Blurred sounds filtered into Sora’s ears as her consciousness returned; most noises blended in a myriad of unrecognizable sentences. A few words, however, managed to jog some similarities in her memory; much of what was spoken was drowned out by her jumbled brain, yet it was slowly filtering back.
Her head rolled to the right, correcting itself, her replenishing energy seeping into Sora to counter whatever afflicted her; the flow was stronger than her body remembered, clearing her mind to mumble something unintelligible.
Swallowing and licking her lips, Sora tried, “W-Where am I?”
Her saliva had a bad taste to it which helped clear her scrambled brain while opening her eyes to fuzzed chaos; she winced and snapped them shut to escape the light shining directly over her before trying to rub them to find herself restricted.
The inability to do such a simple task irritated her, and forced Sora’s eyes into a squint, trying to grasp what was happening to her.
A strange hum reverberated around her and a man in black clothing walked above her—no, beside her—and he was with a woman in a white lab coat.
They were walking through some kind of closed off space with seats and several men gradually came into focus with similar coats; lights blazed above her with the people hovering around her bed.
“A-Am I in the hospital?”
Mind clearing, she caught the man in black glance down at her, “Ahem, she’s awake, Doc. What should we do?”
“Another dose won’t kill her,” the woman muttered 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 through the dream and she realized she was on a closed off 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 filtering into her body; the energy feeding into her was much stronger this time and different; the new mixture was softer, cozier, and gave her a sense of peace.
She tried swallowing but her throat was dry. Her head was fixed in something now, restricting movement.
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 overhead lights, like her school’s—she was strapped to a moveable bed.
They were proceeding down hallways at an even pace and the tile floor causing small taps to reverberate up the metal framework. I was drugged…
Sora’s mind snapped into gear as her previous memories flooded back and her senses began to return; she’d been transported somewhere on a helicopter. Hospital smells wafted into her nose as her eyes darted left and right; what appeared to be doctors were walking beside her, studying charts.
Feeling the need to escape she fed strength into her muscles, but she was securely fastened to the bed; 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 her down the corridor but heard his concerned voice. “D-Doc! Doc, she’s awake again.”
Sora locked her jaw as the white-coated woman from before looked down at her in shock. “How is she countering the magic-enhanced tranquilizers so fast? That last dose should have kept her down for several days—the last Vulpes didn’t have a tenth of this dose, and she has two tails and was down for—”
Trying to wet her throat, Sora growled, “Who—who are you and where are you taking me?”
The woman ignored her question and fiddled with something by her head; a burst of panic hit her breast 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 more than a few horror movies like this, and it never ended happily for the monsters.
Pushing against the straps she heard the metal frame creak as it began to bow under her force. She tried thrashing her tail yet it couldn’t wiggle free from the bonds, feeding her claustrophobia. “Let—me—go!”
The bed stopped with a jerking motion as the woman leaped away with a gasp, several others following.
Sora’s tail radiated heat as foxfire ate through the straps, flailing with her efforts. She continued to growl in frustration as the fire broke some of the underlying supports, making the bed lopsided. “I want to see my dad!”
She tried pushing her influence over the people as a prick stung her neck and more struggles were heard; 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, her thoughts faded back into sleep.
* * *
Sora’s mind froze in shock as a rocky beach came into focus, making her instantly discounted Miami while looking back to see a large cloud covered mountain.
Snow hung around its base, and there were even clumps strung along the beachside; 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 at the mossy rocks she stood on before her vision lifted to wander across the fathomless sea, observing a dimming sky, the sun 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 ear. “Heh, now am I going to meet a white rabbit? At least my stomach would be happy,” she snickered, trying to relieve stress.
Breathing in deeply, her sense of smell was severely diminished to her displeasure, only returning the scent of the ocean; the millions of scents she’d become accustomed to were gone, tickling her mind just beyond 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 in her mouth had diminished.
Left hand pulling back her wild copper locks as a gust caught it, she froze; constrained as her hearing was, her ears still twitched upon catching soft crunches of stony soil.
Her head snapped to the right; a hazed figure walked 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 not only the parts from before, but also her shoulders and waist; 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, hmm … 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 a 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 continued, “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 w-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, yes, 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, well, unheard of and she’s creating illusions.
“My magic dampening wards do not seem to be … effective. I’m very interested, but, regardless, I need you to take over the initial examination; I need some time to sort out my, uh, thoughts, and to test my wards.”
The woman’s irritation turned into a sharp edge of interest. “Are you actually asking me to take over, Ranglor?” Silence stretched for a few seconds before she laughed. “The Vulpes 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.” Once again Sora despaired as the door opened and shut, indicating he’d left.
Sora tried connecting to this woman’s emotions yet was stunned by what she found; so much so that it severed her link completely. The researcher was ice; not a single glimmer of empathy, as if 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; the woman was tall, but Sora couldn’t be certain how tall from her angle. Picked up the writing board and lifted an eyebrow, she hummed. “Very fascinating,” she flipped through the papers in a thoughtful way.
The radial emotions she produced changed drastically—a cavity opened in her black heart—a hole that couldn’t be fixed and Sora associated the sensation with curiosity.
Salty tears fell down Sora’s cheeks as her chest convulsed against her straps and sobs escaped 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.”