A winter in Yetinburg Epilogue

Nyanon Mar 6th, 2015 (edited) 962 Never
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  1.         Kazuna groans. The poor kappa has to be helped out of the airport's bathroom by myself after dry heaving for twenty minutes. She leans on me as I try to keep balance on my black talons and use a wing to rub her back, glad she isn't feeling the effects of flying so much now. With our bags hanging off our bodies we head towards the exit, ready to get a rental vehicle to head to our destination. A taxi seems like the better option, we'll only be here for a few hours before taking off again and Kazuna isn't responding well to the constant flying we've been doing. I contemplate who is troubled more by it. Me, as I can't get a better assistant, Kazuna, or her boyfriend back home.
  2.         We stop at the entrance to wrap ourselves in the thick winter clothing we brought with us, Kazuna helping me into my heavy black felt jacket with the specially made arms for my wings. The harpy socks go on next, covering my exposed skin with a nice softness before I finally get a red wool scarf wrapped around my face. Kazuna tops it off with my snow hat, looking more like something someone in the old kitsune empire next door would wear with it's cylindrical shape and fuzzy outside. A pair of fuzzy balls hang off string on the end of the ear guards for decoration.
  3.         With myself all dressed, I do my best to help Kazuna get dressed as the kappa recovers thanks to the water she had gotten from her bottle. I never understood why she said she didn't like the water in Yetinburg. It tasted fine to me, if a bit cold. I leave it as a kappa thing but it's hard to ignore after we've been back here constantly for so many years. How many had it been? At least six, though I had to add a year to that number due to the landmark I had been using.
  4.         "[Are you ready to go Kotori?]" Kazuna asks, sticking to her zipanguese. It snaps me away from my thoughts and I look up at the fully dressed kappa, wrapped up in her own winter clothing. Ready to brave the cold as much as I am, which is not a lot at all. But it's necessary to get to the patient for the scheduled examination.
  5.         "As ready as ever." I reply, speaking in english on reflex. With all the practice I'd been getting speaking the language it had found a way to stick. Thankfully Kazuna could still understand me, and leads the way with most of the bags being carried by her. I carry my own load out and let her decide which method of travel to take, Kazuna choosing to catch one of the waiting cabs for our ride. It's a nice vehicle with a yeti driving it, something I'm not too surprised about here. Read up on the city before. Founded by yetis or something like that. Of course there would be a lot here. I slip into the back seat once our bags are in the trunk and close the door with the foot handle, it taking a bit of stretching to get the seat belt down and buckled while Kazuna gets in her side. In the end the kappa has to help me to avoid another sprain in my ankle.
  6.         The ride from the airport into town is a bit long but it lets me look out the window at the chillingly cold landscape. At the tail end of December is a rather cold time for the place and even the heater from the taxi doesn't take the chill out of the air. Kazuna manages to down two more small bottles of her spring water on the way to the outskirts of the growing city. Construction of some new mall is on hold at the foundation while the holidays are around and a big sign is advertising the big project to the highway. I recognize the route to the Lowell home, and catch a few small shops that have changed their looks or their purpose in the past year on the way. The large mansion on the hill is still unoccupied, though after that incident years ago I find it hard to believe anyone would want it. Even the spookier people that would love such a deal in a cold climate are dissuaded by the haunting spirits. They supposedly scream in the dark, and blood flows from a spot in a wall where an amazoness was staked up like a decoration with her own weapon.
  7.         I shake the thoughts out of my head and shiver, putting that past of the city behind me. It's a bit hard considering our next destination after the Lowell's place. Kazuna wanted to wait until after the holidays, but I had finally gotten that dangerous woman to agree to see me. It wasn't easy to get permission from the prison system either. Knowing the kind of place I'm going to after makes my feathers puff up under my clothes, which gets another shiver out of me.
  8.         I have to shake my thoughts clear again when a familiar house comes up ahead. I realize it's gotten a new coat of paint since the last year, tunnels dug in the packed snow piles on either side of the walk by some child. Sebastian's truck is there, but Sonia's rough little jeep is missing. She must still be out with the little patient I need to examine today. It makes sense, it is her birthday after all. I can't help but wonder again if December thirteenth was a lucky time to be born just like every year I drop by.
  9.         The taxi slows to a stop before backing into the driveway as Kazuna directs the yeti with her broken english. Once parked, she pays while I step out of the car and stretch my wings out in the sunny winter air. I can see the pink decorations for a forming party inside the home, a blonde kikimora noticing me through the window while finding a place to tie the string for a pinata. She gives an excited wave and I return it to the young adult before folding my wings back up into my sleeves to save them from the chill. Kazuna has our bags out of the taxi by then and I head up towards the door, the same kikimora opening it for us to let us inside.
  10.         "You're early! You can help with the surprise now, in in!" She urges us, closing the door behind us. The inside is warm, so I begin taking off my snow gear while looking around. The room has a big hand painted sign saying 'Happy birthday Noel!' From the looks of it, at least one were-wolf pup helped make it due to the paw prints on one corner. There are little blue snowflakes painstakingly painted around the words, though one seems half finished. The table has bowls of chips and candy sitting on it that the culprit is snacking on, the little long-haired yuki-warashii looking at me with curious blue eyes from her spot on the couch in her nicest clothes. Our bags are place by the door of room beside the main living room that used to the the trophy room, now made into a kid's play area for the Lowell's daughter. It's being used by at least one noisy wolf that keeps yipping while playing some sort of video game but I doubt that is all the kids that are in there.
