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.
The Paradisium had far too many stairs.
Batu cursed them as he hobbled down another step, and then another, both hands clutched to the railing to keep himself from falling. Tackling Eirene and Lady Astaria like that to protect them had been foolish, but his body had moved by instinct, and the result was a broken right leg. Each step now required its own herculean effort to traverse, his burned back screaming at every last muscle twitch, and the only reason he hadn’t just thrown himself down them to reach the bottom faster was that he was almost certain he wouldn’t be able to stand up again afterward.
But he had to keep going. He had listened to the conversation between father and daughter while pretending to remain unconscious, and knew that Lady Astaria had already sacrificed herself to protect the sphinx. There was no one left to warn the others now but him. Batu was the only other person to know about the existence of Lord Karakostas’s ultimate contingency plan; everyone else involved in its construction had been put to death to prevent knowledge from spreading.
Batu had hoped earlier that he could rally a successful defense and deter the dragon. That was no longer possible. Even if he chased after Lord Karakostas and somehow convinced him to spare everyone’s lives, neither of them knew if it was even possible to cancel the detonation, let alone how. The only people with the knowledge were already rotting in unmarked graves. He couldn’t even place his hopes in the escape being attempted right now. The civilians here, men and women whose only crime was to be born near the Paradisium and pressed into its service, would remain here and die whether the slaves fled or not.
His foot slipped and twisted on the pooling blood that had dripped down to the next step, and Batu nearly fell before righting himself. He felt woozy, and sometimes it was hard to even remember where he was going and why. The third floor. He needed to reach the third floor and warn someone, anyone, so they could spread the word. There wasn’t enough time to save everyone, and Paragon would do its best to kill anyone who went downstairs, but a few people might be able to get away. A few people were better than none.
Batu’s foot twisted again, and this time his half numb fingers couldn’t clench the railing hard enough. He tumbled down, each step a fresh burst of pain as his body collided against it. The man was left sprawling on the landing between floors… he didn’t even know which ones. Batu opened one bleary eye and saw the flight of stairs he’d just descended, streaked by lines of blood. He tried to rise back to his feet, but his body felt like it weighed twenty ton and when he tried to put any weight on his broken leg he nearly blacked out from the pain. This was it then. This was where he was going to die.
His dark thoughts were distracted by a soft growling from somewhere beneath him, followed by someone climbing up the stairs. So the vulpan would get him first. His breath came out in ragged gasps as he listened to his killer draw closer. If he told them who he was, would they make it quick, he wondered, or drag it out? However they chose to do it, he hoped that he tasted awful.
“When the amarok told me he’d scented blood in here,” a woman’s voice said, “I did not know what I would find, but it was certainly not you.” A face appeared in his vision, one framed by orange hair and with a broken horn in its forehead. “What has happened?” the qilin asked.
Now this was more like it. Reynolds threw back his head and roared happily as he pounded the tight cunt of the squirming kitsune beneath him. Above, her sister or mother or whatever – he didn’t know or care what their relation was, but they looked enough alike – gagged and thrashed as she slowly choked to death on one of his tails. “Your friend here is a good little fucktoy,” he told the suffocating girl while his cock did its best to tear her companion in two. “You might actually live long enough to get fucked.”
This had been his favorite game to play back in that fox nest. These furry bitches pretended that they weren’t cock loving sluts, but that all went away once you applied a little pressure. All it took was six words: “make me cum before she dies”. They were like a magic spell to turn even the whiniest furball into a hard working cum dump. The girl whose wet pussy was getting the fucking of its life right now had her legs wrapped around his torso and weakly met each of his thrusts with her own. Her breasts, which were some of the fattest and juiciest he’d ever seen, danced enticingly as she moved, and he lowered his head to playfully chew on one. The slut’s response was to clamp down on him so hard that it felt like she was trying to rip his cock out with her pussy. Reynolds buried himself into that hungry twat one last time and gave it what they all knew it really wanted, hosing down the girl’s insides with his thick cum.
The choking girl was unconscious but not dead, her limp body swinging in midair as he pulled out of her friend and used a tail to push her away. Fucking a fox’s cunt was way better when she was awake, but burrowing into one of their vise-like assholes was way easier when they weren’t, so it all evened out. He slapped the unconscious girl down onto her stomach and wasted no time drilling his cock into her shithole and pumping her hard. It took less than a minute for her to wake up, and by that time he already had a tail tight around a fresh fox’s neck. As soon as the anal slut realized what was going on, her guts became as warm and welcoming as any of these bitches.
His buddies Curtis and Adams were nearby having just as much fun. Curtis was in the process of stuffing every last inch of his vulpan cock down a struggling blue haired fox’s throat as he knelt with her head between his legs and his tongue lapping at her fat tits, two tails wrapped around her shoulders to pull her to his crotch. From the way she squirmed and squealed around him, she thought he was going to kill her in the process, but Curtis had throatfucking these cunts down to a science. He’d probably break her jaw and knock out most of her teeth in the process, but that girl’s gullet was destined to become his cocksleeve in a minute. If she was lucky, she’d pass out a few times before he was ready to fill her stomach with jizz, but he’d gotten enough practice in the fox nest that he could usually keep them awake and suffering as long as he wanted.
