, taking a step away from the guy. Shifting her eyes to stare into Aiden’s deep blue irises, she stiffened as both their scents carried to her.
They don’t smell normal, not nearly as bizarre as that woman, but not like humans.
Aiden’s face seemed cheerful, but Sora instinctively knew something was hiding behind his eyes, a vortex of dark emotion that made her hesitate, yet he was handsome.
Aiden’s eyebrows rose. “Whoa, you’re stunning, and the tail and ears make you look cute. You must have all the boys on their toes,” he said with a dashing laugh.
The thug nodded while licking his lips. “That’s what I’m saying; when did a Nogitsune get into town? Nice.”
Sora kept a nervous smile. Nogitsune?
Her attention was momentarily diverted by a sharp tinkling sound. Looking beside the entrance to her hotel walkway, Sora found Nilly in her cat form. She was licking her paws while looking up at her. Her expression screamed the sarcastic statement, ‘such a bad fox.’
Aiden sighed with a sidelong glance at the guy next to him. “C’mon, Devin, don’t be a creep.”
Devin scoffed as he took a step forward. “Dude, I’m not a creep. Am I, Honey?”
Taking another step back, Sora brought up her hands defensively. “Eh, actually pretty creepy.”
“What!?” Devin spat.
Aiden’s cheer dropped as he began to step between them; Sora felt her hair go on-end as her gut clenched; she knew something was about to happen but didn’t know where to run. The black blurred form of Nilly shot into Sora’s vision as she slammed into Devin’s face, hind legs leaping off his mug to disappear into an alley.
Devin cried out in shock as he stumbled back into the street, car horns blaring as they tried to miss him. Scrambling back onto the sidewalk while spewing curses, he yelled, “Aiden, did you see what that was?”
Aiden looked as startled as Devin. “Yeah, I think a Nekomata just used your face as a launchpad.”
“A Nekomata in the city? Cat messed with the wrong guy!” Devin yelled as he ran into the alley.
Aiden sighed as he turned back to Sora. “Sheesh, I’m sorry about my friend. He can be a little temperamental.”
“And a bit of a creep?” Sora asked with a raised brow while staring back into the alley as she heard his howls of rage and noticed several people hurrying to leave the odd scene.
He nodded with a light laugh. “Yeah, that too.” Looking back toward the alley, he frowned. “Do you know that Nekomata?”
Sora cleared her throat as she looked away for a second. He must be a monster or something … if that’s Devin, could he be Kari’s brother? Devin called me a Nogitsune, and Aiden called Nilly a Nekomata. They obviously think I know about all this stuff, but they don’t seem to know about me and Kari’s relationship.
Turning back to Aiden, she smiled. “Yeah, I met her recently.”
“Is that so?” Aiden asked with concern. “I might need to go stop him…”
His words trailed off as Devin came running out of the alley, hands over his head in panic. Devin’s shirt was ripped to shreds, and scratches were evident all over his skin. “Lay off—freaking cat!” he screamed.
“Huh,” Aiden breathed while examining his friend. “Did you just—run away from a Nekomata… in the form of a domestic cat?”
Devin’s features shifted, slowly realizing the implication. “Eh, yeah, no, but I couldn’t even see it! That monster was all over me, man!” Gesturing at his clothes. “You see this? That happened in like seven seconds! And my back burns like…”
“Alright,” Aiden said with a shake of his head, “turn around. Let me see.”
As he turned, Sora’s breath caught; blood ran down his body from dozens of scratches, but there was one scratch on his back that glowed with a faint green light.
Aiden clicked his tongue. “Ack, she got you pretty good with her Ghost-Light; that’ll burn for a few days.”
“You kidding me!?” Devin seethed. “Dude, it hurts so much! Way worse than it should.”
“Heh, don’t be a baby.” Aiden scoffed. Turning to Sora, he said, “Hey, sorry about this, but we should probably split. My name’s Aiden. What’s your name?”
Smiling apologetically, Sora nodded. “It’s Sora, and I’m really sorry about running into you.”
I want to ask more questions, but I’d rather not be around Devin.
Aiden’s smile seemed to dampen slightly at her name but was quickly reinforced as he held out his hand. “It was nice to meet you, Sora.”
Nodding, she took his hand, her stomach twisting with uncertainty. “Yeah, you too, Aiden.”
Should I have taken his hand? I clearly sensed some dark things underneath all that charm, and he definitely recognized my name!
Breaking away, Aiden said, “Anyways, we’ve got somewhere to be.” Nodding, Sora watched them leave with a wave; ears pointed to listen in on their conversation.
“Dude, you’re not going to tell anyone about this, right?” Devin asked, groaning with pain as he rubbed his back, people eyeing his ripped clothes with concern but not approaching.
