Thank you for reading! Me and my coauthor Darinost are gradually combining forces and blogs, so the joint comment section for our stories is currently located on discord! Come on in and let us know what you thought, we don’t bite.
Hanabi didn’t know what she’d expected a place where gods lived to look like. Something up in the clouds, maybe? Or just a bunch of glowy lights and booming voices?
What she found was a beach. She stood on a flat circle of white marble about ten feet in diameter and surrounded by pillars of the same material. Around it was a beach of golden sands that met a perfect blue sea. Though it had been the middle of the night just a moment ago, here the sun was high in the sky. She breathed in and found so many new scents. It was nothing like the familiar smells of Shirakami Sanchi. This place smelled of salt and sun, and beneath that something sweet.
“Hello?” she called out, hesitant to step off the marble disc without permission. For all she knew, she’d be labeled as an intruder and blasted with a thunder bolt or something. She looked around for someone, but the beach was empty of any people. “My… my name is Hanabi, from the village of Hanei! You know, the, the foxes? We, uh, we need your help! …Please?”
There was no response.
Further inland, she could see the beach gradually transform into an expanse of tall grass that would go nearly up to her waist. It was mostly flat, but there were trees dotting the grasslands, and she could see colorful things nestled in their branches. The white haired girl took another deep breath. Yes, fruit, that’s what she was smelling. She couldn’t make out details with her eyes, but her nose told her that there were several different kinds too. The wild orchard stretched for nearly a mile before ending at a vast array of white marble buildings. Hanabi stared at them hungrily. That had to be it, the home of the gods. She squinted, trying to catch any movement, but she was too far away.
“I’m, uh, I’m gonna walk closer, okay?” she announced. “I’m here in peace and all, so, y’know, please don’t smite me and stuff.” She gingerly stepped off the disc, flinching as her foot touched the sands, but there was no reaction, just the steady sound of the tide behind her. After pausing for another minute to make sure no one was going to pop up, she began trekking towards the buildings.
It wasn’t easy to get through the tall grass, especially with her eyes fixated on the settlement in the distance. What gods would she find in there, she wondered. Would she know them, or were all the stories and mythologies wrong and they’d be completely unrecognizable? And what was she going to say when she found them? In stories, the gods would do something like demand that the heroine prove herself worthy, and she’d give a noble speech entreating them for help that would win them over. But Hanabi had no idea what she could say other than ‘please save us’. Would she even need to say anything? Gods were supposed to be all knowing, right? But then again, if they’d known about what was going to happen to Hanei, they wouldn’t have just stayed in here and watched. Unless they knew and didn’t care.
The closer she got, the more a sense of foreboding grew inside her. Shouldn’t she be able to see them moving around by now? Maybe they were all out of sight, but shouldn’t she at least be hearing something more than the gentle waves behind her? The white haired girl nearly tripped over something in the dirt because she was too intent on looking forward. She crouched down within the tall grass and felt at the ground beneath her to see what had made her stumble, finding old but familiar lines in the soil. This had been farmland once, but not for a very very long time. Now it sat unused. Abandoned.
Hanabi shifted into her fox form and broke into a run, sprinting through the grass. She had to be wrong. She couldn’t have come this far for nothing. This was a special place, a sacred hideaway that her people had guarded for centuries. It couldn’t just be empty!
She emerged from the grass with the settlement right in front of her. The buildings had been beautiful once, and despite being cracked and crumbling with age, they were still marvels of artistry and architecture. The finest building in Hanei had never possessed the casual grace and elegance that these exuded even in their decay. But it wasn’t their beauty that drew her eye and filled her with despair. Broken walls, destroyed roofs… she’d seen all of this before, back in Hanei. The signs of a siege were unmistakable.
Maybe the gods had fled from their own invaders, maybe they’d all been killed or captured, maybe they’d fought them off and then left to find a new hiding place. It didn’t matter, and Hanabi couldn’t bring herself to care. All that mattered was that the marvelous and utterly useless buildings stood broken and barren, reduced to empty shells. There was no sign of life anywhere to be seen, and it looked like no one had called this place home for decades at least, maybe centuries.
The gods were gone, and no one was coming to save Hanei.
“…no, that still doesn’t work…” Tanya mumbled, and shifted slightly on the bed. She was looking at the laptop in front of her, but her eyes were glassy and unfocused. Without her ever present smile, she very nearly looked like an entirely different person.
Astaria wasn’t sure that the woman realized that she was talking out loud, or that the dragon’s ears were good enough to pick up what she was saying. “… oh four… oh seven… what if I send them chickens…?” Every so often her fingers would type some quick message. If Astaria had been in a position to see what was being written, perhaps she could have made some sense of what she was hearing, but it was all meaningless gibberish to her. “Oh two… and with some better bandages…”
The dark haired woman’s pussy was sweet and slick and almost feverishly hot as Astaria lapped it in a relaxed rhythm. She’d spent the last two hours hogtied and on her stomach in Tanya’s bed, with her face between the woman’s legs while Tanya made notes on her laptop. Her… she didn’t want to use the term mistress, but it was getting harder to deny that it fit… seemed to enjoy nothing more than having Astaria’s tongue stroking her insides while she worked. Normally she was too focused on whatever she was typing to actually orgasm, and just wanted gentle, steady stimulation. Until she took a break, that is, at which point she would do her best to make up for lost time.
“I think that’s as good as I can manage it for now,” Tanya said. “I’ll review it all again tonight and see what’s changed but right now, that should just… about… do it. There!” She finished up whatever she was typing, closed her laptop and set it down next to her, then visibly brightened. She smiled at Astaria and spread her legs a little wider. “You now have my full attention, Delphy. Mmm, and then some.”
The girl rolled her head back and moaned deliberately as Astaria’s tongue delicately lashed at her folds at a stronger and more insistent pace than before, seeking the girl’s most sensitive spots. She was ashamed to admit that she knew Tanya’s pussy better than her own by now. Not that her own was ever given much chance to be neglected either… even now, a large vibrator buzzed softly but insistently inside it, sending little tingles of pleasure through her body. Tanya had the remote next to her, and would idly change the settings from time to time, making the stimulation gentler or rougher. At times she’d even lean over so that she could pump the thing in and out of Astaria. To the dragon’s shame, she’d already cum five times in these two hours, twice more than Tanya had. She knew rationally that the girl was cheating, doing just the right thing at just the right time to induce her pet to cum, but it didn’t make her success any less humiliating.
Two months had passed since the assassination attempt. Astaria had been under her father’s desk when he and Tanya had discussed the matter. Karakostas had sworn an oath that he’d had no prior knowledge of the assassin and didn’t know the person responsible for sending her, but Astaria had listened closely to his words, like Tanya had told her to, and saw the the gaps that he’d left in his statements. Saying he didn’t know anything about Vanessa didn’t mean that he had been unaware of an attempt on Tanya’s life, only that he hadn’t been told who was going to be responsible for the deed. And saying that he didn’t know who sent her was still a true statement if he’d planted the idea of killing Tanya in the heads of multiple people.
