When Levinson dragged Seo-yun to the other room and pushed her onto the bed, she was certain that she was seconds away from being raped, eaten, or both. To her surprise and wary relief, neither happened. The blond man seemed to have calmed down thanks to Crikey’s interruption, and was no longer seething with bloodlust. Instead of pouncing on her to rip her apart, he paced around the room, saying nothing for a long time. While she wasn’t in any hurry to be tortured and violated by him, the behavior frightened her. Her knowledge from Morris told her the man was a brute who usually operated on pure instinct and emotion. He was violent, cruel, and fairly predictable. When he started thinking, though, that was when he became truly dangerous.
Finally, he came to a stop. “You almost got away with it,” he said. His tone was uncharacteristically soft, almost conversational. “I had every intention of killing the fox cunt back there, and if not for Tanya, I would be furious with myself right now for not noticing in time. But thanks to the little brat, your ploy failed, and I won’t give you a chance like that again.”
“I don’t know what you-“
“Shut up!” Levinson roared. Then, more quietly, “I wasn’t talking to you.” He resumed pacing again. “I should have realized the truth the moment I saw that slut fighting the phoenix. I’ve seen you spar before, and I knew that something about the way she moved looked familiar. But right after that, I had my hands full with the winter bitch and my new pet, and it slipped my mind. Still, I’d been wondering this whole time: how did that pathetic fox find her spine again? What happened after I sold her?” He laughed. “I never would have guessed that it happened under my very nose! You always were a smart one, Morris, I’ll give you that.”
Seo-yun flinched at the name. “I-“
This time Levinson grabbed her by the throat, choking her. “I don’t want to hear another word out of your mouth, animal,” he said coldly. “We all know you’re just a worthless fucktoy. It’s that traitor hiding inside your husk that I care about.” He looked deep into her eyes. “I know you can hear me, Morris, can’t you? And I know you care about this furry fleshlight you’ve been living in. So listen closely: I’m not going to kill her. No matter how much she begs. Not until I’m done with you. I’m going to take her back home with me, and we’re going to find out all of your secrets. I will personally vivisect her alive to find out how you did this. So I suggest you take all that smartness of yours and spend the next few days thinking very hard on how you’re going to communicate everything I want to know. If you can be a good little bitch, maybe your old pal Matt will even show some mercy and let the both of you die.”
He let go of her finally, and she had a small coughing fit while he rolled her over onto all fours. “For now, Morris,” he said, “you can watch while I rape your fox friend up the ass.” There were several disgusting noises behind her, and then a pair of fox paws slammed down on the bed next to her head, and she felt the gargantuan prick that had tortured her for hours rub up against her ass crack. His head came down between her neck and shoulder to lick at her hanging breasts. “And there’s no reason I can’t have a snack or two while I enjoy her,” he growled.
Seo-yun braced herself for the torture that was about to come, his cock already pushing against her tight anal ring.
And then the floor gave out from underneath them.
It all happened in the course of a couple seconds, catching both of them completely by surprise. There was a deafeningly loud sound from outside the room, a huge crack tore across the ground, and then they were falling. Seo-yun tumbled down for long seconds before the bed she was on smacked into something springy that arrested its fall. Dazed, she looked around, and went pale when she realized where she was: the arena that had claimed two of them yesterday.
There was no sign of Levinson anymore. Had he fallen between the webs? There was no one in her immediate vicinity, but her ears picked up voices of panicked partygoers and slaves in the distance. Seo-yun twisted around in her bonds to look below the webs and confirmed what her ears were already telling her: the spiders were waking up. There was a shifting, writhing mass of them just beneath.
She flinched, expecting them to rise up and overwhelm her in seconds, but they were moving toward the voices, not her. There were hundreds of potential egg sacs running around out there making noise, and every spider wanted to find one for herself before they were all filled up. That didn’t mean Seo-yun was safe, though. They’d get around to her eventually, and then it would be a repeat of yesterday’s nightmare. Except this time there was no Sam to help her, no Betty, and she was hogtied and helpless.
The red haired fox woman strained against the steel cords binding her wrists, but they didn’t give in the slightest. Of course they didn’t; Levinson had brought them just for her, and he’d already known about her new strength. She tried again, and didn’t accomplish anything but getting her arms bloody before she gave up. It was useless. She was useless. She slumped down onto her side, one cheek pressed against the sheets, and let herself cry a little. She was tired, and scared, and everything Levinson had done to her still hurt so much. She was tempted to just close her eyes and sleep. She was so weary that spiders might not even wake her up when they came for her.
The vicious, violent way he’d raped her hadn’t even been the worst part of the experience. He might not have been a gumiho, but she’d recognized the yeowu guseul‘s hunger in him, and now knew firsthand what it felt like to be on the other side of it. She hadn’t violated or degraded her victims the way he did, but she had feasted on them, and even more brutally than he did. She had learned how to make a human last, prolonging her meal for days while they begged her for death. How many people had died cursing her? How many had suffered even worse pain than anything Levinson had ever done to her? Being raped by the werefox had thrown all of her sins back in her face. Maybe it was for the best that her life was going to end down here.
