Of Fox and Wolf Chapter 4: Flowers
“*Pant*, *Pant*, Victoria, *Pant*, wait, *Pant*, up.” James, completely exhausted, slumped up against a nearby wall. They had been running for what seemed like hours and yet they were no closer to figuring out anything about this place. Doors lined the sides, each one with black windows which created a checkered pattern against the white wall. Each and every one that they came across was locked.
To James, the situation was looking hopeless that they would find a way out soon. Stranger still, they hadn’t run across another soul this whole time. Victoria, noticing the fox was not behind her, doubled back to check up on him. “C’mon, James, you know we don’t have time for this. We gotta keep moving.” Victoria was growing increasingly worried, especially with a recent development that was occupying her thoughts. But first she had to know.
“Why, Victoria? What the hell is the rush? We are literally walking towards nothing it seems!” The fox’s frustration was growing clear, and was beginning to overflow from its furry host.
The wolf’s fur was again tinted with yellow. Victoria reeled back her leg and sent it into the wall on her left. Immediately it shattered and collapsed, leaving a gaping hole which seemed to create another path which they could follow. ‘What is going on. It seems that no matter what we do, we are not finding any variation to this maze. If I knock down a wall, a new path forms, as if it was meant to be there all along. This place is a damn labyrinth,’ mused Victoria. ‘This may very well be a fool’s errand’.
“ *Sigh*, James, like I told you before, we don’t have time for me to explain everything to you. Can you please just trust me and keep moving?” Victoria was staring at a spot in front of the fox and was positioning herself so that James was looking at it too.
“There you go again, being cryptic and dodging my question. Why the hell are you hiding things from me?” James’s eyes seemed almost aglow, like a blue tsunami was building within them.
Victoria’s patience was wearing thin. “I have already told you everything that you need to know. Nothing else I say will be of any use to you. So shut up, and quit asking me. You are getting on my nerves.” The yellow around Victoria was glowing brighter now, as if its intensity was increasing.
“I’m getting on your nerves huh? That’s funny, cuz you wanna know what gets on MY nerves? Being treated like literal dirt by the person that I thought was my best friend! How can you really keep me in the dark, Victoria? I thought you and I both knew what it was like to never be acknowledged, and all the pain that was brought with it.”
“Oh grow up, James. All you ever do is build walls and shut people out. You can’t open your heart up to anyone, not even me it seems. How do you think that makes me feel, when you are insistently questioning my every move? You always act like the whole fucking world is out to get you, but the truth is you are just afraid to trust anyone.” Frustration was soon turning to rage, and the aura was glowing even brighter.
“Don’t you dare talk to me of keeping secrets! Your whole life is one big secret,” countered the fox. “Don’t try to forget the past. You are plagued with living in the shadows, so much so that I could never truly figure you out. But I did learn one thing. The only reason that you even became friends with me was out of pity and desperation. The second you found someone better, you tried to abandon me!”
“How could you even begin to think that? That’s not true, James! You know it isn’t!” Flickers of orange were sparking off of the wolf’s fur.
“Then what is, Victoria? Because, I’m beginning to think I really don’t know anything about you. Despite all those years together, I have always wondered what your true intentions were. Maybe this simulation crap is a good thing. Because while this reality may be a lie, it sure seems that this is the closest to the truth that I’ve ever been. But you don’t want it to come out; do you? Does it make you feel extreme guilt? Does it eat at you from the inside? Does the truth haunt you?”
At that, Victoria howled in anger. Her entire form became engulfed in bright orange, so much so that James could almost feel heat radiating off the aura. The wolf sent her fists flying into the ground in front of her, shattering it instantly. The floor had completely fallen through and was propelled with enough force that it took out subsequent floors on its way down. A chasm now gaped open, dividing the pair.
“You wanna know the truth? The truth is, James, that you would never understand what was going on even if I told you about it. You don’t remember anything about why we’re here, you can’t activate any power skills, and I bet you can’t even see the damn clock that is floating right in front of your face. You’re useless!”
Victoria felt like a volcano that had finally erupted. Her fur certainly mirrored the color of lava. She couldn’t remember a time in her life when she felt this much rage. Not only that, but it seemed that she had also confirmed her theory that James was indeed oblivious to the floating triangular clock. That only meant, that the fox was truly not supposed to be here with her.
After her outburst, Victoria felt relief that she had finally gotten what was on her mind, off her chest. But with relief, also came realization. The fox in front of her wore the look of a stoic observer. His face displayed no emotion, but that of disappointment. Upon seeing him, the wolf’s fur aura died out and gave way to onyx. “James, I –“ started the wolf, but was cut off.
