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.
Akemi padded through the ruins of the Paradisium, basking in the complete and utter destruction around her. Served the bastards right. She still had no idea what had caused all this, and she didn’t really care. It had happened, and that was good enough for her.
The entire main structure had toppled from the blast and smashed itself apart against the ground, leaving a wide radius of scattered debris sitting under an open sky. The pieces ranged from tiny fragments no bigger than her paw to huge jagged chunks of gray stone whose placement transformed the previously clear area into a winding maze. The actual contents of the building had been largely smashed and destroyed to the point where much of it was just a dry slurry of unidentifiable junk. It all looked pretty worthless to her, but Akemi didn’t doubt that there would be scavengers here soon enough, swarming over the Paradisium’s corpse to pick it clean.
The scents of bodies were everywhere in the rubble, mostly vulpan and human, all of them horribly mangled and torn apart, but none were the one she’d come looking for, the one whose faint stink still hung in the air to guide her. She followed its trail to a pit that must have once been an elevator shaft, and began to cautiously descend. The walls were scarred and broken enough to offer plenty of handholds for her tails, the trip barely more complicated than climbing down a ladder.
It felt fucking great to be back in a proper four legged body once again. She had the explosions to thank for that too. Those two vulpan wannabes raping her had been so distracted by the fireworks that she’d been able to get the jump on them and tear one’s stomach open with her fingernails and teeth before the other could do more than gawk at the sudden and gruesome act. By the time he actually attacked her, she’d already found both marble and foxskin. The fucksticks had been lucky that she was in a hurry: she’d only made them scream themselves hoarse for a few minutes before finishing the job.
Akemi’s nose told her when she’d descended far enough, but it took a long time to draw any closer to her goal. Whatever this section of the Paradisium had once been, it had collapsed completely, forcing her to dig through the wreckage. Someone more claustrophobic than her might have been nervous about the narrow and unstable tunnel she was making for herself, but the redhead couldn’t be bothered to worry about it.
After too many hours, her bleeding paws finally unearthed what she’d come here for: the mangled body of a massive red fox. Akemi swore at the sight of Levi Petrov’s corpse. She’d been hoping against hope to find him still alive, spared from death by his marble, but in the end he’d been as mortal as anyone. Now she’d never get to kill him herself.
Her teeth found his belly and tore it open, hunting for the consolation prize. In a better world, she would’ve done this while he lived, enjoying his squirming and pleas for mercy, but the corpse remained infuriatingly unmoving and silent as she chewed her way to his fox marble and swallowed it with a gulp. Almost immediately she felt the power of it surging through her; the marble had begun to deteriorate as soon as he’d died, but what was left was still far greater than any marble she’d had before.
She had a ton of work to do if she was going to revive the vulpan, but this… yeah, this was a good start.
Despite the outpouring of strength, Akemi couldn’t help a feeling of bitter frustration at being denied her promise of killing the runt, and she cursed whoever was responsible. But this wasn’t her first time experiencing disappointment, and she buried her regrets. After all, she tried to console herself as she stood over the runt’s corpse, two out of three wasn’t bad.
She lifted one leg.
“I have found that it is actually quite refreshing to be free of the burdens of management,” Karakostas said as he hung the blonde – he neither knew nor cared what her name was – up with the others. Usually he used a collar and leash to secure them, but this one’s hair was long enough he could simply wind it around the long horizontal pole and knot it tightly, leaving her swinging in mid air with her broken arms and legs twitching weakly.
Despite numerous attempts to wash the floor and walls of the old barn, the smell of hay and manure still clung to the place beneath the newer stenches of sweat, blood, and cum. Karakostas made a mental note to have a word with the serving staff. Still, despite its shortcomings, it was adequate for his needs. And more importantly, it kept the unpleasant stink of his cum dumps out of his living space.
Once he was satisfied that the woman had been secured, he took the marker from its nearby tray and wrote the current date across her swollen stomach so that he wouldn’t have to be bothered to remember it. The draconic reproductive cycle was significantly faster than the standard nine months needed by humans, and he would know within two weeks whether his seed had found purchase and transformed this lowly human into a vessel for something greater, or whether she was merely the used up cumsock that she appeared to be. If she was the former, she would be fed for the first time, have her tongue removed and limbs amputated so that she could not endanger the fetus through self-harm, and be moved to one of the birthing chambers he was setting up in the cellar. If she was the latter… as he’d told that wretched sphinx, his children would need plenty of fresh meat. Either way, she would be of use to her new god.
“I allowed myself to get too caught up in the minutiae and pomp of my position,” the dragon observed as he capped the marker and put it back in its proper place. Then he picked up the duct tape beside it and wound it around the lower half of her face several times to gag her. She wasn’t talkative at the moment, but in his experience all women had the bad habit of filling a perfectly good silence with empty chatter. “A reputation is priceless, but I must remember not to be beholden to it. Had I simply hunted down and devoured Ilya the moment I suspected he would someday become an enemy, my troubles would not have appeared. But I was too concerned with the appearance of it, determined to find a civilized solution to our philosophical conflicts, and this was the price I paid for my enlightened pacifism.” A second strip of tape was applied to her eyes before he put the roll away. That one was entirely for her own sake: he’d found that most Americans were too stupid to understand how rude it was to look him in the eyes without permission, as though they were his equal. He had beaten two potential mothers to death for such brazen insolence before deciding it was best to make allowances for their cultural ignorance.
The nameless blonde gave no reaction to his words, and neither did the four women hanging to the left of her. He had made sure to choose from a wide variety of physical specimens, and to be sure, in most respects the five of them looked nothing alike. Different heights, weights, ages, ethnicities… and yet they all appeared quite similar like this. All five wore the same dull, lifeless expression beneath their gags and blindfolds as they swayed slightly in their bonds, and their bellies bulged uniformly, filled nearly to the breaking point with his cum. He had plugged their leaking, destroyed twats with empty wine bottles, but still his seed dripped steadily from their holes.
In this, too, he had been too concerned with formality back in the Paradisium. The appeal of a traditional breeding – dragon on dragon – had overwhelmed his rationality, and led him to focus too much on the toilet that he had once mistaken for a daughter. His children would still fill her belly one day, but he no longer had the patience for a single womb. Humans were fragile, but they were also numerous. Even if only one in a hundred could survive copulation, take to his seed, and endure the gestation period long enough to birth a living child before they died, that still meant he could potentially produce a brood a hundred strong at the cost of a mere ten thousand of them.