Meanwhile, Adams had been lucky enough to find his favorite fucktoy. Most of the cunts here were nearly indistinguishable to Reynolds, but the bald girl stood out among the rest. Reynolds had never understood why the man had fixated on a single girl when there were hundreds to sample, but as he watched the bald bitch on all fours humping herself against him and letting out feigned moans of pleasure at each thrust, he had to admit he could see some appeal to the idea of training a slut to serve you just the way you wanted.
All three vulpan knew that they couldn’t keep this up forever. Not the sex itself – they could happily keep railing these furry fucktoys day and night – but the opportunity to enjoy them like this was steadily dwindling. They’d been hunkered down right near the vault when Commander Levi gave the order to enter, and it had given them the chance to slip in and have a little bit of fun with the foxes before it was time to start the slaughter. Besides, a little break to pound some fox pussy was a hell of a lot better than getting shot at or mauled upstairs. Reynolds figured they’d get about half an hour give or take before the officers managed to corral enough men and send an official group down here, which translated to a solid eight or nine fuck sessions with these fox eared sluts. Nobody knew that they were already here, so all they had to do was keep an eye out for the others’ arrival and switch to ripping out throats once they came near.
There were more than a hundred people around them, all meekly watching their fellow slaves getting fucked. Reynolds grinned at them while he raped his current slut up the ass. Foxes? Nah, these subhumans were more like cowardly rabbits. It almost made him laugh to remember how ridiculously overpowered Paragon’s forces had been back at the nest; the three of them could have conquered that whole damn place themselves if they’d tried. Despite all the visual similarities between kitsune and vulpan, deep down they were absolutely nothing alike. Reynolds was an unmatched predator at the top of the food chain, and these cowering bitches were nothing but soft tasty prey to be fucked and eaten.
Tomo felt fresh cum drip from her raped cunt and run down her leg as she watched the three vulpan. She still felt like she’d been hollowed out, her pussy indelibly stretched by the same monster that was now sodomizing her mother Tsukasa. Beside her, Shura and Sakura were no better off, all three women grunting and whimpering as they were violated.
The people around her were whispering words of comfort in her ear, trying to soothe her after the horrible experience they’d just watched her endure, but what they were saying was meaningless noise to the brunette. There was a small part of her that hated Hanabi right now. Back in Hanei, Tomo had thought that she’d finally accepted their fate. Their village was dead and gone. Their history was destroyed. Their only legacy would be as breeding stock. She’d numbed the piece of her soul that kept screaming about how they didn’t deserve this, and embraced her new role as a punching bag and sex toy.
And then Hanabi and those other two women, the redhead and the giant, had shown up talking about escape, and Tomo had allowed herself to hope again. She’d let herself believe that maybe this wasn’t really their destiny. She’d let her soul feel again, just in time for it to be stomped under the boot. There would be no escape, just rape and misery and death, and the tears that were rolling down her cheeks right now were from the humiliation of being foolish enough to believe that things could end any other way.
Tomo’s thoughts drifted back in time to a conversation she and Hanabi once had. It was a conversation they’d had a thousand times in fact, in one form or another. Hanabi had accused her and the rest of Hanei of wasting the time that they’d been granted. Of spending year after year in dull monotony, living far longer than any human while achieving far less. Tomo had always argued the opposite, that they were free to spend their lives however they liked as long as it made them happy.
But she saw now that Hanabi had been right. Tomo hadn’t spent decades restitching clothes because she’d considered it her one true passion. She’d done it because it was there, and it was easy, and deep down she’d always thought that she’d have plenty of time later to figure out what she really wanted from life. Except that now her time was up, and when she looked back on her life, it all felt so meaningless. She’d never gotten the chance to do what she really wanted. She’d never even gotten the chance to know what she really wanted. And she never would.
“S-stop!” a shaky voice demanded, and Tomo was as surprised as anyone to realize that it was her own. “Stop at, at once!” She’d stepped out from the crowd too, toward the vulpan who’d raped her and was still raping her mother.
The soldier laughed, not even slowing down his reaming of Tsukasa. “You love my cock that much, huh, slut? Don’t want me shooting my cum anywhere but your furry twat? Don’t worry, my balls got plenty more. I’ll come give you some more loving right after I juice this one’s guts.”
He wasn’t going to brutally punish her for her outburst. Tomo could disappear back into the crowd and he probably wouldn’t even remember his promise to rape her next. She knew that she should back down and keep quiet and thank Inari for her good luck. But instead, she found herself scanning the ground for a weapon, anything that she could use to fight back.
