Fen glared at Sora as she ascended the stairs, humans in-tow. I hate her so much! She has everything … just in the last day, she’s surpassed me by mountains … nothing in this life is fair! She received personal training … personal, unique training from Inari … the actual Founder Inari … her aunt.
Teeth grinding together, she watched Sora disappear from view. I’m so much older than her … so much older, but she’s stronger and even pities me! She invaded my Intelligence with ease to play a prank on me… Her vision dropped to the ground. It’s something I’d love to do, but I can’t. She has the power to do anything … the weight behind her name to do anything, but she’s wasting her time with humans? I don’t understand her!
Her focus shifted to the room. The floating balls of fire in the corners and along the ceiling lit the place well, only producing enough heat to warm the space; she had no clue how they accomplished the magic, but it was weak. The dark wooden plank floor was worn, but well maintained. Armchairs and couches were spaced in patterned ways to house several parties, and the furnishing showed an eastern design that she was accustomed to.
Ears twitching slightly, she shifted them to listen in on different conversations. She quickly grew tired of Sora’s senseless talk and tuned in to the twin foxes. They were whispering about different food items, focusing on their cooking task. This is so dull … no, not dull, aggravating…
The bird spoke up, drawing her attention as he shifted his back against the couch to get a better angle on her. “Fen, you don’t look too happy. What’s up?”
Fen’s nose twisted. Right, like he cares. What’s his … ah, I get it. He just wants to humiliate me since Sora penetrated my defenses so casually. “Mind your own business,” she snapped, turning away.
“Geez,” he clicked his tongue. “Suit yourself.” The couch creaked as he went silent. So carefree and smug…
She glanced between the Dragon and Valkyrie; the Dragon seemed to have fallen asleep, but she quickly averted her eyes as the Valkyrie’s blue irises shot to her. What’s up with this group? They’re all here because of Sora. Why is she friends with any of them? They’re all beneath her. Well…
She examined the Fenris Wolf, resting on a couch, eyes closed. The dried blood on her skin, black hair, and her spandex top and bottoms made for an odd combination. Founders … how did Sora, a Fox Founder, meet this Wolf Founder? Foxes and Wolves don’t get along that well from what I understand, but what do I know? It’s the realm of Founders, who knows if they’re buddies? They certainly don’t act like it though … I just don’t understand it!
She felt Jian’s concern for her spike through their link as her emotions continued to fester. Her stomach growled, but she was beginning to hate the company more than her empty stomach. This is just … terrible. Right now, my safety depends on Sora’s good graces … I guess I’m lucky she’s nothing like a Vulpes or else she’d be playing with me.
A lump formed in her throat as she caught sight of the cat, resting peacefully on a chair. Forcing the lump down, she took a deep breath. She’s dangerous … Githa. The Nekomata Faction’s pretty neutral, but from mom’s stories … chaotic. Githa said Nilly … the Cat Founder … I’ve heard too much about Founders the last few days. I’ve discovered more than anyone my level should. There’s nothing any of us can do if the cat turns into an enemy, but she wouldn’t, right? I mean, I don’t know … if Nilly’s a First Generation, then she wouldn’t be scared of Inari or Mia.
Tingles shot down her spine and tails, making her shiver. I need to get out of here and think!
Getting up, she glanced over at Jian as he rose with her; he knew how she felt. “Let’s go for a walk.” Her tone was tense as she glanced back at the Valkyrie.
The Valkyrie’s chilled eyes met her. “I will not halt your path. Leave if you desire; you are trouble for my sister as it is.”
Fen stiffened at her words but bit back a retort as she walked past, opened the door, and exited. I hate this! I hate it so much! They’re so strong; strong enough that I have to watch what my tongue … I hate it!
The cobblestone road was well made, and the houses were constructed in an organized manner to allow plenty of space on the road for traffic. The yellow sun was beginning to fall, indicating evening’s approach. Fen breathed a long breath as she ran a hand through her black hair, the stress of the Valkyrie’s cold atmosphere fading as they entered the busy throng.
