Sora’s heart was pounding as she entered the school; most classrooms were locked for the weekend.
I never thought this day would come. Kari’s probably in the gym preparing to lift weights.
Her incident with Lori must have spread because everyone there for weekend practice couldn’t keep their eyes off her. She slowed as some of the band boys stopped to look at her on their way to the bathroom.
They smell—interested? Is it because of my new tail and ears or something else about my transformation?
Putting it out of her mind, she pushed the gym doors open. Stepping in, she tossed her purse and flip-flops to the side. Kari, Lori, and three other girls were inside, all in gym clothes except Lori.
Sniffing the air, Sora noted all of them had an abnormal scent about them and looked irritated as if she’d just interrupted a serious conversation. That’s when she noticed Lori.
Sora’s eyes narrowed with interest. “Mmh, did that happen after I left?”
Lori’s confident and dangerous demeanor had vanished; there were splints on her left hand and right foot, and bruises covering her open skin and face. She’d undergone a vicious beating; her purple cheeks were wet with tears, clearly in pain. She smelled scared, terrified.
“Kari,” Sora noted with surprise as she walked to the gym’s center, “I didn’t think you had it in you—or was it big bad brother?”
Contempt crossed Kari’s face as she sucked in her lip before looking her over. “Sora—mmgm, why wait this long to show your true colors? I was beginning to doubt you were even a true vixen.”
“Oh, don’t you know? I’m a Nogitsune; Devin told me.”
Eyes hardening, Kari sniffed sharply. “So, you know Devin. How long have you been conspiring with my brother? You don’t smell scared. Yet, you know about my brother?”
Sora shook her head. “You’re getting the wrong idea. I had a little chat with Devin on the way over here … he’s a bit of a creep.”
Kari cracked her neck. “A lone agent … sent by my brother to rub it in?” Jutting her chin, the three girls moved around the sides of the gym to block off the exits.
“Excuse me—weren’t you listening? I have nothing to do with your brother. I just happened to run into him, I think, and Devin by my hotel, purely coincidental.” Sora’s brow furrowed. “At least I hope it was, hmm.” Smile returning, she laughed. “I know you don’t like Devin … you should have seen him screaming like a girl.”
Confusion shifted Kari’s features. “Mmh, what do you mean?”
“A Nekomata I know almost threw him into oncoming traffic; pity he wasn’t hit, the guy does seem like a real snake. He chased my friend into an alley and came running back screaming with cuts all over him. Sounds like a pretty hard guy, right?” she laughed.
“Thanks for letting me in on that,” Kari said while circling her, “it’ll give me something to hang over his head.” Stopping a few feet from her, Kari asked, “Now, what do you want? I’m a bit out of patience at the moment, but I’m trying my best.”
Sora leveled a stare at her, stretching out as her ears pricked, tail still with her senses peaked. “Just came for a chat.” Her eyes shifted to the doors that the girls barred. “I just wanted to know what you are and why you’ve bullied me all these years? Just racism … foxism or something like that?”
Kari sniffed. “Pfft, right, like you’re so innocent. Foxes feed on souls to sustain themselves. I didn’t want anyone in my territory being preyed upon by a lowly vixen.”
“Ah,” Sora nodded. “I see, you know all about me and how evil I am … how I feed off imaginary people and use other invisible victims for my own benefit. By the way, have you looked in a mirror.”
Lori’s pained voice echoed around the gym. “Don’t be stupid, Sora.”
“No,” Sora felt her emotions rising. “That’s why you’ve humiliated me … hurt me … terrified me for three years! On some hunch, that I’d stomp all over your territory?”
Tears gathered in her eyes as her breath caught. “You don’t know a thing about me! I had friends. I had fun. I didn’t have to worry about getting anyone hurt that got close to me. That all changed when you came into my life!”
Kari’s expression shifted as she looked at the ground, deep in thought, but Sora didn’t stop. “Did you do all that to Mr. Quest? They said it was an animal attack. Did you put him in the hospital?”
