Panic flooded Sora’s breast, fixated on the bloody werewolf head leaking crimson onto the illuminating Hellstone floor of the arena. Jenny was dead. Not only Wendy and Mary, but hundreds of people infected with her curse were doomed to frenzied insanity.
Eyia’s confused sapphire eyes darted to the panicking stands as humans collapsed to the floor, screams sounding throughout the coliseum. People and monsters retreated or prepared to fend off the writhing horde of mindless beasts transforming around them.
“Sister, I-I don’t understand,” Eyia mumbled, liquid-like plate-skirt shifting in her kneeling position while scanning the chaotic throng, the fear of another failure reflected in her deep blue irises. “I killed your assaila—Sister!”
Her resplendent, liquid-like armor flared, ethereal wings bursting into existence as the girl dropped the weapon Sora had enchanted. Instead, a pulse of light materialized into a glowing, alabaster spear, golden point etched with runes.
The blonde vanished in a rush of mist, moving too fast to see. Her eyes were soley focused on the three-meter-tall, brown-furred fenris wolf barring down on them, jaws gaping to swallow the angelic girl whole. Yet, a torrent of vapor expelled in a wave as Eyia and Eric’s momentum came to a complete halt.
A throbbing, superheated pressure hit Sora’s chest, weighing her down in the collision of forces; her breath caught, her lungs seemingly not able to work. Jin stood between the pair in an instant, the small Korean girl’s aura-laced hands holding the spear’s point and one of the beast’s large teeth, keeping the two apart.
Jin’s yellowish irises were a raging red, and her raven locks became a ruby hue as she snarled at Eyia, “Back… down.”
Eyia drew in her bottom lip, grip tightening around her holy weapon as it slowly crept through Jin’s protective barrier, getting dangerously close to her skin, but shockingly, Eric was the first to pull back. the blonde’s transparent wings fluttered with agitation at the sight, slowly drawing away at the Korean girl’s intense stare.
Flames erupted next to Sora as her legs trembled under the heavy energies clashing, even with Aiden appearing to support her. The firebird breathed heavily, Sora’s blood pressure spiking while looking toward the VIP area in fright—she couldn’t concentrate—it took all she had to just to protect herself from passing out.
“My dad! Aiden?!”
“It’s okay! Sela’s locked your friends in a magical prison to keep them from hurting anyone. She’s handling the other werewolves nearby and will keep him stable as best she—”
“Stable—what do you mean stable—what happened?!” she cried, beginning to hyperventilate, but Aiden’s grimace accompanied a soothing wave that eased her anxiety attack and pulled her back. “D-Did Wendy hurt him by accident?”
“It shouldn’t be serious…”
A shiver ran up Sora’s spine as Eyia, Eric, and Jin’s presence became so overpowering it was drawing the werewolves’ attention, tails going between their legs as many followed their instincts and fled with various other parties.
The Korean girl maintained her position between the two, and the fenris wolf reverted back to his human form, face red and seething as he glared at the red-haired Asian. Thankfully, Sora caught Eyia’s quick glance and nod, telling her to go to her father as they handled Eric.
His face was pale, wandering gaze taking in the tense standoff. Kari was still buried under a giant pile of rubble, likely unconscious after her confidence collapsed and Sora’s failed illusion stripped her of her fragile strength.
“I’m running on fumes after giving almost all of my energy to Eric,” he hissed, yet his comforting flames surrounded them as he moved them to the safety of the VIP area.
Sora’s ears twitched as she listened carefully to the developing scene below, taking in the box to orient herself and hoping things could calm down with Jin actually willing to step in now with Eyia and Eric squaring up.
“How is m— Dad!”
Her father gave her a forced smile and thumbs up as the frowning Unseelie knelt by his side, the gray-skinned child holding her magic-laced fingers over his side, but the leaking crimson didn’t appear to be stopping.
“Why aren’t you healing him?!”
“I’m trying to—it’s… complicated,” Sela grumbled. “I’m doing a lot right now!”
Sora caught over a dozen gray-furred werewolves attempting to combat thick vines that appeared to have sprouted out of seeds the fallen fae had scattered on the ground, more blocking the hallway, where snarls could be heard.
Wendy and Mary… What am I supposed to do? I know!
“Move!” she snapped, tail lighting with blue fire as she held her stomach, her own gashes not fully healed. “I can— What?!”
Her magic met an endless abyss that sucked in her magic like a ravenous black hole, making her cut the connection to not totally drain herself.
