Sora was even more at a loss at the look on Aiden’s face. He really doesn’t know what’s going on.
Eric lifted an eyebrow while appraising Aiden. “I’ve barely seen you the last few days.”
Devin chuckled, leaning over to leer at the bird. “Yeah, he’s been hanging out with the vixen to dodge you—I could smell her on him.”
Eric’s smile vanished. “You know this Vulpes? I do smell her on you…”
A sigh exited Aiden’s lips as he turned to look at Sora. “I do. We met a few days back.” His eyes snapped to Devin with a deep frown. “Devin was with me … I assume he was the one that brought her to your attention. Can you make an exception?”
“An exception?” Devin jeered. “No—do you like her? She may have him under her thumb already, Eric.”
“It’s not like that,” Aiden said as he squared up to Devin.
“Whoa,” Devin took a step back while laughing and raising both hands. “Touchy, are we?”
Sora licked her lips. Why do I feel so nervous about this conversation?
Her eyes shifted to her dad as he scanned the pack enclosing them; he seemed to be brooding on something. There’s no way we can outrun him with his entire group … We need to talk our way out.
“You know exactly where I’ve been, Devin, don’t twist that,” Aiden spat.
“The fake grave you had made for Tiri,” Eric stated in a thoughtful tone as his eyes shot between Aiden and her. “You have to understand how this looks, Brother. A Vulpes—that you’re speaking up for.”
Aiden stepped back to appraise Eric, frown in place. “It’s been nice talking to someone outside of the pack. That’s it.”
A faint hum left Eric’s throat. “I’ve seen her use fairly strong magic—odd magic for a Nogitsune.” He was silent for a moment. “Did you promise anything to her?”
Aiden seethed through his teeth. “I can’t break a promise, Eric—you know that very well and that I am only pledged to your family—specifically, you. I cannot promise her anything…”
Devin cut in, “I don’t know … she tried messing with my mind back at her place…”
Eric shook his head. “That’s concerning—Vulpes mind control can be very potent, especially seeing her magic. Though, you’d be resistant—so, perhaps I’m worrying over nothing.”
“You are worried over nothing,” Aiden huffed. “Your plans were for Kari, not Sora. Is it that much to ask for you to just let her go?”
“Sora—she has a name, does she?” Devin snickered.
“Shut up,” Eric stated, making Devin’s eyes drop to the floor with a nod. “I would have let her go—if you had made this case about four minutes ago before she insulted me. Not only that, but I already had my eye on her from Jenny’s reports.”
Sora’s eyes closed as she breathed a tired sigh. Wonderful, thanks, tongue!
Clearing her throat, she said, “I’m really sorry. I-Is there anything I can do to make up for it?”
Aiden’s jaw set. “She had no idea…”
Eric cut him off. “I’m done talking about it, Aiden. Go sit down and watch.” In frustration, he walked over to a pile of cinder blocks and sat, looking frustrated.
Sora took another deep breath, looking for openings. Seems Aiden’s powerless against him … There are more wolves in hiding, too.
She looked up as her father put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing, which only made Sora more nervous. He doesn’t see a way out of this either?
A grin twisted Eric’s lips as he glanced over at Aiden. “Remember the promise you made my mother.” Aiden folded his arms. “You belong to me, not to my sister or some Vulpes. You know my aim. Connect the dots; your power, a Vulpes with theatrical magic, lands in my lap. One and one make a meal.”
Sora swallowed. I don’t like that ‘meal’ bit…
Aiden didn’t answer, Sora could vaguely sense a deep hatred that burned within him, but it was for himself. Her eyes snapped between Eric and Aiden as Eric held out his hand. “It’s been a few days.”
Aiden didn’t look happy as he rose and walked to Eric, holding out his hand. Sora watched in wonder as the whole construction site lit up with dancing rainbow sheens of light. He held out a shimmering feather to Eric.
Eric took it and dropped it into his mouth, the light disappearing as he closed his jaws and swallowed. Breathing out with satisfaction, he patted Aiden on the back. “That was delicious!”
