Lone Fox 3 – Ch 9 – Extermination

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.

“This is fucking bullshit,” growled the woman who’d called herself Sam. She looked like she was about to punch something and she couldn’t sit still, pacing back and forth with her hands clenched. “I swear, the things I’d do for the chance to wrap my hands around Levi’s throat… I’d go take a long vacation with those goddamn pus slimes if I had to!”

“It makes no sense,” said Seo-yun, much more calmly than her companion but still frustrated. “He wasn’t supposed to be here yet. He was supposed to wait until the middle of winter to launch the siege. We should still have weeks to prepare.”

All three of them were still in the temple, keeping an eye on the village below. A patrol had passed by only a few minutes ago, sweeping the entire building to check for any valuables that hadn’t already been destroyed or stolen, but they’d kept out of sight with the aid of Hanabi’s foxfire. In the end, the soldiers hadn’t done much more than vandalize the place; the temple was solid stone, and couldn’t be torn down and destroyed as easily as the houses had. As far as Levi’s army seemed to be concerned, it was just an empty husk to be ignored now.

The room they were in was a storage area for festival decorations, most of which had been crafted before Hanabi was even born. They weren’t fancy or expensive, but they’d all been made with love and care. The sight of those familiar lanterns and boards and banners smashed and torn up and scattered all over the floor was painful; they’d been holding these celebrations for centuries, and now they never would again. Even if the soldiers hadn’t destroyed it all, it would have been useless junk now that Hanei was gone.

The white haired girl had gotten her hopes up when the two strangers had told her that they were here to help, but they’d deflated once she found out what that help actually was: warning Hanei that it was about to be invaded. But as bad as she felt about the poor timing, it was nothing compared to the despair and frustration of the newcomers when they’d discovered that they were too late and seen the state that Hanei had fallen into. “It’s… my fault,” Hanabi said slowly. “That he’s here early. A few days ago, before he showed up here, I… I found him in the woods and… I was able to escape, eventually, and that made him mad. Mad enough to show up here ahead of schedule, I think.” She was such a fucking idiot. If she’d just stayed home like she was supposed to, Levi wouldn’t be here yet, and these two would’ve warned everyone in time.

Her self-loathing must have been clear on her face, because Sam took her hands in her own with surprising gentleness. “You aren’t to blame for anything that motherfucker does,” she said. “Not a single damn thing, do you understand?”


“And,” Sam said over her, firmly, “as much as I hate to admit it, even if he hadn’t shown up early our plan was fucked from the beginning. We were the ones who got ourselves captured by those slimes on the way here. We were never gonna be able to warn your people in time. If he’d shown up a month from now, the only real change is that we would’ve spent a month down there in those tunnels before you found us, instead of only a couple days. And even if we hadn’t fucked up and tried to travel through the nexus at night, plan A was to have as many people as possible hide in there. That would have gone over real well.” Hanabi imagined the entire village falling victim to the nightmares and shuddered.

Everything the woman said made sense, but it didn’t banish the guilt from her heart. “Why is he even doing all this anyway?” she asked. “What did we ever do to him?”

“Have you seen that transforming thing that he and his guys can do?” Hanabi nodded, wishing she hadn’t. “They’re called vulpan. Humans that use the… what do you call it? Yeowu guseul?”Seo-yun nodded silently. “The yeowu guseul created by gumiho when they eat people. Levi and his messed up family want to create an entire army of them.” Sam glanced back outside. “A even bigger army,” she corrected grimly.

“Wait, are you saying that they’re going to make us eat humans and become gumiho so that we can produce more of those things for them?” Hanabi asked, horrified.

Sam shook her head. “Nah, that was the old method. Two years ago, Paragon – the organization behind Levi – managed to figure out a way to create artificial marbles, courtesy of a sister murdering bitch that I should’ve killed when I had the chance. Thanks to her, they’re able to create marbles that can be made in a lab and implanted surgically, no gumiho or humans required. They’re a fucked up fusion of science and supernatural created after experimenting on most of the original vulpan.” She used finger quotes around the word ‘experimenting’. “Torturing them to death,” she clarified.

“Anyway, the artificial marbles are much weaker than genuine ones, but they can be mass produced, which makes them way more valuable to Paragon. They don’t have the risk of running dry and killing their user the way natural marbles can, and they can’t be removed without ruining them and killing the user in the process. It’s a feature, not a bug, y’know? Means no one can capture their guys and extract the marbles for themselves.”

“But… if they have these fake marbles, why do they need kitsune in the first place?” Hanabi asked.

The redhead looked uneasy. “Three reasons. First, they still need foxfire and foxskins for the transformation. And not all skins are created equal. Some produce bigger, stronger, or tougher vulpan than others, and Paragon is hoping to make better and better skins with a dedicated breeding program. Second, because not all of the fox marbles they use are artificial. The Petrovs themselves and some others use the more powerful natural ones, and they were able to consolidate their existing marbles, turning themselves into extremely powerful vulpan. They’ll want at least a couple kitsune around that they can feed people to and grow some true marbles. And third…” She took a deep breath. “Paragon’s goal isn’t just to create an army of vulpan, it’s to prevent anyone else from ever following in their footsteps. That’s why it’s not enough to just kidnap some people from here, why they’re going to kill everyone they don’t keep for breeding and leave the village in ruins.”

“They want to exterminate us,” Hanabi whispered. Sam nodded. “Are… are you sure? I mean, how do you know all this?”

“We have a contact on the inside,” Sam said. “Someone we trust who filled us in on the details. They were also the one who warned us about Levi coming to Hanei in the first place. We were already planning to come here eventually, but this forced us to change our schedule.”


“Yeah. You ever hear of the Paradisium?” Sam asked. Hanabi shivered and nodded. Five minutes ago she would’ve called it the only people in the world worse than Levi. Now she wasn’t so sure who took the title. “We have a plan to bring it down, but it needs a kitsune.”

Hanabi looked questioningly at Seo-yun, and then understood. The woman had lost her foxskin, just as she had. “Was it Levi?” she asked quietly.

The red haired fox shrank away from their eye contact. She’d conversed with her companion a few times, but she hadn’t spoken a single word to Hanabi yet. “Yes and no,” she said, her voice small. “He burned my skin four years ago after capturing me because… because it took him a few more hours than he expected to torture me into giving it to him. But I lost my foxfire long before I met him, when I became a gumiho.” Hanabi’s shock at hearing that must have been showed in her expression, because the fox shrank even further. “I, I am not one anymore. My marble was Levi’s first.”

That didn’t make Hanabi feel all that better. Whatever the woman was or wasn’t right now, the fact that she’d once been a gumiho meant that there’d been a time when she’d chosen to eat people. But if this former gumiho wanted to hurt her, she’d had plenty of opportunities to act already. “Do you know of any way to restore a foxskin?” Seo-yun asked timidly.

Hanabi shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. I’ve never heard of anyone recreating one. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.” She felt more grateful than ever to have her own pelt back where it belonged.

Seo-yun nodded, her expression carefully neutral. “That is disappointing, but no more than I expected. Thank you.”

“Well, everything else has gone to shit,” Sam grumbled, “but at least we did find a fox.”

Hanabi’s face paled. “I-I’m not going to the Paradisium.” Her fate there wouldn’t be as bad as the nightmares, maybe even not as bad as what Levi would do to her, but she still wasn’t going to get anywhere near that vile place if she could help it.

“We’re not just asking you this for ourselves,” Sam told her, giving her a steady look. “Or for a bunch of strangers. After they finally finish this fucking orgy they’ve got going on, Levi’s gonna bring your people to the Paradisium first. Paragon has a contract with the dragon there to give him some of the kitsune, and it’s where he plans to dump others as meat. They’ll be there for a while negotiating which foxes they get to keep, so Karakostas will insist on housing all of them in the Paradisium itself, in the same slave pens as his regular slaves. And part of our plan was already to break into those pens and rescue everyone. So all this just means there will be a few hundred more people down there. No sweat.”

Hanabi held up her hands. “Look, th-there’s gotta be someone else. If you want, I can go down there, see if I can sneak anyone back here. Or we could rescue one of the people up in the trees. I can help you get someone else with foxfire. But not me, okay?” She was done with risking her life. Going out into the forest had made her Levi’s fucktoy, going into the sanctuary had gotten her raped by disgusting creatures and nearly trapped with them forever… and now she was supposed to go to the Paradisium, where they tortured people like her to death just for fun?

Sam looked like she was about to say something further, but it was Seo-yun that spoke up. “Then we won’t force you.” She gave Sam a look, then turned back to Hanabi. “Thank you for everything you have already done. Words cannot express my full gratitude.” She stood. “Is there somewhere safe that I could sleep? It has been quite a while since I last rested.” Hanabi pointed her in the right direction, and the woman bowed and left.

“Does she hate me or something?” The white haired girl asked Sam once the red fox was out of earshot. “She could barely even stand to look at me.”

Sam shook her head. “No, it’s nothing to do with you. She’s just… well, you go two hundred years without talking to people, and your social skills kinda suffer, I guess. Doesn’t help that she was pretty sure that everyone here was gonna despise her when they found out what she used to be. She’s great when it comes to life or death situations, but throw into her something ‘normal’ and… she’ll warm up to you soon, promise. She just needs some time to get to know you.” She looked down the hall towards the direction Seo-yun had gone. “I lied to you earlier.”

“About what?”

“We didn’t come to Hanei to recruit a fox. That was just the backup plan. What she was really hoping was that your people would know a way to get her own foxfire back, so that she could do everything herself. She doesn’t want to put anyone else in danger.” Sam smiled slightly. “The only reason she even lets me help is that she knows better than to try and stop me.” Her brief mirth faded. “But she does need help. I’m not going to force you to come with us either, but we can’t do this alone.”

“I can help you get someone else with foxfire,” Hanabi repeated.

“We don’t just need ‘someone’,” Sam countered. “This is gonna be dangerous and it’s gonna be difficult. From where I’m standing, there’s only one fox in this village who’s managed to get away from Levi, evade capture from an entire army, steal back her foxskin, and rescue the both of us when we needed it.”