  11.         I'm out of my winter clothing before Kazuna starts her own and I see a familiar man look out of the kitchen doorway and at us. Sebastian grins and puts the mixing bowl he's holding down before moving over to greet me, still wearing his cooking apron. While the kikimora keeps tending to decorations and other preparations, he's been taking care of the cake.
  12.         "I didn't expect you here until after dinner. I guess I'll need to order an extra pizza with sardines for you two, won't I?" Sebastian asks, Kazuna sighing and sitting on the couch to finally relax. I stay standing, as I've been sitting down for quite a while now already.
  13.         "We managed to catch an early flight after some cancellations. We'll still be gone for the midnight flight, that one we can't move. Need to take a transfer before heading to that place." I reply, following him into the kitchen so he can keep working while we make small talk. "Kazuna isn't going to like it, but by the fifteenth we'll be back home and her boyfriend can comfort her."
  14.         "You still haven't found one?" Sebastian teases, making me wait until after he's done using the electric mixer on the icing to get a frowning reply back at him.
  15.         "I'm far too busy for a boyfriend. I want to have time to pick out a nice one, and I'm still young. It can wait until after I've made my latest paper on kumiho." I huff, turning to face away from Sebastian. I spot the yuki-warashii in the other room looking at Kazuna with curiosity, most likely due to not having seen a kappa before. I hear a ringing noise and look towards the novelty egg timer on the counter that Sebastian shuts off before getting some oven mitts on his hands. He opens up the oven and takes out the fresh cookies, getting them onto a cooling rack as the news of finished cookies is broadcast to everything in the house with a good nose. I can hear the kiki telling them a firm 'Not yet!' in the other room amidst a number of complaints.
  16.         "You better look sometime. Not that it's any of my business. If there aren't people asking you out already, there might not ever be." He teases another time. I just sigh again and try to think of a different topic, deciding to get some business out of the way first.
  17.         "Where is Sonia and Noel? Will they be back soon?" I inquire. Sebastian gets the bowl of icing and a rubber spatula before heading for the round cake cooling on the table, starting to spread the white icing over the angel food pastry.
  18.         "Sonia wanted to take her out for birthday lunch and to shop for her present. They're probably still downtown, most likely talking Noel out of getting a pet bunny. Wants to get one and name it after her best friend, even when we keep telling her no." Sebastian chuckles with a proud grin on his face. "If it were me I would have caved in right away."
  19.         "She does have friends her age over this time. She's been making them at school pretty well then?" I ask, moving out of the way as a little blue oni child with big glasses moves by to get a root beer from the fridge, thanking Sebastian on the way back to the game room.
  20.         "Kids always make friends easily when they're young. But these ones think her being a kumiho is cool, so I'm rather happy about it." He answers. I decide to ask more about the topic, since it came up.
  21.         "There hasn't been any troubles with that?" I inquire.
  22.         "A few. The school almost didn't let her in, before we threatened them with a discrimination lawsuit. Naturally they caved  once that was mentioned. There has been some concern from other parents, but Noel is a quiet girl. She hasn't been making trouble for anyone. To me it seems that blue oni friend of hers like pulling her around to show off." He answers honestly. "That's been about it though. Sonia is well known and liked here. What's the news elsewhere that you've been?"
  23.         I hesitate to answer, but do so anyways.
  24.         "In the developed areas, where kumiho have come out, they've been mostly well received. They are eager to get the medicine I made for them, and most can protect themselves from any of the roughness of transition. In the less developed countries there has been nastier stories. Zipangu is leading the way in protecting them as a part of their own heritage of course. Oddly the mist valley region is in the middle ground. I've examined several dozen and taken samples from all of them myself, with lots more doctors adding to the field. It's a miniature 'gold rush' of medicine right now." I explain to him. "There are those that were captured with what we learned though. None have had more than five tails, besides... well, her." I omit the name. I know the scar that it has left with the family and it's not a good name to just throw out anywhere after what the trial of Yuhyeol Aejong had been like.
  25.         "Going about as expected then. Well, we're in a good place here. As long as Noel has friends she'll be able to deal with any teasing that comes her way." Sebastian nods, satisfied. "It's a shame it's not better though."
  26.         "I know. Lets not worry about it. You didn't tell me how soon those two were getting back." I mention. Sebastian looks up from the cake and at me when he realizes that as well.
  27.         "Oh yeah. They should be back soon, Noel doesn't beat around the bush with what she wants. She's a bit odd like that, but it's a good trait to have. I still don't understand her obsession with rabbits." Sebastian chuckles, "Remember that time you tried to take her stuffed bunny away?"
  28.         I frown and feel the guilt return. The three year old cried for nearly an hour even after I gave the comfort item back, and took the promise of ice cream to let me do the examination that year.  I'm saved from the path of the conversation by the blonde kikimora, rushing into the room as she puts her phone away.
