Welcome to Book 2!


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Ti16 – Effusive Welcome

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Garnet eyes were brimmed with excitement and unease as they gazed upon the looming silhouettes that replaced mirages in the horizon. The weathered but sturdy Ferret Express sailed smoothly across the rolling tides and etched a beautiful arc upon the azure ocean, unwavering in its path towards the immense continent ahead. Shoulder-length black hair flowed with the crisp breeze while a white-tipped fluffy tail swished restlessly against the ship railing, stiffening nervously when the vessel navigated past the towering structures that were barely concealed behind the dawning mist. The Webgate Fortress, a daunting and impenetrable presence in the distance, appeared to be scrutinizing the movement of the modest ship. Hidden behind the cloudy veil, the Tyradum fort seemed like a whimsical predator, ready to pounce upon its preys whenever it pleased.

Sakura Kurama scowled defiantly at the conceited shadows as she raised her tail like a war banner. It will take more than an imposing presence to intimidate her, for she had narrowly but successfully escaped the Army's pursuit in the Riphaen cities of Kaltrea, Torden and Middleport, and she was now entering a whole new world with a prepared, more experienced mindset.

There, basking under the glow of the rising sun, was the Fenrisyran port city of Xenoc.

The young rebel leader stayed up all night, her heart pounding furiously from the adrenaline rush at their imminent arrival in the Canidae Bay. Traveling by the sea was certainly a new and surprisingly enjoyable experience, because she had expected the monotonous chores to be unbearably tedious since they were confined aboard the small vessel that offered limited entertainment.

However, she came to truly appreciate the relaxing time during this journey across the Theraetou Sea. The young Foxroach casually turned her head to observe the two women sitting on the cabin's roof and smiled lightly at how comforted she was by their presence. Rui Brewfort, the crimson-eyed Vulpine, had her sleeve cuffs and collar loose as if to fully immerse in the cool ocean wind while her sleek tail was loosely wrapped around the twittering blunette beside her. Yutsu, the ponytailed bounty hunter, was caressing the furry appendage as she rested her head against the taller woman's shoulder. Sakura pouted sheepishly when a mischievous wink and a greeting flick of a golden ear were sent her way to indicate she was caught staring, so she harrumphed and turned her attention back to the picturesque scenery.

The black-haired girl was able to reconnect with her guardian somewhat throughout this trip, whether it was from simple conversations or while assisting in some chores. The rabbit-eared woman, who was distant at first for unknown reasons, also interacted with them more naturally later on instead of sitting by herself on the rooftops. While Sakura knew Rui was still adamant in her opinion about the Rebellion, they were able to overlook their differences due to the peaceful, affable atmosphere on this ship full of jolly sailors. It was wonderfully liberating to be Sakura Kurama, a simple teenager who happened to be on a vacation with her family.

The young rebel leader sighed wistfully as she rested her chin on her arm, which was loosely draped over the railing. She hoped their healed dynamic would stay even after they left the ship, but she also knew that was just wishful thinking. Sooner or later, she will have to face the merciless reality of her dream with or without her important people's supports.

"Good morning, Sakura."

"Morning! Come look at the view," the Foxroach's ears perked up in greeting as she gestured for her friend to come forward. "Do you see that? That's Fenrisyr."

"We're here…?" Nita Blackhawk's blue eye gleamed with a mixture of emotions as she gazed at the vast land within reach. "I-I'm back… I've come home!"

Unable to contain her exuberance any longer, she let out a cubbish roar and raised her arms high in celebration before she began to bounce around the black-haired girl, who smiled in both pride and melancholy. Sakura was happy to help bring the bubbly healer back to her homeland yet she was also saddened that their time together was getting shorter. The blonde had become a close friend, someone she could chat just about anything without making her feel guilty if the topics were not related to her cause. Not to mention, both Rui and Yutsu became quite tolerable of the cheerful Bear because of her helpful nature and many more endearing traits.

"So this is Fenrisyr," Rui murmured as she climbed down from the roof.

"Yes, this is it," Yutsu coolly leaped from her perch and gestured at the uneven landscape before their eyes, "welcome to Xenoc."

The four travelers watched in awed silence as the Ferret Express neared the docks, each absorbed in their own thoughts about this new beginning. They had bonded so well but they could neither afford to stay idle anymore nor pretend this was just a recreational trip. How much would their dynamic change once they left the sanctuary of the ship?

Her antennae drooped in trepidation as Paddy McBraidy, the vessel's captain, lowered the ramp and gestured for them to come on land. The black-haired Foxroach almost winced, troubled by her reluctance to step onto the dock and leave behind the past few dream-like weeks.

"Sakura…?"

She took a deep breath and gripped the ever-silent bell around her neck before reaching for Nita's hand. "I'm ok. Let's go!"

