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.
Ying Yue didn’t even realize that she was heading towards the menagerie until the smell of its occupants hit her. The orange haired giant shuffled forward on her hands and knees, returning to the closest thing she’d had to a home in the last few years.
It was not as though she had anywhere else to go. When she’d emerged from the sewers, she’d barely even considered the idea of trying to escape the Paradisium. It wasn’t fear of Paragon’s troops that stopped her, though she was reasonably certain all likely escape routes were being watched to pick off survivors. She had no interest in leaving because this was exactly where someone like her belonged.
She didn’t regret the role she’d played in Tanya’s plans, and the hundreds of deaths she would share responsibility for. If the girl had demanded that she murder each and every one of them with her bare hands, she would have done so. There was nothing she would not have done to rescue Zhi Ruo.
But that didn’t mean that there was not a price to be paid.
Ying Yue had known from the moment of Tanya’s approach that cooperation would also mean her damnation. She had entered their bargain willingly, accepting the consequences of her actions. Her only regret was that Zhi Ruo would mourn her absence. It was a preferable outcome to her learning what had been required for her rescue, but the qilin would have felt better if she’d known her wife despised her, just as Ying Yue now despised herself.
Almost all of the beasts in the menagerie were agitated when she entered. Some were merely animals with fantastic forms, while others possessed an intellect that approached or rivaled her own, but all of them had heard the nearby sounds of violence and knew that something was wrong. The hounds were barking, and many others were pacing back and forth in their cells. The griffin was worrying at its own wings as a stress reaction, and several feathers littered the floor.
The only occupant that seemed relaxed was the yowie, who was… Mackenzie’s moans were almost lost among the other sounds. The large gorilla like creature was seated with her in his lap, and his massive hands wrapped around her torso. He was bouncing the woman, who still looked disturbingly like Ying Yue herself, up and down in his grip while sucking on her breasts with a mouth wide enough to swallow each teat entirely.
Even as Ying Yue watched and considered how she might rescue the woman – the yowie had sworn to her that he would not harm her – the beast began to finish, his thick and hairy cock visibly pulsing within Mackenzie’s insides. This set his captive off as well, her cries increasing in octave and volume as she quivered in ecstasy and torrents of fresh cum drooled out of her and down his shaft.
The moment both of them were done, Mackenzie scrambled off of him. Ying Yue expected her to try and put some distance between herself and the yowie, but instead the woman contorted herself until her slit was pressed against his face and her own head was buried in his crotch. His tongue began to lap at her insides while she licked the semen off his soft shaft, both of them moving at a comfortable rhythm that made it clear this was far from a new experience for them. In no time at all, she was shuddering happily with each movement of his tongue, while her lips closed around his stiffening cock and her head bobbed.
Well, Ying Yue supposed that she should be happy that at least someone was having a good time today.
Still, it wasn’t safe for Mackenzie or any of the menagerie’s residents to remain here. Paragon had left them alone, knowing they were harmless, but Ying Yue couldn’t imagine that would hold true forever. In the best case scenario, they would want to capture the more exotic animals for their barbaric experiments and leave the others in their cages to starve.
She had enough sins on her conscience; perhaps she could at least save some of these lives. All of the creatures were capable of surviving outside of their cages. Even the submerged leviathans that preferred the water did not require it to live. If everyone gathered here fled the Paradisium, most would likely make it out alive past whatever barricades had been put in place.
Ying Yue went to the central control panel near the entrance, and entered the emergency code to open all the cell doors. Under normal circumstances, using it would have sent an alert to the Paradisium security, and probably to Eirene herself, Ying Yue knew all too well that those alarms were silent right now… and even if they weren’t, the last thing security would be concerned about was the menagerie. Opening the cells, and avoiding security, wasn’t going to be the difficult part of this. That would be convincing the creatures to actually leave them.
More than a hundred doors slid open, releasing a cacophony of whines, growls, and other sounds of unease. Just as expected, not a single creature made a move to leave their confinement, ignoring the open exits or sometimes even shying away from them. Before her capture, the Paradisium had relied on standard methods of controlling its exotic beasts: chains, starvation, beating all the spirit out of them. Her presence had offered a new option, one that did not “decrease the animal’s value”, as the Paradisium would put it, by turning these majestic specimens into broken, despondent shells of their former selves. They had only needed to turn her into a broken, despondent shell of her former self to gain her cooperation.
Since the beginning of her imprisonment, her growing horn had been shorn off by her handlers every three months. And every time, during the four weeks leading up to the shearing, when her horn was sufficiently recovered to be used but not strong enough for her to mount any real resistance, the qilin had been put to use establishing a mental bond between each animal here and using it to subjugate their will. It had taken over a year to go through them all, but after that new arrivals were infrequent enough that she could handle them as they came in.