Something caught her eye: a bit of fur beneath the webs. Levinson must have fallen down there after all. She was too drained to even feel happiness at knowing the man was going to die down here along with everyone else. Except… Levinson’s fur had been as red as hers used to be. As red as her father’s. There wasn’t much light in the arena, and it was difficult to make out color, but what she was looking at wasn’t red. It was black.
Seo-yun stared in horror at the dangling cocoon just a few feet away from her. Now that she knew what she was looking at, she recognized Snowflake’s shape in it. The woman had been trapped in there for an entire day now. Was she even still alive? The fox didn’t know which answer would be kinder. She stared at her own future, hers and everyone else who had fallen down here. Even the slavers didn’t deserve something like this.
It all felt so pointless. She’d met so many new people these last few days. Some of them had been kinder than others, but they’d all been joined together by their shared circumstances. They’d all been her allies, in one way or another, and Seo-yun had been forced to see horrible things happen to all of them. The Paradisium Game had been misery after misery piled upon people whose biggest sin was just trying to survive the hand they’d been dealt. And now all of that suffering had led them here, where they would die in the dark, their lives rendered meaningless. A final grisly, senseless tragedy.
A morbid thought struck her, and provoked a bitter laugh from her crying, bloody frame. Why was she even surprised? This was no different from the rest of her life: people were in trouble, and she couldn’t help them. She’d seen variations of the same story play out again and again, and every time she was just as useless as before. Morris was the same way; they were in sync even in their despair. This time would be no different from all the others. She should just- no!
Seo-yun shook her head in frustration. This time was different! She was different! She felt Morris resist her, trying to drag her back down into hopelessness with him, but she fought him, her body shaking and sweating from the strain. She’d always been alone, ever since her parents’ deaths. Even when the village was still around, she’d kept herself isolated, cut herself off from the people she’d cared about. She’d gone through life carrying nothing but the weight of every past mistake and failure and moment of weakness on her back, and hating herself more for each stumble.
But she wasn’t alone anymore. She’d made friends while she was here. She’d learned that there were kindred spirits who were suffering just like she was. She’d let herself care about other people again, people that she would give anything to protect.
The fox strained against the cords again, putting everything she had into it. Blood flowed freely from her wrists where the steel bit into them. Come on, Morris, she pleaded. We’re not going to let it happen this time. No more lying helpless while Sam gets raped. No more watching good people like Betty sacrifice themselves for us. And no more excuses about being monsters. We’ve both committed enough sins to damn us forever, but that’s not a reason to do nothing at all.
She felt her own bones start to give way instead of the steel. If she kept this up, she was going to rip her own hands off. She pushed harder anyway. The two of them had spent their entire lives enduring everything the world had to throw at them. It was time to do more than just endure. It was time to fight back. For the sake of every woman down here who’d suffered this week. For Sam’s sake. For Betty’s sake. For Camiel’s and Astaria’s. For the sake of a pair of red and white foxes who would never forgive her for what she’d done, but whose legacy she had vowed to protect. For Morris’s sake. For her own.
The steel cords around her wrists bent and crumbled under her power like old autumn leaves.
Seo-yun didn’t have time to appreciate the miracle. She had people to help. She quickly undid the rest of the cords and rose to her feet to get started. The nogitsune cocoon was heavy, but her tails managed to pull it up from under the web. The fox tore at the webbing, praying that she wasn’t too late.
Snowflake’s ice blue eyes blinked slowly as the webbing covering her face came away, and then they focused on Seo-yun. There was pain and weariness in them that she hadn’t seen before, but there was also the familiar anger, tempered only slightly by confusion. The woman was trying to say something, but her mouth was packed so tightly with eggs that even without the gag in the way they didn’t tumble out. Fire. Seo-yun needed fire.
The furniture from the bedroom had fallen down along with everything else, and most of it was large enough to have been caught by the webs. Seo-yun tore open the drawers to the dresser and nightstand. The room had looked just like something out of a fancy hotel, and maybe that meant it also had… yes! The redhead grabbed the matchbook, green with an intricate dragon’s head on the cover. “This is going to be unpleasant,” she told Snowflake, and lit a match.
Once it was over, Snowflake spat liquefied eggs out, and soon as one of her arms were free, she jabbed her fingers into the back of her mouth to make herself throw up. More bits of eggshell came out, along with small dark lumps that Seo-yun tried not to look too hard at. “Wh… why?” the nogitsune rasped after she’d spat more goo out.
“Because you needed me,” Seo-yun said, kneeling down to start pulling away the rest of the webbing.
Snowflake made an ugly croaking sound that was supposed to be a laugh. “Spare me your pity, freak. I never asked for your help.”
“Too bad. If you don’t like it, I can’t stop you from jumping back down there. The spiders will have you cocooned again before you know it.”
Snowflake didn’t respond for a moment, then she slapped Seo-yun’s hands away so she could rip the rest of the webbing off by herself. “If you think this will make me apologize-“
“I don’t,” said Seo-yun, cutting her off. “I know what you are, Snowflake. And I know what I am: a person who can’t leave someone like that when I have the power to help. You can get angry with me, you can resent me, I really don’t care. I’m not going to deny who I am for you. You aren’t worth that.” She stood up and pulled the nogitsune to her feet with her.
The dark haired fox scowled. “Don’t call me Snowflake,” she spat. “At least getting eliminated means I can stop using that stupid fucking nickname he gave me. My name is Yuki.”