A quick glance told her that Rui and Yutsu were getting their supplies, so Sakura just grabbed her own satchel and led the Bear towards the ramp. Like Middleport, Xenoc was a populated port city that had little greenery but it was definitely more crowded than the Riphaen counterpart.

This Fenrisyran metropolis was filled with houses of similar dimensions that were not aligned yet appeared organized in a unique way. Almost all the shorelines had docks for ships of various sizes and purposes, such as the surfers' motor yachts, fishermen's more robust boats, as well as the luxurious cruises for tourists. While it had been breezy on the Ferret Express, Sakura quickly discovered that the Fenrisyran climate was much hotter, rivaling even the warmest months in Kaltrea even though it was only the beginning of March. In fact, the air was humid enough that she knew she would sweat if she stood still for a few moments. Eager to escape the direct sunlight, she hurriedly stepped onto the docks and under the shades of a simple pinnacle tent, where Paddy was waiting. She let out a bated breath when her feet made contact with solid ground after weeks of staying aboard a ship. While she had no problem with the sea, she concluded that she preferred to stay on firm land more.

"Welcome ta good ol' Xenoc, lassies," the Sea Otter grinned crookedly and tipped his cap, "It's a huge tradin' hub. We've got people from Yasumaro and even Lemuria comin' here ta trade."

"There are so many Canines…" Sakura muttered dumbly as she looked over various stalls selling seafood or trinkets, noting the lack of whiskers and much furrier tails on most people, "I mean, I know there should be many of them because this is Fenrisyr and all but still…"

"Ye be surprised if ye go north, there be Felines alright," the Captain smacked a nearby crate with his rudder tail as if he was agitated, "All o' Beryn Peninsula belong ta Tyradum after all. Ye be lucky that Xenoc is strongly influenced by Sidonia."

"Sidonia… one of the Dog Nobles' territory?" Sakura furrowed her eyebrows as she glanced at the mountain range that separated lower Fenrisyr to the central strip of land. She recalled reading and hearing about the city, considering her childhood friend was related to people from the high end of the Dog hierarchy.

"Yep, though them Aragons are all conceited pricks," Paddy chuckled heartedly, "Anyhoo, because o' them, the ratio here is even. The only Felines here are enlisted soldiers and such. Ye should be fine going ta find whoever yer lookin' fer."

"You kids ready?" Yutsu's long ears flicked purposefully, as if gauging the surroundings for a safe path. Her expression was coolly blank even though her voice sounded cheerful as she slung a large duffel bag over her shoulder. Rui was carrying a simple backpack, her visage calm but her agitation was shown through a listlessly flicking tail.

"We're ready, Miss Yutsu! Is there anything I can carry?" Nita beamed up at the twittering woman, eager to help in any way possible.

The blunette lightly stroked her hair, "Just take care of your satchel and spear…and your scarf."

"Scarf? But I don't…" the blonde Bear giggled when Sakura sheepishly and reluctantly retracted her tail, which was about to wrap around the younger girl's waist.

"I couldn't help it," the Foxroach grumbled, "This is still a new land and my antennae have been tingling ever since I stepped onto the dock."

"Your sensor's right," Yutsu smiled airily, "we're on Fenrisyr. There's potentially more danger at every corner than Riphaeus… which is also why we'll be able to blend in well."

"I sure hope so," Sakura glanced at the golden Fox for reassurance only to find the former bartender in a hushed conversation with Paddy. Though curious, the black-haired girl decided to take this opportunity to scan the surroundings. A good leader should always make sure it would be safe to proceed to their next step, which was to find this man named Warren Santiago. What kind of connection did he have with the Rebellion? Was he a supporter or a former member?

Garnet eyes lit up in renewed zest. The lack of Feline oppression as far as she could see was already making her bolder. She couldn't wait to explore this port city!

"Well then, hope ye find yer people, lassie!" Paddy amiably ruffled the giggling Bear's head and held up his thumb, "if ye ever want ta visit ol'Middleport again, just call me crew and we'll get ye there!"

"Thank you so much, Mr. Paddy," Nita bowed sincerely to express her gratitude, and Sakura quickly did the same albeit awkwardly.

"Don't mention it," he took off his cap and saluted, "remember what we talked about on the ship! Try out the fish around the port cities, they're all pretty damn good… nothing compared ta me home Rainwall of course, bahaha! See ye!"

Sakura found herself hopping and waving until the friendly Sea Otter disappeared behind the ship's cabin, presumably to check on the inventory or to talk to some of the staff team. The rest of the sailors on deck also bid them farewell before returning to their work. While the black-haired girl enjoyed their company, she was also glad to have parted with these honest crewmen. After all, they were simple civilians who kindly helped them escape Middleport and safely reach Fenrisyr. She didn't want to involve him any longer in case their lives got ruined like Rui's.

