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Stepping off the circular staircase, Sora was able to see the observation room occupants. There were several different groups clustered around different areas, they all froze to watch her, Fen, and Jian followed Hillary.
They didn’t stay to chat; Hillary quickly led Sora, Fen, and Jian out of the room and through a few security checkpoints until they reached a more accommodating space. The area had two levels and inlet offices along the way; the layout reminded her of a mall. Dozens of people were inside each inlet taking calls, looking over presentations, and conversing.
Hillary silently guided them to a branching hall and directed them into a room. Entering, Sora found a waiting room sectioned off with couches and sofas, there were even a few televisions stationed around the area, though they were off. Her attention was instantly stolen by another scent though; Wendy sat in a chair across the room.
“Wendy…” Sora’s excitement died as she saw her friend. The way she smelled, her spiritual flow, and demeanor told her that Wendy was empty.
“Sora…” Wendy replied hollowly.
Still a little flustered, Hillary said, “The left door is to the ladies bathing area, the right for the men. If … you’d like privacy; then you can follow those guidelines…”
Frowning, Sora turned to Hillary, feeling a little heat rising within her chest. “What happened to Wendy?” Pushing her influence over the woman.
Fen hummed with amusement as she watched Hillary’s expression pacify. “Her mother sold her to the organization’s adoption agency. She’s been told that if you were to act out, she could sustain bodily harm.”
“Were you the one that was in charge of that?” Sora asked, jaw locking.
Hillary shook her head. “I heard about the incident, but it was handled by upper management.”
Fen walked around Hillary and extended her claws, wrapping them around her throat. “She was still compliant though.” Fen cooed. “If you want, I could kill her.”
Wendy was silent as she watched. Sora was concerned as her spirit showed she didn’t even care, she had blocked off her emotion.
Shaking her head, Sora said, “No, stop it, Fen.” She released her influence over the woman.
Hillary stiffened in panic as she realized Fen’s claws were around her neck. “Pl—please … I just—I don’t want to die…”
Sniffing, Fen released her grip, and Hillary collapsed to the floor in tears. “How dull … all that power and you don’t even use it.”
Jian had quickly scouted the lady’s room and returned. “No traps I could detect.”
“Then it’s about time I wash-up. You go into the men’s area,” Fen said, directing a wink at Sora.
Sora frowned as she turned to Hillary. Bending down, she influenced her to calm down. “After this what’s planned?”
Clearing her throat as the tears stopped, she eased the tension in her neck. “After you freshen up I will guide you to eat with a researcher that has been appointed to speak with you.” Her eyes shifted to Fen and then slowly up to Jian. “With—only Wendy.” She had a hard time getting the words out.
Sora nodded with a grave expression. “I understand.” Fen didn’t look pleased but stayed silent.
Swallowing and working herself up again, Hillary finished her report. “Fen and Jian will be taken to separate eating quarters where they will be left to talk in peace until you have finished.” Without waiting for their responses, Hillary almost mechanically walked to a corner armchair and sat, looking at the floor.
Sora felt bad for the woman. She’s so frightened; I don’t need superhuman senses to know that. I guess when you’re being manipulated and have claws stuck to your throat anyone would be terrified. Her vision shifted to Wendy as she stared blankly ahead. What can I do to help her? Jane actually sold her to this evil company…
Catching Fen’s suspicious glare at the left door, Sora grimaced. I can’t blame her for being suspicious, but things seem to have changed. In what way and for what reason I’m still unsure, but they seem to be treating us a lot nicer … though we graduated from inhuman to basic prison rights, I assume.
Sighing, Sora tugged on Fen’s sleeve. “Don’t worry about it. If they wanted to do something shady they wouldn’t wait this long, and they have you bound by those wards. So why not indulge in some comforts.” Fen thought for a moment but nodded with a carefree smile returning. I knew that would coax her out.
“You’re right, Sora. Even if you don’t need a bath, I do, and I also need some relaxation!”
Sora frowned at her statement but didn’t pursue it. “You go ahead. I’m going to talk with my friend.”