Each bond had been painstakingly crafted to alter the beasts’ behavior and keep them in line. Her early attempts had been crude things that were little better than the physical manacles they replaced, but over time she had steadily refined the process. The Paradisium didn’t care about anything but the results, of course, but it mattered to her. If it was to be her responsibility to shackle these creatures, she had a duty to make it as comfortable for them as possible. Her power was nowhere near the heights she had taken for granted all her life, but she’d fashioned it into a tool as precise as a scalpel.
To her mental eye, the work she had done looked nothing like manacles anymore. They more closely resembled living sculptures of crystal that enclosed each creature. When the beasts behaved as they were meant to, the sculptures moved with them, matching their every movement perfectly. It was only when their minds rebelled that the crystal impeded them, and never with pain or discomfort, only the lightest and softest touch to correct them.Ying Yue knew that the sculptures’ purpose meant that they would always be inherently flawed and ugly, just as she was for cooperating with her captors, but she couldn’t help but take pride in the beauty that existed there too. Whatever evil they perpetuated, they were still works of art, each and every one of them.
As Altan had explained to Hanabi earlier, all of their violent urges had been suppressed, along with the desire to escape. Trying to erase all that emotional energy completely would be disastrous for their psyche in the long run, so instead it was all funneled towards sexual interest, which could then be properly exercised through her. Such a thing hadn’t been her first choice, but experimentation had proved that trying to direct it to any other activity was both insufficient and harmful. Their outlet had to be a primal base instinct, and there were few stronger than the urge to procreate.
Being effectively a masturbation tool for more than one hundred different beasts was not a simple undertaking. Even working eighteen hour shifts every day, and taking multiple partners whenever logistics allowed, it would take her nearly two months to satisfy every creature in here. She had to keep a close eye on all of them, using her body to soothe those who were chafing the hardest against their mental chains. Sometimes she could almost wish for assistance, though she would not want to make someone else share her fate.
Ying Yue would never claim to enjoy the frenzied mating that consumed her waking hours, but that didn’t prevent a sense of fondness toward the creatures responsible. Even the hounds from Paragon who had brutalized her for several days straight didn’t generate the same disgust they once had. They were still vicious creatures who enjoyed hurting and humiliating her as they mated, but only because they’d been trained to be that way. When she touched their minds, she could sometimes glimpse innocence beneath all the mental scarring.
She still had a mental link to all the denizens here, and she used it to try and send soothing thoughts. To her surprise, they resisted, fighting her encouragement to relax and be unafraid. It was more than just fear that motivated them, though Ying Yue did not understand what that could be. Most of them did not know anything about Paragon or the Paradisium, and would have no comprehension of the situation unfolding nearby even if she tried to explain it.
A few years ago, the qilin would have foolishly considered what she was about to attempt to be impossible. Each and every mental construct she’d built had required hours of careful effort to put together. To properly deconstruct them all as she’d been taught and allow her charges to escape and defend themselves would take nearly as long, multiple weeks at least.
But Ying Yue had learned a valuable and expensive lesson years ago: it was always easier to break than to build. She took hold of the delicate scalpel she’d made of her power, and began using it as a hammer instead to smash her carefully crafted works into dust.
In a mere handful of minutes, it was done. The first few beasts were still shaking off the tattered remnants of her control when she destroyed the final one. The orange haired woman took hold of her mental link and used it to look over each beast one more time and make certain she’d freed them.
Then she sat down cross legged in the hall and waited for them to kill her.
The atmosphere in Tanya’s quarters grew more tense with each moment that passed without anyone showing up. The constant background noise of gunfire and screams wasn’t helping. “She’s going to be okay, right?” Nami asked Astaria plaintively as she helped the dragon release Hanabi’s tails from the cage. They had all been knotted repeatedly and very tightly, requiring careful effort to untie. “She seemed like, like there was something wrong.”
“She… has made her decision,” Astaria said, sounding uncomfortable. “Whatever is happening to her now, it is what she chose.”
“Well, I’m choosing to get out of here,” Hanabi declared. The cage kept rattling as she tried unsuccessfully to pull her remaining bound tails free before giving up again and settling for grooming herself. Transforming into her natural shape didn’t help with the bondage, but it made her feel better. She also had a feeling she was going to need all the foxfire she could get, and she might not get another chance to rest for a long time. “Unless one of you is planning to tie me to something else or sit on me, I’m gone the moment I’m free of this damn cage.”
She swiveled her head, trying to keep an eye on both of them at once. They were acting nice for now, but she knew the dragon lady was one of Tanya’s henchman, and the kitsune… she wanted to trust a member of her own species, but Nami was a stranger, and one who talked about Tanya more like a mother than anything else. For all Hanabi knew, her childlike behavior was just some shtick intended to make people lower their guard around her.