“The only true limit to my potential is how much time I am willing to invest,” he mused, and then chuckled. “I have only the one cock, after all. I can only go so quickly. But now that all those… worthless, unimportant responsibilities have been lifted from my shoulders, there is nothing stopping me from dedicating my time to a worthy cause.”
The sixth and final woman hanging was the only one to look truly different from the others. Her belly was still flat, and though her limbs were as mangled as the others, she struggled to squirm away from his grip as he untied her. That was good. If she still had that much spirit, she was more likely to become the sixth woman to survive their coupling this week and not the fifth to perish.
He took hold of the leash that she’d been suspended by and casually dragged her out of the barn. As soon as they were outside, she began to scream hoarsely, wasting her breath pleading for someone to come rescue her. This entire homestead was little more than a dirty cardboard box by the standards of living he had grown accustomed to, but it did have its conveniences, like no nosy neighbors around for miles. All in all, he found the place refreshingly quaint, and an excellent opportunity to engage in some frontier living, as it were.
It was a short walk to the farmhouse, and the girl was still struggling when they made it inside, her body flopping around in vain resistance as she slid across the hardwood floor. Karakostas’s ultimate destination was the master bedroom, but he took a detour to the kitchen first. Both of his servants were in there, preparing his nightly meal, and they quailed and fell to their knees at his entrance. “I-I-I’m sorry, master!” shouted the male servant. “We… we’re working as fast as we can, I swear, we just, we just want to be certain your meal is as d-delicious as your greatness deserves!” The woman next to him nodded frantically.
“Hmm? Oh, no, that’s not why I’m here,” Karakostas said, waving a hand to dismiss their concerns. “There is still an hour before dinnertime. No, I merely wanted to inform you that the situation in the barn is still less than ideal.”
“W-we will work through the night to get it clean, master!” the man declared immediately. Karakostas didn’t understand why the servant had felt the need to state something so obvious, but he supposed allowances must be made for inexperience. Before he’d moved in last week, these two had been the owners of the farm. He had graciously allowed them to stay on as his servants and help maintain the legal fiction of being the residents. He did his best to gather women from places far and wide to avoid drawing attention, but it was inevitable that people would begin seeking him out eventually, and he did not intend to make it easy.
They had been reluctant about the arrangement in the beginning, but he’d found them receptive to training. The husband had lost several fingers and the wife would never be able to walk without a limp, but they had seen reason quickly enough. He’d only had to discipline them a handful of times since they’d begun, and only for laziness or poor performance, never for disobedience.
The woman was looking past him, at the leashed girl lying on the floor. “S-s-sir?” she whined. “That’s, you, um, our daughter…”
“Ah, yes, that is this one, isn’t it?” Karakostas remarked cheerfully, hauling his next fleshlight up off the ground. “It’s so difficult to keep track of where I pick them up.” The girl had come home from college for the weekend, and been quite taken aback at the changes made in her absence. “Be sure to contact her school in the morning and let them know she won’t be returning.”
“Please save me,” the girl whispered, looking at her parents. Somewhere along the way from the barn she’d split her lip open, and her chin was bloody. “Please don’t let him, he’s going to kill me…”
The mother licked her lips. “Master, we… we’ve done everything you’ve asked. Is… is there any way…?” She and her husband both looked up with pleading expressions, though they were careful to keep their gazes from straying too high and meeting his eyes.
“Would you like to trade places with her?” the dragon asked. “You’ve aged well past your ideal child bearing years, but I would be willing to make an exception as thanks for your loyal efforts until now.”
Her mother’s face paled until it was almost stark white. She looked from her daughter to her owner and back, her mouth working as she tried to speak. She had never been present for any of his breeding attempts, but she’d seen the bodies of those who hadn’t survived, and they’d left little to the imagination. “N-no…” she finally said weakly. The girl began to sob.
“Then I suggest you turn your attention away from idle talk and back to your duties,” Karakostas said mildly. “The roast is about to burn.” Both of his servants panicked at that – the last time one of them had made the mistake of burning his food, he’d delivered an appropriate punishment with their old branding iron – and began scrambling to salvage the results. He left them to it and headed for his bedroom, with their still weeping and struggling daughter dragged behind.
Every level of Paragon’s headquarters was deathly silent that morning, no one daring to draw their employer’s attention and wrath. On the top floor, within his private office, Ilya sat alone at his desk staring hopelessly at the report on his computer, as though he could make the words change if he just focused on them hard enough. It wasn’t a long message, and the details were mercilessly brief and final, offering no hope in their interpretation.
At 3:05 AM Tanya Petrov had arrived by airlift at Paragon’s center of operations here in Arizona. She had been in critical condition, with her circulatory system already on the brink of failure due to blood loss.
At 3:37 AM, with oxygen levels dropping to near zero, surgeons declared that their final attempt to resuscitate her had been unsuccessful. The decision was made to attempt an experimental graft to save her life.
At 4:17 AM, it had failed. There was nothing left…and time of death had been declared.
None of it was new information for him. He’d been woken up shortly after her arrival, and had rushed to her side, praying uselessly that she would open her eyes and tell him that it would all be alright. He’d watched his best surgeons and scientists do everything they could to save her. He’d watched them fail. He’d made the decision to try to use her pet project, and see what had been left behind by its failure. But somehow, seeing the words on the screen was almost worse than witnessing it in person had been. The words made it real, transformed what he’d seen into a cold, immutable fact: Tanya was gone.
When he had approved Levi’s assault on the Paradisium, he had known that his son might die. He’d had full confidence in the boy, but he’d known that there were always risks, and if the situation at the Paradisium had called for Levi to sacrifice his life, Ilya would have accepted it. But he had never once thought that Tanya was in any danger. The idea had seemed ridiculous; it still seemed ridiculous. What could possibly harm his daughter?
Somehow Karakostas had found a way. Or perhaps some other repugnant subhuman had taken advantage of the chaos that night to murder her. He wouldn’t put it past Mordred to attempt such a trick, and the vampire was far from the only subhuman who might wish to hurt him.
Levi and Tanya, his two favorite children, both dead in a single night. And what did Ilya have to show for it? Nothing. They had lost a massive quantity of both soldiers and fox marbles, failed to retrieve any of the Paradisium’s treasures, and hadn’t even managed to kill Karakostas. The only thing that could arguably be considered an accomplishment was their extermination of the fox nest, and that was a poor silver lining indeed.
Tanya had always insisted that her project wasn’t ready yet, that it needed further work… that she needed a chance to experiment on that damn crimson fox Levi had been so obsessed with. She had been right. She had been right, and he had been wrong, and now she was gone.
