B2 — 24. Coming Clean

Sora easily kept pace with the two attendants as the guards led them through the halls.  Her ears picked up a multitude of screams, shouts, and growls.  It was hard to keep her immediate surroundings in focus as she inhaled the putrid scent of frenzied werewolves with every breath; their hormones were everywhere.

Trying to block out the discord inside her mind, she folded her ears down and found the sound easing.  However, with her hearing diminished, she could only rely on her already overstimulated nose to pick up anything unexpected; her sixth sense only reacted in split-second intervals, she might be too late to respond.

Taking a calculated breath, she let go of her ears and tried her best to power through it.  Should I find Eyia and Jin?  They’d be able to get us out of this situation or come up with a better plan than me…

Just before they entered a junction point, her fur bristled.  She grabbed both attendants’ collars, throwing them back and swiftly scooped up Wendy to leap back; two seven foot tall werewolves sprang around the corner.

Both guards were quick in lifting their weapons, but not fast enough to deal with the enhanced speed of the beasts; the werewolves jumped on them, ripping the men apart within seconds.

The attendants screamed as one werewolf turned its attention to them and vaulted; jaw locking, Sora’s tail erupted with crimson flames.  Being careful with Wendy’s neck so she wouldn’t get whiplash, she flicked both tails in a quick flourish.

A quarter of the square space became an inferno, the combustion sending the werewolves and dead men propelling in the opposite direction.  The men’s corpses tumbled to a stop, lit ablaze, yet the werewolves recovered, fur now scorched and burning; they’d sustained fourth degree burns in a few areas, but didn’t show any signs of backing down.

Setting Wendy down, and quickly dragging both attendants to their feet with what little time she’d gained, Sora yelled, “We need to find another way!”

They ran down the hall toward the previous corridor but only got ten steps; the werewolves recouped, pursuing them with fur still blazing as they howled their rage.

Tail bristling with static, Sora sent a bolt of red electricity toward them; it struck the first, blackening it beyond recognition as its charred body tumbled across the floor in a smoking trail.

The second reached her before she could generate another, and to her horror, it turned toward her best friend instead of her.  “Wendy!”

Wendy acted like a trained soldier, diving out of the way—still as cool as winter with Sora’s spiritual energy strengthening her—nimbly rolling back to her feet to dodge the slash by an inch.

Sora sent the attendants sprawling across the floor again as she lurched forward to grab its reaching arm, attempting to rip at Wnedy’s throat; redirecting its momentum and funneling power to enhance her strength, she flung it down the hall.

It tumbled several times and righted itself thirty-five feet away, instantly turning its attention to another hallway as gunfire shot from another junction; it dashed toward it without hesitation, snarls following.

“Woah, uh, how’d I do that?”  Wendy gasped, face in shock.

Is this even my friend?!  I didn’t even know she could do something like that, by the sounds of it, neither did she!

“Th-Thank you!”  the female attendant panted with a shaky voice; she looked like her legs wouldn’t support her any longer.

“Yes, we are in your debt,” the male attendant stated.  “If not for your quick…”

To Sora’s shock, Wendy cut him off.  “Less talk, more running!”

“R-Right…”

Nodding, Sora glanced down the corridor.  “I can smell several more around the corner, and they’ll probably target my scent.  You two need to find somewhere to hide ‘till things quiet down.”

The male nodded with understanding as he helped the woman to her feet; he walked to a nearby door, he said, “This is a research area.  It should have ballistic glass and a research room inside; we can lock ourselves in it.”  

Sora nodded and waited for them to open and close the door, Wendy stretching out to run.  They’re innocent as far as I know.  I hope they’ll survive.

Her best friend was alert, looking down both hallways. “What are you doing to me?  I feel totally relaxed—like I would be able to stand up to a dragon or something.”

Swallowing, Sora laughed nervously.  “I wish I could do the same thing to me.  I’m increasing your spiritual network.  My aunt did it to me; so, I thought I could help you with Jian’s fear aura.  Seems to be working.”

Wendy nodded and repositioned herself behind Sora as two more werewolves ran through the next junction and turned their way.

Stomach tightening, Sora muttered, “I hope we survive this!”