Confused, Kari asked, “What are you talking about? No, I had nothing to do with Mr. Quest.”
Sora laughed sardonically. “Right, just like my psychiatrists and all the other people that were trying to help me. All the people you threw in my face for years … There’s nothing I can do about it. You had to put your mark on everything! Like some rabid dog. A desperate cur that had to take everything I had to feel at home!”
“You don’t know anything about Kari!” Lori screamed, wincing as she curled in pain.
Sora momentarily attached an emotional link to Lori.
She says that, but still hates everyone, Kari included, typical. She’s just clinging to the sliver of a chance she’ll live.
Kari’s teeth ground together as she looked back at Lori, rubbing the back of her neck as her teeth locked together. Taking a deep breath, she turned to the three girls by the exits. “Make sure no one comes in.” The girls nodded and walked through the doors. “You’ve picked a really bad time to start getting on my nerves,” Kari growled.
“So, what is it, you’re some kind of dog girl?” Sora asked with a sneer. “Maybe a werewolf or something because you and a few of your girls smell like wet dogs.”
Sora’s eyes shot to Lori as she spat. “Kari’s a full-blooded Fenris Wolf! Don’t you dare compare her to some mangy…”
“Lori,” Kari warned.
Lori cleared her throat. “Sorry.”
“At least she gives answers,” Sora scoffed. “Despite how she really feels.”
“Just—say it,” Kari growled. “I can smell it all over you.”
“Tch, fine,” Sora huffed, stretching her legs. “I came for a fight. I’m done being bullied.”
Kari grinned savagely. “Good. I need to blow off some steam. So, don’t disappoint me.”
Sora’s tail bristled with incoming danger as Kari darted forward. Sora knew she was moving quickly for a human, but it was like she was moving in slow motion.
She’s nowhere near as fast as Nilly.
Nimbly dodging Kari’s swipes and punches, Sora yawned. “C’mon, Kari … is this it? You’re disappointing me … you’re so slow—I could dodge you in my sleep!” Sora stuck out her leg as Kari passed, tripping her.
Catching herself, Kari’s fists balled up in rage as she breathed through her teeth. “You’re pushing it, Sora.”
“Oh,” Sora asked with interest, “is that how the Fenris Wolf thing works? You rage out like some kind of freak?”
Lori’s tone was heated. “Kari’s not even trying, and she’s no—” She winced as Kari’s fist slammed into the gym floor, breaking wood and concrete as it sank a few inches into the ground.
“I’m done talking, Sora,” Kari growled, her amber irises beginning to illuminate with a fierce glow as she rose.
Sora’s vision moved to the hole as flakes of concrete dropped from Kari’s fist.
That’s pretty scary, to be honest.
Focus returning to Kari, Sora clapped. “Glowing eyes,” she noted with an impressed nod. “That’s actually pretty cool, and what remarkable strength you have. Can you blow a house down with just a huff and a puff?” Kari’s nose twitched with contempt. “No, I’m being serious. I haven’t met a monster that could do that yet. I can admire your strength and still not like you.”
Kari sprinted toward her; Sora was slightly caught off guard with how much her speed had increased, but she could still dodge her attacks. Tilting her head as she avoided another strike, Sora pondered.
Yes, I haven’t really given any thought on how to beat Kari. It seems like she’s super strong; maybe I’m a lot stronger than I think too. It was easy enough to shove Aiden and jump up buildings.
Vision flicking to Kari as she rushed forward again, Sora darted in. Twisting around Kari’s right thrust, Sora brought her left fist into Kari’s stomach and yelped. Dancing away, she cradled her throbbing hand. “Honestly!” Sora cried. “What’s your stomach made of—steel?”
Kari grinned wickedly and took a deep breath while stretching out. Sora heard several loud cracks, and with a swift action, she punched down at the ground. Sora watched in disbelief as the smooth, polished floorboards cracked, snapped, and blew apart as dust billowed up from underneath the earth, the sharp sound of crumbling concrete echoing around the gym again.
That was a lot stronger than last time!