Aiden laughed. “If I told them you got your tail handed to you by a Nekomata—and in the form of a domestic cat … I’d lose credibility.”
Sora hummed thoughtfully as they turned the corner; she pursed her lips and looked around at the multitude of tourists who gave her appraising stares as they passed.
The last few days have been crazy … very crazy. I’m running into crazy people all over the place … I have ears attached to my skull and a tail … This is not how I planned my life.
Nilly had disappeared; her ears caught the lingering tinkle as it chimed around the area. Walking toward the edge of the sidewalk, she turned down the nearest alley. Reaching it, she stopped, finding Nilly in human form leaning against the wall with a wry grin in place. She had a single earring in her left ear and looked like an elementary student.
“Sora’s such a bad fox. No awareness at all!”
She called me by name at least and no awareness … has she even noticed I have a tail? She even brought me inside!
Sora shook her head. “Thanks for taking care of Devin, but why are you here, Nilly? Why did you carry me to my bed … where do you even belong?”
Nilly winked up at her with a giggle. “Nilly belongs where Nilly is and where Nilly goes is where Nilly belongs! Nilly’s Nilly!” she exclaimed while scratching the base of her cat ears with a purr.
Humming thoughtfully, Sora asked, “Did you know them or that purple-eyed woman in the hotel?”
Nilly’s smile turned mischievous. “Nilly knows some people but doesn’t know other people. Nilly knows what Nilly knows and doesn’t know what Nilly doesn’t know.”
Head drooping in defeat, Sora said, “Alright … I’m betting that this is not the last time I’ll see you. So, I’ll see you next time, Nilly.”
Nilly nodded with a beaming smile, and Sora watched in amused fascination as she leaped into the air and dashed up the walls, jumping from side to side. You know … I couldn’t do it before, but who knows.
Walking a bit further into the alley, she took a deep breath. She dropped her purse behind a trash can and took off her flip-flops before looking up.
This is crazy…
She tried to follow Nilly up. To her surprise, she leaped twenty-five feet into the air. Placing her toes on the side of the wall, she flicked her tail to the side and leaped off. Completely balanced, she flew twenty more feet into the air. Two more bounds, and she landed on the asphalt paved roof.
Nilly’s eyes were glowing with excitement as she landed, skipping a bit to gain her balance. “Nilly didn’t think Sora could do it!”
She has two earrings now, in the same place as before, and she now looks to be in middle school. Is it a time thing? Moving from her cat form to human seems to happen instantly, and what are those earrings for?
Smiling with the thrilling sensations that twisted around her abdomen, Sora nodded. “I didn’t think so either, but I think it has to do with my new tail balance or something.”
Nilly’s face lit up like a kid on Christmas day. “Sora got her fox tail!”
Sora tensed as her hair stiffened; something was off, suddenly, even in front of her eyes Nilly vanished. Her body told her to move left, but she couldn’t react. The moment she realized Nilly was gone, her tail was being smothered by Nilly’s arms.
Standing in stunned silence with tingles shooting from her tail up to her spine, Sora couldn’t bring herself to even try. She moved over twenty feet in under a second. Forget jumping … I couldn’t follow with my eyes!
“I love foxy tails!” Nilly purred as she rubbed her face against Sora’s rigid tail. Her cheer diminished to sounds of disappointment. “Nilly startled Sora … so foxy tail’s all bristly!” Looking miserable, Nilly slunk back to the air conditioning unit.
Releasing her pent-up breath, Sora asked, “H-How did you move so fast?”
Nilly’s tone was uninterested. “Nilly’s Nilly and Nilly’s really fast.”
That wasn’t just fast; that was impossible … Then again, I just scaled a building with nothing but power, balance, and momentum. With her body size, though … How can she move that fast? I thought I was fast, but that was beyond anything I thought possible.
Swallowing, Sora asked, “Hey, Nilly … want to race?”
Nilly’s features brightened. “Nilly loves races … but Nilly never wins. Everyone cheats!” she huffed, her face puffing with a pout.
She can’t win races with her friends? Just who are these people—monsters—Nilly’s with?
“Let’s go!” Sora said while stretching. Nilly hopped off her seat and quickly moved next to her. Taking a deep breath, Sora said, “Ready, set, go!”
She watched in disbelief as Nilly was gone; looking around, she found the cat eight-building away, waving with a broad smile before disappearing again.
Sora stopped at the side of the building and shook her head. “What is happening to reality?”
Waiting a minute, she sighed and scratched the side of her scalp. “There’s no way I’m going to catch her … I should just go and confront Kari,” she grumbled.
That’s cheating. I swear!
Jumping down, she landed without a single problem.
At least I’m getting used to this.
Picking up her purse and slipping on her flip-flops, she left the ally and almost swore in shock.