They began to brace themselves as the werewolves lowered their bodies to pounce with low growls, Sora’s tails lighting with flames as she poised herself to meet them.  However, her ears picked up something running at a sharp speed from behind her—where Wendy was.

Another werewolf?  No, a Fenris Wolf…  It’s fast!

Springing to the wall to get away from its trajectory while wrapping Wendy in illusions to make her invisible, Sora’s mind chilled as a brown furred Fenris Wolf came into focus; his scent caused shivers to run through her bones.  Eric…

The man dashed by them so fast it left her thoughts in a whirlwind; his jaws sank into the left werewolf, biting it in half before crushing the second against the wall.

Sora winced as she heard the snap of bone and blood gushing from the beast’s mouth; obviously, they didn’t get back up.  No, he didn’t just save us… we’re his prey.  It has to be a dominance thing…

The brown Fenris Wolf slowly spun around, and Sora could feel the other werewolves in the area shying away as Eric reverted to his human form, showing a rather passive expression for the megalomaniac.

Sora couldn’t guess his emotions past his impenetrable shielded spiritual network, and she didn’t want to try an empathic tether.

Swallowing the nervous saliva gathering in her mouth, she brought her flaming tails around and took up a defensive posture, ready to counter as she let Wendy circle to her back again.  He might be able to see Wendy beside me—he could do it at the construction site—no, he definitely does.  Dammit!

She didn’t turn her head away from Eric as Aiden’s voice carried down the hall.  “Sora—it’s alright.”

Not turning, she waited for Aiden to run between them, partially unraveling her illusions around Wendy so he could see her; Eric still held a neutral stance, not ready to attack or retreat.

Bending over to grasp his knees, Aiden wheezed for a few moments.  “Eric’s—Eric isn’t going to hurt you… he just—wants to talk.”

Her vision shifted to Aiden for a fraction of a second before returning to Eric.  Honestly, why is he so fixated on him?!  All of his power is still mostly gone, too… I can force my way into his spiritual network, but where’s that probability power of his?! 

 “Why should I believe you, Eric?  No offense, Aiden, but you sound so stupid for believing anything he says!  Last time you almost killed my father and tried to eat me; not to mention our most recent encounter—should I mention Lori?”

Eric’s voice held no edge.  “Things have changed.  I’ve had to do a lot of planning and things—I never wanted to sacrifice my…”

He closed his eyes, fingers folding into a fist and something Sora couldn’t believe touched his voice—pain, loss, heartache—and she couldn’t say it wasn’t real.  “I had to go through a lot to get this opportunity with you, Sora.  Can you at least give me a chance to explain myself?”

Sora’s eyes shifted to the two mangled werewolves.  He killed two of his pack.  Why?  Isn’t this his big jailbreak scheme or something?

“Jenny is dead,” Eric stated.  “My sister… is dead, and I had to let it happen.”

Sister…  Jenny, not Kari?

Sora’s focus shifted to Aiden again as a sad expression passed over him.  “He’s right…  The people here shot her in cold blood; Jenny was Eric’s half sister, on his father’s side.  That’s why the werewolves have become ravenous; nothing is linking them to Eric and their humanity now … They’re acting on pure instinct.”

“Okay?”  Wendy huffed from behind her.  “And what does that have to do with us?  I mean, it sucks, I guess, but I’m not going to say I have happy memories of Jenny and that she was a good person.”

“Yeah,” Sora growled.  “We have our own problems.”

Eric breathed out a long stream of air through his nose, eyes closed for a moment before opening them; again, there was frustration, but a melancholy note in his voice.

“With Lori and Jenny’s deaths…  My sister has lost her will to live, Sora.  She’s operating on her last wrath filled fumes against me, but as soon as those burn out, she’ll be empty…  She feels alone, worthless, used… hopeless.”

Taking a step back, Sora cleared her throat, “Again, sure, sad, but what does that have to do with…”

She frowned as Wendy touched her shoulder, emotions now flowing the opposite direction.  “Maybe it’s just your power giving me strength, but… Sora, even if I hate Kari… at least at this moment, I don’t want anyone to feel like I did.  You felt those emotions inside me…”

Sora frowned as she considered Wendy’s words and transmitted feelings, reflecting on the years of numbing solitude she’d experienced; Gloria helped her realize there was far more joy than sorrow, yet she couldn’t forget all of that.