Aiden’s shoulders sagged, and he looked tired. Did Aiden give Eric energy? Is that what he wants from me? I’m some kind of energy pill for him to take.
Sora’s ears twitched as a loud howl sounded in the distance. Even more are coming?
Eric’s joyous expression brightened as he turned to the man next to him and tilted his head. Sora watched the man grit his teeth, arch his back, and change into a werewolf, his clothes ripping with a bulk of the transformation.
It only took seconds, and after he finished, he dashed into a side alley. Was that howling something bad, another pack? Then was that Kari?
Waving a hand, Eric signaled to one of his men. A man in his late forties ran into the construction area and returned a few moments later with a foldable chair.
Sitting, Eric appraised Sora. “What do you think, Aiden? She really has my interest piqued. You talked with her, right? Reddish hair, not affiliated with Inari, and Japanese, meaning she’s a Nogitsune. Yet, hmm, she can manipulate EM waves, and they are shockingly powerful for a single-tail. I’d class those illusions close to a four-tailed Húli Jīng.”
Aiden didn’t respond, and Sora felt her father’s hand tighten on her shoulder. He’s going to do something…
Her mind flashed back to his story and how he used to fight. I need to find some way out of this before he gets hurt!
Shifting direction, Sora asked, “So—why does your sister hate you? You seem like a real likable guy; big, intimidating.”
Smile playing at the corners of Eric’s mouth. “Praise where insult fails? Why does she hate me? Probably because I killed our little sister,” he bluntly stated, and Sora’s blood chilled as he continued. “Of course, you probably couldn’t even call her our sister since she had so little Fenris in her that she could be considered human! A disgrace.”
She couldn’t respond—Sora didn’t know how she could—her heightened senses catching Aiden’s fist tighten and jaw lock.
Aiden’s trapped by his word. He apparently can’t break a promise, which has him shackled to Eric … that’s horrible. That little eight-year-old girl I saw. He’s more of a monster than I thought. What can I do?
Her hair bristled as she heard snarling behind her, down the alleyway. She didn’t twitch as a werewolf was thrown beside her, tumbling across the ground behind her back. He jerked several times, whimpering from broken bones. Kari’s scent carried across the breeze, and she heard footsteps entering the area from behind her.
Aiden looked pale as he watched Kari approach. The footfalls stopped, and Sora turned to see Kari’s stone-cold expression, but she wasn’t staring at her. Her eyes bore into Eric’s with deadly intensity; she was alone. Every man and werewolf backed away from her, tails between their legs.
Eric’s expression didn’t change. “Are you finally coming to confront me, Sister? It’s about time you stopped ducking around corners and try to take leadership.”
Kari responded with sharpness. “Where’s Lori, and what did you do with Jenny?”
Chuckling lowly, Eric opened his arms wide. “It’s been a week since Jenny went missing, and now you’re asking what I did with her—finally given up on our game of hide and seek?”
Jaw set, Kari’s nose wrinkled with contempt. “I never play games with you. I found Lori’s hospital room torn apart … what did you do to them?”
Eric ticked his tongue. “Sister, Sister, have you learned nothing? Why on our mother’s grave would I hurt Jenny? She’s a pure-blooded Germanic werewolf; she’s just been misguided by your ideology.”
Sora’s breath caught at his statement. Jenny’s the pure-blooded Germanic Werewolf … only she could have turned humans into werewolves. Then everyone here—was turned by her? How long has this been going on? All of Kari’s girls that were changed…
Eric shook his head. “Lori, on the other hand … an experiment, not a werewolf. I mean—a little extension of the jaw and teeth, long nails, it just doesn’t add up to the real thing. Interesting though, wouldn’t you agree? Perhaps not.”
Sighing at his sister’s firm demeanor, he continued, “I’ve done all this for you, Dear Sister. You have the purest blood linked with Fenrir, and since he’s dead—you’re even more of a link than Mom, and that’s coming from her own lips! I question that myself … in any case, you should be mindful of your heritage and stop running with trash, not even trash, waste.”
Sora felt her stomach churning at every word. Eric’s a purist? Has Kari been dealing with this psychopath her entire life? No … she does have a vicious side to her, but is she actually trying to protect the girls under her?
