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.
“I found it!” Tomo said excitedly. “I found it!” The girl clutched her foxskin to her chest, and a moment later she became a brown fox that danced in a happy circle. Other people were behaving the same way, searching through the pile of foxskins that Rei, Kaede, Captain Ichika, and Dr Emi had just brought in. Despite the threat of death pressing down on them, it made Hanabi grin to see the others so happy, and recall her own exhilaration at retrieving her skin. Even the non-kitsune slaves seemed to be getting caught up in the joy of it all and the hope it offered, and the white haired girl saw more than one hesitant smile on faces that had previously held only flat despair.
“Aren’t you going to go get yours?” she asked Shura. The blue haired woman was huddled with her knees drawn up and her head in her hands, and was one of the only foxes to make no move toward the pile of skins.
“What’s the point?” Shura asked flatly without bothering to look up. “You just told us that there are fifty vulpan on the way, hundreds more behind them, and nowhere to go.” She tightened her arms around herself. “If I was less of a coward, I’d just kill myself now and get it over with.”
“It’s not over yet,” Hanabi told her. “Now that we all have our foxfire back-”
“But we don’t,” Shura interrupted. “It’ll take hours to recover it all, and we’ll be lucky to survive the next ten minutes.”
Hanabi had no answer to that, because it was the same dilemma she’d been grappling with. They were out of time. “What if we distracted them somehow?” suggested Tomo as she padded over to rejoin them, still in fox form.
“With what?” Shura said scornfully. “These creatures aren’t like the men Hanabi used to play pranks on. They’re trained killers.”
A light went on in Hanabi’s head. “That’s it!” the white furred girl exclaimed, and jumped to her feet.
“What’s it?” Tomo asked.
“What Shura just said!” Hanabi grinned down at her friend. “I’ve gotten so distracted by all this big picture doom and gloom stuff that I practically forgot who I am. A year ago, if you’d told me that there were fifty soldiers prowling around Shirakami Sanchi, I would’ve been over the moon.”
“I just told you, they’re nothing like those men,” insisted Shura. “They’ll tear you apart in seconds if you go near them.”
“Oh yeah? Sure, they’re a lot tougher, and they’ve got better senses, but they’re not any smarter,” Hanabi countered, “and that’s the only bit that’s ever really mattered. Besides, I don’t need to kill them, just slow them down and mess them up.” This could work. This could really work. “I’ll soften them up and buy you guys some time, and then you come in and hit them hard.”
Shura didn’t look convinced, but she wasn’t the woman Hanabi needed to persuade. That would be Captain Ichika, who’d overheard their conversation and was already striding toward them. She’d retrieved her own skin, and shifted into a surprisingly small and delicate golden fox. Hanabi couldn’t even remember the last time she’d seen her aunt outside of her human form. “You really think you can slow them down?” the fox asked.
Hanabi nodded. “Weird marbles or not, they’re still just humans deep down. I know I can’t hold them off forever…”
“But you don’t have to,” Ichika agreed. “Shura, go get your skin. That’s an order. Once you’ve found it, go join the other guards.” The woman reluctantly stood up and obeyed. “And you, Tomo. You know more about Hanabi’s tricks than anyone, so go ahead and salvage whatever you can find in the vault that you think she’ll be able to make good use of. Take anyone with you that’s willing and able, and start with those goblin torture rooms; they seemed well stocked with tools.” The brunette nodded. “I’ll get some people together and start building a defensive perimeter here. Hanabi, give us as much time as you can, but don’t kill yourself doing it, understood?”
“Understood,” Hanabi said.
“Good.” The captain shook her head. “I never thought I’d say this, Hanabi, but go have fun messing with the humans.”
“Oh, I will…” the white haired girl promised.
Gregor could already smell the foxes when he entered the vault. “Let’s get this done,” he ordered as he loped down the halls, his men fanning out behind him. “When you find them, don’t mess about, just go for the kill and then move on to the next. Any of you fuckers starts thinking with his cock or his stomach, and you’d better hope I’m the one who notices and kills you, because I’ll make it a hell of lot easier than Commander Levi will. Is that understood?”
“Yes sir!” barked fifty voices.
He expected most of the foxes were still huddled together somewhere. They’d make for nice and easy prey, just the way he liked it. He’d hit them hard and make them scatter, then send his men out in groups of five to hunt down the strays. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to clean this warren out from top to bottom, but he thought he could probably get it done in twenty minutes if he kept his men on point. “We get this entire place taken care of before Commander Levi arrives, and I will personally see to it that each and every one of you bastards gets your own personal slave girl,” he promised. “We’ll hit the nearby towns, take our pick of the litter… by this time tomorrow, I promise every man here will have his cock buried in someone tight and pretty. That sound good?”
“Yes sir!” Their response was much more enthusiastic this time.
They reached an intersection and Gregor saw their first victim: a white haired girl down one of the paths. Hadn’t there been some talk back in the nest that the commander was looking for someone like that? It didn’t matter; he had his orders, and Commander Levi hadn’t made any exceptions for little white haired bitches. The stupid girl looked terrified as she saw them coming after her, and she immediately turned around and bolted down the hall and around a corner.
Some of his men began to give chase, but Gregor growled at them. “Wait!” he ordered, and confirmed the situation with his nose. “The bitch is a trap,” he told them. “She’s got no smell to her.” There was a bit of fox everywhere around here, but none of it was recent enough to be her. No, the strongest scents came from the opposite direction of the girl. “It’s just one of their worthless illusions. Dumb cunt thinks she can fool us and send us on a wild goose chase. Come on!”
He chased after the scent instead, letting it lead him unerringly to his prey. The trail brought him not to the main holding pens, but to a closed elevator door, the scent of at least twenty different foxes ending in front of it. He didn’t know why there was an extra elevator down here, but some of the stupid animals had probably thought it was their escape ticket out. He imagined them desperately prying the doors open, their despair when they discovered that none of the elevators were working, and then their hope that it would at least make for a good hiding place.
Gregor felt like the big bad wolf as he wedged his claws between the doors and forced them open. It was pitch black in the car, too dark to make anything out at first, but he didn’t need to see into it. Men and women began screaming in the darkness within, and he grinned. “Kill them quickly,” he ordered. “We’ve still got the main nest to exterminate.”
“Yes sir!” Seven of his men rushed through the open doors, happy to kill something far less dangerous than the armed forces or crazy monsters above. They disappeared into the darkness, and the screams rose in pitch and fervor.
And then the freight car fell.
It happened in an instant, the car barreling down into the dark shaft below. Gregor heard the surprised shouts and screams of his men inside drift up from the abyss, and then nothing at all. He stared at the severed elevator cables dangling in the air. “How far a drop do you think that is?” asked a feminine voice from behind him. “I bet it’s gotta be at least a few miles, right?”
Gregor whirled to see the white haired girl behind him, relaxing against the far wall. “Maybe they could count the seconds while they’re on the way down, and figure it out that way” she suggested with a smile. “Give them something to do while they fall.”
The vulpan growled and lunged at her, but her image disappeared like smoke as he touched it. He looked back at his men, who seemed as stunned as he was by the sudden reversal. All thoughts of future celebrations with slave girls were gone. If he didn’t have the entire vault secured by the time Commander Levi showed up, and had to report that he’d led his forces right into a trap… “Find these fucking foxes and kill them!” Gregor snarled.
“That’s as far as we’re going to get,” said Sam. “Unless we want to try and drill all the way to the surface, it’s that tunnel or nothing.”
Hanabi’s father wore a sour expression as he looked at the submerged tunnel beneath them. “And that’s the water reservoir you were talking about,” Nobu said. “Any chance someone could swim through it?”
“Not unless that someone can hold her breath for a solid fifteen minutes or more,” Sam told him. “According to the geological surveys, the tunnels wind around a bit before reaching the main body of water, and there’s probably not any oxygen in there either.”
“Then we’re doomed,” the fox said despondently.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Sam said. “I’ve got a really bad idea. Do me a favor and start getting everyone who can’t help with the fighting ready to evacuate, just in case I’m wrong and my idea actually works. If you can spare people to go raid more of the treasure part of the vault and grab whatever they can carry, go for it. The plan may have been shot to hell, but we might as well get a damn payday if we make it out alive.”
“And just what is this idea of yours?” Nobu asked.
Sam sighed. “To be… diplomatic,” she said, grimacing at the word.
Hanabi followed behind the pack of vulpan as they raced down corridors, all of them eager to find and kill her. She remained on guard, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice if one of them detected her through the cloak, but all of them seemed utterly oblivious. Their form gave them enhanced senses, but they’d never really had to use them. A child could have hidden herself from these morons.