Eric sighed and looked down the hall as more gunshots fired not too far away.  “Believe it or not…  I know it’s impossible for you to understand… but everything I’ve done is for Kari…  This isn’t what I wanted to do…”  his throat caught.

“Please, give me a chance, and I’ll explain it; a new path has opened up, and certain things are about to happen that you need to be aware of.”

His sorrowful vision centered on Sora’s eyes, they showed no deception; she could tell there was honesty in every word as his spiritual shield dropped, which caused her ears to flick in irritation.  “If you don’t listen to me, then both Eyia and Jin will die… along with my sister.  Is that reason enough?  You could lash out and kill me now; I’m unguarded.”

Her breath caught, teeth clamping together at the sincerity in every pulse of his spiritual network that she wouldn’t have been able to sense without her aunt’s guidance; still, it disturbed her to hear Eyia and Jin’s names fall from Eric’s lips.

“What do they have to do with Kari?  Eyia would kill Kari—probably.”

“Let me explain,” Eric pleaded.

“Sora?”  Wendy asked, resonating with the emotions Sora sensed in Eric; none of it was making any sense!

What should I do?  If Eric really wanted me, then he could use force; especially after showing how powerful he is in his full Fenris Form just a second ago.  I know I could put up more of a fight now, but I can’t beat him, much less protect Wendy—if he’s right about Jin and Eyia…  Why can’t I sense any deception from him?!

Loosening her stance, Sora nodded.  “Fine, I’ll listen—that’s all I’ll do.  Just promise not to eat Wendy or me,” she stated, glaring at him.

“I will not threaten either of you in any way,” Eric said without a blink.  “You have my word; I swear on Kari’s life.”

“I don’t even know if that’s worth anything to you after everything I saw you do to her,” Sora grumbled.

Eric’s eyes closed.  “She means more to me than you know…  I didn’t feel like I had a choice in the things I did, but you can’t understand that … I just want to explain my position.”

“Sure…”

Aiden walked closer to her, sounding a tad skeptical himself.  “I get how you feel, Sora… I don’t know what to expect either.”

“This way,” Eric stated, motioning for them to follow.

“Mhm…”  Taking a side glance at Aiden, Sora asked, “Do you actually think Eric’s changed?”

Aiden looked thoughtful for a moment and nodded.  “Something is definitely different about him, and what he said about doing everything for Kari…  I don’t know how he’s going to explain that one…  We’ll have to see what he says.”

Wendy hummed as she looked backward, studying the two dead werewolves.  “Could he do that the entire time?”

Sora nodded with a sigh and decided to poke the bear.  “Yeah, but he’s weaker now—heh, you know, since Jin crushed him.”

“You’re right.  I am weaker now than I was; if you didn’t have to defend anyone, I’d even say you could kill me—if we were outside.  The energy you are getting from the earth is good, but not as potent as the sky, and you’re not at 100%.”

Sora huffed.  “How can you tell?  I’m hiding my spiritual network.”

Eric shook his head.  “I don’t know…  I just know.”

“You what?”  She glared at his back, letting a slow stream of air pass through her nose.

Aiden doesn’t know what’s going on with him, Jenny dies, and all the werewolves go berserk…  He basically said she was their link to humanity, but I don’t know, this could all be a trap…

Stopping in front of a steel door, Eric opened it with a code and went inside, gesturing for them to follow, yet Sora hesitated as a scent rounded the corner.  That’s Mary…

She heard gunshots nearby.  Glancing at Wendy and Eric, she said, “I need to do something real fast.  Eric, if you really are sincere, protect Wendy for a second.”

Eric hesitated.  “We don’t…  I understand.  I will die before anything bad happens to her.”  

She swallowed as his spiritual network confirmed his response.  Why is he going this far?

Sora dashed down the hall, time seeming to slow as she accelerated, and rounding the corner, she found three werewolves darting toward a group of four soldiers.  How can I stop Mary?  Aiden said everyone infected lost their humanity… I have to try to save her though!  

Her breath caught as the soldiers fired and a bullet struck the woman’s side; extending her influence as much as possible, she yelled, “Stop!”

Her magic swept over the werewolves and soldiers, making them freeze in place, unable to twitch; she sighed with relief as she neared, and turned to the soldiers.  “Retreat to a safe location and forget you saw me.”