It wasn’t the loss of her oracular powers that hurt the most, though they’d helped guide him for years now. It was losing her. He’d had the privilege of enjoying dozens of subhuman fucktoys over the years, along with breeding hundreds of genetically worthy human women in the hopes of producing champions of their race. But of all the many women he’d taken to his bed, Tanya was the only one he’d ever loved. She’d been as much his wife as she was his daughter, his true soulmate. He hadn’t just lost a child or a lover, he had lost a crucial piece of himself.
The computer softly dinged, and a message appeared on the bottom of the screen to announce a new email. Ilya barely paid the notice any mind, until he saw who the sender was: Tanya Petrov.
Hope flared in his chest as he quickly opened the email, his hand shaking almost too badly to manage it. She hadn’t abandoned him after all!
One way or another, I’m going to die tomorrow, so I’m scheduling this email to get sent to you the day after. I wish I could have said goodbye to you personally, but it was too great a risk. Still, how could I resist the chance to finally let my beloved father know how I really feel about him?
The rest of the email was long, detailed, and vulgar.
Ilya’s first thought as he read through it was that there had to be some sort of secret message hidden between the lines. He read through it a second time. A third. A fourth. A fifth.
During his sixth reading his rage finally overcame him; he screamed and picked up the monitor in both hands to smash it down onto the desk, scratching up the expensive wood and breaking the monitor into pieces. This couldn’t have really been from Tanya. It was impossible. No, he knew what this was: someone’s cruel idea of a joke. It wasn’t enough for the subhumans to murder his daughter, they also had to mock him for it.
Well, he would show them. Ilya embraced his rage, letting it feed into a renewed sense of purpose. If those freaks thought that this would be what would break humanity’s back, they were sorely mistaken. Tanya’s final project, her last gift to the world, might not have been ready yet… but it was still here. He would finish what she had begun… and then he would finish all of them. He might never know who had killed her, or who had orchestrated this sick defilement of her memory, but it didn’t matter. He would make all the subhumans pay. And when every last one of them, every foul creature polluting this world, was either dead or obediently serving mankind, he would know that she had been avenged.
He had work to do.
Qadan yawned as he began to prepare for another long day of work. Like every morning, there was a mountain worth of tasks awaiting him: knives to sharpen, counters to scrub down, floors to sweep… most of the tasks he did every day before the butcher shop opened were the same that he did every day after it closed, but Erhi was a stickler for keeping things neat and tidy. “Cleanliness is next to godliness. A single speck of dirt or drop of blood in the wrong place at the wrong time might be the thing that convinces someone to decide to take their business elsewhere,” she often said. “I can’t make customers keep coming back, but I can sure as hell try not to give them reasons to stay away.”
It always sounded rather silly to her apprentice, but Erhi was the boss, not him. And he couldn’t deny that their butcher shop did the best business in the city, so clearly she knew what she was talking about. It just would’ve been nice if he didn’t have to start working a good hour before anyone else in the shopping district was even awake. Especially on a frigid winter day like today, when he couldn’t stop thinking about how Erhi was still asleep upstairs in the apartment they shared, and how warm his spot in their bed would still be if he slipped back into it, and how her soft skin would be even warmer as he snuggled up next to her and kissed his sleeping lover’s cheek to wake her up…
Qadan shook his head to clear away the fantasy. Erhi would be more likely to smack him than kiss him back once she realized he was slacking off from work. Besides, it was a sign of trust that she didn’t think she needed to wake up early and keep an eye on him anymore to make sure he was doing a good job. He’d worked hard to earn that trust, and he wasn’t going to squander it no matter how appealing it sounded.
He gave a start when he noticed that the homeless girl was back outside again. Was this the third day or the fourth? Vagrants were nothing new, but this one seemed fixated on the butcher shop for some reason. She’d stand out there for hours at a time, just watching people go in and out.
Qadan felt a pang of sympathy as he saw her shivering slightly in the pre-dawn. All the clothes she wore were ragged and torn up, and she had on a large hat that didn’t seem to fit her very well. None of it looked like it offered much protection from the cold. On impulse, he opened the front door and called out to her. “Would you like to come inside for a minute? It’s not very warm in here either, but it beats out there.”
The girl hesitated, probably nervous at entering a place with a man she didn’t know, but eventually nodded and shuffled closer. Qadan kept his distance as she entered the store to help put her at ease, and tried to give her his most charming smile. Her stomach rumbled loudly and she blushed. “Sorry,” the apprentice told her, “we don’t have any food in the shop, not unless you’re into raw meat.”
“Th-that’s okay,” the girl said. “I, I’m not hungry.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself, and her stomach rumbled again as if eager to prove she was lying. Now that she was closer, Qadan could see that she was a foreigner, probably Japanese by the look of her, and might’ve looked rather pretty if she cleaned herself up and lost the haunted expression. She couldn’t have been more than a few years younger than him, but she gave off a sense of being very small and very alone. Her eyes in particular were striking and soulful, and he found it hard to look away from them.
“If you give me a hand setting up this morning, I’ll buy you some breakfast after,” he offered. When she nodded, he handed her the broom and switched to cleaning the display cases. Her movements were clumsy at first, but she quickly got the hang of it and fell into a regular rhythm.
For a time, they worked quietly together in the little shop, the silence broken only when he directed her to her next task. Qadan was curious about who she was and how she’d gotten here, but it felt rude to ask questions like that unprompted, and she seemed in no hurry to talk. “You’re a real lifesaver,” he told her eventually. “I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get everything done before it was time to open.” She didn’t reply to the compliment, but a small shy smile appeared briefly.
Footsteps on the stairs announced Ehri’s arrival. “And… who’s this?” she asked when she saw that they weren’t alone in the shop. Even fresh out of bed and still looking half-asleep, his teacher and lover remained absolutely radiant. She had a statuesque frame, large and piercing green eyes, and glossy back hair that went down past her shoulders.
Qadan began to answer, but the homeless girl beat him to it. “I, I’m Nami, ma’am,” she said in a small, nervous voice. “I… he said if I helped…” Her stomach rumbled.
Ehri had seen the girl outside the shop before too, and didn’t seem to need any further explanation. “Well then, why don’t I make all three of us some breakfast?” she suggested in a friendly tone as she gave Nami a smile. “Normally I’d be too busy helping Qadan finish up, but it looks like I have time to spare this morning.”
Nami hesitated again, but not for nearly as long as before, then followed the two of them upstairs into their apartment and sat down at their table. Their home could only charitably be called ‘cozy’; a more accurate description would be ‘cramped’. It had originally been just a storage space for the butcher shop below, but after Ehri had purchased the building from its former owner, she had renovated it into a sparse but functional living area. It was barely enough for two people to live in, but just having a third person sitting at the kitchen table made it feel twice as small.