“And mine isn’t freak, it’s Seo-yun. Now, are you going to help me save the others or not?”
“What?” Yuki asked incredulously. “Why the hell would I ever do something like that?”
Seo-yun shrugged. “Perhaps you’re getting sick of being what you are.”
A flurry of emotions that the fox couldn’t identify flickered across Yuki’s face before settling on anger. “Listen to me,” the nogitsune hissed. “You self-righteous little-” She suddenly pushed Seo-yun with both hands. Caught off guard, the redhead lost her balance, and fell between the webs.
She’d barely started falling when one of Yuki’s tails whipped around her neck to catch her. For a moment she thought the woman was actually trying to save her, until the tail tightened to cut off her oxygen. Seo-yun grabbed at it, trying to rip it off, but the nogitsune held on firmly, choking her so tightly that she couldn’t even speak.
Their silent struggle had gone on for less than ten seconds when the stench finally cut through everything else: death. Seo-yun froze.
“Oh,” said a voice sourly. “It’s just you, whore.” The one the Wilmingshires had called Mordred drew near, bringing the stench with him. Seo-yun had glimpsed him a couple times at the party, but thankfully he’d never gone near her. The aura around him was so foul that she was almost glad Levinson had grabbed her before this creature took the opportunity to use her. “How did you get out?”
Yuki knelt on the ground directly above where Seo-yun hung, blocking the fox from being seen. Her body still thrummed with tension and rage, but her tone was formal and submissive. “I was able to escape after the second hatching, Master Mordred. The spiders chewed away enough of the cocoon on their way… out.”
The man shaped thing grunted. “With the Wilmingshires dead, I thought this would be a good opportunity to pick up a new furry cum dump.” He sniffed the air. “Was she here?” he asked.
“No, Master Mordred,” Yuki said. “I haven’t seen anyone since I got out.”
Mordred sniffed the air again, scowling. “I’m certain that smell…” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Now that you’re no longer a nine tailed egg sac, I suppose I might as well get back to beating you half to death and drowning you in my cum every day. What do you think of that, slut?”
“I live to serve, Master Mordred,” the nogitsune said, and this time she couldn’t entirely hide the anger in her voice. The reaction seemed to please her owner, though, and he smirked at her.
“You live to suffer, bitch,” he told her. “And to be food. Maybe this is for the best after all. Now I’ll get to enjoy your punishment from up close. But first, let’s get out of here so you can show me how much you’ve missed me.” He turned and began walking away without looking to see if she was following.
Yuki hurried after him, but not before dragging Seo-yun up high enough that the fox could grab hold of the webs, and then releasing the grip on her throat. Mordred spared a single disapproving glance back at the dark haired woman and she meekly sank to her hands and knees, crawling as she continued to follow. By the time Seo-yun had caught her breath and climbed back on top of the web, both of them had vanished over a hill.
She considered going after them, but it was a bad idea. The Mordred thing was dangerous enough that even Yuki of all people had tried to protect her from him. If he could engender that much fear in a nogitsune, a tired and bloodied kitsune wasn’t going to have much luck, special powers or no. Besides, she had a feeling that the spiders weren’t going to cause him, or by extension Yuki, much trouble. There were other people around who needed her more, and the pair had been heading away from everyone else, not towards them.
Seo-yun dashed towards the distant screams instead.
Levinson loped across the bizarre landscape, mentally cursing Tanya’s name. He was going to have some strong words with that girl if they both made it out of this alive. He’d been forced to abandon the fox cunt in his haste, and the stupid creature was probably already getting herself packed full of eggs again. The loss galled him, but there were bigger priorities than her.
He’d already been running for god knew how long, trying to find Ilya. The enhanced senses of a vulpan didn’t mean much when everything reeked of spiders, and all the hills and valleys and walls left every vantage point riddled with blind spots. He’d been reduced to sprinting every which way, trying to spot the old man before it was too late.
Just as he was beginning to get worried, his search finally ended, and not a minute too soon. Most of the spiders he’d come across had been headed towards the elevator shaft, but not all, and these four had chosen to go their own way and pick off Ilya. They were scurrying towards him in a pack as the naked man did his best to dash from web to web trying to keep some distance between them. He was limber for his age, and the way he moved skillful, but Levinson could already smell the sweat on him and see the exhaustion in his movements.
The werefox ran right past the man and rammed into the first spider, tearing it to pieces within moments. Two of the others fell upon him, while the fourth continued to chase after Ilya. By the time Levinson had dealt with them, the man was busy beating that one to death with one of its own legs. “I appreciate the concern,” said the dark haired man as he finished the creature off, “but I am not that old yet. I don’t need to be rescued like some damsel in distress.”
Levinson snorted. “Is that why you were in the middle of running for your life?”
“I had it under control,” Ilya insisted. “Have you seen Tanya?”
“Not yet,” Levinson muttered. “Did she warn you that this was going to happen?”
Ilya sighed, though his tone was more amused than anything else. “You know your sister’s sense of humor. She enjoys surprises.”
That was certainly true. If she already knew that they were going to be okay, not giving them any forewarning was exactly the sort of thing Tanya found hilarious. On the one hand, that meant they probably weren’t in any real danger. On the other… he grit his teeth. He was definitely going to have a word with that brat later.