“I will not try to stop you,” Astaria said calmly, “but I believe it’s in everyone’s best interests to wait. When Sam arrives” – she looked like she was forcing herself not to use the word ‘if’ – “she will likely be in need of assistance. It will be good for her to see you and know that you are safe.”
“We should just go ask Tanya when she’s gonna get here,” Nami said with some desperation. “She’ll know. She always knows everything!” She looked at Hanabi. “What?”
“Nothing,” Hanabi said through gritted teeth. “You’re right, let’s go pay Tanya a visit. Just let me hit the bathroom first so I can grab a toilet brush and see how far I can shove it up her dirty… wait.” She tilted her head up and sniffed. “I smell smoke. More smoke, I mean.”
Astaria didn’t seem to be able to smell it, but Nami sniffed the air and nodded. “I can smell it too, a little.” She took a deep breath. “I think it’s growing.”
“That’s because the lab is on fire,” Sam said wearily as she pushed open the door with her shoulder. “Sorry, I swear it wasn’t me this time.” It was hard to tell if she was leaning on Seo-yun’s shoulder, or Seo-yun on hers, but both women were staggering as they walked together.
“Sam!” Hanabi said excitedly, transforming back into a human and rising to her feet. She still had two tails stuck to the cage, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her; she just dragged it behind her as she raced forward to embrace the woman. “You’re alive! The dragon told me a little about what was happening, and I was scared that- what happened to your hand?!”
Sam smiled weakly and raised her arm, showing the bloody pulverized flesh that was all that remained of her left hand. “Nothing I can’t walk off. You should see the other guy. See him later, I mean. We’ve got to get the hell out of here.”
“Where’s Tanya?” Nami asked fearfully. “She, she’ll be here soon, right?”
“No,” Seo-yun said quietly. Hanabi saw her meet Astaria’s eyes, and something unspoken passed between the two women. “I tried to convince her, but she wouldn’t listen.”
“What did you do to her?!” Nami demanded. “What did you say?!”
“Nothing, she…” Sam began to say, but the fox girl was already sprinting past her and out of the room.
“We have to go after her,” Seo-yun said immediately. “It’s not safe.”
“It is alright,” Astaria said. “She has only gone back to her room. I will go do my best to explain things to her, but first we must speak on something. And… it would be good to give her a little time to herself. To mourn.”
“What time?” Sam asked. “You told me yourself that Paragon is going to prioritize breaking into the vault! If they get in there before we do, everyone dies.” She coughed and spat some blood onto the ground. “Hell, not that I have any idea what to do when we get there. But we won’t even have a chance of saving them as long as we’re out here.”
“We have a bit more time than that,” the dragon told her. “I will explain, but I suggest you take the opportunity to sit down and catch your breath. I don’t believe you will get another until this is all over. There,” she added to Hanabi. “Try it now.” The fox tugged on her tail again, and to her relief it came away from the cage, leaving her finally free of the awful thing.
Seo-yun nodded. “Yes, that might be best. Both sitting and… and letting Nami have some privacy.” She and Sam staggered over to the couch and sat themselves down.
Sam groaned as a mountain of tension seemed to leave her body, and she sprawled limply. “Standing back up is going to be the hardest thing I do today, isn’t it? Fuck me, I think I’d give up my other hand too just for a nap right about now.” Seo-yun put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her in close, letting Sam’s head rest against her. One of her tails was draped between them like a pillow, and Sam groaned again as she closed her eyes and let her head sink into the soft fur. “Ohh, you’re too good to me, Yip Yip. Keep this up and I might even forget to yell at you once we make it out.”
Seo-yun smiled and softly stroked Sam’s hair as she tilted her own head to rest on the woman’s. “Don’t worry,” she murmured. “I’ll remind you when the time comes. It has been much too long since our last yelling match.” She looked over at Astaria. “Thank you for your help earlier. I do not know if Samantha would have survived without the warning and weapon you provided. Your horn… will it ever grow back?”
“Nahh,” said Sam sleepily, her eyes still closed, “I would’ve kicked his butt good anyway. But I appreciate the assist.”
“I only wish I could have done more,” the dragon said. “Thankfully, I have now fulfilled most of my sworn obligations to Tanya, and will endeavor to aid you in your escape plan. As for my horn, your guess is as good as mine. If we survive the night, we will find out together. One moment.” She disappeared into the bathroom and came back with a first aid kit. “There isn’t much I can do for you with this, but we have some painkillers that should help you make it through the next few hours. Let me see your hand, please.”
“Most obligations?” Hanabi asked suspiciously.