  29.         "Alright, they're heading back now! We have five or so minutes to get everyone into position and ready for the surprise!" She exclaims. She moves behind me and gives gentle pushes to get me behind Sebastian's chair, having me hide behind it before popping up to see the effect on the surprise before letting me stand in position. Kazuna is moved to the kitchen to just sit and relax before the curtains are closed and the kids are herded out of the game room. They're hidden behind corners and the couch, and I count how many there are. Five, which explains why the yuki-warashii was sitting out from games. Most systems and games only supported four players. Besides her there is the black were-wolf pup, the blue oni still sipping at her root beer, a nervous looking were-rabbit with white fur and short brown hair, and a small wurm that I almost mistake for a lamia due to the horns not having developed yet. The kiki has everyone in position and proceeds to keep watch in the window as Sebastian keeps working in the kitchen to get the cake done in time, wanting to spend time with his daughter when she finally gets home.
  30.         It's not long before the lights are turned off and the kikimora takes her spot next to the lights so she can flip them on when the pair enter the home. I question whether it will actually surprise anyone, but remember that Noel is only six. The one that has the most trouble staying still is the were-pup, but the wurm hiding behind the couch is the one with the most focus of all. Did I ever get the name of this kikimora? I've seen her around before, I'm pretty sure she's the neighbor's kid. She's got to be in college by now. I wonder what she's studying?
  31.         The sound of the door 'unlocking' snaps me back to my senses, and I tense my muscles to get ready for the surprise. It seems to take forever before a small creak tells me it opens, and I hear Sonia's voice speaking to her daughter in the doorway. I hear her say the word 'Bunny', and pop up with everyone else as the lights flick on due to the trigger word, spreading my wings as wide as I can in the air.
  32.         "SURPRISE!!!" We all yell as loud as we can manage.
  33.         The little white haired kumiho, her hair cut into a bob-cut with a straight cut over her eyebrows for her bangs, lets out a short sharp gasp before her mouth hangs open, staring into the room right after the surprise is shouted. Her predatory yellow eyes are as wide for her as they can go, but still seem partially closed. After a long moment with her just standing there in her little white dress, she closes her mouth and walks straight through the room and past everyone in it. I watch her move into the kitchen as fast as her little legs can carry her, and she goes right over to Sebastian to hide her face against the leg she latches onto with a loud whine.
  34.         "It's the needle lady..."
  35.         Sonia laughs from the doorway, trying to stifle her giggling when I pout in her direction and the other kids in the room get confused by what Noel meant. Looking back I see Sebastian chuckling himself and pat the fox's head, bending down to lift her up into a large hug to calm his daughter down.
  36.         "Don't worry, the 'needle lady' isn't here to poke you or take Ms. Kisses away Noel. She's just here to give you a checkup, and then you can enjoy your party." He comforts her, the kids crowding into the kitchen to shout their encouragement up at the meek kumiho latched onto Sebastian's sweater. Noel looks back at me, and all eyes follow her own to confirm my intentions.
  37.         "Th-that's right, I don't need any of that this time! I might need to use the stethoscope and have Kazuna measure you, but I don't need to do anything else!" I blurt out, not wanting to ruin the party just by being there. Noel is hesitant, the meek fox glancing away from me before back again. She squeaks out an 'okay' after a few long moments. I let out a sigh of relief as Sonia moves over, giving me a brief but tight hug before carrying the plastic shopping bag with what seems to be a were-sheep blanket to the gift table by the stairs.
  38.         Noel lets herself get set down by Sebastian and gets an immediate hug from the wurm. There is a lot of giggling and congratulations among the kids, leaving me free to watch the group for a few moments. Sonia steps back over and rubs her daughter's head, proud smile on her face.
  39.         "Come on, up to your room and get it over with. You want to watch those movies we bought with your friends, right?" The young mother asks. The little white fox whimpers and looks over at me, making me feel guilty again and regret taking the early plane ride here. But she nods and relieves me from it. The kikimora has some trouble herding the other kids away from her, and Kazuna fetches the bag we need to do the brief examination upstairs.
  40.         The examination goes by quick, and without any oddities being found. For how meek the little kumiho was, she's definitely a very healthy child and hardly needs me to confirm it for her parents. She's glad when Kazuna and I have stopped measuring her and begin to pack up, but immediately begins guarding her bed like I don't know what the large lump at the foot of the white blankets is. I stay away from it, and look at Sonia to give a brief 'nothing strange' before Noel surprises me and speaks to me.
  41.         "Miss... Yamitchy?"
  42.         I look over at Noel, curious and surprised. I wait a moment but she doesn't follow up, so I speak.
  43.         "Yes Noel?" I ask.
  44.         "Y-you're not staying for the night are you?" She asks, pouting. Sonia sighs, moving over and kneeling to speak with her on the same level.
  45.         "Noel, it's rude to ask things like that. You'll hurt Kotori's feelings. And it's Yah-Mah-Oooh-Chee." She corrects her, Noel nodding with a tinge of guilt on her face. I wave my wing back and forth in a gesture to show I don't mind.
  46.         "Don't worry about it. No, I'll be gone by the time you wake up. I'm going to visit someone after this." I answer honestly. Noel actually seems to brighten up, before taking a step towards me and looking up at my face.
  47.         "Are you visiting grandma?"
  48.         The room freezes for a few moments. Sonia is just as surprised as everyone else in the room, eyes wide as she looks at Sebastian behind me. Sebastian answers for me when I don't, not wanting to intrude on whatever they were telling their daughter about her.