Hand coming back up, Kari flexed her fingers and shook out her arm. Sora gulped as she stared down at the floor in front of Kari. The kinetic force had blown a small crater in the ground twenty inches deep.
Sora took a step back as Kari’s eyes glowed a raging orange, her clothes swiftly receding beneath bristling, ink-black fur as her body expanded to become a six-and-a-half-foot-tall wolf. She snarled, glistening white fangs bared as amber light illuminated her mouth from within her throat.
Sora swallowed, gut tightening. Really … She’s bigger than a bear!
“So … a wolf then … now, now, Kari,” Sora said with a nervous laugh as Kari began circling her. “You don’t really intend to eat me, right?”
Her ears pricked at Lori’s low whispers in the corner. “Don’t compare Kari with some weak wolf. She’s a pure-blooded descendant of Fenrir—a true legend.”
Sora huffed, fear dispersing, and let a low laugh bubble through her throat. “Fenris-whatever, she’s just a dog without a master. An oddity to society, the bite is stronger than the bark. Maybe you should sharpen your tongue to compete!”
What am I saying? My mouth’s moving before I can think!
Kari’s nose creased with fury, and Sora continued while sliding under Kari’s lunge. “You have an enormous pack of girls at your disposal, enough power to destroy a tank, and you decide to take over a school? I guess this is the story of a dominating beast with the brain of a goldfish! Do you get by with stolen lunch money?” Sora clapped merrily. “Genius! Maybe next you’ll expand to the public park—at least you’ll have more trees!”
Wait—no … stop talking!
Kari rushed Sora with a furious growl. Her speed had picked up dramatically as Sora increased her own, dancing around Kari’s snarling lunges but feeling she was losing ground as Kari’s fangs barely missed the edges of her tail.
I can’t outrun her anymore, and I keep inciting her … what’s wrong with me?
An instinctual realization shot through her mind, and she imagined herself splitting off into two directions. She watched in awe as an illusion of herself split off from her body and shot in the opposite direction, doubling back to attack Kari. The thrill suppressed her fearful thoughts.
“Here’s a question!” Sora giggled as she skipped across the floor with light bounds, leaping up to the ceiling beams. Kari hesitated, uncertainly staring at the two images, and attacked the illusion moving toward her. “Did big bad brother do all that to Lori? I mean, if it’s you, that’s fine, right? But how do you feel about your territory being pissed on?”
Oh, that was actually pretty good!
Sora shook her head. “Tsk-tsk, you must really hate him.” Hanging from a ceiling support bar with her left hand, she lightly swung back and forth, sending more illusions running around the gym for the wolf to chase.
“Have I struck a nerve? You know…” she cut off as Kari lunged up at her. Sora’s legs swung up swiftly and kicked off the bar to land on a wall; using it to break her momentum, she did a front flip to land on the floor as Kari’s jaws ripped through a steel support beam, the sound of screeching metal resonating through the gym.
Continuing, Sora said, “Maybe if you were a little smarter, you’d be in a better position.”
I can create illusions to distract her, but that isn’t going to win me this fight. I need to come up with something else … I guess you could say my bark is worse than my bite … seriously?
Kari’s growls grew at her words as she hit the floor and rushed Sora again. Sending multiple illusions around her to create an opening, Sora flipped around Kari’s claws. She pushed in with light, nimble steps, letting her tail slide across Kari’s nose and eyes. Kari’s chest heaved, and her paws darted to her face as she tripped, slamming into the wall while choking and sputtering. Sora’s legs felt Kari impact the wall, reverberations rippling through the floor, but the steel-reinforced concrete blocks held.
How is this so easy? Is Kari even trying? It doesn’t really feel like she’s trying to kill me…
Creating several illusions of herself around the area, Sora brought her hand up to her lips in thought. “Talking about your position with your brother. I mean, honestly … How hard is it to just stay clear of him? He must have a marked territory. That’s what you do, right? Spray some fire hydrants … maybe some guy’s leg?”
Sora’s eyebrows lifted as Lori yelled. “What do you know? All you are is a filthy fox!”
