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“You know, when I heard we needed to sneak into the heart of their security, I was thinking we’d be headed to somewhere special,” Hanabi grumbled. “The top floor of the place, maybe, or like a secret room not on the blueprints. Not their stupid sewer.”
The kitsune didn’t know how clean the average sewer was, but the Paradisium’s was downright horrific. A thick river of scum flowed through the tunnel from wall to wall, leaving them no course but to wade through it. Hanabi had never cursed her short stature more than now, when it meant being up to her waist in this filthy foul smelling water full of bodily fluids, trash, and other substances that she had no interest in identifying.
“If the Paradisium was built in the last century, you likely would have been correct,” said the qilin. Despite being naked, she showed no reaction to the sludge she was moving through. At least it barely went above her knees for her. “But it was constructed millennia ago, long before anyone would have predicted the need to reserve such a space. Even this sewer system is centuries newer than the buildings above it.”
“There had to be a better place than the sewer. Any place would be better,” Hanabi insisted.
“There are benefits,” Ying Yue pointed out. “It is not a place a visitor might venture into out of curiosity or greed. Access is limited, which helps ensure that an intruder lacking your abilities will be noticed. I suspect it was chosen for a very different reason, though.”
“And that is?”
“I have never known any sphinxes personally, and I do not know how Eirene came to be under the dragon’s control, but it is my understanding that they are venerated as noble guardians. Karakostas might have had a use for one, but he’d have had no desire to place her in a position of respect and reverence. To sentence her to a sewer, performing her duties in filth and darkness… I imagine the idea held great appeal.”
Hanabi sighed. “Have I mentioned how glad I am that he has a backdoor into Hanei? Even if those bastards hadn’t destroyed the village, I don’t think I could ever sleep there again knowing how close it was to this place. I don’t suppose you have any idea why that is, do you?”
“My people were not aware of a nexus here, let alone that it connected to a kitsune village in Japan. I am afraid I know of no link between your people and the dragons. Aside from you both being High Spirits, naturally.” She regarded Hanabi’s blank expression. “Creatures that are part mortal and part divine. The servants of the gods.”
The white haired fox came to a dead stop. “Wait, what?” To hear foxes described that way wasn’t surprising now that she knew about the sanctuary they’d supposedly been guarding all this time. But dragons… that would explain why the nexus went here too, wouldn’t it?
“It is said that once dragons were seen as the closest living thing to gods themselves,” Ying Yue told her. “Even Karakostas was revered in ages past as one of the greatest of their number. Until the day he murdered his brethren and claimed to have ascended to godhood,” she added darkly.
Hanabi thought about the destroyed buildings in the sanctuary. Could the dragon have done that too? Or… had he been as blindsided as her? She remembered the shock and despair of discovering only ruins where she had expected gods, and she had known next to nothing of them beforehand. What sort of reaction would he have had to that sight?
Thoughts like those were still bouncing around her head a few minutes later, when they began to hear a quiet splashing from up ahead. “What is that?” Hanabi asked in a whisper, carefully scanning the darkness in front of them,
“I do not know,” Ying Yue replied. “It is-“ Something under the water rammed into the giant’s legs hard enough to knock her off her feet, and she fell backwards.
Something else grabbed hold of Hanabi’s legs and pulled, and she only barely had time to suck in a deep breath before it yanked her down into the sewage. Her back hit the slick stone floor of the tunnel hard and her senses were reduced to little more than dark and wet. And slimy. Something about the size of a dog that was smooth and slimy and had way more than four limbs was crawling up her legs towards her chest.
Hanabi kicked her legs and tried to bat at the thing with her arms and tails, but she couldn’t move properly in the water, while it seemed as agile as a fish, scurrying forward despite her best efforts. She tried to stand instead and had no better luck. The creature was small but strong, and it pressed her against the ground.
The fox had no warning before she was penetrated. A squirming, slimy limb tore through her pants and sank into her slit. It hit her cervix and stuck there, like it was glued to her insides. Another limb was burrowing into her asshole. They didn’t feel like penises, and didn’t move like they were interested in fucking her, only getting as deep as possible, but that was little comfort to the struggling girl.
A third limb pressed against her lips, looking to enter her mouth. Hanabi clenched her teeth to stop it, but she couldn’t resist crying out when the creature’s own sharp teeth sank into her breast. The limb dove through the opening provided and straight down her throat, wriggling in a way that made her stomach churn.
Its teeth continued to torment her, and the fox finally realized its intention when it tore off a chunk of her flesh. It wasn’t trying to rape her; it was looking to pin her down and eat her. Its teeth were small and would need hours to devour her, if not days, but it would have all the time in the world after she’d drowned. Every limb was grappling or penetrating her, holding her helpless under the water, as it began to feast.
Hanabi’s lungs were already burning. The sewer water wasn’t deep, but it would be more than enough to kill her. Desperate to escape, she shifted into her fox form, but she had even less mobility there and the thing still had her in its obscene embrace. She shifted back, battering the creature’s thick hide with her fists. If she could only summon fire and burn the thing, but that was impossible when underwater like this.
Things couldn’t end this way. She hadn’t come this far just to drown in a sewer! Desperation made Hanabi jab her fingers into its mouth. She felt hot pain as it chewed on her digits as readily as it had her chest, but she pressed deeper, forcing more of her hand inside it. The creature’s insides were as slick and slimy as its exterior.
She couldn’t create fire in the water, but inside this monster? That was a different story. It was nothing as elegant as Kamio’s foxfire blade, nor hot enough to cook and kill the damn thing, but the burst of fire that she sent through it made the creature screech and pull away from her. Hanabi wasted no time rising to her feet and gasped for breath as soon as her head made it out of the water.