Hanabi shook her head. “That was all just luck, I’m not really… I’m not as strong as you think I am.” It was her own idiocy that had put her in Levi’s clutches in the first place. It was thanks to Megumi and that unknown woman that she’d been able to avoid capture. She’d only retrieved her foxskin because the others sacrificed their own chance for freedom to help her, and even then she’d needed divine intervention to stop the vulpan from hauling her out of the temple by the scruff of her neck. And her rescue attempt would have accomplished nothing but handing herself over to the nightmares if it wasn’t for the other two’s ability to protect her. She wasn’t impressive. She wasn’t a hero. She was a scared, useless girl whose luck was due to run out.

The woman looked at her squarely. “You’re not as strong as you think you’re supposed to be. There’s a difference. We can’t make you come with us, Hanabi, but that doesn’t change the facts. We need you.” She rose. “And if I know my wife, right now she’s lying awake trying to figure out how everything wrong with the world can secretly be all her fault, so I’m gonna go kiss some sense into her. You should get some sleep too; I’ll keep watch.”

Hanabi continued staring into space after the redhead left. They’d understand soon enough, once they got to know her better. They’d realize how pathetic she really was.

There were far too many fox fucktoys being trained for everyone to keep track of them all, so Levi had instituted a system to mark slaves by their piercings, and given every man in his ranks ample supply of rings and studs to use at their discretion. They were applied easily and often, and once a piercing was on, they could only be removed through significant effort.

Ear piercings, the ones most easily visible from a distance, indicated unruly slaves that should be watched for possible escape attempts or acts of rebellion. Semen was the staple of even the most obedient fucktoy’s diet, but anyone with at least one ear piercing didn’t even receive the nutritional supplements they would need to survive long term, or enjoy the two hours of sleep that the others were allowed. Sleep deprivation and constant grueling physical activity left them very quickly too exhausted to try much of anything. Removing an ear piercing required an unasked for act of utter submission to demonstrate their newfound obedience, such as breaking their own fingers to help please the men using them at the time, or ripping off their own tails to show their contrition.

Clit piercings were for lazy fucktoys that required pain to properly perform. Wearing one or more was an open invitation to the men to yank them hard to make the wearer scream and clench. The only way for a fox to get rid of one required first draining a soldier’s balls all by herself, no easy feat given the virility drugs they used. It usually took at least ten loads to accomplish, one after the other, and if the man judged that she had been a tight, hardworking fleshlight the entire time, he might deign to remove one.

Many of the foxes no longer had gag reflexes, but a considerable number hadn’t yet accepted that oxygen was a privilege for good fucktoys, not a right. Until they’d properly learned that lesson, they wore a nose piercing that a man could hook a finger into to help cram his throbbing cock down a suffocating fucktoy’s throat, and then use to keep her lips pressed firmly against his base no matter how much she squirmed and begged for air. By now, any woman in the camp without a ring dangling above her upper lip had demonstrably proven on multiple occasions that she knew helping a man spurt down her throat was more important than staying conscious.

Looking at a soldier with anything less than fawning respect or unabashed terror was an indicator that a fox still had some pride and dignity left, and resulted in a lower lip piercing. As Levi himself had described it, any furry slut that still thought she was too good to be a fucktoy could try being a toilet instead. They were still raped and tortured and abused just as much as the other women, but the lip piercing told any man nearby with a full bladder that he should tug her lip down and fill her mouth with piss. Even the other foxes were required to use them; pissing anywhere but in a fox toilet’s mouth was a quick way for a woman to get a lip piercing of her own. Once a woman was marked as a toilet, the only way to get promoted back to fucktoy was to prove to someone that they’d successfully scrubbed all that pride and dignity away, usually by devouring something even more disgusting than fresh piss.

Tongue studs were reserved for foxes who dared to speak for any reason other than to answer a direct question or beg to be fucked. Fucking the mouth of any fox with a stud wasn’t allowed, much to the disappointment of the soldiers. Neither was fucking their other holes with only a single cock. Taking two cocks in both her pussy and asshole, sometimes at the same time, was often enough to make the fox in question appreciate having her mouth available as a third fuckhole and not wasted on activities like speaking her mind. And since the stud wouldn’t be removed until both of her lower holes had been flooded with semen and her entire body was covered in the stuff from head to toe, she would have plenty of opportunities to develop that appreciation.

Last but not least were the nipple piercings, the only marking that was an indicator of praise rather than failure. They were given only to exemplary slaves, those without any other piercings who seemed well on track to becoming properly obedient and useful fucktoys and breeders. Levi had been unsurprised to see that some foxes feared receiving these above all others, though. Any woman pierced this way would be singled out for extra attention, and judged by much harsher standards. It was not uncommon for a fox slut to have her nipple piercings ripped out of her within an hour or two of receiving them, and replaced with a variety of piercings around her body.

Piercings weren’t the only method by which the soldiers marked their toys. Cuts and burns would heal in minutes, and tattoo ink would fade almost as quickly, but thread would stay. Men stitched messages into the foxes’ flesh, or more often made other foxes do it for them, broadcasting to the others their favorite hole or what sort of torture the woman hated most. Often they inscribed obscene words or images with no goal but to degrade their victim. Innumerable crude penises were scrawled permanently on the former citizens of Hanei, along with phrases like STUFF MY TIGHT ASSHOLE and BREED ME LOVER. Of particular interest was the foxes’ foreheads. None of the soldiers had any interest in learning or using the foxes’ real names, so they used the numbers written on their arms instead, or stitched nicknames onto their foreheads like CUMGUZZLER and DUMB BITCH.

Before the first twenty four hours were over, the community of Hanei looked nothing like the peaceful, vibrant population it had once been. Levi was proud of his men; most of them were useless bastards who only thought with their cocks, but they knew how to teach these subhumans their place. While the men and nonbinary foxes languished in cages, dirty and starving, the women crawled around covered in piercings and degrading comments and piss and cum. Most were missing at least one tail, and those that remained were wrapped around their throats or binding their limbs or simply stuffed into their unused orifices. Misery hung over the fallen village like fog, while their oppressors and natural superiors enjoyed the time of their lives.

As it should be.

Emi tried not to panic as she swung from the noose, her feet precious inches from the ground. The dark haired doctor fought down the urge to grab at the rope around her neck, or to beg the onlookers for mercy. Obedience was the only way out of this.

“Bet I’m gonna nail this with the first shot,” a soldier boasted as he picked up one of the syringes they’d stolen somewhere, possibly from her own clinic. If she wasn’t so tired and sore, she would have appreciated the irony of the situation: most of the men here didn’t even know that she was a doctor. It was pure coincidence that they were about to torment her with some of the former tools of her trade.

The man held the syringe like a dart, its needle tip glinting. “So what should the target be? Her neck? Her eye? If I threw one right between those cocksucking lips of hers, I bet the other end would come out the back of her head, yeah? That’d be a neat trick.” Emi’s body shook with fear as he casually discussed where he should try to impale her.

“Aww, you don’t gotta be mean to the poor thing,” said another. “Why don’t we just use those plump titties of hers? First two men to pierce one of those lovely brown nips gets her all to themselves for the next two hours.” He winked at her. “That sound good to you too, slut?”

No. The idea of them turning her breasts into pincushions was the sort of thing she’d have nightmares about, if her imagination could even entertain such capacity for cruelty. But she did her best to smile and choked out “whatever you want, sirs”.

She flinched as the first syringe caught her in the upper thigh. The one who’d thrown it cursed and tried again, piercing her stomach next, and then her upper shoulder. All three syringes remained impaled in her body as she was let down for just a few seconds of breath, then hoisted back up to suffocate for the second thrower. “It’s not half as much fun if she just swings there and takes it,” he complained instead of throwing his first syringe. “You’re here to entertain us, 157, remember? Show off those tits.”

Emi put her hands on the undersides of her breasts and lifted, presenting them to the men. Her display was met with laughter. “Give us a challenge too, love,” another called out. “Jiggle them boobies for us!” She began raising her hands up and down, making her breasts dance in the air for them while she slowly choked to death. The first syringe pinned her left hand to her breast, and there were calls of appreciation, but the second one struck her rib cage and the third missed her completely.

The brunette had done everything her captors had asked, without question. In her two days of captivity so far, she’d already been raped in every hole more times than she could remember, forced to drink piss and lick out assholes and spitshine more than one pair of balls, and agreed with every degrading comment thrown her way. In the beginning, she’d hoped that her compliance might allow her a small measure of freedom that she could use to tend to the others. But it had quickly become clear that her total submission wasn’t viewed as anything special. It was no more than what they already expected from her. And even if she’d been able to distinguish herself as a particularly obedient fucktoy, they had no interest in granting anyone the slightest clemency.

There were twenty two syringes impaling her body, most of them in her abdomen, when the ninth man successfully drove his third shot straight through her left nipple. Emi had managed to remain docile up to that point, but the sudden stabbing pain was too much, and she screamed. “There we go!” said the thrower as the others simultaneously congratulated and cursed him. He shook his cock at her. “You and me are gonna have a little date in a minute, foxy! Better start getting wet now, because I’m gonna stuff that tight cunny good and then go do some sparring!”

Not all of the invading soldiers were the same. Many of them just wanted to get laid as often as possible, and were spending every waking moment on that goal. They were all capable of astounding feats of endurance, but even that wasn’t enough to satisfy them; Emi had witnessed women being beaten within an inch of their lives for failing to get someone hard with their mouths after several straight hours of sex. Those types didn’t have much time for insults or games, not when it meant precious seconds without their dick buried in someone.

Others had been attracted to specific kitsune, and claimed them for themselves for the duration of the week. Those women were being forced to act as their personal sex slaves and tend to their every need, devoting themselves to learning exactly how to best satisfy their temporary owner. Failing to perform adequately usually meant receiving a variety of piercings and stitchings before being tossed back into the general population. Failing to even try to be a good fucktoy was often a death sentence.