Was this bravery? Tomo had always thought that being brave meant not being scared, and other than her time with Levi Petrov, she’d never been more terrified in her life. But as much as she dreaded what these three vulpan were going to do to her for this foolish act of defiance, she dreaded even more the idea of just standing back and doing nothing. She wanted to do something, anything, even if it had no chance of succeeding. She wanted these men to see, just for a moment, that her people weren’t as weak and helpless as they all thought. If she was going to die here, and Tomo was fairly certain that that was the kindest possible future, she wanted to die feeling like she hadn’t wasted every opportunity in her life.
With her glasses long gone, everything was fuzzy and indistinct, but Tomo saw dozens of the chains that had been used to hang them from the ceiling littering the floor, manacles still attached to their ends. The brunette grabbed one, and before she could talk herself out of it, she swung it like a flail, the heavy manacle hitting the vulpan right in the face.
The blow didn’t even break the skin, but the amused contempt in the soldier’s expression vanished, replaced by rage. “That was a mistake, cunt,” he growled, and she jumped back as one of his tails came at her. He let her mother’s body drop to the ground as he stalked after her, the terrified girl walking backward to try and keep her distance. “I am going to fuck you to death,” he promised darkly, striding steadily towards her. He could pounce and be on her in an instant, but they both knew that was too quick for him. He wanted to draw it out, drink in her terror at knowing what was waiting for her. “I’m going to smash your organs to pulp and ejaculate into your corpse, you stupid, disobedient bitch.”
Tomo swallowed. “I, I’m not a bitch,” she said, her voice firming. She clenched the chain tightly in her hands. Hitting him wasn’t going to help her, but it had felt really good to smack him with it, and she was hoping she got to do it one more time before the end. “Or a slut, or a cunt, or any of the other insults you all keep throwing around. And I’m not some weak, pathetic thing you can just have your way with either. You think you can push us around any way you want because you’re stronger than us, but you can’t and you’re not. I am Tomo, a kitsune of Hanei village, and you are just a, a group of bullies.”
Most of Hanei had been destroyed, its buildings and possessions lost forever. But the core of the village wasn’t the things inside of it, it was the people. Hanei still lived here and now, and she wasn’t going to give it up without a fight. A fight that she had no hope of winning, but that didn’t matter right now. Win or lose, her people were worth fighting for.
The vulpan soldier looked unimpressed by her outburst. “No,” he told her. “You’re nothing but dead meat.” His back legs tensed as he prepared to spring forward.
And then one of the chains wrapped around his back left leg and pulled, throwing off his balance and sending the vulpan to the ground. “I am Tsukasa of Hanei,” her mother hissed as she yanked on the chain as hard as she could. “And I am not your fucktoy.”
His tails struck her and forced her back, but another kitsune gripping one of the manacles smashed it down on his head. “I am Daisuke of Hanei,” its owner said. “And I’m not a fox eared freak.”
The other two vulpan had paused their rapes to help their friend by now, but all around them foxes were picking up chains. “I am Ayame of Hanei, and I am not a furry cunt.”
“I am Sayuri of Hanei, and I am not a cum dump.”
“I am Yuji of Hanei, and I am not a dumb animal.”
One of the vulpan growled, but there was a note of fear to it now, as all three of them were surrounded by kitsune. Tomo gripped her own chain harder as she joined the others. Maybe what they were doing was pointless, and this would all still end in misery. Maybe she’d find herself looking back and wishing that she’d just accepted the inevitable instead of letting hope poison her thoughts again. But she’d have plenty of time to regret this later, after they’d failed. Right now there was still a chance, and she wasn’t going to waste it.
“Harder,” Karakostas ordered.
Astaria was already pushing herself to her physical limits, but she obeyed, fucking the comatose sphinx’s body harder on her father’s cock. Eirene’s legs were up in the air on either side of him where he stood, her pussy seated on his cock and her face and upper body flat on the ground. Astaria knelt behind her father with her hands under the unconscious woman’s hips, holding her up and forcefully bouncing her back and forth while the dragon woman’s tongue worked furiously in her father’s asshole.
The violent movement scrubbed the sphinx’s breasts and face against the unforgiving roof. Astaria wanted to check if the woman was alright, but she couldn’t see anything but her father’s backside from this position, and moving would give away that she wasn’t under his compulsion. The most she could do to help Eirene right now was to make her father finish faster, and to her disgust, the best way to do that was to be the best ass licker she could. He hadn’t given her much in the way of instructions, so it was up to her to gently lap and prod the spots where years of experience told her he was most sensitive.
She’d spent long hours doing this before, especially during her first few months as his slave, when every hour had been a new obedience test. He’d grab her by a horn or two and shove her face back there, or just push her to the ground and sit on her head without saying a word, leaving it on her to not only lick him without being asked, but to reach one hand around and gently masturbate him. He’d rarely had her finish him this way; the appeal, as far as she could tell, was to impress her new status upon her, and remind her that even when he wasn’t literally inside of her, it was still her body’s job to make him feel good. What she was doing now wasn’t much different. She was just masturbating him with Eirene’s body instead of her fist.