She could see the thing now, and it only made her more disgusted about the way it had violated her. It was shaped vaguely like a squid, but had the pale, ridged exterior of a worm or maggot. Tentacles flailing, it came at her again, and this time she was ready, intercepting it with her tails before it could latch onto her.
The squid-worm-whatever thing was strong, but it no longer had the advantage of surprise, and it was light enough that she could haul it out of the water even as it tried to climb her tails to reach her. It went into a frenzy when that happened, its tentacles lashing the air madly in its struggle to return to the water.
A large hand closed around its head, and something crunched. Ying Yue’s fist opened to let the dying creature sag down, and Hanabi didn’t hesitate to fling the gross thing away from her. The qilin was bloodied in several places, but looked otherwise alright. She held a length of iron pipe that she’d ripped from the ceiling, and it was covered in too pale blood. “Are you alright?”
“Just… peachy…” Hanabi said, still catching her breath. She could see more squid corpses floating in the water, at least three of them. “Is that… all of them?”
“I believe so,” said Ying Yue. “Or at least, the others have decided we are not worth hunting. I imagine that they are scavengers more used to eating corpses than people that can fight back.”
Hanabi shuddered. She’d never considered – or wanted to consider – how the Paradisium disposed of the slaves it called meat after they’d died, but now she had a good idea. “Thank Inari… you were here,” she said. “I held off one, but only barely. Those things would’ve killed me on my own.”
The qilin looked uncomfortable at the praise. “Your gratitude is unnecessary,” she said stiffly. “I was acting for the sake of my own survival, and for the goal that we share. I do not deserve commendation.”
“Tough,” Hanabi told her. “I get to be grateful when people save my life. If that’s a problem, you’ll have to drown me here.” She looked down at herself. Her clothes had been ripped and torn nearly to the point of uselessness, and she was soaked from head to toe in liquids that were only mostly water. “Ugh, and I thought this stuff smelled bad when I was just wading in it. What do you say we work something out with that Batu guy, see if we can take a bath in the reservoir before we drain it?”
“We do not have time for such a plan,” Ying Yue said sternly. “And the logistics would be utterly unfeasible.”
The white furred fox laughed. “I was joking, Ying Yue. Don’t worry.”
“Oh,” said the qilin. “Yes. Of course.” She hesitated. “I do not understand the humor.”
“That’s because it wasn’t very funny,” Hanabi told her. “I’m a little out of practice. Once we’re out of here and I’ve had a good night’s sleep, a good meal, a good bath, and a good cry, I promise I’ll do better. Might even make you crack a smile while I’m at it.” She stretched. “But for now, I really really really just want to get out of this sewer.”
“We are almost there,” Ying Yue said. “I can sense three different cameras clustered around a small area several turns from here. That should be the entrance.”
Hanabi cracked her knuckles. “Awesome, my turn to be useful. Lead the way.”
Both women were silent for a time as they trudged through the murky waters, keeping a close eye out for any further dangers. “So, like, what do you do for fun, anyway?” the fox girl asked. “Before all of this, I mean.”
“I do not see the relevance of the question,” Ying Yue said.
“The relevance is that I think you’re cool, and I want to know more about you,” Hanabi told her.
“I… used to enjoy ice skating,” said her companion, her expression a little distant. “There was a mountain lake near my home that was frozen eight months out of twelve, so I could frequently…” her voice trailed off slightly as she saw Hanabi looking at her. “What?” she asked defensively. “I have always admired the grace and freedom of movement that the activity provides.”
“No, yeah, that’s… nothing wrong with that,” Hanabi sputtered. “I like skating too. I, I guess… I just kinda assumed you were gonna say something like ‘reading musty old textbooks by candlelight’.”
“If that were the case, I might not have chafed so hard against the expectations of my clan,” the qilin said wryly. “But I have always held a fondness for the outdoors, and for the simple joy of physical exercise. My teachers often lamented my interest in such frivolous pursuits over dedication to intellectual studies.”
“Yeah, I know what that one’s like. Hey, we’ve got a bunch of nice lakes back home, and it’s almost the right time of year for it. After this is all over, and we’ve rescued your wife too, why don’t I show you some of them? You, me, and Zhi Ruo: we’ll do some skating, bring some food, make a day out of it. It’ll be fun, I promise.”
Ying Yue was quiet for long enough that Hanabi thought that she wasn’t going to respond at all, but finally the orange haired woman said, very softly, “Yes… it would be wonderful if such a thing was possible…”
Sam wished that crawling around naked on her hands and knees like this felt less familiar.
She couldn’t deny that it came in handy. No one, vulpan guard or human servant, had given her a second glance so far. It was the flat thousand yard stare that really sold it, in her opinion. If they’d seen a feisty redhead wandering the halls, more than one person would’ve probably stopped her to sample the goods. After all, no matter where she was going or who she was supposed to be servicing, she was the one who’d be blamed for showing up late. If she wanted to get there as soon as possible and minimize her punishment, well, there was the incentive to satisfy her impromptu rapist quickly.
But no one eyeing her saw a woman who’d squirm and beg and promise the world in exchange for a hint of mercy. They saw a living corpse that would just lay there, unmoving, uncaring, without any appreciation for all the hard work they’d be putting in to hurt and humiliate her. Who wanted to bother raping a woman who was as far gone as meat, but couldn’t be treated like it yet?
It would have been nice if the expression had required acting, though.
Sometimes Sam felt like everything about her “real” personality was just a sham, a trick that she’d gotten good at performing. Sindak had spent years burning away every trace of the woman who’d been Samantha Morris. Her pride, her hope, her emotions, her dreams, her sense of self, all reduced to ash and replaced with a hollow creature that was nothing more or less than his favorite thing to cum into.