Kari’s expression darkened with fury. “I have nothing to do with you or your plans. Why do you keep coming back into my life?” she yelled. “I move continents, and still you follow me! Go back and have your war with your dad in Germany. Leave me out of it!”
I’m finding out a lot about Kari—but there’s still no way for me to escape. The only way is to beat Eric, and … I know I can’t beat him … I just know I’d lose.
Her father bent down. “Sora, if you get the chance to run, then do it—do you understand!? I’ll be alright, don’t worry about me.”
Sora shook her head. “I won’t leave you, Dad. I’ll come up with something.”
Eric burst out laughing. “Stand there quietly, Nogitsune. I’ll deal with you in a moment. Your illusions won’t save you; these guys won’t lose your scent. So, don’t try it.”
Sora growled, voice turning sharp. “I still don’t get it! What do you want from me? Do you want me to feed your energy addiction or something?”
Her eyes darted to Kari as she huffed in revulsion. “No—that would be too difficult. He’s going to eat you alive.”
Sora’s skin tingled, and her muscles tightened. “Great—first, someone wants to rip out my heart, and now someone wants to eat me alive. I’m starting to regret becoming a Nogitsune.”
She took a step back as both Kari and Eric’s eyes shot to her.
“Becoming a Nogitsune?” Eric questioned with interest. “What were you before?”
Sora’s jaw locked. I shouldn’t have said that! What will they think?
She jumped as her father’s deep voice sounded above her. “Nine days ago, she was a human. Her mother’s blood started destroying her human cells, and now she’s almost a pure Nogitsune. She will be once it strikes midnight.”
Eric looked astonished and excited. “How? How is she going to turn from human to a Vulpes? That’s fascinating!”
“Dad! What are you…”
She cut off as his grip squeezed around her shoulder again. What’s he planning?
Her father shook his head. “I don’t know the details; I’m just a man. However, Mia told me it would happen. I suggest you let us go; you know who Mia is, I assume.”
Eric sat back with a heavy sigh as he sucked on his lip. “Huh … how would a human know about Mia? She’s a myth among Vulpes, a hope, really. Human knowledge of her died long ago.”
Without hesitation or fear, her dad said, “Will you tell yourself that when you’re staring into her eyes or when she rips out your spirit? Maybe you’ll be lucky, and she’ll throw you into a shadow realm or trap you in your mind for eternity.”
Licking his lips, Eric grinned. “You know quite a bit, don’t you?”
Thinking for a moment, he leaned forward. “So, you’re saying this girl is the product of you and Mia?”
Eric laughed hysterically, starting to clap. “I can’t believe it! You almost had me considering your story, but I guess there are things you don’t know about Mia. I haven’t had this much fun for a long time! Probably since killing my father.”
Shifting in his chair, he folded his fingers together. “You know, my mother knew Mia. I’ve heard quite a few tales about her and her power. Mia is a second-generation Founder—the younger sister to Inari, and most definitely real. Because I know so much about her, I know your story is fake. There are no Vulpes third-generation Founders. Now, my patience is wearing thin. So, be quiet and wait!”
Sora took a deep breath. It wasn’t a horrible plan; we just need more proof. If Dad had anything else to prove, then he’d state it. Is Mom that much of a mystery, even to him? Does he even know the legends surrounding her? He may have been bluffing.
Her head darted up as movement caught her eyes and her skin prickled as the wind blew, tickling her nose. From inside the half-built building came three figures: a lanky brown-furred werewolf, a girl with a bag over her head, and Wendy trembling beside her. Sora knew the scent; it was Lori. She tensed nervously at the low rumble in Kari’s throat.
Wendy’s cheeks were tear-struck, and she could smell and feel her terror. Why does everyone I know get hurt!
The brown werewolf prodded them forward. Lori was stumbling across the ground, each step sending a painful wheeze through her concealed mouth. Her cast was split, and she was holding her arm with trembling fingers, dragging her right foot, whimpering every time she was forced to put weight on it.