Tanya had laughed when she saw Astaria fuming about her father’s deliberate deception later. It was bad enough to make an oath and then try to find ways around it, but to swear one for the express purpose of deception? “Sweetie, you didn’t really think that not breaking your word was the same as not lying?” Tanya had teased. “People lie with the truth all the time, and I’m not just talking about the fae, though they could teach a master class on it. It’s only adorable little dragon girls that try to be honest and forthright when they don’t have to be. It’s one of the reasons I love you so much, Delphy, but it really is a habit you should try to break. For your own good, if nothing else.”
The second largest consequence of Vanessa’s attack had been additional security systems within the section of the Paradisium that had already been cordoned off for Paragon, systems that went well beyond what was used for the rest of the domain. Karakostas had bristled at her requests, especially her insistence that not even Paradisium security receive unfettered access, but the attack had happened under his own roof and to someone who was technically still an honored guest. Tanya had made it clear to him that if he didn’t agree, she’d make sure everyone knew that the dragon was a dishonorable host who couldn’t be bothered to keep his guests safe.
The assassin herself had become a regular fixture of Tanya’s bedroom for a brief time. Even in her wretched state, Tanya still found ways to humiliate the woman further, like leaving Vanessa alone for the day upside down with her head buried in the toilet, or somehow producing a list of the family members of some of Vanessa’s victims and their phone numbers, and making the woman apologize to each of them on speaker phone. Vanessa had occasionally resorted to threats of violence or pleas for mercy, but by the time she’d been there for a full week, there seemed to be nothing left of her but meek obedience.
“That’s it, Delphy,” Tanya breathed. “That’s the spot, keep lapping right there with that soft tongue of yours… just like that… just like that… oh, you wonderful green haired beauty…!” She shivered and came as Astaria gulped down her juices and kept licking, teasing the sensitive flesh to draw out the girl’s orgasm. “Ahhhhhhhh…” Tanya breathed out eventually, her body becoming limp and relaxed. “God, I have the best assistant in the world. I’d call you the best sexy green dragon subby in the world too, Delphy, and you are, but how many of those could there be? Seven? Eight?”
That was the largest consequence of the attempt on Tanya’s life, at least from Astaria’s perspective. She had demanded that the Paradisium show its remorse for its inability to offer adequate protection by supplying her with an assistant, and she’d been very explicit that there was only one person acceptable for the role. To say that Karakostas had been displeased with the idea of sharing his daughter and private toilet was an understatement, but they’d worked out an arrangement where he still had priority on Astaria’s ownership and could make use of her whenever and however he liked, but when he was busy with other matters she could be put to use by Tanya.
At first, she’d expected that the new arrangement would just mean getting raped by Tanya more often, and it was true that they were now having sex more than ever, but… things were different. The girl still never asked for Astaria’s consent, but whenever the dragon wasn’t in the mood for it, such as after a particularly painful session with her father or when she was feeling buried under the weight of everything, Tanya would know without saying and not touch her. They’d talk instead, or read, or play a game with Nami. Sometimes Astaria would arrive at Tanya’s quarters utterly exhausted and find that the bed was already set up for her to sleep in.
And the rest of the time, when they did have sex… Astaria knew rationally that what they were doing together was still rape. Tanya was in a position of power over her, and the dragon was captive to her will. A single word could have her executed or worse. In a situation like this, true consent was impossible. But that wasn’t what it felt like. It wasn’t the threat of punishment that made Astaria crawl into the woman’s bed, or the promise of cooperation and assistance in the future. Deep down, she couldn’t deny that the biggest reason she was there was because she wanted to be.
It was all unbelievably pleasant and indescribably terrifying. Astaria’s life as a slave had been brutally simple until now: people used her and made her suffer. Being treated almost like an actual lover was alien to her, and that was before taking into consideration who it was that was showering her in such kindness… Tanya must have an ulterior motive for it, that much the dragon was well aware of, but what? Seduction seemed pointless when she could already force Astaria to do whatever she wanted. But genuine affection was even more implausible. Why would the woman who’d gleefully murdered her own sibling want to treat her with real kindness? And how far had Astaria had fallen, that even knowing it was all a lie, she couldn’t help but feel gratitude?
“Alright, Delphy,” Tanya said, and the dragon woman gasped as the vibrator was turned up to its max setting. “Let’s squeeze one more out of you, and we’ll go have ourselves some breakfast.” She rolled Astaria onto her side and embraced her, alternating warm kisses and playful bites on her breasts while her finger hooked into the dragon’s clit ring to tug and twist it. The sharp intermingling of pain and pleasure was so familiar to the green haired woman by now that it was difficult to tell them apart when she was like this. “You just let me know when you want it.”
That was Tanya’s latest game, and Astaria wished that she hated it. The girl wouldn’t simply force her to orgasm whether she wanted it or not anymore. She would just bring Astaria all the way up to the brink and keep her there, putting her divine powers of precognition to obscene use. The dragon would remain trapped in a state of blissful agony until she begged Tanya to let her cum, and as if that wasn’t enough, Tanya’s opinion of what constituted as proper begging seemed to grow worse every time.
Astaria didn’t bother trying to resist what was happening. She knew that she was helpless against Tanya, no matter how much she hated that fact, and pretending otherwise would be dishonorable. More importantly, though it made her cheeks grow hot to admit it even to herself… she wanted to cum. It had been a while since her last and the vibrator had been teasing her the whole time since and… and making Tanya finish had only gotten her more worked up. “Please let your favorite dragon slut cum, mistress,” she murmured.
That had been humiliating enough to satisfy Tanya last time, but Astaria wasn’t surprised when the girl giggled. “We both know you can do better than that, Delphy! Put some heart into it, let me really feel what a good little subby you are!” She closed her mouth around one of Astaria’s nipples and sucked on it hard, then nibbled on the sensitive bud.
“I… I want to cum hard for my mistress,” Astaria tried as her back arched under the girl’s attention. “Like a, a good little subby.”
Tanya gave a disappointed tsk of her tongue. “Here, I know what will help.” She shifted to put her face directly in front of Astaria’s. “Keep your eyes on mine, Delphy. That’s it. If you look away, I’m going to stop, okay? I’ll turn off the vibrator, untie you, and you’ll have to wait until later to finish. You have to keep looking at me if you want to cum.”