It required effort not to be like that all the time. It wasn’t like being Ember in the Paradisium Games, where she’d been fueled by her own instinct to survive and the stubbornness that even Sindak hadn’t been able to crush completely. Life outside the games was far more difficult. She had to remind herself every morning that she was Samantha Morris again, not just meat. Had to remember what sort of person she was like. And she could never be certain whether she was really Sam, or just mimicking a dead woman.
It was easier when Seo-yun was around. The dark thoughts didn’t go away, but they didn’t have the same power over her. Whatever she was or wasn’t, she knew that she was loved, and that was enough. She could be Sam for her wife’s sake, and that was enough.
But Seo-yun had been gone for days now, and being in the Paradisium dredged up memories she wished she could forget. Hanabi had called her plan to break into Tanya’s lab suicidal at first, but she’d had it backwards. If Sam left here without Seo-yun, that would be suicide. She might still be breathing, but there’d be nothing left inside. If she wanted to live, if she wanted Samantha Morris to live, she needed her wife.
According to the blueprints she’d memorized, Paragon’s territory was just around the corner… and there was the entrance, as expected. Except that the door was supposed to be unguarded, and it wasn’t. A young woman in green stood there, her hands clasped in front of her.
“Hello, Samantha,” Astaria said politely, and curtsied. “Please do not be alarmed. I must speak with you.”
Sam was on her feet an instant, but before she could turn and run, Astaria had raised her hands in a sign of submission. “If you attempt to flee, your presence will be noticed. Questions will be asked that none of us want answered. Please, be calm.”
The redhead wanted to run anyway, but she forced that instinct down. The dragon was right ; if she so much as crawled at a fast pace people would stop her, if only for the pleasure of wasting the time of a slave in a hurry. “Alright,” she said instead. “Let’s chat. Did Tanya send you?”
The dragon hesitated, and then nodded regretfully. “Not precisely, but she knows I’m here. She has directed me to welcome you inside, and serve as host until she has finished the matter she is currently attending to.”
“She also give you that shiner?” Sam asked.
Astaria touched the large and ugly bruise on her cheek. Her eyes were puffy as well, and one of her horns had been broken off, leaving a small stump behind. “Yes. She and I had a… disagreement earlier about what should happen today.” She produced a keycard and held it to the reader. The door slid open soundlessly. “Please, we do not have much time. Tanya has warned me that a guard will pass by to check on this area in approximately three minutes.”
Sam didn’t move. “And this disagreement. I guess you lost, huh? What does that mean for us?”
“Are you familiar with what the word of a dragon means?” Astaria asked.
“What, that you guys never break a promise? Sure, I’ve heard it. Sounds like the kind of story liars would love to spread around.”
“It is the truth,” Astaria told her. “And I give you my word now: I swear that I bear you no ill will, and I have no intention of bringing disaster to you, your wife, your allies, or your mission. But there are things that must happen, and this is one of them. Please, Samantha, we have such little time.”
Sam didn’t move. “What does Tanya want?”
The dragon touched her bruise again, the gesture an unconscious one. “What she has always wanted,” she said. “To pen the fate of the entire world. To make all of us – you, myself, Paragon, the Paradisium – act according to her will.”
“But what does she want?” Sam demanded.
“I will tell you what I can,” Astaria promised. “If you will come with me.”
Sam considered running away after all. It was the smartest thing to do. But she already knew what her decision would be. No matter what that murderer had planned for her, this was the direction Seo-yun was in. She could go no other way.
The security room was much bigger than Hanabi had expected. The door Ying Yue had found wasn’t large, but it opened onto a catwalk over a massive open area. The ground forty or fifty feet below them was littered with clusters of computers, and wires and cables twisted out every which way, blocking every inch of the actual floor.
It was the two walls to either side that drew her attention, though. On one was a bank of monitors, hundreds of them stretching the entire length and going all the way up to the ceiling. A different image played on all of them, showing various glimpses of the Paradisium. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to their ordering; she saw views that she recognized as the vault or the sewers mixed with servants quarters, hallways, outside shots. Viewing the jumble of images made her eyes sting after just a couple seconds.
The opposite wall was much less flashy, but even more compelling. Almost all of the computer cables converged there, connected to a large clear pipe that went from floor to ceiling. A constant stream of sewage flowed down through it, so murky that the figure inside almost couldn’t be seen.
Her large golden wings had been secured to the back of the pipe in eight different places by thick metal bolts that pierced them. Bands and belts trapped her arms behind her back and secured thighs to ankles, and a large phallic shaped object jutted out beneath her, such that her spread and completely immobilized slit rested just barely on its tip. Her face was obscured by a black mask that was locked in place to the sides of the pipe, but Hanabi caught a glimpse of wide, staring eyes.
Ying Yue held a finger to her lips and pointed a finger up at the sprinkler like devices on the ceiling. Hanabi looked at them and nodded. The qilin had warned her about these: if the sphinx noticed the intruders, she’d trigger the alarm, the doors would immediately seal, and those things would start filling the room with toxic gas. Eirene would be fine in her sealed tube, and so would the equipment, but any living creature in here would be dead in moments.
Supposedly she couldn’t hear anything in there, but Ying Yue didn’t seem to want to take the chance, and neither did Hanabi. After checking – repeatedly – that both of their cloaks were as good as she could make them, she flashed the okay sign and they began to slowly climb down a nearby ladder.