The ones tormenting Emi right now fell somewhere between those and a third type, the ones that got off on the degradation and the abuse as much as they did the sex. Those were the type willing to take their time with games like these when they could be off sticking it in someone instead. Most of the men playing darts were among her “regulars”, soldiers who didn’t use her exclusively but kept coming back to rape her again and again. She was familiar with them all by now, not by name or face, but by their cocks and how they enjoyed hurting her. There was the one who’d first captured her, who kept making her taste his balls every chance he got, the one who seemed to enjoy taking her anally just so he could force her to clean him with her mouth afterward, the one who constantly showed up to add a fresh load of cum to her pussy because 157, the number stitched on her forearm, was one of his “lucky numbers”…

The man who’d just won the use of her for the next two hours was one of them too, the one convinced that nothing made a fox clench harder than a strong punch to the stomach. So he would penetrate her, usually standing and from behind, and she would have to beg passing soldiers to come and beat her belly to help him cum. He’d just stand there, enjoying the tightness of her pussy or ass, while she grunted and retched and thanked the others for making her their punching bag.

Only fourteen syringes were inside her when her right nipple was finally struck, but only because all the blood and sweat had made many of them fall out. There were punctures healing all over her arms, legs, stomach, and face. More than half of them were in her breasts, which had been mercilessly skewered more and more often as the soldiers got used to aiming the syringes. Emi’s heart sank even further when she saw who’d thrown it. This one wasn’t one of her regulars, but he’d stood out enough to be recognized.

He already had his knife out, and was sizing her up while the others dumped her onto the ground and began untying the noose. He liked to cut. He was fascinated with what a kitsune could heal from, and equally fascinated with what they couldn’t. Emi had seen the women he’d played with, most of whom were now missing pieces of themselves here and there: fingers, toes, tails, ears. He’d cut out a woman’s tongue only an hour ago to see what would happen, and its owner had been strung up within minutes because of her now “defective” mouth.

Both of these men were about to hurt her very badly, possibly permanently, for no greater reason than their own pleasure. And when her two hours with them were over, she would find no relief, only more abuses. Two hours was a long time in her new life, and many of her regulars would be itching to make full use of her after having to go without for so long. She was trying so hard to show them how obedient she could be, and they just kept being cruel, every last one of them.

Emi looked up at the two men and did the only thing she could: smiled and crawled over to lick their feet.

Hanabi felt like time had never passed more slowly in her life. Or more quickly.

The plan had seemed easy enough when she’d first agreed to it: remain in hiding until Levi and his men departed, and then use the stolen foxskins to rescue all the villagers he’d left strung up to die. The other two women were still clinging to the absurd idea that she was going to help them with their insane idea of attacking the Paradisium, but that was just because she was their only option. Once there were other kitsune around, they’d be able to stop fooling themselves.

She hadn’t appreciated how grueling all that empty time would be. Every second of it felt like a heavy, ponderous thing to be overcome. She would spend hours watching the village, witnessing countless acts of cruelty, and then discover that mere minutes had passed. Hanabi found herself constantly on edge, wondering when the peace would be broken and the violence would return. To be hurting, humiliated, and afraid felt more like her default state by now, and her current situation was just putting off the inevitable.

Paradoxically, time also seemed to be racing, jumping forward in leaps and bounds that turned her bowels to water whenever she thought about it. Kitsune could die from starvation and dehydration just like anyone else, and the ones sentenced to death had already been hanging for days. Many of them were so far gone that the white haired girl couldn’t be sure if they were dead or alive just by looking. If Levi didn’t leave soon, she’d have her answer. But no matter how much she prayed, he showed no sign of picking up his forces and moving, seeming content to relax and enjoy their spoils day after day. And all Hanabi could do was keep waiting, knowing that every passing second might be someone’s last.

The agonizing waiting almost made her frequent trips into the village less awful, but not really. Every time a new fox was strung up to die, Hanabi needed to go retrieve the woman’s foxskin so that she could eventually be saved. Now that she could hide herself with foxfire, there wasn’t nearly as much danger, but there was always the terrifying possibility that she might run into Celeste. Thankfully, finding and stealing the foxskins was usually easy: it had become habit for the soldiers to dump someone’s skin on the ground below them after they were hung up, taking sadistic enjoyment at leaving the pelts so close and yet so far to their owners. All Hanabi had to do was grab the skin herself and leave behind an illusion tied to a piece of cloth.

Doing what she could to keep the hanging kitsune alive was far more difficult. Hanabi couldn’t dare feed them any of the fruit and rations that the three women were currently living on; the most she could do was sneak around to provide them with occasional discreet sips of water, and even that was tricky. It would only take one startled fox making noise for the soldiers to realize that something was going on, and if they even suspected that someone was sneaking around, there was a good chance that they’d just kill everyone strung up to deny them the chance of rescue.

Her help was only putting off the inevitable, not halting it. More than once she’d reached a hanging fox and found their skin clammy and cold. Sometimes Hanabi felt like all she was really doing was prolonging the suffering, making their executions even more drawn out and torturous than Levi had intended. She wondered if the foxes hated her for keeping them alive and denying them the mercy of death. They should.

The only thing that helped distract her from the constant horror of their situation was the newcomers. Outside of Levi and his ilk, it had been decades since she’d last spoken with someone that she hadn’t already known for, well, decades. “Where did you come from anyway?” Hanabi asked Seo-yun as the three of them shared a meal. They were back inside what the others called the nexus, sitting on the beach and watching the tides roll in. The white haired girl felt uncomfortable being back here, but there were hours to go before sunset in this place, and it was safer than hiding in the temple.

The beach and everything else still looked as real as anything to her, but the according to the other two, it was all fake. The place was some kind of artificial construct, a little pocket universe only a few square miles in size that had been hidden away. If she built herself a boat and tried to row away from the island, eventually the water would just… end. The thought of it made her a little queasy, and she was in no hurry to see the phenomenon for herself.

“There is another entrance to the nexus over there,” said Seo-yun, pointing back towards the ruins. “On the opposite side. It’s another beach much like this one. It is linked to an old temple next to the Paradisium.” Like Sam had predicted, the red fox was slowly warming up to her as they spent more time together. She still rarely said anything to Hanabi that wasn’t an answer to a direct question, but she didn’t cringe anymore when the girl looked at her.

“The Paradisium?” Hanabi squawked, staring in that direction. This island was less than ten miles long. Any force from there could travel to Hanei in just a couple hours. “Why the hell is that place connected to this one?”

“No idea,” said Sam. “I don’t know why you foxes are connected to it either, or even what’s supposed to be in here. Assuming it wasn’t always meant to be nightmare central.”

“It was… I was told that this was some kind of hiding place for, uh, gods,” Hanabi said.

“Gods?” Sam said loudly, looking startled. She looked at Seo-yun. “Gods? Really? There are actual gods?”

Her wife shrugged. “I don’t see why not. We’ve both encountered plenty of strange things in our time. Gods seem like one of the more reasonable ones.”

“Yeah, but as far as I’ve seen, no offense, everyone just seems like humans with some different bits here and there,” Sam countered. “Gods are…” She flapped her hands vaguely. “They’re gods!”

“Maybe they’re not all that different…” Hanabi said darkly. “I mean, they had to go hide in here from something, and it looks like it didn’t work out too well for them. Maybe they weren’t really that powerful after all.”

“Good point,” Sam admitted, and sighed. “Well, world’s done a pretty good job of going to shit, gods or no gods. Guess it doesn’t really matter if they’re real or not.”

“Your people were tasked with protecting the nexus?” Seo-yun asked Hanabi, who nodded. “Perhaps the Paradisium was once a very different place. I can think of worse guardians than dragons.”

“Wait,” Hanabi said. “This doesn’t make sense. If Levi is working with the Paradisium, and they wanted to abduct all of us, why not come through this nexus then? Why even bother breaking down our defenses when they have a back door into the place?”

“Probably because Paragon and the Paradisium are allies, not friends,” Sam said. “The dragon’s not going to tell them about a place like this if he doesn’t have to, not when Paragon is the one spending the resources. And he’s sure as hell not gonna send hundreds of grunts in here who might talk about what they’ve seen afterward.”

“But he wouldn’t even have to involve Paragon,” Hanabi pointed out. “Hell, he wouldn’t even have to send anyone else if he didn’t want to. He could just swoop through himself, grab a bunch of foxes, and scorch the rest of us.” The idea seemed terrifyingly plausible, and she resisted the urge to start watching the skies.

“We do not know the dragon’s relationship and history with the nexus,” Seo-yun said. “When we came through from that side, we confirmed that the temple housing the entrance hadn’t been visited for a very long time. Whatever his reasons, it seems unmistakable that Karakostas wants nothing to do with this place.”

Hanabi still didn’t like thinking about it. Between the Paradisium on the other side of the island and the nightmares somewhere underground, her skin was crawling. “That actually wasn’t what I meant,” she said. “When I asked where you were from. I didn’t mean how you did get here, I meant, y’know, where did you come from? I’ve never met a kitsune from outside Hanei before.”

“I was born in South Korea,” Seo-yun said. “My mother and father migrated there from Japan centuries a-”

“Wait!” The white haired girl interrupted. It couldn’t be…“Your parents… is your mother’s name Seijun?”

Seo-yun’s eyes widened, and she suddenly seemed far more animated. “Yes! Do you know them? They came from Hanei?”

It was too much. Hanabi laughed out loud. She didn’t know exactly what kind of joke the universe was playing on her, only that it definitely was. “Everyone knows of Seijun. She… she had white fur, like me.”

Yuki was the last white fox before Hanabi, the one that Hanei would never forget. But she wasn’t the only reason white fur was considered an ill omen. There had been Yuki, and there had been Seijun. “She used to be one of the most respected kitsune in the village, a very long time ago. Back during the War.”

“Which war?” Sam asked.

“Not one you’re gonna find in any history textbooks. There were these creatures called Jorogumo, these big spider… nasty things. We fought them for years. And then…” Hanabi hesitated. She didn’t want to talk about Yuki. She didn’t want Seo-yun to know that her mother’s fur was now seen as a curse, or that people feared Hanabi herself for it. Seo-yun was the first fox she’d ever met who didn’t already know the story, and she wanted to keep it that way for just a little while longer. “By the end of it, we’d lost so many people. Before the War, we’d tried to live in harmony with the humans, or so people say, but after, there were too few of us, and it wasn’t safe. So we returned to Shirakami Sanchi and hid ourselves away from the world.”