“I swear that none are malicious or expected to interfere with your plans in a harmful manner. This will sting.” Astaria began disinfecting Sam’s crushed hand. The redhead hissed slightly in response, but gave no stronger reaction. “For the most part, it is secrets that I have been sworn not to share, and I will allow that most of them you would prefer not to know. For example, say that I had known in advance that you would be captured and tortured if you went to the kitsune village, Seo-yun, and had found a way to communicate a warning. You might have stayed away from Hanei and avoided your fate, but at the cost of all the lives there.”
“You know the events that will play out tonight, then?” questioned Seo-yun. “But would not reveal them because that knowledge would change the future?”
“Not that clear. I am aware of a few details about some of the events that may occur tonight,” Astaria corrected. She took out some gauze and began wrapping Sam’s hand up. “If Tanya possessed a torch with which to clear the fog of time and illuminate the way ahead, she has left to me only a smattering of its sparks on the path… and for all the light she could shed, she couldn’t find a path through herself. Yes, as you say, I believe that walking that path blindly is the only way you might ultimately find your way out.”
“Everything we try is doomed to fail and all we can do is say fuck it and keep going anyway,” Sam said dryly. “In other words, business as usual. What I’d really like to know right now is why I get to sit here and relax and instead of having to run like hell.”
Astaria busied herself with the gauze. Once she was done treating Sam’s hand, she moved on to her chest, where several ugly looking bruises had already formed. She looked uncomfortable, and grateful to have something to distract herself with while she spoke. “Because the instant the alarms went off, the vault’s entire perimeter was sealed by thick reinforced steel shutters. As far as my father is concerned, the number one priority during an intrusion is to keep people out of his vault. All of the aboveground measures are little more than afterthoughts.”
“So we do have time more than we expected then,” Seo-yun said, relieved. “If it’s locked up and Paragon cannot get in, everyone in there is safe for now.”
“No,” said the dragon. “I am afraid you misunderstand. Paragon will have anticipated this and brought equipment specifically for drilling through the shutters. I would not expect it to take them long at all to break through. The lockdown will have a much greater impact on your plans to escape than on them. The hole that Paragon creates will not just be the only entrance, it will be the only exit.”
“So we’re back to square one,” Sam said grimly. “Even if we somehow reach the vault, we can’t tunnel out of it anymore.”
“But there’s gotta be a way to turn it off, right?” Hanabi asked. “If there’s a system for locking down the vault, there’s gotta be a system for unlocking it.”
“There is a possibility, but it is a long shot,” Astaria admitted. “The sphinx Eirene is connected to almost all of the Paradisium’s security, and has the ability to interface with it directly. I do not know if she possesses the means to unlock the vault, but if anyone can, it would be her. Unfortunately, she was subjected to severe conditioning that, among other things, was meant to prevent her from ever rebelling against the Paradisium. Unlocking the vault will be literally the last thing she will want to do.”
“You have not yet explained why we have more time than we think,” Seo-yun told her. “So far it sounds as though the situation has only worsened for us.”
“That…” Astaria swallowed, her expression even more uncomfortable, and seemed unwilling to meet anyone’s eyes. “I know that Tanya did terrible things to all of you, and what I am about to ask will be hard to accept.”
“Told you before,” Sam said, “I will never forgive that bitch for what she’s done.”
“And I do not ask you to,” the dragon replied. “What I’m requesting is far worse than forgiveness: I ask that you trust her.”
That made the redhead’s eyes finally snap open. “Not for a single fucking-” she began.
“That depends. With what?” Seo-yun interrupted.
“With our escape from this place. For all her faults, I can swear this to you: she hated the Paradisium as much as any of us.”
“Funny way to show it,” Sam grumbled. “The whole reason for this mess is those damn vulpan, and I’d bet what’s left of this arm that she’s behind Paragon finding them in the first place.”
“You are likely correct that she is responsible for both organizations gaining the knowledge and possession of the fox marbles,” Astaria agreed. “But the vulpan and rumors of their existence and abilities were both around long before she was even born. It is entirely possible, perhaps even inevitable, that Paragon or the Paradisium would have discovered them eventually, and devoted their full resources to acquiring their power. In such a scenario, I would expect to see only two substantial differences: the knowledge would have been consolidated in one side instead of both, giving that faction unchecked power, and there would have been no development of artificial fox marbles.”
“Oh, is that all?” Sam asked sourly. “There wouldn’t be hundreds of the bastards running around out there? Yeah, who’d even notice a little change like that?”