The fox risked a glance down at the computer banks waiting for them. Ying Yue had known enough of the place to get them this far, but neither she nor anyone else had any clue what the security system actually looked like on the inside. Any one of these terminals could be responsible for the lab security. There could be multiple for redundancy. And that was assuming they could even access the computers. If the dragon was smart enough to set a password, and whatever sorry technicians had to work down here weren’t lazy enough to stick it on a post it note, they might be screwed.
Hanabi quietly stepped off the ladder and began to look around while Ying Yue descended behind her, moving much more slowly because she’d insisted on keeping that metal pipe. These things were so old. All blocky with black screens and green text. She suppressed a sigh. This was what happened when people that were a billion years old, like Dad and Aunt Ichika, were forced to interact with technology. This entire setup could probably go in a cheap laptop with room to spare.
The good news was that this made things much easier to search. There! She gestured at Ying Yue to get her attention as the qilin reached the bottom, and pointed excitedly at the one monitor in the corner that didn’t look like it was fifty years old. That had to be it. And the terminal wasn’t even locked! Inari help her, this plan might actually work.
Ying Yue nodded in acknowledgment and gripped her iron pipe in both hands.
Then she pivoted her feet to smash it into the nearest computer.
Alarms began to blare immediately, loud and piercing, and red lights flashed as the door above them slid shut and the sprinklers in the ceiling hissed. Ying Yue paid the clamor no attention as she raised the pipe above her head and brought it down onto another piece of equipment, striking hard enough to split the fragile electronics right down the middle.
“Stop!” Hanabi called out frantically, barely audible over the sirens. They were so loud that she felt like the speakers were trying to pound their way through her skull. “That’s not what we’re supposed to do!”
Inside her head, more voices were screaming, louder than any siren. They weren’t going to be able to rescue Seo-yun now. The weren’t going to rescue anyone. Just above them were hundreds of vulpan guards now aware that something was wrong, plus the dragon himself. She wasn’t even going to be able to save herself. Ying Yue had just killed them both, along with everyone Hanabi had ever cared about, and she had no idea why.
She grabbed the qilin’s arm to get her attention, and Ying Yue took her hand off the makeshift bat just long enough to push Hanabi away. It felt like the giant was using barely any of her strength, but it was still enough to make the white haired girl stumble backwards and crash into a cluster of terminals.
“Ying Yue!” she screamed, trying to shriek loudly enough to be heard over the constant blaring. Why was the woman doing this?! Why wasn’t she listening?! “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” As she yelled, Ying Yue destroyed another computer and the noise abruptly stopped, causing her to scream the words into a silent room.
“She’s just doing what she was told,” said an amused female voice from the catwalk above them. Hanabi looked up to see a girl with white wings and a gas mask leaning over the railing. The straps to two more masks dangled casually from her fingers as she looked down at them.
The girl raised her free hand and waggled her fingers in a cheerful wave. “Hi Hanabi!” she said. “It’s so nice to finally meet you! I’m Tanya, by the way.”
“Would you like some tea?” Astaria asked, opening one of the room’s cupboards to peer inside.
“Is that a joke?” Sam asked. She drummed the fingers of one hand on the table and fought down the urge to keep trying to look in every direction simultaneously. Part of her felt silly that her heart was pounding so badly. The room Astaria had led her into didn’t exactly resemble a chamber within a mad scientist’s secret laboratory. There was a table and chairs, a sink, a fridge, a microwave… it looked like nothing more than a break room.
Part of her felt silly, but the rest of her… the rest of her wanted to hide under the table and curl up in a ball.
“Not at all,” Astaria replied. “I used to find it very satisfactory for settling my nerves, back when I drank it regularly. But my father thinks the height of generosity is letting me drink water instead of urine, and Tanya doesn’t care for tea, so there is none in her quarters.” She selected a small box from the cupboard and pulled out a packet. “I believe I will at least fix myself some, if you do not mind.”
“Knock yourself out,” Sam said. “When do we get to the part where you explain what the hell is going on?”
“I apologize. I am trying to think of the best way to communicate that to you. There are things that I must share, and also things that I have sworn an oath not to share, as well as a disturbing number of places where the two overlap.” She busied herself preparing the tea for a minute before speaking again. “I can start with this much: Tanya Petrov is quite insane, and if she survives the events that are unfolding tonight, I believe the entire world is doomed.”
Sam sighed. “Like this wasn’t going badly enough. Fuck it, make me some tea too. Unless there’s any hard liquor hiding around here.”
“I am afraid not,” the dragon said. “If there was, you can be certain I would not be drinking tea either.”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Sam told her. “How does that cunt lead to the end of the world?”
“That… touches upon things Tanya has made me swear not to reveal. I can tell you that she has plans that involve your wife, plans that she has been making for a very long time. And that if she succeeds, it will be Seo-yun who dies tonight.”
Sam clenched the hand she had under the table so tightly that her fingernails broke the skin. “And I’m now officially fucking done with vague answers. How do I stop her?”
“You don’t,” Astaria said, sitting herself at the table and passing over one of the two mugs she carried. “Not directly. That will be up to your wife. Right now there is only one thing you can do for her, and it will not be easy, and I am sorry that I cannot do more to help.” She took a sip of her tea, and Sam saw that she wasn’t the only one whose hands were trembling. “You must make it out of this room alive.”
“Isn’t she just the greatest?” Tanya asked Hanabi. “I couldn’t have asked for a better Judas.” Ying Yue was still going through the room, systematically destroying everything except for the computer terminal they’d been after.
“What is she talking about?” Hanabi demanded. “I thought… I thought you wanted to save your wife!” The qilin gave no answer.