Their leader skidded to a sudden stop and she tensed. “We’ve already been through this damn hallway three times!” he growled. “I’m going to skin those furry bitches… ” This was their fourth time in this particular hallway, actually. All it had taken was a few illusory walls and fake scents to get them going around and around in circles. The vulpan must have realized what she’d done, because his tail began lashing at the nearest wall, checking its solidity, and it didn’t take him long to find one of the passages that she’d hidden from him. “Here!” he shouted, and sprinted through the wall and into the concealed path.
Hanabi had to suppress a giggle. She knew this was a life or death situation and all, but these guys were so dumb. She would have thought humans who had the benefit of knowing about the supernatural would have had some level of caution and respect but… respect was a thought lost of any of Pargon’s goons. They were used to being an unstoppable force… not prey. She hadn’t expected the illusory walls to keep them busy for more than a minute or two. The point had never been to trick them into running in place for any real period of time. It had just been about giving her time so set up more fun little surprises for them.
The white fox followed behind the others, careful to watch her step. The only illusion she’d placed in this hallway was making the plush carpet look about an inch thicker than it really was. It was a simple illusion, easily missed… and handily concealed the makeshift caltrops the others had made for her out of chain links and broken glass. Hanabi tread carefully through the space while the vulpan ahead of her howled in pain as they learned about the hazards the hard way. That supernaturally tough skin of theirs didn’t work so well when it was their own supernatural strength, not to mention their heavy weight, driving their paws against the ground hard enough to make the caltrops embed themselves in their flesh.
The foxes stumbled around, trying to pull the caltrops out. A few of them were smart enough to transform back into humans and make use of those opposable thumbs, but most of them just nipped uselessly at their paws or slapped their tails against them. A couple dummies even rolled over onto their sides to try and keep their weight off their injured paws, and just succeeded in getting more caltrops all over their body.
“Oof, that looks like it stings!” Hanabi remarked, appearing next to one of them. He growled and lunged at her. Except that she was just an illusory proxy. In front of another illusory wall. In front of the still open elevator shaft. His howls echoed as he fell.
“Fuck you,” were the first words out of Storm Hag’s mouth when she saw Sam. The green skinned woman knelt sullenly in one corner, her limbs bound with chains.
“I haven’t even told you what I want yet,” Sam growled, already struggling to keep her expression pleasant.
Storm Hag sneered at her. “Unless it’s a taste of my cunt, you can forget it.”
The redhead crouched to look her right in the eyes. “You’re Jenny Greenteeth, aren’t you?”
Storm Hag spat in her face. “I’m the woman who buggered your mum and chewed the balls off your dad.”
“Sure,” Sam said tiredly, wiping the spittle off with her left arm. “You’re queen bitch of fucktown. Can we skip ahead to the part where you answer my goddamn question?”
“Not before you tell me why the hell you care.”
“Because I used to make it a habit to research as many opponents as I could before a game,” the redhead answered, “and you were one people couldn’t stop talking about. And if you are Jenny, some of the old folk stories I read said you could create storms and waves. If there was any truth to that, I need to know if you can do something with the water blocking our way out.”
“Sure, I can do something,” Storm Hag said. “I can piss in it. Now fuck off.”
God, was this what it felt like to deal with her stubborn ass? Sam wished Seo-yun was here just so she could apologize to her wife. “A few hours ago you put a shiv to my friend’s throat because you were so desperate to leave. And now that we might actually have a chance to get out of here, you won’t lift a finger to help?”
Storm Hag scowled at her. “Your plan was fucked then and it’s fucked now. At least the vulpan will make it quick. Maybe I’ll even get lucky and one of ‘em will choke on my bones.” Her eyes narrowed. “And the fuck are you talking about “opponents’? I’ve watched every Paradisium Game of the last ten years, and I’ve never seen a little ginger human twat like you.”
Sam couldn’t help a smirk. “You spent all that time chasing my shadow, and you don’t even recognize me?” she mocked. “You need me to light my hair on fire to jog your memory?”
For once, the green skinned woman had no angry response ready. Her mouth gaped and she stared at Sam wide eyed. “You… no, you’ve gotta be… you’re not a…”
“Not a phoenix?” Sam finished for her. “No, of course not. A little fireproof, sure, but I’m human through and through.”
“You’re telling me that Ember, the fucking unbeatable champion, was just your sorry human ass the whole time?!” Storm Hag demanded, her voice loud enough to echo off the walls.
“Yeah, and you lost to this sorry human ass just like everyone else,” Sam countered.
Storm Hag stared at her for a few more seconds… and then burst into raucous laughter. “That’s… that’s the funniest thing… I’ve ever heard in my life,” she wheezed. “All those people beaten by a powerless human… Gods, even I wouldn’t have dared half the shit I’ve seen you do… you’ve gotta be the craziest bitch I’ve ever…” Her speech broke up into laughter, and it took her more than a full minute before she could form words again. “…yeah, okay…”
“Yeah, okay what?” Sam asked.
“As in yeah, fuck it, let’s do this thing,” Storm Hag said, still recovering. “Like I could turn down a chance to work with the one and only… what the hell did Vinny used to call you… the goddamn queen of flame and sky. Yeah, I’m Jenny Greenteeth. Yeah, I can be your magic fucking plumber if that’s what you need right now. Let’s go fuck some shit up.”
The vulpan were moving much more cautiously through the vault now, checking the ground for hazards and looking behind illusions instead of just jumping through them. It was the safe thing to do… and it was slow. It just gave Hanabi more time to set up traps.
The first few soldiers to encounter the greased floor slipped and fell like they were part of a slapstick routine, paws and tails scuffing the ground as they whined. She’d ripped out a long section of the carpet with her teeth and claws, covered the bare floor with an illusion, and then poured some cooking grease. Tomo had found it for her in a room that the goblins had been using as a makeshift kitchen, a place that had apparently been so filthy that the girl had gotten visibly queasy just telling Hanabi about it.
“Stop fucking around!” ordered their leader. The guy seemed increasingly stressed by every misfortune they came across, and Hanabi had a running bet with herself about whether it’d be one of her traps or a rage stroke that got him. Fifteen minutes ago he would’ve tried to just jump over it. Ten minutes ago he would’ve tried walking around it. But grease was a lot safer than dealing with more of the homemade caltrops she kept littering their path with, or the nails she’d glued to the floor at a few points, so he opted to lead them slowly across the floor himself, careful of anything more dangerous that might be mixed in with the grease. Very sensible.
Unless you were dealing with a kitsune capable of igniting that grease with her foxfire, of course…
“Yeah, I can work with this,” Jenny said, looking down at the submerged tunnel. “Just give me a minute.” The river hag extended her arms in front of her, closed her fists like she was gripping something invisible, and then yanked them backwards. Twin streams of water fountained up from the tunnel, spraying like hoses to either side of her. Jenny began making a rope pulling motion in the air, and the streams became heavier as they continued gushing from the tunnel.
“We don’t have time to drain the entire reservoir like that,” pointed out Nobu. “It would take hours and hours tobubhb!” Jenny rolled her eyes, adjusted her motion slightly, and one of the streams shifted to hit him directly in the face.
“I don’t need to drain the whole fucking thing,” the green skinned woman said in a long suffering tone as the kitsune quickly got out of the way of the water. “I just need to make some space for the air to go. So leave the water to me and I’ll leave being a furry little dipshit to you, okay?” She turned her head to give Sam a look of commiseration. “The crap we have to deal with, huh?”
After a few minutes, the water level in the tunnel had receded so far that it could barely be seen, and Jenny gave a nod of satisfaction. “Alright, time to make like Moses. Come on.” She descended into the tunnel and Sam followed, watching the water part around the woman to let her cut a dry path through. Nobu tagged along as well, leaving misshapen lumps of foxfire everywhere to provide illumination.
Walking through the snaking passageway just felt like walking through a cave, albeit one with extremely wet walls, but Sam couldn’t help a feeling of trepidation when they emerged into the open space of the actual reservoir and began to walk along the bottom. The water was all around them now, millions of gallons eager to pulverize them the moment whatever Jenny was doing stopped working. “Is there any way you can, I don’t know, calm it down?” Sam asked as she stared at the surrounding water. She’d expected it to be frozen in place or moving in slow motion or something, but it was the exact opposite, churning and roiling all around them. They were walking through an angry tidal wave that looked and sounded like it should be crashing down at any second, and yet continued to swirl harmlessly around them in defiance of physics.