The meal was prepared and eaten in short order. Qadan had been hoping the food would cheer the girl up some, but if anything she looked more miserable as she scarfed it all down, not missing a single crumb. Once her plate was empty, she stared down at it, as though wiling more food to appear.
“Would you like some more?” Ehri asked, already rising from the table, but Nami shook her head.
“I… I’m not hungry,” she insisted weakly.
“That’s a real shame,” Qadan’s teacher said with clear disappointment. “I accidentally made too much food, and I was hoping you could help me out so it doesn’t go to waste. You’d be doing us a favor if you had some more.”
Nami’s eyes didn’t rise from her plate. “Why are you being so nice to me?” she asked quietly instead of answering Ehri’s offer, her oversized hat almost completely hiding her face.
Qadan and Ehri shared a look. “You looked like you could use a little kindness,” the butcher’s apprentice said, and Ehri nodded.
“You shouldn’t be nice to me,” Nami declared. “I don’t deserve it. I’m not a good girl.” She slumped lower in her seat. “That’s why she broke our promise, because I lied to her first. It was all my fault.”
“I don’t know what sort of hardships you’ve been through,” Ehri said gently, “but no one here will hurt you. Do you have any family somewhere that we could help you get into contact with?”
For some reason, the girl flinched at the word ‘family’, and shook her head violently. Then she rose to her feet so suddenly that the table rattled and some of the dishes fell to the floor, and ran down the stairs and out the door.
Ehri went outside to look for her while Qadan cleaned up the smashed plates and scattered food, but she returned a short time later shaking her head. “There was no sign of her,” she reported.
Qadan hesitated. “Do you think she’s…”
“From the Paradisium?” Ehri asked, and her apprentice nodded. “Probably. She’s certainly pretty enough for them, or would be after a long bath. And she has that familiar look, the one that says she’s used to being treated more like an animal than a human being.” She shuddered slightly. “I used to see it often enough in the mirror.”
Qadan had known Ehri for more than a year before she’d shared her secret with him. Years ago, she had been a prisoner, a literal slave to the horrible organization known as the Paradisium. Everyone had heard of the place, how it was frequently visited by the rich and famous from around the world, but no one knew what actually went on inside. Qadan himself had always just assumed that it was like a fancy and exclusive retreat, the kind that probably had stuff like orgies and expensive escorts and served meals made entirely out of endangered species. He’d had no idea that it was a center for human trafficking.
The Paradisium was gone now, destroyed by an earthquake only weeks ago, but even its ending had been gruesome, leaving no survivors. Qadan was beyond grateful that Ehri had been long gone from the place by then, rescued by a man named Muhtadi Basara. He had purchased her along with a host of other women, and then took them all out of the Paradisium and set them free. Most of the others had fled the country, looking to return to their homes or just put some distance between themselves and their former captors. But Mongolia had always been Ehri’s home, and she had refused to let the Paradisium take that away from her. In the three years that followed, she’d established a life for herself here, and Qadan was happy to be a part of it.
“It’s almost time to open,” he said as he finished cleaning up the kitchen. “Should I go out and look for her while you run the shop?”
“No, I don’t think that would help,” said Ehri after a moment’s consideration. “If she’s a runaway, chasing after her isn’t going to provoke a good response, no matter what our intentions are. Let’s do what we normally do, and see if she shows back up in a day or two.”
“And if she does, what do you want to do?” her apprentice asked.
Ehri shrugged. “Maybe let her stay with us for a few days. I still have those documents from Basara, the ones about people to contact to get help leaving the country. That might be just what she needs; she’s definitely not a local, and I doubt she’s sticking around here by choice.”
In Qadan’s experience Ehri always knew best, so he followed her lead. The rest of the day passed by uneventfully but slowly, and Qadan found himself spending a good deal of it looking out the shop window, trying to spot the girl on the street. To his disappointment, there was no sign of her, and while a few of the customers that he talked to recognized his description of Nami, none of them had seen her that day.
Their last two customers arrived just before closing time, and Qadan knew at once that they were going to be trouble. Both men were dressed in expensive looking suits, but the professional clothing couldn’t make up for their crude smirks as they looked around the shop. “What do you think, Khuyag, should we bring some of this back with us?” asked the first, a lean man in his forties with greased back hair and nicotine stained teeth. “I know how much you love sucking down a good fat sausage.”
His companion, shorter and bulkier and sporting a nasty scar on one cheek, struck him in the shoulder. “Fuck you, Davaa. Why don’t I get you some sausage, because… because fuck you!” He struck him a second time.
“Can I help you with anything, gentlemen?” Qadan asked, trying to ignore his instincts and play things by the book.
“You sure can, kid,” said Davaa. “We heard you’ve got a tasty piece of ass in here.”
“Yeah, we’ll take her to go!” said Khuyag, and snickered.
“I think you two should leave,” Qadan said, politely but firmly. They’d seen types like this before, usually drunks on their way home from the pub popping in to make catcalls. Ehri had a well deserved reputation as a beauty, and one of the reasons she often let Qadan run the front of the shop was to avoid the attention she’d receive out here. But these two felt different from the usual riff-raff that like to harass her. They weren’t just here to amuse themselves; they both had a look of hunger around them, as though they didn’t intend to leave here empty-handed. Ehri’s apprentice let his hand creep to one of the carving knives.
“Wouldn’t do that if I were you, kid,” said Davaa sharply. “No reason we can’t deal with this nice and peaceful like. You want us to get rough first, you ain’t gonna like what you see.”
“I already don’t,” said Ehri, stepping out from the back to join Qadan behind the counter. “So why don’t you two and your ugly mugs turn around and leave before I lose my lunch?” She had her hands at her sides, but he could see that her fists were clenched so hard she was almost drawing blood, and there was fire in her eyes.
“Fuck, she’s even hotter than the pictures made her look!” hooted Khuyag. “We should’ve asked for more money. Fucker lowballed us.”
“That’s alright, Khuyag,” said Davaa. “We’ll just have to keep her around for longer than we planned, let her make up the difference. Shit, an irshi this pretty, maybe we just keep her for ourselves and tell the buyer to fuck off.”
“You wouldn’t like having me around for any length of time,” Ehri promised, and gave them a smile that was all teeth. “I bite.”
“Most bitches do at first,” said Davaa, unruffled by her threatening aura. “But Khuyag here is real good at beating that out of them, aren’t you?”
Khuyag’s smile widened, and he made a show of cracking his knuckles. “Never met a slut who wasn’t a better fuck after some tenderizing. And the tougher they are on the outside…”
“The softer and sweeter they are once they know better,” finished Davaa.