“Aww, Judy’s gone all pouty,” Tanya teased. “She plays hard to get, but deep down I think she’s really fond of you. Don’t worry, I can tell you all the juicy details while she works. Why don’t we start from the beginning? A beginning, anyway. Once upon a time, there was a brilliant, amazing, special girl called Tanya, and she wanted to turn off a mean old dragon’s security network for a bit so she could play a little prank on him. But even as brilliant and amazing and special as she was, she just couldn’t sneak in without getting caught. So she had to ask her cute friend-to-be Hanabi for a little assistance.”
Ying Yue had been the one who suggested going down here in the first place, a voice in Hanabi’s head reminded her. The one who insisted it wouldn’t be enough to just avoid the cameras with foxfire, that she had to come with you to help disable them completely. “Why?” she demanded of the qilin, and this time she saw the way the woman hunched her shoulders and refused to meet her eyes.
“I’m getting to that part!,” Tanya answered for her. “You see, there was also this big, stupid girl named Judy who’d had a little whoopsie and got her wife gangraped and sold into slavery. But the kind and beautiful Tanya came to her with an offer: she’d rescue her wife and take her someplace safe, and all dumb ol’ Judy had to do was convince their friend Hanabi to come lend a hand.”
“I told you before,” Ying Yue said quietly. She let the metal pipe fall from her hands and clatter on the floor as she finally met Hanabi’s eyes. “I would do anything to save my wife.”
The qilin was two feet taller than Hanabi, and had to weigh at least twice as much. But that didn’t stop the fox from barreling into her in a rage. “So you killed them?!” she screamed. “You killed my entire family to save her?!”
Ying Yue grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her away, not even noticing the tails the girl was lashing her with. There were tears in the orange haired giant’s eyes. “Your plan was never going to work,” she said, and there was a pleading to her tone that Hanabi had never heard before. “Tanya-“
“That’s Mistress Tanya to you, sweetie,” Tanya called from above.
“She approached me weeks ago,” Ying Yue said. “She already knew everything about the plan. If I didn’t help her, she was just going to have the vulpan seize you and Samantha the moment you showed up. Do you understand? You were never going to save your people. But I could save my wife!”
“You could’ve warned us!” shouted Hanabi. “We would have helped you! We could’ve thought of something together!”
“Nothing that I would have attempted could possibly have succeeded!” Ying Yue insisted. “If it had, then she would have prevented me from doing it in the first place!”
“That’s ridiculous! You don’t… she’s not all powerful! There was nothing stopping you from saying something earlier! Nothing forcing you do what she wanted! You chose to betray us!” Hanabi didn’t realize that she was crying until she tasted the salt on her lips. “Dammit, Ying Yue, I trusted you! I thought… I thought we were a team! I thought we were friends! We-“ She had a sudden coughing fit.
“Looks like that gas is finally hitting you,” Tanya said casually. “Took a little while cause I jammed open the door back here, but you’re running out of time fast. Sure is a good thing your new bestie brought presents, huh?” She twirled the two gas masks with her fingers. “Why don’t you two come on up here, and we’ll blow this popsicle stand?”
“What’s the *cough* point?” asked Hanabi. “Are you *cough* gonna let everyone go?”
“Well, I would,” Tanya said, “but you foxy girls just make such good fucktoys! And Levi loves using you. It’s adorable how much he enjoys your furry cunts, really. In another life, he’d probably own a fursuit. Anyway, it would break his little heart to lose all of you.”
“Then *cough* I’m staying here.” Hanabi sat down on one of the destroyed computers. She was suddenly acutely aware of how exhausted she was. She felt like she could easily sleep for a whole week. Would it really be such a bad thing to close her eyes here and never open open them again? She’d probably be the luckiest fox in Hanei, getting to go out so quickly and peacefully.
“I will stay as well,” Ying Yue said, and sank to a cross legged position. “I have saved Zhi Ruo. I would choose the same path a thousand times, but I am not so arrogant as to believe that I do not deserve to pay for what I have done.”
Tanya groaned. “You’re a pair of party poopers, you know that? You can’t bail on me now! We’re just about to get to the fun part! Don’t you want to see the fireworks?”
“No,” said Hanabi and Ying Yue at the same time. The fox girl glared at the qilin.
“Fine, if you’re gonna make me pull rank, I’ll pull rank,” Tanya said. “Judy! Those thirty pieces of silver were an all day deal. You’re mine until this is over, and if you forget your place, it’s not too late to send some men Zhi Ruo’s way to fuck her to death. And you, Hanabi, sure, your entire race is collectively screwed, but there’s still some good you can do. Like saving that redhead you came here with.”
Hanabi’s head shot up. “What did you do to Sam?!”
Tanya put a hand on her chest. “Me, hurt an old friend like Emms?” she asked, mock scandalized. “I would never!” She grinned. “In fact, I sent her a little present. It should be arriving any minute now…”
“That would be the alarms,” Astaria said. “Right on schedule.” Both women listened to the distant sound, muffled within Tanya’s carved out piece of the Paradisium. She must have noticed the tension in Sam’s body, because she gently placed her hand on the redhead’s. “Do not try to run,” she did, not unkindly. “If you do, we will both die.”
Sam believed the woman, but her feet still itched to bolt. She forced herself to stay still and breathe slowly. Astaria had told her some of what Seo-yun had endured the last few days. If her wife could get through that, Sam could get through this.
“Remind me to kill that fucking giant if she and I both make it out of here,” muttered Sam.
“Please do not be too harsh on Ying Yue,” Astaria said. “She was put into an impossible situation, and saw only one way out. You are here now because you were willing to risk everyone’s lives to save your wife; can you truly hate her for making the same decision?”
“It’s not the same,” said Sam. “I’m still trying to save everyone, not just Seo-yun. I’m not sacrificing them for her.”