The young rebel leader hastily shook off the dangerous thought and tentatively scooted near the golden Fox, who was still staring at the ship with an unreadable expression. "So um… do we just start asking around where Warren lives…?"

"That will take you days, Sa-chan," Yutsu shifted her weight and began to walk ahead without sparing them another glance, "you're lucky I know this place quite well."

The Foxroach was taken aback by the bounty hunter's sudden aloofness and glanced at Rui again for an explanation. The golden-haired woman flicked her ear irritably but did not look at the two teens either. "Just follow her, Kit, I'll bring up the rear."

Sakura's ears drooped, saddened that her prediction of their dynamic crumbling was starting already. However, a gentle push from a golden tail against her back cheered her up. The two teens hurried after Yutsu, whose posture was relaxed in spite of her brisk strides.

Now up close, the black-haired rebel leader truly understood that she was in a foreign land, which blew away her painstakingly organized plans to lead her party to the destination. She wasn't as prepared for the overwhelming unfamiliarity as she thought, and that caused her newfound confidence to falter. In spite of the similarities she noticed about Middleport and Xenoc, the sheer presence of this Fenrisyran port city dwarfed her in many ways, reminding her that there was so much she had yet to discover about Riphaeus, let alone the rest of Drasgard. Though the air was humid, it also felt fresher due to the absence of smog and other pollution. No towering structures or skyways blocked her view of the clear sky, thus she was able to feel the heat of the sun upon her back. She discreetly glanced around to pinpoint the smokestacks and noted how the fumes were all blown towards the mountain range thanks to the gales from the ocean, giving the atmosphere an elating sense of liberty.

However, instead of the freedom she should have felt, the unfamiliar distribution of species made Sakura more conscious of lurking danger. It had been easy to distinguish friend or potential foe back on Riphaeus, mostly due to the Felines' uniforms. But now, everyone seemed to regard them with wary interest, even the vendors had cautious gleams in their sharp eyes. As she walked through the dirt-speckled roads, she couldn't help but pull Nita closer and adjusted her pace to Yutsu's so they weren't too far from the nonchalant blunette. The predominantly Canine population made her just as nervous as she had been on the Feline-filled streets of Kaltrea. Naturally, she kept her gaze trained on the older woman in front of her in case she invited unwanted attention, but her keen hearing could still pick up murmurs about them. Perhaps the two teens' outfits were unusual, unlike Rui's casual wear and Yutsu's cloaked get-up. They had already walked past a few individuals dressed like the bounty hunter but these strangers quickly looked away, as if they recognized the blunette or were intimidated by her warning stare. Sakura made a mental note to change her outfit as soon as possible, though she doubted Nita would discard her native dress. For the sake of convenience, they should get traveling cloaks since most of the people near the docks wore them.

On the other hand, the black-haired girl's pelage was more common here, so she was able to calm down her pounding heart to an extent. Since she wasn't able to understand some of the local dialects, she decided to block out the background noise and focus on Nita's excited chatters. Even then, she saw the Bear's twitching tail reflecting the blonde's nervousness due to the unfriendly stares at her tribal outfit.

Fortunately, the strangers' attentions on them gradually faded once they've turned enough corners and entered a narrow but bustling road, probably because they were finally labeled as mere tourists. Sakura exhaled anxiously as she looked around the neighborhood, noting how the similar appearances of the houses did not distinguish the social status of the residents. So far, everything seemed balanced, that the area was neither clean nor dirty and was filled with roughly the same amount of traders and casually clothed locals. The atmosphere was not welcoming yet it did not feel hostile either. Perhaps she was getting too worried over nothing.

"Don't relax just yet, Sa-chan," Yutsu spoke up quietly, just enough for her to hear, "some of the Canines here are affiliated with the Felines, so don't trust anyone easily. It takes experience to distinguish between a tamed mutt and a free dog."

"R-right," Sakura immediately straightened her posture and raised her tense tail before it could sweep the ground, "but is there a… quick way to tell? Like, uniforms or something."

"None of the authorities are to be trusted," the blunette twittered as she used her antennae to gesture at the Spaniels across the street. The tall Canines, clad in collared red jackets, didn't behave like the policemen back on Riphaeus, for they looked too cozy in their patrol with the unprofessional way they dressed and talked. "You can be sure the majority of them are bribed by anyone with wealth or connections."

"Figures, they're all the same no matter which country we are," Rui growled lowly and glared at the Dogs with utmost disdain. Sakura glanced at her guardian, whose stature remained tense and restless as she constantly surveyed the surroundings for possible pursuers by flicking her ears every now and then. The younger Vulpine hastily turned away, afraid to provoke the displeased woman more than she already had. It was obvious that the golden Fox had no desire to find Warren but she also understood the importance of meeting a friendly face in this new world, which probably evoked another cycle of frustration.

