Synopsis: A fast-paced story about a youngster who loses everything and everyone he holds dear. Through the only family that still remains with him, his uncle, he gets to choose to dedicate his focus and attention to blacksmithing rather than to fall into depression and street life...
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Blurred sounds filtered into Sora’s ears as her consciousness returned. Most noises blended in a myriad of unrecognizable sentences; however, a few words managed to jog some similarities in her memory. She recognized that there were voices, but they were drowned out by her jumbled brain. Replenishing energy was seeping into her; it was stronger than her body remembered, clearing her mind.
Her head rolled to the right, correcting itself. Mumbling something unintelligible, she swallowed and licked her lips. Trying again, she muttered, “Where am I?” Her saliva had a bad taste to it which helped clear her scrambled brain. Opening her eyes to fuzzed chaos, she snapped them shut to escape the light shining directly over her. Trying to rub them, she found herself restricted; the inability to do such a simple task irritated her. Her eyes opened to slits as she searched for the voices.
A strange hum reverberated around her and she found a man in black clothing above her, beside him was a woman in a white lab coat. She was in some kind of closed off space with seats, several men around her were on similar cots with lights attached above them as white-coated people hovered around the beds. Mind clearing, she heard the man say, “She’s awake, Doc. What should we do?”
“Another dose won’t kill her,” the woman said with a querying look. “Although, with what we understand about Vulpes physiology, she should be sleeping for several hours.”
Alarm crept into Sora’s muddled brain as reality started filtering past dream and she realized she was on a helicopter. Before she could even attempt to struggle a light prick stimulated her left arm, and she returned to blissless sleep.
* * *
Light bumps shot up Sora’s body at regular intervals. Warmth filtered into her body, it was a different kind of energy than what she was accustomed to; this was softer, cozier, giving her a sense of peace. She tried swallowing but found her throat dry. Her head was fixed in something now; she couldn’t shift it. Slowly, she opened her eyes to a contrast of light that passed in a consistent pattern or maybe she was moving. Moments later she realized there were overhead lights above her and she was strapped to a moveable bed. It proceeded down the halls at an even pace, the tile floor causing small taps to reverberate up the metal framework.
Sora’s mind snapped into gear as her previous memories shot back and her senses began to return. She’d been drugged and transported somewhere on a helicopter. Smells wafted into her nose that reminded her of a hospital. Her eyes darted left and right; she found the white-coated woman studying a chart. Feeling the need to escape she fed strength into her muscles, but found herself securely fastened to the bed. Not only her body, but her forehead was strapped into a brace. She could barely twitch a muscle as she tested her restraints; her wrists, elbows, knees, chest, and feet were bound.
She couldn’t see who wheeled the bed but heard his concerned voice a few moments later. “Doc, she’s awake again.”
Sora locked her jaw as the white-coated woman looked down at her in shock. “How is she countering the tranquilizers so fast? That last dose should have kept her down for several more hours. The last Vulpes didn’t have a tenth this dose, and she has two tails.”
Trying to wet her throat, Sora asked, “Who are you and where are you taking me?”
The woman ignored her question and fiddled with something by her head. Sora watched with a burst of panic as she held up a needle and an IV tube. I need to get out of this!
Her chest painfully began pressing against her bonds as her heartbeat quickened. She’d seen a few horror movies like this, and it never ended happily for the monsters. Pushing against her bonds she heard the metal frame creak as it began to bow under her force. She tried thrashing her tail but found it too was held by straps. Claustrophobia fed her panic as she struggled against her bonds.
The bed stopped with a jerking motion as the woman leaped away with a gasp. Sora’s tail radiated fire as it ate through the straps and began flailing around with her efforts. She continued to growl in frustrations as the heat from her tail broke some of the underlying supports, making the bed lopsided. “Let—me—go!”
She tried pushing her influence over the people as a prick stung her neck. Her restraints were released, and a man yelped. However, slowly, unwillingly, her muscles and mind began to betray her will and a short while later gave in to sleep.
* * *
Sora’s mind froze in shock as she found herself at a rocky beach. She instantly discounted Miami as she looked back to see a large cloud covered mountain. Snow was evident around its base, and there were even snow clumps strung along the beachside. She felt the cold atmosphere must have been below zero, but it didn’t bother her in the least.
A low mist hung around the midsection of the land, and all she could see was rolling tundra. Looking down, she stared at her bare toes, pawing the mossy rocks she stood on. She looked out at a fathomless sea; the dim sun was falling from its already low position.