“And if it became impossible to save everyone?” Astaria asked, “and you were forced to choose between their lives and hers? Would you turn your back on your wife without even the slightest moment of hesitation?”
“It’s not the same,” repeated the redhead sullenly, but some of her conviction had faded.
“Consider this as well: do you think someone with her abilities, and such unwavering loyalty to her partner, became Tanya’s pawn by chance?”
“What, you think she arranged for Ying Yue’s wife to be captured?” Sam asked.
“Unquestionably,” Astaria said. “And if Ying Yue had not been willing to betray you, Tanya would never have arranged for her to be there to help you at all… she would have gone to someone else from the beginning to fill her role.”
“You keep telling me this stuff, but I just don’t see it,” Sam said, frustrated. “And you claim that she’s done all of this, put on an act and manipulated people for years, just for this one night? And yet you can’t tell me what she’s actually planning.”
“I wish I could,” Astaria said, and touched her bruise again. It had already mostly faded. “I truly do. What I can tell you is that there’s a reason why Tanya has planned all of this so meticulously. She is trying to stack the odds in her favor, but in the end nothing is truly set in stone, no matter how much she’d like everyone to believe otherwise. All the players on the stage still possess free will, and that is her greatest weakness. She needs everything to go the way she wants tonight, because if it doesn’t, then she has done all of this for nothing.”
“And she’s okay with you telling me that?”
Astaria smiled slightly. “It is more that she cannot prevent me. I know the role that she has forced me to play, and I cannot step outside it, but to know my limits is also to know my capabilities.”
“You talk about her like…” Sam shook her head. “Like you care about her.”
Astaria looked down at her empty cup of tea. “…It’s complicated. I know that I should hate her. And there is part of me that does, and always will. But when I see her, what I feel most of all now is pity. Tanya Petrov is insane, but she did not start that way. She was only a child when she was given knowledge and power that no one person should ever be forced to bear. She did not ask for that to be done to her, and she was given no guidance on how to live with it.”
She sighed. “Everything would be much simpler if she was just pure evil and always had been, but I think she was once a good person. I think that if the child that she was could see the person that she would become, no one would hate her more. And I expect that is exactly what happened when her visions began.” She looked up at Sam. “I know that it is hard to see from your side, and I don’t expect you to ever forgive her, nor does she deserve your forgiveness, but I believe that in her own way she is as much a victim of her situation as her sister Nadia was.”
“Yeah? Why don’t we ask Nadia what she thinks about that?” Sam said. Astaria bowed her head in acknowledgment.
The dragon started then, raising her head to sniff at the air. “He is here,” she said solemnly. “Please forgive me.”
The familiar scent and heat of him reached Sam just before the door opened, and went through her like an electric charge. Even though Astaria had warned her that he was coming, even though she’d spent this entire time trying to brace for it, her hand still jerked hard enough to send her mug crashing to the floor, and she let out a low whimper before she could stop herself. He filled the doorway, and looked exactly as she remembered him, exactly the same way he looked in all of her nightmares: massive, imposing, his jet-black body pulsing with flames just beneath the obsidian-like rock he had for skin.
Sindak smiled. “Welcome back, meat.”
Ganbold groaned when he and Oktai arrived at the Paradisium’s main entrance to begin their shift and saw who was there kneeling and licking the other guards’ feet. “You said you were going to bring someone fresh tonight!” he accused. “Not the worn out old cumrag!”
“Ahmm shorry shurr,” Akemi managed to say while she worked her tongue into the crevices between the toes. “Ahll be uh guhhd cuhmraag, pomissh.” Fuck you, you worthless piece of shit weakling, she thought, but instead of saying that, the naked redhead reached back to spread her pussy lips apart with one hand and slowly fingerfuck her anus with the other. “Niissh ehn tiih fuh my shurrs.”
Chingis laughed and twisted his foot to get her to lap at his heel. “Don’t be so harsh! She’s a hard working cumrag.” He tousled her red hair. “Really cute too, if you ask me, especially when she’s got my cum drooling out her mouth.”
There was a time in her life when Akemi would’ve kneed both men in the balls just for the disgusting way they looked at her, let alone their degrading comments. There was another time in her life when she would’ve ripped their throats out with her teeth. But those times were both long past, and her present self only smiled and kissed his wet heel lovingly. “Thank you for letting me taste your delicious seed, sir. This cumrag’s belly will be full and happy for days.”
Ganbold grunted skeptically. “The way this bitch’s holes get pounded every day, she could probably fit a truck in that cunt by now.”
“I thought so too,” said Erden as he put his boots back on, “but give her a try for yourself. If the cumrag’s twat isn’t good enough for you, just go ahead and eat her. Anyone asks questions and I’ll back you up, say she was trying to get us to let her escape.” He leaned against the wall to watch the show.
Akemi didn’t waste time pleading for her life. Since Levi Petrov had dropped her off here a few weeks ago, too much of a coward to risk bringing her to Hanei and a ready supply of foxskins even without a usable marble, her survival had frequently depended on how good a fuck she could be. She was pretty sure Levi had expected her to already be dead by the time he came back, either from being raped to death, eaten, or killed trying to run.
She’d been his prisoner for three months before she’d first called him master. Eight before the first time she’d sucked his cock without trying to chew it off. From there, she’d gradually submitted to begging for his cock and cum in her holes, drinking his piss, passionately fucking his other slaves for his entertainment, and all of his other sick desires. She’d become his obedient, humble, and broken fucktoy.
Or so she’d led him to believe. Stupid fucking runt.