“Oh sure,” Jenny said sarcastically as she continued digging a tunnel of air for them, “that’s why folks used to call me the Gentle Rolling Waves Hag. I don’t control water, I control storms. Only reason I can pull something like this off is because I’m so damn fucking good at it. You should’ve just told me in the beginning that all this was Ember’s plan,” she accused. “Your plan, I mean.”
“And then you wouldn’t have decided that it was a shitty plan that was never going to work?” asked Sam.
Jenny scoffed. “Fuck no. It was a stupid plan then and it’s a stupid one now. But if it’s one of your plans, I also know you’re gonna fucking make it work. Like, remember day three of your third game, when you were down thirty seven points and they had that obstacle course with the acid vats everywhere?”
“Yeah, I remember,” Sam said grimly, wishing she didn’t. They’d had one of the corpses from the previous round brought in just so they could toss it into a vat as demonstration and let everyone watch how quickly the acid dissolved her flesh. She still remembered how gleeful Emmeck had been when he described how it would even liquefy bone, and the agonized screams of the four women who’d fallen into one before the round was over. Ember hadn’t been personally responsible for any of those deaths, but she’d been prepared to push someone in if she had to, and that was nearly as bad.
Jenny took no notice of the unpleasant memories she’d stirred up. “Gods, it was so fucking amazing! Everyone was too scared to even leave the elevator until you were like ‘screw the danger, all I gotta do is keep running’. The commentators all claimed you just weren’t worried because acid couldn’t kill a phoenix, but I saw that look in your eyes, Ember. Phoenix or not, it wasn’t a ‘I can’t die here’ kinda look, it was ‘I won’t die here’. You damn near killed yourself twenty nine times, but you made it out alive, took the lead, and never let anyone take it from you all the way to the end. Oh, oh! And remember back in your second game…” The woman continued to chatter eagerly about Sam’s accomplishments as they crossed the huge cavern.
There were more small passageways at the other end of the reservoir. It took a couple false starts, but eventually they found the right one and then… then they were there. Sam emerged from the tunnel into the ruined temple basement that she and Seo-yun had excavated weeks ago. Whatever religious items and artwork had once filled this place were long gone now, replaced with dust and cobwebs. And just above them, up a simple flight of steps, was the shimmering entrance to the nexus.
They’d done it. They had their escape route.
The exhilaration of it was tempered by anxiety. The surveys hadn’t made it clear how steep and awkward some sections of the passage were. People would be able to manage it as long as they were cautious and careful, but that also meant slow. The tunnels were narrow too, only fitting three or four people at a time in most places.
Jenny nudged Sam in the side. “That’s the way out then, huh? Why don’t we just forget about the others and go through it now?” She ignored Nobu’s glare.
“No,” Sam said firmly. “I’m not leaving anyone behind here.”
“Right, right, your wife,” the river hag said. “What if we go back, find her, and then…”
“I’m not leaving anyone behind,” Sam repeated. She started descending back into the tunnel. “Jenny, you stay here and do whatever the hell you need to do to keep this going. Nobu, we’ll start evacuating the moment we get back. Children and invalids first, but let’s send some able bodied foxes with them to assist with the difficult sections of the tunnels.”
Jenny scowled at her. “And what if I just escape by myself then? Without me around, that little waterway vanishes.”
“Then I guess we’ll die,” Sam said calmly. “And then you can tell everyone how you finally beat the great Ember by running away like a coward.”
The river hag growled. “If it was anyone but you, I’d already be gone. You know that, right? But trying to save everyone is stupid, even for you, and I’m not gonna stand around playing hero. The moment things get bad, I’m out of here.”
“Do what you want,” Sam told her. “But you wanna know how I did all that shit you keep yammering on about? Because I never just came here to survive the Paradisium. I came here to beat the Paradisium. And right now, victory means not leaving until we get every last person out.” She went down the tunnel without waiting for Jenny’s response.
“You fucking bitch!” she heard the woman call after her. “That’s not fair and you know it!”
Sam couldn’t help grinning.
Hanabi was setting up a new line of tripwires when the radio at her side crackled to life and nearly scared her to death in the process. “Report!” said Levi Petrov, his voice familiar even through all the static.
“We, we’ve managed to enter the vault, sir,” said the vulpan leader. ”But, the foxes, they, they were able to get free and retrieve their foxskins somehow. We encountered a force of, of over one hundred…” Liar.
“I don’t give a fuck about the details,” Levi snapped, sounding even surlier than usual. “Is the vault secure or not?!”
That response was followed by several seconds of the angriest silence Hanabi had ever heard. “I’m on my way,” Levi finally barked. His tone suggested that he was coming here to kill the man, and that anything involving the actual vault was a distant second priority right now.
The vulpan must have thought the same thing, because his voice was full of raw panic. “Sir, I only need a few more minutes. If I can just-”
“I’ll be down there in fifteen,” Levi said, his tone final. “The Paradisium forces have already retreated, and their army of freaks seems to have run away. We’ll see how well this pack of furry fucktoys you’ve been struggling against fares against another three hundred vulpan.”
Hanabi gulped and started running.
It wasn’t about the Paradisium anymore for Gregor, or the rewards for a successful mission. It wasn’t even about convincing Commander Levi not to kill him for his incompetence.
Gregor just wanted to murder that little white haired bitch.
He stalked through the halls with two of his best men behind him. Traveling in a single group had been their biggest mistake, he saw that now. It had left them easy to monitor and set traps and fake walls around. Now they roamed in ten different groups, and the difference was enormous. He could sometimes hear a yelp or howl from the distance as one of the other groups ran into trouble, but his own journey had been unmolested.
The vulpan caught the sharp, sudden scent of fox, and breathed it in deeply. The bitch was good at her tricks, very good, but she wasn’t perfect. There was a certain… lifelessness to the fake scents she used. A real scent shifted and changed minutely with each passing moment, but hers were always the same. It had taken him far longer than it should’ve to notice, and even longer to detect it reliably, but the last hour had been a harsh teacher. This scent was real.
He changed his direction to follow it and… there. His teeth parted in a wicked grin as he caught the faintest of shimmers in the air. She was right there, barely fifty feet from his position. He sprinted towards her, and was rewarded by a faint gasp of surprise. She immediately turned and ran in the opposite direction, but the bitch couldn’t hide herself nearly as well on the move, and he could track her movement easily.
Gregor chased after her, not letting his eagerness be the death of him. Three times she tried to send fake illusions down other hallways that almost looked and smelled perfect. She nearly got away once when he rounded a corner and found the hallway lined with those annoying caltrops she loved, but he knew the bitch hadn’t had time to set something like this up for real, and sure enough, the bits of metal all melted away as he ran through them with only the slightest hesitation. At some intersections she even had illusory versions of his two men run off in different directions in the foolish hope that he’d follow after them instead of her.
He knew he had her caught when he entered a hallway that he recognized. Everything about it looked perfectly normal… but the last time he’d been in here, there had been a door on one wall. He breathed in and confirmed it: her scent went past the hidden door without stopping, but changed ever so slightly. She’d ducked in here to hide, and sent an illusory trail out for him to keep chasing while she slipped away.
The vulpan nodded to the other two, then snarled and smashed his way right through the door. It was time to end this.
The room was one of those creepy sex dungeons he’d already seen before, except that this room featured one little white haired bitch huddled in a corner, panting for breath. She whimpered at the sight of him and immediately turned invisible, but the cunt must have been nearly out of juice, because the smear she left in the air was painfully obvious.
Fuck her, then kill her, Gregor decided as he closed the distance between them, careful to block the exit with his tails. It wouldn’t take long. He didn’t need to give the bitch the full experience; he just wanted her skewered on his cock when he ripped her head off. “Did you really think you could keep this up forever?” he mocked. “That a dumb cunt like you could keep messing with your betters and not get punished?”
“Her betters, hmm?” said a calm male voice behind him. Gregor whirled to see a blond fox holding a sword of pure fire. “And who might that be?”
“Kill him while I deal with the girl,” Gregor ordered his… where had the others gone? They’d been right behind him a moment ago!
The fox raised a hand and waved it vaguely in one direction. “We left them behind somewhere over there. It’s just you and me now.”
“And me,” said a female voice behind him, but when Gregor risked a glance, there was no sign of the white haired girl that he’d been chasing. The woman behind him was freakishly tall, had hair the exact same shade as the man’s, and carried a pole with a knife tied to the end as a makeshift spear.