“What did I tell you?” Sela snarled, taking over again as tiny plant-like threads began stitching the wound back together, yet every other second, they’d go completely limp, making the Unseelie snarl. “I have never come across such an… aggravating magical magnet. Direct spells will only be drawn into this… thing inside of him!”
Aiden knelt beside them, motioning to Sora and Sela as sweat broke out across his forehead. “I’ve taken some pre-med classes when I was overlooking Eric’s branch in Africa—I’m by no means a doctor, but I can at least do some first aid—”
Her dad grunted, face tight as Sora moved to support his head. “Can we cauterize it, Aiden, or is there, mmgm—internal bleeding? I feel like there might be from where it is?”
“Hard to say,” Sela muttered as Aiden motioned for the woman to levitate one of the bottles of alcohol in the corner to them. “There’s something about this humming in the air—this ritual Jenny somehow started—that is causing a reaction deep within your father. Something inside of him is sucking in everything… All spiritual and magic forces that come in contact with his soul—even analytical forces.”
Sora sent her desires to find a way to bypass the gravitational pull within her father, thinking only her mother could have crafted something like this as maybe a defensive mechanism against others trying to attack her dad. Nothing she did worked; every thread her magic spun wasn’t undone but dissolved and consumed by some unknowable hunger within his soul.
“It’s no good! Agh! Why is my magic failing me now?!”
“Honey, honey,” her dad soothed, pained but smiling eyes taking her attention. “Breathe—let’s not panic; it’s okay… Aiden, if magic doesn’t work, can you create some fire and use it?”
Sora’s tail was already up and flaring with flames. “A knife—heh, of course, you have one, Sela.”
“Here, Aiden, I don’t know how this works,” she mumbled. “I’ve never had to do something like this.”
He held the blade near her tail, the metal swiftly illuminating under her guided magic. “Bite down on that belt,” he said, pointing to Sora to grab the leather strap Mary had snapped when she transformed. “How are things going down there, Sora? I don’t have super hearing.”
She swallowed, ears twitching and fur bristling at the conversations she’d followed thus far; Eric appeared to need time to wrap his head around the situation, and alarm bells thumped against Sora’s chest the more things escalated as she recounted how things were playing out with the three.
“Mmgm. Why, heh… Why are you defending her?! I can’t wrap my head around it—why?! Move or help me kill her as you should!”
“He has assaulted our friend, Jin—my Sister-in-arms—what nonsense does he speak? I will answer any challenge the wolf issues!”
“Ugh. Chill! Damn… Look, you know we both don’t want to escalate things further, wolf boy, and he didn’t attack Sora, Eyia; it was his sister.”
“That she killed!” Eric shot back. “Blood for blood, and she shouldn’t even be in this section of Existence? Why are you protecting a Primordial Asgardian Valkyrie—it’s a crime against the Accords!”
Eyia’s voice became wary. “My only crime is honoring my word and bond, wolf. I am my own woman and warrior. It is your kind who has done my family wrong!”
“That’s rich coming from invaders that initiated a war on the Founders!”
“Shut up!” Jin snapped, silencing the two. “I don’t care about the beef. If either of you attacks each other—in Founder-owned territory, no less—and it gets back to the Primordials, another war will break out!”
“I’m down with that!” Eric laughed, tone turning nasty. “At least it would unite us again. I’m baffled, though—Jin, was it? How can you—a Founder—a descendant of Yinglong, the damn Dragon Mother, herself, defend an enemy of Founder’s and guide her into hostile territory… Haha. I just… Are you trying to trap her here so you can legally kill her? I’m game! So… why are you continuing to defend a Primordial?”
What? Jin’s a Founder Dragon?! And what’s a Primordial?
Stephanie’s comments about being an illegal alien that had to tiptoe around the Founders made sense now that she understood more about the context of something far beyond her comprehension; basically, Eyia’s people had invaded her home, which had apparently come to a sort of truce in territory, and it could continue at the drop of a hat.
Aiden took the heated blade to her dad’s stomach, making his face go white as he tensed up, and she couldn’t even ease his pain, but the evolving scene below was turning in a direction Sora did not like.
“Sela, show us what’s happening down there!”
The woman groaned. “Everything is difficult with this indecent hellish hum vibrating through us—and, of course, you probably don’t even notice it since you have an adaptive aura, ugh—here… Oh, my. Is this going to be a three-way brawl?”
Her father’s blood rose into the air to make an incredibly thin surface that crystallized to form a mirror, showing them various angles of the field below, just in time to see Eyia’s shining blue eyes widen in shock at Jin’s family origins.
“Now you’ve done it,” Jin grumbled, rubbing the back of her neck and keeping a level gaze with the guarded blonde. “I’ll explain, Eyia—c’mon! Really?”