Ehri’s glare didn’t falter, but Qadan knew her well enough to see the fear in it, and he himself was terrified. These men didn’t sound like they were bluffing. It was the exact opposite: they talked about beating and raping his teacher like it would be no big deal at all, just a fun way to spend their evening. “Ehri…” he began.
She looked at him, and her voice came out hard and urgent. “Run. Now. Go get help.”
The last thing he wanted to do right now was leave her here with these two deranged men, but he trusted her. Instead of trying to get around them to reach the front door, Qadan fled deeper into the shop, heading for the back entrance. He had almost reached the door when he heard Ehri make a choked sound of pain behind him, followed by Davaa’s voice. “Leave and she dies.”
Against his better judgment, Qadan turned and looked. Davaa had one arm wrapped around Ehri’s stomach to hold her close to him. She must have struggled at first, because his nose was bloody, but now she was frozen in place thanks to the carving knife he held to her neck. “One step out that door and I open her up,” he promised. “Either we get to take the slut for a little ride, or no one does. What’s it gonna be?” His hand pressed down slightly, and Qadan and Ehri both flinched as a line of red appeared on the woman’s throat.
Qadan could feel the weight of Ehri’s eyes on him. She wanted him to keep going and save himself. That was probably the entire reason she’d asked him to run in the first place, and the part about getting help was just to keep him from feeling guilty. And he knew that he should probably do what she wanted. Ehri always knew best, after all… but Qadan immediately stepped away from the door. It wasn’t a difficult decision: Ehri was his life, and he couldn’t lose her. As long as she was alive, there was a chance for them to make it out of this. Davaa beckoned him closer, and the apprentice obediently came forward.
“There’s a good lad,” Davaa said while Khuyag roughly spun him around, pulled a zip tie from one pocket, and pulled his arms behind him to bind his wrists together. He spun him back around, and then Qadan gagged and almost threw up as Khuyag slugged him hard in the stomach.
“Stop it!” Ehri hissed, and tried to shake away his grip, but all it earned her was another shallow nick on her throat. “He did what you wanted!”
“He did,” Davaa agreed. “You didn’t. Khuyag, show her what happens when she’s not a good little slut for her two new best friends.”
Khuyag grabbed a handful of Qadan’s hair and yanked his head up. His fist swung at the man’s face, and Qadan saw stars as pain exploded in his right eye.
“Simple enough for even a dumb irshi fucktoy to understand, right?” Davaa said. “We don’t want to damage you more than we have to – lowers the price – but your boyfriend here isn’t on the market. It’s up to you what we do with him: give us too much trouble and we’ll leave nothing but a bloody smear, behave and he’ll just get to watch and learn how to really fuck a woman. What’s it gonna be, slut?”
“I’ll behave,” Ehri said shakily. “But only if you stop hurting him.”
Davaa whistled. “That’s what we call a strike right there. Khuyag?” The thug’s fist impacted against Qadan’s face again, and this time he felt his nose flatten. “This isn’t a negotiation, sweetheart, and you sure as hell don’t get to order us around. If you want something, you beg for it, preferably on your knees. You want to try again?”
He let go of Ehri, and the butcher hesitated for only a fraction of a second before sinking down to her knees. “Please don’t hurt him, sir,” she said stiffly, forcing out the obsequious words. “I’ll do whatever you want if you leave him alone.”
Davaa spread his hands wide. “And we’ll leave him alone if you do whatever we want. Sounds like we’re all on the same page here! So why don’t we go into the back, get ourselves some privacy, and celebrate our wonderful new friendship a little?” When Ehri began to rise to her feet, he chuckled and put his palm on the top of her head to push her back down. “No no no, don’t even think about standing up, slut. You stay on those knees until I tell you different.” Ehri glared up at him, but she began shuffling across the floor like he wanted.
“Shop’s locked up tight,” Khuyag reported a minute later when he joined them in the back room. “We got the place all to ourselves until morning.”
“Perfect.” Davaa undid his pants to reveal a veiny, already stiff cock. He held it with his fingers and paddled it against Ehri’s lips a few times. The proud woman winced at the humiliation, but kept her hands passively at her sides and made no attempt to turn her face away. “So what I want right now is a blowjob from my new fucktoy. Think you can manage that?””
Ehri’s response was to part her lips so that she could extend her tongue and slide it over the waiting shaft. Qadan watched in horror as the woman he loved used her mouth to gently tease and play with a stranger’s cock, the hard look in her eyes belied by her total submission. He was so fixated on the sight that he barely noticed Khuyag sitting him down in a chair and using more zip ties to bind his forearms and ankles to it.
Khuyag tugged on the restraints to check them, then nodded in satisfaction and hurried over to join his friend. “You’re a lucky little slut today,” he crowed as he produced his own cock, as short and fat as the rest of him. “You’ve got two cocks to enjoy.” She wrapped a hand around him and began delicately pumping it over his shaft. “That’s it, you know exactly what to do, don’t you?”
“Paradisium was a hell of a lot of things, but it always trained great fucktoys,” Davaa said. He must have seen something in Ehri’s face, because he laughed. “You think we didn’t know what you are or where you came from, you little irshi slut? You’ll need to do more than just hide your wings for that. Buyer told us all about you. God, it’s one huge fucking sellers market out there right now: hundreds of slaves dead, and the biggest slave market gone with them. If you can score yourself some good flesh, you can practically name your price.”
The things he was saying made no sense to Qadan. He knew about the Paradisium, but what on Earth was an irshi? And what could they possibly mean by ‘wings’?
His head was full of questions, but this wasn’t the time for them. Ehri continued servicing both cocks, alternating every so often to change which one she was licking and which she was fisting. Before long, both men were panting a little and looking overeager. “What are you thinking?” asked Davaa.
“Nothing helps a bitch learn her place like a facial, that’s what I always say,” Khuyag replied. “And I bet this slut is gonna look even hotter with my spunk dripping down her cheeks.”
Davaa laughed. “Then let’s find out!” He slapped Ehri’s hand away from his dick and began pumping it himself, while Khuyag did the same. A few seconds later cum began spraying out of both cocks. She flinched when the first ropy strand of it hit her, but didn’t move as the two cocks painted her features, leaving lines of white goop all over her face. They made sure to get some all over her face, and finished up by grabbing handfuls of her dark hair and wiping their cocks dry with it.
“Aww, did I get some in your eyes?” Khuyag mocked as Ehri blinked furiously. “Don’t worry, slut, I’ll make sure my next load goes into that pussy, every last drop.”