“Yes, just you, me, and my sister,” the man corrected. “Now, what do you say the three of us have a talk about why you shouldn’t use words like ‘dumb cunt’ to describe my daughter?” He smiled, his eyes flat and cold as they reflected the light from his blade. “Don’t worry, it’ll be a short conversation.”
Hanabi got into position at the entrance only seconds before Levi appeared, casually smashing a path through the guard station instead of picking his way through. From behind a cloak at the far end of the hall, the fox watched hundreds of vulpan swarm in behind their leader, making even the wide vault hallways seem cramped.
This was the closest the white haired girl had been to the man since… since that day in the forest. The sight of him brought all the memories back, fresh and bitter, but this time they didn’t carry nearly as much guilt and shame with them. The familiar voice in her head whispering that she’d deserved all of it was still there, and maybe it always would be, but it was far quieter and easier to silence. Levi had been wrong about her, and so had she. She was much stronger than either of them had thought that day.
Of course, none of that stopped the icy dread that gripped her stomach. There were no more distractions that could help the people of Hanei, no greater priority for Levi to focus on. He had come to kill them all, and she was just about the only thing standing in his way.
Something crunched beneath Levi’s paws and he stopped, lifting his leg to reveal flattened nails and smashed caltrops beneath. “Children’s pranks,” he said with contempt and resumed walking, more metal crunching with each step. “Is it trash like this that’s kept you alive this long?” he called out. The other vulpan, not wanting to test the thickness of their own hide, quickly formed a single file line behind him to walk in his footsteps.
Levi’s front leg broke the invisible tripwire without him even feeling it, and the three invisible buckets that had been hanging from the ceiling tipped over and dumped oily cooking grease all over him. “Pathetic,” he snarled as the grease dripped from him. “This is how you think to fight back, animals? Do you really think worthless tricks like this will stop me from killing all of you?”
Hanabi wished she had something witty and biting to say, something that would really put the bastard in his place. But it had been a very long day, and she was exhausted, and this piece of shit wasn’t worth it anyway. So she settled for “Fuck you, asshole. Do it!”
That was the cue for the two hidden foxes in front of him to touch their cattle prods to the ground, making contact with the thousands of silver coins that had been concealed by the nails and caltrops.
Electricity arced through the coins in brilliant blue flashes, and all the vulpan shuddered and cried out in pain as they were electrocuted. Only Levi seemed unaffected by the ambush… until the other two cloaked foxes activated their flamethrowers. The vulpan’ cries rose to screams as flames blossomed across the hallway, fed by dry carpet and fur. Levi was roaring as loudly as any of them, but it was still a cry of rage, not pain, even as the grease turned him into a living pillar of flame. Hanabi nodded to the final three kitsune who’d accompanied her. Each was kneeling on the ground, holding one of the three rifles she’d brought with her, and at her signal they began to fire. Levi’s roar changed in pitch as the bullets struck him, and Hanabi’s sharp eyes caught blood now streaking his red fur.
None of the foxes waited to see if their surprise attack had been successful. The four in front didn’t let up for a second with the cattle prods and flamethrowers, while the three in the back emptied their magazines into Levi, reloaded, and did it again.
The vulpan’s flaming tails lashed out, and the closest foxes were violently flung away, their weapons splintering and shattering on impact. “Fall back!” Hanabi shouted as she did the exact opposite, sprinting towards the fallen men and women. All of them looked like they’d taken a sledgehammer to the chest, but they were alive, and she grabbed them with her tails and began dragging them back down the hall.
The shooters ignored her order and tried to keep firing, but without the flames and electricity pushing him back, Levi barreled forward. All three foxes suddenly wilted, their limbs going slack and rifles falling from their grip. Hanabi glanced backwards at Levi and found her own body growing heavy. She no longer had the strength to walk, let alone drag four fully grown kitsune behind her, and she fell to her knees, her gaze hopelessly fixed on the vulpan’s milky white eye. The misshapen orb seemed to pulse and glow as it stared into her soul.
Levi’s lips curled into a grin when her illusion crumbled and she became visible. “Ah, the white haired slut,” he exulted as he closed the distance between them. He moved more slowly now, savoring her defeat while his men recovered and regrouped behind him. His body was riddled with bullet wounds from their attack, but they were visibly healing. “What perfect timing. You’re going to have a front row seat to watch your people exterminated: impaled on my cock. I’m going to chew your limbs off and wear you like a condom while we feast. And only then, after every last soldier here has helped ruin your fuckholes and you’re nothing but a loose bag of jizz, am I going to let you die.”
Two more foxes with flamethrowers appeared between him and Hanabi, and Levi instinctively flinched back and brought his tails up for protection. The instant he broke eye contact with her, the white fox jerked her head away from him and started fleeing again, strength flowing back into her limbs. By the time Levi realized that he felt no flame, and the illusion of the two foxes faded, she was already running down the hall as fast as she could, her four allies in tow.
She could hear him chasing after her, but didn’t dare look back to see how close he was. “Get ready to run!” she shouted at the three shooters, and then grunted as several small somethings hit her from behind. She glanced down to see quills from Levi’s freakish tails protruding from her chest and stomach. She’d been skewered all the way through.on them.
Her limbs immediately began to grow heavy. It wasn’t like the magically induced whatsit that his freaky eye was doing; it was poison from the quills. She quickly grabbed at them, yanking them out so the wounds could heal, but he was still showering her with them, and in seconds more than a dozen were sprouting from her.
Adrenaline, inertia, and pure terror were the only things keeping Hanabi on her feet and moving at this point. As she approached the other kitsune, she spread her tails out like a fan, cutting their sight off. This time they listened to her, immediately scrambling to their feet and taking off as fast as they could. Levi roared behind them as they ran and ran and ran, following Hanabi as she fled down one random passageway to another.
They all ran for at least five minutes straight, most of it spent cloaked, before Hanabi dared to slow down. “That… could have… gone better…” she wheezed. She’d pulled out the rest of the quills on the way, but she’d still lost a lot of blood, and the poison hadn’t left her system. He would’ve killed her with those damn things if he’d used them from the beginning. It was only his insistence on trying to paralyze her first that had let her survive their encounter.
“It was working,” one of the others said. “He’s not invincible. If we just had more guns…”
“They were barely better than bee stings,” another insisted. “If we had a firing squad of fifty men and he agreed to stand still for ten minutes, we might have a chance, but we’re down forty seven rifles for that.”
“We’re down fifty rifles,” Hanabi corrected grimly. “Unless one of you had time to grab one before we ran.” The others shook their heads. “Wouldn’t matter anyway; those were all the bullets we had too.” She sighed. “Go back and let the others know the plan didn’t work. I’ll put up some fake walls and see if I can get them chasing their own tails for a while.”
She had a feeling that no amount of illusions was going to keep Levi away for long. The others looked like they felt the same way, but all seven did their best to smile and encourage her before racing back to the slave pens to pass along the bad news. And then Hanabi was alone again. She could already hear the vulpan behind her, growing steadily closer.
“Fuck,” Hanabi said, quietly but emphatically. “Fuck fuck fuck.” Then she got back to work.
Sakura looked at the countless rows of shelves, every single one filled end to end with thick and heavy tomes, and tried to decide which to start with. She couldn’t even tell if this library was organized in any way; she’d tried to read some of the book titles to figure out what they were, but none of them were in languages she even recognized, let alone understood. All she knew was that every last book here looked positively ancient.
Giving up, she chose a shelf at random and began piling some books onto a nearby marble table. In contrast to the rest of the vault, the furniture here was all normal sized. She supposed that being a huge dragon probably made reading books difficult, especially ones as fragile as these. She tried to imagine the lord of the Paradisium sitting at one of these tables, just reading a book, but the image was too ridiculously peaceful. Besides, most of these were so covered in dust that she doubted anyone but her had touched them in centuries…
Which gave her an idea.
Sakura smiled just a little when she found a shelf with considerably less dust. She couldn’t read the books here any more than the others, but if the dragon cared about the ones on this shelf enough to come down here and read them, there had to be something useful about them. She had three makeshift bags with her, hastily crafted out of broken chains and ripped up carpet, and she filled all three with as many books as she could before hauling them back to the slave pens.
“There’s no way we’re taking everything in there,” she told Rei as she dropped the bags off with the others and took some of the empty ones that the foxes on stitching duty had just finished with. “And half of those books like they’re gonna crumble to dust if I look at them funny.”
Her friend nodded. She’d stepped up to assist with the evacuation, coordinating the looting of the treasure rooms against the need to get everyone out as quickly as possible. “Then don’t worry about it,” she said. “We’re starting to run out of bags and people to carry them anyways. You should go evacuate.”