Every new thrust made Astaria want to wince, as though she was the one being pounded and not the sphinx. Eirene’s body had proved resilient enough not to break under the dragon’s use, but it wouldn’t remain that way forever. Astaria half expected each thrust to be the last one, the one that would tear the sphinx wide open and leave her bleeding to death on Karakostas’s cock. She had no idea how much of the damage they’d inflicted on the woman so far would heal over time, and how much was permanent. She supposed that if they couldn’t find a way to escape, it didn’t really matter. Being literally raped to death might be the best possible future remaining for Eirene right now.
After another minute of hard fucking, the dragon’s next command came. “Switch.” There was only the briefest hesitation as Astaria adjusted Eirene’s position, and then she was fucking the woman’s asshole on her father’s cock instead. The hole had been tight at first and resisted entry, but that had been an hour ago. Now her anal passage gaped even when it wasn’t in use, and its walls were slick with blood and precum. Eirene’s rectum made wet, filthy noises as Astaria forced it to swallow Karakostas up and then spit him out just as quickly, over and over again.
Astaria’s own insides were no better off than Eirene’s. The only thing worse than the feeling of her father’s gooey semen coating her pussy was the way she involuntarily clenched tight to keep any of it from dripping down. Every last drop potentially held the sperm that would claim her womb, and so all of it had to be treated with care and devotion. She hated the way her pussy tingled in anticipation of receiving another thick load soon.
“Time,” Karakostas said. And there it was. Astaria let go of Eirene, letting the woman slump to the ground, and swiveled to put her own face to the ground and offer her cunt up for his use. He slammed right into her, his cock already twitching and pulsing, and began to paint her insides with more of his foul seed. Astaria didn’t cry out in pain, didn’t move, didn’t even breathe, just knelt there like a good cum dump while he added hundreds of millions of fresh sperm to her already plastered womb, each one a new chance to breed her.
Astaria tried not to think about it, or about how her sore pussy muscles were doggedly trying to wring whatever drops might still remain in his urethra. She had to think about escape. It was up to her right now to save Eirene and warn everyone that in less than an hour, anyone in or near the Paradisium would die.
But right now, her chances of doing that had never seemed slimmer. Her father had taken them up to the roof in preparation for departure, and the door they’d come through was sealed behind them, leaving no route but the open air around them. They were far too high up for her to survive the fall, let alone the weaker Eirene. The only way to make it off this roof alive was to fly, a task nearly as impossible as hitting the ground and getting back up afterward. Karakostas had last crippled her wings mere days ago, and it would be weeks before she could fly again. If she could transform herself she’d be able to, but… she’d been years away from having enough dragonfire stored for that even before she’d given it all up.
“Again,” Karakostas ordered once he was certain he’d pumped everything he had into her. Astaria took her next breath and obeyed, scrambling to get her tongue back in her father’s ass and Eirene back on his cock.
But this time, the sphinx moaned weakly as the dragon penetrated her. “Whuh… where…?” she mumbled.
“And the fleshlight finally awakens,” said Karakostas, pleased. “Excellent, you should be much tighter now. Let go of her, daughter. I have a different position in mind.” At his direction, Astaria got her knees and elbows and straightened her back to keep it flat, providing her father with a surface upon which to toss Eirene face down and begin raping her. The sphinx’s head was right next to Astaria’s, the woman still mumbling and confused.
Even though she wasn’t the one being raped, Astaria keenly felt the violence of her father’s every thrust as they pushed and pulled Eirene around, and her with it. Each time Karakostas bottomed out in the sphinx, she whimpered right into the green haired woman’s ear, and Astaria could feel her softly squirming, trying to get away from what must have been excruciating pain between her legs. Except… she could also hear the sphinx’s heavy panting, and feel the way she quivered whenever Karakostas bounced off her cervix.
Astaria’s suspicions were confirmed soon after when Eirene moaned happily and Astaria felt the sphinx’s lower body shifting as her muscles eagerly squeezed the dragon’s cock. “Yes… yes… yes…!” Eirene mumbled as she came. “Churn me up… with that… hard cock…”
“Disgusting,” Karakostas said disapprovingly. “There is no purpose to a fleshlight enjoying herself, and it only distracts from her duties.” Despite his displeasure, the sphinx’s clenching hole seemed to have done the trick. Without a word of warning, her father’s next thrust skewered Astaria’s cunt, making her flinch in surprise and grimace as more hot cum was pumped into her body.
Karakostas raped Eirene several more times in that position. He switched freely between her pussy and asshole, with the sphinx seemingly enjoying both penetrations, but never used Astaria, save for depositing his seed in her every time. The green haired woman hadn’t thought there was any fate worse than being the regular target of her father’s near insatiable lust, but his apparent disinterest in her generated fresh waves of humiliation. He barely even saw her as a sex toy anymore. She really was nothing but a cum dump to him right now, a mindless receptacle that he would fill with sperm day in and day out until her stuffed womb had been conquered, and began meekly growing his true offspring.