“No,” Hanabi said softly, her mind filled with grisly images. “If they hadn’t invented those marbles, they would have just gone for the next best thing for making an army: genuine kitsune. They don’t even really need us for the vulpan anymore, and they’re still trying to enslave and massacre my entire race. If we were truly necessary, they would have done everything in their power to control Hanei and every other settlement. Maybe it would’ve taken a few more years or decades to learn about the vulpan, but we still would’ve been wiped out in the end.”
“Fine,” the redhead growled. “You’re right, Tanya Petrov is a fucking saint, and if we survive this we should dedicate the rest of our lives to building giant statues to her. This is just a bunch of bullshit conjecture. Let me remind you all of something real: what you’re asking us to do is exactly what got Nadia killed.”
“The situation is complicated,” Seo-yun said as she stared into space, her eyes slightly unfocused. “No one is asking you to like the woman; I certainly do not. But I do believe that her hatred of this place was genuine. She spoke of things that…” She was silent for a moment, as though trying to decide what to say, and then settled for just shaking her head and focusing her attention on the dragon. “Astaria, what is it exactly that you are asking of us?”
“I… do not know all of the details behind what Tanya has done,” the dragon admitted as she finished securing the gauze into place and stood. “Or most of them. But I know that she set up certain contingencies that will soon be making themselves known.”
“And you know that these will buy us the time we need?” Seo-yun asked.
“I know that if they do not, we will have no chance at all of success,” Astaria answered. Her expression grew firm. “So yes, they will provide us with time, because they must.”
“Then they’d better show up fast,” Sam said. With obvious effort, she forced herself to rise from the couch. “Because dead or alive, I still don’t trust that bitch for one goddamn iota. Levi could already be in the vault murdering people, and I’m not just gonna sit here because fucking Tanya Petrov says she’s got my back. Hanabi, you good to go?” The fox nodded. ”Then let’s get the hell out of here.”
The icy pit of anxiety in Nami’s stomach only grew bigger and bigger as she sat on her bed and listened to the others’ voices drifting through the open doors. They weren’t talking loudly enough for her to hear them very clearly, but what she did pick up all sounded dark and serious. And she could tell that none of them thought Tanya was coming back.
But they were wrong. Tanya was the smartest girl in the entire world, and she’d promised that they were both going to come out of this okay. If Nami went back to the lab and checked for herself, she’d see. Tanya would be right there, smiling like always, probably giggling about how she’d tricked everybody else. The only reason Nami was staying in her room was because she had promised to stay with the others and protect them. It wasn’t because if she went to the lab, Tanya might not be there. It wasn’t because the part of her that always wanted her to hurt herself was now whispering that everyone else was just waiting for her to move out of earshot so they could all go off somewhere else and leave her behind. It wasn’t because as long as she stayed here in her room, she could pretend that this was just another night and at any minute Tanya would come home like always.
Nami stood up. She knew what would help: ice cream. Yeah, she’d go to the kitchen and find the secret ice cream Tanya had told her about and eat a great big bowl, and by the time she was finished Tanya would be back and everything would be okay again.
The box of fish sticks was old enough to be encrusted with ice when Nami pulled out it out from the back of the fridge. Even the open end of it was all crusty by now; it must have been weeks since anyone had touched it. So all this time Tanya had been hiding ice cream in here? What a meanie. Nami cracked open the box and shook its contents out onto the kitchen table. A bunch of frozen fishsticks rained down, plus a pint of peach cobbler ice cream… and a note.
It was just a single piece of paper, folded up and taped to the top of the ice cream, and it had Nami’s name on it. The icy anxiety in her stomach suddenly swelled up like a balloon and it became hard to breathe. Tanya had written this note a long time ago and hidden it away. Why? What could be in it that she couldn’t have just told Nami directly, and why had she decided that now was the time to reveal it? That dark voice in her head knew exactly why, but she tried not to listen it. Tanya had told her that that voice was lying and she should always ignore it and she was going to do just that. There had to be plenty of good reasons to write a note.
The fox girl’s fingers shook as she pulled the piece of paper off of the ice cream and opened it up to reveal handwritten text. There were lines upon lines of it, much of it cramped and tiny to fit onto the page, and all of it was in a familiar hand.
If you’re reading this, it means that one way or another, I’m already dea-
Nami ripped the note in half without reading the rest, and then ripped in half again, and again, until there was nothing but tiny little wet scraps of paper on the kitchen table. No. No. Tanya had promised that she was coming right back. She wouldn’t have lied. She couldn’t have lied. She’d promised.
“Took you damn long enough,” Levi growled when he finally saw Celeste approaching. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”
The fae bitch, as naked as ever, was on her hands and knees as she padded towards her owner. “I apologize for any delay, Master Levi,” she said calmly, as though they weren’t standing on a battlefield still humming with violence and death. “I had to respect your order to crawl rather than walk unless given explicit direction otherwise. I also had multiple unpleasant thoughts regarding your health and safety that required me to pause for self flagellation. I decided that you would value obedience over punctuality.”