Jian’s deep voice was soft. “I’m sorry, Fen.”
Taking a deep breath, Fen shook her head. “It’s not your fault, Jian … it’s them. They’re so…” She seethed through her teeth. “I don’t even know how to express it. They’re just … they don’t make sense! None of them! None of this!”
Her shouts drew the eyes from Vulpes and humans around them as they went about their business, carrying carts, pottery filled with water, and other goods. She could care less about drawing attention from these sickly creatures; finally, she could express herself without walking on eggshells.
“We escape that hellhole and Sora’s all worried about the humans and upsetting people … she’s a Founder! All she has to do is show them her power, and she’d be treated like the princess goddess she is! Why doesn’t she?”
Jian was silent for a moment before answering. “I believe hearing that Sora was human before transforming into a Vulpes.”
Fen’s brow creased incredulously. “Wait, you seriously believe that, Jian?”
He shrugged. “What purpose would she have to lie? There’s plenty of evidence that shows she’s a Founder which is supposed to be impossible. However, she exists, and who else besides Inari or Mia could help her advance so suddenly? You felt the power Inari infused in your tail resonate with Sora’s own power, I felt that through our link. She’s a Founder and apparently, whatever means Mia used to have a child, caused Sora to be human for a certain amount of time.”
Her ear twitched with agitation; scratching at it, she growled, “It’s so complicated! A Founder was a human … I just, what? I don’t get her!”
Jian massaged his neck for a moment, in-taking a long breath. “Perhaps we don’t need to understand her, but use this opportunity as best we can. We have actually benefited from our acquaintance with her, but at the same time, she’s paid her debt by freeing us. We freed her, and she freed us. We should discuss our next move.”
Fen bit her lower lip nervously. He’s right … Sora did owe us, but now we are even. She has that kind of goody-feel that would pay back a debt, but what happens with us now? Will they leave and we’ll part ways? I mean, we are in a much better position here than when we left Inari’s gathering. From the looks of that red gate, Long Mu won’t be able to chase after us in here. We could live our whole lives in the Vulpes Realm, and we’re much stronger than anyone so far. I mean, I’m about equal with Mimi, and she’s a four-tail, but she didn’t even use any abilities when attacking Sora … I may be even stronger than a four-tails in this realm.
“What,” she paused, licking her lips. “What do you think about living here? Long Mu can’t get to us, and we hold a lot more power than the Vulpes of this realm. You might be able to fight an eight-tails if Mimi is really that weak.”
Jian was silent for a moment as they turned down an alley, trying to move away from the large crowds. He paused halfway down the two-person lane, leaning against a building, Fen shifting opposite him. He looked up at the short overhanging roof, eyes narrow, Fen could feel him worrying about something.
“I don’t know … there are so many mysteries about this realm; you heard the conversation between Jin, Eyia, Githa, and Sora. In addition, the conversation with Mimi … there’s a lot of unknown factors about this realm. This council has me worried.”
Fen rubbed her eyes with a small groan. “Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention that much … I mean, they can’t do anything to Sora, Mimi’s scared of her and the threat of Inari and Mia. What about that conversation is worrying you so much?”
Jian folded his arms; he leaned his head back against the building, eyes closed, she felt him scanning the area for spiritual signatures. Fen pursed her lips to the side, crossing her legs as she lifted her tails to examine them. They could use a thorough cleaning; dirt, sweat, and a slight odor clung to them. Maybe I should have looked around that building for a bath … no, that Valkyrie … Eyia, was her name, right? How’s Jian so good with names? No, it was best to leave; she’s boiling about something, and I don’t want to be near that…
Fen’s large yellow eyes lifted to Jian’s face as he spoke. “From what I’ve gathered, there’s an enormous magical force powering this realm. Githa identified it somewhere in the earth; it’s powerful enough to sustain this entire realm, including the sun and moon … whatever form of space this realm is situated in, everything is energized by this. Not only that, but every single being in this realm is also drawing on this power, many Vulpes to simply survive. This is something that’s more powerful than Githa, possibly even at the level of a low Founder, perhaps, a group of elder gods or titans.”