A long time later, Karakostas finally withdrew his prick from her overflowing pussy without shoving it right back into one of the sphinx’s raw holes. “It’s nearly time,” he said while Astaria dutifully tongue washed his cock and scrubbed it dry with her hair, trying to ignore the pangs of regret that some of his semen was going into her stomach instead of her pussy where it belonged. “Let us away, so that we may watch the spectacle in peace.”
Astaria felt increasingly hopeless as she watched her father transform into a massive green dragon with a wingspan that felt capable of blotting out the sun. He was so much stronger than her. Even if this wretched collar around her neck were removed and she were allowed to transform like him, she’d sparred with him enough ages ago, back when she was still so ridiculously blind and naive, to know that he could best in her a fight as easily as a hardened soldier against a small child with a wooden sword. He would bring her with him, and turn her into a silent and limbless incubator.
Karakostas picked up Eirene with one hand, lifting her as though she weighed nothing at all. “Take your seat and let us away, daughter.” She gazed in horror at what he meant by her “seat”: his enlarged cock. In his human form, it was already freakishly large and lined with scales, and it had managed to swell up even further and grow yet harder and dangerous looking. It would be easier to take a baseball bat lined with broken glass than the erect thing between his legs.
In any other circumstance, she might have fallen to her knees and begged forgiveness. She would have been tempted to offer to do anything else he wanted, if he would just spare her this cruelty. But her free will was one of the last cards she had left to play, and even though it looked increasingly unlikely that she would get a chance to use it before she was rendered permanently unable, she wouldn’t just throw it away. So she had to obey, and she had to do it quickly and without complaint.
Astaria sat on the flesh pole and peeled her pussy lips as far apart as they’d go, which still felt laughably small compared to his bulbous cockhead. She spread her legs out to the sides until she was in a split, and then reached down to grip his shaft in both hands and pull. Gravity and her own arms worked together to conquer her tight hole and possibly ruin it forever on this horrible thing.
Her father’s cum leaked from her stretched slit and ran down his shaft, offering her some meager lubrication. Part of Astaria wanted to cry in despair when, after several minutes of fruitless attempts, she managed to squeeze the tip of his head in, and the rest of it began slowly following. She wanted to cry because if her task had simply been impossible, then eventually Karakostas would have seen that and given up, or killed her trying. Instead, she knew that she was going to give him what he wanted: a pussy utterly stuffed and claimed by his giant prick.
Long minutes passed as she slowly worked her way down, every inch a battle. The head of his cock felt as big as a watermelon as it pushed ever further into her body. When it hit her cervix, Astaria didn’t entertain any illusions that she would be allowed to stop there. It wouldn’t be the first time her father’s cock had rearranged her internal organs. A human would have been dead already, she reflected as she watched the growing bulge in her stomach. Only a species as tough as a dragon could take this sort of abuse and live, and she wasn’t certain even she could really manage it.
When she was nearly there, she felt him swell up even further, and for an instant the green haired woman was certain that she was about to be split in two. But then she felt the warm heavy gush of fluids inside of her, and realized what was happening. In his dragon form, her father’s load was of an even greater volume, and she was wrapped so tightly around him that not a single drop could escape. Astaria watched hopelessly as her stomach bulged even further thanks to being pumped full of cum. She felt like a balloon with far too much air inside that would pop at any moment, but she knew that she wasn’t that lucky, was she?
In what almost could have been a rare act of mercy, but was more likely just the man growing impatient, Karakostas grabbed her stomach with his free hand and pulled her down the last few inches, adjusting her minutely until he was properly satisfied with the way her body gripped him. Astaria felt like a reused condom, her insides bulging with cock and sloshing with semen.
As though he could read her thoughts, Karakostas told her “Welcome to the rest of your life, my daughter. If you have a preference for what ratio of vitamin supplements to excrement you will receive for your next meal, focus your attention from now on – and the rest of your existence – to making me cum as often and as pleasantly as possible. You have my permission to make every effort to satisfy my cock right now. At a minimum, I expect to find your stomach as swollen as a woman nine months pregnant by the time we arrive; if you cannot manage even that much, we will discover if removing your eyes and ears will help you concentrate on your performance.” And with that, his huge wings began to flap, and the dragon rose into the air, daughter and sphinx in tow.
She’d failed. Astaria didn’t know what she’d been meant to do, what opportunity she’d had that she must have overlooked, but it was gone now. She wasn’t going to be able to help anyone, least of all herself. She looked over at Eirene and shuddered. When the woman came to her proper senses, she would no doubt loathe Astaria for the fate she’d been consigned to. It would have been infinitely kinder to let her father choke the unconscious sphinx to death quickly and painlessly.
Astaria looked down and watched the Paradisium rapidly grow smaller, feeling abjectly helpless. She was out of time, out of chances, and out of hope.