“Come on, then,” Ilya beckoned. “The Paradisium should be sending security down here eventually to help evacuate, but it’ll take some time. We need to go help the others.”
“Why?” Levinson asked. “They’re all competition at best, enemies at worst. The spiders can have the lot of them as far as I care. Probably already do.”
“Because,” Ilya said slowly, as though he was lecturing a small child, “I saw a giant winged fox monstrosity on the way down. When this is all over, Karakostas is going to want to discuss the fact that my idiot daughter went and got some of his customers and their property slaughtered, and I’d like to have some good deeds to point to that will persuade him not to rip my head off.” He turned and began heading to the elevator without waiting for a response.
“Wait, you saw what?”
“Ask Tanya when you find her,” Ilya said sourly, though there was still a hint of amusement to it. “I’m pretty sure it was entirely her idea.”
Cursing the girl even more fiercely than before, Levinson followed after his father.
It was pure chaos by the elevator shaft. Partygoers were running every which way in complete panic, trying to flee the spiders. Ironically, their attempts to escape were just making them more likely to be targeted. The arachnids were in almost as much of a frenzy themselves, eager to claim one of the limited incubators before they all ran out. The slaves that couldn’t move, and therefore weren’t causing vibrations, were being mostly ignored by them in favor of more visible prey. Mostly. As Seo-yun sprinted closer, she saw multiple women covered in webbing and impaled on ovipositors, and she was certain that there were more among the moaning and shaking cocoons that now dotted the area.
Not everyone was just running. An enormous green dragon could be seen below the webs, stomping and roaring. There was a great hole in the nearby webbing where he must have broken through on his way down. He was in a veritable sea of spiders, and his every movement crushed and ripped apart more of them. His presence was the only reason every person there hadn’t already been overwhelmed. The vast majority of the arachnids had focused on dealing with him first, and it was only the opportunistic ones that chased after the others.
The only other person having any luck defending themselves was Sindak, but unlike the dragon, the efreet seemed uninterested in engaging. He hovered above the webs enshrouded in a sphere of flame, and from what little Seo-yun could see of his expression, he looked excited instead of scared or angry, happily watching the carnage beneath him without lifting a finger to assist.
Seo-yun glanced upwards at the massive hole above them. It looked like the entire ballroom had collapsed. No, not all; at the edge of the hole, a woman in a koala mask was leaning over, watching the chaos and death below. Crikey waved cheerfully at the fox when she saw her looking up in her direction. “That fall looked even more fun than the last!” she called out, her voice tinny and distant. “You’re all making me jealous!”
“Help me! Help!” screamed a familiar voice from much closer. Vin Emmeck clutched at the webs, the lower half of his body hanging below them. His bright frilly clothing was ripped and dirty, and a cut on his forehead had left his face covered in blood. “Please! Somebody!” People ran past as him as he screamed, ignoring him in favor of their own survival. He was trying to pull himself up, but something below had him, and it was all he could to keep clinging to the webbing to avoid being dragged down.
He grabbed at a man’s leg, and its owner screamed and kicked at him before running off, not even bothering to look down at what had touched him. “Someone help me!” Emmeck begged, desperate to gain the attention of anyone that might rescue him. “You have to-” The webbing he’d been holding onto ripped in half, and he was pulled down and out of sight into the churning sea below, the future incubator’s cries still echoing.
There was too much going on for Seo-yun to carefully evaluate the best course of action, so she just ran for the nearest slave under attack. The spider was so focused on getting every last egg into the blue-haired woman’s stomach that it made no attempt to defend itself or evade the fox’s attack. She ripped the ovipositor right off of it, eggs spilling out, and rammed the thing up into the creature’s abdomen far enough that the end came out the top. Its legs jerked and flailed wildly as its own brain was impaled by the metallic rod, and then it crumpled.
Seo-yun knelt by the woman and dug out another match. “Brace yourself,” she told her. She didn’t know what race the woman was or if she could survive the cleansing process, but they didn’t have a lot of options. Even being burned alive from the inside would be a kinder fate than what would happen if those eggs weren’t destroyed.
Thankfully, it seemed painful but not overly debilitating. The woman coughed and spat afterward, then turned her head to be violently ill. “Th-thank you,” she said, still shaking with fear. “I-I couldn’t… it…”
“I know,” the fox told her. “I know. You’re okay.” She didn’t voice the “for now”, but she knew they were both thinking it. If Seo-yun left the woman alone, she’d be as vulnerable as before, but she couldn’t very well just drag her along either.
“With me,” said a quiet voice. Seo-yun looked up sharply to see a green haired woman in an emerald dress cut so low that it couldn’t contain her cleavage. It was a lovely dress despite that, but the collar around her throat and the letters carved into her forehead made it clear what her status was here.
“Delphyne!” Seo-yun said, relieved to see her friend alive.
The dragon spared her a small smile, though it was marred by her obvious exhaustion. “It is Astaria now,” she said, her voice still quiet. “And it is good to see you as well…”
“Seo-yun,” the fox supplied.
“Yes, it is good to see you, Seo-yun. Please, bring Frostfall with me, quickly.” She indicated a group of about twenty slaves huddled together some distance away. Though they possessed no weapons, they were handling themselves far better than the panicked partygoers. They’d divided themselves into three loose concentric circles. The injured women were huddled in the innermost circle, where they would be safer, while the most physically capable formed a loose perimeter to guard everyone. Some of them were bleeding heavily, and the fox saw one woman lying still on the ground, but there were also three dead spiders and no nearby cocoons.
