Unnerved by how empty the streets were at this time of night, Sora raced after her father’s scent. Miami Beach is always busy at night … Where is everyone?
It took Sora five more minutes before she caught sight of Devin, leaping across rooftops on La Gorce Drive. Gritting her teeth and extending her claws, she jumped into the air, flicking her tail to aim a red beam of light around the werewolves to get their attention; her father was still unconscious. She needed to make them stop somehow because she was losing strength at this pace.
Devin snarled and diverted his path. “What’s up with that speed?” Jumping off the rooftop, he shouted at the two werewolves with him. “Keep her busy!”
Sora hesitated as images of the little boy flashed across her mind, and she braced for a fight. He didn’t want to fight me or hurt anyone … Devin’s somehow forcing them. Are these just normal people? What’s going on?!
One of the werewolves charged her, but he was moving slower as she decreased her speed, and her energy recovery stabilized.
Sidestepping him and jumping over the second, she left them blinded with a streak of light from her tail. Not wanting to waste too much effort on them, she followed Devin onto the La Gorce Golf Course as the two werewolves pursued.
I can’t use lightning or fire; I’ll hurt my dad! What can I do?
Picking up her pace again, a stitch broke into her side as her energy leaked out; fighting through the pain, she dashed toward Devin and slashed at his leg. “Let—go of my dad!”
Howling with rage and pain, the boy toppled to the ground, and Sora watched in horror as her father went skidding across the grass. Running to him, she looked him over real fast, breathing sharply; he was okay, but now she had Devin and his werewolves to deal with again.
Turning her attention back to Devin and his accompanying werewolves, she cursed, seeing the cut she’d given him swiftly healing, and to make matters worse, her side stung, reminding her how low she was on energy.
He was on all fours as he landed but smoothly rose to his feet. “S*** … You’re a lot faster than I gave you credit for—your dad’s pretty bulky, though…”
Sora bared her teeth through the pain and flicked her tail, a trail of foxfire burning across its length. Hair bristling, her ears twitched as they picked up hurried footsteps around her, stomach tightening while following the noise to the north; twenty werewolves were running her way.
No! Is that the pack? How many more do they have? I need to get out of here, but there’s no way I can carry him and outrun the pack!
Her chest pumped while scanning for an escape route, yet Devin and the other two werewolves were already closing her in. There’s Wendy too … If it’s just me, but there’s nowhere safe, I can drop him off. Maybe Eyia or Jin … but I don’t know where they are.
She licked her dry lips, swallowing the lump in her throat. There’s nothing I can do but wave my tail around threateningly! That won’t hold them back long unless … I could buy some time…
Keeping Devin’s confident sneer in her sights, Sora grunted, hoisting her father over her shoulders. “Are you serious—ugh, all this for just me?”
No joke … I am a lot stronger than I was, but how heavy is Dad—no, it’s more like he’s … bulky…
Hating the thought of agreeing with Devin on anything, she imaged the two of them invisible. Disappearing before their eyes, she saw Devin’s sneer vanish and took the opportunity to jog between two of the werewolves, trying to make as little noise as possible.
Devin swore. “You’re playing pretty hard to get, Sora—but I can respect that in a girl.”
Her ears twitched, following the pack’s movements as they met with Devin making snarling and grunting noises to each other.
“Idiots!” Devin quickly silenced them. “She’s invisible, not gone. Use your noses! You know what to do—now get to it.”
Sora’s heart froze as they sniffed the air, finding her scent. Can I ever catch a break?!
There wasn’t anywhere she was trying to go; she just needed to get away from the threat on her heels. I need to find a good place to defend while recovering, but there’s no way I can drop my dad off somewhere—they’ll just follow his scent … And how in the world am I going to save Wendy? Devin said I’d been summoned, but why would Aiden send them after me like this? Is there someone above him pulling the strings?
Tightening her grip on her dad as they made it to the fence line, she gathered her strength and jumped it. Her dad’s weight shifted in the air, and she landed as softly as she could, using her legs to try and cushion the blow, but a sharp gasp escaped her father’s unconscious lungs, nonetheless.
Shifting his weight, she groaned. Her ears pricked, and her tail bristled. Fantastic, they’ll be here any second!
“Wh-what’s … goin’ on, ugh, Sora?” Her father asked with a sharp wheeze.
Ears folding back, Sora set him down. “Dad! You need to run! I’ll try and keep them away from us, but I can’t carry you anymore. They’ll catch us,” she cried, liquid coming to her eyes.
Staring back at their pursuers, her father grimaced; the pack was sniffing around the edges of the fence. “I see … They can’t see us?”