They nodded and began running at top speed.

Shifting to the paralyzed werewolves, she said, “Calm down and follow me.”

The beasts’ thumping hearts eased as they nodded and casually followed her back to the room, her magic stealing any free will they had.  I’m glad my magic is working at least.  I hope I can help them.

She noticed the blood dripping down their fur as they walked, the silver preventing their bodies from healing, and upon examining their spiritual networks, her jaw tightened; if the silver remained, they’d eventually die.

Aiden’s brow creased as she rounded the corner with the three werewolves.  “What did you…”

Eric answered with a sigh.  “You’re controlling their Intelligence, aren’t you… overpowering their very ability to act.”

“Yes, I know one of them… you ruined her life—ruined so many people’s lives—all of those werewolves,” she stated with contempt.

Lips becoming a line, Eric nodded.  “I did.”

Snarling, Sora led all of them into the room, dropping the illusions around Wendy; it seemed to be a break room for staff.

Eric sat on a couch, Aiden sitting across from him with Wendy.

“What do you plan to do with them?”  Wendy softly asked.  “Who is it you know—do I know them?”

“Mary…”

“Oh, your new psychiatrist?”

“Mhm…  I want to try and heal them,” Sora muttered as she studied them.

Hope filled Aiden’s eyes.  “Is that possible?  If you need help, I can give you energy.”

Eric leaned back, hand resting below his chin.  “It might be, and I doubt she needs what little you’ve been able to recollect, Aiden.

“The link is broken, but if you can overpower the original curse of the werewolf—which is more than possible for a Founder—then it would work.  I’m not certain of the specifics, yet I’m sure you can analyze their condition, and being a Vulpes Founder, specializing in powerful magic, you should be able to.”

Sora licked her lips, tails lighting with a faint blue aura.  I first need to heal them of the silver and wounds.

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She brought her tails close to Mary, and her breath caught as her energy connected.  Foreign magic affecting her spirit…  It’s attached to some kind of physical toxin in her body.

Frowning as her healing magic destroyed the venom, the spell tried to reassert itself and sink its fangs into her own spiritual network.  I see.  This is the curse Eric was talking about.  How am I supposed to get rid of it, though?  It can’t hurt me, even if it’s trying, but I still need to deal with it.

Thinking back on her aunt’s words about removing her wards, she pursed her lips.  I don’t know if this is the same; the ward was a piece of magic that was affecting my spiritual network…  a spiritual construct infused with magic.  This is a magical force; there’s no construct bridging it like the wards.  Inari did say I could destroy it by forming my spirit into an offensive force.  Could I target the curse that way?

Closing her eyes, she entered the Outer Body Technique and tested her theory against the Intelligent imprint of Mary; she extended her spiritual flow and tried forming it into a fire, extending it through Mary’s spiritual network in a cleansing rush.

To her surprise, it worked; the spiritual fire purged the impurities.

Exiting the technique, she took a deep breath.  “I hope this works in practice,” she mumbled, repeating the process.

A red aura of fire surrounded her and spread to the three werewolves.  Aiden gasped as the three beasts began reverting to their human forms—the werewolf curse cleansed—and Eric stood a little straighter.

Wendy hurriedly moved to the closets and found some lab clothing for the man and two women, all who had reverted nakedly, wrapping the collapsed humans with the coats.

Sora took a deep breath as she eased back her energy.  Spiritual attacks take a bit of energy, but it will return soon enough.

A smile lit her cheeks as she bent down to Mary’s level.  “Are you okay, Mary?”

Mary blinked before looking around and swallowing.  “Yeah…  What did you…”

“She broke the werewolf curse,” Eric hummed with an impressed tone.  “If I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t have believed you could have gained so much spiritual control since the last time I saw you.”

Mary shrank back as her eyes settled on Eric.  “You!”

Sora hugged Mary, feeding positive emotions into her and the two other survivors.  “It’s okay; I fixed you.  You aren’t werewolves anymore…  You’re not his slave.”

Quakes fed through Sora’s arms as Mary began to shake, and noticing Wendy, tears dropped down her cheeks.  “You—you survived…”

Wendy gave her a small smile.  “You were the werewolf that was trying to get me away?  Thank you.”