Sneaky little bitch. Two and a half years and she was still finding loopholes to frustrate him with. “If you were counting on me dying before you got here, then you failed again, ice cunt. The dragon already tried his best and I’m still standing. Now go help the others break open this fucking vault already.”
“As we have discussed on prior occasions,” Celeste said, in an even tone,“ the shell of the vault was constructed with materials that involve a high concentration of iron, though the final product is considerably stronger than the base material, in order to prevent myself or any other fae who may wish to-“
“Shut up!” he ordered. So this was her new game: trying to spend as long as possible talking without openly defying him. “Stop wasting my fucking time and go guard the men while they drill through. You won’t have to touch a single speck of iron.” When this was over, he was going to pierce this disobedient bitch with iron in a thousand different places, then make her swallow a molten bucket of the stuff while she screamed.
“Yes, Master Levi,” Celeste responded with no hint of defiance, but the bitch made no move to obey. “In accordance with previous rules that you have stated are high priority, I cannot do as you request until I have informed you that I intend to be what you would call an unruly cunt tonight in the hope of getting you killed, because I have judged it unlikely that I will find a better opportunity in the foreseeable future.”
A bucket? He was going to make her take an entire bath in molten iron. He was furious enough to forget about her help and ordering her to go do that right this fucking minute, but the cunt was saved by the crackling of his radio he had clipped to one leg. “We’re through, sir!” said one of his men triumphantly. “The damn wall broke three different carbide bits, but we finished punching through with the fourth, and I’ve confirmed visual of the vault’s interior. The gap is still too small to enter, but we’re working on widening it now.”
“Let everyone know that the first ten men to get in there get first pick of the dragon’s hoard,” Levi told him. That would get them moving.
“Yes sir! We…” The man’s voice trailed off. “What the hell is that?” It sounded more like he was talking to himself than to Levi.
“What’s going on?” The red fox demanded.
The soldier was trying to respond, but the general white noise of the background there was growing louder and louder until it swallowed up his voice completely.“Si- there’s s- kind of -umbl-ng co-in- fr-m out-“
Levi began to ask him what he was talking about, but then he felt it too. A rumbling of the earth against his paws that seemed to get stronger with each passing second. One of the gigantic television screens on the wall shook itself loose of its mooring and crashed to the ground. The entire building was shuddering now, and Levi’s teeth rattled in his mouth.
All the soldiers around him were crouched and wary as they looked around, expecting some sort of attack. Every man was in vulpan form, but the fighting had quickly taught them that they weren’t as invincible as they thought. “Celeste!” Levi ordered. “Get ready to…” He belatedly realized that the fae was nowhere to be seen.
That stupid, conniving, stuck up cunt. She’d taken the opportunity to leave while he was distracted. He already knew what her excuse would be when he found her, that she was just obeying his order to go help with the drilling. He saw now that he’d been far too lenient with the ice bitch all these years, mistaking patience for submission. He’d utterly destroy her will next time he had the chance.
But not right now. Right now he had to survive whatever was coming at them.
Something burst through the nearby wall, kicking up dust and plaster as it did. At first, Levi saw the fur and the four legs and assumed he was looking at a particularly monstrous vulpan or gumiho, one that towered over even him, but there was only one tail and the features were wrong. This was no fox.
A goddamn amarok, the enormous wolf bristling with white fur, let out a howl loud enough to pierce through all other noises. So did all the beasts right behind it, a stampede unlike anything Levi had ever seen, made up of dozens of creatures of different shapes and sizes. The vibrations from their feet and hooves and paws was so great that the rest of the televisions fell from the wall, and soldiers all over were fighting to keep their balance.
And the wolf’s rider, a giant of a woman in her own right with orange hair and a horn on her forehead, threw back her head and howled with them as they all charged at the vulpan.
Hating her was a natural consequence of what Ying Yue had done to the beasts of the menagerie. Perhaps she could have built the mental chains around them such that they didn’t know who was responsible for their creation, but the thought had never even crossed her mind. It was only right that all of them knew that she was not only their cum dump, she was their captor. It was only proper that they hate her as much as she hated herself.
A pack of ten Paragon dogs were the first to emerge from their cells, which seemed an appropriate set of executioners. They moved as one, and she could feel the anger that she’d suppressed in them for so long rising up, growing rapidly until it radiated from them like heat and it seemed absurd that she couldn’t see it with her naked eyes. They circled around her, growling, and she wondered if they hated her so much that they wouldn’t even rape her before they killed her.