Her face turned ashen at his explanation. “Wait, really? There’s something that powerful sustaining this realm?”
Jian nodded solemnly. “There are a lot of other issues to address, such as this council. Manipulating the weather, such as what these Vulpes have implied, is powerful magic for beings like us. They seem to be doing this across the entire world once a year. This society is also based off a power structure that holds complete authority. What are your thoughts on these Vulpes?”
Fen’s brow furrowed. What kind of question is that? What are my thoughts on these Vulpes? They’re weak. Her eyes widened. “Wait, they don’t act like Vulpes at all … the way they responded, the work they’re doing around this town … it’s like they’re whipped, broken into submission. They act like slaves, they aren’t free … but that kills Vulpes.”
“Their weak spiritual networks,” Jian stated. “Over so many generations of this society, their spirits have become weak. If Mimi were to recover, then she’d be much stronger than you, but they’ve been turned against their very nature as Vulpes. This can’t have happened in just a few generations, this must have been done for millennia, and the council is the most likely cause.”
Fen folded her left arm across her stomach and lighting bit down on her right thumbnail. “If they’re—they can’t be the cause of this place’s energy; I mean, weather manipulation is pup level compared to maintaining an entire realm. Plus, that’s only done once a year, while this sustaining force is constantly active.”
“Like I said,” Jian’s eyes shifted back to the entrance of the alley. “There are many mysteries about this realm. Dangerous mysteries. This system and the Vulpes nature seems to be a large one. They seem to worship this council as gods; Mimi only started to doubt because of her knowledge of the Capital and Sora’s feats. However, others in this community might rise up against all of us, every intruder, if we don’t play our cards right. The humans are surprisingly wise with the current affairs.”
She felt like huffing at his statement but restrained her emotions. “You honestly think those humans are worth anything? They’re just humans.”
“I haven’t had many intelligent conversations with humans,” Jian admitted, glaring at the ground. “Humans are easily manipulated and destroyed, but these humans talked about things that I hadn’t thought about … words I’ve never heard used and possible scenarios that could play out. I believe Sora is being wise in putting weight to their words. However, I also believe that there is more that needs to be done. I can sense the distress, doubt, fear, so many negative emotions sweeping the town. Not only because of my intimidation aura, but the scent of monsters. Something must be done to better introduce our presence in a positive light.”
A smile spread across Fen’s lips. “I think I know exactly how to stir things up.”
Jian frowned. “I don’t know if stirring things up would be beneficial.”
“Oh,” Fen giggled. “This is beneficial to us. So, this realm is a danger, Jian? Then we must approach this the Vulpes way. I think I can see a path opening up that will give me exactly what I want. It may cause a little trouble, but I think this is just what this realm needs. Let’s lay the foundation; the slightest touch of a natural Vulpes to set things right.”
She grinned, tails wrapping around each other as she turned to the side, head tilting to look up at her protector with a wink. “Let’s go find a rest stop for a place with all humans and a place with all Vulpes!” She moved back toward the street with a hop in her step; Jian followed but held a slight frown. “Finally, I can have some fun!”
Entering the flow of traffic again, Fen’s ears twitched slightly as she adjusted her hearing, searching for casual conversation. She found it after a minute of searching; Jian stood beside her patiently, but she could sense his unease.
Fen chuckled as she walked toward the group of people she’d found, the crowd parting for them with nervous expressions. “Have some faith in me, Jian. This is perfect for us.”
“This won’t turn out like your Long Mu plan?” Jian muttered. Thanks for the trust…
“Why would it? We needed information from Long Mu, that’s why I lied, but this time, we have the information. It’s completely different.” Fen smiled wickedly. “This is child’s play.”