Sora shook her head. “Not at the moment, and I’m trying to mask our sounds from their minds, but…” Sora dropped to her knees with a sharp intake of air, wincing as the draw grew stronger. “It’s getting harder and harder to keep up the illusion. I don’t have enough energy!”
Her father nodded and, with a single, swooping motion, swept her off her feet.
A yelp escaped Sora’s lips at the action; the shock almost made her lose control over the illusion. “Dad? No, what … You need to run away!”
She stopped as he chuckled, the rumbling in his sturdy chest transferring to her body, and he ran down Alton Road; the werewolves close on their heels but taking time to follow their scent. “What kind of a father would leave his daughter to fight a pack of beasts like that?”
“No, Dad…” Sora recognized a slight limp in her father’s steps, but she couldn’t finish her sentence, tears falling down her cheeks; a warm prickling sensation filled Sora’s body as her father’s emotions filled her, giving her more strength. “Dad—I’m not a normal girl—I’m a Nogitsune—a Vulpes.”
He chuckled again as she looked into his determined, smiling face. “You could be the devil incarnate, and you’d still be mo chuisle chroí … You are the pulse of my heart!”
[i.e. my heart pulse]
Sora didn’t have the words to respond, and with her father’s swift but strained strides, they started outpacing the wolves.
“Hey, Sora—did you lose a few pounds with that transformation? You’re a lot lighter than you used to be.” He laughed as she lightly hit him on the chest.
“That’s … The last time you carried me was when I was in elementary school!”
“No, I’m serious! You’re a lot lighter than you should be…”
He cut off, expression falling with hard eyes as they entered a partially built construction site off 63rd and Aqua Avenue. Several men were waiting around the place, and they weren’t wearing construction equipment.
Sora stiffened as one man looked straight at them, an expectant grin on his face; they should have still been invisible.
Stopping, her dad set her down, and she released the illusion with a discharge of air; there weren’t many options to run—they were cornered. She bitterly appraised the men, trying to ease her racing heart; she had her dad, but they were far from out of danger, and Wendy still needed her help.
Is this why Devin wasn’t worried? Was he leading us toward an ambush the entire time—boxing us in?
“A setup … I assume that one is the leader,” her father whispered, looking at the man in the center.
“Very astute,” the man mused.
Sora’s eyes leveled with the man; he was in his early twenties and surprisingly well-built for his age. Standing by the men around him, he was a giant at six-foot-seven. Long, silky brown locks fell down his back and front; he parted it down the center, leaving his dark blue eyes clear. His chiseled face was filled with pride and amusement. Pride oozed from every word he spoke.
“So …you’re the Vulpes my dear sister’s been plagued with over the years. Your magic is astonishing for a single tail. Consider me intrigued.”
Kari’s brother—it was his gang that wanted me? The one Kari’s gang was so frightened to speak of … So, it’s not Aiden.
Teeth coming together, Sora couldn’t see a way out of the situation as she examined their surroundings, hearing more movement all around them. Her world was falling apart.
I’ve used a lot of my energy already. It is filtering back, but not at the pace I need. We’re surrounded, and there’s no way to cover my dad from all these werewolves.
Her tail bristled as her hearing confirmed their confinement; the group from behind had caught up, and more appeared at their sides.
My only way out is negotiating with Kari’s brother; at least, he seems a lot more talkative than her.
Taking a deep breath to calm her racing heart, Sora added a smile and took a more comfortable posture. “You must be Kari’s older brother. I must say that I haven’t heard much about you—really, all I have are Kari’s tantrums over your very name. So … In conjunction with what you’ve said—yes, I am that Vulpes that’s been—eh, abused by your sister over the years. Heh, nice to finally meet you! My name’s Sora,” she said with small pauses for light entertainment, hoping to catch him off-guard.
He seemed to enjoy her floristic introduction with silent laughter. “Yes, you’re definitely a Vulpes.” His tone hardened but still held delight. “The vixen will bare her teeth when cornered and resort to carefree witticism to see another sunrise.”
Thinking quickly, Sora felt her options narrowing. He knows my dad’s someone important to me, but I don’t think he knows how we’re related … Do they have Wendy at another site? I can’t pass him off frivolously, or they’ll just kill him for seeing what they are. What to say? What to say?!
Her eyes centered on Devin as he circled them to stand beside Kari’s brother. “Eric, sorry I made you come all the way here, but she has some strong magic.” Pointing at her dad, he added, “Took her dad to draw her here faster.”