“Oh Goddess,” Hanabi breathed when she saw the battle’s aftermath. “What happened here?” She and Sam had rushed into the vault the moment it had opened, and the two women had still been busy moving the drill when they’d gotten word that a handful of vulpan had already begun to attack the prisoners. She and her fathers had rushed back as quickly as possible to help, but they’d been too late.
Tomo looked up at her from where she sat on the floor. Her face was covered with blood, but she was smiling. “We won,” she said.
“I… I see that,” the white haired girl said, looking at the three vulpan corpses on the ground. They’d been practically ripped apart.
Well, two vulpan corpses, to be specific. The third was just barely clinging to life as Sakura crouched by him, and the manacle she was holding made a wet thump as she brought it down over his smashed skull repeatedly. “I am not a slut!” she snarled on each blow. “I am not a slut! I am not a slut!” Even as Hanabi watched, the soldier gurgled something while his eyes rolled up into the back of his head, and then he was silent and still. The bald girl slammed her manacle against his exposed brains a few more times, then left it buried in him. She was still sobbing and shaking and looked exhausted.
Hanabi wanted to be happy at the scene. They’d successfully fought and killed three vulpan. But her people had paid for it as well. Though she was relieved to see no dead kitsune, almost everyone here was injured, some seriously enough that they wouldn’t recover fast enough to assist in anything. Three vulpan against nearly two hundred kitsune, and it had been a close battle. If there had been four vulpan, she was certain she’d have arrived to find dozens of dead kitsune. If there had been five vulpan, she didn’t think anyone here would have survived.
And any minute now, according to the radio they’d stolen off the vulpan they’d killed, there were going to be fifty of them in here. Not even fifty careless ones thinking with their cocks and underestimating their opponents. The enemy headed for them was going to be organized and merciless.
It was suddenly too much effort to stand, and the girl let herself sink to the ground next to Tomo, who tilted her head to let it rest on Hanabi’s shoulder. The last thing she’d heard from Sam was that it should take only a couple minutes to drill far enough to hit the reservoir. But once they did, they still had the water to contend with. Drilling around it would require hours that they didn’t have. She’d hoped that there would be some solution once they’d gotten this far, but nothing was presenting itself. Their escape route was a dead end, and they were trapped down here.
Hanabi couldn’t see anything left but to wait for the vulpan to kill them.
Morris looked just as he had in life as he knelt beside Seo-yun’s prone body, one hand on her shoulder to try and shake her awake. The same intelligent eyes, the same shaggy dark hair. The military fatigues he wore looked crisp and new, but there was also a sense of familiar comfiness to them, like an old pair of shoes. There were no signs of the terrible injuries he’d borne when she’d seen him last. His expression was worried, but he broke into a smile when he saw her looking up at him. “Thank God,” he said. “I was starting to think that you were gone for good.”
Gone… she was dead too. The memories of the last few minutes returned, carrying bitter frustration with them. Levi had killed her, just as he would soon kill everyone else. But if she was dead, where was she now?
The red haired woman sat up and took in their surroundings. The empty space around them stretched out in an infinite void on all sides, even above and below. Not a black inky void or a blank white one, just… empty. Pure nothingness like she’d never seen before. “Is this the afterlife?” she asked.
“No,” Morris told her. “I don’t think so. Not exactly. I was… after you lost consciousness, I was still awake, trying to hold on. I managed to keep your heart beating, but that was all. You can still hear it if you listen.” Seo-yun focused and found that he was correct. She could hear the quiet, slow beat coming from somewhere outside the void. It sounded soft, and weak, and grew more so with every beat. “I think we’re not quite dead yet, but we’re not quite alive anymore either. We’re somewhere in between.”
“But not for long.”
“No,” he admitted grimly. “Not for long.”
Seo-yun couldn’t help feeling a hint of amusement at their fate. “We keep meeting like this, don’t we?”
“We’re in a creepy void instead of chained to a tree, and my leg feels a lot better this time around, but yeah,” he agreed, looking amused himself. “The two of us together, waiting for death.” He left the other difference unspoken: this time it was coming for both of them.
To be honest, it was a comfort to Seo-yun to know that they would face the end together. She had been alone almost her entire life, but at least she would get to go to her death with someone by her side. She gave Morris a warm smile. “It is good to see you again, and be able to talk to you like this. I did not think I would ever get to do so again.”
The dark-haired man scratched his head. “Likewise, though to be fair, I get to see you every day. Talk to you all the time too, just not with words. But it’s a nice change of pace getting to see you in front of me like this and have a more normal conversation. I think our little reunion has to wait, though.” He looked over her shoulder. “Those two have been waiting since we got here. Haven’t said anything to me, but I’m pretty sure they want to have words with you first.”
Seo-yun looked behind her, and saw two figures.