Fen’s eyebrow lifted as she studied Wendy. “She’s dead inside. Not a very healthy emotional meal, and not much of a friend left from what I can see.”
She felt heat light in her chest again. “Just go on ahead,” she said a little sharper than intended. Fen flinched slightly, and Jian tensed, but they complied.
Sighing as they entered their respective areas, she turned back to Wendy. Fen’s right though … Wendy’s in a deep depression. How can I help her? I can’t imagine finding out your mother sold you to an organization that will use you as a tool, hurt you to keep someone else in check. This is probably some form of goodwill gesture … even though they still have my dad. Like anything they can do would make up for what they’ve done…
Walking over to sit beside Wendy, she asked, “Wendy, what can I do?”
“Can you turn back time?” Wendy asked, and she groaned internally as she saw a small spark light in Wendy’s spirit.
Breathing a heavy sigh, she shook her head. “Maybe my mother or aunt could; I don’t know, but I can’t.”
She watched the spark die as a tear fell down Wendy’s cheek. “Were you manipulating me into being your friend? Why would you do that? You could have even mind controlled my mom into selling me…”
Sora closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. That’s a natural train of thought. How can I convince her I really feel like she’s my friend? Swallowing, Sora cleared her throat. “I can link our emotions. You’ll be able to feel everything I feel, and I can feel everything you feel … from what I’ve heard, that could be dangerous to me … it’s like ingesting poison, strong negative emotion. Can I do that to prove to you my feelings?”
Wendy’s face creased with confusion. “Why? How can I even know it’s real?”
Swallowing nervously, Sora shook her head. “I guess you can’t, but you’ll realize once we’re connected. You’ll feel how I’m feeling, including if it’s harming me. I haven’t linked with anyone that hates me … it might be like firing a bullet at my heart. I don’t know. I want you to know that I won’t abandon you though…”
Wendy’s spirit shifted to show a mixture of emotions; she could sense hate, loneliness, betrayal, worthlessness, and the slightest beam of hope. Taking another deep breath, Sora linked emotions. She closed her eyes, a quake rippling through her body as she was dropped into a freezing ocean, a noose wrapping around her heart as it began to squeeze. Teeth sank into her flesh as needles cascaded down her frame.
In contrast, she could feel her emotions feeding into Wendy. The warm desire to save her; her sincerity to be friends; the pain she felt at Jane’s betrayal, and to comfort her. Her own fear and confusion of becoming a Vulpes. The joy of learning about her family and meeting her aunt. The first time they talked in years, only two weeks ago, that pricked her heart for more, her need for Wendy’s support.
The waters around Sora dispersed; Wendy’s heart strengthening to come to terms with her circumstance and that she wasn’t alone. Sora opened her eyes, realizing they both were crying. Nose stinging, Sora reached over and hugged Wendy as she latched onto her, shaking with tears, she sobbed, “I didn’t know you felt that way.”
Sniffing, Sora hugged tighter. “You’ll always be my first friend … I’ll never leave you.”
They cried for a while before she eased back her emotional link, and Wendy pulled away, wiping at her eyes. “Thank you…” She whispered.
Sora shook her head. “Thank you for understanding.”
A small smile lit her red cheeks. “It helps when you can actually feel other people’s emotions.”
Nodding, Sora laughed a little. “It takes some getting used to … it’s pretty powerful.”
Wendy nodded. “What now? Who are those other people with you?”
Sora ignored Fen’s soft sarcastic remark in the bathroom, clearing her throat. “That other Vulpes … Vulpes is like calling you a human; she and I are Vulpes … her name is Fen. She has a—vicious personality, most Vulpes tend to be … not that nice.”
Wendy swallowed as Fen called out, “Why don’t you just tell her I’m an evil devil, while you’re at it.”
“It wouldn’t be completely wrong,” Sora stated dryly.
Fen sniffed. “I just do what I want.”
“You can hear her?” Wendy asked a little nervously.
Sora nodded with a huff. “Yes, our fox ears are very receptive to sound, and she’s a bit of a … she’s not that nice most the time.” She stated with a forced grin. “So, do you need to take a shower?”