“Did my mother and father fight in that war?” Seo-yun asked.

Hanabi nodded. “Seijun did, at least. I don’t know much about her mate Yuudai, but I think maybe he helped the injured?”

The red haired woman nodded, and Hanabi was surprised to see tears in her eyes. “Yes, that sounds right,” she said. “What happened next?”

“Seijun was really unhappy about the way we were isolating ourselves. She thought we had a responsibility to help because…” Because we were responsible for the nogitsune. “Because we had the power to. And when she couldn’t convince the others, she and Yuudai just left.” She and Yuki had been celebrated heroes, and then in such a short span of time the village’s only two white foxes were gone, one exiled for her crimes and the other abandoning her people at a time when they were still reeling from loss. “The village tried to track them down at first, but they couldn’t find them and we never got any word back, so eventually everyone assumed that something terrible had happened. But if she’s okay in Korea, then…”

Seo-yun shook her head. “I’m afraid Mother and Father were both killed by hunters three centuries ago.”

“Oh,” Hanabi said. “…I’m sorry.”

“As am I, but it is in the past.” Seo-yun seemed to visibly tear herself away from her thoughts. “It is good to know. They still cared about you, you know. They told me so once. Their dream was to prove that humans and kitsune could work together, and show you that co-operation bested fear.”

Hanabi held her tongue. She had some harsh opinions about humans these days, but she knew they wouldn’t go over too well with a fox who’d taken one for a wife. Not that Sam seemed so bad, or that strange woman who’d kept her hidden back in the temple. But they were just two people, and there were hundreds of counter examples in the village right now. She couldn’t keep a scowl off her face at the thought, and while Seo-yun didn’t seem notice, Sam did. The redhead glanced away from her, eyes downcast.

“How much longer, do you think?” the woman asked. She sounded like she didn’t care about the answer, only for the chance to change the subject. “That bastard has to leave soon.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Hanabi replied softly. Part of her had already accepted what the rest of her kept trying to deny: they weren’t going to be able to save the others. They were all going to die out there, while the three of them did nothing but sit around and wait. “He really doesn’t.”

Seo-yun opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it. Her eyes stared off into the distance.

“Is my cunt tight enough for you, sir?” Sakura asked fearfully.

Her owner laughed. “For now, slut. For now.”

The two of them were in what had once been the first floor of her home. The house was in better condition than most because her owner had decided to take up residence here. The water and electricity were both out, but there was still an intact bed to sleep on, and plenty of food left in the pantry. He might even let her eat some of it eventually, if she was good. And Sakura dearly wanted to be good. She’d seen enough of what everyone else was going through outside to know that she didn’t want any part of it. In here, she was the plaything of a sadist, but she was allowed to sleep when he did, and he only hurt her when she was bad. He didn’t want to hurt her, but she forced him to whenever she did the wrong thing.

He usually didn’t even rape her in that awful monstrous form that so many of them enjoyed. She’d thought at first that maybe he wasn’t one of them, but she’d been a stupid girl on the second day and he’d had no choice but to punish her. He’d transformed and taught her how painful it would be for each of her fuckholes to take his freakish length, ramming them into her so violently that she’d been convinced that even her kitsune healing wouldn’t let them recover. He’d told her that he liked things better the normal, easygoing, human shaped way, where it was much easier for a good girl like Sakura to please him, but if she couldn’t even do something as simple as that, he’d settle for fucking her half to death as a fox instead. She’d agreed with complete sincerity that it would be much better for both of them if she was exactly the kind of eager slut he wanted. A twisted part of her felt genuine gratitude that he thought she was capable of being a good fucktoy for him.

Right now, he sat on the couch, his fly undone and cock out, while she bounced naked on his lap, pleasing him just the way he liked. She’d ridden him for an hour straight by this point, which was good. Good girls made their owners happy as long as they wanted. Not too fast, not too slow, not too gentle, not too tight. A good girl did it juuuuuuuuust the way her owner liked it, until it was time to get a fresh dollop of cream as a reward.

“My pussy is your warm wet cocksheath sir,” she told him. “It’s so happy when you’re home.” That was a lie – it was painful and awful and humiliating to have him inside of her – but he’d taught her that lies were sometimes necessary to be good. She wanted to be happy when he was inside of her, and that made it okay to pretend that she already was. It was the same way that she wanted to love the taste of his seed, so she was being a good girl when she purred happily while swallowing it.

Sakura knew that there was something wrong with her head. She was supposed to be strong and brave and resist, but she hurt, and all she wanted was to not hurt. This was how she could do it. The real Sakura was miserable and humiliated, but the fake Sakura was a happy fox slut who loved it when her owner did things like squirt his cum into her guts. So she’d closed her real self in a box and locked it tight, where it could sit and watch.

“M-may I taste you soon, sir?” she asked. “Your fox slut is very hungry. She’d love to fill her stomach with your warm buttery spunk.” That one wasn’t as big of a lie, thankfully. Sakura wasn’t the only villager forced to live on their cum, but her owner was stingy compared to most. Even the villagers who’d been claimed by a single man like her were usually fed a dozen or more loads in a day, while she’d been fed less than that since the first night. By now, she was desperate for anything that could blunt the edge of her hunger, even his disgusting white slime.

“Hmm,” he mused, “has my slut earned herself another hot meal so soon?” He began idly playing with her tits, and she arched her back to push them against his hands. “It’s only been, what, six hours? Last thing I want is a chubby bitch riding my cock.”

“I won’t ever allow myself to become a chubby bitch, sir,” she promised the man more than thrice her weight. “I’ll always be your sexy fox slut.”

She continued bouncing on him while he considered it. The movement was like a dance, one she had both no interest in learning and a desperate need to master. Sink down low enough that his cockhead kisses her cervix. Not too fast, don’t want the impact to be uncomfortable for him. A slow, intimate kiss was what he liked. Then grip him with her pussy walls and slide smoothly back up, letting her insides massage his shaft. Don’t let him pop out – even though they’d healed hours ago, she swore she could still feel the whip marks from the last time she’d made that mistake – only go high enough to caress that fat head with her pussy lips. Then relax and swallow him back up so she could do it all over again.. Kiss. Massage. Caress. Swallow. Kiss. Massage. Caress. Swallow.

Her legs burned with exhaustion, she was so hungry that she felt nauseated, and her head pounded from being severely dehydrated. Sakura had never felt more miserable in her life. But that didn’t matter. None of that was a valid excuse to stop kissing, massaging, caressing, and swallowing. Her own condition didn’t matter, she reminded herself. She was just a furry fleshlight. The most important thing in the world was her owner’s dick, and doing whatever it took to keep it fat and happy. Kiss. Massage. Caress. Swallow.

“I suppose I could give you a fresh treat,” he said eventually, “if you do something for me first.” He ran a hand through her bubblegum pink hair. “You foxies have all kinds of hair colors, but there’s no way this one is natural, right? Not with that blonde pussy fuzz down there.”

“Yes, sir,” Sakura admitted. “I dye it once a month.”

“Mmm hmm.” He twirled a finger around her locks. “You must be very proud of your hair, to take the time to get it looking so good.” Without warning, he tugged painfully on the hair wrapped around his finger, forcing her to tilt her head back. “What’s more important, slut: this hair of yours, or my jizz?”

“Y-your jizz, sir,” she said quickly.

Her let up on her hair and the pain eased. “Exactly. That’s why it needs to go. To help you remember that the only thing in your life you should care about anymore is the fat prick buried in your twat.”

Sakura was frozen with fear while he reached into his pants pocket and took out a large military knife. He pressed it into her hand, but kept his fingers wrapped around her own; she would’ve told him that she’d never dare attack him with it, but just bringing up the possibility would probably earn her a thrashing. Her hair? Why did he have to get rid of her hair? Wasn’t she being a good girl? She trembled, and fresh tears slipped from her eyes.

He brought the knife up to her scalp. “Slice it off, slut,” he ordered.

“Please…” she whispered. “Please sir, I’ll be good, I’ll be your good foxy slut forever, I promise.”

His breath was hot and rancid in her ear. “How am I supposed to believe you if you can’t even follow such a simple command? Everyone around here wants a piece of all the pretty girls, slut, but I don’t like to share. I don’t care about looks either; as long as you’ve got soft warm holes that treat me right, I don’t give a fuck how ugly you are. So we’re gonna make sure that nobody gets sad about you being my personal cumdump. And if you’ve got a problem with that…” The knife slid down her head, until it rested against her nose. “There’s all kinds of ways I could make you uglier, slut. You’re just full of extra pieces that a fucktoy doesn’t need.” He applied slight pressure, and she winced as the blade broke the skin, making blood trickle over her lips and down her chin. “So would you rather be my bald slut, or should I start cutting?”

“P-p-please m-make me your b-bald slut…” she forced out, terrified. She didn’t doubt his threat for a second. There were already plenty of kitsune out there who’d been hurt worse for less reason, mutilated and sentenced to death. Nobody would care if he disfigured one more.

The weight of the knife returned to her scalp. Sakura steeled herself and then, scared that he might change his mind if she hesitated too long, began to drag the knife over her head. She sobbed as she felt her hair scatter, most of it sliding down her back. “Not like that,” he said with a touch of irritation. “I didn’t tell you to give yourself a haircut. I want this head completely sheared.” He positioned the knife back at her forehead and dug in, nearly scalping her as he swept it over her skull. “Like that.”

It took many passes, and the bald girl’s head was bloody in numerous spots when she was finished. He rubbed her head with one hand as he pocketed the knife, and her flesh crawled to feel him touching her now bare skin up there. “Now there’s a good slut. Mmm hmm, no one’s going to look twice at an ugly piece of shit like you now. Isn’t that nice?”

“Y-yes sir.” Sakura fought to manage her tears. No one liked a weepy bitch, she reminded herself. Good girls don’t cry. They smile and giggle and purr, and they never do anything else unless their owner wants it.