“Fine. I should’ve known that was how you really felt. Guess I’m not only useless, but also a fool. I trusted you for the longest time, but it seems that even fools can wise up eventually. I don’t know how I got here, nor how I’m going to get out, but I sure as hell am not going to find out by staying with you.” The fox’s eyes shone like icy daggers as he spoke, and his words dripped like poison from the blades.
“I agree. It seems that you have nothing left to gain by staying with her, James.” A portal had suddenly appeared in the chasm, and through it came two people decorated in cloaks. “However, we are more than willing to extend a hand in partnership,” continued one of the cloaks.
“What the hell? Who are you people?” questioned the wolf. Victoria did not like the vibes these weirdos gave off, not to mention that they suddenly burst into the area through the damn ground.
“I’m terribly sorry, my canine friend, but we did not come to chat with you. You see, we are short on time and I can not have you interfering with our dialogue with the fox. Rose, if you would please?”
Lifting up their hand, Rose proceeded to move their finger through the air. From the tip of a black glove, a line of purple was suspended in front, following the digits movement. In a flash, an hourglass was drawn. Once complete, Rose spread their hand open and pushed the drawing directly at Victoria. The effect was instant, and the wolf was suddenly frozen in place.
“Ah, much better. Now we can converse in peace. Thank you, Rose. I know you hate using “Vis”, but you are oh so good at it.”
“Whatever,” scoffed Rose. “Just get on with it, Poppy.”
“Honestly, I do not know how you could be so impatient all the time.” Turning their attention over to the fox, Poppy continued. “Ah, it appears in the interruption that we forgot our manners. Allow us to make our introductions. I am known as Poppy, and the angry one on a short fuse is called Rose. We are members of the great OFF. Our mantra is quite simple; OFF with conflict, OFF with burdens, and OFF with attachments. Now, James, my friend, how would you like to join the Organization of the Floris Folium?”
James could not believe this was really happening. “What the fuck are you talking about? What did you do to Victoria? Answer me now, you bastard!” The fox’s tail was bristled and his claws shone in the bright light. His teeth were borne at the intruders, fangs on full display.
“My, my, such language. It is a bit unfortunate, but I had my associate cast a temporal halt on that wolf. Not to worry though, the effect is only temporary, and she should not have any adverse effects. Usually. As to what I’m referring to, you are being offered membership into the great OFF. No, no, groveling and thanks are not required. However, the logical next step would be acceptance. This opportunity comes but once in a lifetime.”
“I got a better plan; how about you two free my friend, leave us alone, and fuck off before I kick your asses.”
“Now do not be so hasty, James. We can offer you so much more than what you could ever accomplish on your own, especially after your declaration to ditch that pitiful wolf over there. Why would you be up in arms over that one’s state? It sure appeared that you two were not friends, but enemies.”
“You’re wrong, Victoria is my best friend. And there is nothing you and your pocket dictionary could say to me that would ever get me to betray her.”
“Really? Now that is curious. But puzzle this conundrum, vulpine. What about something she could say? Were you not just deemed useless by her own maw?”
“That… she didn’t mean what she said. She’s been under a lot of stress recently, and I certainly didn’t help with my questions.”
“But did you really think she was wrong? We could give you what she could not; belonging, purpose, and most importantly, power. Do you not grow tired of always being the weakest link? I think deep in your heart you are, and I also think that you have a long list of people you wish you could exact revenge upon. Think of it as a true “underfox” story, so to speak.”
“Power, you say?,” for the briefest of moments, the fox appeared to be considering the opportunity. “You know what? You got a deal. As long as I truly can take my revenge on all those who have wronged me.”
“Marvelous! I knew you would come to your senses and see to reason eventually.” Poppy extended forth a paw in an open gesture, beckoning the fox towards him. “To new friends and wide horizons.”
“To friends indeed,” spoke the fox. Taking the welcoming paw into his own on the left, James joined Poppy, now standing adjacent to him. “To my real friend, bastard!” Unsheathing his claws, James took his free paw and raked an upper slash along Poppy’s abdomen, all the way to his neck. Blood instantly began to leak from the claw marks in Poppy’s cloak, and the victim fell to their knees while clutching their throat. Poppy struggled for several more seconds, before becoming motionless on the floor.
“One down. You’re next shorty.” The fox leaped into the air, attempting to pounce onto the smaller cloaked person. However, midway into his jump, he stalled and was suspended in the air. Rose had once again drawn an hourglass with their finger and thrusted it upon the fox.
“Sorry kid, but you are far too weak to even think about laying a digit on my fur. As for you, Poppy, that was really careless. How could you be so stupid?” stated Rose.
Moments later, Poppy could be seen getting up to their knees. After a few more seconds, they were full standing, albeit with their cloak now bearing slash marks and blood. “Haha, my that was devious! I can see now why the Lady is so interested in this one. He is certainly full of surprises. Bravo, James. That was a brilliant effort.”