The redhead bent over to stick her ass in the air and present her pussy to Ganbold and Oktai. “This cumrag can’t wait to feel your thick meat stuffing her wet cunt, sirs. She’ll be a good girl and work hard to earn your warm, gooey jizz in her womb.” That fucker hadn’t even bothered to tell them her name when he’d dropped her off. He’d just called her an old cumrag that he’d gotten sick of, and the unoriginal assholes here had promptly decided that was her name now.
At least she was outside for once. The sun had finished setting hours ago, and the night air around them was chilly, but it was also fresh and sweet. Behind them, the front of the main building stretched out for what seemed like miles to either side, a towering windowless wall. Rows of spotlights lit up the building’s perimeter out to about fifty feet, and the paved road ahead was illuminated by lampposts on both sides, but the rest of the world was swallowed up in complete darkness.
“You want her first?” Ganbold asked Oktai.
The dark haired man shrugged. “Nah, you go ahead. Just pass her over next time I take a piss break.”
She heard the other guard transform, and then two heavy paws struck her shoulders, pinning her upper body to the cold ground even as the so-called vulpan’s huge cock brushed her slit. A shiver of disgust ran through Akemi. It wasn’t the rape itself that really bothered her, even with the grotesque size difference. The strong dominating the weak was just part of life, and if you couldn’t learn to love both sides of that, your loss. No, what set her teeth on edge was that her rapist was a pathetic grunt who couldn’t claw his way out of a paper bag.
If Levi had beaten her fair and square, she wouldn’t have much minded being his slave. She would’ve still hated the bastard for betraying and murdering her people, but the man had a nice cock even in human form, and he knew how to use it. Half the reason she used to egg him on so much was because she’d thought he’d make an excellent fuckbuddy once she’d smoothed off the rough edges. But he’d gone and fucking cheated to beat her, and then acted like it was all him and not Celeste, that sexy fae bitch. Akemi would give anything for a true rematch with her. Preferably one that ended with her pinning that ice cunt down and fucking her brains out for three days straight, but it would be almost as good if their positions were reversed.
Tails wrapped around her arms and legs to hold her still as Ganbold began forcing himself into her. Even after more than two years of getting fucked like this multiple times a day, it hurt like hell to take something so big. Still, almost all of the whimpers, moans, and other sounds of pain she uttered were entirely feigned. Big dicks or not, these losers still had fragile egos, and they all loved hearing what a tight and painful fit they were.
“That’s right, cumrag,” the man breathed. “Take every last inch, and thank Lord Karakostas that it feels like you’re being ripped in half. The day that stops, one of us is gonna rip out your saggy twat and eat it.”
What a fucking tool. Not for the first time, Akemi considered making a play for his foxskin the minute he was distracted. She didn’t know where he’d hidden it on his body, but there were several places she’d be happy to dig her teeth and nails into to check, and she only needed a scrap of it. After that, it would just be a matter of sinking her teeth into his belly to find his marble. Once she had something closer to her real body back, these chucklefucks would be no match for her.
But like every previous time, she rejected the idea and focused on massaging Ganbold’s prick with her cunt muscles instead, making the fox moan every time she gripped his shaft. The attempt could end in only one of two ways: death or escape. She wasn’t interested in either.
What she wanted was revenge.
The runt had always underestimated women. He thought they were weak and easily molded into obedient toys. He thought he could break Akemi’s spirit with just a few years of abuse, when all he’d really done was make her despise him even more. She’d made herself a promise on the day he took everything from her. She’d get her body back, kill that son of a bitch slowly and painfully, and then piss on his grave.
Until that happened, she was willing to do whatever it took to stay alive, even if that meant pretending to be a simpering weak-willed slut who’d take her abuse with a smile and say thank you after. “Oh Gods!” she moaned. “You’re so huge! Fuck me harder, sir! Pound my naughty twat so hard I’ll never forget it!”
“You’re not gonna forget this one,” he growled, already panting hard. “I’m gonna make this cunt gape for the rest of your life!”
Akemi had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. A pathetic little fucker like this couldn’t manage that with a crowbar and a forklift. “Yes!” she encouraged instead. “Yes! Do it, sir! Ruin me!”
Her pleas were too much for the man, and he let out a howl as he blasted her insides with spunk. With her entrance plugged by his cock, all that semen had nowhere to go but her womb, like usual. Goddess, if this body had ovaries, all her eggs must have been drowned in fox jizz by now.
Akemi had never met a vulpan who was satisfied with a single fuck, and this knockoff version was no different. Her semen plastered insides squelched as he began moving again. “That was just a warmup, cumrag,” he threatened in what he probably thought was an intimidating growl. “Now that we’ve loosened you up, it’s time to really fuck this twat.”
The redhead purred. “I’ll be wet, warm, and tight for you all night long, sir,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll have my belly bulging before the sun-“
Sirens went off all around the building, and the night was interrupted by flashes of red. Akemi could hear more ringing off in the distance, and inside as well. Chingis, Erden, and Oktai bolted to their feet, and Ganbold swore and pushed her away from him, his cock coming out of her with an audible pop and leaving a stream of cum running down her legs.
Just as suddenly, the alarms stopped. “This is the main entrance!” Ganbold declared, shifting back into human form and touching his earpiece. “What’s going on?!” He stood still for a moment, listening to whoever was on the other end, and then scowled. “I lost you just now, Command,” he said. “Can you repeat? Command, can you repeat?” He turned to the others. “Are you getting anything?” he asked.
Chingis shook his head. “Same here. Started to say there was an alert inside the building, and then nothing. Think we should go inside and check it out?”