“Now come get your reward.”

Sakura rose off of him and turned around, sinking to her knees. His dick was covered in her pussy juice and throbbing happily, precum leaking freely from its tip. She stared at the obscene sight and forced on a smile. “Thank you for this treat, sir,” she told him. “It’s going to be yummy!” Without breaking eye contact or letting the expression of feigned joy slip, the bald fox closed her lips around her owner, and got to work on sucking out her dinner.

Ichika grunted in pain as the vulpan slammed into her womb, breaking through her restored cervix as easily as her hymen. Like all of her tormentors, he fucked her like his cock was a weapon, impaling her on it almost as violently as a sword. Every time his hips connected with her upturned ass, the blow was nearly hard enough to break her bones.

The former captain was on all fours, each of her limbs held by chains that had been pounded into the ground. They’d used her tails too at first, but those had been ripped off one by one by a steady stream of overeager rapists, all of them happy to destroy her body for their own pleasure. The only thing left that marked her as a kitsune was her fox ears, and from the way some of the vulpan liked to chew and worry at them while they used her, she suspected they would both be gone before the week was out. Her head was lower than the rest of her, forced into a depression in the ground by the choke collar around her neck. Even when she kept her head down so far that her lips and nose brushed the dirt, she could only draw a meager trickle of breath.

When there was even air to breathe, that was. One of the watching vulpan took the opportunity to lift his leg and piss into the latrine her head was trapped in, raising the same choice she’d been given a thousand times already: drink their piss, or drown in it. She chose the first option, as she always did, quickly sucking down the yellow liquid before it could pool, but the second sounded more appealing every time.

The vulpan raping her pulled back farther than usual, letting his cock pop free of her bloody pussy, and she quickly relaxed her anus as best she could. When he skewered it a half second later, it was still enough agony for her to cry out and choke on some of the urine, but it didn’t literally rip her sphincter muscle, as so many of the others had done before she’d gotten the reflex down. He pounded her guts as savagely as he had her womb, lubricated only by the hundreds of loads of cum he and his kind had left in there.

Ichika wasn’t the only woman being raped by the vulpan. Far from it. There were hundreds of them, and their overgrown sex drives were even worse than the human soldiers, and since Hanei had fallen she’d yet to see a single one not eating, sleeping, or fucking at any given time. More than half the women in the village laid on the ground around her, screaming as they were ravished by the beasts. Everyone rotated in shifts: twelve hours with the vulpan, ten with the humans, and just two to sleep if they’d been good and hadn’t earned themselves an ear piercing.

But the captain was special. She’d spent all day and every day so far with the vulpan. And the other kitsune nearby were being treated like anyone else in the village, albeit by beasts with cocks larger and hardier than what the humans were packing. Ichika, on the other hand, was being punished. Every giant monstrous fox around wanted to be the one to break her, to fuck her into sobbing submission as payback for killing one of their own. She’d realized early on that that was the only reason she hadn’t been strung up the moment they’d realized that she was the one who’d killed one of them; their commander didn’t just want to execute her, he wanted a broken and whimpering victim he could hold up to everyone to show how pointless it was to resist.

Ichika supposed that she should regret what she’d done, but she didn’t. They could do whatever they wanted to her, but they couldn’t undo the fact that she’d made one of them pay for coming here. She longed to up that number, but she’d take what she could get.

She recognized every one of the women here with her, but Megumi’s presence may have been the most painful. Like her, she was permanently in use by the vulpan. Ichika had been present when Levi had made good on the punishment he had promised her, stringing up each and every kitsune she’d tried to protect while he enjoyed the blind priestess’s holes for a final time. When it was over and he’d grown bored of raping her, he’d tossed her to the werefoxes and told them to enjoy her for as long as they wanted.

The claws of Ichika’s latest rapist sank into her back as he thrust forward a final time, using her own vertebrae as leverage to stuff his entire prick into her. Bones crunched beneath his grip as his hot cum defiled her guts like so many had before it. Ichika didn’t try to hold back her screams, but the wail of agony only lasted a few seconds before another vulpan stomped on the back of her head with one paw, pushing her face first into the piss soaked mud of the latrine and silencing her cries.

She passed out like that, suffocating in the dirt, and wasn’t surprised when she woke to find her asshole still being used as a fleshlight by an eager vulpan, maybe the same one as before, maybe not. One of the others had used the latrine while she was out, and she could smell the acrid piss soaking her hair. Just business as usual these days. Passing out was the only rest she was allowed these days, and vulpan piss and cum the only sustenance. She knew that they intended to keep this up until she died; as if their behavior hadn’t been obvious enough, some genius had sewn DEAD CUNT on her forehead.

In other words, every minute that she stayed alive and sane despite their abuse was a small victory. She didn’t protest or defy anyone outright – Miku and Kumi had, and she could still see where their mutilated bodies hung – she just kept on going when everyone assumed that she wouldn’t.. She could feel the frustration in every rapist when she took everything they had without faltering, and it was the closest she came to enjoying herself these days.

Ichika reminded herself for the thousandth time that she wasn’t the same scared girl she’d been back in the War, and for all their savagery, these monsters weren’t Jorogumo. That experience had been the worst of her life, and these vulpan were still firmly in second place. She’d survived those days, and she’d survive these. She let herself settle into the rhythm of her current rapist, whoever it was, and braced herself for the hours and hours yet to come.

Rei’s hands shook slightly with fatigue as she placed them on her mother’s thighs, spreading Kaede’s legs far apart and exposing her crotch. She raised her head and gently flicked her mother’s hooded clitoris with her tongue, then began to trace a path up and down her spread slit, occasionally returning to flick the clitoris again. Her own genitals were receiving the same treatment from her mother above her, the two women locked in a passionate sixty nine embrace.

Once her mother’s clitoris was standing out and stiff, and her entrance leaked a steady flow of juices, Rei pulled the woman’s pussy lips apart and tilted her head back to look at the waiting soldier, whose cock rested on her forehead. Beneath it, the thread naming her MOTHERFUCKER still made her ache. “Your fucktoy is ready for you, sir,” she breathed. She was tired and hungry and scared, but she did her best not to let any of it show in her voice, keeping her tone silky and sensual instead. “Please enjoy her.”

The grinning man slapped her face with his prick before positioning it at her mother’s pussy. Rei raised her head again so that her tongue could slide across the cockhead and underside of the shaft as it slipped into her slick passage and the woman moaned in feigned pleasure. Once it was fully buried inside her mother, the girl kissed the base softly, then moved her attention to the man’s hanging balls, showering them with love and affection. On the other side of the table, Kaede was inviting a man to fuck her daughter, and the dark haired girl let out a fake moan of her own as she was penetrated.

While she serviced him, and tried to ignore the ache in her pussy as she was raped, her fingers were busy working Kaede’s asshole open as gently as she could, the digits lubricated only by her tongue whenever she could spare a moment to lick them. Between Kaede’s soft insides and Rei’s hardworking mouth, it only took a few minutes for the first man to explode inside her mother. He pulled out, leaving a trail of sticky cum leaking on Rei’s face, and was immediately replaced by another soldier. The newcomer wasn’t interested in her mother’s sperm soaked pussy; he pushed into her anal ring instead. Rei’s efforts made it easier on the woman, but she still felt Kaede flinch as she was impaled.

Rei’s own pussy was filled with cum shortly after, and her bowels forced to stretch around a new cock. She tried to distract herself from the pain by focusing on her new task: planting her lips on her mother’s slit and noisily sucking the cum out of it. Much of it had been shot too deep for her to reach, but she wasn’t allowed to clean that out anyway. The sperm back there would remain as yet another attempt to breed her, just as the depths of her own pussy were still sticky with the stuff.

The man fired his cum into her mother’s guts, and then Kaede’s pussy was being penetrated again while Rei used her fingers to passionately scoop out and eat the semen oozing from her used ass. Even when she was done and her mouth was firmly attached to scrotum again, she kept her fingers inside her mother’s anal ring, stretching it wide to show off her used asshole to everyone there. Mocking laughter and crude comments told her that the men waiting in line appreciated the view, but she hadn’t just done it for them. Left on its own, Kaede’s rectum would be fully healed by the time it was used next, making that anal rape hurt just as badly as when she’d lost her virginity there at the start of all this. By holding it open and slowing its healing, it wouldn’t be quite as painful. It wasn’t much, but it was one of the few things she could do to make this experience easier on her mother.

The simple and obscene cycle continued, washing whatever hole was not in use so that each new rapist could have a clean hole to enjoy. She could feel her mother’s own fingers and tongue as she diligently performed the same chore. While Rei cleaned her mother’s holes and licked the balls of the men raping her, unseen men were raping her pussy and her ass and her pussy and her ass and her pussy and her ass…

Hours later, Rei was more exhausted than ever, and her stomach felt full to bursting with all the warm cum she’d slurped up. But they were managing it, both of them, just like the men had asked. “God, you two fucked up sluts really do love eating each other out, don’t you?” joked one of the men as he raped Kaede’s pussy. “Just a pair of freaky incest loving fox sluts.”

“Yes sir,” Rei agreed, trying not to sound disgusted or upset. “I love playing with my mother.”

“My daughter is delicious,” said Kaede, her voice strained in the same way.

Hanei was already gone, replaced by a nightmare orgy within its ruins. Soon even that would be over, and the kitsune would find themselves scattered to the winds, sold to wealthy humans or kept in cages for breeding or slaughtered like cattle. No matter what their own fate would be, Rei and Kaede had agreed: they would share it together. If that meant giving these filthy minded men the kind of mother-daughter pair that they had sick fantasies of, so be it. As long as they had each other, they could endure whatever horrors came at them, even if it required humiliating themselves with shameful acts like these.

So Rei smiled at the next man who stepped up to sodomize her mother, and lovingly kissed the cock that would do it. “I hope you enjoy your fucktoy, sir,” she told him, and a small desperate part of her meant it.

“Any sign of her yet?” Nobu whispered. He tried not to move his lips while he talked; the guards’ ears would be too poor to hear them, but their eyes weren’t too dull too catch them talking, and they were quick to punish any action other than standing and breathing.