Sakura shook her head. “I’ve got time for at least one more run,” she said, and then hurried away before the dark haired girl could object. She didn’t want to explain how weak and utterly useless she felt right now. Hanabi was out there taking on an entire army practically by herself, Rei was proving why everyone expected her to succeed her mother as their leader someday… even Tomo, one of the shyest foxes in Hanei, had distinguished herself by being the first of them to fight back. All of her friends were amazing, and she was just terrified. Hauling a bunch of dusty old books that no one could even read wasn’t much, but at least she was doing something.
She froze when she returned to the library to find a strange man sitting on the marble table, reading one of the books she’d put there. The tome was tattered and its pages yellowed and brittle with age, but it held together as he idly flipped through it. “It’s alright,” he said calmly without looking up as she began to back away, desperate to flee and warn the others. “I’m not one of those foxy Paragon fellas. Don’t work for the Paradisium either.”
The girl knew she should just ignore him and run, but something about his voice was very relaxing. And it was true that he didn’t look like a threat, sitting there with his legs hanging off the table and his nose in a book. He carried no weapons that she could see, and he had a pleasant face and wore a suit and tie. He didn’t seem at all like what the vulpan soldiers looked like when they took human form. He felt… safe. She stopped moving, still wary but no longer in a panic. “Who are you, then?” she asked softly.
The question seemed to almost stump the man. He sighed and put the book down. “You know, that’s a very good question, Sakura. I’ve gone by a lot of different names in my time, but seeing that old castle out there has got me feeling a bit nostalgic. Why don’t you call me Merlin?”
“How do you know my name?” It wasn’t bad that he knew it; he seemed like a perfectly nice man, after all. She was just curious.
Merlin smiled at her. “Well, truth be told, you caught my attention a little while ago, when you killed that one soldier boy. I’d been hoping I’d get the chance to talk to you alone for a bit, and this felt like a good opportunity.”
Sakura’s face flushed at the memory of beating the man to death while screaming at him. She’d let herself get lost in the heat of the moment. Once she’d returned to her senses, she’d felt ashamed that everyone had seen her in that state, and it was even worse knowing that someone like Merlin had witnessed it too. “I, I just…”
“He disrespected you,” said the young man. “Mistreated you. You did everything he wanted back in Hanei, absolutely everything, and got nothing in return. So you got angry, right? There’s nothing wrong with that. We both know he deserved everything you did to him. The only real shame of it is that he didn’t suffer longer.”
The girl nodded. That’s right, he had deserved it, and more. She didn’t need to feel ashamed about losing her temper. She felt grateful that Merlin had shown her that. “Would you like me to suck your cock, sir?” she asked, and sank to her knees. She remembered wishing that she’d never have to do anything like that again for the rest of her life, but she could make an exception for someone as wonderful as her new friend.
“Sorry,” Merlin said, “I’m just a little out of practice, especially when it comes to using such a light touch. No, Sakura, I don’t need you to suck my cock yet.” Sakura felt a pang of sadness at the rejection, but he knew best. She didn’t bother to stand back up; it felt right for her to kneel. “He’s the one who shaved you bald, isn’t he?”
She nodded and touched her bare scalp. She’d hoped that getting her foxskin and transforming would restore her hair. Certainly it had brought back all the tails that her former owner had torn off of her for crimes like “being too cheeky for a slut”. But she’d known, deep in her heart, that her hair was gone for good. Sure enough, even after transforming back and forth half a dozen times, not a single lock had returned. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said, tears suddenly appearing from her eyes. She felt hideous without her hair, and she didn’t want Merlin to see her like this.
“It’s okay,” he told her. “You look rather cute without it, actually. But I like you, Sakura, and I think you deserve a little reward after everything you’ve gone through. Come over here.”
Joy suffused Sakura at the idea that maybe he was going to let her suck on him after all, or even let her welcome him into her other holes, and she eagerly shuffled forward on her knees. But to her disappointment, instead of undressing so that she could worship him with her body, he just laid the palm of his hand on her forehead.
She quivered in pleasure at his touch, but there was more to it than just the physical sensation. She could feel his presence flowing into her, entering through the door that he’d wedged open. He was penetrating her mind as thoroughly as her owner had ever penetrated her body. Her mind wasn’t his destination, though. He was going further, deeper, and… she recoiled as she felt him touching her soul. It hurt, a deep ache that banished all the happy fuzzy feelings her brain had been swathed in. No, no, this wasn’t right! She didn’t want this!
Sakura tried to pull away from his hand, but her body wouldn’t obey her, and she could do nothing but mewl softly as he violated her very soul. “Shh,” Merlin said quietly. “It’s okay, Sakura. Don’t try to fight it. It only hurts when you fight it. Just let me in. That’s right, there’s a good girl. It’s so much easier when you don’t resist, see?” Sakura nodded, relaxing and letting him slip into her. “You have a very pretty soul, do you know that? A soft, warm soul for a soft, warm fox girl. It’s lovely.”
Her scalp began to itch like mad, and then a few seconds later, it stopped just as suddenly as it had begun. It had been replaced by a familiar feeling, one that she’d taken for granted her entire life: the feeling of her own hair touching her neck. The paralysis of her body vanished, and Sakura reached a hand up to touch the thick tresses that now covered her head. Her hair was back! She pulled a pink lock of it down and stared at it in wonder.
“See?” Merlin said, his palm breaking contact with her forehead and his presence inside her already gone. “Just a little present, no harm done.” He stroked her hair. “And I’ll be the first to admit, you do look stunning like this. It’s almost enough to make me bring you home with me after all.” He shook his head. “But no, I have other things I should be doing right now, and no time to properly welcome a new pet. You’d best hurry up too; it’ll be getting dark soon. Besides, it’s not like I can’t come find you and have you anytime I want, right?”
“Yes, master,” she told him easily.
“The compulsion should wear off shortly,” he said, pushing himself off the table and onto his feet. He extended a hand, and she happily accepted it and let him pull her up to join him. “Shame I had to go so far just to give a pretty girl a gift, but I’m hardly the one to blame for that. Let’s see…” he rubbed his chin. “You came in here, decided to try transforming to get your hair back one last time, and to your surprise it finally worked. That’s simple enough to go with.” He kissed her hand. “It really was a pleasure to meet you, Sakura, and I’m truly sorry that it was unpleasant for a moment. You’re a good girl who deserves to be treated properly, and I hope I’ll get to take you up on that offer of yours someday.”
“Thank you, mas…” Sakura trailed off, confused. What had she been about to say? And to who? There was no one in the library but her.
She shook her head. She was just so excited about getting her hair back that she could hardly think straight. Rei had been right: she should hurry up and evacuate.
Sakura felt silly for being so down in the dumps a few minutes over not contributing enough. It wasn’t a competition to see who could be the most useful. There were plenty of heavy bags she could carry out with her, and according to Nobu there were some rough spots on the way out where weaker foxes might need a hand. The important thing was that everyone made it out safely, and no matter how small or large her role in their escape was, she’d give it her all.
The pink haired girl hummed happily as she left the room. Despite the urgency of their situation, she couldn’t help feeling amused by the dragon’s eccentricity. Imagine constructing a huge underground library like this, and then using it for just three bags worth of books. Row upon rows of shelves, holding nothing but sad lonely dust. How bizarre.
“It’s time to go, Flower,” Nobu said gently, putting a hand on her shoulder.
His daughter stubbornly shook her head. “Not yet. There’s still this hub. I can rearrange the doors, and hide some traps within the coins and, and, and we have an entire castle! There has to be something we can do with that.” The three of them were standing on the battlements of said castle, watching the door Levi would soon be coming through. They’d pushed heaps of treasure in the way to try and barricade the entrance, but none of them expected that to hold the vulpan for long once he arrived.
“Of course you can do something with it,” Kamio said. “You can wave it goodbye while you leave. Your plan worked: you gave us the time we needed, and got their advance force to split up so we could pick them off. But once Levi gets here, he will smash through whatever is in his way. That’s not going to include you.”
“There are still hundreds of us stuck here,” Hanabi argued. “Even if I left now, no one at the back of the line is going to reach the nexus before-”
“You won’t be at the back of the line,” Nobu interrupted. “Everyone already knows that you’re to go straight to the front.” He saw the indignant expression on his daughter’s face and quickly added “We already talked about it while you were away, Flower. Every last one of us would be dead or worse without you. We’re not letting you die here.”