“Forbidden area?” The blonde turned her blade away from Eric to her friend. “Y-You have been deceiving me, Jin—you knew who I was, yet you have taken me into a place forbidden to Primordials?”
Jin puffed out her cheeks and scratched her temple before glaring right at Aiden through the mirror. “Shit… This is your fault, feather boy—everyone hates descendants of Huma! Eyia, be a good sister… and go up and help stabilize Sora’s dad. You have the power to freeze him in time; quickly, it’s worse than they think.”
“No! I’m not done with her!” Eric barked, pacing and rolling around his neck as the prism colors surrounding him intensified, drawing from Aiden’s feather. “She killed my sister—she’s in my space; fenris wolf territory—it’s war!”
The Korean girl shook her head and motioned Eyia to get moving. “Technically, this is supposed to be vulpes territory. Eyia, we’ll hash this business out later, but I haven’t deceived you. Didn’t you come here to be a good Sister-in-arms?”
Eyia’s mouth drew in, uncertainty in her hurt eyes. “Very well, friend… I am confused and will demand a full explanation when we are done.”
She glanced toward the box with a guarded smile; wings rising, they beat down, causing her to instantaneously appear next to them as the chaotic stands grew worse.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Sora released a bit of stress. “Thank you, Eyia… I’m with you, sis.”
The blonde became melancholy while bending down, her wings vanished, a chilling fog encompassing them with a light glow. Her father’s eyes drooped, and he fell asleep, along with all of the werewolves in the booth’s vicinity.
“I am frustrated with myself… I am the one to blame for your grief, Sister. I keep doing what I feel to be right, only to be reminded how little I know. All I have experienced is combat and survival… I wonder if I should return to the Island—perhaps I should, since…”
“No!” Sora firmly stated, pulling her conflicted and pain-filled eyes, which were on the verge of tears. “We’re going to make it through this. I don’t care about some war our parents had or whatever—we’re Sisters-in-arms, right? Right?! We help each other. You didn’t judge me; in fact, Jin—a Founder, apparently—was going to kill me, and you saved my life! How can I judge you when I owe you my life?”
“Sister…” Eyia sniffed, rubbing her red nose and blinking back her tears. “I have not seen your father’s death, nor feel it near. I will support him… and I am sorry for the messes I continue to create for you.”
Sora leaned in to hug her hurting Primordial friend. “Hehe. Let’s have faith in Jin, okay? She’s a bit sketchy, but she seems to have your best interest at heart.”
A spike stuck into Sora’s side when she lost all track of her father, the fog thickening around them. “W-Where did they go?!”
“Hmm?” Eyia tensed up. “I placed them in a temporal seal to preserve their souls. They are here, locked in time.”
“Oh… Okay,” Sora breathed, calming her thumping heart as Sela looked at the blonde with shock at the power she seemed to hold.
A sudden warmth came from Aiden’s expanding aura, seeming to have just enough strength to keep her mind stable. She sent him a smile, knowing he was doing his best, despite being exhausted. Together, they scanned the Unseelie’s mirror to get a grasp on the situation. Unfortunately, Eric’s negotiations and initial confusion were breaking down with his patience.
The Hellstone kept growing brighter underneath them with the stands in an all-out war between the trolls, ogres, werewolves, and dozens upon dozens of other creatures fighting to survive the mayhem.
Eric grunted at Sora’s previous comments to Eyia, seemingly listening in on their conversation, as well. “I can get Sora’s involvement with the Valkyrie after what Aiden told me about her ignorance, but you? Heh. What’s your excuse, dragon?”
Jin’s flippant attitude was back now that the Primordial was off the field. “Eh, why do I need to explain myself to you, a mangy pup?”
“Heh. A pup, am I?” he grunted, nose twitching. “My mom taught me a lot… and one of those things is that this should not be happening! Your family would tear you apart from where I stand—youand shehave broken the Accords… I have every right to kill you both; the Primordial’s own family would kill her for making friends with you!”
“Eyia, no!” Sora hissed.
The blonde’s nose flared, and she shot up, snatching her spear and throwing it like a meteor at Eric, creating a whirlwind. Yet, a trail of ruby light reflected in the mirror as the dragon left the ground, deflecting the golden streak.
“You know nothing of my family, beast!”
“Eyia! Eh-heh… You are not making this easy on me. Sora, do something about her!”
The Valkyrie grumbled as Sora got up to guide her back, glaring daggers at the wolf below as a pulse of light returned her radiant weapon into her white hands.