“You hear that, baby?” Davaa drawled. “You and me got a date with your fine ass! How about you get on all fours and show me that sweet treat?” Ehri reluctantly switched to her hands and knees, and Davaa began to grope her upturned ass through her clothing. “Yeah, that’s a nice little bubble butt you’ve got for me. Now hold still, please. It’d be a real shame to mess up such a beautiful derriere with some scars.” The butcher didn’t move as he took the carving knife and sawed through her clothing with a few efficient slices.
By the time his companion had finished stripping Ehri, Khuyag was lying down on the floor, his cock already stiff again and jutting towards the ceiling. He stroked it slowly as he stared hungrily at their captive’s naked form. “Hop on, slut. I want that tight twat bouncing on my pole.”
Ehri reluctantly padded over to him, her expression twisted with distaste as she stared at his waiting prick. “I… we have some condoms upstairs,” she said.
Both men laughed, and the worst part was that they sounded genuinely amused. “You think I’m gonna waste that slit of yours on a goddamn rubber?” asked Khuyag. “Someone musta fucked all your brains out years ago, huh? Shit, like we’d give the slightest fuck about whether we knock you up or not. That’s your new owner’s problem, not ours.”
“I’ll give you ten seconds, little irshi,” Davaa said. “If I can still see a single inch of my friend’s cock that’s not buried in your wet snatch, that’ll be my cue to rearrange your boyfriend’s face. Ten, nine, eight…”
The dark haired beauty hesitated for only a moment, then threw herself into the task. Qadan watched in horror as she crawled over to Khuyag and sat herself down on him, his fat cock pushing past her labia. It was obvious that she was dry, and that taking him was causing her pain, but she didn’t let up, wriggling her hips and leaning in to put gravity on her side.
The ten seconds seemed to go on forever, and when Davaa’s count was done Ehri sat atop Khuyag with her legs spread, her thighs resting against his crotch and her hands on his stomach. “How’s she feel?” Davaa asked.
“Like a lazy bitch that needs to get her ass moving,” his friend complained. “Warm her up for me.”
Ehri was already starting to obey and fuck herself on the man’s cock, but she cried out when Davaa’s belt struck her posterior. The man swung again, each strike landing with a meaty slap that echoed through the room. “You’ve been out in the wild far too long, sweetheart,” Davaa said as he continued beating her, even as her hips moved with increasing intensity. “Went and forgot that you’re just a sex toy, not a person. Good thing you’ve got the two of us here to remind you what you irshi are for.”
Qadan could see tears trickling down his teacher’s cum streaked face as she was tortured and forced to rape herself on a stranger’s cock. Her eyes still burned with hot rage, but she couldn’t hide the pain in her gasps every time Davaa’s belt connected. The horrible sight made him furious and he strained against his bonds with everything he had, but all he managed to do was bloody his wrists and pull something in his leg.
“Now there’s a proper fucktoy,” Davaa said once Ehri was moving fast enough to meet his approval. “How’s she feeling now?”
“Hot, slippery, and tight,” Khuyag said, his voice strained. “The little babymaking irshi slut wants my cum so bad, she’s trying to wring my cock out with her twat. What a fucking degenerate.”
“You’re the one who-” Ehri began to protest, then her words were cut off as Davaa wrapped his belt around her neck in one smooth motion and drew it tight. Nothing emerged from her mouth but choking sounds, and her attempts to paw at the belt were foiled when Khuyag grabbed both her arms and pinned them down. Davaa pulled, and Ehri’s back was forced to arch to move along with the leather strangling the life from her.
“Don’t even think about slowing down,” warned Davaa. He had one hand gripping the belt, keeping her body taut and helpless, while his other was prying open her bouncing ass cheeks to reveal her tiny asshole. “You start acting like you need a break and I’ll give you one, sweetheart. I’ll let you lie right here and relax while I gut loverboy over there and watch him die. And then I’ll come back and fuck this bubble butt of yours anyway.”
His hips moved, seeking out his target, and Qadan saw Ehri’s eyes widen as she felt him succeed. Her entire body shuddered as he began forcing his cock into her guts, and the belt around her neck seemed like the only thing stopping her from screaming loud enough to wake the dead. She still managed a few desperate, wheezing gasps full of such pure misery that Qadan began to weep.
“That’s it, now you’re dancing like an irshi fucktoy should,” Davaa said happily as he and Khuyag enjoyed her frantic and unwilling body. “Yeah, we’re gonna have to keep you around for a long while, get you properly fucked before we send you on. No reason to rush with a sweet subhuman like you, not in this market… not with the price Savalas is paying for treats like you. I bet we could ship you swollen, gaping, and gushing our cum, and he’d still pay us-”
There was noise, and a blur of motion so intense that Qadan could make nothing out. One moment the two men were raping Ehri, and the next they were on the other side of the room and now they were the ones screaming, blood spilling from their prone bodies.
And the fox was there.
It was huge, bigger than any fox had a right to be, covered in dirty brown fur, and feeding. The beast chewed on their flesh greedily, ravenously, as though it had been kept starving for weeks, and its movements only grew more frenzied with every new bit of meat ripped from their bones. Blood drooled from its mouth to leave its front fur matted with red, and more showered the back room as it bounded back and forth back between the two men, like both of them were so delicious that it couldn’t make up its mind about which to eat first. Qadan had spent more than a year now handling and preparing raw meat and carcasses, but the sight of the beast eagerly tearing into their entrails was still gruesome enough to make him vomit.
Ehri was the only one of the three untouched by the violence, though her naked body was still spattered with gore from the monstrous creature’s feeding frenzy.. She stumbled to her feet and began using the knife Davaa had been holding to cut away the zip ties binding him to the chair. “Leave me,” Qadan said urgently. Both men were still alive, but the monster was devouring them at a frightening rate. “You have to get away, now, before it’s done with them!”
His teacher shook her head. “It’s okay,” she wheezed, her breathing still heavy. “I think she, she’s here to help.”
Qadan stared at the giant fox, barely able to process Ehri’s words. How could they be safe with a bloodthirsty monster like that right next to them? But the more he watched the creature, the more it seemed somehow familiar. He’d never seen anything like this beast, but those eyes… he’d seen those eyes before, hadn’t he? “…Nami?” he whispered.
The fox froze.
“I didn’t mean to be bad,” he heard the beast whine over the fading wails of the two men as their bodies finally shut down. “I didn’t mean to lie. I just wanted to make her happy.” Her head lowered, but Qadan could see the tears dripping down her muzzle. “That’s all I ever wanted…”
“Nami, can you hear me?” Ehri said slowly and softly. “It’s okay. We’re not going to hurt you.” The idea of the two of them hurting something like that was utterly ridiculous, but Qadan understood why she said it. Whatever Nami was, and despite all the power and raw violence that she exuded, she still somehow felt just as small and scared and alone as she had before.