Wendy shrugged. “I guess. Will we be together from now on?”
Nose twisting with contempt, Sora glared at a camera. “Yes, if I have a say in it.”
Rubbing her shoulder, Wendy nodded. “Thanks, Sora … I felt…”
Sora shook her head and hugged her again. “Don’t think about it. We’ll get through this and figure something out. My dad can adopt you, and we can be sisters!”
A sad smile crossed Wendy’s lips. “I’d like that—if it’s possible.”
Standing, Sora glanced toward Hillary. She began shaking again, but Sora ignored her. “Humph, let’s get showered and we’ll see what they have planned.”.
Wendy nodded, and they both walked into the bathroom, Sora found it had several sectioned off areas with curtains for showering. There were sinks with unopened hygiene materials, clean towels, and three new sets of clothes, no baths. She frowned as she noticed one of the sets were from her wardrobe that was sent to be resized. I guess they really did backtrack all my movements.
Fen’s demeanor was sour as they entered. “No baths … only showers.”
“Seems so,” Sora confirmed as she began to strip, Wendy following her example. Pausing, Sora asked, “What did you mean; I don’t need to shower?”
Fen quickly shed her attire. “Just what I said, you don’t. Founders have different physiology to most beings. Having an immortal body has its perks.”
Finishing, Sora went to a nearby shower and turned on the hot water, noticing care products inside. “My hair can still get frizzy and untamed. My mouth tastes rancid, and I feel dirty. I don’t feel that different, honestly … in fact, I feel dirtier than I should because of all my enhanced senses.”
In the shower next to her, Wendy hummed. “Honestly, you smell really nice.”
Starting the shower next to hers, Fen sniffed. “Of course, you feel dirty. It probably has something to do with your unorthodox transition. I can’t really speak for you, but your change had some alterations on your personality and body, right?”
Thinking back on all of her mood swings, Sora said, “Yeah, I don’t know if I like it or not, but my behavior has definitely changed, and obviously my body has.”
“Thought so,” Fen commented. “I suspect it has something to do with your transformation. You may not age anymore for all I know.”
“Really?” Wendy asked. “Sora’s going to be sixteen forever?”
Sora’s stomach tightened. “Wait, you really mean I’ll look sixteen forever?”
Fen’s laugh didn’t sound kind. “Sixteen? You look fourteen to me.”
Standing in the hot water, Sora silently let the liquid cascade across her skin. I don’t want to look like a teenager forever!
Sounding a bit cheerier, Fen said, “While your body experienced changes with the influx in Vulpes characteristics … I think I heard some scientist say something about hormones. Your brain still retains habits, like how you feel really dirty. Your mouth has a bad taste to it so it must smell. You haven’t taken a bath for a while so you must stink and nonsense like that.”
“So it’s all in my head?” Sora whispered.
Fen huffed. “Well, I agree with the human, to me, you smelt quite fragrant. I couldn’t tell you what it’s like, but it’s pleasant. Your breath also has an unfamiliar scent, but again it’s nice. It’s similar to Inari’s scent.”
Sighing with relief under the warm water, she enjoyed the shower as it relaxed her muscles. They finished washing in silence, and each stepped out at different times. Wrapping her hair in a towel as Wendy finished drying herself, she began to take care of her routine after shower maintenance. Fen eyed her with amusement as Wendy followed suit, but Sora paid her no mind.
Finished combing out her hair, she eyed the clothes between the sinks that were laid out for them. Sora was slightly impressed with how well they picked out their personalities, but they did bring her own clothes. Obviously, Fen and her wore different sizes as she was much more mature, but she was taller than Fen. They’d even obtained some of her previous undergarments.
Fitting into her black undergarments first. They’d brought one of her plain summer dresses; it had a wavy round neck, tailored, and dropped to her lower thighs; she took care in sliding her tails through the hidden crease. She held back her hair as Wendy helped her zip the back up. She ran the brush through her hair for a second and slipped on the black flats they’d left for her.