Thoroughly confused, Sora studied the rippling water for answers. Where am I? I was strapped to a bed, they were drugging me, and now I’m here? Frowning, she scratched her head, feeling the pleasant relief as she focused at the back of her left fox ear. “Now am I going to meet a white rabbit? At least my stomach would be happy.” She giggled, trying to relieve her stress.
Breathing in deeply, she found her sense of smell severely diminished to her displeasure. She smelled the ocean, but that was it. None of the millions of scents she’d becoming accustomed to, they only tickled at her mind beyond her reach. It wasn’t just her sense of smell; it was like she had earmuffs on, and the sensations of the wind against her skin had dulled. Even the rancid taste of her mouth had diminished.
Bringing up her left hand to pull back her hair, she froze. Constrained as her hearing was, her ears still twitch as she heard soft crunches of stony soil. Her head snapped to the right, and she found a figure walking along the misty shoreline letting the freezing water wash over their feet. Her focus was redirected as the landscape hazed and vanished.
* * *
Warmth filled her body as her mind jolted. Sora’s hands jerked, but again she was restricted. Eyes flying open, she was temporarily paralyzed as she stared up at herself, which reflexively dampened all other senses. It took her a few seconds to realize it was her reflection in a full-length overhead mirror. Her skin began to prickle with unease as she studied her appearance. She was barely clothed; the only thing keeping any form of modesty being a white strap around her chest and some kind of white elastic short-shorts, she felt her tail held by something underneath the table.
Swallowing with tension building in her chest, she tried to look right, but her head was fitted into a brace. She had some form of ball fitted into her mouth and strapped to her head; small holes were punctured in it for breathing.
She was securely bound; they had strapped her wrists, elbows, shoulders, chest, waist, knees, feet and even her fingers were tied to the metal table. The uncomfortable metal slab was dwarfed by the sharp and oddly shaped utensils next to the table on a silver platter that she spotted in the mirror. Sora almost choked as she tried desperately to struggle against her bonds.
A woman’s voice carried from beyond the mirror’s view. “She’s awake, again! See, I told you, Doctor. She just won’t stay under! The last dose would have likely killed the húli jīng.”
An elderly male’s voice hummed at her words as he stepped into Sora’s view. He had wrinkles all along his body and seemed to be shorter than Sora. “You’re right,” he mused coldly, examining something near her head. “Her physical strength is rising rapidly. You were correct about her tail as well. To imagine, a single tail using foxfire, fascinating.”
Sora was trying to thrash her tail free of whatever held it but found it useless. The old man looked up at the ceiling mirror to consider Sora’s eyes; they were utterly indifferent. She couldn’t sense an ounce of sympathy. “Unless your foxfire can reach thirty-four hundred degrees Celsius, I’d stop wasting energy; tungsten is a rather resilient metal, and your tail has been locked in a casing of it.” He said with a dark smile.
Biting down on the plastic ball with frustration, she tried calling on all her strength to break free of the belts. The old man looked impressed as he looked at a monitor next to her. “You can exert two thousand pounds of force—that’s even greater than a four-tailed Gumiho—and as a Nogitsune? Fascinating, you’ve broken all our records on strength for Vulpes. It will be exciting to see what makes you so special.”
“Doctor Ranglor, she’ll break some of the restraints if she persists. They’re only rated for twenty-five hundred pounds.” The woman said with unease.
Nodding, he said, “Give her thirty milliliters of cisatracurium besylate.”
Knowing her time was running out, Sora closed her eyes and strained her muscles as hard as she could, but after a few seconds, her body started to relax against her will. After several more seconds, the woman said, “She’s still putting out over five hundred pounds of pressure.”
“Give her another dose,” Ranglor ordered. Gradually, her tension eased, and a whimper escaped her throat. Her muscles felt like jelly, and her head was light.
Taking several deep breaths, Sora began to calm herself. He just looked up, studying her, waiting for whatever she’d do next. It took a few seconds for her mind to clear as the comforting warmth she felt rushed into her. She began taking a subtler approach. Linking emotions with Ranglor and the woman, she fed her fear into them and tried to make them understand her need to be eased, manipulating their emotions.
To her surprise, it was working. She could feel their empathy rising, but it was as if something was fighting her with Ranglor. Concern bit her as he picked up a syringe and extracted liquid from a bottle on the side counter. Shortly following, the woman came into Sora’s vision. She had a concerned expression as she looked at Ranglor then Sora, torn from internal conflict.