  49.         "Yes, she's seeing your grandmother. How do you know about that?" Sebastian asks. Noel looks up at Sebastian with heavy guilt on her face, shrinking down and backing away before a calm hand pats her head and rubs between the ears. "Don't worry, I'm not mad Noel. I just want to know."
  50.         The little fox avoids his gaze, still guilty but ready to at least answer him. "I h-heard mommy talking on the phone... about it..."
  51.         Sonia sighs, almost blaming herself for the eavesdropping. Nobody gets to speak again before Noel does.
  52.         "Can I come?"
  53.         "No!" Sonia snaps, standing up right away. Noel looks at her with surprise, Sonia taking a deep breath to calm herself down before apologizing to Noel directly for the outburst. "Sorry. Why do you want to see grandma? She's in prison because she's done really bad things. The second toughest in the world! It's not a nice place, and she's not a good person." Sonia asks. Noel looks unsure, but Sebastian assures her it's okay when the child looks at him to check.
  54.         "She's the only grandma I don't know..." Noel answers, looking down at the ground.
  55.         "You only have two grandmas though." Sebastian comments.
  56.         "But I don't know mommy grandma." Noel declares with an odd moment of confidence. Sebastian sighs, looking saddened before he puts a hand on the little fox's shoulder to let her down.
  57.         "I'm sorry Noel, but even if you could go with her I don't think it's a good idea. I don't want you meeting her, she'd be the absolute worst influence there could be for you. I want you to be a happy, kind girl when you grow up." Sebastian stands firm. Noel looks at him with a short pleading look, but the stern one on his face defeats it. It's a bit of an awkward moment, but Sebastian ends it by pulling Noel into a tight hug and kissing her forehead.
  58.         "Go play with your friends now. They're probably getting impatient waiting for you. We'll talk about the reasons why when you're older."
  59.         Noel nods, moving around me and heading down the stairs at her own pace once she's dismissed. I let out a sigh of relief, looking at the pair with apologies in my eyes but not getting to deliver them as Sebastian hugs Sonia instead to comfort his wife, the golden haired fox seeming to need the moment of support alone with her husband.
  60.         I head out of the room with Kazuna, and head downstairs to find something to watch on the main television as the movies are started in the kid's gaming room with their bean bag chairs and fresh sodas in hand. It's a bit hard to ignore the noise in the other room, but I end up finding something to spend my time watching. Occasionally one of the girls moves behind me to get something or use the bathroom upstairs, and by the time the first episode of the poorly dubbed zipanguese shows on the special channel for them is over the parents make their way downstairs to join in on the movie viewing. I watch as they move into the other room before looking back at the television, bored with what shows were on. I never did much like television here. Not enough drama shows.
  61.         Seeking to deal with my boredom, I stand and head towards the kid's room to see what is going on. Peeking inside, I see a large television playing a movie with a mouse-girl in explorer gear evading booby-traps and jumping over pits to escape a rolling boulder. The kids are crowded around it with their attention locked onto the action, and I spot Noel's tail batting back and forth as she sits right beside the were-rabbit. Sebastian and Sonia are sitting on the comfy couch that had been left unoccupied, and Sarah had taken to brushing the were-wolf girl's tail while she was distracted. I see a spot on one of the spare bean bag chairs in the room but before I can move in, I hear the doorbell ring.
  62.         As I look I realize I can't quite open a round knob door so easy with my feet and let someone else in the home get it. I hear Noel utter a 'Sis!' before springing up and running past me to the door, fumbling with the knob before actually getting it open. Standing in the doorway with arms full of bags carrying what smells and looks like chicken and other fried food is a black haired fox no older than thirteen, and a two tailed black fox that looks about thirty in age but is clearly much older. Noel ignores the food and runs into the younger one, hugging her tight with her face pushed into the black kitsune's snow jacket at belly level. The pair giggle and laugh at her, closing the door behind to keep the chill out as the white kumiho's tail wags furiously.
  63.         "I'm really happy you could make it big sis. Hello auntie Utagi." Noel looks up at them with subdued excitement, letting go to help carry the food into the kitchen. The pair appreciate the help, and return to the door after to get their snow clothing off while I watch them. With arms empty and jackets off, Noel rushes back and jumps up at the younger fox. The one tailed black fox manages to catch her with an 'oof!' coming out, but a smile sticks to her face as they keep the hug going.
  64.         "Cmon, I wouldn't miss my little sis's big day!" She smiles, looking towards me as I stare and the older fox moves into the kid's room to chat with the other parents. I'm a bit confused by the kumiho referring to the normal kitsune as family, but just chalk it up to them being close friends of the Lowells.  The fox carries Noel into the kitchen, saying something about giving her first pick of the extra food. I decide to follow, not knowing about the relation between the two young foxes before and wanting to observe it. I stick by the doorway of the kitchen, not wanting to disturb Noel with my presence.
  65.         With the buckets from Harpy's Fried Chicken set out on the table, Noel gets up onto one of the chairs to get a good look at what was brought for everyone while the preteen fox gets plates for everyone from the cupboard. She sets them on the table and hands the excited white fox the one from the top of the stack. I can't help but notice that they only got boneless options and fries, but realize that is more suitable for a children's party than whole chicken pieces.