Fen completely ignored their chosen attire and dressed in her previous Chinese style dress. Sniffing as she saw the opening for her tails. “They give you custom clothes, but leave me with such a drab choice.”
Wendy put on her undergarments before donning a gray T-shirt and cream jeans without complaint, likely taken from her own wardrobe.
“They are horrid at choosing clothing that fits our beauty!” Fen fumed with outrage. I guess she doesn’t like my taste in clothing … imagine that.
They exited together and found Jian already waiting; the woman hadn’t moved from her spot. It took her a moment for her to gain the nerve to rise to her feet. She frowned as Wendy started to tremble as they neared the two, hiding behind her.
Sighing sympathetically, Sora said, “You don’t have to be so scared of us.”
Fen giggled. “What are you talking about? Of course, they have to be scared of us. Well, at least Jian. He puts off a natural fear induction, and unlike dragons, it’s hard for him to turn it off.”
“I see,” Sora trailed off. Could I do something for them as Inari did for me? Extending her influence to both Wendy and Hillary, she found it wasn’t that consuming in the least as she strengthened their spiritual network. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but you don’t need to be frightened of us.” Sora comforted, her power enhancing them. Hillary’s countenance changed instantly, and Wendy’s trembles ceased as she relaxed. I’ll need to figure out some way to increase Wendy’s spiritual network, so this won’t happen again.
Face softening, Hillary massaged her shoulders. “Wow, I feel a lot better!” She said with a wide grin. “I don’t know what you did, but I feel completely at ease. Thank you.”
Sora caught Fen scowl with disapproval and jealousy, but she didn’t question her action.
“If you’ll please follow me,” Hillary instructed as she led the way back through the door.
Trailing behind her, they walked down two halls, passing several researchers that tried averting their eyes and hurry past. They stopped outside a steel door. Authenticating her identification, Hillary opened the door and gestured to Sora and Wendy. “You will find a mahogany table inside that has just been set up. There are waiters inside to help, and the representative will be in shortly to speak with you.”
She could smell the aromas of many different kinds of food coming from the vents. Taking one last glance at a suspicious Fen and passive Jian, Sora walked through the doors with Wendy. They closed behind them, and she walked down the hallway to a wooden door that had two tough looking guards posted outside.
Sora’s stomach tightened as waves of nausea suddenly swept over her as she slowly approached the two men. What am I doing? Why have I been following along so willingly! I’m being stupid. Stupid!
She jumped as Wendy touched her arm, tone concerned. “You look concerned. Is everything alright?”
Taking a deep breath, she nodded. “Sorry, I’m alright.” Why did I flip from calm to panicky? Calm down! Taking a deep breath, she entered the Outer Body Technique.
Examining herself, she frowned. I do sense something wrong. It’s more of an instinct than any of my senses. There’s some kind of spiritual imbalance that’s going to happen soon … a big one. I can’t tell how I know from a surface examination of my spiritual network, but I know something is brewing nearby. I’ll just have to prepare myself to protect Wendy.
Exiting the Outer Body Technique, she whispered in Wendy’s ear. “Something bad is going to happen soon. I don’t know what it is or when it will happen, but there’s going to be a big event soon. Keep close to me.”
With her power strengthening her spiritual network, Wendy nodded calmly. “Got it.”
The men were well armed but didn’t give any threatening indications, but Sora knew they were on guard. She recognized the scent that flowed through the air, the increased radiant heat that caressed her skin, the pulse of their hearts, the minute twitches of their muscles, and their spiritual network as they flowed with different emotions.
They were prepared to kill both her and Wendy given a single word. They weren’t afraid; she knew they’d willingly take their own lives if it meant killing a threat. When did my senses start becoming this acute? I couldn’t have guessed these things a few days ago. It must be Inari’s training and my second tail.
The guards opened the door as they neared and they proceeded through without hesitation. The room she entered wasn’t very large but held a rectangular table that could hold ten people, but only three chairs were present; two near them and one on the opposite end.
The room held a single dim chandelier over the center of the table, which cast shadows into the corners, hiding two attendants from view with normal vision, a man and woman. On the mahogany table were platters of food that still steamed, showing they’d just been prepared. Her eyes could easily see everything, but a human eye would take time to adjust. They’ve really changed their tune.