Astaria knew that she shouldn’t. Tanya Petrov was a rapist and a murderer and so many other terrible things, and there shouldn’t be anything pleasant about being in her bed. Three months ago she would have looked away without hesitation. Two months ago she would’ve looked away with a pang of regret. But now… she stared into Tanya’s soft reddish brown eyes, trying to see into the soul behind them. Why was the girl doing all this to her? Was it all just one big game, to see how far she could make the dragon sink? Did some twisted part of Tanya genuinely care about her, and this was the only way she could express it? “I want to cum,” she whispered.
“I know you do,” Tanya whispered back. Astaria felt a flash of shameful disappointment when the girl eased the vibrator out of her, but it was immediately replaced by her gentle probing fingers, stroking and caressing and occasionally scratching all the right places to make the dragon shiver and moan. “Because you’re a good girl. My good girl. Kitkat may think he owns you, but he only cares about your body. You’re just a machine to him, one that he thinks he can prime with sex and pain until it’s ready to start churning out dragon babies for him. He doesn’t appreciate the beautiful, kind, courageous girl inside. But I do. I want to own that soul of yours, Delphy. I want to pamper you and spoil you and see you crawl behind me everywhere I go like a good pup. I want to feel your warm tongue eager and hungry between my legs while I taste your sweet quivering insides on my own.”
Astaria came hard then, but it wasn’t from Tanya’s questing fingers, as wonderful as they felt. It was the promise of domination and submission that pushed her over the edge, and even as she shuddered in ecstasy, she kept her eyes fixed on Tanya’s, holding her mistress’s gaze as she finished.
Once the rush of pleasure had faded, it was followed by the familiar hot queasiness of guilt, but that was growing smaller every time. She didn’t know if her submissive nature was something that Tanya had instilled into her, or merely something buried in her all along that the girl had brought to the surface. It didn’t really matter. Either way, Astaria was who she was now, and when Tanya took the vibrator and held it up to the dragon’s lips, it felt only natural to swallow it up and start sucking it clean.
Once she was finished, Tanya untied her and led her to the kitchen so she could start cooking breakfast. The girl cracked a few eggs and put them in a skillet, humming softly as she worked. “Hmm?” she said when she saw Astaria looking over at Nami’s closed door. “She’s still out, had a sleepover with some friends.” She rolled her eyes. “Not like that. Geez, Delphy, get your mind out of the gutter! Qacha’s got a couple little girls, six and eight. They think Nami is pretty much the bestest friend ever – and they’re not wrong – and invited her to dinner and a sleepover. She’ll be back in a few hours and tell you allllll about it, I promise.”
Astaria relaxed. Qacha was one of the Paradisium’s servants, a matronly woman with a sunny disposition who came by the lab a couple times a week to clean up. Like most of the Paradisium’s servants, she lived in the main building somewhere on the second or third floor. Astaria had never met her children, but if they were anything like their mother, she could be sure they were good friends to Nami.
It had now been two months since Astaria had first met the strange gumiho, and she was no closer to understanding what Tanya’s larger purpose was for her either. Her fear of Nami had completely vanished, though; it was difficult to spend much time with the girl and not come away from it finding her adorable. She’d only seen Nami in her fox form a few times, usually in the lab when Tanya was running tests with her marble, but even that appearance had become less frightening. A fox she may be, but Nami’s countenance made Astaria think of her more as a cheerful puppy when she was on four legs. And while the dragon couldn’t make heads or tails of Tanya’s research and experiments, whatever she’d done to strengthen the shell of Nami’s marble and prevent the cravings for human flesh seemed to be working.
One thing that had become clear about Tanya and Nami was that the dark haired girl either genuinely cared about her charge, or she was the greatest and most dedicated actress Astaria had ever seen. There was always something different to her behavior when she interacted with Nami; around everyone else, even Astaria, there was a certain stiffness to Tanya’s behavior, like she’d entered the conversation with a goal to achieve.When she was around the fox girl, though, something in her relaxed and her behavior felt far more natural.
A small gray fox wandered meekly into the kitchen to nuzzle Tanya’s leg. Unlike Nami, she had only a single tail, and it no longer had the prehensile flexibility of a kitsune’s. Tanya smiled a little and scratched the fox’s head with one hand while she poured some milk into the pan. “Good morning, Nessie,” she said pleasantly. “I’ll fix you some breakfast too in a minute.”
Astaria hadn’t known what Tanya’s ultimate plans for the assassin were, and hadn’t been eager to find out, so she had been caught completely by surprise when she’d come to Tanya’s quarters a week later to find the fox curled up on the floor. The dragon had thought Tanya even more insane than usual to give the assassin a fox marble, until she’d learned the details of the arrangement.
By most standards, the marble in Vanessa would be considered a dud. It contained no real power, and its user couldn’t even transform with it. Tanya had been gleeful about demonstrating to Astaria how it was a new type that she’d developed specifically for Akemi: a marble that could only be activated and deactivated remotely. “Pillow, fox,” she’d said happily as she used the remote to force the woman to transform back and forth. “Pillow, fox. Pillow, fox. Pillow… would you like to stick with this one, Nessie? Keep being my favorite soft, plush fleshlight? No? Then give me a happy little yip. That’s the spirit! Back to fox.”
If Tanya had done something like that at the beginning, Astaria was certain that Vanessa would’ve begun immediately scheming on ways to use her newfound mobility to escape or seek revenge, regardless of her form’s limited capabilities. But after a week of being the dark haired girl’s toy, the former assassin had no intention of ever returning to that life, especially after Tanya had divulged what her final plans for the woman would be. “Four years ago she was hired to kill the son of this big time yakuza boss,” she’d explained to Astaria. “Now, people like them know what’s what, and they wouldn’t have held a grudge on her for just doing her job, except that she also killed the son’s wife and kids in the process, and that’s a real no no. Even the rival gang that hired her was real pissed off at what happened, because it made them look like a bunch of clowns.
“The good news for Nessie is that her new owners will know just what to do with limbless fuckdolls, especially when they’re big beautiful blondes. She’ll be a real busy girl right from day one: starring in a bunch of underground fetish videos, getting whored out left and right to the kind of men interested in enjoying something like her, and of course being a regular punching bag and fleshlight to fifty different yakuza gangsters. You sure you want to keep being a fox?” she’d asked Vanessa. “It sounds like you’d be having a ton of fun with them. No?” The fox’s only response had been a series of whimpers.
Once Tanya had gotten bored of tormenting Vanessa by switching her back randomly, often making her beg profusely to be allowed to be a fox again, she’d transformed her a final time and then gotten to work. Astaria still didn’t understand exactly how the kitsune or vulpan could talk while in bestial form, but after Tanya performed surgery on her vocal cords, it was a skill Vanessa no longer possessed. After that, Tanya had removed eight of her nine tails and begun making modifications with a scalpel until the remaining one moved much more stiffly. With that done, she had completed her transition from human woman to ordinary fox, albeit one with a slightly longer, more elegant tail.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you earlier,” Tanya said while she grabbed some slices of bread and popped them in the toaster before getting back to work on the pan. “I got everything taken care of with Nessie’s new owners. We’re shipping her out tomorrow afternoon.”