Seo-yun nodded, helping the blue-haired woman stand so they could follow Astaria. “Did you see what happened?” Seo-yun asked as they walked, wrapping a tail around Frostfall to keep the unsteady woman on her feet as they navigated the webs.
Astaria nodded grimly and gave her a condensed explanation of what had happened above that led to the floor collapsing. As she talked, her voice remained small and even, showing little emotion, and Seo-yun realized it was because the woman was keeping herself to small, shallow breaths that didn’t allow much allowance for talk. “Nadia took flight and disappeared shortly after the fall,” she finished. “Did you see her anywhere?”
Seo-yun shook her head. Nadia was a mystery she didn’t have the time or interest to ponder, not when there was a more pressing matter. “Where is Sa-Ember? Is she safe?”
“I cannot declare any of us safe yet, but she is alive. She was injured, both by the attack and by the abuse she received beforehand.”
As they neared the group, Seo-yun finally caught sight of the phoenix. She was slumped down among the injured, her body covered with burns, cradling her side like something was broken there. When her eyes met Seo-yun’s though, they lit up, and the redhead began trying to struggle to her feet, the movement obviously causing her great pain.
“What are you doing?” the fox hissed, releasing Frostfall and rushing to her. “You’re hurt! Stay back down!”
Samantha ignored her complaints, a wide smile on her face, and threw her arms around her. “Oh God, I’m so glad you’re okay,” she breathed. “When I didn’t see you here, I got worried you’d died in the fall or something.”
Seo-yun wanted to yell at the woman some more, but the hug felt too good. She embraced Sam instead, trying not to hurt her in the process. “I missed you too!” she said. “What did they do to you?!”
“Nothing important,” Samantha said. “Nothing I couldn’t survive. What happened to you? You look…”
“Like I have been chewed up and spat out?” the fox asked. The bite and claw marks from Levinson were closing, but not gone, and her insides still felt as though he had tried to root a tree in them.
“No! I mean, yeah, but you look good.”
Despite all the pain and fear, Seo-yun felt a smile creep onto her face. “I worked through a couple things, I think.” She hesitated. “I want to tell you all about them, but right now I have to…”
Samantha smiled back. “Help people, right?” She gave the fox a quick kiss. “Get to it, then. I’ll be okay over here.”
Seo-yun forced herself to turn away, but not before giving the woman a final lingering look. She scanned the area for Astaria, and found the green-haired woman dragging an unconscious slave towards the relative safety of the group. Her progress was slowed by the need to stop every few moments to catch her breath. Seo-yun hurried over to lend a hand. “You’re the one who organized everyone like this, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Someone had to,” Astaria said simply, as though it wasn’t anything worth praising. “I can’t fight without-” Her hand touched the collar at her throat, and a look of frustration replaced her previously calm features. She closed her eyes and took a slow, deliberate breath before opening them again, her expression placid once more. “But I can do this.”
“Well, all I can do is fight,” Seo-yun said. “So point the way.”
Astaria did just that, indicating towards the south without hesitation. “I saw Iolanthe attacked a few minutes ago over there,” she said. “The spiders are in the middle of implanting her, but peris are sturdy and strong. If you can get her free, she should be able to help with the defense.” She pointed northeast. “After that, there’s a group of six spiders that need to be dealt with. They’re busy making use of two slave owners right now, but it’s only a matter of time before they realize that there aren’t enough holes for all of them, and then they’re going to go looking for more unless they’re stopped. After that…”
Seo-yun got to work.
Time passed in a blur. Looking back, the entire ordeal took less than half an hour, but it felt far longer while she was in the middle of it. There seemed to be no end of tasks. No matter how many arachnids she killed or women she protected, Astaria always had something else for her to do. She did more than just follow the woman’s orders; if Seo-yun saw someone nearby that needed help, she didn’t hesitate. It wasn’t only slaves that received her assistance, though she prioritized them over the others. If she saw a slave owner fleeing from a spider, she’d save them just as readily. The first time she did that, she expected to see disapproval from Astaria, but the woman said nothing about it. Following that, though, the dragon’s list of tasks included rescuing owners as well.
Despite all her best efforts, she was fighting a losing battle. Every spider that was killed was replaced by three more, and it was the stupid and impatient ones that died from blindly charging in one or two at a time, leaving behind the more cunning ones. The surviving arachnids quickly figured out that they were vulnerable while implanting their eggs, and began dragging their victims away instead, disappearing behind the front lines to find a place where they could turn them into cocooned egg sacs without any interruptions. Sometimes Seo-yun was able to act quick enough to intercept their targets and rescue them before they could be abducted, but not always.
“They are staging an ambush from above,” said a woman’s voice in her ear. Her tone was calm and collected, and for just a moment Seo-yun thought it was Celeste, but the voice was one she’d never heard before. “Through the hole in the ceiling.” The fox looked up and saw what the unknown speaker meant. One enterprising group of spiders had climbed all the way up, past the arena ceiling and into the ballroom above, and were now lowering themselves down, right over the center of the injured.