Her vision darted to the attendant to her right as he moved to pull out their chairs. “Mam, if you’d sit, I’d be happy to serve you whatever you’d like.” Sora quietly took the seat, positioning her tails to the left side and laying them across her lap as Wendy sat next to her. The man pushed their chairs in and moved to the tableside.
“Now what would you like?” He asked with a passive expression. He wasn’t scared or hesitant in the least. His spirit only showed a willingness to serve. With a little more observation, she realized he was being paid well for this job and needed the money.
“Anything will do,” Sora said with a quick sweep of the table, Wendy nodding her agreement. Everything looked delicious, but she wasn’t sure what most of it was, which made her a little nervous. Considering her words, Sora asked, “When will the host be joining?”
“Shortly,” the man said without further explanation.
Sora pushed down her unease and began eating with Wendy the first plates the man set in front of them. She didn’t even eat a fourth of the pate, it didn’t taste bad, but she found her appetite weak, Wendy, however, ate three helpings. Noticing her refrain, the man came and took her plate, setting it on a tray by his station.
When Wendy finished her third plate, the silence persisted for another minute before the door opposite them opened and a woman she didn’t recognize stepped through. She was young, probably in her twenties and had an enthusiastic scent about her, but her spirit was a mass of nerves.
Sitting down before her attendant could retract her chair the woman stared across the table at them with a broad smile. “Hello Sora and Wendy, my name’s Kelsey, and I’ll be dining with you!” She looked over at their vacant plates and hummed. “Although … I guess I’m a bit too late.”
Swallowing, Sora cleared her throat. “I was under the impression that I’d be meeting with Diane?”
The server waited beside the table as Kelsey laughed. “Diane’s been up for days. She needs rest, so she asked me to meet with you.”
Frowning, Sora asked, “What will we be talking about?”
Ordering food, Kelsey shrugged. “There’s some stuff we need to clear up and some things we can talk about.”
Deciding to get straight to the point, Sora asked, “Will you finally tell me where my father is?”
“Oh!” Kelsey exclaimed in shock. “Has no one told you yet?”
Sora’s eyes narrowed darkly. “You can quit with the surprise and cheer. You’ve already shown me what kind of organization this is and what you’ve done to Wendy. I simply want to know if my dad’s alright.”
Kelsey’s smile faltered slightly. “Yes … yes and I suspect you can tell if I’m lying and what not. Your test results were fascinating, to say the least! Your cells tend to act completely different when taken away from your body, their structure changes—they die, probably without spiritual energy to sustain them! Your digestive system seems to break down foods into base particles and reform them into different structures…”
Sora didn’t want to know how they’d figured all this out, and she found herself becoming irritated, she could feel Wendy growing annoyed as well. Cutting her off, Sora said, “I didn’t ask you to give my results. I asked you if my father is alright.”
A shiver ran down Kelsey’s spine and through her spiritual network. “Ye—yes you did,” she stammered. “And as far as I know, we’ve sent him to a specialist for surgery.”
Concern creased Sora’s features. “Wait, I healed him though, at least a little. Eyia said he was out of serious danger?”
Regaining her composure, Kelsey questioned, “You healed him? Can Vulpes Founders heal? And who is Eyia?”
Ignoring her, Sora pressed forward. “Is my dad alright? What’s his condition?”
Clearing her throat, Kelsey said, “I don’t know all the details, but his condition started to deteriorate about an hour after your capture. He was given enough treatment for transport and was sent to a facility with our best surgeons.”
Her jaw locked for a moment. “Bring him back, and I’ll heal him myself! Wouldn’t you like to see how I heal?” Once I have my dad, we can leave. My selfish actions brought him into this mess. I at least have to get him and Wendy out. Since Inari destroyed the wards, it shouldn’t be a problem. I think I can remove them myself now, anyways.
Kelsey sat back in her chair with a loud sigh. “This is a tense atmosphere. I didn’t expect the mood to sink lower than when I arrived.” Looking at Sora with level eyes, Kelsey said, “Look, the medical base your father is at is on the other side of the continent, he’s probably still recovering as we speak.”