Astaria hadn’t heard anything at all about this before, and from the way Vanessa suddenly stiffened, neither had she. The gray fox whimpered and began lapping at Tanya’s bare feet. “So you changed your mind?” the dragon asked cautiously. “You will send her to the yakuza after all?”
“What? Of course not.” Tanya glanced back at her, and then down at Vanessa. “Did I seriously not tell either of you?” She shook her head. “I am too busy by half. Can barely keep things straight anymore. You know what I was doing just before you got here this morning, Delphy? Calling a plumber. Who’d have guessed my grand schemes would involve unclogging a sewer pipe on the off chance that… ugh, whatever. No, Nessie, you’re not going back to being a fuckpillow. You can thank Delphy for that, by the way. Only reason you’re getting off this easy is because my silly girl feels like she’s partly responsible for you.”
The scrambled eggs were sizzling by now, and she took them off the heat and started divvying them up onto three plates. “You are in fact headed to a very nice wildlife refuge in Western Europe that specializes in endangered foxes. It’s got hills you can run around on, and rivers, and all that other nature stuff for you to enjoy. Easily one of the best places in the world to be for a fox. And not a single person there knows that there’s anything special to you.”
“And what is the catch?” Astaria asked warily.
“Who said there was a catch?” Tanya asked innocently. Astaria kept staring at her silently until the dark haired girl gave in and giggled. “Alright, alright, I was going to let Nessie find out for herself when she got there, but like I said, the place specializes in endangered foxes. And what’s the best way to keep to stop a species from being endangered?” The toast popped up from the toaster, and she buttered them and added them to the plates.
“Breeding,” the dragon said flatly.
“And lots of it,” Tanya confirmed. She wrapped one plate up in cellophane before putting it in the fridge, set the other two on the table, and then opened a tin of wet dog food and put it into Vanessa’s food bowl on the floor. “I don’t actually know if foxes can impregnate a vulpan, but I’m sure Nessie’s new furry friends are gonna try and try and try.”
Astaria had heard enough stories of the former assassin’s kills by now that she couldn’t muster a great deal of sympathy for the woman regarding the fate in store for her. And as someone who had never once had the opportunity to leave the Paradisium, it was hard to see the promise of a life spent outdoors in relative freedom as an overly harsh punishment. Vanessa was intelligent enough to know that too, but that didn’t seem to make her any happier about the idea of spending the rest of her life mating with animals. She whined softly, looking up at the girl.
“Don’t give me that,” Tanya said cheerfully as she sat down and began to eat from her plate. “I’ll make you a promise, Nessie: there’s a certain fox out there, right this very minute, who would give just about anything to trade places with you…”
Hanabi laid flat on her back, looking up the ceiling of one of the destroyed homes. For the first few minutes, she’d wondered what sorts of gods had looked at this same ceiling in the past, but that line of thinking had soon grown dull. It was just chipped marble, covered with dust and cobwebs, lit only by the faint starlight coming in through the windows.
She knew she should get up. The sun had just finished setting and there were still so many things to do: scrounge around for materials for a makeshift bed, satisfy her hunger pangs with some of the fruit from the orchard, track down a source of fresh water. And those were just to satisfy the immediate concerns of her body. She should also be searching this fallen sanctuary for clues about what happened, gathering any useful resources that she could sneak back into Hanei, working out a plan to help the others… So much to do, and she couldn’t bring herself to do any of it. Even just standing up seemed like far too much work.
She’d cried for a little while, and could still feel the dried tear tracks on her cheeks. She’d done everything that she was supposed to. She’d hidden herself from the invaders, she’d retrieved her foxskin, she’d survived the soldier who’d pursued her, and she’d found her way into the sanctuary. By all rights that should’ve been the end of her quest. But it had all been meaningless. Her people were still captives, and she had no way to save them. She’d done everything she’d set out to do and still managed to fail miserably.
Half a day had passed since she’d arrived. The ruins were deceptively large, spanning a several mile diameter that dwarfed Hanei. She’d only searched a tiny fraction of the place so far, looking inside every building and wearing her voice out calling for help, with absolutely no result. This place was as empty and dead as she felt inside right now. Couldn’t they at least have left her, like, a magic sword, or a spell book, or a set of audio recordings that conveniently explained what had happened, or something? Just one tiny little thing to tell her that this hadn’t been a waste of time. Just one.
She’d gotten her hopes up when she’d seen the first brazier, its golden lining making it stand out from the marble. She’d encountered several more, eight in total, all spaced equally around the outskirts of the settlement. She’d felt something radiating from all of them. It wasn’t like what she’d felt from Inari’s Flame, but it wasn’t not like it either. But though they were still piled full of coals, they’d contained none of the inner heat that Inari’s Flame did, and her attempts to relight them failed. Neither real fire nor foxfire had the slightest effect on them.
Hanabi had spent an entire hour examining one of them, telling herself that this had to be the clue she needed. It seemed too perfect a coincidence to be anything but purposeful. But it was just an unlit brazier. If there was some trick to lighting it, it was lost on her, and there was nothing but her own desperation that suggested it was anything useful in the first place. Maybe the gods that lived here had just been too old-fashioned for electric lights. Maybe they were off because there was a magic freaking circuit breaker somewhere that needed to be tripped. She didn’t know, and she had no way to find out.
There was nothing useful here. Nothing at all. Just dead ends, more questions without answers, and decaying tombs to unknown gods. Hanabi wasn’t sure if she even wanted to get up. What if she just laid here until it was all over? No one would come and hurt her here, and it would be a more peaceful death than the others got. They wouldn’t blame her for giving up, right? Not after she’d tried to hard to help them. They’d understand. None of them could have really expected someone like her to be of any use anyway.
Some part of her was horrified at these thoughts. She couldn’t just quit here! There had to be something she could do, like returning to Hanei and bringing some of the others back. Even if she could only rescue one other person, that would make this worth it. And she still had all the unclaimed foxskins. Right now there were dozens of kitsune slowly dying out there, but their skins could save them. Hanabi tried to push aside her lethargy and stand up, but she couldn’t.
She wasn’t just tired or depressed; she was stuck.
Panic began to set in as she realized that she really couldn’t move. She wasn’t being pinned down or bound by anything, her body just refused to obey her commands. And even as her eyes darted around in terror, trying to see what was going on, the sense of ennui was pressing on her mind. She should go to sleep, that’s what she should do. Just close her eyes and… Hanabi tried to scream, but her vocal cords were as paralyzed as the rest of her. Her eyelids slowly closed of their own volition, trapping her in darkness. Her thoughts became fuzzy, jumbled.
