Jarlath frowned as he awoke, looking out the window to see the open ocean on a one-way trip to Miami, Florida, he’d been aboard a private jet, flying for nearly twelve hours. He’d slept the whole flight, exhausted from two days without sleep.
Sora will be shocked that I’ll be staying home for a while. I hinted at it, but I should still be in the clear. It may be time to tell her about her mother … Every year, it gets harder and harder. It may even be eighty more years before she starts showing any signs … She’ll think I’m crazy, though…
He glanced down at his new phone. It had been downloaded with a full restore since he’d left. During the week, the Chairman had dropped his previous phone on a marble floor by accident, causing the screen to shatter. It was taking forever with satellite download speeds through the flight.
He stopped a flight attendant while rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Can I get some brandy, oak, fifty, fifty-five.”
The woman looked apologetic. “The oldest we have is sixty-two, Sir.”
Waving his hand, Jarlath nodded. “Aye, that’s fine.”
His eyebrow lifted as his phone rang. The new Chairman of the now merged corporations had replaced it just before he’d passed out when leaving Sheol.
Glancing down, he didn’t recognize the number that popped up. Finally, it’s finished downloading.
Sighing, he answered. “Aye, this is Jarlath Moore. What—there must be some mistake. Aye—you’re sayin’—my Sora’s incarcerated at this moment? On what charges? I’ll have my lawyer—eighty thousand dollars’ worth in fines … what did she do?”
Jarlath’s heart sank as the woman listed the accused crimes. “Aye, I understand. My lawyer will be in touch. What—what do you mean there’s something wrong?”
Bringing his phone away from his ear, he found that the call had dropped.
Pressing himself against the seat, Jarlath ran his hands through his feathered ginger hair. “The change must have started … but why didn’t she tell me? Was she afraid?”
He cursed under his breath as he saw his missed texts and calls, reading Sora’s as quickly as possible. I should have been there! Why this week out of every week, why on her sixteenth birthday? Is it supposed to happen this early? Why didn’t Mia warn me?
The woman returned with the glass of brandy, and he downed it in a single shot; feeling the burn shoot down his gullet, Jarlath cleared his throat. “Another,” he said with a deep sigh.
She frowned but complied, going back to fetch another glass. Calling his lawyer and friend, Tom Karpeth, Jarlath explained the situation exactly how the woman had told him.
Tom sounded incredulous. “The department is really throwing those kinds of charges at a fifteen-year-old girl? There are so many holes in their story that I should be able to get her off with a simple underage drinking charge. I may be able to haggle them further to a simple warning. I’ll see what magic I can pull with some of my friends, Jarlath. Don’t worry about your daughter. I’ll have everything taken care of by the time you land!”
“Aye, thanks, Tom. This means a lot,” Jarlath said with relief, but he was more worried about the talk he’d have with Sora.
“No problem, Man! What are college buddies for anyways? A lot more than bumming booze before midterms!” Tom laughed and said his goodbyes.
Putting down his phone, Jarlath accepted the stewardess’ second glass with a nod. How am I supposed to tell her … how do I explain why I waited this long?
“What a mess.”
Fretting about the talk and what approach to take the entire flight, he landed in Miami at four past noon. He rode his prearranged car to the department that was holding Sora, calling Tom. “Tom, how’s it goin’?”
Tom sounded cheerful on the other end. “Yeah, after reading over the report about her breaking down a wall with her feet and shooting fire from her, quote, tail. I was able to get almost all the charges disbanded by the Chief; he’s sending over the paperwork. I’ll meet you by the station.”
“Thank you, Tom, you’ve been a real friend,” Jarlath said with a sigh.
“Aye!” Tom joked. “You better not stick out on me when Saint Patty’s comes around!”
“Aye, you got it, bud,” Jarlath replied warmly. “I’ll meet ya at the station.”
Hanging up, Jarlath made his way to the building. Once arriving, he got out, telling his driver to wait. He met Tom at the front. “Jarlath, you ready for a war that’s already been won, buddy!”