  66.         "Alright, which ones do you want? That there is the spicy bites, those are the extra crispy coating, those are their regular popcorn chicken, and those ones are cheesy. There are regular and sweet potato fries too." The fox asks, her own tail moving back and forth behind her. Noel looks around at the food silently, hesitating in her choice. She looks up at the other fox, ears drooping a bit.
  67.         "I don't know... which do you like Ulani?" Noel asks, getting her head rubbed by the older fox that seems to be resisting the urge to hug the smaller one. The one called Ulani smiles and looks at the food, feigning deep thought with a hum before pointing at the cheesy ones.
  68.         "Those ones, and I'd get the sweet and sour sauce with them. Oh, and the onion rings!"
  69.         Noel seems to brighten up, looking at the cheesy chicken bites before taking a handful to put onto her plate. It's followed by the sweet potato fries, and she takes one of the sweet and sour sauce packs for the food before getting down off the chair.
  70.         "If I don't like them you can have them big sis." Noel states, Ulani giggling at the smaller fox.
  71.         "Alright, hurry up and get back to your movie so everyone else can get some." Ulani urges Noel along. The white fox nods and carries the plate carefully out of the room and back to the kid's room. As soon as she's sat down, five other six year olds rush past me and into the kitchen to get their food. Sarah has to run in and help Ulani keep them orderly and under control, the blue oni and were-pup almost getting into a fight over the garlic bread. The scene almost makes me want to forget about having kids, but that feeling goes away on it's own when I see how well behaved the yuki-warashi is.
  72.         As I hover around the party I start to get sucked in. By the end of the first movie I have the yuki-warashi sitting on my lap as she curiously inspects my wings and plays with my feathers. Eventually dinner comes and goes, a huge load of pizza coming and being devoured just as quick as the chicken from lunch. Finally, it comes time for cake and ice cream as the party winds down and just before kids start yawning. Happy birthday is sung after the neighbors come over to join in, and the sweet desserts are passed out. The yuki-warashii amuses herself by taking over feeding duty from Kazuna. The pinata is split and presents unwrapped, and the neighbors even stop by to visit and get some of the leftover food.
  73.         The party is finished after a time and the adults leave for the night so the kids can have their sleepover in the kid's room. Just the Lowells and six kids in the house, with me and Kazuna ready to leave in a couple hours. I end up sitting with the yuki-warashii having fallen asleep on my lap, forcing me to stay seated on the kid's room couch to avoid waking her up. The other kids are dropping one by one as they watch a movie about a dragon being taught to be kind by a knight, and I giggle when I see Noel holding onto her were-rabbit friend tight as they both fall asleep at the same time under her new were-sheep blanket. The were-pup goes down last, and it's a few minutes before Sonia comes in with blankets to cover up the sleeping girls. She has to use two in order to cover up the wurm's tail, and has trouble tucking the tip under the end even if there is no real need to. Finally she helps me lay the snow child on the couch and put a blanket over her as well, a sigh of relief coming from me as I leave the room and the door is closed once everything is turned off.
  74.         "How am I so tired? All I did was watch kids." I frown, a yawn escaping from my mouth as I use my wing to cover it up. Sonia just giggles at me, amused for some reason.
  75.         "Maybe you aren't ready for a family yet. You get used to being tired when you have a kid around. Noel isn't that hard to keep up with, but she does tire Sebastian out really fast when they play outside." Sonia comments, looking at the wall clock. "When do you leave? It's getting kind of late."
  76.         "I shouldn't need to leave until about nine thirty." I answer, looking up at the clock. I'm actually a bit surprised when I see it's that I only have fifteen minutes to get ready to leave. "Oh, I guess that's now. Thanks for having us over today, it's been really fun." I turn back towards Sonia and smile. The blonde kumiho gives me a tight hug and lifts me up before putting me down.
  77.         "It's been our pleasure." Sonia smiles back, going into thought for a minute before sighing. I stare and wait for her to explain herself, the four tailed fox eventually answering. "Even if she's locked up, mother is dangerous... be very careful when you talk to her."
  78.         The warning seems very real, and I know what they've lived through. Sebastian still has a nasty scar on his chest from the attack. From what I heard he nearly had his heart punctured by the one I was going to fly out to see. I collect my nerves and take a deep breath to calm myself, not wanting to be nervous before I even leave.
  79.         "Don't worry, it'll be fine. She's in the tightest prison outside of The Trench. What could she do?"
  82.         "We are now entering the demon realm Helheim. Please be aware that any magic will cease to function momentarily. If you require the use of magic for a medical condition or for another reason, please inform the front gate once you have departed from the plane. You may have items confiscated before entering the main prison facility. These will be returned when you are allowed to leave. Thank you, and have a pleasant day."
  83.         The announcement wakes me from my light sleep, though Kazuna shaking me helps. I look around the plane before seeing the seat-belt light is on, the belt already put around my waist thanks to my competent assistant. The kappa sitting in the aisle seat groans and keeps one of the air sickness bags open in front of her. I don't doubt that she's filled more than one already on the trip, so I rub her back as best as I can with the joint of my wing.