What was she doing here? Where was she? She could figure those things out in the morning, if she ever woke up. Hanabi struggled, but it was like her mind was being wrapped in soft dark cotton, and she couldn’t hold onto her train of thought. Her consciousness slipped away from her, and there was only the darkness.
Hanabi woke to find one of her eyes open. She tried to close it and return to oblivion, but it still didn’t obey. She stared dully at the creature in front of her as it pried open her other eye as well. Its fingers rubbed something sticky across her eyelid, and it became as immobile as the other. “Much better,” the thing said, putting something behind her head to prop it up and let her see forward. “It is good to let the pet see. It is only right that she know the face of her new masters.” It was still nighttime, but the starlight was enough for her sharp eyes to make out the creature clearly: naked, with pallid yellow skin, bulging eyes, and stubby, gnarled fingers. Its body was shaped weirdly and hung in odd ways, shifting and flowing from moment to moment as though it wasn’t solid, just a bag of liquid full to bursting.
Terror clawed its way to the front of her mind, overcoming her sleepiness, as the creature pushed her legs apart. His cock was a fat, ugly thing as misshapen as the rest of it, riddled with bumps and bulges, some of them trickling pus. “So lucky we are,” he crooned as he rubbed his member over her slit. “All alone for so long, and now so many new visitors. But you will be ours first, pet. We will not share you with the others until we have tasted all your sweetness for ourselves.” The white haired girl tried to scream, with as little success as before.
Sharp pain lanced through her as the creature penetrated her. The way its many lumps rubbed against her walls was both agonizing and disgusting. They felt smoother and more fragile than flesh, like slick bubbles of stretched skin, and she could feel the hot pus inside them, just below the surface. “She is soft inside,” he said happily. “Soft and warm. I will make this hole my new home, pet.” He leaned back and pulled her with him, until he was the one on his back and she was draped over him, his cock still pulsing inside of her.
Her face was only inches above his, and his breath smelled like rot. Even without conscious control of her body, she gagged when he drew closer and kissed her. His tongue was rough like a cat’s, longer than a human or fox’s, and covered in some kind of slime too thick to be saliva. He explored the insides of her mouth, licking at her cheeks and teeth and caressing her own tongue, forcing her to taste that sickly sweet slime. When she realized that it was the same pus she’d seen leaking from them before, she gagged again.
“Do not fear, pet,” said a new voice, and Hanabi was horrified to realize that a second creature was right behind her. “We were once named nightmare, but for you, we will be lovers.” His cock began to push against her anal ring. “Once you have been trained, you will weep when none of us are inside you. But you will be a happy pet, for moments like those will be as rare as the sun upon your face. We will love you and love you and love you, and you will live with us in the quiet dark places, and you will never be lonely again.”
The white haired girl stared helplessly at the nightmare violating her mouth and pussy, unable to even shut her eyes against the horror, while the other’s cock began to penetrate her last untouched bastion. Even Levi hadn’t taken her back there. Pain and nausea competed for her attention as she was sandwiched between the two abominations. She felt like she was being split in two by the anal invader, and the way it rubbed up against the other made both feel worse. This is what happens, she told herself. This is what happens when you lie to yourself and pretend you’re anything more than a fucktoy.
“You are so tight for me,” said the one in her ass. “Thank you, pet. Soon all your holes will relax and smile as they drool with our love, but for now this one is fresh and snug, and I will savor it. You and I will spend years and years pleasuring each other with this hole, but long after you have become dust and bone I will still be here, remembering how beautifully it gripped me this very first time.” Fully seated in her now, he began slowly pumping her insides, his pace quickening with each stroke.
“Have no fear for the death that will come,” said the other. “Your life will be long and full and so very busy. By the time you pass, you will have long forgotten what the wind and sun feel like. You will know of nothing but the darkness and our love, and you will thank us when you feel our teeth upon you at last. They always do.” He felt like he’d grown even bigger since he’d entered her. His cock now filled her completely, kissing her cervix with its length and stretching her out with its girth
“And you will leave behind a legacy,” said the one behind her. His bulbous head would pull back until only the very tip was being squeezed by her anal ring, a breath away from being out of her completely, and then he would drive back in with a single thrust, not stopping until his balls slapped against her pussy lips. Every time it felt like he made it in deeper, until his head seemed to be reaching her stomach. “You will bear us a thousand thousand young in your time. Yes, even you, Servant of the Gods, our pet kitsune. Our love is not like the others. It will froth and squirm and crawl inside you.”
“And no matter what hole it is in, it will take root,” added the one raping her pussy. “It cares little for eggs and wombs. It will chew hungrily through your flesh to make itself a body, and you will cry out so happily to feel a new life being created. The ones who came to us a few days ago, already they grow heavy with children. Already they weep for the beauty flourishing inside them.” Tears were pouring from her own eyes now too, and not just from the terror and despair gripping her. The room was full of dust, and her eyes burned painfully as they were unable to blink away any of it.
It wasn’t just her imagination: Hanabi was certain now that their cocks were growing as they raped her. The nightmare beneath her pressed insistently at the entrance to her womb on each thrust, not content to remain outside, while the tunnel itself felt like she was already giving birth. He grinned at as he continued to taunt her, holding her head so that she couldn’t break off eye contact with him. The nightmare above her was sinking impossibly deep into her every time, and her sensation of his head breaching her stomach was no longer hyperbole. His hands were crushing her breasts, using them as nothing more than convenient leverage for pounding her.
“But do not worry,” continued the one beneath her. “Your womb will not go unappreciated. It will be a perfect fit for me. Your master will be so happy when your precious womb is gripping his head, begging him to fill it full of his love. You will be such a good pet when that happens.”
“And your ass is already so affectionate and eager to please,” said the other. He patted it condescendingly. “Such good behavior will be dearly rewarded. It will drink deep of my love soon. It will drink it again and again before I ever pull out.”
They were both disgusting, terrifying monsters that seemed to be deriving at least as much enjoyment from her distress and pain as they were from her body. And she was going to bear their children. It was a new horror that not even Levi and his men had produced. To be their broodmare, used for only their pleasure and their children… it made her want to puke. But she couldn’t even frown at them. She was more helpless than she’d ever been, with no avenues whatsoever to fight back or to escape.
Except… that wasn’t quite true, was it? Most of her had resigned itself to her fate. After all, she’d known that she was just a worthless fucktoy for days now. All the running around couldn’t change that. But as similar as this felt to the rapes she’d endured before, there was a key difference, a sliver of hope to cling to: she had her foxfire. Could she even use it while paralyzed like this? She had no idea, but she was going to find out.