Nodding, Jarlath said, “Aye!” He patted Tom on the back as they both made their way into the building.
Entering the lobby, they found it all but empty. Tom lifted an eyebrow. “Well … this is odd.”
They made their way to the receptionist, a woman with black tangled hair; she seemed flustered. Tom initiated. “Hey,” looking down at the desk tag, he continued, “Becky. My name’s Tom Karpeth, and I’ll be representing Sora Moore. She’s here, correct?”
Looking up with a rattled expression, Becky said, “Ah, yeah, one second. I just got in, and it looks like the previous attendant left with half their work done.”
Tom’s brows rose. “Oh—so, has Sora even been checked in yet?”
Swallowing, Becky said, “I see a Sora Moore on the list. She should be back in holding. I’m a little busy…”
Tom cut her off with a quick push in his voice. “You can guide Mr. Moore back to see his daughter and give me the paperwork that the Chief forwarded. That would work wonderfully.” Speechless, the girl hesitated before Tom said, “Becky—I’m rather disappointed. A lack of onsite personnel and backed-up paperwork with staff negligence, I could add your name to the file in the investigation of this precinct … Becky Tolem, is it?”
“Investigation?” Becky asked, turning pale as a ghost.
Tom pursed his lips as he looked around. “Have you seen the lack of order in a house supposedly dedicated to the act? I think my good friend Polan, the High Court judge, will have something to say about your work ethic. I may even bring it up with my pal John when I have lunch with him next … Mayor John Kelly.”
A lump dropped down Becky’s throat as a terrified expression lit her face. Leaping up and rummaging around several stacks of papers, she handed Tom a form. “The Chief did forward some paperwork,” Becky muttered with a fearful glance at Tom. “Mr. Moore, if you could follow me.”
Patting Tom on the back, Jarlath followed Becky into the building. Tom followed them while glancing over the paperwork. All their brows creased as the sound of music started to filter down the halls; not a single person could be seen in any of the rooms they passed.
“Celebrating a holiday?” Tom questioned as they passed another empty room.
Becky’s face grew whiter still. “No, I-I don’t know what’s going on.”
Walking into the incarceration section, the three froze. Inside were office workers, police officers, detainees, and citizens. All of them were dancing, drinking, and in general, partying inside the ample space. Alcohol was housed all along a cell wall with tables filling the sides of the room with food, a DJ station was set up on the second story, and movable lights were spaced around the dark room.
Becky sounded frantic. “I-I-I had no idea—no idea! Please—I need this job!”
Tom whistled beside Jarlath with a large expulsion of air. “Jarlath, my friend, we’ve just stumbled upon a capital nightmare.”
Jarlath frantically looked around for Sora. This is far worse than Mia ever said it could get! Did Sora really cause all of this?
Tom had a rueful smile on his face. “I don’t think we’ll need the bail papers,” he said while tossing them to the side. “Heads are going to roll when John hears about this; he’ll let your girl off scot-free and try to sweep this whole thing under the rug. I’ll make the call.”
The three of them hesitated as Sora leaped from the second floor and landed in front of them with a nimble flip. Smiling, she winked at Tom. “Join the celebration!”
Jarlath took care to not catch his daughter’s eyes, keeping careful track of his emotions. “Sora—we need to go—we have a lot to talk about.”
He gasped as Tom smacked him across the back. “What are you talking about, Man! Just like Oxford! Loosen up, Jar!” Jarlath sighed with exasperation as Tom roared with vigor. “Big T’s hitting the floor—watch out, ladies!”
Grabbing Sora’s arm, Jarlath led her out of the room and into the hallway, still not making eye contact. “A stóirín … we need to get back to the hotel.”
[i.e. My darling]
Sora looked somewhat dazed at his comment. “Daddy?” Shock and horror crossed her face, and she dropped to her knees, making Jarlath pause. “Daddy! I’m sorry—I’m so sorrrrry!” She suddenly giggled and leaped up with a flourishing twist. “But I love to party!”
Swallowing, he felt a rod stick into his heart as he yelled, “Sora! Follow me to the car. Now!”