“And, no, Eyia has not broken the Accords, idiot! It doesn’t matter if she killed your sister because she wasn’t a Founder. See how that works? No Founder, no rules broken,” Jin returned with a smug smirk while rubbing her arms as if in pain from stopping the blonde’s attack.
“As you said, I am a dragon Founder; I know the Primordial-Founder Accords better than Alva herself since dragons are granted a portion of their mother’s memories. If you did attack her, Eyia would be able to defend herself since they can travel through Founder sectors when going between areas. You are in the wrong!”
Eric forced a chuckle. “Know what? I don’t care! You don’t sound like a dragon Founder, little girl, but I guess that’s to be expected since you’re still an Imugi. You have yet to even hit puberty! Haha. Your own family doesn’t even see you as a teenager!”
Oof. Fighting words, Sora internally grumbled. He’s done playing nice because she’s a Founder, but a dragon? I don’t know if this is the play, Eric…
Jin laughed, licking her lips while more of her tightly condensed, hidden energy slipped out, and the corner of her eye twitched. “Little girl? I’ve… been very polite compared to how, heh, as you said… my family would act.”
Stretching her hands high above her head, Jin lifted her eyebrow, tone saying she was done with the wolf. “All Founders know that we don’t play nice with each other… Honestly, I didn’t want this because I don’t want to draw attention to myself—because it will! I was totally fine skating by this universe, but your little bird wrapped us into this mess. I didn’t start it, bud.”
She motioned to the Hellstone and fake sky as the clouds and thunder faded away, revealing a ceiling entirely marked with occult symbols that made Sora’s shoulders slump.
No way in, heh, hell is that a good sign, she thought, chuckling dryly at her joke.
“Do you have any idea what is happening—any thought in that empty head of yours? No. No, you don’t. This is a summoning circle, marked with Founder blood. And, news flash, pup, I’m more than four times your age with experience and knowledge that your mother couldn’t dream of, so if you’re going to try to recreate the battle of Yinglong versus Fenrir, by all means… bite.”
Fur sprouted out of Eric’s body, somehow gathering even more power than when he fought his sister as the rumbles in his throat revealed his deep voice. Sora froze, the expanding aura of the two titans chilling her bones; all around them, the fighting quelled, likewise terrified.
Eric laughed, guttural notes filled with animosity. “You’re far from Yinglong, snake child, so stop pretending to be what you’re not. You can’t even take the form of a dragon—you’re a fake!”
“Hahaha!” Jin’s gleaming teeth flashed, crushing pressure making the air heavy and expand outward to whip up dust. “Says the filthy half-breed failure of a fenris wolf. Do you know what’s funny? I don’t think the Three Pillars would even consider you a Founder. Were you just mommy’s experiment?”
Eric shot forward in a blur, reaching Jin faster than the mirror could catch, causing Sora to run to the railing to see what was happening, channeling her Desire Magic to enhance her vision to see the battle. It took a consistent and shocking amount of energy, yet the world came to a near standstill.
Jin stood in a somewhat slouched position, hands in her sweater as she slid around Eric’s bites, cold eyes looking up at the giant beast; her thin knee shot up, jolting Eric’s head up in a shockwave, yet he recovered in an instant, teeth falling out of his mouth to regrow in milliseconds—this was what his fight was like against Kari—the limitless stamina fenris wolves appeared to possess that made it a fight of attrition.
Dancing away from each paw strike, Eric snarled at her casual cadence, but all at once, the dragon stopped, pursing her lips to the side with a smirk; his claws lashed out, coming to a dead stop as a charged pulse radiated from Jin.
“Is that it?” she muttered as his tongue lurched out with his gaping maw to bite her in half; her foot launched him upward, the concussive blow fracturing the illuminated Hellstone under her feet and making Eric’s eyes roll back a second.
She flew up, flipping to bring down a heel on Eric’s spine, another hyper-condensed rush of spiritual pressure centering on the point of impact, practically folding the wolf in two and causing a tremor to shake the coliseum as he was sent through the floor as if it were hot butter.
“Humph. My hands are still in my sweater, bitch. I guess a mutt is still a mutt… even with all that probability support. You’re pathetic, man.”
An eruption of stone revealed the lacerated and broken fenris wolf as he continued to heal, rainbow aura diminishing with every blow. Aiden’s hands were white while spotting his state.
“How… is Eric losing with my feather?”
“It’s simple, really.” Jin walked forward, frigid ruby eyes low as her hair weaved behind her. “Yeah, I’m a dragon Founder. Yeah, I’m an Imugi. Yeah… I’ve found a Pimoridal to hang with. Wanna know why?”