Yutsu, on the other hand, seemed just as at home as she had been on Riphaeus with the way she easily maneuvered around the blocks and choosing the correct path out of the many meandering roads.

"So where are we going, exactly?" Sakura asked gingerly after they've passed another intersection. This neighborhood appeared more welcoming due to the hearty laughter and boisterous conversation between the locals, who did not seem to mind their presence after a cursory glance upon their arrival.

Smiling, Yutsu stopped in front of a large two-story building and gestured at the wooden swing doors. "This is a mess hall where most of the employees of the Pirines Mining Company come to eat all three of their meals. Let's see if ol'Monocle is inside."

Sakura blinked at the nickname, sensing the blunette must be referring to Warren but she was also surprised by the familiarity.

"You should get used to it, Kit," Rui tightened her grip on the backpack's strap as she followed after the bounty hunter, "Yutsu's been around many places, especially Fenrisyr. I won't be surprised if this Warren turned out to be one of her contacts."

Since the golden Fox still sounded edgy, the black-haired girl hastily went inside the building as well.

"It's pretty empty," Nita murmured as the inquisitive blue eye darted around the almost vacant hall, where the tables were sparsely occupied by either napping patrons or those reading newspaper. "I can hear people talking though…"

"That's because the miners are at the back," Yutsu led them towards the counter, where a young but curvy girl was sweeping the floor with a broom. The stranger's thin and furless tail flicked as they neared, causing her to turn around to greet her guests. Frowning, Sakura tried to guess her species but the greyish wavy hair and lack of obvious characteristics made it difficult to tell. Based on the tail though, she deduced that the well-endowed worker was probably a Desman.

"Dios mio, si no es el conejito azul?" The girl flicked her tied hair behind her shoulder and blinked at the bounty hunter before laxly hugging her. "Another mission, Blue Bunny? Well no matter, it's great to see you again. It's been awhile, si?"

"Yup," the blunette returned the gesture readily and smiled, "I'm not on a mission this time. See, I've brought some people with me, hmm?"

"You don't say," the dark-haired stranger raised an eyebrow at them and casually rested her weight against the broom. "You're from one of the tribes of the Plains north, aren't you?"

Surprised that the attention was on her, Nita fidgeted but nodded eagerly when she realized the Desman's gaze was friendly. "Yes I am… you know of us? I'm aware that not a lot of our tribesmen come to the city areas…"

"I've met some of them and they're alright," the girl winked at the blonde, "you're the first non-Coyote I've seen though. You two… I want to say you're Foxes but you look nothing like the ones I know, too tall and too short. In fact, this one looks like un Gatito."

Rui frowned at the stranger's blunt observation but remained silently aloof, while Sakura bristled instantly at the common remark. "I'm a Fox! And who are you calling short? You're not so tall yourself!"

"At least I have curves," the Desman shrugged nonchalantly and even twirled around once to show off her body and ran her hand down her curvy figure, "you, gatita, are flat as a board."

Before the frizzled Vulpine could yowl her protest, the smirking girl added, "by the way, you're not allowed inside. Your tail is too dirty."

"What! It didn't touch the ground today, not once!" The Foxroach buzzed in protest and spun around to look at her guardian imploringly, "I swear, Foxy!"

As edgy as the golden-haired woman was, she merely quirked her lips in amusement at her charge's plight.

"I bet I can dust your tail like how one does to a carpet," the Desman chortled and lifted her broom in playful threat.

"Now now, that hissy little thing is," Yutsu lowered her voice, though she was still twittering, "the current rebel leader."

Instead of looking impressed, the stranger quirked a perfectly plucked eyebrow in scrutiny and sighed. "No wonder they got chased out. Alright, now I sort of get why you're here… come inside then."

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Incensed by the dismissal and jab at their escape, Sakura growled and marched right up to the indifferent Desman.

"Mona here is Warren's daughter, Sa-chan," Yutsu grabbed the buzzing Foxroach by the cuffs and began to drag her towards a corridor connecting to the back of the building, where the conversational noises were getting louder as they neared the dining halls.

"What!"

Mona stuck out her tongue and winked before she completely ignored the furious rebel leader in favor of chatting with the shy Bear. Again, Sakura glanced at Rui beseechingly, but the older Vulpine only tilted her head, as if saying that the other girl had a point.

Huffing, the black-haired teen folded her arms and tried to suppress her rage at the treatment. Hopefully the annoying Desman's father would not react the same way, because there was only so much she could take.

Just as the noises implied, the mess hall was filled with burly Mole miners bantering as they ate their meals. Fortunately, Sakura was not intimidated by their stature or number since she used to eat in a similar fashion with her compatriots too. The aching nostalgia was gone the next moment though, when she noticed someone who stood out in the crowd of brawny men.