Eyes pooling, Sora asked, “Daddy—what’s wrong? I said I was sorry.”
Tightening his grip on her arm, he guided her back through the halls.
Sounding heartbroken, Sora said, “Alright, alright, Daddy—we’re going home—don’t be angry!” she pleaded.
Refusing to say another word as internal torment wracked his soul with Sora’s manipulations, he led her to the car and opened the door, gesturing for her to get in. He solemnly noted her tail and ears. Looking whipped, Sora got in the car, and Jarlath slammed the door, emphasizing that he was in control.
Walking around to the other side, he got in and told the driver to take them back to the hotel. Through the rearview mirror, he saw the hurt and tear-filled face Sora directed at him, which only shot more spikes into his chest.
It’s for her own good. She’s not herself, and she can sense that I don’t like doing this, but I have to fight through the guilt.
Stopping off in front of the hotel, he told the driver that was it for the night and expectantly waited for Sora to exit, which she did with dragging feet. Stomping his way to the elevator with her arm in his grip, he nodded for the attendants to call it down.
Howie appeared with a worried expression as he saw Jarlath. “Everything alright, Mr. Moore?”
“Aye, to my penthouse, Howie.” he exclaimed in such a sharp tone that even Howie flinched but pressed the button without a word.
Sora continued to sniffle and look up at him with pleading eyes the entire trip to the top. Stopping, he exited with Sora in tow and sat on the first sofa.
“Is there anything I can do, Mr. Moore?” Howie asked.
Jarlath shook his head. “No, Howie. That’ll be all.” Nodding, Howie pressed the button to go back down to the ground floor.
The silence stretched, which was only broken by Sora’s sniffles.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Jarlath stared at his daughter’s forehead to prevent eye contact. “I’m sorry I had to be that way—but you’re going through some—changes, and I need to talk to you about them.”
Sora’s face scrunched up. “Oh—so, you did know I was a Nogitsune? Why didn’t you tell me!”
Taken aback, Jarlath sat back. “Aye, w-when did you find that out?”
Sora sniffed. “Oh, well, um, I just found out from a werewolf—that’s all.”
Confused and a little frightened, Jarlath asked, “A werewolf approached you?”
“Oh, that’s minor stuff, Dad—I’ve been bullied by a Fenris Wolf for years! Of course, you never knew because you’re never around!” Sora yelled.
Jarlath’s face paled. “What? Why didn’t you—why are they bullying you?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sora said derisively. “I took care of it—for now anyways—I think I pissed her off by tricking her into hurting her friend, though…”
Jarlath was utterly lost. “How did this happen in less than ten days?”
Sora laughed mirthfully as she leaped to her feet, starting to pace. “How? How could any of this happen—at all? I have ears that can hear miles away. I had to soak in the spa for an entire day just to adjust to them! I have a tail that I can use to whip fire, lightning, and lights like playthings! I can make perfect illusions with just a thought, see in the dark, smell like a hound, and jump off roofs like a superhero! Why didn’t you tell me?” Sora was becoming manic.
Failure sank into his chest as Jarlath took a deep breath pressing his hand against his forehead, strong urges pushing him for a drink. “I—didn’t know where to start. I didn’t even know your mom wasn’t human until I proposed to her.”
I need to calm down; her powers are out of control. She’s manipulating my emotions.
“So, Mom was a fox!” Sora exclaimed, doubling over with laughter. “Did she tell you why I’m a freak? Even for a Nogitsune—a monster! Jin and even the internet says I shouldn’t be able to do all these things. I’m even strange for a monster!” she chuckled, tears forming in her eyes again.
“A stóirín,” Jarlath slowly massaged between his eyes, “you need to calm down.”
[i.e. My darling]
Sora took a deep breath and glared at Jarlath; the venom in her stare hurt. “You’re right, Dad! I need to be calm, so you can explain to me why all of this is happening. A calm conversation about real-life monsters!”
Jarlath closed his eyes and scratched his forehead, trying to calm down. “Alright—sit down, and I’ll tell you everything I know, and then you can tell me what has been happening, and we can come up with a plan.”