  84.         The plane is full of guards returning from vacation, family members of prisoners visiting, and plenty of lawyers coming in to see their clients. I even spot several military officers from various countries among the crowd. Just as I'm wondering why the regulars are bracing themselves, the plane hits a sudden shaking round of turbulence. The blue sky from before changes to a muddy red, sun turned black as we enter into the demon realm. Within seconds we've begun landing, the large plane touching down on the flat top of a floating island. There are buildings erected around the small airport, only large enough to handle one plane at a time, most of the above ground construction being for housing the workers. As the plane comes to a halt and attaches to the terminal, the seat belt light turns off and a stewardess starts directing people departing. Kazuna stands up and takes our carry-on bag, leaving me with nothing to carry.
  85.         Leaving the plane we enter the rather normal looking terminal, but with security beefed up to the extreme. A gazer mans the inspection area as passengers are guided through an x-ray machine to check for hidden weapons, it taking a short while as we are in the middle of the group. A dragon passing through is stopped, accepting the magic ring placed around her neck to lock off her fire breath so she can continue on through security.
  86.         After we pass through without event, I make sure Kazuna is feeling alright and help her drink some of her fresh water to replenish her energy. The poor Kappa only has one more flight in her, but that will be all we need to get her back home as long as things go well. I help her along through the terminal and look around for the desk we're meant to check in with. It becomes blatantly obvious once we turn the corner and see a locked off second terminal with armed guards in flak jackets and military grade weapons in hand. A simple desk is placed by the heavy door that leads to the entrance of this second terminal, two armed guards standing on either side of the locked opening.. We walk over to the desk and come face to face with a strict looking anubis in business attire, writing away at forms she inspects with care through her round half-glasses clipped onto her nose. Her ears stand at attention and the red eyes of the woman look up at the pair of us. I feel my nerves rising when the guards by  the door shift their stance towards us, but Kazuna is calm while handing the papers to the black furred woman. She takes the papers in her paws and looks through them with unnerving attention, glancing up at us every now and then. Finally, she makes a decision and nods.
  87.         "Alright, hold on here. I'll call someone up to guide you down. Aejong is currently in lock-up due to a recent incident, and can't be moved to the visiting area." The anubis informs us, adjusting her glasses. I whimper a bit, looking towards the elevator that heads down into the prison.
  88.         "A-are you sure that's safe?" I ask, the anubis looking through a scheduling book for who to call at which phone at that time of day. She looks up from it at my comment, snickering.
  89.         "Safer than flying here. This place might get a bad rap sometimes, but there is little the prisoners can do to you while we're watching." She informs me, though she seems more amused than willing to comfort me. I sigh and let her do her job, calling someone on the phone before going back to her paperwork while we wait in front of the desk. By the time I'm wishing I could sit down to avoid standing on the cold, polished stone under-claw our guide appears from a door in the locked area with a sign above reading 'No prisoners'.
  90.         Our guide turns out to be a huge minotaur. Huge by minotaur standards, and thick with muscle only hidden by her uniform. A pair of huge, foot long horns jut out above her short cut hair, the heavy hoofs clopping on the cold hard stone underneath her. She carries on her belt a huge black metal rod, engraved with magic runes that I can identify are for paralyzing those struck with it. Arriving at the locked doorway, she merely taps the lock with her knuckle in order for the many heavy locks to come undone and for the heavy steel door to open. She stares at us without a word, and I get the clue to lead Kazuna through while the kappa leaves our bag at the desk and takes only a pen and notepad for documenting the encounter. Once we are through the door is locked tight again and the four guards, two on each side, relax their stances again while keeping watch of the silent area.
  91.         I follow the minotaur as she guides us into the elevator, yawn escaping from the large being standing almost twice as tall as me. Kazuna follows along close by my side to avoid falling behind, the heavy door of the elevator closing with an eerie slowness due to the thickness of the steel. Once the doors are closed, the elevator lurches and begins moving down the shaft. It's more of an industrial elevator and has no solid sides to it, made up of heavy bars with a steel gate blocking the entrance once we're moving. The slow pace only unnerves me as I watch solid steel move by for a full minute. Finally the silence is broken by the minotaur who remembers something and digs into a pouch on her belt.
  92.         "Nearly forgot. Need to get these onto you two." She grumbles, taking out two pins that look like blue jeweled eyes. Kazuna takes them and pins one to each of us as instructed, and I finally notice a similar one attached to the minotaur's uniform.
  93.         "What are these for?" I inquire, hoping not to return to the silence from before. The minotaur grins, seeming eager to talk with us.
  94.         "They're for protection. If a prisoner tries anything, that should keep you from actually being touched or harmed. Be ready to fly too, there is a lot of open space in there to do so and the prisoner's wings are bound to keep them from doing the same." She explains. The news only makes me more nervous, and I look to the side when one of the walls gives way to the open space she means.
  95.         The cavernous area is shaped like a drill pointing down, with a winding pathway circling towards the very bottom of the closed off cave. I wonder how it gets ventilation, as I see no grates or other signs of such installations. The whole place appears to be lined with solid steel, with cells for prisoners lining the winding wall with the mess hall being placed at the very top of the spiral. The most striking feature is the light source, a floating orb shaped and looking like an eye glows with a white light near the top of the chamber, shifting around to monitor the inmates. When it's light greets out badges, they light up with the same white light.