Kamio sighed loudly. “Is she still young enough that we can just pick her up and carry her with us?” he asked.
“No, I’m not,” Hanabi declared angrily. “And if it’s so important that we leave, why aren’t the two of you gone already?!”
Nobu shared a look with his husband. “We’re not leaving until you do, Flower,” he told their daughter.
“You’re holding yourselves hostage now?” she said incredulously, and grit her teeth. “Then I guess we’re all about to die here.”
“Flower…” Nobu began.
“If I give up and leave, he wins,” Hanabi shouted, and tears appeared in her eyes. “I’m sick of having to run away from him! I’m sick of him getting to push us around every single time!”
There was a loud thump as something hit the door to the maze, and all three foxes froze.
Several more thumps came, these considerably softer. “Is there anyone still there?” called out a female voice. “Please, we mean you no harm! We wish only to leave peacefully!” The voice was vaguely familiar to Nobu, but Hanabi gave a start like she’d just been shot.
“What the hell are you doing here, Ying Yue?” his daughter shouted angrily. “And what makes you think I’m going to listen to a single damn word you have to say?!” Despite her tone, she’d already shifted to fox form. She hopped down from the battlements and loped towards the door, then transformed again and started clearing the heaps of treasure away. Nobu and Kamio quickly followed suit.
“Please do not punish the people with me for my sins,” called Ying Yue after a moment’s hesitation. “On my oath, I will retreat back to the Paradisium and not seek escape.”
“Ying Yue, don’t- There are women and children here!” shouted another voice, this one male and completely unfamiliar to Nobu. “Please, Levi Petrov is right behind us! If there is a Samantha Morris with you, please tell her that Batu is here!”
“We’re already going as fast as we can,” said Kamio as he hastily swept aside coins. “Just keep trying to open the door.”
The massive stone door slowly swung open, and then Hanabi yelped as a large, monstrous dog bounded through the gap. Nobu jumped back and raised his tails to protect himself before he registered that there were several humans riding atop the creature. The canine ignored all three foxes and ran past them, followed quickly by a second, third, and fourth dog. “It’s the creatures I told you about,” Hanabi said, astonished. “The ones that were fighting against the Paradisium. But who are the people?”
“Servants of the Paradisium,” said the man who’d called himself Batu, appearing atop another hound. He rested a hand on the beast’s neck, and it obediently halted. “It was the qilin’s idea; there was no time to get everyone down here on foot, but with the animals’ help, we’ve just barely managed it.” Nobu could see that the man certainly could have made it here no other way, not with his leg twisted up like that. Other monsters were streaming in, all of them carrying servants with them. A yeti cradled several in his arms as he ran, four clung to a griffin’s wings, and one of the tentacle beasts was holding six up in the air as it crawled furiously across the ground. “There were more of the animals when we started, but… some of them sacrificed themselves to distract Levi and give us time to run. We would not be here now without them.”
A panicked look appeared on the bald man’s face. “You have managed to find a way to the exit, yes? Please tell me that this was not all for nothing.” When Hanabi nodded, he sagged with relief. “Thank Lord Ka- Thank goodness.” He glanced at his wrist. “And with twenty four minutes to spare, no less.”
“Twenty four minutes until what?” Nobu asked.
The fox’s skin crawled as the man told them in very short and certain terms about the explosives that would soon be going off. “We need to evacuate right now,” Nobu told Hanabi. “It’ll take us a good chunk of that time just to reach the exit from here.” Batu paled a bit at hearing that.
Hanabi ignored him. “Where did Ying Yue go?” she demanded. Nobu realized that there had been no sign of the woman, or the wolf that he’d heard she’d been riding. All of the escaping animals had already been let through the door, Kamio accompanying them to the slave pens so he could give everyone advance notice and prevent a panic.
Batu shook his head. “I do not know. After she spoke to you, she turned and left without another word.”
Nobu’s daughter cursed. “That idiot. Alright, you should get moving, I’ll see you on the other side. Oh, can I borrow that watch of yours first?” Batu passed it over easily, then nudged the hound’s side with his good foot to get it moving. “Twenty two minutes. Okay.” She looked at Nobu. “You win, let’s get moving.”
“That easily?” he asked, surprised. He didn’t argue, though, immediately transforming to a fox and bounding towards the pens, while making sure that Hanabi was doing the same.
“This is our chance to actually kill that jerk,” the white fox said. “No way would he be down here if he knew the entire place was going boom in a few minutes. As long as we don’t let him find our escape route and follow us into the nexus, we get rid of both him and his army. Plus whatever’s left of Paragon and everybody else will think we all died in the blast too.”
Nobu knew that nothing had really changed. Twenty two minutes or two hundred, they weren’t going to finish evacuating everyone before Levi caught up to them. Their only choice was to let him follow them into the nexus and slaughter everyone… or to close the door to keep him out, and leave some of their own behind in the process. Hanabi had to be aware of that too. “I know it’s not easy,” he said softly. “But it’s the right thing to do. Everyone understands that we can’t all make it.” His daughter was silent.
The pens were almost entirely empty when they returned. Even the animals were lined up in the slow procession to the exit. Many of the villagers were giving them wary looks, but the creatures all seemed docile enough, and the people riding them didn’t look like evil minions of the Paradisium, just a bunch of scared and shaken humans.
Kamio hadn’t joined the line, standing to the side along with Ichika and several of her guards as their very last line of defense. He was facing the way that Nobu and Hanabi were coming from, obviously waiting and watching for their return. He visibly relaxed when he saw his husband and daughter approaching. “Good, you finally talked some sense into…” He stiffened, and then suddenly he was a golden fox running back toward the hub.
“What’s wrong?!” Nobu asked, confused… and then watched Kamio run straight through their daughter. Through the illusion of their daughter. The image of her dissipated on contact, leaving Nobu alone and furious. He quickly turned around and began following after Kamio. He was going to kill that girl.
Even in his rage, the superficial thought was followed by an icy chill that went down his spine and settled into the pit of his stomach. No, he wasn’t going to kill Hanabi. Levi Petrov was.
From back up on the battlement, Hanabi watched the vulpan pour into the hub, and felt the illusion that she’d attached to her father break. Well, she’d known it wouldn’t hold up for very long. If it was any fox but Nobu, it probably wouldn’t have fooled them for a moment. Hopefully he’d see sense, realize that there was no way he’d be able to bring her back now, and escape while he still could.
Twenty minutes left. She only had to keep Levi busy for twenty minutes. Less than that, really. Call it fifteen minutes, and then he probably wouldn’t have time to reach the nexus even if he took off running. Her fathers were right: her tricks and illusions couldn’t keep him busy for nearly that long. She already knew that nothing she threw in his path would slow him down, and there was no chance of fooling him into going somewhere other than the slave pens. The pens carried the lingering scents of the thousands and thousands of slaves they had held, maybe even millions. The other rooms held little more than dust. She wasn’t going to be able to hide that convincingly.
But Hanabi didn’t need to. She knew enough of how Levi’s mind worked to know exactly how to get him to stop what he was doing and let himself be distracted for a few minutes. All it would take was her.
She carefully folded up her foxskin and set it down in the corner. Levi was just going to rip it off of her soon, and it deserved better than that. And she knew it didn’t make much sense, but undressing herself let her feel more in control of the situation than having someone else do it.
Naked, she stood atop the fortifications looking down at Levi and his men. Well, if they were going to kill her, and she couldn’t imagine this ending any other way, at least she’d die doing what she did best: being an absolute pain in the ass. “Hey asshole!” she shouted, and dismissed her cloak. “You ready to dance?”
Levi’s head darted up to look at her, and she saw his back legs tense. She had no doubt that he could make it all the way up here in a single jump, and have her chewed in half or skewered before she could so much as draw her next breath, but that was fine. It wasn’t like she had any intention of fighting fair. The important thing was getting him to look in just the right direction.
Brilliant light flared directly in front of the vulpan. It was always easier to base illusions on something you knew instead of making it up whole cloth, and Hanabi just couldn’t help herself, so it was bright colorful fireworks that exploded about a millimeter from his eye sockets. His hide might be as tough as steel, but his eyes were more sensitive than they’d ever been, and he howled in surprise and pain.
Levi jumped towards her anyway, his eyes now squeezed shut, but the delay was enough for her to hop off of the battlement before he reached her. The white fox hit the ground on all fours and immediately began running. She heard him land behind her less than two seconds later, the impact as loud as thunder. Like she’d anticipated, none of the soldiers with him did anything but watch as he chased after the runaway kitsune. Why would they risk drawing their commander’s wrath by getting in his way? Or even worse, by stealing his kill and making him look foolish? Better to just sit back and wait.