The one that must have been their leader broke off first to approach her. Ying Yue closed her eyes as he approached, and tried to dismiss her hope that he would make it quick. It was a selfish desire; after all that she’d done, the death she deserved was a slow one.
The hound licked her face.
Ying Yue had been bracing herself to feel his teeth and claws sink into her, or perhaps to be trampled to the ground first for a final violent assault. The unexpected act startled her so much that she nearly fell over. The other dogs quickly followed their leader’s cue, some of them licking her, others nuzzling her with their muzzles. Their anger was still red hot flame that enveloped them, but she could feel other emotions beneath that made no sense. She didn’t understand how they could burn with so much hate and yet regard her with… affection?
Confused, the qilin reached out and touched one’s mind to gain a closer look. She sent him an image of her throat being torn out, the behavior that she’d expected from him. His response was bewilderment and a flurry of other images that came too quickly to all be identified. She caught a glimpse of the men called Ilya and Levi Petrov, and the dragon Karakostas as well. These were not surprising in and of themselves, but she also caught an image of the vault, and the sewer, neither of which made sense. The dogs had never been in either of those places. The final image was much stronger than the others, and came with a sense of shame and grief so strong that tears came to her own eyes: a young kitsune with white hair and fur.
And then Ying Yue understood.
This confusion was her own fault for not fully completing her training before running away from home. If she had, it probably wouldn’t have been a surprise to see the unintended impact of her power. She’d been connected to the dogs and all the other creatures for months now, keeping track of their mental states, and only now did she realize that the connection had not been one way. She’d unknowingly been sending them a running stream of all her thoughts and feelings.
They knew her. They knew Tanya and Hanabi and Paragon and the Paradisium. And they knew what was happening tonight. None of them had any more love for the two organizations than she did. These were creatures who had been raised in cruel conditions or abducted from their homes, been ripped away from their families or seen their brood disappear without a trace over the years. The fury she was feeling from everyone wasn’t directed at her, it was directed at the battle being waged right now. The beasts here knew how evil both groups were, and they knew how many innocent lives were going to be caught in the crossfire.
More of them were emerging from their cells, and Ying Yue could feel the same sentiment from all of them. Even the least intelligent of them, who could not comprehend such complicated ideas, had grasped the basic concepts well enough: Injustice, regret, revenge. Everyone here shared the same sentiment, even the yowie still enjoying his new mate, and the qilin was not so foolish that she couldn’t recognize the same desire burning in her own chest. Whether they’d given it to her or she’d given it to them or somewhere in between, their thoughts were unanimous.
They didn’t want to escape. They wanted to fight.
The massive wolf’s jaws closed over one of the vulpan and easily bit the man in two, his teeth crunching right through the fox’s supernaturally toughened body. At the same time, the man next to him was nearly rent to pieces by a single swipe of his claws. A third vulpan came charging in from behind, hoping to surprise the amarok from a blind spot, but Ying Yue mentally signaled her companion, and the beast’s tail smacked the oncoming fox into a wall with enough force to shatter bone.
Nearby, a pack of ten Paragon hounds pounced on another vulpan. He was stronger than any one of them, but not all of them together, and as they brought him down one of the dogs bit straight through his neck, decapitating the transformed soldier. The pack was chasing their next victim before he’d expelled his last breath.
A group of eight vulpan, far more than they could handle, tried to counter their hit and run tactics by going on the offensive and hunting them down, but at a command from Ying Yue, the foxes were intercepted by a trio of the yetis. They’d fashioned crude clubs out of debris, and wielded them with a dexterity that belied their shaggy, bestial forms. Between the three of them, they held off six of the vulpan by themselves, parrying claw and tooth and tail alike while their canine allies took care of the other two. Soon those two were dead and the remaining vulpan were caught between both of their opponents. Their numbers thinned to five, then four, and eventually to none at all.
Skirmishes like that were being waged all throughout the hall, and Ying Yue was doing her best to monitor each and every one of them, using her mental link to direct the beasts where they were needed most. Paragon’s soldiers were attempting to regroup and prepare a unified defense against the onslaught, and she was trying to keep them cut off and separated. Together, the vulpan were a nearly unstoppable juggernaut, but on their own, they could be picked off and killed, and they were doing just that. It was almost enough to make Ying Yue think she might actually have a chance.
But she knew better.
One of the yetis screamed as large spiky tails wrapped around him and squeezed until something crunched in his chest. Levi Petrov released the corpse, letting it join the other two already on the floor. The life force that he’d drained from both of them pulsed like a torch to the qilin’s sight. A casual flick of those same tails sent a hail of quills shooting through the air. They struck the basilisk so hard that they nearly nailed it to the wall.