Her usual tricks and pranks would be useless. These nightmares knew what she was, and she couldn’t imagine any ploy that would convince them to stop raping her and leave. She had to do something more with her power, had to figure out a way to use it as a weapon. Like by making a gun that she couldn’t fire, or a sword that she couldn’t swing. She tried to shake away her pessimism and think. She’d started to get sleepy after night had fallen, and these things kept talking about bringing her with them into darkness. Could they have a weakness to light?
Calling upon her foxfire without being able to move her body was like trying to sing a song with a numb mouth. She didn’t technically need her muscles to let it flow out of her, but she was so used to them being part of the process. The nightmare raping her from behind had wrapped one of her tails around his waist, and she tried to focus on the tip of it. She’d done this a million times, she reminded herself. It didn’t matter if her tail couldn’t move, she just had to let the foxfire flow through it like normal…
It took a few tries and far too much of her reserves, but at last Hanabi saw the room brighten. She couldn’t turn her head to see it, but she knew there was a ball of light behind her, banishing the nearby shadows and bathing her and the nightmares in its rays. And… it was doing absolutely nothing. “Is the pet afraid of the dark?” asked the one behind her with mock concern. “She will learn to love it soon, I promise. Beneath this place lies our home, in tunnels where not a drop of sunlight or starlight can be found. You will never need use your eyes again, pet. Perhaps we will make them food when we get there, so you will be more comfortable. You will live in the cold and serene darkness, feeling us, tasting us, hearing us, smelling us. All around you and all inside you, until the day of your end.”
Decades or more living in total darkness. Unable to move a muscle, unable to see a thing, unable to speak. Decades of utter helplessness while being raped and bred by disgusting creatures that would mock and insult her as they enjoyed her. The white haired girl was racked with terror at the idea. She’d thought being Levi’s fucktoy was the worst fate in the world, but this might just be worse. At least Levi would’ve probably gotten bored with her after a few years and killed her. Maybe she shouldn’t even be wasting her foxfire on stupid ideas like generating light. What if she killed herself with it? There had to be a way to do that, right? Something quick, maybe even painless? She didn’t want to die, but no one would call the future that was waiting for her ‘living’.
Hanabi struggled to beat back the despair. So light hadn’t worked. Maybe she just hadn’t gone far enough. She’d created the illusion of light, the shape without the reality. She needed to make actual sunlight. If that didn’t scare these monsters off, nothing would. Much easier said than done, though. She’d never even tried to craft sunlight, and right now even the most basic illusions felt like trying to sew clothing while wearing winter mittens. But it wasn’t as though she had much choice. It was this or- she gagged suddenly as something poked the bottom of her esophagus. No, no, they couldn’t… she gagged again as it found purchase and began sliding up her throat. Her glued eyes stared holes into the nightmare beneath her, and his wide grin told her he knew exactly what she was feeling.
The cockhead of the nightmare behind her burst from her throat, large enough that it bulged inside her mouth and forced it open, dislocating her jaw. “Don’t worry, pet,” he breathed into her ear, tone dripping with cheerful malice, “my love will all go into your sweet guts. I just wanted to enjoy the fullness of you while it’s all still so tight.” The white haired girl kept gagging, unable to breathe. But that horrifying, impossible sensation of being completely spitroasted on his cock didn’t hold all of her attention for long, not when the other nightmare succeeded in bashing his way through her cervix. If she could have screamed, Hanabi would have shattered all glass within a mile as her entire womb was brutally stretched, the nightmare’s head swelling up like a balloon as soon as it was inside. Both of the nightmares laughed at her as her body involuntarily shuddered and twitched. “Such a delightful pet! You will amuse us for centuries, kitsune.”
Sunlight. Sh-she had to… Hanabi could barely think through the agony and sheer humiliation. Sunlight, sunlight… she reached for it in her mind, trying to coax it into being. The ball of light behind her flickered and danced as she poured more foxfire into it wildly, becoming firelight, moonlight, electric light. It wasn’t enough. “Is the pet ready for our love?” one of the nightmares crooned. “There will be much pain, but pain is always a part of love.” The glow of a streetlight, a headlight, a spotlight. “Do not fear for your masters: there will be no pain for them. Only joy as they breed their new pet for the very first time.” Lamplight, candlelight. Both monsters were pulsing wildly inside her, seconds from shooting off, one with his head back in her guts just as promised, the other still defiling her womb. Torchlight, starlight.
Both creatures screamed in agony as sizzling filled the air. At the same time, all of Hanabi’s lethargy vanished. She wrenched herself away from them, kicking and punching and thrashing with her tails. As soon as she had enough distance she transformed and sprang back at them. Their flesh was as soft and fragile as it had felt, and rent easily under her claws. Beneath the skin she found no blood or bone or muscle, just more yellow pus that sizzled and boiled under the sunlight. They tried to flee, but she had no intention of letting them escape, and savagely tore into them.
Within seconds, their illusion of solidity had crumbled completely. What was left of their skin laid abandoned and in pieces as their true liquid forms, now reduced to puddles on the floor, writhed and bubbled. The foul smelling slime flowed across the floor towards the exit, seeking the safety of darkness, but she followed after, not letting them have any relief from the punishing sunlight.
And then it was over. The foul smell still lingered in the air, and discarded bits of the flesh they’d wrapped themselves in were strewn across the floor, but there was nothing left of the pus slimes. Hanabi slumped against one wall, shaking and hurting and still terrified. The ball of sunlight required constant effort to maintain, but she didn’t dare let up. If she let it go away, that paralysis might return, and she was certain that there were many more of those creatures out there.
She should leave. It wasn’t even a question. The temple was a much safer place than this. Hell, she’d even consider Levi’s bed over this if it was a choice between the two. She was burning foxfire faster than she was regaining it to keep the sunlight going, but it would last long enough to get her back to the beach. She could come back here when the sun rose again. And when she did, maybe she’d spend more than just an hour examining those golden braziers. She had a feeling that “magical source of light” and “horrible monsters that love darkness” were not entirely unrelated.
There was just two problems with her plan to leave. The first was that the nightmares had mentioned other captives. Hanabi had no idea who they could be. It probably wasn’t Levi’s men; if he knew about this place, there’s no way he would’ve let the temple go unguarded. But it was possible that other kitsune had escaped through the door before she had. Whoever they were, right now they were being tortured by literal nightmares, experiencing a hell even worse than the one she’d just escaped.
The second problem was that the nightmares had also revealed where their captives were. Which meant that if Hanabi was feeling stupid and suicidal and in the mood to get gangraped for centuries, she could go try and rescue them. It would’ve been so much easier if she didn’t know where they were. Then she would have been able to justify abandoning them. But instead, she had the power to do something about it, and she was possibly the only person in the world who could truly appreciate the horrors they were going through right now.
It was times like these that she wished she had less of a conscience.