She’d thought that she’d long forgotten their faces, but they were still as familiar as her own. A giant of a man whose bushy red hair and muscular proportions belied the gentle calmness in his eyes. A woman with white hair that went nearly down to her knees who was much smaller in stature, but whose fearless gaze spoke of strength and not a little mischief. They both wore robes that matched their hair and fur, and it was only then that Seo-yun realized that she was wearing her own as well, red with dazzling streaks and curves of white.
The sight of her parents generated a flurry of emotions in the red fox, foremost among them guilt and sorrow. She had been dreading this moment for centuries, and it was finally here. All of her past sins had caught up to her. She knelt and bowed her head, both in apology and because she didn’t feel worthy to look upon them. “Mother, Father, I cannot beg for your forgiveness.” Her voice came out higher than it had been in a very long time as she fought to keep the tears out of it, and she knew without looking that her form had changed to something smaller and younger. She hadn’t looked anything like this for three hundred years, and yet she felt more like herself than she ever had, as though her adult self had been nothing but a disguise she’d been forced to wear. This was who she truly was and always had been: a young child who’d just lost her parents. “Because what I have done is unforgivable. I have tarnished your memory, torn apart the world you wished to create, and murdered those you swore to protect. Murdered those you named as your own children.”
When she was a child, nothing had terrified her more than the idea of her parents hating her. As an adult, she’d long ago accepted that they despised her for what she’d done. Seo-yun had never once tried to fool herself into thinking that the good deeds she’d done over the last few years could make up for the past. “I will accept any punishment and ask for no mercy,” the red-haired girl said as she stared down at the emptiness below. “But please… please…” The tears began to fall into the void. “There are people who need help. People that I cannot save. Please, I beg you to help them. Do not hate them for what I have done.” She knew that what she was asking for was impossible. Even if they weren’t too angry to listen to her plea, there was nothing that suggested they could help in any meaningful way. But she had to ask. She had to try. Her parents had been loved and revered as miracle workers, and she needed a miracle now more than ever.
No answer came from the two figures, not even a rejection, and silence returned to the void, broken only by Seo-yun’s soft sobbing and the fading heartbeat that still pulsed all around them. Her plea had been ignored. Seo-yun waited with head bowed to see what their wrath would bring. But of all the possible retributions she could imagine facing, none were worse than this simple lack. She would rather they yelled at her, screamed at her, beat her and tortured her and told her what a terrible disappointment she had been. At least then she would have their attention and company. Even hating her would mean that they cared about her. Anything but this complete and utter abandonment.
As she knelt there and wept, a scent tickled her nose. It was faint, but possessed a solidity to it, a realness that stood out against the ghostly void. It was a smell as familiar and forgotten as her parents’ faces, and the rich, savory notes brought back a rush of memories. Years ago, that last time she and Morris had waited for death, she had shared the story with him. Of being sick and feverish for hours on end, and of how her parents had been unable to do anything but watch over her. Watch over her… and make her soup.
Seo-yun’s vision was blurry with tears as she looked up at her parents once again. This time she really looked at them, not just at what she remembered or expected to see. She had been too young to truly know her parents before they passed, too much their child to see them as anything but grandiose figures to be loved and feared. She saw them now as people, imperfect and beautiful for it. A father and mother, a husband and wife, trying to do the best for themselves and their daughter and all those they loved. She saw Yuudai’s shyness, and Seijun’s regrets. She saw their loneliness at being separated from their people, and their uncertainty about what the future held. And she saw the love between them that had brought her into this world.
They didn’t speak, but they didn’t have to. There was all of that and so much more written across their faces: joy and sorrow, sympathy and hope. And pain, so much pain. The pain of three long centuries spent unable to intervene and help their daughter. “You saw it all, didn’t you?” she whispered, already certain of the answer. This wasn’t the first time they’d visited her; they’d never left.
They had been silent witnesses to every tragedy and mistake of her life. They had watched her every moment of weakness, her every poor decision. They had spent centuries seeing her run from her past instead of facing it, seeing her embrace her darkest natures and try to become a monster to shut out her conscience. They had been there for every kill. They had been there for every meal. They had been there for every time that others had suffered because she should have been a better person than she was.
There was no forgiveness in their eyes. That wasn’t theirs to offer. But neither was there hatred or contempt. They had not watched her out of obligation, or to pass judgment. They had watched because their child was scared and hurting and this was the only thing they could do for her. They had watched, rejoicing in her every success and grieving for her every failure and praying every day for her happiness. They had watched her dig herself into a hole one bad choice at a time, and they’d watched her eventually begin to climb out, there every step of the way as she suffered Levinson, as she tried to forget herself as Ginger, as she met and fought and fought for her wife, as she gave everything she had trying to live up to their legacy and protect their people. And no matter how far she had fallen, no matter how much she had hated herself, their love for her had never diminished.
The simple truth broke her heart and made it soar it in equal measure:
She had never been alone.