She was wearing a hospital gown that was tied securely, but bloodstains marked several places. Wendy frightfully gazed around at the werewolves, eyes locking on Sora, more tears appeared in her eyes, but she held her tongue.
Kari took a shuddering breath as she appraised the three; she looked hurt and lost. “Jenny … Did you do this?”
Jenny’s head was turned away from Kari in shame while she gently urged them along. Does Kari know that Jenny has been turning humans into werewolves for Eric? It doesn’t seem like it…
Eric looked pleased with his sister’s reaction. “Jenny, be quick about it!”
Jenny tensed and started picking up Lori and Wendy’s pace. Unable to keep the speed, Lori cried out as she fell. Trying to stop with her right arm, she bit back a howl as her left arm slammed against the dirt.
Jenny made a single step to help before freezing, eyes slowly lifting to Eric. Wendy was trembling but bent down to help Lori up. A quake ran down Jenny’s body as she stepped back. Kari bit her lower lip as her brother chuckled, blood leaking down her chin.
Eric’s voice held pleasure. “Not looking well, are you, Lori—I wonder, who’s fault it is that you’re even here?”
Sora watched nervously as Kari took several steps toward her brother. “Let. Them. Go. Eric!”
His face faked hurt at Kari’s words as he held up a hand, and Jenny put her claws against Lori’s throat, making Kari come to a dead stop. “You can’t call me brother? That stings, Kari.”
Kari’s eyes blazed contempt as her arms shook, hands balled into white fists. She spoke slowly and dangerously. “Let them go, Eric, or I’ll make you.” Sora knew she wasn’t bluffing; her voice held a familiar edge she identified all too well.
Laughing, he ended it in a sigh. “Kari, my dear sister, you can’t beat me at anything.”
Voice laced with steel, yet hiding a stinging edge, Kari said, “As you said, I have the purest blood since Fenris. So that gives me a lot more power than someone like you; a half breed—a Germanic wolf, only a quarter Fenris. The only reason for your strength is Aiden and you … eating Mom. Siphoning energy from a Firebird to keep ahead of me and stem Mom’s power from devouring you. How pathetic is that … Brother?”
Sora couldn’t help but feel slightly impressed by her taunt. Not bad; maybe I did rub off on her a little.
Aiden’s complexion paled at her response. I doubt he’ll take that lying down.
Eric’s eyes narrowed, but his smile stuck, tongue glazing over his white teeth; he sniffed. “Aiden, stay where you are, be quiet, and don’t move until I’m done.”
Aiden’s jaw locked as concern etched across his features. “You’re right, Little Sister! I think it’s time I stopped thinking you’re a pup.” Motioning with his right hand, he said, “Jenny, bring Lori here. I think I’ve mistreated her.”
Wendy backed up a little as Jenny hesitantly helped Lori move to Eric before stepping away.
Eric smiled while pulling off her bag with the same wicked grin.
Sora winced; Lori’s face was purple and blue with gashes running down her cheeks and neck. She shook with pain and fear as her one semi-functional eye darted around the scene.
Bringing his hand in front of her face, Eric slowly motioned for her to look up at him.
Convulsive flutters quivering through Lori’s frame as her neck rose to stare into his sinister blue irises.
Shaking his head, Eric looked carefully at the girl’s wounds, causing Kari’s breath to catch, and Sora’s ears twitched, hearing her teeth grinding against each other. Kari’s eyes fixated on Lori’s back; her hospital gown was torn to shreds, and wet blood dripped down the claw marks raking its length.
Puffing out a deep breath of air, Eric shook his head. “You know, Lori. I think I was completely wrong about you. You did do everything I asked, but I don’t even think you’re worth an example.”
His fingers straightened and plunged through Lori’s chest, his blood-soaked hand exiting the opposite side. Lori’s head lowered to stare at the hand inside her. She only let go of a single gasp before her body convulsed and fell limp.
Sora couldn’t move as Wendy fainted, crumpling to the ground.
Eric killed Lori.
She’d known Lori since sixth grade, and she just watched a man stick his hand through her chest. Her father’s hand stiffened as Kari cried out in anguish and fury.