Sitting down, Sora went silent as she listened. Even though Jarlath wasn’t staring into his daughter’s eyes, he could feel the cold heat from her empathic tether. “I met your mother when I was finishing my work-based training, shadowing another management advisor in Japan, right out of Oxford. It was a few days before the end of the training, and I met her in a ramen shop, a bit of a cliché.”
He found his heart starting to soften with warmth at the thought of Mia, even with Sora’s icy tether. “She was beyond beautiful, witty, and kept me on my toes.”
Shaking his head with chagrin, his mind lingered on the image of the beautiful woman in his mind. “She was something else; I’d never met a woman like your mother, even still. She countered me on every debate with ease in that little stand. We talked well into the night…”
Sora’s tongue cut through his scene with a butcher’s cleaver. “I didn’t ask for your romances, Dad—I asked why I’m growing ears out of my head and tails out my butt!”
Wincing at her tone, Jarlath took another deep breath to stay calm. “Aye … You want answers, and I’m getting there. Well—after we went out for a few months—I was sure she was the woman I’d spend my life with.”
He paused for a moment, trying to fight through the feelings Sora fed him. “I bought the ring and presented it over an extravagant show I’d built up for her.” Hesitating, he looked deep into his past. “And … your mother turned me down.”
Jarlath went silent as the memory and emotions returned with razor clarity, with Sora drawing upon them with her magic, but surprisingly she didn’t pressure him further—a knife buried into his chest as the hurt returned.
Staring down with a mournful expression, Jarlath swallowed. “The thought never crossed my mind—that she’d say no—and so bluntly. I walked out and drank myself stupid—cursed your mother—cursed my life … cursed God—everything just fell apart around me.”
Jarlath licked his lips before tucking his lower lip under his teeth to keep it from trembling as the re-lived emotions slammed him against the ground.
He let a humorless laugh escape his throat. “I threw away my job opportunities, started hanging out in bad bars, fighting—a lot of fighting, and … a fight I was supposed to lose—I didn’t. That had its consequences—I got shot in the back alley after, and I welcomed the pain—the void.”
A dark grin crossed his face. “But—your mother had different plans for me. I woke up in the hospital—a miracle they called it. Part of my heart had been ripped through by the bullet, and somehow all the muscle was healed.”
Sora’s voice was breathless. “You—almost died, and Mom saved you?”
Nodding, Jarlath grinned and considered his daughter’s tear-struck, searching eyes. “After I awoke in the hospital and they told me I’d survived by—miraculous means—the very next night I was fighting in that same bar again. I was so bitter,” he breathed, “hated the miracle that robbed me of the death I wanted.
“Within a week’s time—I should have died eighteen times over—I was stupid. They called me the walking miracle—said I had the luck of the Irish if you believe it. I called it the devil’s hand—a tormenting curse. On the nineteenth time—your mother came to me in a dream and asked me to just live on—continue with my life. I spat on that—I wanted to die and demanded why she had the right to tell me how to live my life.”
Tears dripped down his cheeks. “You, you know what she said?” Throat catching, he coughed as the memory surfaced as if Mia was right in front of him.
Sora’s voice came out confused. “She said, ‘you’re right, Jarlath—what right do I have to keep you alive.’ ”
He laughed. “Me—I was speechless—that wasn’t the answer I’d expected, then I woke up.” Nose turning red, he sniffed back tears, but they fell anyway. “Your mother was standing over me and said—if your offer still stands—I’ll be your wife.”
Jarlath went silent as Sora’s abilities brought the moment back. “I was stunned—it was like a mountain that had buried me suddenly lifted, and the stars showered upon me. All I could say was a weak ‘A-Aye.’ That’s when my life was turned upside down,” he said with a hard swallow.
Mind returning to the scene, Jarlath chuckled. “She cautiously, shyly even, showed me that she was a Nogitsune and asked if I still loved her. Now, I don’t know if my feelings for her before were caused by some sort of magical aura, but it didn’t matter to me. I, of course, at that point, was willing to accept it if she was The Morrígan or a banshee. We got married, the Irish way, of course, and then had you—but there was a string attached that I didn’t know about.”