Ticking her tongue, Sora’s tone was disappointed as Kari shook her head, trying to get rid of Sora’s strong scent she’d spread across her nose. “Really, Lori … filthy fox is the best you can come up with? You shouldn’t yell so much too; think about your health.”
Kari’s amber irises widened with fury, but it quickly turned to shock as an illusion of Sora appeared in front of her face, index finger tracing Kari’s jugular to her chin. Wildly thrashing out, she let the illusion vanish with a giggle.
Kneeling and changing her tone to sound tired, Sora tried linking emotions with Kari, as she’d done with Lori, but the connection failed. Expressing surprise, Sora asked, “I can’t see your emotions? That’s odd.”
Lori laughed as Kari’s head appraised each of her illusions, burning eyes examining each one as her breathing calmed. “Fenris Wolves are all but immune to magic! Your illusions won’t help you anymore either.”
Sora hummed as Kari’s eyes centered on her.
Oh, is she following my scent now? That isn’t good! Wait, did I give her that idea?
Kari launched toward her, ignoring her illusions as Sora darted around the gym, trying to keep her distance.
I need to erase my scent, but how? Looking up at the ceiling, she smiled. It’s worth a shot. I mean, I’m supposed to be able to use foxfire, right?
Kicking off the nearest wall, she leaped to the ceiling, Kari following after her. Flicking her tail in a circle, Sora watched as red flames danced across its length and shot out across the beams. Every sprinkler the fire danced under went off, sending a spray of water below, every other facet following their lead. Swinging off the support beams, she barely missed Kari’s snapping jaws as she ate a portion of another support beam.
Sora landed on the floor, creating several illusions of herself in the process, and almost slipped as she hit the slick ground.
Crap! If she finds the real me, then the water will trip me up, and I’ll get eaten!
Kari was trying her best to keep up, but the slight hesitations were pushing it out of her favor, the spray dampening her scent trail.
Dashing forward, she lit foxfire across her tail and sent an inferno toward Kari. The fire didn’t seem to phase her in the lease; she simply charged through it. Sora panicked as she dodged below Kari, part of her hair sliding through Kari’s jaws as they closed.
New plan! That could work.
Smile twisting her lips, Sora imagined herself vanishing and several images of herself splitting off. She phased every mirror image to crackle as if not real and imagined Lori shifting to look like her while a fake limping away in fright.
Sora shouted. “There! Get her!”
Kari’s incensed expression glared at the disguised Lori with utter animosity. Lori’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. “No … it’s me!” she screamed—it was too late. Sora watched with glee as her trick worked. Kari dashed at Lori and tackled her.
The wall behind them crumbled as they shot through the building. Kari’s horror-stricken voice called out several seconds later. “Lori? Lori—no … Lori!”
Sora considered the skirmish over and grabbed her soaked purse and flip-flops from the corner. She walked to the gym exit, water dripping around her. Her glee slowly faded to be replaced with a hollow void as she threw the gym doors open. Kari’s posted girl was running to the back of the gym, following Kari’s cries.
Light blazed down on Sora, making her feel absolute bliss; however, disgust began rolling around her stomach, tainting the feeling. Trying to numb her turbulent abdomen, she only made it to the edge of the field before dropping to her knees and vomiting. Coughing and spitting, she passively stared down at the waste, water dripping off her drenched clothes and hair.
How could I have done that? Lori was already hurt, and with Kari’s power…
Sora’s body began to quake. What’s happening to me? What’s wrong with me!?
Kneeling on the grass, she trembled; the sun filled her with energy, but she felt cold as ice. Shakily getting to her feet, she stumbled away. Sora didn’t know where she was going; she just wanted to run.
Making her way into a restaurant as crowds of people gave her strange looks, she went to the bathroom and locked the door. Leaning against the counter, she reluctantly considered the mirror. Staring into her emerald eyes, she saw fear.
What makes me so different from Kari? Hurting her, exploiting their emotions, and humiliating her … I could have killed Lori.
“I’m a monster.”