Seijun held a wooden bowl, one that Seo-yun remembered Yuudai carving one day while she’d watched and admired from his lap. The red fox rose to her feet, an adult once more as she accepted it from the woman. The bowl was warm, almost hot to the touch, and it carried the scent of that soup that had once soothed her so long ago, but when she looked down, it was something else that lay within. The vessel was filled with a soft red light that flowed and danced like a living thing. A light that she’d seen other kitsune use, her parents included, but never had for herself.
The red-haired woman stared into the foxfire for a long moment, then shook her head. “No,” she said. “I… I can’t accept this.” As she held its weight in her hands, she understood that this wasn’t simple power that they were offering, but a fundamental part of their very souls. “It’s too much.” Not just a part, a majority. They were giving her everything they could, sparing almost nothing for their own existence. They would become mere wisps, shadows of what they once were, unable to do anything but drift further away from the world. They would leave her, truly leave her, and she would never see them again until she made that same journey herself.
Seo-yun tried to push the bowl back into Seijun’s hands. “Please, I… I don’t want you to go.” Even if she could never see them, never hear them, never touch them, it would be enough to know that they were there. “There must be some other way!” Her parents’ only response was to bow low in a pose that she had never seen them take, but had witnessed others demonstrate many times: the familiar pose of supplication when offering tribute. And then she understood.
The foxfire wasn’t a gift. It was a responsibility.
Seo-yun straightened her back and wiped away her tears. She owed it to them to do this properly, to let their last sight of their daughter be one they could cherish. She bowed back at them. “Your offering is worthy and accepted,” she told them, her voice shaking only a little. “I pledge to do whatever I can to protect our people from dangers near and far.” The bowl in her hands contained more than just foxfire; it held all of her parents’ unrealized hopes and dreams for the future, and it was a burden she would shoulder for the rest of her life. They were asking her to pick up where they had left off. To use this power to see their vision of peace and happiness for everyone, not just kitsune or human, made manifest.
She lifted the bowl to her lips and drank, letting the liquid light suffuse her body. It had the warmth of her father’s fur as she rode upon his back, and the sweet fragrance of her mother’s hair as she hugged her daughter.
Once she had drained the last drop, Yuudai’s wooden bowl faded away. Her parents were not far behind, their forms already translucent and growing paler. As she watched them leave her for the first and last time, her resolve to keep her goodbye quiet and dignified broke, and she threw her arms around the both of them, sobbing. Despite their translucence, they felt solid and real as she embraced them, and she felt their hands tighten around her in a fierce, loving hug. “I will make myself someone you can be proud of,” she swore to them.
“We already are,” her mother whispered in her ear. “And always will be. Make yourself someone that you can be proud of.” And then, as though speaking had cost her everything that she had left, the woman was gone.
Her father disappeared a moment after, leaving only his whispered words. “We will be waiting on the other side, little one. To hear your story.”
And then it was just her and Morris in the void.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly.
Seo-yun brushed fresh tears away and tried to smile at him. “I’ll be okay,” she told him. “Truly.” There was grief in her heart, but there was also a profound joy there too, a centuries old weight that had finally been lifted. “We need to get out of here.”
“Do you know how?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, and then hesitated. “I… don’t know if we’ll ever be able to speak again like this.”
He shrugged. “I can’t complain. It was one more time than I expected to get.”
“I am sorry,” Seo-yun told him. “I would free you if I could, but I don’t know how. It might not even be possible anymore.”
“It’s actually a pretty nice existence once you get used to it,” he said, smiling a little. “I bet there aren’t too many ghosts that still get to spend time with their wife, let alone make love to her.”
“Still, you deserve better than being trapped in someone else’s body.”
“I’m not too worried about what I deserve,” Morris said. “Seo-yun, I made a lot of mistakes when I was alive.” She opened her mouth to argue, but he cut her off. “It’s true. I hurt a lot of people.”
“That doesn’t make you a bad person,” she insisted.
“No, you don’t understand. I don’t see being with you as some kind of punishment. I see it as a second chance.” He brushed some of the hair out of his eyes. “You and I, we have the potential to help so many people. It’s not a scoreboard; there’s no one waiting to hand us a trophy once we’ve protected more people than we’ve harmed. It’s just work worth doing. So don’t think of me as some kind of prisoner trying to atone for his sins. Think of me as your partner. Me, I’m just happy to have found a life where I can genuinely be a force for good. It’s a weird life, but it’s mine.” He extended his hand. “It’s ours.”
Seo-yun took his hand. “Ours,” she agreed.
Morris looked around. “So now what?”
The red-haired woman closed her eyes and concentrated. She could feel their real body as it clung desperately to the faint flickers of life that remained in it. And she could feel her parents’ fox skins wrapped around her flesh, waiting to be used. No, not their skins. They were hers now. She called upon her foxfire, reaching out to the skins, and felt them respond. There wasn’t enough left of either pelt on its own, but together… She felt the transformation beginning, breathing new life into her. She looked up at Morris and squeezed his hand. “Now we end this.”