The man and woman next to her began crying.  “I—my family—my kids…”  the woman sobbed.  “I haven’t seen them in months.”

Calming them with her aura, Sora said, “We’re still in a bad situation, but let’s sit down and take a breather.  I don’t know what we’ll do after, but just enjoy some peace.  I’ll do my best to keep you safe.”

Aiden’s impressed and thankful expression showed how badly he was looking for any kind of silver lining.

The three nodded and began dressing, Sora wrapping them in illusions to give them some privacy before taking the seat next to Wendy.  “So… explain.  How do you know Eyia and Jin will die?  They’re extremely powerful—strong enough to shut you down.”

Nodding without a twitch at her comment, Eric settled down.  “Yes, they are strong—beyond anything you can currently comprehend—however, something is coming, and circumstances will force them into a position neither of them can come out of.

“Right now, Diane is setting into action a plan to pit Jian against Jin; Jin will have restrictive wards on her that will severely diminish her abilities, and the woman’s own pride is what will be her downfall.”

He sighed.  “As is the case for most Dragons; I suspect she’ll be fairly weakened by this conflict, and by her own design.  I don’t know what else, but something dangerous is about to occur … Eyia has a part in this plan Diane is cooking up, yet everything won’t go her way.”

“That’s pretty vague; I…  I don’t understand,” Sora growled.  “How do you know this is going to happen?”

Silence ensued as Eric leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and steepling his fingers.  “Do you know who the Herald of Sakura is?”

Sora sat back.  “Hmm, my aunt knows her…  I guess you could say I’ve seen her interact with my aunt.  Eh, heh, she’s not too fond of whatever this Herald woman is, but they’re on speaking terms, apparently.  She helped my grandma, I think?”

“So, you did meet with Inari…  No wonder your magical and spiritual skill has increased so much.  Hmm…  To make a long story short; I now serve the Herald of Sakura,” Eric evenly stated.

Teeth coming together, Sora rolled her eyes, “Okay, she’s super strong—I know that—but why is she interfering?  No, it seems she has been watching me…”  Sora mumbled, recalling the oddly dressed woman in her hotel lobby and wondering if that was her.  If so, she helped in stabilizing her second tail’s growth.

“I’m not threatening you, but simply telling you that something will happen.  Currently, Diane is in a position that would require her to take action.  If you stay here, then she will not find you, assuming you’ve been safely sealed in the room she prepared for you.”

“Sealed room?”  Sora questioned.

“Where those attendants were taking you—it is a room designed to seal in monsters—they wanted you isolated for when their superior arrived.”

He sat back, rolling around his stiff neck.  “I know certain things from the Herald, but the information she gives me is limited.  I don’t know why their boss wants you, or who he is, but if he does capture you, then a lot of bad things will happen—that I’m sure of—and I cannot let that happen.  There are so many moving parts working around us.”

Sitting back, Sora breathed a long breath as she debated Eric’s words.  “Why won’t Diane find me?”

“Because I activated the room already, throwing two people inside to trick the sensors; there’s no way for them to communicate since I’ve disabled a section of the base’s functionality.”

“Convenient…”  Sora breathed an unconvinced sigh.

He disabled communications?  How would he know how to do that, and why hasn’t he escaped yet with Kari, if he cares so much for her…  Why try and save me?

Her attention was brought back to Eric as he said, “I know you have many questions, but let me answer what I know.”

His eyes shifted to Aiden who had been silently listening.  “This is what Aiden has been waiting for—there is a lot that I need to explain—so be patient, and just listen.”

Taking a deep breath, he ran his fingers through his long hair.  “First of all, my family has been in a power struggle among the children of Fenrir for millennia; when Fenrir died, he left a hole in the hierarchy—a place that was supposed to be filled by one of his two sons—Sköll and Hati.

“Beforehand, both brothers had killed any other male Second Generation that could claim the title; however, there was a split in loyalty among the Fenris generations, and among these was my mother, who decided to break away from the savage bickering of her two brothers.

“She was the only second-generation female left at that point, meaning the only one that could reproduce a full-blooded Fenris Wolf, as her brothers—and even my mother—were not born of pure blood.

“Fenrir was a male Founder, which meant breeding with a standard female wolf or monster—the First Generation never mingled in that manner with one another—primarily, it’s suspected that the female Founders wanted to keep their dominance.