She stopped in front of a large building, it was a little smaller than the place they’d been guided; this structure was less refined, but still of good quality, built with solid wood planks and a stone foundation. Opening the door, she looked around the interior; there was a large group of men and women, humans. They sat around many tables, drinking and eating as they took their break after a long days work. Perfect, it seems humans and Vulpes have segregated spaces.
The human merriment died down as she entered; Jian, ducked under the door frame to fit, standing behind her. Fen’s smile was charming as she studied the atmosphere she created. They’re cowed. It seems these Vulpes did something right, at least. However, pressure needs to be applied correctly if this is going to work. How wonderful, they’re not even willing to speak until I address them.
Tossing her hair back, twisting her tails, and holding her hands behind her back, Fen walked a little further into the room. “Excuse me, but I am new to the Vulpes Realm. My name is Fen, and what would this quaint establishment be?”
She was a little surprised how well the realm’s energy stimulated the humans, allowing them to counter Jian’s fear aura to a certain degree. The first man to speak was a man to her left, behind the bar. He bowed his head respectfully before looking at her feet. “I see. Thank you for greeting us, my lady. I have heard that there were visitors beyond the gate…” He trailed off, gaze sliding to Jian beside her.
Fen’s smile widened, feigning compassion. “Oh, dear, you don’t have to be so apprehensive. I don’t know the customs in this realm, but beyond the gate, humans rule that realm. You could see humans and Vulpes as equals.” She felt Jian stiffen beside her, understanding the direction she had stepped; his emotions flashed with warning, which made Fen’s smile grow.
There was silence as Fen let her statement sink in. This council and unknown force won’t suspect a thing. They won’t see me closing in; I’ll creep into their hearts, seeping through the cracks to poison their bones. I’ll break this system without lifting a finger, and pull out the Vulpes nature that’s been buried within, and make myself a home in these cobwebs and lies. Sora will be my salvation where her aunt failed me, and she will accept me with open arms.
The atmosphere grew deathly quiet, and after a few seconds, Fen looked around with confusion. “Did I say something wrong?”
One of the women swallowed, a shiver ran down her spine as she asked, “You—are you really beyond the gate?”
“Of course,” Fen smiled. “Would you like me to tell you a little about what’s beyond this realm?”
The man behind the counter rubbed his shoulder nervously. “Well—I don’t—Vulpes don’t normally drink or eat with us. They—usually it’s if punishment needs to be exacted.” I see so that’s why they were so stiff when I entered. This is too perfect; I bet no Vulpes has acted this way before.
“Oh?” She blinked innocently. “I apologize. Am I doing something inappropriate?” Jian’s breath was held, but he continued to present a stony demeanor beside her.
“No! Absolutely—not,” the man stammered. “Vulpes—you could—never inappropriate!”
Fen giggled. “Oh, I’m relieved!” Hand pressed to her chest, she glanced around the room. “Are you busy? I’d love to sit with you and idle, but—it looks like you just returned from the fields … I’m sure you wouldn’t want some dirty looking Vulpes like me hovering around you.” She mumbled, head drooping.
“N—no,” a woman stuttered. “If—we’d love to spend time with you.”
Fen beamed at the woman; creating the illusion of a bright aura surrounding her, she took on a sincere persona as she appraised the dumbfounded crowd. “Then I’ll gladly join.”
Gracefully walking toward a table in the back right side of the room, she sat, Jian moving to stand behind her. “Now, I don’t want to dampen the joys of being released from a hard day’s labor. How about I tell you some stories of the land beyond the gate? I understand it’s quite a mystery for you.”
A younger boy, around the age of thirteen, started to shake with excitement. “Please—please tell us the story! I’ve heard the stories of the Great Vulpes Sanctuary that houses the red gate, but it’s the first time I’ve heard humans are behind it.”
“Akemi!” One of the older men growled. “You do not address a Vulpes…”
“Oh, the boy did no harm.” Fen smiled warmly. “I’ll gladly offer you my knowledge.” She gestured to Jian behind her as she began to weave the scenery she described through illusions, illustrating her points. “This is Jian, he’s a monster from the outside world, a Bai-Hu.” A large white tiger appeared between some tables, causing the occupants to gasp at the strange creature. “There are many monsters beyond the gate and few Vulpes.”