The message must have gone out to all the remaining receivers, because Sam was looking at them too. “Heads up!” she yelled, and scrambled to her feet. She pushed another woman away just before a falling glob of web spit struck the spot where she’d been standing. More spit began to rain down on the incapacitated women, and some of the spiders began quickly climbing back up their lines, hauling their stolen catches with them. Most of the slaves strong enough to fight dashed into the center to save as many as they could.
Seo-yun turned back to assist as well, but the slaves weren’t the only ones who had noticed the spiders’ descent. Seven of their brethren were using it as an opportunity to smash into the perimeter as a unified group while the makeshift guardians were distracted. The redhead saw with horror that the two-pronged attack was going to be more than successful. The entire defensive line buckled, unable to defend against so many all at once. In a matter of moments, three women were pinned to the ground by web spit and a fourth was being dragged away kicking and screaming. Their entire flank was now exposed and helpless.
There was no way Seo-yun could fend off that many arachnids by herself, but that wasn’t going to stop her from trying. She bounded towards them, still holding the ovipositor she’d been using as an improvised spear. She took a long jump, using the springiness of the webs to launch herself, and landed atop the one hauling away one of the slaves. She plunged the ovipositor tip straight down through the top of its head, killing the creature instantly, and then yanked it out and rolled off the spider before its companions could plaster her with their webbing. Its captive was partially wrapped up and Seo-yun couldn’t spare the time to free her, so she dropped her spear and picked the woman up with both hands instead, then said a silent apology and flung her towards safety. Her bound form landed near some of the other women, and they began tearing off the web spit.
Seo-yun couldn’t spare any attention on the woman’s fate. She caught a flicker of movement below her, and dodged out of the way, narrowly avoiding an attack from a spider lurking below the strands. Its ambush foiled, it climbed up to face her head on, four others joining it. Again they demonstrated that they were more than simple beasts, because while the fox was able to avoid the next volley of web spit, not all of it was aimed at her. Three of the spiders targeted her spear instead, burying it in goo. Seo-yun had been holding the line by herself for less than a minute, and already she’d lost her only weapon and her number of opponents had nearly doubled.
They came at her from all sides, and she had a moment of relief when she saw that they were focusing on her and not the defenseless others. In the long run, it was bad news: it meant that they were cunning enough to realize that she was their biggest threat right now. Instead of snatching what they could and fleeing, they wanted to bring her down so they could capture everyone. In the short term, though, she was successfully distracting them and protecting everyone else. Now she just had to not die.
She didn’t bother trying to kill her opponents. There were too many of them for that. Instead, as she frantically blocked and dodged their grasping attacks, she did what she could to cripple them, snapping off claws and breaking any leg whose owner was foolish enough to let her grab it. Whether there was eleven of them or a thousand, only so many could attack her at the same time, and if the ones nearest her were clumsy and weakened, it didn’t matter how many healthy ones were stuck waiting for an opening.
It worked, for a little while. They quickly stopped trying to spit webbing at her after some of them got their own legs pinned down by friendly fire and discovered how easy it was for her to tear a trapped leg right off. But she was fighting a losing battle. She was bleeding in a hundred different places where their claws had broken her skin, and there was too much venom in her system now for her to ignore. With every passing second, it felt like someone was strapping more weights onto her limbs. She wasn’t even sure if it was the poison draining her strength or simple blood loss. Either way, she soon collapsed to the ground, unable to move, let alone fight back. The spiders tore into her, eager to kill the only one standing in their way.
And then she wasn’t the only one anymore.
A spider screeched as green hands grabbed two of its legs and effortlessly hoisted it into the air. Most of Storm Hag’s fingers were broken, but that didn’t stop her from smashing the arachnid down onto another like a club, killing them both and spraying black spider blood everywhere. She tossed the mangled corpse to the side, knocking three spiders over into a tangle of writhing limbs. Another made the mistake of charging at her head on, and was ripped in half for it. The woman’s eyes were still glassy and hollow, but something stirred within them as she threw herself into the fray.
Most of the spiders weren’t paying attention to Seo-yun now, focused on addressing this newest threat, but not all. Two of them ignored Storm Hag to encase Seo-yun in spit instead, seizing the opportunity that had been handed to them. The helpless fox laid on her side, paralyzed and bound, as a pair of ovipositors poked and rubbed at her body, hunting for the orifices that could be stuffed with eggs once again. She felt the sharp tip of one nick her pussy lips before sinking into her body, thrusting forward until it hit her cervix and pierced through it. At the same time, the other spider was forcing its own ovipositor down her throat, traveling deep into her gullet on its way to make her stomach bloat and swell with its young.
Then it screeched and yanked its ovipositor out of her mouth so roughly that it bruised the inside of her throat in the process. A second later, the one in her womb did the same. Seo-yun laid there, confused, until something hard touched her side. She shuddered at first, mistaking it for one of the ovipositors returning, but it was something else. Something warm, and that warmth radiated from the point of contact until it filled her entire body, washing away the weariness. The feeling lasted only a few meager seconds, but when it was gone, her wounds were partially healed, and the sense of paralysis had vanished. “That was all I had left,” said a tired voice from above her. “I am sorry.”