The young woman was wearing a yellow hardhat and construction gloves, indicating her affiliation with the mining company. She had her long thick auburn hair braided and casually slung over her shoulder to the front, reaching as far as her belt. Her knotted half tank top and jacket with rolled-up sleeves showed that she was completely at ease in this warm climate. Her black-tipped furry ears perked at their arrival, making the large magenta earrings jingle, while her long bushy tail wagged happily as she took off her hat and stood up from her seat.

"Mi amiguita!" Sprinting, the pretty brunette half-tackled Yutsu into a heartfelt embrace, squeezing tightly before kissing her cheek in an affectionate greeting. "What brings you here? I've missed you…"

Sakura blinked slowly in disbelief as the usually apathetic or obviously fake-flirting bounty hunter responded just as sincerely with a peck on the Canine's forehead. "I've missed you too, Esme. Something's came up, we need to meet ol'Monocle as soon as possible. I don't see him here though…"

"Warren should be back any moment," the brunette nuzzled the twittering ponytailed woman one more time before loosening her hug. "They are…?"

Yutsu introduced them simply, though the friendly Canine smiled knowingly when Rui's name was spoken. "I'm pleased to meet you all! My name is Esmeralda Quintana, Yutsu's friend and the co-owner of the Pirines Mining Company."

"As well as our highly-esteemed engineer, reliable manager and brilliant geologist," Mona added proudly as she looped an arm around the tall brunette's, "she's the person who plans where the mine shafts should be dug."

"Oh, cool…" Sakura didn't know what to say. For one, she was still trying to adjust to the closeness between Yutsu and Esme. She also knew next to nothing about mining, other than using explosives to excavate something. Not liking the uncertain feeling, she glanced at Rui for reassurance only to find the golden Fox frowning in bemusement.

"So when did you arrive, Yutsu?" The Canine asked worriedly as she quickly glanced over the blunette for any signs of injury, "Was there any trouble in Riphaeus?"

"We just arrived not too long ago, Esme, as for Riphaeus…"

As if sensing that the topic should be kept discreet in spite of the noise level in the mess hall, the brunette simply nodded and tried to usher them towards a vacant table near the back. "Maybe you should all get some breakfast while we wait for Warren…"

Sakura flattened her ears, not knowing how to treat the two strangers. Mona seemed to be getting along with Nita just fine, while Esme hadn't teased her and appeared to be a kind person. They were Yutsu's friends so they should be trustworthy, right?

"Hmm, food can wait for a bit longer," the bounty hunter's long antennae flicked towards the corridor they had come from, "looks like he's here."

Gulping in anticipation, the young rebel leader faced the entrance in time to see a short but built man walking towards them with a light limp. He had short, light-grey hair and thick mustache and beard, as well as a protruding belly that was held in place by suspenders. However, the dignified way he held himself made him appear larger and intimidating. Even the cane he held seemed to demand respect as he fixed his red overcoat and looked at his guests with an austere scrutiny through the monocle.

Sakura also noticed a lone TNT stick hanging from his belt like how classy men would wear a pocket watch.

"Hnnf, I didn't expect you to be here as well, Yutsu," Warren Santiago raised a thick eyebrow at the twittering woman before turning his gaze upon the black-haired girl.

She hastily broke out of her trance and approached him with steady steps. "My name is Sakura Kurama, Mr. Santiago," she spoke respectfully and took out the crest Heidi had given her, "I'm here because-"

"Please, call me Warren," the Desman said calmly and held up a gloved hand, "I've received word and was expecting you all. Let's discuss this matter further at the place you'll be staying."

The Foxroach's eyes widened, wondering if Tal was the one to send the message. However, she swallowed her question and dutifully followed Warren as he led them out of the mess hall. There were so many questions swirling in her mind and she still hadn't adjusted to this new land yet. She was reeling from the culture shock and the apprehension that her mission had truly started anew.

At least, step one was done.

What will await her after this?


"Let me put your belongings in the room," Esmeralda chirped cheerfully as she gathered the party's bags, wagging her tail like a friendly pooch.

"Mi Hermosa perrito, this isn't a hotel you know?" Mona shook her head exasperatedly as she placed her weight on one leg, "we don't have to play busgirls." But the Desman followed the Dhole's example anyway.

"Si, I know that," the company partner smiled hospitably as she took Nita's satchel to be deposited in the cabin's bedroom. "But they are still our guests."

Rui Brewfort watched the two young women chatter from the corner of her eyes. They were going from one corner of the cabin to another, busying themselves into making their guests at ease. She did not expect such a welcoming company when they landed at the docks. In fact, she anticipated another Torden in her near future, a closed, hidden bunker dug amongst the sewers.

But, apparently, she had been wrong.