Tanya’s brother was easily the biggest threat, but far from the only one. The pack of Paragon hounds was already reduced from ten to five, and she knew the two snarling vulpan they faced would kill more of them before they were brought down. Ying Yue searched for anyone that could assist them, but everyone was too busy with their own struggles. The advantage of surprise had worn off by now, and while they’d taken down many of the vulpan, they were still outnumbered by more than three to one. And even those they’d defeated… of the three that the amarok had just fought, only the one he’d bitten in half was truly dead. The one he’d rent with his claws had already recovered enough to stand, and the one he’d smashed into the wall had disappeared, healed enough by now to blend in with all the others.
Similar events were playing out everywhere. The vulpan could recover from blows that most other creatures would be dead from. Ying Yue saw some of the yetis going around smashing the heads of the fallen to ensure that they wouldn’t rise, but every beast that was taking the time to finish off their disabled opponents was one that wasn’t available to fight those who were still standing. And even without the vulpan’s sturdiness, there was still Levi Petrov moving like an angel of death, effortlessly killing everyone he found. Even if he was alone, she doubted that they could defeat him.
No, Ying Yue knew better than to think they had a chance. Everyone that shared her link had known going in that this wasn’t a battle that they could win. But it was still one worth fighting, for the sake of all the broken creatures, herself included, who didn’t want see what had happened to them visited on others.
The two vulpan cornering the hounds screamed as the amarok flowed across the battlefield like a winter wind and reached them in a handful of steps to tear them apart well past what they could regenerate from. As Ying Yue nudged the beast and directed him to the next place they were needed, she whispered a silent prayer that they could give the others enough time. The qilin’s death here would not earn their forgiveness, but if it could buy freedom for Hanabi and her people, it was a deal that Ying Yue would not hesitate to make.
Nami screamed when she found Tanya’s body. “No!” she begged, “No no no no no!”
She ran to the dark haired girl’s side with a cacophony of voices in her head, not even noticing the shards of glass that embedded themselves in her feet. It was her fault. She’d done this. Nami was supposed to be protecting her. She shouldn’t have listened to Tanya. She should’ve stayed. Why hadn’t she stayed?! Why hadn’t she known the universe would try to take her away?!
“Please don’t die,” she pleaded as she examined Tanya’s body. “Please, you can’t die! You can’t! We, we were supposed to always be there for each other, remember?” Blood. So much blood. She’d been stabbed. She’d… she’d…
They’d stabbed her.
It was that red haired fox, she was certain. The woman had hated Tanya. She hadn’t understood that the girl was just trying to make things better. Nami had tried to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen. She never listened and now she’d murdered Tanya. Nami growled deep in her throat. It didn’t matter that she had no marble anymore. She was going to tear that murderer’s heart out and eat it.
It wasn’t much, just the slightest shift, but it was enough: she was alive! She was alive, she was alive, she was unconscious but she was alive! Nami’s heart soared as she poured her foxfire into the fallen girl, using techniques that she didn’t even remember knowing to begin knitting the wound closed. Her power wasn’t going to be enough to save the girl’s life, but it would buy her precious time, time that Nami could use to save her. But she couldn’t do it like this.
“Tanya?” she tried. “Tanya, please, can you hear me? I’m gonna go get you help, okay? I just need the marble back.” Levi would know what to do. He was scary and she didn’t think Tanya really liked him, but he would know what to do and that was what mattered. If she had her marble, she could go out there and find him and he’d save Tanya. “Please Tanya, let me have the marble.”
Tanya moaned something and shook her head weakly. This wasn’t working. Nami was running out of time, running out of time, running out of time… She gently kissed Tanya, but nothing happened. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “Please don’t be mad, I know I’m not supposed to, but please…” She kissed her again. Tanya never let her do this. Nami had offered many times to kiss her and more, to be anything the girl wanted her to be, but Tanya always refused. Maybe she’d hate Nami for doing this now.
But that was okay. She could hate Nami forever, as long as it meant she lived. “Please,” she whined. “Please, I need it.” She kissed Tanya a third time, and a fourth. “Please, Tanya, I love you… please…”
She felt Tanya stir beneath her lips, her mouth parting open slightly, her jaw going slack. It was enough. With her eyes closed, Nami couldn’t see the light, but she felt its warmth as it passed between them. “Thank you…” she breathed, sensing the marble already back in its place. “Thank you…”
Part of her longed to go find Seo-yun and use her restored marble to tear that monster apart, but she shook the urge away. Tanya was all that mattered. She transformed, and then as gently as she could, she picked Tanya up. The winged girl felt so light as she was laid on Nami’s back, cradled and protected by her tails. Nami wouldn’t let anything hurt her anymore. She’d save her, no matter what.
And then she’d rip Seo-yun to pieces.