The chase was a short one, fast enough that the sound of his landing was still echoing off the walls as he pounced on her. On the illusion of her, anyway. He skidded face first and empty handed into a mountain of coins, and then bolted to his feet, scanning the hub to try and find her. And because he still hadn’t realized what kind of game they were playing, he was dumb enough to stand still while he did it.
Hanabi went with sound this time. Loud rock music full of pounding drums, squealing guitars, and guttural screams burst into existence right next to one of his ears, and made Levi’s head rock like he’d been slapped. Two of his tails slapped against his ears for protection as he roared, not in pain but in frustrated rage.
“What’s wrong?” the white haired girl standing next to him asked innocently as the music cut off. “Not a Sambomaster fan?” One of his tails whipped at her, and the illusion vanished when it made contact.
If Hanabi’s goal had been to kill him, or injure him, or even cause significant pain, her plan would have been an utter failure. But she just wanted to piss him off, and making Levi mad was like shooting fish in a barrel. He was faster, stronger, tougher, and none of that meant a damn thing as she played with him. She burned through her foxfire reserves freely, not daring to be conservative with its use even as she felt it draining rapidly. One mistake was all it would take to end this.
“What did you even do before you got your hands on that elf girl?” she observed at one point. “Goddess, I feel so stupid that we ever worried about you. She was the real threat all along, wasn’t she? And you were just the little wimp pretending to be a fox.” Levi growled, and his lashing tails sent out a spray of quills that caught several of his own men. “See? You’re a menace!”
All too soon, though, her foxfire was running dry. The smart thing to do was cloak herself with the last of it and slip away, but… she could still do more. If she simply vanished and left him alone, Levi would order his men to spread out and search for her. Even if only a tenth of his troops went to check out the slave pens, that was more than enough vulpan to slaughter everyone.
And besides, there was still one more way to delay him.
She made it look like an accident. The last thing she needed was to make him suspicious. All of her remaining foxfire was devoted to keeping her cloak up, and she let it slip just a little, like she’d been too hurried and careless to get it quite right. Hanabi nearly whimpered when she saw Levi notice and fix his attention on her. This was stupid. It was really stupid. But at least it would be quick, one way or another.
Levi was so angry that he nearly killed her before he could rape her. His tails grabbed her first, quills piercing her torso in a dozen places as they wrapped around her. Then they slammed her down hard enough to crack the stone floor, and she heard bones snap and crunch. For a bare instant, she laid face down on the floor like a broken doll, limbs twisted every which way, and then Levi lifted back her up, one tail wrapped securely around each arm and leg. “Who’s the wimp, now, you little cunt?” he spat as he pulled her towards his waiting cock.
Hanabi had been raped by a vulpan once before, but that one had been happy to use her pussy in the hopes of breeding her. Levi’s cockhead pressed against her asshole instead. He didn’t overpower her sphincter muscle, or wear down her resistance, or work his way into her. He simply skewered her guts, his entire cock balls deep inside of her in less than a second and her anus stretched obscenely around his knot. Then he yanked her off of him just as quickly, the knot popping out of her ass like a cork from a champagne bottle, and thrust himself back in again. And again and again and again. By the time the pain of her broken bones hit her, his cock was already well on its way to destroying her insides.
She began to scream from the overwhelming agony of it all, but her cries were cut off as another tail gripped her throat, their quills drawing lines of blood all over her upper body. Levi had her completely beneath his bulk now, looming over her like a mountain. Two more tails slammed into her mouth hard enough to shatter her teeth, and went straight to her throat, burrowing as deeply as they could into her gullet. His last two tails pushed past her pussy lips and battered at her cervix, venomous spines cutting as they sought to rape her womb.
Trapped, suffocating, and stuffed from all ends, Hanabi moaned in misery. Just a few more minutes, she promised herself. Can’t be more than thirteen or fourteen by now and then this ends and he can never hurt you again, just have to bear with it, bear with it, bear with it…
His tails were in her womb by now, and the quills were pure agony as they scraped and stretched and scrubbed her. It couldn’t have even been a pleasant experience for him either, the way he was using them. He wasn’t trying to use his tails to simulate raping her with his cock, he just wanted to destroy her from the inside out. Same with the tails that had gone down her throat and were now in her stomach. They churned and poked at her insides, promising to burst out of her belly at any moment.
And Levi’s cock in her ass… her asshole gaped around him, her sphincter muscle torn to shreds by that very first thrust. Even for a dick as big as his, he’d ruined her guts so thoroughly that there was no natural friction left. Instead, he was using his hold on her arms and legs to compress her body, crushing her against him to massage his shaft on her insides. She was like a living fleshlight, being squeezed around his cock and stroked back and forth as he masturbated inside of her.
Hot cum erupted from his cockhead to begin plastering her guts. Levi didn’t stop fucking her as he came, letting his cock gush all over her bowels until she could feel the warm stickiness of it along the entire length of her rectum. There was no pause or moment to mark the end of her first rape and beginning of her second. He just kept pummeling her asshole while he shot his load, until every last drop was inside her and his cock was still pounding away as hard and furious as ever.
Hanabi had never been in more pain in her life, but the true agony came when she managed to glance at her wrist. Twelve minutes left. Levi had already demolished her body past the point where a human victim would have died, and he’d only needed two minutes to do it in. She’d expected him to draw her assault out, revel in her humiliation and defeat, but she’d done too good a job of inspiring his anger. He was in no mood to play games; he was just going to fuck his runaway slave to death and move on.
This wasn’t going to work. He was going to kill her with plenty of time to spare, and then go after everyone else. The white haired girl began to struggle for real at this revelation, no longer complacent about her fate, but Levi only gripped her harder, crushing her bones with his tails. “No more running,” he growled. “No more hiding. No more pranks. You die here and now, slut, as nothing but my used condom. Just like the four tailed fucktoy already did.” Hanabi’s heart sank at the news. When Seo-yun hadn’t shown up in the vault, she’d known something must have gone wrong, but it hurt to have it confirmed. And for both of them to die like this, raped by the man they despised, made it so much worse.
The tail around her neck was so tight now that it might crush her windpipe before she suffocated. Either way, Hanabi knew that she would never draw another breath again. Her tails weakly slapped at him as her vision grew dark. Something inside of her broke when she felt him begin cumming again, and realized that all her resistance had done was help him to ejaculate a second time before she died. The defeated fox slumped against the tails that held her, bitter tears rolling down her cheeks.
The smacking of flesh against flesh filled the air, so loud and all-encompassing that when Hanabi heard the first thump, she just assumed it was one more instance of his body assaulting hers. But then there came a second, and a third. They were coming from somewhere far away, she realized. …thump… thump… thump… from the direction of the maze, and each of them was closer and louder.
By the fourth, even the vulpan watching their leader claim her seemed to notice. By the sixth, Levi’s thrusting faltered. “What the hell is that noise?” he demanded. He didn’t release Hanabi or let his cock slip from her, but his chokehold loosened enough for her to force in a breath past it. All of the Paragon soldiers watched the wall warily as the noise rapidly grew in volume. “It’s that damn wolf again!” he shouted. Ying Yue? Had the qilin really returned to help her, despite what had happened between them? Thinking about the woman was complicated but now was no time for complexity… she earnestly prayed for a savior. “Kill that beast!” Thump… Thump…THUMP…
Something large and four legged came crashing through the wall, but the vulpan were ready for it. Ten of them sprang at the amarok, knocking it back through the hole it had made and out of sight. Snarls and growls filled the air, along with the sounds of raking claws and gnashing teeth. Blood splattered into the hub as the giant wolf was torn apart.
“Pathetic animal,” Levi said contemptuously. His tails tightened around Hanabi again, and he resumed fucking her on his cock. The brief cessation only made it hurt worse as he forced himself back into a hole that was never meant for something so large. “Now where were-”
A mangled vulpan corpse flew through the air and smacked against one of the castle walls, leaving behind a bright smear of blood as he fell to the floor. Nine more followed close behind. The other vulpan backed away as the creature stalked through the hole again, and Hanabi could see now that it wasn’t the wolf after all.
It was a fox.
She was longer than most men were tall, with bright scarlet fur that shone with an inner light and made her feel more solid and vibrant and alive than anything else in the world. Mixed with the red were intricate streaks and swirls of brilliant silver-white that seemed to shift and roil as she moved gracefully through the room, making her way over the heaps of coins and treasure as easily as walking a flat stone path. Nine great tails flowed behind her, four of scarlet and five of silver, and her sharp claws were still stained red with vulpan blood. Hanabi had never seen any fox like her, and yet she knew her immediately.