The spiders hadn’t encased Seo-yun heavily, intending to drag her away once they were done implanting, and now that she could move again, the fox could tear off what was there. She rose to her feet to see the orange haired giant that had saved her. Du Jiao Shou’s face was strained and pale, and a flickering light emanated from her broken horn. Even as the redhead watched, it faded away completely. “That was more than enough,” Seo-yun said sincerely. “Thank you.”
The qilin nodded stiffly. Beside her was what was left of the two spiders that had sought to use Seo-yun, both of them mangled and destroyed. “If you are feeling well enough to fight, I believe the river hag could use both our assistance.” Seo-yun could see Storm Hag still engaging the other spiders. She was panting heavily and bleeding, and it looked like one of her arms was broken, but… the woman used another arachnid corpse to block a blast of web spit from a spider, then swept the creature’s legs out from under it while bellowing a war cry. If the fox didn’t know better, she’d think the woman was having fun.
Du Jiao Shou hesitated. “Are you… cognizant that you have another person inside you?” she asked.
Seo-yun couldn’t stop her lips from twitching up into a smile. “Yes, I am, actually.” She bent down and twisted the ovipositor off one of the dead spiders. She’d have to try and make this one last a little longer. “Come on.”
It was far from her last exchange with the spiders that day. Every battle ended in victory, but they all carried a toll. The women were rapidly becoming exhausted and wounded, while the spiders’ numbers only continued to swell as more and more arrived from the far corners of the arena to try their luck. The line threatened to collapse with every new assault, and both sides knew the stalemate couldn’t last much longer. Seo-yun could only pray that whatever assistance had to be coming from the Paradisium would arrive before things got any worse.
“Seo-y-!” the fox heard Astaria scream, her voice uncharacteristically loud before it cut off. Seo-yun looked to see the green-haired woman collapsed on the webs, choking and twisting. Before she could move to help, she saw what had made the dragon panic so. It was almost a compliment: the spiders had decided that they were as dangerous a threat as Karakostas. It wasn’t simply an opportunistic band of web crawlers headed their way. Seo-yun counted at least two hundred rushing at them like a tidal wave. As tired and battered as she and the others were now, even a tenth that number would’ve spelled almost certain doom.
All of the slaves that could still fight and many that couldn’t stepped up to form a ragged line to intercept them. The survivors of the Paradisium Game were a far cry from the kneeling, prettied up fucktoys that she’d seen and been a part of on her first day here. Not a single person was untouched from the battle, or the ordeals that had led up to it. Everyone was bloodied and exhausted and their expressions held no hope or optimism. They all knew that they had no chance of surviving against so many. But they stood together anyway; they weren’t going to make it easy.
Samantha was there too, and she leaned against Seo-yun’s shoulder as they both watched death approach. “Well,” the redhead said dryly, “as far as last stands go, I can think of worse company. So what do you think of the Paradisium Game, now that we’re at the finish line?”
“I think I’d rather be playing that foosball game instead,” Seo-yun told her.
Sam laughed. “Yeah, me too. Kiss for the road?”
The webs beneath them were shaking under the weight of the approaching horde as Seo-yun tilted her head down to taste the woman’s lips for the last time. She closed her eyes and basked in the contact. What happened next would be painful and slow, but it couldn’t touch the memory of this moment, or the others that they’d shared. She’d take them with her all the way to the end and whatever came after.
A few seconds into the kiss, Sam pulled her head back. “Is that a fox?”
From off to the side, a streak of red moved across the battlefield towards the oncoming horde. “No,” Seo-yun said grimly, feeling conflicted emotions at the sight. “That’s Levinson.”
The werefox bowled right into the spiders without stopping, vanishing into the writhing field of legs. For a few seconds, they kept right on moving as though they hadn’t even noticed the attacker, but then the entire group wavered. It almost seemed to be imploding as all the spiders at the outer edges began closing in on the center. Another minute and the formation collapsed, arachnids scattering away from Levinson as the red fox continued to tear through them, leaving a small mountain of corpses in his wake. For all that she was glad to be rid of the yeowu guseul and its hunger, Seo-yun still felt a pang of jealousy at the sight of its power. That had been hers once.
Some of the people watching were cheering him on, and the sound it made her stomach twist. Of all the indignities she’d suffered under his cruelty, she’d never anticipated having to owe him her life as well. Levinson was both more monstrous and more vile than any of the skittering creatures he fought, but the others didn’t know or care about any of that. They just saw a savior.
Not a very competent one, though. His appearance only bought them a few extra minutes. The group began to reform past him, still well over one hundred strong and headed in their direction. More than enough to wipe out every owner and slave here. The werefox tried to follow, but those that were still behind blocked him with their bodies. They weren’t even trying to fight him anymore, only to impede his movements, sacrificing themselves to keep him entangled.
This horde wasn’t looking for incubators, Seo-yun realized. They were too coordinated for that, too cooperative, for such a self-interested goal. No, these ones were hungry. The Paradisium had left them down here to starve, and they were intelligent enough to know it. Seo-yun and the others represented their clan’s last hope of survival, and they’d do anything for that, even throw themselves into the jaws of an angry fox. The realization made her uneasy. These creatures were victims too, as much as any collared slave. But empathizing with them wasn’t going to stop them from devouring every person they could find.
The cheering and applause faded as everyone else figured out that their deaths had merely been delayed by the surprise appearance. Seo-yun consoled herself with the knowledge that at least she wouldn’t have to be grateful to the man now.