The humans seemed enthralled as she continued to spin the story, no one daring to interrupt her. “Humanity actually ruled beyond the red gate; they have massive cities that reach high into the heavens and across the entire planet. They’ve tamed the beasts of the land and advanced in their technology; they even forced monsters into hiding and killed many for sport. You could call it a human paradise and monster hell.”
Akemi’s eyes grew big. “Are Vulpes servants?” He whispered, no one but Jian and her hearing.
“Vulpes are not servants to humans in the realm beyond the gate, but they were hunted for a time. Many of the Vulpes ran and hid away because of the human’s great power, but a shining light broke free and stopped the violence and bloodshed; a human-Vulpes, Sora, the Founder.” She beamed at the illusion of Sora that was created. “The very same Vulpes that came to this realm with me. She has extraordinary powers, and was able to bend the gate to her will!”
“She—she’s really that powerful?” Akemi asked, the entire room silently waiting for an answer.
This time, the man that scolded Akemi spoke. “She united human and Vulpes—as equals? She’s half-human and half-Vulpes?”
Fen nodded with the most sincere smile she could manage. “Oh, yes, most definitely, but,” her eyes widened. “Oh, I forgot my place!” She gasped. “I’m not to speak of these things—we are traveling in disguise, but I just feel—so comfortable around humans. We saw how oppressed you all are…”
“Oppressed?” The man behind the counter whispered. “We—no Vulpes—what does oppressed mean?”
“You poor things,” her voice rang with pity as she showed images of terrible labor. “I want nothing more than to see you enjoy everything that we Vulpes enjoy beyond the red gate. I myself was freed from oppressive human overlords by the great Founder; Sora saved both Jian and my life! If I could,” she looked down, rubbing her shoulders. “But—I’m just not strong enough.”
She quickly glanced between the humans around her, captivated by the strokes across the tapestry she crafted. “Please keep this between yourselves!” She pleaded. “As a sign of her charity and good intentions, spread the word that we are here to heal your weary and lost souls. Gather those that have injuries and seek out Sora, the Founder of Vulpes! She will heal you.”
The group was now shaking, overwhelmed by emotion as she showed a maimed person being healed by a two-tailed red furred Vulpes. “You are meant to be free,” Fen said it with such compassion that a few humans dropped to their knees, tears falling down their cheeks.
Nodding, Fen smiled at each red and hope-filled face. “I must go and prepare more. Spread the word among the humans though, I just—I can’t stand seeing you in such a hopeless state. I will bear the consequences of revealing this to you if needs be, but you are all precious souls that need the freedom of choice; who to be with, where and how long you work, what becomes of your labor, and so much more.”
She sniffed back fake tears. “Thank you—I feel so privileged to have met with you. Stay strong and hang in there. There will be a sign when you know to rise up for your liberty, but until then—prepare, for that day and the day of healing, for that will be your sign of our great goddess Sora, the Founder of Vulpes has come to deliver you from bondage.”
Fen spent a little longer with each of the humans, expressing her sympathies and listening to a few of their troubles; it was difficult to hear them moan about their insignificant lives, but her plan had succeeded more than she could have dreamed. Leaving the bar, Fen smiled wickedly up ahead as she began searching for a Vulpes only resting spot.
She could tell Jian’s face was pale, even if others would hardly notice a change in him. “Fen, you can’t mean—are you really going through with this?”
“Of course,” Fen smirked. “This is how I get everything I want. Now, let’s go talk to the Vulpes and paint them an image of Inari and what Sora can do for them. How will the Vulpes of this realm take the news of Founders and the gifts they can bestow?”
Jian swallowed nervously. “Greed and envy are powerful tools, but planting hope…”
Fen giggled at his statement. “We’re only getting started.”