“In any case, for a normal wolf, or most any beast for that matter, to give birth to a Founder… it means death.  Therefore, all descendants of a male Founder have different mothers, but shared ties with Fenrir; there’s a reason why the most powerful generations of Founders come from a dominant female line.

“My mother had three children.  I was the first born … I was supposed to be so much more as the first of her womb, yet my mother discovered that breeding with a pure blood of the Germanic werewolf breed causes a mutation within the Founders spiritual genes.

“Yes, the Founder blood is far stronger, but the pureblood werewolf is not bound by a curse that can be broken; no, the curse was something designed by the purebloods themselves to instill dominance.

“This spiritual mutation rigorously causes my own Fenris blood to attack my body and spirit … An autoimmune disease for spirit and body…  The effects would have killed me long ago, but with Aiden’s feathers as a Son of Homā, enriched my spirit and gave me strength to live.

“Going back to my other siblings,” Eric’s eyes shifted to Aiden, and he looked unsure how to continue.  “I had a younger sister named Tiri…”

Hesitating, he licked his lips.  “I know it’s impossible to believe, Aiden, but… I did not kill her.”

Sora jumped as Aiden leaped to his feet, face red with fury.  “You expect me to believe that!  I was there; I saw a brown coated Fenris Wolf!  Who else could it be; in Alva’s Realm, only you had brown fur—I just saw you take on that form!”

Eric nodded solemnly, “You did see a brown coated Fenris Wolf, but you don’t have the same senses as us… all you had was your sight to go off of; your knowledge of Fenris Wolves…  So, my mother told me we needed to run.”

“Run?”  Aiden shouted, fury pulsing from his spiritual flow.  “We chased Kari after you killed your mother!”

Sagging into his chair and looking up at the ceiling, Eric whispered, “Aiden, can you hear yourself?  You sound like a child… but I get it…  How could I have killed a 12th-dimensional Fenris Wolf nearly as old as Inari herself…  No, Aiden, she killed herself after sustaining heavy wounds from Hati…  When… when I wouldn’t… couldn’t do it.”

A shiver ran through Sora’s bones as the confession and it brought questions to her own mind about the story; the very thought of her so much as touching her aunt was beyond laughable at just standing in her presence.  Insulting her felt like she’d be instantly struck dead by the raw pressure of her presence alone, much less trying to kill her.

“What?”  Aiden mumbled, eyebrows furrowing as the reverse question jarred his mental perception.  “There’s… no way Alva would do that.  She’d lived for… eons, so why would she kill herself?”

Sora was trying to come to terms with the revelation herself as she watched his countenance waver.  Sure, Eric killing someone like her aunt was utterly impossible—no, absurd—at even the thought, yet that didn’t explain all the terrible things he’d done.

“Hati,” Eric said in a savage curse.  “My father sold my mother out—pledged his loyalty to Hati’s pack—and before my mother knew it, he had used his unique key to enter her Realm to kill Tiri, and meet her in combat for dominance.”

“Why?”  Aiden mumbled, world seemingly collapsing around his head.  “Why would he kill her—she was his niece—he’s practically undefeatable by almost anything…  Why an innocent, eight-year-old girl?”

Sora scooted closer to Wendy as she shivered, picturing the horrific scene Eric was painting; it really did bring more clarity to Kari’s past.

Eric’s nose twisted, snarling, “He did it to test that old legend repeated between the Second Generation, causing a power struggle between the Second Generation upon my grandfather’s death, leading to Hati and Sköll murdering all of their brothers in an attempt to surpass my grandfather—consume enough Fenris blood, ascend to the hights of Fenrir himself.”

Wendy cleared her throat, rubbing her arm as goosebumps cascaded down her skin.  “He went after your mother next?”

Aiden shook his head.  “No—No, if something like that happened, all of us would have felt that battle…  We’d all be dead!”

“Not exactly,” Eric muttered through clenched teeth.  “Do you honestly think my mother would have fought him there?  I can’t imagine how she felt—being too late to stop—what he did to Tiri, only to have the threat of her other children being consumed in the fire of their battle.”

Realizing where it was going, Sora bit her lower lip, wondering if her mother would make a similar decision.  “She… took the battle to another location, on Hati’s terms?”