“No, no one’s seen her since the bonfire,” his husband whispered back in the same fashion. Kamio was pressed up against him by the throng of bodies . Under different circumstances the close proximity would have been very pleasant, but when trapped in a cage with fifty other naked, beaten, and starved foxes, it just added to his sense of claustrophobia.

Nobu let out his breath. Sometimes no news was good news, he reminded himself. If Levi had captured his daughter, the bastard would probably be parading her around right now. Silence meant she was still out there somewhere. But it also meant that no one knew where. He prayed every day that she’d made it out of the village and to safety.

It wasn’t fair that all of this had fallen on her shoulders. He couldn’t think of anyone smarter or more resourceful, but she was so young, and still suffering from what had happened before. Even if these men had never shown up, she’d probably still be squirreled away in Dr Emi’s clinic right now, slowly learning how manage her trauma. “Still have some foxfire left?” he whispered.

Kamio nodded. “Enough to make myself memorable.” He didn’t bring up the possibility of using it to slip away, and neither did Nobu. They both understood that escape was a lower priority than helping their daughter.

They fell silent as one of the human soldiers approached the cage and the men guarding it. “Need a few dogs,” the man announced. “You got some good ones I can borrow?”

One of the guards looked into the cage and smirked. “These dirty little fuckers? Nah, what you see is what you get. Just pick some and make do.”

All of the foxes tensed as the cage door was opened, none of them daring to make a move. They could run for it, but the chances that anyone would make it were slim, and the attempt was certain to cost many lives in retribution. So they waited meekly while the soldier picked five of them, Nobu included. The five foxes crouched on all fours once they were let out, allowing the man to hook leashes to the collars they already wore. “Alright, dogs,” he said once he was done and held all five leashes. “Get moving.”

They began to crawl across the ground in unison, their movement dictated by tugs of their collar and occasional kicks in the side. Outings like this were common; they would be used as cheap manual labor so that the humans could relax and enjoy their captured kitsune women instead of doing work. Over the last few days Nobu had dug latrines, set up tents, and many other menial chores.

He felt sharp pangs of grief and homesickness when he saw that they were heading towards the vicinity of his old home. Those feelings mounted as they drew closer and closer, and he realized that their destination wasn’t just the vicinity. “We’ll start with this one,” said the soldier as he led them right up to the desecrated and torn up building that Nobu, Kamio, and Hanabi had once lived in. Several other soldiers were already there, casually raping a pair of women while they waited. “Time to sniff us up some treasure, mutts. Haul everything out of there.”

Nobu felt like he was in nightmare as he numbly followed orders. The outside of the building was ruined, and everything on the inside that had stood out as valuable had already been looted, but there was still plenty of furniture and other odds and ends in there. These things he and the others began bringing out so that the soldiers could assess them. Valuables like the ring he’d received from Kamio for their eightieth anniversary, the antique tea set with gold trimmed plates, and the laptop computer that they’d surprised Hanabi with for New Years three years ago were all put aside, so that the humans could sell them off at some point.

And everything else, like the pressed flowers his husband had brought back from the Bon Festival all those years ago, Nobu’s journals full of half finished stories and poems, all the drawings Hanabi had made as a child that they’d saved… all dismissed as trash and tossed into one of the several growing junk heaps around the village. Some of it would be pulled out and used as kindling eventually, and the rest would be left to rot under the sun.

It took several hours, and when they were finished, Nobu’s residence for centuries was no longer recognizable. He stared at the bare walls and floor and felt nothing but black despair. “Come on, mutt,” said one of the soldiers, picking up his leash and giving it a painful tug. “We’ve got plenty more trash heaps for you lot to sniff through today.”

Nobu sank to all fours and crawled out of the empty shell of his home.

Shura had considered the idea of Hanei being invaded before. Fantasized about it, even, during her long and fruitless shifts as a sentry. She’d imagined herself as the brave solitary hero standing up to the encroaching horde, sometimes beating them back through grit and courage, sometimes resisting tirelessly until her dying breath. She had never once truly wanted anything like that to happen. It was just a fun daydream. The sort of thing you started thinking about when you were only an hour into your shift and already bored out of your skull.

And then it had really happened, and she’d discovered how pathetic she was.

The soldiers around her were laughing and talking with one another as she diligently licked their feet while spreading herself open for their use. None of them were raping her right now, or even paying her any particular attention, but that didn’t stop her from slurping and slobbering all over their filthy boots, or from wagging her ass enticingly for them. It was this meek obedience that had made her one of the very first kitsune to receive nipple rings. She’d shown no hesitation, restraint, or dignity when it came to being a good slave for their new masters.

She was also one of the foxes with the most thread tattoos covering her body. There was the name PUPPYSLUT across her forehead, the words MEET YOUR NEW FAVORITE HOLES written up and down her thighs, the crude drawing of a baby kit on her stomach, handprints around her breasts, and many other signs and drawings. The worst part was that she’d suggested all of them herself. The humans weren’t particularly creative when it came to those sorts of things, at least not when dealing with a submissive little bitch who’d never given them any trouble. It was the other, less broken foxes that inspired their sadism.

Shura hadn’t realized just how weak she was until all of this happened, how easily she could become a cowering fucktoy for human strangers. No one had singled her out for special treatment or focused on breaking her. Her treatment had been largely the same as all the other female foxes of Hanei. The only difference was her. When push came to shove, she’d crumpled like wet tissue paper. If she did everything that they wanted, they didn’t hurt her as much as they could have… and that had been worth throwing away her pride.

Once she’d scraped every last bit of filth off the current pair of boots she’d been working on, the blue haired woman sat back on her haunches and pulled her lips wide apart with her index and middle fingers. “Duhh ehhee unnn haa ehhee hahh hiss fuhh eeeh?”

“Yeah, I got some hot piss for you, puppyslut,” said one of them, and pointed his cock at the urinal she was offering. She caught his stream in her mouth and gagged only briefly before establishing a steady rhythm of gulping. Two more men took the opportunity to relieve their bladders, and another decided he wanted a fucktoy more than a toilet. All he had to do was grab a fistful of her dirty, sweat- and cum-stained hair, and drag her head to his crotch. Shura immediately began the now familiar process of lapping him from balls to tip, working hard to get him as slick as possible as quickly as possible, before he could lose patience and decide to take over.

Once she’d spent as much time as she dared plastering him with her spit, she opened her mouth wider and took him in, letting the thick head of his cock slide into the fucktunnel that was her throat. She kept her eyes trained up on his face the entire time, which let her see how he’d stopped paying any real attention to her. By the time her lips were tight around his base, the pulsing of his cock and slight swaying of his hips was the only sign that he even noticed what she was doing.

Some men enjoyed grabbing her by the ears and hilting themselves in her throat when they came, but this one didn’t even bother to glance down at her before his cock began to spurt. Shura swallowed every drop and licked him clean before letting his prick slip soft and happy from her mouth. “Thank you for using my face hole, master,” she said, and received no response, which somehow felt worse than any mocking response would’ve.

Without letting an ounce of her unhappiness show on her face, she bent down to resume tongue washing their boots. No one had ordered her to do it, just as no one had requested that she play toilet or demand that she service their cocks with all the enthusiasm she could muster. They didn’t have to; she was a well trained slut.

In her time in service to humans, Celeste had endured many conversations between them. They were full of wild inaccuracies even at the best of times, and during the worst she acutely felt the weight of every second of her sentence upon her.

There was one particular topic she had heard brought up by several humans over the years, and had always regarded with bemusement: pink elephants. Tell one of them not to think of pink elephants, it was said, and they would be unable to help themselves. It was one of the many strange quirks of the species, and Celeste had never been able to work out why exactly such a simple task was so difficult for them.

After two years, seven months, twenty two days, six hours, thirty five minutes, and seventeen seconds, however, it was no longer so easy.

The winter fae woke her master in the usual manner he preferred: a loud, sloppy blowjob that had her face soon covered in drool. Master Levi enjoyed denying her even quiet dignity in her service. His cock began to stiffen in moments, and the man himself began to stir shortly after. Once she was certain he was awake, Celeste swallowed him up, taking him into her throat until her lips were pressed firmly against the base. She possessed no gag reflex, so she had to voluntarily make the sounds he liked to hear instead, gurgling and retching on his hard shaft.

As an added act of cruelty, she was under no specific order to do any of this. It was rare for him to give her direct orders regarding anything sexual these days. He simply voiced his desires, and if they weren’t met satisfactorily, punishment would result.

Master Levi’s latest target for punishment was still bound in place where he’d left her for the night. He’d made use of a variety of different kitsune over the last week, but this one seemed to have become a favorite of his. Tomo was bent over the sawhorse with her legs spread, her six remaining tails tied to its legs. More standard rope had been used to bind her wrists behind her, but the end of it had been tied off in a noose around her neck, forcing the brunette to keep her head up in order to breathe. The position left her sizable breasts pushed out in front of her, a fact that the fox had become very aware of last night.

Torturing those breasts had been Master Levi’s idea of foreplay. He had whipped them bloody, burned them with cigarettes, smacked them with his belt until they were dark with bruises, and more. Tomo had begun begging him to rape her long before he’d tired of the game and granted her wish. She had found no relief in the act, though; while their master was busy savaging his new toy’s cunt and ass, it had been up to Celeste to continue the torture in his stead.

The fae was given no instruction about the severity or manner of torture, only that it meet his personal standards. Celeste knew that if Tomo hadn’t been terrified by her before, she was now, after the way she’d cruelly driven needles into the fox’s flesh while Master Levi raped her. The brunette had sobbed and pleaded for mercy when the servant had retrieved their master’s discarded belt and began smacking the embedded needles, seeking to drive them even further into the helpless girl. Celeste wasn’t allowed to explain that if Master Levi thought she’d held back in the slightest, he’d punish the fae by torturing Tomo some more himself. Her former mistress Jessica Wilmingshire had been forced to endure many long nights of suffering before Celeste was able to ignore her own feelings and properly hurt the woman the way he wanted.