“That’s not good enough!” Sora yelled, her anger flaring. They’re using him as a bargaining chip! What do they want with me? They haven’t killed me, why!
Kelsey sunk back in her chair nervously. “Don’t let your emotions get the better of you.” she pleaded.
Sora’s teeth ground together and her fingernails extended into claws, digging into the table. Taking a deep breath, she let it out, retracting her nails. If they haven’t killed me then they want something of me, someone does.
“Her dad is a bargaining chip like I was … am.” Wendy stated.
Kelsey bit her lower lip. “I don’t know any of that. I’m a part of the U.S. Paranormal Division. We aren’t in charge of your particular case, but it’s being brought up with the proper channels … I’d say that in some time you’ll be released and issued a monster visa. I’m just a stand-in for Diane as she rests.”
Sora huffed. A monster visa … my case is being brought up to U.S. officials. So, are they being nice now that they found out I’m basically a goddess … not that I feel like one. Glaring at Kelsey Sora asked, “What do you have planned for me for now then?” Increasing her spiritual perception, she searched Kelsey’s aura as she answered, the action felt natural.
“We are sorry about the way we treated you and would like to offer you some hospitality in the meantime, while we set up residency for you within the United States,” Kelsey said, regaining her cheery atmosphere.
Sora felt sick to her stomach as she read her aura. “You believe every word, yet have suspicions things won’t turn out that way. Why does the President make you hesitate?”
“Ack,” Kelsey rubbed the back of her neck. “I guess Founders are pretty powerful. You are reading me like a book … well, there are some people on the way that are over this organization: not the U.S. President, but the company president. There are certain laws regarding monsters. You may have human citizenship, but the U.S. has a stringent policy toward monsters. There’s been a branch set up to handle this sort of thing, and you’ve been bumped up all the right channels … being a Founder. If everything goes through, then you’ll be placed in U.S. protective services and coordinate with them. Wendy could join you, of course. You will … there are some conditions to follow that won’t be hard.”
Sitting back, Sora eyed Kelsey silently for several moments. U.S. protective services … coordinate with them? It sounds like life under a microscope, but it’s a believable story and seems to be a likely scenario … however, her aura…
Glaring at Kelsey, Sora said, “I understand. You were given this story as a cover and given no other explanation of my future. So, to you, this is what will happen. You were lied to and are feeding me somewhat acceptable lies to keep me under control. Even you believe this to be the case.”
“That’s all I know,” Kelsey said with a light shrug. “If there’s something more, then it will be revealed later, but you could be released.” She rushed by the words, putting little emphasis into the possibility.
Staring down at the table, Sora growled lowly. So nothing has changed. They just feel less safe with my wards off and scared of something connected to me. Looking over at the attendants, she debated. I could start manipulating people into taking me to my dad, but that might backfire, and I don’t want to put him in any more danger. Wendy could get caught up in it too. Then again, we are already in a lot of danger. I just don’t know what to do!
Her attention was diverted as a siren sounded throughout the base and an intercom message broadcast. “This is a base-wide alert. Code red three, cameras compromised, monster breakout and rampant. All military personnel report to defensive positions. All non-military personnel retreat to safe zones. This is not a drill. I repeat…”
Sora’s fur bristled. My earlier feelings. This spiritual disorder around us … it’s happening now…
Kelsey’s face became ashen. Turning to one of the attendants, she said, “Take Sora and Wendy to their assigned room and bring the two guards outside with you. Quickly!”
Sora was a little perturbed by her spiritual network’s actions, but she motioned for Wendy to follow as the attendants lead the way. They do want me alive for something, and they’re trying to brighten my outlook of them in the process. Do they need me to do something and think being nice to me will accomplish it?
Kelsey ran back through the door she’d entered from, and the two attendants rushed them outside, motioning for the guards to follow. They began making their way through the halls as people ran the opposite direction they were heading. Their safe zone is the opposite way we’re going?
Synopsis: The online game <