Chapter 27 - The Secret Lives of Llystletein Foxes
Claire and the fox spent a few moments staring each other down.
The former had her daggers held in front of her, one at around waist level, and the other guarding her throat. Both were held in a reverse grip. Taking any other stance was difficult. The entrance’s flakey narrow walls were pressed right up against her elbows. Her eyes were narrowed, focused on the upside-down canid whose capabilities remained a mystery.
The fox, on the other hand, was frozen in place with her tail tucked between her legs, her ears folded downwards, and her whole body lowered close to the ground.
“Please don’t kill me! I’m not tasty, and I swear I didn’t mean to intrude. I thought you were a fox, not one of the torches!” The orange fuzzball squeaked out a plea. Her feet trembled, nearly giving out under her as she took half an unsteady step backwards.
“What makes you say that?”
“Oh thank goodness… You’re one of the ones that actually talks.” The fox’s shaking eased, slightly, as she breathed a sigh. "Well uhm… your burrow smelled a lot like a fox den and I thought we were the only ones that put our homes under bramblewood trees.”
“That’s not what I was asking about,” said Claire.
“Huh?” The fox blinked. Thrice.
“I meant the first thing you said.”
“Please don’t kill me?”
“Uhmmm… I’m not tasty?”
“Yes, that,” said Claire, with a nod. “How do you know?”
What kind of weirdo do you have to be to know how you taste?
“W-well uhm… I-I don’t, but please, please, please don’t eat me! I’m really bony and thin, so I doubt I’d be good in anything other than maybe soup!”
The halfbreed paused for a moment to picture a tureen painted in a fox’s image. White hot steam drifted out from within the imaginary container as a gloved hand lifted its lid and revealed a medley of meat and vegetables. Carrots, tomatoes, and red peppers were the main features, floating alongside perfectly seared cubes of flesh. As one butler ladled her a bowl, another offered a neckerchief made from a smooth, fluffy, orange-red pelt. Its taste was unlike any of the awful meals she had endured over the past few days. Every spoonful was bursting with a rich, cream—
“Eek! I didn’t mean that! I’m sure I’d taste terrible in soup too, so please stop imagining it!” The fox placed both front paws on top of her head and shut her eyes as she resumed trembling at full force.
“Why are you so obsessed with how you taste?”
“Are you really asking me that!?” The fox barked, as she got back to her feet. "I am not obsessed! I don’t care how I taste!” she insisted. “I’m just scared you’ll eat me!”
“I didn’t consider it until you suggested it.”
“Then why the heck would you have your weapons drawn!?”
“I was going to kill you,” said Claire, matter-of-factly.
“That’s even worse! At least eat me if you’re going to kill me!” shrieked the fox. “W-why else would you want to kill me!?”
And some peace and quiet.
“I’m just an ordinary fox, I’d barely give you anything!”
“I guess you’re right.” Claire started to lower her knives, but stopped halfway. “Wait... If you’re just a fox, then how are you talking?”
As it so happened, the halfbreed was well aware that the average fox was, in fact, not capable of speaking fluent Marish.
“Oh no!” One of the fluffy canid’s front paws shot to her mouth. “Uhm… you’re just imagining things! Errm, I mean… uhm… meow.”
“Aren't foxes supposed to yelp?”
“How am I supposed to know!?” shouted the furball, before shifting to a whisper. “I’ve always just talked.” She buried her face in the ground, the tension draining from her limbs. “I give up. I don’t know what to do or say anymore. Can you just get it over with already? Oh, and bury me under a tree and carve Sylvia into the bark when you’re done. You might as well, if you’re not going to eat me.”
Claire took a second to contemplate the proposal. On one hand, the fox was likely an experience-rich Llystletein variant. But on the other, it was also a rare source of information, and a seemingly compliant one at that.
“I’ll let you live if you agree to my conditions,” said Claire, lowering her blades.
“You will!?” The fox perked up immediately. “Wait… you’re not going to tell me to show you where all the other foxes live so you can kill them all, right?”