Jin casually slapped Eric’s paw away, bending it the opposite way and making an uncharacteristic whimper come from the wolf.
“Who are you?!” he choked, seemingly having trouble healing as his confidence wavered.
“Mmh-hmm-hmm. I like my meals thick,” Jin grinned, her smile not reflected in her eyes. “So let’s put some gravy on it. Why do you think I would hang around a Primordial?” she asked, grabbing a fist full of his fur and forcing him to the ground to whisper in his ear. “Because I want to piss off my mom.”
Spinning him in a circle by the ear, ripping up the stone to tatter his limbs and skin, she threw him at the ceiling The fenris wolf smashed into the ritual, symbols already pulled away from the stone; the impact make Sora’s jaw slacken at the raw power and speed the tiny girl had.
Large chunks of red stone broke away from the impact, yet the adolescent dragon Founder was already upside down, leaving a blur of light in her path as she flipped around to plant her leg in the concave chest of the wolf, folding him in two again. The snaps of Eric’s bones with the gurgle of blood that gushed from his mouth and nose made Sora’s ears pull back in fright—this was why her instincts told her to never get on Jin’s bad side.
Jin punted him at the outer ring of the arena, collapsing part of a side and making the Alpha Wolf disappear beyond sight, but Sora winced upon hearing the destruction that came from his landing.
The Korean girl lightly landed on her feet with a sharp hiss, biting her lower lip and staring into empty space. “Shit. Oh, c’mon! I hate you, Aiden…”
Threat definitely neutralized, Sora jumped near Aiden to travel with him as he vanished in flames. The firebird was only able to get close to Jin—likely panicking himself by his wild aura. The gut-tingling sensation wasn’t coming from Jin’s rampage any longer, however. Instead, it was the ritualistic energy above that was being amplified by the second.
“Did you—is Eric dead?” Aiden cried, freaking out on several different levels while looking to her for support—although, Sora was right there with him—as fragments of the roof fell around Jin, yet the girl didn’t twitch a muscle.
“Jin, what is happen—” A bell chime made Sora’s legs lock up. Suddenly, a black, two-tailed cat stood in front of the dragon, her big, feline eyes drifting from the direction Eric had been kicked and the Korean girl. “Nilly?”
Jin dropped to her knees, shoulders sagging, and took a pained, deep breath before placing her hands on her lap. “I… didn’t want to do that, Nilly,” she mumbled submissively. Goosebumps ran down Sora’s arms at her tone; gone was the cocky dragon taunting an insurmountable figure.
Sora blinked, and in that split second, Nilly now looked just like a teenage girl. Her golden earrings piercing both cat ears while sitting cross-legged in front of Jin, clearly unhappy—for all her strength, the dragon seemed unable to look the teen in the face.
“Nilly doesn’t like little lizards bullying Fenny’s pups—Nilly likes Fenny—Fenny’s Nilly’s friend.”
An agitated hiss came from the cat as she bobbed back and forth, and it was then Sora noticed an unusual green tint from overhead; skulls of all sizes and shapes blotted out the ritual, materializing out of nowhere with emerald flames embracing them.
“Nilly doesn’t like Yingy… Yingy’s mean to Nilly, and you… You smell like Yingy.”
Horrific shrieks left the skulls gaping mouths, revealing a malicious pressure that collided with the audience, causing everyone to instantly collapse into heaps, but the cat continued as if nothing else existed, and Aiden’s earlier statement struck Sora’s mind.
Nilly… the undead First Generation Founder of the Cats.
“Nilly!” Sora choked, rubbing her tight chest as the girl’s suffocating presence only continued to elevate with her agitation. “Nilly, y-you’re hurting me…”
The pulverizing atmosphere popped as the girl blinked and looked up at her, vanishing to stand before her, but this time things were different; Nilly had aged yet again. A third ring now dangled from her left earring as the sixteen-year-old version of Nilly studied her face, her voice and clothes maturing with her change.
“Mia’s daughter,” she whispered, ominous gaze seemingly seeing more than Sora could ever fathom. “Sora helps Fenny’s family… Nilly wants to see Amy again. Hmm. It’s Sora’s birthday, so Nilly needs to give Nilly’s fox friend a gift. Nilly will be nice because Sora is nice to Nilly… What does Sora want from Nilly?”
The air locked in Sora’s lungs at the insanity that swirled within the phantom cat’s big eyes and gleaming, monstrous mouth.
“Nilly knows what Sora wants—Nilly sees everything Sora wants… Sora wants her mom.”
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