Even if she were allowed to explain the cause of her actions, Celeste would have still remained silent. It was only right that the fox hate and fear her, because so much of this was her fault. Her weakness had allowed Master Levi to take ownership of her, and that in turn had enabled all of this.

There was a variety of sounds present outside, among them that of Jessica Wilmingshire’s suffering. Master Levi had been almost delighted to learn of her disobedience, happy for the opportunity to punish her. At the moment, she was being held in crude stocks just outside, constructed by several foxes on soldeiers’ orders. Master Levi had decided to make up for lost time, and invited all his men to give his pet a try when they had the chance. In the week since then, Celeste had yet to see or hear the woman without at least one cock busy inside her.

Celeste messily deepthroated their owner’s dick, bobbing her head up and down on him while slurping and drooling and gagging. Like a brain dead, cock addicted slut, Master Levi had said. She could feel Tomo’s wide eyes on her as she gave him just what he wanted, abandoning all pretense of dignity or grace just to further slake his sexual appetites. Spit soaked her chest as she noisily slurped up the precum dribbling from him, and she began to pump her throat with one hand, choking herself to provide his dick an even tighter hole to penetrate.

She would rather die than give this unrepentant murderer another ounce of pleasure, but she threw herself into the task with everything she had, and it wasn’t only for the sake of the terrified girl staring at her. It was a distraction, and she needed as many of those as she could get.

Celeste felt Master Levi’s cock twitch happily inside of her, and smoothly drew back to catch his load in her mouth. The slimy substance coated her cheeks and tongue, and brought with it the familiar conflict of desires: the urge to spit the foul, disgusting juice out, and the urge to gulp down the precious food. Fae didn’t need to eat to survive in the same way that mortals did, but they could still feel hunger. For the last two years, seven months, twenty two days, nineteen hours, forty seven minutes, and three seconds, she had been starved of everything but the bodily fluids of her master, herself, and the other women under his control. And given that said other women did require food to survive, all too often his sperm was fed to one of them instead of her.

She resisted both urges, letting the bitter semen remain in her mouth. He would tell her what to do with it and when. Sometimes she went entire days, adding load after load of congealed slime to her mouth until her cheeks bulged, before she was allowed to dispose of it.

That wasn’t the sort of torment he was after today. “Feed the fox bitch her breakfast,” he grumbled as he climbed out of bed and began getting dressed.

“Yeff maftuh Evi,” Celeste said through her closed mouth, and crawled to the brunette. Tomo tried to turn her head away, but the fae grabbed the back of her head to hold her still and planted her lips over the girl’s. Tomo continued to struggle as Celeste’s tongue pushed their master’s cum into her mouth, but the fae didn’t allow a single drop to spill. Once most of it was out, she licked the insides of her mouth to catch all that remained, then forcibly transferred it to Tomo’s squirming tongue, carefully rubbing it with her own until she was certain that the fox had everything.

It was more than simple obedience and the desire to carry out her orders to the best of her ability that motivated the Sidhe woman. The first few days under Master Levi were always the worst, and as much as the girl might despise the taste and texture of the food – a sentiment Celeste understood quite well – she would need all the strength she could get, and even the pathetically meager amount of calories the semen offered was better than nothing. By the time her task was completed, their master had finished dressing. “Now go make my breakfast, slut,” he ordered.

The home he’d commandeered contained ingredients that could be combined into at least fourteen different poisons, including three he was unlikely to detect and had a high probability of killing even a vulpan. But Celeste had strict orders about what she was and was not allowed to do. Per those rules, even the thought of committing violence against him merited punishment. Admitting that she had allowed herself to consider the efficacy of poison two days ago was why he’d taught innocent Tomo some of the ways a sadist might use a power drill. The girl had screamed herself hoarse that night.

The fae could hear her screaming now as well, the familiar sound drifting in from the bedroom to mix with the litany outside. Based on his observed behavior, he was most likely torturing her breasts again, this time after binding the bases with rope to squeeze them and make them more sensitive. It was a favored tactic of his, in style if not literal method; torture the victim at night, leave her in a position that denied her sleep, then resume with a more severe version of the same torture in the morning. The presumed goal was to impress the victim with a sense of despair, showing her that her torment could indeed get worse and worse over time, and that the only way to stop it was to make her torturer happy.

Tomo was attempting to do just that when Celeste brought the breakfast tray in. The brunette still possessed little experience with oral sex, but she was doing her best to compensate with slavish obedience, giving a performance that rivaled Celeste’s in desperation. There was nothing feigned about her gagging as she tried to force his penis deeper into her throat, tears streaming from her bloodshot eyes.

The fox had to know better now than to hope that Master Levi would choose to stop hurting her while she pleasured him. Her bound breasts had already ballooned thanks to the bondage, the skin taking on an unhealthy discoloring, but her left nipple looked to be in even worse condition as he gripped it with the pliers.

His other hand rested on the back of his captive’s head, preventing her from pulling away from him until he allowed it. The bluish tinge to her lips paired with the frantic look in her eyes told Celeste that he was already deep enough to be denying her oxygen. She would draw her next breath when her master willed it and not a moment sooner.

The winter fae set his breakfast to the side and then knelt behind him to start tonguing his asshole and massaging his scrotum. Her unasked for submission disgusted her, but there was honor in it as well: she knew that her assistance would make him finish faster and provide Tomo some relief sooner. In a similar fashion, she had opted to prepare a bowl of rice and eggs for his breakfast, a meal that would require utensils to eat gracefully. If he wanted to eat, and he was typically ravenously hungry in the morning, he would need to finish what he was doing and step away from his new toy, if only briefly.

She doubted that Master Levi was unaware of her motivations, but he rarely interfered in them. He would consider her minuscule acts of mercy as yet another sign of her inferiority, both in power and purpose. To a predator like him, cooperation was an admission of weakness. He would have done well for himself had he been born into the winter court.

It was only larger transgressions, especially attempts to skirt around his web of rules, that earned his attention and wrath. Like………………………..

Celeste continued servicing Master Levi from behind until she felt the tiny motions of his scrotum that signaled his orgasm. At the last minute, he yanked Tomo’s head off of him, leaving the fox to gasp for air while he painted her abused mammaries with semen. Some of the cuts and abrasions were still healing, and the girl squirmed as the salty substance covered them. “Clean that up,” he ordered.

“Yes, Master Levi.” The fae started lapping their owner’s cum off of the girl’s breasts, attempting as subtly as she could to be gentle about it. Once she’d cleaned the skin, she would move to the floor below, chasing every last fallen droplet. The way Tomo flinched at her approach told Celeste that she was right about the girl being terrified by her now. It was no matter. She’d grown used to being feared by other women long before she’d ever met Master Levi.

While she went about her task, the blond man selected a pair of handcuffs, a hammer and several nails from his equipment. “I have some work to do this morning,” he told the still sobbing fox, “and I don’t have the patience to drag around a half trained bitch while I’m at it. So you can either spend the next four or five hours cuffed to the bed, or nailed to that sawhorse by your tits. Do you have a preference, animal?”

“The bed, sir!” Tomo squeaked quickly. “Please, the bed! I-I’ll do whatever you want, and I’ll b-be a good fuh… fucktoy, just like you want!”

“Then tell me about the white furred fox cunt,” Master Levi growled.

Tomo’s face went pale. “I-I told you, I don’t know anyone like-“

Blood spattered the floor as Master Levi struck the girl’s cheek with his hammer. Celeste quietly began licking it up along with his cum. “Every goddamn one of you animals insists you don’t know her.” His backhand swing caught her on the other cheek with an ugly crack. “You can’t even lie properly!”

Between her broken cheekbones, her sobs, and her panicked need to talk as quickly as possible, Tomo’s pleas were barely intelligible. “No-please-sir-I-swear-I-swear-I-don’t!” She gagged as Master Levi shoved the head of the bloody hammer between her lips, and then her small pink tongue began frantically cleaning it, desperate to demonstrate her obedience.

“There are only two things you’re allowed to say after I pull this out,” warned the blond man, twisting and pushing the hammer as he worked it down her throat. “I hear a single extra syllable, and I bury this in your skull and then go find a new cum dump. Do you understand, slut?” Tomo quickly nodded. “Number one: ‘I’ll tell you everything you want to know about your white haired runaway bitch’. Number two: ‘I’m a stupid, lying cunt who deserves to have her fat tits nailed down.’ Choose.”

More blood drooled out of the fox’s mouth after her owner yanked the hammer out, and her voice was wet and raspy. “I’m a s-stupid lying cunt who deserves… t-to have her fat tits n-nailed down…”

“That’s what I thought,” said Master Levi. He tossed the hammer and nails at Celeste, and they bounced off her head, accompanied by a sharp burst of light that left her scalp smoking. Iron nails. “Start by nailing her cunt to the horse.”

“Yes, Master Levi.” The faerie’s fingers sizzled as she picked up the nails, but she clung to them tightly. Tomo was begging her to stop while she tugged at the girl’s pussy lips, stretching out a little of it to press against the sawhorse. It was rough, unsanded wood, and the brunette whimpered at the forceful contact with her sensitive skin. Celeste deftly used the same hand that was holding her to twirl around the nail, positioning the tip to rest against her flesh. Her other hand swung the hammer.

Tomo howled like a woman possessed as the nail was driven straight through her, embedded so sharply that the first thrust was enough to leave her pussy lips crushed between the wooden sawhorse and the flat head of the nail. Making the process as quick as possible was meant as an act of mercy, but Celeste wasn’t surprised that the girl didn’t seem to see it that way. While Tomo wailed, Celeste pounded three more nails into her, leaving two on each side.

When she was done, the fox’s pussy was left splayed out and vulnerable, the visible insides still bruised from use and coated with drying sperm. “Heel,” their master ordered, pointing the floor in front of the sawhorse, and Celeste obeyed. Master Levi positioned her on her knees, the two women’s faces only inches apart and their chests rubbing each other.

The fae was experienced enough with her owner’s sadism to see what was coming, but Tomo was oblivious as the man pinched her right nipple and pressed it against the underside of Celeste’s. “Do it.” Horrified understanding flickered in the fox’s eyes when Celeste pressed the tip of the nail against her own nipple from above, but there was nothing either of them could do to stop what was coming.