“And she was always so happy when I told her,” Nami was saying, more to herself than to either of them. “That’s the only reason I did it. I wasn’t trying to be bad, honest, I just wanted her to be happy, so I said it every time, even though it wasn’t true. I made it true, for her. I would have always made it true for her, but now she’s gone and I… I’m…” She looked up at them, and neither her vulpine features nor the mask of freshly drying blood could conceal the look of abject misery there. “I’m still hungry!” she wailed.
And then she was gone, bolting towards the front of the shop. For a few seconds, there were more loud and terrible noises, and then silence.
Ehri helped Qadan to his feet. They stumbled out of the back room, stepping over the corpses of the two men, and beheld what was left of their shop. Where the front door had been, there was now just a tattered hole in the wall large enough to drive a car through, and everything else was… gone. The counters and displays were smashed and broken, and every bit of raw meat they had held was now missing. The scattered drops of blood on the floor and walls were the only proof that there had ever been anything at all.
“What… what was she?” Qadan asked.
“Our savior,” Ehri said quietly.
Qadan nodded, still taking in the scene of destruction. “Right.” If this had been the price of her help, he would pay it gladly. None of it meant anything compared to Ehri. “…I don’t think we’re ever going to see her again.” His teacher shook her head in silent agreement.
No one had entered the shop yet, but he could already hear curious and alarmed voices outside as people noticed that something had happened. The authorities would probably be here soon, and he had no idea how he was supposed to explain the chaos in front of him or the two bodies in the back room. “I… imagine you have questions about some of the things they said,” Ehri told him, her voice uncharacteristically shy. “Like about… what I am…”
“I do, but not until you’re comfortable talking about them,” Qadan said. “And I already know what you are: my Ehri. That’s all that really matters.”
Ehri didn’t say anything, but she smiled and nodded.
“The police won’t want us to touch anything, so… I guess this means I don’t have to bother cleaning up the shop tonight,” Qadan said slowly, and was pleased to see the statement get a small laugh out of her.
“No,” she agreed. “Not tonight. But tomorrow… tomorrow we will have much cleaning to do.”
“We could… or we could use this as an opportunity to get a bigger place,” her apprentice pointed out hesitantly. “Our apartment is, um… I mean, it wasn’t really made for more than two people…” They’d talked before about starting a family, and while they’d both been for the idea in general, neither of them had expressed any urgency about it. But now, having come so close to losing her, Qadan found himself feeling a bit differently.
“So you want to invite a third?” Ehri asked crossly. “Is there another woman I should know about?”
“N-no!” he insisted. “I just, I meant…” He relaxed when he saw the smile on her face.
“I know what you meant,” she said. “And you’re right.” Her hand found his and squeezed. “I would also like to find a bigger space to live. One that could fit a larger family.”
And in the ruins of their shop, the butcher and her apprentice began planning their new life together.
“I had almost forgotten what it feels like to ‘return home’,” Seo-yun said as she padded through Shirakami Sanchi in her fox form.
“You think this feels nice,” Sam told her, “wait until you plop back down on our bed. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.” The redhead was riding atop the fox’s back, her hand casually gripping some of the fur at her wife’s neck to keep from falling when they passed over rough terrain. “Assuming we still have a bed. We’ve been gone for almost three months, after all. Maybe while they’ve been fixing up the place, they decided they wanted their temple back and tossed all our stuff to the curb.”
“That is extremely unlikely,” Celeste told her. The fae was walking alongside Seo-yun, though she kept carefully staying a short distance behind, just enough to be noticeable. “Given the mistress’s state and all that she has done for them, they are more likely to request that you make the temple your permanent residence even after regular lodgings have been constructed.”
Sam had been looking forward to New Zealand as a sort of honeymoon, so she’d been less than thrilled at first to learn that Celeste wanted to tag along and ‘guard her mistress’. And it was true that they hadn’t had nearly enough sex while they were there, largely due to the winter fae taking it upon herself to chaperone them. But she had no regrets about Celeste’s presence by now, and not just because the woman had saved their lives on more than one occasion down there.
No, it was because Sam had never met someone that was more fun to tease.
“You sure you don’t want to hop on?” she asked Celeste. “There’s plenty of room, and Yip Yip doesn’t mind, do you?”
Seo-yun shook her head. “It is rather pleasant, actually,” the fox said. “It brings back fond memories of my childhood, even if the position is reversed.”
“Hey, you decide you want to take me for a ride instead, you just say the word,” said the redhead with a wicked grin. “I don’t know if I can manage a gallop, but I bet I could trot with the best of them.” Seo-yun didn’t answer her provocation, but Sam could feel the woman’s tails swishing back and forth playfully.
“No thank you,” said Celeste, her tone flat and disapproving. “It would not be proper for a servant to ride atop her mistress’s back.”
“Mmm hmm,” Sam agreed, “very improper. Just the worst… but that wasn’t actually a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We’ve been over this bad habit of yours so many times now, Celeste. Why don’t you try answering the actual question?”
The dark haired woman’s back stiffened. “I do not wish to cause my mistress any burden,” she said firmly.
“Another nice and proper answer to a question I didn’t ask. Should I rephrase it?” She patted Seo-yun’s warm fur. “Let’s see, you can only speak things that are true, so… if you decided to try and say the phrase ‘I would love to ride on my mistress’s back, it looks soft and fun and I’m a bit jealous of her wife right now, but I don’t want to admit any of that’, would you be able to? Yes or no.”
Celeste’s expression was almost entirely neutral, with only a slight tightening around her eyes, but Sam was starting to get the hang of the woman. For the winter fae, that was the equivalent of a hot embarrassed blush. “That is not a phrase I would normally attempt to speak,” she said with only a fractional hesitation. “So were I to be in such a situation, the circumstances around it would have to be quite foreign, and therefore it is impossible to evaluate what manner of mindset I would have at the time and subsequently what the truthfulness of the statement would be.”
“And here I thought you were supposed to be efficient,” remarked Sam. “But that was a whole lot of syllables just to say ‘yes’.”
For a moment, she thought that the woman’s icy exterior was going to crack completely, but Celeste reined herself in, limiting her reaction to a steely look that only qualified as a snarling glare if you knew how she worked. “I apologize for any perceived lack of efficiency, Mrs Morris, and look forward to the opportunity to correct that perception.” Dang. Sam had been hoping to pull it off at least once before their trip was over. She consoled herself that she would have plenty more opportunities to get a rise out of Celeste in the future. It wasn’t like the woman was going anywhere in a hurry, after all.