"Everyone, come on over here." The short man named Warren Santiago called her contingent of refugees towards the larger chamber of this two-room cabin. The mustached Desman had led them several blocks away from the mess hall to an isolated compound that had rows of simple and seemingly disposable housing for miners and their families.

The small flat-roofed house was compartmented into two halves, truly exhibiting its rudimentary and almost standardized look. The first half served as the living room that had benches instead of couches, a small table littered with various items, and a kitchenette space that only had a coffee press, a rack of mugs, and a portable stove. The second half was the living quarters, where Rui found two bunker beds and a single nightstand that had a basic lamp.

No matter how the Fox looked at it, the place was definitely not built to entertain guests.

Then again, Xenoc did not seem to be a tourist destination in the first place. The port city was expansive, perhaps the size of a Kaltrean district, but it lacked the skyscrapers and wide arterial roadways that the Riphean capital and Middleport boasted. Instead, Xenoc was like a city of rugged misfits, full of people who looked worse for wear and had a wretched sort of gleam in their eyes. Crawling with clusters of tightly-packed apartments and dilapidated commercial buildings, it looked like a town that was about to experience an economic recession.

At least that was the impression Rui got during her trek with Warren and his company. Perhaps it was the lack of Felines that influenced such an image. After all, in Riphaeus non-Felines were usually low on the social food-chain of salaries and available living space.

She learned this fact through experience.

Their host seemed to be the type of man to know that truth as well. The golden Fox had observed the graying Desman as they walked from the mess hall, and felt a certain affinity for him. The slight limp, the almost inaudible grumblings, and stiff way Warren walked somehow reminded the Vulpine of her grandfather, Taichi, from her childhood days. The silent and austere demeanor was also reminiscent of the late Fox as well, a stature of a person who bore a heavy burden upon his shoulders.

"Please, have a seat," the short man gestured to the wooden chairs that flanked the square table of the living room. Sakura immediately complied, obviously attentive to this formerly unknown ally that was tasked of housing her and the rest of their group. Nita was more nervous but she also politely took a seat upon Esmeralda's gentle coaxing and promise of giving her some breakfast to eat. Seeing no reason not to take the offer, Rui also pulled a chair and sat down as well.

"Let me just put this here," the Dhole good-naturedly placed a small basket of simple foods in the middle of the table. It had some thin flatbreads, or tortillas as the auburn-haired young woman called it, some cheese, and a couple of smallish fruits that look much tinier than their Riphaen counterparts.

"Yutsu, why don't you sit down?" The Canine wagged her tail in befuddlement.

"No," the blunette smirked at ease, her dutiful antennae swaying at attention. "I'm alright here. I don't want to distract ol' Monocle from what he's about to say. I have a feeling that it'll be a long speech~"

The man in question snorted in response.

"So, Warren," the young Foxroach leaned forward on the table, her ears perked and her garnet eyes full of questions, "who told you about us? H-have you heard from anyone since then?"

Stroking his mustache, the Desman placed his cane against the table before answering, "It was Heidi who sent me the note. It arrived about a week and a half ago, obviously sent not too long before you had to evacuate Torden." He then shook his head slowly, "I haven't received word since then."

The girl's ears drooped at the recollection of what happened to the Rebels' Headquarters and lack of correspondence from the others who were involved. "Oh, I see…"

The sad expression on the Kit's face made Rui wonder what happened to those who were left behind, but their host did not give them time to ponder for much longer.

"What happened in Riphaeus was unfortunate, even more so because it spelled the death of Hector's Rebellion." The man ground his teeth together, a habit often shared by Rodents, "however, Talskhan wouldn't have sent you here if he planned on giving up, so I will do him and you a favor for old time's sake."

After sniffing sharply and wriggling his mustache, Warren took a tortilla from the basket and tore a piece, eating it before sharing his story. "I was once a member of Hector's Rebellion… some twenty or so years ago. He just started the movement then, slowly gaining ground and supporters here in Fenrisyr while Tyradum showed the first throes of unrest. Miladenyd went through country-wide mourning over the death of their long-time leader, signaling the onslaught Hector and his comrades foresaw. With a young new Tyr at the helm, and the string of suspicious deaths of Symvolo leaders that came sooner after, it was only a matter of time before Ruryk's ambitions became apparent."

The young rebel leader's eyes widened at those simple statements alone, for it held information that was not usually talked about. Even Rui only knew the basic gist of what the Desman was telling them. The Symvolo was a world-wide ruling body that consisted of notable world leaders. It governed global politics, wrote treaties, and provided financial and economical support to its member nations.

If she could remember correctly, the current incumbents of the Symvolo were Tyr Ruryk VII of Tyradum, Alpha Hugo Currumpaw of Fenrisyr, High Queen Lei Yi of Lemuria, Emperor Erised Zalamandros of Samaria, and Governor Salvatore Manzalla of Vertalis.