“Yes…  And when she did confront him, even against all odds—for Tiri, no doubt—she forced him to retreat and recover, but she couldn’t kill him…  Mortally wounded, she knew Sköll wouldn’t be far behind.”

“No,” Aiden whispered, “No, she could have recovered and…”

Eric’s tone darkened.  “Aiden, you don’t understand what I’ve been trying to protect my sister from… that legend.  If you consume enough purebred Fenris Wolves, you’ll transform into one yourself…  Do you realize where that leads?”

Tingles shot up Sora’s tails as her gut tightened, Mary, Wendy, and the other woman gripping their stomachs with the horrific understanding Eric’s implications brought on Kari.

That’s… awful… disgusting.

Swallowing his uncertainty and looking utterly lost, Aiden shook his head, “Why would Alva kill herself, though…  She could have fought back?”

Hands quaking as Eric leaned forward to grip them, he shook his head.  “Aiden…  You’re not thinking straight; it was long since rumored that my mother had died or was barren—like Inari and Mia—because she had waited so long to give birth.

“She knew how the other tribes would react when the word got out; she was marked—Kari was marked.

“Every wolf with a smidgen of Fenris blood was coming after her, and she could have annihilated any Fenris Wolf… except Sköll and Hati.  Her brothers have done nothing but build up their power in the eons they’d lived.”

Sora’s tails pressed against her shins, gut wrenching at the image burned into her brain; she spoke as Aiden’s trembling eyes moved to her.  “With Alva’s death… Kari is the last Founder capable of giving birth to more pure Fenris Wolves…  They want to use her against Alva…  Use Kari and Alva to make more…”  she trailed off as a lump caught in her throat.  

That’s a nightmare!

She couldn’t help but feel terrible for the girl that had tormented her for so many years.  Sora couldn’t forgive Kari for what she’d done, yet no one deserved that kind of fate, and that emotional conflict was pulling her insides apart.

Ashen-faced and repulsed, Aiden clutched his breast.  “So… that’s why Alva did it.  In a way… she was saving Kari… since they could have used her to track you.”

“I killed my father, told the situation to Jenny, and with me being the new Alpha, there wasn’t much she could do against my orders,” Eric muttered.

“I ordered you to put escape into Kari’s head, I had Jenny befriend her in her time of grieving … I stuck with the story that I killed our sister to protect her from the truth—give her an enemy she could hate and try to overcome—and we’ve been under the radar in the Human Realm ever since.”

Eric’s eyes shifted to Sora with narrowed vision.  “Yes, Sora, to you, I’ve done unforgivable things—I’m being honest when I say I care nothing for humans—why should I?  So far as I am concerned, they’re weak, easily swayed rats you can use as dirty pets.  I see them as no different than humans who think of mice as pets, lab rats, or vermin.”

Arms tightening under her chest, Sora glared at him.  “We don’t think the same…  At all.”

“I accept that,” Eric sighed, vision falling to the floor before shifting to Aiden.  “We come from vastly different worlds, and my only friend has doubted me for years…  Heh, I suppose it has given him a soft spot for humans, in the end, but the issue comes from what your passive ability has driven us head-first into … Maybe it was a blessing; who can say for sure?”

“Wait…”  Suddenly confused, Aiden asked, “What did I do—what do you mean?”

Lips tightening, he shook his head.  “Honestly, I don’t know if it was good or bad…  My friend, your desire to save me has radically changed everything.”

“I don’t understand?”  Aiden repeated.  “Why is this so complicated?!”

Working around his mouth, Eric whispered, “A son of Homā.”

Aiden’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.  “Wait, that’s… what that evil darkness said.  What do you mean I’m a son of Homā?  Why is it so important?”

“The Homā race are Founders of the Fire Birds,” Eric explained in a serious tone.  “An almost extinct Founder, and there’s a reason for it…  Aiden, your lineage, the lineage of Homā, can grant their own desires; they can shift the flow of fate.”

Vision flipping to Sora, he forced a laugh, “Oh, my friend, and you wove us right into this deadly pattern—along with the dragon, Valkyrie, and so many others.  It’s become so complex and branches into so many possibilities and areas that creatures with power on a colossal scale have started to move… such as the Herald of Sakura.”