Finding the entrance to the underground tunnels wasn’t difficult. She’d found a dry well while exploring the ruins earlier that day. At the time, she’d considered exploring the bottom of it, but had concluded that even if there was something down there, it wasn’t the best idea to go running around in an underground area that no one had maintained for ages and might be one foolish kitsune away from collapsing. Now that she knew what she would have found down there, she was plenty grateful for her earlier caution. Not that it was going to mean much in the long run, probably.
Just as she’d expected, there were several tunnels waiting for her at the bottom. Hanabi considered her options, already aware of the strain on her foxfire. She couldn’t afford to dismiss the sunlight, and not just because she was certain her paralysis would return the moment she did; even in her fox form, she needed some light to see by. But just running around with it out in the open was a real good way to draw attention, and while the nightmares weren’t too tough individually, there could be hundreds down here and she was just a single fox. If they overwhelmed her and broke her concentration, no more sunlight for her. Of any kind, forever.
So she’d compromised. She was generating ordinary light all around her in very, very small quantity, just barely within the extremes of her night vision. She had to hope that the nightmares’ eyes were poorer than hers, and wouldn’t notice any of it. She didn’t dare make it sunlight, afraid that it would affect them even if they couldn’t see it. No, the tiny ball of sunlight was now a small warmth inside her mouth. Even hidden behind her jaws, having its light on her skin was enough to ward her from the darkness.
Of course, performing either feat of foxfire would have been strenuous on its own, and doing both at once was ridiculously draining. She needed to get in, rescue the prisoners, and get out, and she needed to do it without wasting time. Hanabi sniffed the air. She could smell the nightmares’ presence in every direction, but it was particularly strong down one tunnel. That was where the captives would be. She bounded down it as quickly as she could without losing control of the cloak. The path branched multiple times, but her nose always told her the right way to go. She really, really hoped she’d be able to find her way back as easily.
After a few minutes, she began to hear sounds as well: the voices and laughter of nightmares coupled with the slapping of flesh against flesh. It was familiar enough for her stomach to do flip-flops, and for a few seconds the desire to just turn around and run in the other direction was almost unbearable. But she couldn’t. She wanted to – Goddess, did she want to – but she couldn’t. She crept forward instead, after double and triple checking that all traces of her presence should be hidden.
There were just two women down there, and Hanabi stopped short at the sight of them. She didn’t recognize either one of them. One of them was an American dressed in blue jeans cut off at the knee and a red t-shirt that matched her boyish hair, though the jeans had been tugged down along with her underwear and now dangled off one ankle, and the shirt had been torn down the middle to expose her breasts. She looked a little older than her companion, but her arms and legs were all lean muscle.
She was in a sitting position, her legs splayed, with a nightmare beneath her. His cock was buried in her asshole, and his twisted hands were on her hips, happily bouncing her up and down on his shaft. Another nightmare stood in front of her, eagerly slapping her head against his crotch. Her eyes were rolled back in her head, and it looked like she couldn’t breathe. Most horrifying of all, though, was her swollen pregnant belly. It bulged in an unnatural, lumpy way, and the contents were visibly shifting beneath her skin.
The other woman was Asian, and Hanabi would’ve guessed Japanese specifically, though what little was left of the green and white dress she wore was definitely Korean. Her hair was also red and fell down to her shoulders. Most striking of all, though, was the red fox ears and the four red tails that hung limply behind her. Hanabi had never heard of a kitsune with four tails before, although thanks to the recent violence, she’d seen people in Hanei with even fewer.
The Japanese woman looked as pregnant as the other as she was lifted face-up into the air by two nightmares. She was also being raped orally and anally. One held her up by the legs while the other held her by the hair, and they swung her back and forth between them. Their movements were less cooperative and more like two people engaged in a tug of war; each nightmare would violently yank her onto his cock, only for the other to haul her back just as aggressively, fighting over who got to be inside of her. Her belly and breasts swung pendulously as she was pushed and pulled.
Surrounding both women were easily dozens more nightmares, cheerfully discussing and laughing about their captives’ plight. “Such a greedy pet, that one,” said one of them, indicating the American. “Always always demanding air. Passes out so easily.”
“No, no, she is a good pet,” insisted the one raping her mouth. “She is greedy for air, yes, but more greedy for her masters’ cock.” He shifted his grip to stick his thumbs in her mouth, stretching her lips open in a crude grin. “See how she smiles while I feed her? She will happily pass out as many times as it takes if it means the taste of my cock on her tongue and more warm love in her stomach, won’t she?” He nodded her head up and down for her. “Cute, obedient, cock gobbling pet.”
“You think that one is greedy for cock?” asked the nightmare raping the Japanese woman’s ass. He let go of one leg long enough to smack her butt cheek. “This one’s asshole is far worse. Hear how it sucks on me, how it begs and begs me to never leave? I almost weep every time I paint her guts with my love, knowing how much her hole will miss me when I’m gone. It’s why I fuck this hole more than any of the others. Ass then mouth. Ass then cunt. Always ass first before I give my love to any other hole.”
“Ah, such a kind master you are,” congratulated one of the spectators. “She is a lucky pet to have you there to keep her guts filled and happy.”
Both womens’ stomachs rumbled, and all the nightmares perked up with excitement. “It is time, it is time,” said one of them. “Who will do the honors? Who will play midwife to our sweet mommy pets?”
Two of the nightmares stepped up. “Do not worry, dear mommy pets,” one said. “The precious babes inside you are very resilient. This will not hurt them, I promise.” Then he reared back and kicked the American directly in her swollen belly. Her entire body convulsed, and then he did it again. The other nightmare was doing the same to the Japanese woman, driving his fist down into her soft sensitive stomach. Meanwhile, the four nightmares raping them never paused or hesitated in their abuse.
There was a louder rumble, and then pus began to ooze from both pussies, expelled by the blows. They plopped onto the floor into two large quivering piles, both covered in skin so thin it was transparent. The blobs of pus began to writhe, forming limbs and stretching itself into a more humanoid shape. It was like what had happened to the nightmares Hanabi had killed, but in reverse, the pus gaining shape instead of losing it. Within a minute two fully formed nightmares stood.
“Welcome brothers,” said one of the watchers. “Give thanks to the pets that birthed you.”
The two nightmares turned and pounced hungrily on the women, cocks forming at their crotches. They sank into the pussies that they had just come out of, one tackling the American woman, the climbing on top of the Japanese woman, both pounding them with frenzied violence. “Do you see that, mommy pets?” said the man still raping the Japanese woman’s mouth. “Do you see how much your babes love you? Rejoice, for you will have more so very soon. So very…” he groaned and pulled out of her, letting his cock spurt into her gaping mouth. “Yes, taste my love, pet!”