"Suspicious deaths…?" Sakura's whiskers were taut upon hearing the words. It was expected though, since a Symvolo representative held the same esteem as a country's ruler, and it was for that very same reason that a nation was usually represented by its leader.

"Hnff, you're too young to know about these things," Warren chewed hard, almost to the point in which she could hear his molars grinding against each other, and swallowed. "Shortly after Ruryk came into power, the Paramount Chief of Vertalis, King Burdock Birchkov, and the High Alpha of Fenrisyr, Craven Fenrisulfr, unexpectedly perished, giving the Tyr more sway over the Symvolo. Pair that tragedy with the weakening of the Miladenyd Principalities, and, pssh, the world stage turned into shambles."

Rui frowned, unfamiliar with these names, but she was also not surprised at the influence Tyradum had over its citizens. This version of the story was definitely not the one told over in the Feline Empire. Over there, Burdock had died in a storm whilst traveling by sea, while Craven had a barbaric bout with a wayward and ambitious subordinate who wanted to be the High Alpha. Their deaths were both justified and thus easy to accept. Moreover, it reinforced the views Felines had of Herbivores and Canines, unable to swim and barbaric.

"Anyhow, Hector recruited quite a few Fenrisyran leaders, including the support of the Dog Nobles from the south and some of his friends from the Beryn Peninsula to the west. I joined them as a young man fearful for the fate of his country," Warren cleared his throat and sipped some water before continuing his story. "But Ruryk proved to be more cunning than anyone would have imagined. Not only did he target his closest neighbor, Miladenyd, and he also had the gall to send troops here in Fenrisyr, the event we now call the Beryn Invasion."

Though she was completely immersed in the tale, Rui caught Nita flinching from the corner of her eyes. The young Cub's posture was tense at best as she listened in, gripping the edge of her seat so hard that the knuckle of her ungloved hand turned white. Central Riphaeus was mostly controlled by Tyradum twenty years ago, so the takeover had been the most peaceful in Kaltrea during that time. The golden Fox could only imagine how things were in places where actual battle took place, and seeing how Xenoc still seemed to be recovering from such trauma, the situation had been dire at best.

The blonde Bear had been born during the aftermath of the Invasion, was she not? The Vulpine furrowed her brows. There were too many untold stories, and they only seemed to get worse and worse.

"Webgate Fortress was built to secure Tyradum's hold over Fenrisyran shores," the Desman fiddled with his monocle, wiping it with a handkerchief he had fished out of his coat's pocket, "you probably saw it as you came into the docks. But even in their loss, many Fenrisyran Canines, Rodents, and Bears, still gathered under the banner of this Feline who dared stand up against his kind, Hector Arthland, and attempted to regain a foothold in southwestern Fenrisyr. However, with brilliant and powerful young commanders—names like Srikhan Mahesvara and Rakayah Strider—and a superior force, Tyradum still beat them down in the Battle of Hodous, twelve years ago."

Sakura's ears visibly drooped as she heard the fearsome battle that chased the Sabertooth and his group to Riphaeus. Rui knew little about the rebels in a personal sense, but she knew of the Battle of Hodous, the event that was still known as the crowning glory of Tyradum's top generals. As a child, she remembered all the banners and celebration in Kaltrea upon the conclusion of the Beryn Invasion, for the Riphean capital rarely celebrated anything in its gloomy trek to keep up the status quo. Back then, the metropolis was buzzing in its busyness, its workers up to their necks with jobs to provide Tyradum with the supplies needed to keep up with two battlefronts.

Warren scratched his bushy mustache and grunted to regain their attention, "I used to provide Hector with dynamite, hoping that they would be able to take Webgate down before it became operational. However, after I was injured in Hodous, I had no choice but to give up fighting. Fenrisyr was sucked dry at that point, exhausted and broke due to the Beryn Invasion. With a daughter to provide for and a clan to keep afloat, the most I could do for Hector was secure his escape from these shores."

"Papi," Mona interjected as she fingered a lock of hair over her shoulder, "when you told me this morning that you'll tell them about what happened back then upon Heidi's request, I didn't expect you to actually go all~ the way back. Look, the black mop is turning white."

Indeed the Foxroach was quite pale.

Warren coughed and cleared his throat loudly, to hush his daughter and to excuse himself from telling such a long-winded tale about Fenrisyran history. "Right… ahem! I know not why Heidi and Talskhan would send you here because it's really not any better here in many respects, but I can provide you food and shelter until you are ready to move on."

"O-oh," the black-haired girl stammered, her disorderly tail swishing restlessly and thoughtfully. "We need to get Nita home first and foremost. And well… I want to look for a way to help Tal and Heidi out somehow."