For a few minutes none of the guards moved, all of them frozen by indecision at the unusual event. Seconds ticked by in heavy silence. Ganbold was the one to finally speak up.“Erden, Oktai, you go in,” he ordered. “Lord Karakostas will skin us alive if we leave the entrance unguarded. Chingis and I will stay here while you find someone inside who knows what’s going on and report back.”
The two men nodded and went in. Chingis watched them go, still looking nervous, then glanced up at the imposing, silent building and shook his head again as he pulled a cigarette and lighter from one pocket. “What the hell was that, do you think?”
“It was the dinner bell,” said a low voice from somewhere in the darkness. Both guards had already transformed as an enormous red fox padded into view, and a chill ran down Akemi’s spine at the sight of Levi Petrov.
She had heard the rumors about his injury – it had been the best news she’d heard in years – and that Paragon’s surgeons had arrived yesterday to treat him, but she hadn’t realized what that treatment would look like. His flank was scarred and stitched up, and something bulged inside it that pulsed softly in time with his heartbeat. It wasn’t the only change. His right eye socket appeared to be dark and empty, and his left arm… wherever Paragon had acquired the new limb, it was from nothing human or vulpine. It was a twisted, spindly thing that looked like it shouldn’t even support his weight, and appeared more insectile than mammalian. His original tails were gone as well, all nine of them removed and replaced with hairless ones that bristled with wicked needle-like quills.
Chingis had transformed back into a human once he’d recognized the fox as a guest of the Paradisium, but he stepped between Levi and the entrance to block his approach. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, looking and sounding uneasy, “but there’s been some kind of an emergency and I’m afraid I can’t-“
Levi bounded forward, and with a single snap of his jaws, tore the guard’s head from his shoulders. The rest of Chingis collapsed in a heap as the vulpan chewed.
Ganbold turned out to be slightly smarter than Akemi had expected. Not smart enough to run, but enough to charge in from the side instead of the front, taking advantage of the blind spot provided by Levi’s missing eye. Except something in the seemingly empty socket began to glow as he approached, brightening into a misshapen, milky white eyeball.
Looking into that eye made Akemi feel like she was swimming in molasses. Her body felt far too heavy to move; it was all she could do to keep breathing. Ganbold was in the same state, frozen in the middle of his charge. Akemi expected Levi to devour him as he had the other, but instead he raised that alien arm of his and grabbed the fox by the throat.
The glow from Levi’s eye faded, and Akemi’s lethargy vanished in an instant. Ganbold’s did as well, and he immediately began struggling to break free of the hold he was in, but his movements quickly started to slow. As Akemi watched, he came gradually to a stop, sagging limply in the vulpan’s grip.
Levi didn’t bite the man, or claw at him. His grip around Ganbold’s throat wasn’t even tight enough to choke him. But when he let go, only seconds after he’d grabbed him, it was a corpse that hit the ground. The vulpan paid the dead man no attention, his normal eye focused on Akemi. “Long time no see, slut,” he said. “I’d wondered if you were still alive.”
“Y-yes, master,” Akemi said, and to her shame, her fear wasn’t entirely feigned. She still didn’t know exactly what Paragon had done to him, but she knew a monster when she saw one.
“I guess that means you must have been a real hardworking slut,” he gloated. She’d seen that sneer on his face a thousand times, but his deformed eye made the familiar expression into something grotesque. “Even a frigid cunt like you can learn her place eventually.”
Akemi grit her teeth, forced herself to bow her head, and had begun to voice her agreement when low growling filled the air and a pack of nearly twenty foxes stalked out of the Paradisium’s entrance, led by a transformed Erden and Oktai. “Look at this fucking freak,” one of them snarled. “Is that really the Petrov brat?”
“Goddamned shame to see him like this,” retorted another. “Always wanted to try him in a fair fight, but someone’s already gone ahead and fucked him to hell and back.”
Akemi recognized the newcomers. They were a significant chunk of the Paradisium’s elite guards, the ones who’d shown the most aptitude with the marbles. None of them could hold a candle to what the redhead had been capable of, but she had to admit that their skill was no boast, and they’d been rewarded with the choicest foxskins. Even with their diminished fake marbles, any one of them could have put up a good fight against one of her Vixens back in the day.
“We don’t have time for this,” Levi said, sounding bored as the other foxes closed in. He looked back behind him, into the darkness. “Activate that damn thing my sister sent over before more vermin come out.”
Three of the vulpan sprang at him… and abruptly transformed in midair, crashing back down to earth in human form. All of the Paradisium’s guards had changed, the pack of angry foxes now a mob of confused looking men. Akemi watched the confusion evolve into terror as they tried and failed to transform back.
Levi wasn’t paying them any attention at all, his single eyed gaze back on Akemi. “I wasn’t going to bother looking for you, but I guess it’s your lucky day. Someone find something to tie this redheaded bitch up with so she doesn’t try to run. Fuck her too if you want, as long as you don’t take too long.”
“Yes sir,” answered several voices.
“The rest of you, with me.” Levi padded closer to the building as vulpan began to emerge from the shadows, all wearing the collars that marked them as Paragon’s. The Paradisium guards began to flee in all directions, and Akemi heard their screams as more unseen vulpan easily brought them down, following by the wet crunching as the feasting started. “Remember: no quarter, no mercy, no prisoners.”
“What about the slaves, sir?” called someone.
“The only ones we care to keep, we purchased and moved months ago,” the fox said. “You see a slave you’d like to fuck, you can have some fun before you kill them, but I want every man, woman, and child here that isn’t named Tanya Petrov dead by sunrise.”
“Yes, sir!” responded countless voices.
Levi smashed open the entrance with a casual flick of his tails, and vanished into the building. Akemi watched numbly as hundreds of vulpan soldiers streamed in after him to begin the slaughter.