Grinding his teeth together, he glared at the floor.  “And all this attention has brought Hati running, and now Sköll is entering the stage.  I had no idea…  Sköll was so close to us that night we were captured—you felt it—that mix of impossible power that froze Jin and Eyia.

“In fact, we were extremely lucky to be captured at that time; I don’t know how he didn’t catch up to us—perhaps it was one of the beings protecting Sora—but we escaped by the skin of our teeth.”

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Sora was at a fracture.  The enormous energy we felt just before our capture… that was Sköll?  If so, then… the other Fenris Wolf I smelled that Nilly…  Nilly went to fight off Sköll?  What the crap is Nilly then?!  Was she sent by my mom to protect me against big threats or does Nilly have her own agenda?

Her vision returned to Eric.  He’s evil.  He admits it!  He’s done evil things, yet… I can’t really blame him…  His methods, yes, but not his reason…  He’s had to sacrifice a lot in his own right, but still, he’s done horrible, unforgivable things.  Kari… may be more broken than I realized… crying for help.

She looked at him with irritation.  Yet… for some reason I can’t bring myself to fully hate him now.  Dammit!  Why did you have to make this so much more complicated!  I just want everything to go back to being black and white.

Leaning against a somber Wendy’s shoulders with a long sigh, Sora looked up at the ceiling.  I can’t keep fooling myself; that ship has sailed…  I’m a Vulpes, locked in some Founders’ struggle.

Grimacing, she glared at the hateful man in front of her.  “That’s why you wanted to eat me; you thought I would give you enough power to face Sköll and Hati?”

Eric didn’t even blink as he nodded.  “It had a chance at working, but now that I have a better picture of the threads of time…  Even Fenrir himself would have a difficult climb with the trials ahead.  The creatures that are beginning to act are—”  he cut off, a shudder running down his frame.

Massaging her forehead, Sora breathed deeply, eyes narrowing as she glanced at Aiden, looking to be in an internal struggle himself.  “You obviously need me for something…  Everyone seems to need me for something,” she groaned, fingers sliding through her copper hair.

For the first time, Eric looked shaky and uncertain; as if she held a sword over his neck.  “This decision is crucial; you could call it a pillar in time that will break into uncountable different shapes to form the future.”

Swallowing, he took a quivering breath, looking her dead in the eyes.  “Will you escape with my sister… or will you leave her to be taken?”

“Wait…  What?  Why!?  Why do I have to escape with Kari!?  I hate Kari for what she’s done to me!”  Sora yelled; her strengthening aura slipped for a moment, causing the four humans to flinch.

Growling, Sora renewed it, her wrathful gaze returning to Eric’s unnerved twitches.  “Why do I have to be the one to do it—why can’t you—her brother?!”

Eric slowly shook his head, sounding as if she’d punched him in the gut.  “Nonetheless… This decision will set not only your future but billions of monsters—the fate of humanity itself—Existence,” Eric stated, slowly and clearly.  “I cannot emphasize this more…  I’m not saying everything will die, but you hold so much in the palm of your hands.”

Sora hated the intensity he put on her decision.  I hate him!  I really hate him!  Why do I need to make such an important choice?

She looked to her left and found Aiden no help; he was lost in his own terrifying thoughts.  Grrr…  Kari—it’s sad—it’s terrifying, and I wouldn’t want to know my uncles wanted to use me like that…  She’s had this devil in her life…  I get it—bullies are people who lash out, but… but she was my bully!

Cupping her face, she snarled in frustration, Sora couldn’t help but clutch her breast at the emotions tearing her apart inside.  “Fine!  It’s not like I could leave her to die…  Not after everything you told me.”

She glared at the terrible wolf, and added, “But I doubt she’ll come willingly, or believe anything you have to say—I hate your new sincerity—hide your spiritual network; it’s making me sick!  It’s like you died and were replaced by someone else…”

Looking relieved, Eric breathed a sigh.  “That’s not the issue; it’s if you can move past your differences at this point—to just allow her to be around you.”  

Sora didn’t like that even more.  What does he mean at this point!

Sitting back against his chair and running a hand down his face, Eric nodded, “We have some time before it begins; let me explain what I know.”

“Wait, what starts!?”  Sora demanded.

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