To Hanabi’s revulsion, it wasn’t semen that he was feeding her. It was more of that same pus they were all made out of. She suddenly knew with horrifying certainty what exactly their reproductive cycle entailed. These creatures were just bags filled to the brim with that warm, slimy pus, and they would expel it little by little into their victims. Until there was enough inside her, however many hundreds of loads, to form another nightmare. All of these creatures were constantly recycling themselves, breaking apart and reforming over time. Bags of slimy pus that mixed and recombined endlessly.
The revelation nearly made her throw up, but she managed to keep it together. She didn’t have time to feel sorry for herself right now. She only had a few minutes of foxfire left, and she’d need it to get back to the surface and then to the beach. Running out for even a few seconds before she escaped would mean ending up exactly like those two women. If she was going to help them, it was now or never. Could she really not live with herself if she abandoned them? Ugh. No, she couldn’t, as much as she wished otherwise…
The nightmares screamed in unison when she opened her mouth and let the sunlight fill the room. All thoughts of raping the two women had vanished, replaced by the need to escape from the light. Unlike the two she’d killed before, though, this time she couldn’t focus on them and prevent them from getting away. There were far too many of them, and too many avenues they could take to reach darkness. Hanabi could see them reforming just outside the light, staring at her with murderous rage.
“A new pet who plays with fire,” one hissed. “We will have to teach her better.”
“Put away the light, kitsune,” one ordered. “If you do, we will be soft and gentle. We will hold you close and whisper sweet nothings into your ears as we fill you with our love.”
“If you are a naughty pet,” added another, “we cannot spare the rod. Do you know how long you can scream, child of the gods? How long we can keep you in perfect undying agony, begging for our love and forgiveness? We will find out together.”
“We need to get out of here,” Hanabi told the two women, trying to ignore the nightmares’ threats. “Quickly. Can you walk?”
“I can dance a jig if it’ll get me out of this fucking place,” growled the American, who was already staggering to her feet. The Japanese woman was doing the same, but at a much slower pace. “If you know the way out, get moving and we’ll follow.”
“We-” something small and heavy struck the back of Hanabi’s head and the fox grunted in surprise. It wasn’t much of an injury, even without her healing powers. The rock the nightmare had thrown wasn’t sharp, and her fur had absorbed much of the blow. It hadn’t even broken her skin.
But it had broken her concentration. The sunlight vanished.
The first time the supernatural sense of lethargy had touched her, she’d been too distracted to notice it until it was too late. This time she was aware of it washing over her. It was like being submerged in mud. All of her limbs felt impossibly heavy, and even keeping her eyes open was an act that required all her strength. Hanabi held on for less than a second before giving in and flopping to the ground, paralyzed and blind once more. Inside her head, she was frantically reaching for her foxfire, but it wasn’t going to work. She’d been able to slap something together before, but at the cost of almost everything she had. That wouldn’t work a second time, and even if she got lucky and conjured sunlight almost immediately, she’d be too burned out to maintain it
To her surprise, no nightmare took the opportunity to immediately pounce on her. She could hear commotion all around her, but she was being ignored for the time being. It was a mystery she couldn’t afford to dwell on. Hanabi tried to make the most of her good fortune instead. If she could calm down and concentrate, the way she’d always done it in their training, she might be able to generate it for only a fraction of the power. It was like filling a cup slowly from a faucet instead of having to try and fill it from a fire hose point blank.
Calming down was easier said than done. She was surrounded by monsters, and perpetually an instant away from another horrifying gang rape, one that would continue for the rest of her life. But she did her best, trying to relax and picture Hanei as it had been so recently. A place of peace and warmth. And boring. Goddess, did she appreciate how wonderful it was to be bored now. She remembered all the little moments that she’d taken for granted all her life. The books she’d read, the naps she’d taken, the food she’d eaten, the games she’d played. Drinking tea with Tomo. Teasing Tobi. The long walks with Kamio. Watching the sunset with Nobu.
She focused on that last memory, trying to hold one of those sunsets in her mind. Tried to remember not just the sight of it, but the feel, what it was like to stand there basking in its presence, watching the warm colors make silent music in the sky. She took all of that and held it firmly in her mind, and then she poured foxfire into it. Brilliant golden sunlight filled the tunnels.
The oppressive atmosphere vanished and Hanabi opened her eyes. She was lying on her side, and flanked by the two women, who were miraculously still standing. Both of them were exhausted and shaking and covered in the creatures’ disgusting juices and… they’d protected her. The nightmares were already screaming and fleeing the light once more, but she could see their foul pus already splattered over the floors and walls, and many of their shells had been torn to pieces. The sunlight hadn’t done that. Somehow they’d resisted the nightmares’ power and held the entire horde off long enough for her to bring it back. Who were these women?
“We have to get out of here,” said the Japanese woman. “Quickly. Lead the way and we’ll protect you.” More rocks came sailing in, but she deftly intercepted them with her tails.
This wasn’t the time for an interview. Hanabi rose to her feet and loped back the way she came. She glanced back a couple times at first, anxious that the other two would fall behind and end up back in the darkness, but neither of them seemed to have any trouble matching her pace. The most nerve wracking part was when she transformed back into her human shape and climbed up the dry well. She could hear the nightmares just below them, scrabbling at the walls as they followed behind, and she was certain that one of them was about to grab an ankle and haul her back down. The sunlight wasn’t instant death to them, and all it would take was a single one brave enough and agile enough to risk it.
But then there was fresh air on her face and they were back among the abandoned buildings. A few of the nightmares continued trailing after them, hoping that her sunlight would vanish before she reached safety, but most remained underground. Hanabi didn’t let her guard down for a moment, though. She’d already witnessed how terrible they were even in small numbers. If she ran out of foxfire and the other two succumbed to the paralysis, a single nightmare would be enough to drag them back into the permanent darkness.
In the end, it was a close thing. The glowing ball began to waver while they were running through the grassy field, the beach still a ways off in the distance. “Can’t… can’t hold it any longer…” Hanabi gasped, winded and worn out from the mad dash.
A red tail encircled her waist and lifted her up in the air. “You have done well,” said the other fox. “We owe you our lives. Leave the rest to us.” Hanabi sagged in her grip as the light flickered out completely, and she saw the other two women flinch as though suddenly shouldering a heavy weight. But while their movements slowed, they didn’t stop, both women powering through it to keep running.
And then they were at the beach and on the marble circle and the dark scenery around them vanished, replaced by the bare hidden alcove within the temple. Hanabi didn’t know if the nightmares could come through the portal after them, and had no interest in finding out, so she put a finger to her lips and slowly swung the hidden door open, wary of any soldiers. But the temple was still deserted, and no alarms were raised as she quietly led the two mysterious strangers to a room with open windows through which the midday sun shined. Hanabi laid down on the floor, basking in the sunbeam. “So… “ she panted, “who the heck are you two?”
The two of them exchanged glances. “I’m Sam,” said the American, “and…” She looked a bit sheepish. “We’re here to help.”