  96.         "We'll need to go to the very bottom, that's where lock-up is. Stick close, just in case." The minotaur instructs. I swallow when we stop at the bottom and step out into the guard's area behind the kitchen, a monitoring and communication room guarded and locked tight to one side. I finally notice the ledges of the winding walkway have twenty foot tall fences with razor wire at the top. Two armed guards follow us out of the caged in area and down a barred off walkway beside the cafeteria, exiting just to the side of the busy food area. I can only see nasty looking monsters, with not a human in sight. The prisoners leer back at our group but leave us alone despite how nervous I look. I notice some have a heavy shackles around their neck with runes forged into them, their norse origin keeping me from guessing their purpose. I look at the minotaur as we move down some stairs linking the one level with the other, making me glad that we don't need to walk all the way around.
  97.         "What are those collars for? They seem a bit much." I comment. The minotaur glances back at me before resuming her task as guide.
  98.         "Those lock away natural born strength. Odin's eye up there takes care of magic. Aejong doesn't seem affected by either, we're a bit stumped why she retains her strength here." The minotaur frowns, answering the question lingering in my mind about her lock-up next. "She got approached by an Apophis that runs a gang in here. Thought a fox with no magic would be easy prey. Aejong nearly killed her, despite the five members the snake brought with her. One of them is still in the medical bay."
  99.         I frown at the news and take a deep breath to calm my nerves. On the way towards the next set of stairs I spot a gazer with brown skin watching us with her eye-stalks, the main eye kept shut with a paper seal stuck onto her face.  I don't know why she needs the extra restraint, but don't question it as theories about the Aejong problem come about in my head.
  100.         "Kumiho magic flows inwards to strengthen their bodies... so if the eye prevents it from being cast out, it wouldn't even affect that flow." I theorize, the minotaur glancing back at me again with a surprised look. She ponders it and hums, nodding after.
  101.         "Sounds likely. I'll tell Hela once we're done down here, she'll be able to come up with something if we take that into account." The minotaur grins, feet clopping a bit faster down the stairs to the next level. I follow down and look around, and the lack of prisoners in the area along with the solid steel walls keeping the cells this low shut tell me we're almost to our destination. As we walk around this section, a heavy clanging and angry yelling come from a nearby cell to spook me. I look at the minotaur, who scowls at the noise.
  102.         "Don't worry, not even a crazed ushi-oni like that can break out of here. Solid steel reinforced with magic surrounding the whole facility, inside of a floating island that roams over the oceans of the world so even if someone that could fly got out, they may tire before they find any hint of dry land. They're here until their life sentences are over, or they die of old age." She assures me, snorting at the noisy chamber. We walk past as I try to keep my nerve, Kazuna at least seeming interested in the way the prison is set up. We get to the lowest level and head to a specific doorway, the minotaur guard unlocking part of the door and opening the steel slab. A set of heavy bars block entry, but I can see into the chamber that is lit from inside by a single light bulb on it's ceiling. It's cramped inside, with only a bed and essential fixtures put into the sturdy room.
  103.         And then my eyes fix onto her, commanding my attention with only her very presence. The nine red tails laying on the bed move away from her body, a thick white were-sheep jacket locked onto her torso to keep her calm over the orange jumpsuit she wears like the other prisoners. As she sits up on the bed at the far end of the cell, I can see the half-healed right ear and heavily scarred skin around her forever closed right eye. A curious look is on her face, the piercing left eye sizing me up from her seat. Something catches her attention, and she stands to approach. I back up a bit as she reaches the bars, knowing she can't reach me but still intimidated by her status.
  104.         "Hm... you have a curious scent on you, little bird. You visited my Sonia and that wretch husband of hers before coming here, didn't you?" Yuhyeol Aejong asks to break the silence. I nod and try to gather my nerves, but she follows the question up right away. "What is the name of my grandchild then?"
  105.         "I can't answer that legally." I answer her, speaking the truth. Yuhyeol narrows her gaze to glare at me, but I hold fast despite the cold sweat starting to come to my skin.
  106.         "Very well. What brings one of that family's acquaintance to this foul hole? Do you have business to discuss with me?" Yuhyeol asks, sighing with disinterest as she looks at the minotaur guard beside me and trades leers. Her gaze shifts back to me after a few seconds, returning to boredom. "Do introduce yourself, or have I lost my right to such a formality?"
  107.         "I-I am Kotori Yamauchi. I came here on my own behalf, to study you and ask some questions. You see, I've been studying kumiho for a long time but you are the only nine tailed one that has been confirmed." I declare, shrinking down when the boredom becomes a mild glare.
  108.         "Ah, so it was you who made that 'medicine' they keep adding to my meals. It tastes rather artificial and sour, as much as the fools try to hide it with their pathetic knowledge of spices. So, you wish to pick me apart and dissect me then?" Yuhyeol asks, her voice accusing me. I shake my head no, frowning. I glance at the minotaur and back at her, clearing my throat.
  109.         "No, I don't wish to do that. I've gotten plenty of MRI scans of other kumiho, and although I would like one of yourself it isn't possible. Due to the metal still in your head... It was hard enough just to get to talk with you anyways." I explain, switching to zipangunese for my next question. "[Are you more comfortable speaking in this language? It will make it easier for my assistant to take notes.]"
  110.         Yuhyeol sighs and seems to just be bearing with it, disinterested with the conversation. She answers back with her own accented zipangunese, affected by the dialect of the mist valley region.