Jarlath worked around his mouth, licking his lips a few times nervously. “Your mother—has been serving something for a long time, paying off a debt. I don’t know what they are—but they’re powerful, and your mother is beyond powerful, but whoever—whatever—she serves—they’re something else.” He looked up to find Sora’s features confused and frustrated.
“I-I still don’t understand! How was I born? Why did it take this long for my powers to start showing up? Why—hasn’t she come to help me?” she asked with tears rolling down her cheeks.
Jarlath felt helpless. “You were born like any normal baby … The talk that we had a few years ago.”
Sora laughed, wiping away her tears. “I knew how babies were born a long time before you told me, Dad.”
Scratching the back of his head, Jarlath nodded. “Aye—I bet you did. Anyways—no, you were born normally—which, I guess, isn’t normal for Vulpes.”
“I am a Vulpes … why didn’t you tell me?” Sora asked, breaking back into tears.
Puffing out a breath of air, Jarlath shrugged. “I’m sorry! From what your mother told me, a Vulpes is like—calling me a human. There are diverse kinds of humans. Caucasian, American Indian, Asian, and it’s the same for foxes.”
Sora nodded, sniffing back her runny nose. “I know about that part.”
“Okay … I don’t know why your powers are starting to act up now. I thought it may begin when you were eighteen or twenty-one, not sixteen—your mother just told me that—at some point, your human blood would be converted to Vulpes blood. Vulpes DNA overrides human, I guess,” he said with a shake of his head.
Sora took a deep breath. “So—I was born normally as a human, and now I’m turning into a Vulpes. I’m apparently more powerful than I should be, and now I know my mom’s out there—somewhere.”
A spark crossed her eyes. “Wait! Does Mom have blonde hair and dress in black clothing? Did she carry around a paper fan and parasol?”
Confused, Jarlath shook his head. “No—your mother had the same color hair like you—copperish—it was what initially caught my attention. Your mother also liked to dress in more modern attire—at least when I was around her, she wore modern clothes. No paper fan or parasol.”
Sora bit her lower lip, thinking hard on something.
Jarlath rubbed the back of his neck. “I haven’t really talked about Mia that much. In fact, I haven’t really been a huge part of your life. To be honest—you really reminded me of your mother, and it kind of scared me.
“I thought that you’d just turn into a Vulpes and disappear someday—just like her. So, I tried to keep my distance to avoid the same kind of heartache. I know it’s not fair to you, and I’m sorry—I’ve come to terms with it lately.”
Sora looked at him in a rancorous way as Jarlath continued. “Look—I want to be a part of your life, and I know I first need to tell you more about your mother. She had ears and a tail like yours, but Mia’s tails were much longer, and she had nine of them. Normally she had her tails and ears hidden behind illusions, but occasionally, she’d show them to me.”
Sora covered her head with her hands, scratching at her ears with irritation. “Mom was a nine-tailed fox. That’s supposed to be the most powerful, and there’s someone even stronger than her?”
Jarlath nodded. “I know this is a lot to take in, and I know that you’re unstable right now. She told me that the final day would be the hardest. It’s the final change, the loss of all your human blood, and there’s a lot of hormones going through you right now … I don’t know exactly what kind of hormones, but…”
Sora’s face went red with fury. “I’m unstable and hormonal right now? I just learned that my entire life was a lie! That my mother’s not dead—you told me she was! I’m turning into a Vulpes, and now you’re saying I’m the one to blame? You have no, no, idea what I’ve been through!”
Jarlath was lost entirely. “No—A stóirín, I didn’t mean…”
He stopped in stunned realization that she was gone. He felt the chill of a cool breeze, looking at the sliding glass door, it was open, and Sora was gone.
Groaning in frustration, he growled, “What did I say? I’m so stupid … Why didn’t I tell her sooner? She’s going to hate me…”
His head darted up as a familiar chime sounded, and he looked at the balcony in astonishment.