“That’s not a bad idea...” said the blue scale, as she stifled a yawn.
“Aaaahhhh!! I didn’t mean to say that out loud! A-and it doesn’t matter. I can’t take you to the others anyway. I don’t even know where they are. We scattered because the stupid steelwings started bullying us out of our homes.” Sylvia stood up on her hind legs, crossed her arms, and huffed. “Stupid jerks.”
“Steelwings?” Claire cocked her head.
“The altered ravens,” said the furball, her ears drooping. “They suddenly showed up last night and started dumping water into all our burrows for no reason. They’re all flooded now, so we have to find new ones to live in while they dry out.”
That sounds a lot like what they did to me… I wonder if it’s because I… Oh… Ohhhhh… Oops.
“So uhmmmm…” The fox started playing with her tail. She brought it near her face and twirled it with one of her front paws. “What are the conditions?”
“Answer my questions and get out.”
“Oh, that’s it? Okay! I can answer all the que—wait a second! Please don’t make me leave! There’s not enough time for me to dig out another den, even if I do find another bramblewood tree. I’ll just get eaten by a mirewulf, or worse!”
“I need to sleep, and I’m not letting you near me while I do.”
“Can’t we work something out? Anything? Please? Pretty please?”
“I don’t trust you,” said Claire, flatly. “If you insist on staying, then you’ll have to let me tie you up.”
“I-I wouldn’t mind that as much, but what if I need to use the bathroom?”
“Go before I sleep.”
“Ummmm… that might work. How long are you going to sleep?”
“More than three hours, but less than sixteen.”
“S-sixteen!? I can’t possibly hold it in for sixteen hours! I need to go at least once every two!”
“Then you’ll just have to leave,” said Claire, flatly.
“I can’t, I’ll die! I can’t answer your questions if I’m dead!”
“Just answer them before you leave.”
“I’m not going to answer them at all unless you let me stay overnight!”
“That just means we’re back to where we started.” The halfbreed rolled her eyes. “If you want me to let you stay, you’ll have to let me tie you up.”
“Can’t you just trust me?” pleaded Sylvia. She opened her eyes wide, made her ears flop forward, lowered her face, and looked up at the rogue with a teary gaze.
“No,” said Claire, flatly. “And stop trying to give me puppy-dog eyes. You’re not even a dog.”
“N-No? Aww… Everyone else always says yes when I do that.” Sylvia flopped forward lethargically, her body making a bit of a thump as it fell onto the ceiling. “Oh, I know! It must be because I haven’t introduced myself yet!” The fox stood back up on her hind legs, brought the tip of her tail to her heart, and placed a furled paw on top of it. “I’m Sylvia Redleaf, Llystletein Woodfox. I just had my coming of age ceremony last cycle.”
Claire stared at the canid for a moment before heaving a sigh. The halfbreed reached under her cloak, grabbed her dress, and momentarily bent her knees.
This is silly. Why am I playing along? Ugh… Stupid fox.
“Claire Augustus, Lady of Cadria’s third ducal house and a ritual mage in service to Builledragcht,” she said, for the thousandth time. “Or at least I was.”
None of that is true anymore.
“Wow! I’ve never met one of Builledragcht’s ritual mages before.” Sylvia slowly took a step forward, timidly glanced at Claire, and then took another. “All of ours serve boring Gods like Kael'ahruus and Primrose.”
“I would have rather served the God of the Hunt or the Goddess of the Harvest than the God of Curses,” mumbled Claire, averting her gaze in spite of the other girl’s approach.
“Oh... oh! I think I know how to get around you wanting to tie me up! I’ll swear in Althea’s name that I won’t hurt you while you sleep!”
“That doesn’t work without a ritual,” said Claire.
“But you’re a ritual mage, right? Can’t you just use your magic and make it one?”
“Was. I was a ritual mage.”