When the fox’s mouth opened, her voice came out rich and clear, tempered by sorrow but still brimming with fierce pride. “It will take more than that to be rid of me,” Seo-yun told Levi.
11 thoughts on “Lone Fox 3 – Ch 23 – The Trickster of Shirakami Sanchi”
Very nice work by Hanabi, and lovely entrance by Seo-yun.
Merlin continues to be dubious – and even though he is definitely not one of the Good Guys, he apparently has a soft spot for the bloody-mindedly vengeful.
Though his comment, “You did everything he wanted back in Hanei, absolutely everything, and got nothing in return. So you got angry, right? There’s nothing wrong with that…” suggests that there may be more to this world’s version of Camelot than appears in Malory . . .
Let’s just say “Merlin” has gone by many names in his lifetime.
Is it just me, or is Levi really sucking at the whole “killing your enemies” thing lately?
Has he actually killed anyone on-screen besides one of his crew?
All I can think of was George Willmingshire.
Am I missing anyone?
He was responsible for Akemi’s Vulpan’s deaths, but he didn’t kill those on-screen, did he?
And technically they were his crew after Celeste beat Akemi…
This chapter was fun;
I was mentally adding “…But it wasn’t.” To every description.
“It was a wall…But it wasn’t.”
“The elevator was there…But it wasn’t.”
“Discount Yuki was exhausted and helpless… But she wasn’t.”
Definitely a fun read;
Hopefully you’ll keep remembering the Kitsune’s trickster roots.
Or at least, discount Yuki should keep reminding everyone about them.
This chapter reminded me alot of Yuki’s fight with her ex girlfriend.
Was that intentional?
And can Yuki use True Foxfire, assuming she ever had Foxfire at the ready?
Or is Witchfire basically just True Foxfire, but from a different source?
Finally, a lore question:
Akari seems to work for some Divine;
But the Nexus was devoid of anything Divine.
(As far as we saw.)
Do living Gods/Deities exist in this world?
Inari would count, but she really isn’t present.
Probably because she’s shy and doesn’t want to be part of an orgy.
I volunteer to help her get over her shyness!
Most recently, he murdered the guards protecting the entrance to the Paradisium, and an awful lot of the menagerie that Ying Yue brought to fight. And he did more or less kill Seo-yun, it just didn’t exactly… stick. You aren’t wrong that he’s certainly failed to kill quite a few people on screen.
First, the nickname Discount Yuki continues to amuse me, especially given her rather extreme complex around Yuki.
And there is no chance we will forget the kitsune trickster roots 🙂
I don’t think it was precisely intentional, so much as they were both primarily illusionists doing battle against someone who outmatched them in brute force, so the two battles do end up looking a little similar.
A few thing to clarify/correct there.
First, True Foxfire refers to using their abilities create a lasting effect. Healing someone. Making real flame. Even creating a more permanent kind of illusion, like the wards in Hanei, qualify as a kind of true Foxfire. It isn’t really a discrete thing.
Second, Yuki absolutely know how to use True Foxfire. We will see more in depth instances about it, but Yuki is probably one of the most knowledgable foxfire users alive, hamstrung by the decidedly limited amount of foxfire she has.
Third, Witchfire is basically a second source of power (foxfire) with its own preferences. You can use witchfire to make illusions or to heal or to do just about anything else with, but while Inari’s foxfire prefers to be used to create things (mostly illusions, for reasons), Witchfire prefers to destroy, and its far, far easier and more efficient to use a power for something its meant to do than another task. Witchfire wants to Destroy… not surprising, given its source.
This is an area where you are behind the discord crew because they already worked together to puzzle out a few things.
I will just leave you with a pair of quotes from the story.
“My people were not aware of a nexus here, let alone that it connected to a kitsune village in Japan. I am afraid I know of no link between your people and the dragons. Aside from you both being High Spirits, naturally.” She regarded Hanabi’s blank expression. “Creatures that are part mortal and part divine. The servants of the gods.”
“Betty gave her a small smile. “Your offer is appreciated, but rejected, meow. I will not allow a servant to suffer such a fate in my place, meow.” She stepped forward. “Even I am not that far gone yet, meow,” she finished quietly.”
Heh, I’d be pleased to assist as well.
Fair enough on Levi’s kills, I must’ve misread that part on the guards.
I figured they were related to his group because of Akemi.
And about the divines/gods/deities.
I’m lacking as far as Welsh/Celtic/Scottish lore goes, so most of this is just me piecing things together from the story.
My understanding is this:
1: Betty and her sister are deities.
(Betty with a power of music.)
2: Merlin “found” them.
(Under a rock/in a cave.)
3: Merlin “owns” them.
(Or at least can order them around and mistreat them.)
4: Merlin keeps making power plays on earth by pulling strings.
(Or he’s just a collector of rare things.)
Ergo, Merlin was involved in the disappearance of the gods from the world, in some way, shape, or form.
Considering that the Vampire was afraid of him, I’d wager that Merlin is either a deity himself, or this world’s first look at a demon/unholy entity.
And now with Ilya losing pretty much all of his powerful pieces in one swoop;
Merlin takes over his business, now with the Dragon’s Library to supplement future research, reconnaissance, and other ventures.
Basically, instead of the Petrovs, we’ve got Merlin as a major player that may or may not be malicious towards our protagonists in the future.
Did Merlin take that drill/digging tool Sam and Hanabi were guarding?
I can’t think of another reason he’d talk to them, besides to go “I’m here too!”
And it kinda disappeared from the story, and they went with Storm Hag pulling a Moses.
Nah, Martin just stopped by to say hello at the entrance, because he could. He didn’t take the drill. It’s missable, because the story doesn’t talk about it too much, but it is what Kamio and Sam use to get to the water tunnel before recruiting Jenny, and there is a reference to Hanabi dragging it into position right before she runs back to see that tomo and the others killed the Vulpan tormenting then
I’d been interpreting this bit as “noblesse oblige” from the perspective of “someone who considers themselves high rank wouldn’t let a servant suffer in their place”.
**Betty gave her a small smile. “Your offer is appreciated, but rejected, meow. I will not allow a servant to suffer such a fate in my place, meow.” She stepped forward. “Even I am not that far gone yet, meow,” she finished quietly.”**
But your comment puts quite a different light on it.
You aren’t really wrong, it kinda is still noblesse oblige. Refusing to have a servant of hers suffer in her place.
Hanabi and I have a rocky relationship, but in this chapter it’s good. Kitsune as tricksters is something set in the mythology, and we know they can take those pranks alarmingly far.
Of course when it’s done to vulpan…
Mind that first step, boys!
The lethal prank sequence is amazing. It’s both awesome in its lethality and genuinely funny a lot of the time, bordering on Looney Toons once or twice.
And thankfully some other characters I like get in on it. While I am a known member of Team Mustache Dad…
Martin is decidedly creepier here than he has been in the past, and you two are assholes for just taunting me with the possibilities of what mythological figures he could be. Not sure if the books he took were important, or if he’s just a collector of antiquities, so to speak.
I probably have these out of order, but after her really sad scene earlier, it’s nice to see Jenny get to help with the escape. Not only help, she plays a vital role and basically saves everyone, since nobody gets through the reservoir without her.
Makes sense that she’s an Ember fangirl. Jenny and Sam are basically twins.
The bit where the kitsune try and kill Levi was pretty awesome, even if it obviously wasn’t going to work, showing a lot ingenuity and teamwork, and that they had something planned besides “Be gone when he gets here.”
Of course, we then get to…
Did you seriously just angrily demand to know why she wants out of the exploding building? Hanabi, I swear to God…
Well, after that, Hanabi does her best to regain the goodwill she just tossed away by prank-fighting Levi (a new martial art she seems to have invented). She shows some good thinking by making use of his pride, but obviously that’s not going to solve the problem.
Only thing I’ll say about the Ying Yue stuff is that Hanabi says that BEFORE she knows about the upcoming explosions. It was also a heat-of-the-moment reaction to Ying Yue, not a well thought out response after carefully considering what routes the woman might and might not have available for leaving the Paradisium.
😳 And that, children, is why you always make sure to fully re-read the chapter when playing catch-up, because otherwise you end up misremembering things and thinking Hanabi knew about the bombs by this point. Explosion awareness is an important thing not to forget.
“Explosion awareness” is also a good name for a band, though I can’t imagine what the musical genre would be.