She pounded the iron nail down through both of their nipples, pinning them together while her flesh sizzled in response. Tomo bucked and tried to pull back, but all she managed to do was nearly rip hers off. Celeste was more used to torture, and better equipped to endure it, but being pierced by iron was its own kind of hell. It felt like someone had crammed hot embers into her flesh.

On Master Levi’s order, she nailed their other two nipples together as well.

“Don’t move,” he told the winter fae as he left the bedroom. “And you, enjoy your break. When I get back, we’ll find out how good it feels to fuck your cunt in that position.” Tomo’s only response was a sob.

After he was gone, the fox kept shifting, trying without success to find a more comfortable position. Celeste had been positioned far enough away that Tomo’s upper body was stretched out and taut, trapped between the two sets of nails. The Sidhe woman could have easily offered some relief just by leaning forward a little, providing her fellow captive precious millimeters of slack. But Master Levi’s order had been clear, and Celeste was forced to continue torturing Tomo by proxy.

“Why is he doing this?” the girl whispered. “Why does he care so much about Ha- about the white haired girl?”

Celeste couldn’t reply, any more than she could shift her position or blink her eyes. If she could’ve answered, she would’ve told Tomo about her new owner’s pride and jealousy. She would’ve explained that there was nothing that angered him more than being shown up, however minor the incident. He had captured the fox girl through her, tortured and raped her for hours, and intended to use her up and throw her away, but all that mattered to him was that she had escaped. That was enough to make him the wronged party in his head, and indelibly categorize the girl as someone who needed to pay.

As someone who’d spent the last three years being punished again and again as retribution for a single conversation, and who’d witnessed her former owner receive similar treatment, Celeste would’ve told Tomo that the smart thing for her runaway friend to do was keep running and never look back. Even smarter would be to just kill herself. But best of all, if she could find…

Celeste danced away from the thought, not letting it complete. If she knew something that could threaten Master Levi, she was obligated to warn him. If she even suspected, that would be enough. But she didn’t know, and she didn’t suspect. The pieces of the thought were all in her mind, but as long as she concentrated, she could keep them from coming together. She could hold two and two together in her head and not allow them to become four. She could avoid thinking about pink elephants.

Tomo tried three more times to talk to her before giving up, mewling softly as she waited for Master Levi to return and make her situation even worse. Celeste stared at her unblinking, her placid expression hiding the mental struggle within. Master Levi thought she was humbled, defeated, and broken. He didn’t realize that the duel they’d begun on the night he claimed her was not yet over. It had simply taken on a different form.

One day he would learn the truth. And on that day, he would die.

“Sam told me I could find you here,” Seo-yun said. “Is it alright if I join you?”

Hanabi shrugged. “Suit yourself,” she said wearily. She was sitting on the bed that had once been Megumi’s, staring blankly at the wall. The priestess looked to have lived a rather spartan life before the fall of Hanei. Aside from a few knickknacks and a portion of the room set aside for cooking, her only possessions were some leather bound volumes on a shelf and a stack of old letters tied together with string, their paper yellow and brittle with age.

The white haired girl hadn’t touched the letters and had no intention of ever doing so, outside of cloaking them with foxfire whenever soldiers were around, but she’d thumbed through a few of the books out of boredom and the desire to find a distraction. To her surprise, they had all turned out to be romantic novels, and pretty steamy ones at that, if the pages she’d seen hadn’t been outliers. At any other time in her life, she would have been delighted at the discovery, but given what was going on outside and to the priestess herself right now, Hanabi had little appetite for romance.

The bed springs creaked as the red fox joined her on the bed. “I know these last few days have been difficult,” she said. “They have been very difficult for both Sam and myself, and we have the mercy of ignorance in our favor. I can’t imagine how painful all this must be for you.”

“I’m not going with you to the Paradisium,” Hanabi said without turning to look at her.

Seo-yun nodded. “I didn’t come here to discuss that. It is your decision and we will respect it.”

“Liar,” Hanabi said softly, without any heat. “You think that if you can get me to open up to you, I’ll change my mind. Your wife has the same plan, but at least she’s more honest about it.”

The four tailed fox was silent for a moment. “Yes, I suppose you’re correct. I was not thinking of it in such direct terms, but it is true that I still hope that you will reconsider, and believe that the more we get to know each other, the more likely you are to have a change of heart. I apologize.”

“You guys still don’t get it,” Hanabi told her. “You don’t want me. The only reason you’re considering me at all is because you have no other options.”

“And now you are the liar,” Seo-yun said calmly. “Because you know that’s not true.”

“It should be true,” Hanabi retorted bitterly. She let out a breath. “You’re right, I’m sure you can’t imagine what I’m feeling right now. Because you know what I think when I look outside? Do you know what my first, strongest, most honest thought is every time I see those bastards out there abusing my people? It’s not outrage, or wishing I could go out there and save everyone. It’s not even feeling awful about what’s happening to them. It’s ‘I’m glad that’s not me.’ I’m not a hero, Seo-yun. I’m not some brave warrior who’s gonna pledge herself to your cause if you convince her you’re worthy. I’m a coward, and you’re better off without me.”

“There is no shame in being a coward,” Seo-yun told her. “I often wish that my wife was one, and didn’t keep throwing herself into danger. And if you think that you’re the only one terrified of those soldiers out there…” She held up her left hand, and let Hanabi see how it trembled. “I don’t have the nightmares as often as I once did, but when I do, he is always in them. I’m more afraid of Levi Petrov than I am of anything else in the world.”

“Then how do you do it?” the white haired girl asked. “And why? Even without foxfire, it can’t be that hard for the two of you to hide yourselves from Paragon and the Paradisium. You don’t need to be here fighting against the both of them like this. If it wasn’t Hanei, I don’t think I’d be willing to come within a hundred miles of this place. Even now, if the other side of that nexus was anything but the Paradisium, I’d be tempted to take off running and never look back. So how can you do all this for strangers?”

Seo-yun looked down at her hands in her lap, and was silent for a minute as she marshaled her thoughts. “One of my greatest regrets is that my parents were unable to pass more of their wisdom down to me before they were gone. I was still too young to understand much of what they said, and I’m certain that there are many things I have forgotten. So what conversations I do recall, I cherish.” She closed her eyes, as if trying to help herself remember.

“My father talked to me once about the tributes he and my mother received. He wasn’t talking about them directly – he used some tortured metaphor involving candy and chores that I will spare you from – but in hindsight I can see that they were what was on his mind. He told me that they were not a gift, they were a responsibility. When he took tribute from someone, he was making them a promise about the future. ‘Your offering is worthy and accepted. I pledge to do whatever I can to protect your people from dangers near and far.’ I believe those words were far more than mere ritual to him. He wasn’t just talking about accepting whatever physical goods they were handing over. He was talking about accepting the obligation to watch over them and those they cared about.”

“And you think you inherited all of their responsibilities?” Hanabi asked, but Seo-yun shook her head.

“I earned my obligations all on my own. There are many people out there who have helped me, who have sacrificed for me…” She touched her chest. “Who have died for me. They did not do such things as tribute, but I still feel that I owe them. I cannot simply disappear into the world and live a normal life without repaying my debts.”

“So that’s why you’re helping,” Hanabi said. “Because you think you have to.”

“Yes, though that is not the only reason. I also remember how it felt when I was helped, how good it was to know that there was more to the world than evil, and that even strangers who had nothing to gain by helping me would and did. I want to do that for others, and I want to prove that those who helped me were not wrong in their selflessness.”

Hanabi thought about all the foxes who had stayed silent when she’d been sneaking to retrieve her fox skin, even actively went out of their way to help her. She wanted to help them too, but… “I’m not good enough,” she said, and felt hot tears at the corners of her eyes. “So many people out there are dying, and I’m just sitting here and letting it happen. They shouldn’t have helped me!”

She felt an arm lightly encircle her. “Is this alright?” Seo-yun asked quietly, and when Hanabi nodded, the red haired woman hugged her tighter and pulled her to her. “I am certain that everyone out there who has helped you is happy that they did it. And that none of them would want you to feel guilty about it.”

“But I’m supposed to be saving them, and I’m not!” Hanabi said, openly sobbing by now. “They should have helped someone else! Someone who would know what to do! Someone who deserved it!”

“Then what you must do is obvious,” Seo-yun said gently. “Become someone who deserved their help. It is okay if you are not there yet, as long as you keep moving and work to get there someday. Worry less about who you are, and think more about who you would like to be.”

The white haired girl tried to respond, but she was crying too hard to form intelligible words now. It was like all the pain and terror and exhaustion of the last two weeks was pouring out of her all at once. Seo-yun’s arms were tight and warm around her as the girl cried and cried until she had no tears left. “Levi will be gone soon,” Seo-yun told her several times. “I promise.”

Hanabi didn’t ask her how. She just clung to the words as tightly as she clung to the woman, praying that she was correct, until sleep claimed her.

Hanabi woke to the sound of Sam cursing up a storm. The redhead was rooting through the piles of supplies they’d accumulated, some pilfered from the nexus, others looted from the village. Glass crunched as she handled a jar too roughly, and she swore again and tossed it against the wall, not seeming to notice or care about the shards of glass in her palm.

“A single fucking weapon,” she growled. “How do we not have one single. Fucking. Weapon?”

Because the villagers had nothing outside of the spears and bows used for hunting, and they’d already agreed that stealing any of the firearms that the soldiers had brought was too much of a risk. If the theft went noticed, they’d go on alert, possibly torturing some of the foxes to find out who was responsible, and even if all three of them were armed to the teeth, they’d still be about as effective against Levi’s forces as a gnat. But Sam didn’t look like she would appreciate being reminded of any of that, so Hanabi didn’t bother. “What’s wrong?” she asked instead, trying to listen above the din to hear where Seo-yun was. Maybe she could talk some sense into the angry human.

Sam swiveled to look at her, and only then did Hanabi see the tears streaming down her face. “She’s gone,” the woman snarled before turning back to her search. “That stupid, idealistic, wannabe martyr just went after Levi.”

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