Poppy paused to brush off some of the blood; a failed attempt the look more presentable. “You really did a number on me. Ah, but alas, it appears that it was done in vain. You see James, we are like flowers, for when we appear to die, we come back. Though, forgetful me, it appears that I neglected to share this bit of information with you. My apologies.”
Poppy looked at the suspended fox thoughtfully for a moment before speaking again. “*Sigh*, it appears that we are going to have to do this the hard way. Rose, grab the fox and let’s get out of here. Do make it quick. I have certainly grown weary of this place to say the least and could use a change of scenery.”
“I’m not your damn slave, Poppy. I’ve been doing all the heavy lifting here and I don’t-“ Rose was stopped mid sentence by a punch from a streak of black fur. The blow sent Rose flying into a nearby wall.
“Surprised to see me?” snarled Victoria, fur awash in bright orange.
Thanks to Victoria’s attack, Rose lost focus and released the fox from his time prison. This also sent him crashing to the floor, causing Victoria to dive forward and catch him.
“Ugh, what happened?” The fox looked up and saw the face of his friend. “Victoria?”
“Hey, “Blue Eyes”. Look, I’m sorry for what I said and I promise we’ll talk later, but right now, I need your help to beat these guys.” Victoria set the fox onto his feet and shifted into a fighting stance, ready to do battle.
“Right,” said James after getting into a stance of his own. “Together I know we can beat ‘em.”
“My, my, today is just full of surprises, is it not? To be able to overcome Rose’s “Temporal Stop” through sheer force of will. You certainly are her daughter. Rose, dear, are you alright? That seemed mighty careless to keep your back to an enemy. Especially when attempting to maintain two spells at once.”
“Shut the fuck up, Poppy!” Rose was once again on their feet. “I told you this shit would happen with your stupid plan. I just wanted to snatch and grab but, oh no. We just had to give that damn fox an offer to join us willingly. Well now, it’s my turn!”
“Get ready, James,” advised the wolf. Victoria knew these two were far more than what met the eye.
Rose appeared to vanish, and then reappeared in the air behind James. Quick as a flash Rose dived down and delivered a blow to the back of the fox’s head, knocking him out instantly and sending him to the ground.
“James!” Victoria couldn’t even see Rose move. ‘This is insane, how do they have this much speed?’ Rose once again vanished and attempted to deal a similar blow to the wolf. Victoria, however, anticipated the strike, caught Rose’s left arm and tossed them back into the wall.
*Snap*. Rose’s arm was broken. “You bitch! I’ll make you fucking pay for that!” Rose struggled to their feet and again vanished. They reappeared by Victoria, this time attempting an upper cut with their right arm. Victoria deflected the shot, but failed to notice that Poppy was now standing behind her.
The wolf howled in pain as she felt a sharp sting in her lower back, followed by cold wetness. Leaping away, Victoria cleared herself of the attackers. However, when she tried to locate them, she realized that her vision was starting to blur. “Wha… what did you do…” uttered the wolf before falling to the ground.
“Damnit, Poppy, I had that under control.” Rose was greatly annoyed by not having the honor of dealing the final blow.
“Obviously. Though if you remember, we are short on time, Rose. Now let us depart.” This time, Poppy was the one to retrieve the fox, wanting to avoid any more unnecessary arguments.
“Fine. Go on ahead, I’ll just finish what I started really quick.” Rose approached the limp form of Victoria, but was stopped in their tracks when a beam of light, no thicker than a needle, whizzed right by their ear.
Poppy had their finger outstretched aimed directly at Rose. “Know your place, Rose. Do not forget, we are under strict orders to not kill either of these two. If it goes against the Lady’s wishes, I will not hesitate to end you.”
Rose paused for a moment, contemplating if they could defy Poppy, then went against it. Even if they did beat Poppy, Rose would have the entire rest of the organization after them, a thought which did not bring Rose comfort.
Turning around to follow Poppy, Rose was again halted, this time by a weak voice. “James,” managed to utter the wolf. She had a paw out, reaching toward where the fox was being carried off by Poppy.
“Seems you’re still conscious, huh? Well, let me give you some parting words before the poison takes its full effect. We’re going to break that little fox’s psyche till there is nothing left of his will. Then we’ll rebuild him in our form so that he can become an instrument of pure destruction. And do you want to know the best part? There is absolutely nothing that you will be able to do about it.”
Rose slowly walked over to Poppy and conjured another portal in the chasm. “Oh and one more thing, Victoria. Madelyn sends her regards.”
The last thing that Victoria saw was the pair jump off the edge of the chasm and into the portal with their prize in tow. The wolf cried softly until the poison had completed its journey around her body, finally causing her to blackout cold.
*End of Chapter 4*