“Oh, right. I forgot the library does that to all the torches. Dad said something about being a master swordsman or something once. That’s a real shame, I was really hoping that would work,” said Slyvia, with a sigh. “What race are you anyway?” The fox pawed at her conversation partner’s features. “Your eyes are kind of like a gator’s and you’ve even got the scales to match, but your ears are really freaky. They’re kinda deery or rabbity, but neither of those seem quite right. They’re not round enough near the center and you’re way too blue.”
“Stop touching me.” Claire pressed her palm against Sylvia’s snout and pushed her away.
“Are you a halfbreed?”
“Does it matter?”
“Well uhm… no. But I really want to know. I’ve never seen anything like you before!”
“Okay, I don’t care,” said Claire, with the faintest of smiles.
“Aw, don’t be like that! I’m a halfbreed too, you know?”
Please stop talking and just let me sleep.
“It’s true! I know I look just like all the other foxes, but it’s true! I just take after my mom. I bet you can’t guess what my dad was!”
“C-can rocks even have children?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then why would you even bother suggesting it?” huffed the fox, as she pawed at the scales on Claire’s forearm. “My dad can’t be a rock if rocks can’t have kids!”
“Didn’t I just tell you to stop touching me?” Claire brushed off the furball’s paws.
“I couldn’t help it! Your scales are just so smooth and delicate,” said Sylvia. “I guess that means you can’t be a gator… Theirs are a lot rougher and sharper.”
“I’m going to kick you out if you don’t stop trying to guess what I am.”
“C-can’t you at least give me a hint?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“What if I told you that my dad’s actually a wood elf? He’s really, really weird. He tries to act like a fox even though he isn’t one, and one time, his friends, some other torches, even tried to drown him because he wouldn’t knock it off,” said Sylvia, as she poked at the side of Claire’s head. “Wow, your ears are really fluffy. They’re almost as fluffy as mine!”
“For the last time, stop touching me!” said Claire, as she shook the fox off.
Why does she have to be so high energy? I do NOT want to deal with this right now...
“I was just trying to be friendly…”
“So that I would trust you and not tie you up while I slept.”
“W-well uhm… yes, but…”
“No buts. I don’t need you attacking me in my sleep. Let me tie you up or leave. Now.”
“Okay, okay, fine, you can tie me up,” said the fox, begrudgingly. “Just, give me a second to uhm… excuse myself.” The blabbermouth retreated into the burrow’s second room, returning to present her front paws after about a minute. “I’m ready now, but uhmmm… c-can you please try not to sleep for a whole sixteen hours? I really don’t think I’ll be able to hold it that long.”
“No,” said Claire.
The half-reptilian tied all four of the fox’s paws together with the last bit of rope she had in her pouch and started to carry her into the second room.
“H-huh? W-wait, where are you taking me?”
“Where else? There are only two rooms.”
“B-b-b-b-b-but I just used the other one as a bathroom!”
“I don’t want you to be in the same room as me while I sleep,” said Claire, as she took another step forward.
“T-then dig a third room! I can help! Please don’t put me in the bathroom I just used!”
“You weren’t going to be able to hold it in anyway.”
“That doesn’t make it any better! At least let it dry first!”
Rounding the corner, Claire found that the expansion the fox added was only about a third the size of the main chamber, just large enough for a four-legged, dog-shaped creature to comfortably pace back and forth. One side of the room contained the remnant of a less-than-mentionable deed, while the other featured a familiar tool, propped up against a small pile of dirt. It was a shovel, a shovel made of a short wooden stick and half of a raven’s wing, tied together with a green, ropey vine.
Okay… fine, Box, fine. I admit it. You were right. I am bad at paying attention to details.
Log Entry 661
Achievement Unlocked — Enlightenment
You have recognized that the divine word is one of eternal truth.
Sure, whatever you say.
“C-can you please take me back to the other room? Pretty please?”
“Well…” Shifting her gaze between the fox, the wet patch, and the shovel, Claire heaved a sigh. “Fine.”
Only because it was probably my fault the ravens started messing with you.
Returning to the other space, Claire set the fox down, walked back over to the entrance, and curled herself up into a ball.
“Good night, Claire!” said Sylvia, far too happily for someone who was tied up. “Sweet dreams!”