The elevator doors opened.
Five more foxes bounded out, led by the golden one at their center. Massive and nine-tailed, they met the approaching mass and punched right through it. The webbing the spiders shot at them didn’t even slow them down, and their claws tore the creatures into shreds with seemingly no effort, tails whipping to toss the arachnids around like toys. Seo-yun gaped at the sight. This was more foxes than she’d ever seen in her life, and they were clearly more powerful than kitsune. Was it an entire pack of gumiho? She hadn’t even imagined it was possible. Every gumiho she’d ever heard about had been as solitary as… well, as solitary as her.
In mere moments the spiders had been dealt with. Levinson trotted to join the others, and Seo-yun saw their leader casually cuff him before all six loped towards the survivors. There were a couple screams as they approached, but as they got closer their forms warped, becoming human. They closed the distance as six uniformed Paradisium guards.
“Everyone evacuate to the elevator in an orderly fashion,” announced the red haired leader of the pack. “My men and I are here to guard the way and make sure none of those… whatevers try to hitch a ride.”
People began to swarm towards the exit, the air filled with shouts of gratitude and relief. For a little while, slaves and owners were united in their feelings. “That was some good work, Yip Yip,” Sam said, still leaning on her shoulder for support.
Seo-yun snorted, her heart still pounding from adrenaline. “You should be thanking those other foxes, whoever they are, not me. We’d all be dead or worse if they hadn’t shown up.”
Samantha rolled her eyes. “And without you, there would’ve been no one left for them to rescue. Nobody expects you to be a superhero, Seo-yun. Hell, even they have to team up all the time.”
She wavered, and nearly fell over before Seo-yun caught her. “Try to relax,” Seo-yun told her. “You shouldn’t even be walking right now. Let me carry you.” Samantha protested, but she really was about as weak as a pup right now, and the fox had no trouble lifting her up and carrying her in her arms. “And what’s a superhero, anyway?”
“Put me down and I’ll tell you,” Samantha said sullenly, though there was a twinkle in her eye.
“I’ll carry you all the way out of here,” Seo-yun threatened, feeling herself relax just a little thanks to the banter. “Is the great phoenix going to spend the elevator ride and whatever happens after being carried like a child in front of everyone, or is she going to behave herself and tell me exactly what a superhero is?”
“Fiiiiiiiine,” Samantha said, outright smiling now. “Well, a superhero is a little like you, only in spandex. They go around helping people and stuff. You’re not quite a Superman yet, definitely not a Batman, but you could probably make a decent Captain America if you applied yourself.”
“America?” Seo-yun said incredulously, tasting the foreign word. “I’ve never even been to America. How could I-“
The winged beast that had been Nadia crashed into the webs next to them.
The impact made the webbing bounce and shake, throwing Seo-yun off her feet. She fell to the ground, nearly falling off the webs completely before she grabbed hold of some. Samantha had better luck and was already starting to rise to her feet, but her entire body was trembling from the effort it took just to stand.
“Emmmberrrrrrrr,” the creature moaned, lumbering towards them on its many limbs. Astaria had described the beast to Seo-yun, but it seemed even farther gone than she’d heard. Its flesh had begun to slough off, and its entire body was shifting and changing in minute ways, unable to hold onto its shape. The smell of rotting meat coming from it was strong enough to make the fox gag and nearly vomit. “Emberrrrrrrrr!”
It rocked to the side as a fox tackled it, tearing into its dark hide with his teeth. Disjointed, bloody tails grabbed the fox and pulled it off, crunching the body in their grip before tossing it to the side. The fox hit the web as little more than a pile of mangled flesh, the corpse showing no sign of healing, and the monster continued forward.
Seo-yun fought to get to her feet as more tails whipped around Sam’s body, pulling her up into the air. No, the fox thought as she ran towards the creature. No, this wasn’t fair! She wasn’t going to let Samantha die!
She struck Nadia with all the power she could bring to bear, as much as she’d used to destroy the steel cords earlier, and her fist sank right into the creature’s body. It felt like pushing her hand into mud, except that the flesh inside it crawled and shifted like a thousand bugs were running over her arm. A tail wrapped around her waist and wrenched her up into the air. As she was dragged violently away, the fox saw that the damage she’d done wasn’t healing the way she did; instead, more diseased looking flesh was bubbling out from within its body to fill the hole like a plug.
The creature threw her to the side, towards the elevator. As soon as she landed, Seo-yun was already scrambling up to try again, but she was too late. “Embbberrrrrrrrrr!” the beast groaned again, the sound like a death cry. Seo-yun met Samantha’s eyes for just a second, and the redhead’s mouth moved. The screams all around her were so deafening that she couldn’t hear a single syllable of it, but she read the words off of her lips.
The beast’s jaws closed around Samantha as its tails shoveled her into its mouth, the creature so large that it could swallow her in a single gulp, and time seemed to slow down for the fox. Seo-yun heard the sound. It pierced through all the other noise as if the arena stood silent. The familiar sound that she’d enjoyed for so many decades, that had haunted her all her life, that she’d savored and hated and dreamed about so often, waking with drool running out her mouth and tears running down her cheeks.
The sound of fangs ripping into flesh and bone.