  111.         "[Very well. We can speak in whichever language suits your needs. I cannot fathom what questions you would wish to ask of me.]"
  112.         I take a moment to compose myself, glancing at the kappa beside me before shifting my focus back on the fox in front. "[Alright. To tell the truth I am interested in your life, I feel it is an important part of history due to the effects it might have had on events. That noble you killed for one of your tails for instance, he was an opponent of a tax change that the people in the region also were against. So I would like your side of the story for a lot of events.]" I explain.
  113.         Yuhyeol raises an eyebrow as her interest returns, the one good eye sizing me up again before she speaks.
  114.         "[So, you wish to know my life story. Why should I give you such information for free?]" Yuhyeol inquires.
  115.         "[The lilims that run this place have said they would decrease the time of your sentence. I don't know by how much.]" I explain to her, hoping that is enough. She lets out a small laugh, sharp-toothed sneer coming to her face as she takes amusement in the offer.
  116.         "[I'm sentenced to this place for another four hundred years, give or take a couple decades. Taking off another will have little effect on the sheer boredom I will feel for such a long time. Tell me, what is my grand-daughters name?]" Yuhyeol asks, face returning to it's calm, commanding one while waiting for me to give in. I frown, looking at the minotaur that cannot understand the language we are speaking in before back at the fox. I'm hesitant to answer, but don't want the visit to be a bust. I figure she can't possibly get out of here anyways, and decide to give it to her.
  117.         "[Noel Lowell. Now tell me about the early parts of your life. There is no records of you until up to your fourth tail.]" I request, hoping the mix of emotions on the fox's face is a good sign. Yuhyeol ponders for a few moments, and for a second I think she isn't actually going to speak.
  118.         "[I was born in a small village inland, though the name has been forgotten by me. It is likely to have burned down during some event in the past centuries. My mother had made an agreement with this village in order to live with an influential man that had fallen for her despite knowing what she was. She would take care of embalming and preparing the dead for burial, and take the liver to survive. It was a very uneasy peace that lasted only until I was a young child. At that time, a murder was committed during a robbery.]" Yuhyeol starts to recant, recalling the memory as vivid as something that had happened not long ago. "[Despite no liver being missing from the body, and no proof that my mother had committed it the village sought to kill me and her alike. My father betrayed us and joined the mob to hunt us down. I barely escaped, my mother forcing me to flee as she had been shot by a musket and could do no more than limp. They sought me out relentlessly, but I managed to evade their efforts by hiding in a storage shed of sake and rice. I stayed there for days, before sneaking my way out of that settlement at dawn. Hung at the very edge of the village from a strong tree branch with a sturdy rope was my mother, stripped naked and long dead. Full of holes made by muskets, allowed to rot and be eaten by animals as a warning against kumiho.]"
  119.         Kazuna makes sure to take everything down, but I feel a bit disgusted by the story she had told. I could see where her distrust of people came from if she had seen that scene at a very young age, even if it did not make up for what she had become in the present day. After Kazuna finishes with the writing, I try to think of a new question to ask.
  120.         "[What did you do after that? A child alone, it must have been very hard in that time and age.]" I ask. Yuhyeol narrows her eye on me, not answering before I realize she wants more information on Noel. I swallow, knowing I should not. But between the intimidation and my own curiosity, reason loses. "[Noel is six as of yesterday, with pure white fur and hair. She's a bit meek though]."
  121.         "[Is she now?]" Yuhyeol sighs, but gains a smile. She pushes the topic aside and sets out to answer my question. "[It was easier than expected. There was a war going on at the time, and battlefields to loot. The livers were often not fresh, and fouled by the very air around them. I oftentimes found myself digging up fresh graves just to get a meal. Besides that, I found food by travelers shrines to sustain myself. That lasted for a year before I found myself at a temple. I believe it was called the 'Crying Ryuu' temple, after a story with no ending from long ago. Nobody knows whether those tears were from joy or sorrow... in any case, they sheltered me and taught me my combat skills. They knew of my nature, but allowed me the livers of those who died in the region in order to allow me to survive. I stayed at that place for a century, gaining two of my tails in that place.]" Yuhyeol recalls fondly. I already know of the shrine she spoke of, but had no idea she had stayed there herself. I try and question if the story of a kumiho from that place was her or not, telling Kazuna to remind me to research the place again when we had the chance.
  122.         I trade more stories with her for information on Noel, knowing I should not but unable to resist due to the information she was sharing. What her favorite food was, what friends she made, her favorite animal, I told what I knew and hoped that the bad feeling I was having was mistaken. Finally, I run out of things to tell Yuhyeol and she loses interest. I inform the minotaur and she begins to close the door, stopping when Yuhyeol speaks another time.
  123.         "Do come [visit again, when you have more stories to tell. But do make it soon, I am quite impatient to meet my beloved Noel.]" Yuhyeol warns me, sending a shiver down my spine. The door closes and the minotaur sees my nervousness, but doesn't know what the fox has said as she had done so in zipangunese.
  124.         "Don't worry, she ain't getting out of here anytime soon! Hela and Freya won't allow even a single prisoner to escape!" The minotaur chortles. I frown and look at the door that has the nine-tailed fox sealed away, taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm down.
  125.         "I very much hope you are right."
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