Clearing her throat, the woman asked, “Can’t—we just let her loose a little? It looks very uncomfortable on that table, and her neuro-muscular system has been restricted. She’s only a teenager—I think and—what about the bathroom?”
Ranglor pursed his lips as he flicked the plastic body and let a few drops fall back into the container. “No, what we humans consider to be waste is incorporated into Vulpes bodies and converted with the aid of spiritual energy. Although, perhaps you’re right, why don’t you loosen the elbows and chest a little, so she can breathe easier.” Ranglor moved aside to let her pass. Sora already knew what he was doing.
Smiling thankfully, the woman placed her hands on Sora’s right elbow strap. Sora watched with sinking hope as Ranglor’s syringe swiftly stuck into the woman’s neck, his wrinkled thumb pressing the liquid into her bloodstream. The woman fell to the ground, and Sora’s hopes fell with her. With all my powers … I’m still helpless!
He walked out of her vision, and she heard a door open. “Take the woman to the infirmary.” He instructed. “Let the onsite doctor know that I gave her seventy milligrams of methohexital.” A man dressed in military clothing came into view and picked up the woman with little trouble; he didn’t even look at Sora and was out within ten seconds.
He seemed to be talking with someone over a communications device. “Yes, this is Professor Ranglor,” his conversation paused as Sora sent him illusions, trying to make him come back and look into her eyes. “I need your—professional opinion and expertise, the new Vulpes.”
Sora heard a woman’s condescending laugh on the other end. “Seriously, Ranglor? Alright, I’m intrigued.”
A consistent pressure slowly compressed Sora’s chest as silence commenced. Ranglor didn’t come back into her view or make any more noises, despite her illusions. Her attention was diverted as all the lights turned red and a siren blared, momentarily breaking her concentration. What is happening here? After a few minutes, the lights returned to normal, and she continued to pressure Ranglor.
At least ten minutes passed with Sora continuing to force her emotions onto the man, hoping for the slightest bit of sympathy before someone else entered the room. Sora’s focus broke as a door opened, and a woman’s voice cut through the oppressive atmosphere.
“I just had a most stimulating encounter with one of the monsters in the recent capture; my time seems to be stretching ever so thin, Ranglor. You are supposed to be the leading Vulpes expert in North America. So, what is so perplexing that you need my assistance?” The woman didn’t sound young, but not old and she had a slight French accent; she sounded slightly annoyed. “I had to halt my previous engagement to deal with that escape and am losing my patience for more distractions.”
He cleared his throat and huskily noted, “She’s a fantastic girl—specimen, but her youthful appearance may be causing an internal emotional conflict … I believe she may be manipulating my emotions, but for a single tail to do so is—unheard of and she’s creating illusions. My magic dampening wards seem to be—not working. I’m very interested, but—I need you to take over the initial examination; I need some time to sort out my—thoughts and test my wards.”
The woman’s irritation turned into a sharp edge of interest. “Are you actually asking, me, to take over, Ranglor?” The silence stretched for a few seconds before she laughed. “She must be manipulating your emotions, and you say she is creating illusions? Very well, go ahead and take your break. I’ll proceed, in my own way, of course.”
His voice sounded strained as Sora fed everything she had to him. “Of course,” the door opened and shut, indicating he’d left.
Sora tried connecting to this woman’s emotions but was stunned by what she found, so much that it severed her link completely. The woman was ice; not a single glimmer of empathy and she was being blocked by something. Sora could stare at Eric with more compassion than what this woman held.
“Fascinating,” she commented as she moved into view. She was tall, but Sora couldn’t be certain how tall from her angle. She picked up the writing board and lifted an eyebrow. “Very fascinating,” she mumbled as she flipped through the papers. Her feelings changed drastically; she now held a cavity in her heart. A hole that couldn’t be fixed and Sora associated the sensation with curiosity.
Salty tears began falling down Sora’s cheeks as her chest convulsed against her straps. Sobs escaping her throat. Still, the woman paid her no mind. Why are they doing this to me? Who are they? Am I just a monster to them? Thinking back to her studies on Vulpes, she decided one last desperate thing. Breathing in as deeply as she could, she tried to blow fire. To her shock, the conflagration appeared; in a stunning display of yellow and orange flames, an inferno flew upward, eating through her gag and blackening the mirror above.
Something cold swiftly struck her stomach, and Sora’s energy seemed to slip through her fingers; it felt like a lake had suddenly dried up. The fire died from her mouth, and she began having difficulty breathing as her vision hazed. The woman’s word was a breathless whisper, “Riveting.”