They were only a few scant minutes away from Hanei by now… from home. Yeah, that really did feel strange. The last time she’d had a place she could call home, it had been the apartment she and Jack had shared, several lifetimes ago. Even that had been a place of transition, just a temporary solution until they finished saving up to buy a house that they would grow old in together. The Sam of back then couldn’t have even begun to imagine the kind of life she’d end up living instead.
She lowered her head to nuzzle her face against Seo-yun’s fur, and felt her wife let out a soft and satisfied purr. It was an innocent noise of contentment, but it made Sam itch to hear her wife make lots of other noises too, the kinds that usually only came out of her when she was in human form with Sam’s head between her legs. She lowered herself further still, so she could whisper in Seo-yun’s ear quietly enough for Celeste not to hear. “How do you feel about a long shower when we get back? Get ourselves all warm… and wet… and slick… “
“I commend your attention to observing proper hygiene, Mrs Morris,” Celeste said calmly. “I admire individuals who can identify their failings and seek self-improvement. But I would estimate that the village’s capacity for hot water is still quite small. Out of respect for the limited resources available, it may be better if the mistress takes her hot shower by herself. You are of course more than welcome to go relax with a long and cold shower while she is busy. You should have no trouble fulfilling your desires to get, as I believe you have just put it, wet and slick, all on your own in there.”
A month ago, Sam might have thought the woman was just oblivious to the way that she was interrupting her flirting. But the way the fae’s eyes glittered expressed that she knew exactly what she was doing. They had been clashing like this the entire time in New Zealand: Sam would test the limits of fae patience, and Celeste would make being passive aggressive look like an art form.
All in all, it was one of the most entertaining games she’d ever played, and Sam was more than competitive enough to enjoy playing with an absolute master.
“Stop,” Celeste suddenly ordered, halting in her tracks herself.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked, immediately dropping the banter and scanning the horizon for signs of trouble. Seo-yun was doing the same, her movement frozen except for a slight bobbing of her head as she interrogated the scents around them. Celeste might be a perfect target for teasing, but she also had the sharpest senses of the three of them. If she thought there was a good reason for them to pause, they weren’t going to doubt her.
All sorts of awful possibilities rose up in Sam’s head, and Hanei – home – felt much farther away than it had a moment ago. Had something happened during their months of absence? Everyone had believed that Paragon thought them dead, and wouldn’t bother sending forces back to a dead town in the middle of nowhere, but maybe they’d been wrong. Or maybe there had been something else in the nexus, or something had gone horribly wrong with the refugees, or Karakostas had come hunting them in some mad act of revenge. It felt like there were a thousand different ways that disaster could have struck while they were gone, and it suddenly seemed laughably naive for them to assume that their home would still be there waiting for them.
“We have been turned around,” the fae said. “Our current path now takes us away from Hanei and out of the forest.”
“Seriously?” Sam twisted her head from side to side to look around. “Shit, you’re right. We’re supposed to be heading north, not west. How the hell did we make a mistake like that?”
“We did not,” Seo-yun said quietly. “I… I think I can sense foxfire nearby.” She sniffed again. “And… there’s something else…”
“We are near one of the wards,” Celeste confirmed. “It has interfered with our sense of direction. But…” She hesitated. “These are much stronger than they were before.”
“I mean, yeah, I’d hope so,” Sam said, relaxing a little. “They’ve had months to put them back up and all.” It’s okay, she told herself. If some evil monster came along and murdered everyone, like her brain was still half convinced was the case, they wouldn’t have left the doors locked. “This just means we’ll have to go around and find one of the regular entrances where someone can let us through.”
“I was not being clear,” the dark haired woman said. “I am not referring to the state of the wards when we left. This one here is much stronger than the original ward I destroyed on Levi Petrov’s orders.” Her expression twisted into a rare look of outright displeasure. “And there is something not right about it. Something foul.”
Seo-yun seemed more tense than ever as she continued sniffing. “I know this smell,” she muttered. “I’m certain I know it, but where…?” Then she stiffened. “Celeste!” she said sharply. “I need to get through this ward, now.”
“Yes, Mistress,” came Celeste’s reply, and an icy wind ruffled Sam’s hair. “I have opened a small passage.” She pointed back towards the north with a finger. “If you head in a straight line-”
Whatever else the fae said was lost on Sam as Seo-yun surged forward in the direction pointed out, replacing all the sounds of the world with rushing wind. The forest blurred around them as the kitsune raced forward at incredible speed, and it was all the redhead could do to hold on with her hand and keep from falling off. “What is it?” she shouted against the wind.
“Trouble!” Seo-yun answered grimly.
Celeste was good at her job, and in less than a minute Hanei appeared before them. There were a few more buildings under construction and a few less tents, but it otherwise looked the same, and the people outside watched in confusion as Seo-yun bounded out of the forest and into their midst, deftly dodging around all the bystanders without slowing down as she pressed deeper into the village.
A group of four people appeared in their way, and Sam recognized Hanabi and Shura among them. The other two were an unfamiliar kitsune with brown fur and hair, and a redhead woman who appeared human. All four of them seemed stunned at the massive red-and-white fox barreling towards them. Sam expected her wife to veer to the side and past them like she’d done with everyone else, but instead Seo-yun leapt forward, straight at them.
Her paws struck the brunette in the chest and for a moment both women were airborne. Then they hit the ground hard – the unknown kitsune on her back, Seo-yun on all fours – and Sam nearly went flying herself as the momentum of the tackle sent them skidding a good ten feet across the dirt path.
“What the hell is going on?” Sam asked, still clutching Seo-yun’s fur tightly, but the giant fox didn’t react to the question. She was towering over the fallen brunette, her huge paws on the woman’s arms and legs to keep her pinned down. And then Sam’s eyes finally caught up with her brain, and she saw that things had changed. The stranger wasn’t a brunette, and she didn’t have brown fur either.
Her hair had darkened to a pure black, and her fur was the same color, a deep shade of onyx that seemed to reject the light pouring off of Seo-yun, and what was going on suddenly made a hell of a lot more sense. Sam had seen plenty of kitsune in Hanei with dark fur, but never outright black. In her entire life, she’d only ever met one fox with fur like that. It was hard to forget people who’d tried to kill you, and though she’d never seen this woman’s face before, she remembered the ice blue eyes staring at her from behind the mask – she was absolutely certain that they were one and the same.
“Hello Snowflake,” Seo-yun said.