Sora resisted biting her lower lip. I’m beginning to understand why Kari hates Devin; what a snake.
Eric’s smile didn’t falter. “You did well to bring her to me, Devin. Lori didn’t give us all the information; this fox could be more interesting than I thought.”
Looking to his right, he said, “The newest recruit returned without a scratch too—unlike the others I sent with you.”
Sora’s breath caught as the eleven-year-old boy she’d healed walked out to join the crowd of men. His eyes were lowered as if unable to look at her.
No! I told him to go somewhere safe … Why did he go back to Eric? I put him under my influence!
“I told you to go somewhere safe,” Sora pleaded, despair filling her breast.
The boy shifted to look away in shame as Eric laughed at her comment.
“You don’t understand anything about Germanic werewolves, do you?” Eric asked, rubbing his chin. “The only safe place is beside me; otherwise, he’d turn into a monster and kill everything around him … Such is the curse of a human turning into a Werewolf.”
“You’re blackmailing him to join your gang?” Sora mumbled with disgust.
Devin laughed. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m a Wolfwere, not a werewolf. A pure-blooded Wolfwere is a wolf that transforms into a human-wolf or human.”
He glanced around with a derisive glare. “These mutts around you are just shells, human werewolves—or partially infected—turned by a pure-blooded Germanic werewolf. Mutts can’t infect anyone, and they can’t leave the side of the Alpha for more than ten miles without direct prompt unless they want to lose control of their minds. It’s simply hierarchy.”
Thinking about his words for a moment, Sora hummed. “So, Eric is a Fenris Wolf, and you are a Wolfwere—then who’s the Germanic werewolf that turned all the humans?” She caught sight of her dad, still studying the situation around him, looking for a way out.
Eric held up a hand. “Impressive, knowing about Fenris Wolves, and from everything I’ve heard—you don’t want to ruin all the preparations I’ve made. This is a big night…”
Her dad put his hand on her shoulder, whispering, “Look—you have a chance to run, you take it!”
Sora already knew she wouldn’t leave her father, even if it cost her life.
Eric snickered, showing a wicked grin. “Oh—don’t worry about her getting away, Daddy—it won’t happen. We also have her friend. Who knows; maybe I’ll have her turned.”
Teeth grinding together, Sora shouted, “Why do you want me so bad?”
“Why?” Eric questioned. “I thought it would be obvious, Little Nogitsune; I suppose you don’t know all that much about Fenris Wolves?”
Sora huffed but kept her lighthearted tone alive. “I know the fleas must be unbearable! Also—maybe the lack of women in your group isn’t due to your hairy, eh—predicament—but with the rancid skunk-soaked stench you put off.”
Unable to control her tongue, Sora scratched her neck, glancing at a small gap that was just filled with Werewolves. “Honestly, have any of you seen water? If you warm it up it’s quite enjoyable—you know, with fire—fire; it’s a neat little invention!”
Sora was taken aback as Eric broke out with spurts of mirth; he doubled over, clutching his stomach as his face turned red. Gasping for air, he wheezed, “That’s—so refreshing! It’s been so long since anyone has spat such words at me.”
Frowning, Sora pursed her lips to the side with agitation. “I see—so, you arranged this little get-together to be made fun of? Personally, I’d suggest a bikini and a crown of flowers while walking down Main Street. Hmm—maybe a miniskirt and schoolgirl uniform would be a better fit—oh, and wear some panties on your head. You’d be the talk of the town!”
His smile slowly faded as she spoke. “I think you’re running your mouth too much now, Vixen.” Wicked grin returning, he lifted his hands to point at a particular werewolf. “We have quite a few women in the group, by the way; in fact, I think you know one … Mary, is that your name?”
Sora’s mind chilled as she remembered Mary’s voicemail. No … Mary? They forced Mary to turn … because of me?
The werewolf Eric pointed to returned to her human state; Mary’s shameful eyes avoided her as she rubbed her left arm, tears running down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Sora…”
She couldn’t feel her heartbeat at the thoughts running through her brain. Has everyone been affected by just being associated with me? How many more?
Before Sora could reply, her tail bristled, and she heard shifts in air pressure above them with the sounds of flapping wings, forcing her ears to twitch. Looking up, Sora saw a radiant bird descending from the sky; rainbow streaks emanated from its trail, creating brilliant colors behind its descent.
The bird landed beside Eric and produced a discharge of bright hues that veiled the bird from sight. As it faded, Sora found Aiden at its center, and his soft glimmer slowly dispersed.
Aiden considered the scene with an emotionless look. “Eric, what’s this about?”
Is he a friend or foe?