"I see…" the old man examined the Cub through his monocle, "hnff… Blackhawk clan. They shouldn't be difficult to find if you go further north. I must warn you, however, that the Plains' tribes have their own politics, but I suppose la muchacha here is quite familiar with it. As far as helping the rebellion—or what remains of it— I cannot provide anymore assistance. Things are not looking well for myself and my company, and we are already struggling. We are in no shape to fight… not anymore."

For a moment the Desman was quiet, his eyes full of sorrowful regret. "We are pinned down by necessity, young rebel. Men will always prefer food over freedom… Perhaps you should go back to where Hector's struggle began… in Hodous."

"Hodous?" The girl audibly gulped but there was a peculiar glint in her eyes upon hearing the city's almost legendary name.

"Yes," Warren was unaffected by all eyes trained on him and held his head high, seemingly over his brief bout with his present worries. "It is only two stations away from here, pequeno Zorro. Even now the place is still abuzz with insurgent activity. The wounds left behind by the Invasion are still raw, and many seek some sort of justice, no matter how twisted it may be. I'm certain that some only want to taste blood, disguising it behind a blind and shallow sense of patriotism. Hnff… it's not like Fenrisyr is a single country in the first place."

"And it is that division and lack of unity that spelled our doom," Esmeralda, who had been silent during all this finally spoke up, her voice vastly different than the one she used to greet everyone earlier this morning. The stern and mature quality of the Dhole's words immediately attracted Rui's attention. The Canine's hazel-green eyes that used to shine in kindness were now hard and serious, and her tail that used to wag in a friendly display was now still, held high in confidence and astuteness.

Instinctively, the golden Vulpine knew this young woman to have the qualities of what Canines called an alpha.

To exemplify her point, Esmeralda walked over a banner that hung on the cabin's wall. On it was a three-headed lupine designed very similarly to the tattoo that adorned Rui's back. "There are three major realms in Fenrisyr, ruled by three races of Canines," the Dhole explained, "to the south is the Dog Alliance, which consists of powerful and wealthy nobles. Just to our north are the vast Plains, inhabited by the free and nomadic Coyote tribes." The auburn-haired girl smiled gently at the blonde Bear, "one of which Nita here belongs to. And finally, to the far north are the Wolf packs, the most influential and dominant presence here in Fenrisyr."

Each of the three representatives of the Canine race was symbolized by each of the heads in the banner, evident by the various emblems on each of the heads. One of the busts even wore feathers behind its ear similar to the ones Nita had.

"These three sovereign bodies are not usually cooperative with each other, especially the Dogs and the Wolves," the young businesswoman helpfully explained, "and it was because they joined forces too late that the Beryn Peninsula did not escape the clutches of Tyradum. It is unfortunate, not only because Fenrisyr lost its true freedom, but also because it lost a whole race of people," Esmeralda gentle touched Nita's head, smiling sadly and understandingly at the blonde girl's downcast demeanor.

"The Beryn Invasion ended the stewardship of Bears in Canidae Bay."

Rui stared at the Cub who was trying hard to look brave, but the unimaginable slew of emotions in the girl's lone blue eye told many tales, most of which were about loneliness. Though daunted by the Desman and Dhole's speeches, Sakura did not miss the unease from her friend and immediately wrapped her fluffy tail around the blonde, who smiled gratefully and held the furry appendage for comfort.

"But there are still rebels out there trying to retake Canidae Bay from Webgate," Warren took over the explanations as the auburn-haired girl took her place near a perfectly emotionless Yutsu leaning against the kitchenette's counter. "The most notable one is the Balkans, a group of renegades led by a man named Conrad Balkar."

"Conrad Balkar…" Sakura parroted as she looked down at her own tiny hands.

"Yes," the Desman stroked his thick beard, "he is a proud Mastiff who wants to amass a large enough force to infiltrate and take down Webgate Fortress. As far as I know, he admired Hector greatly and had supposedly promised to finish what he had started over twelve years ago." Warren then suddenly snorted, "aside from that, he's the only one I know who has done anything significant around here since Hector left."

"Where can I find him?" The Foxroach immediately asked with zeal, making Rui scowl. She did not like the tone in the girl's voice for it promised another encounter with revolutionaries, and it pained her to hear the utter excitement in the Kit's tone. It was as if she only lived for the sake of that farfetched dream.

"Like I said earlier," the old man half-hopped off his seat and stiffly straightened, no doubt his old injuries affecting him, "start where Hector began."

Sakura stood up as well and bobbed her head, "in Hodous!"

Warren sniffed and tapped his cane on the wooden floor as if testing its balance. "Yes… though I must say…" he looked at the Kit from the tips of her ears to her feet, "you're young. Even if you have Hector's fire in you, tread carefully, Sakura Kurama."

The man then twirled the stick of dynamite before scrunching his face and looking at his pocket watch, "I must go back to work. We can talk again later but if you have questions, just talk to Esme." Turning towards the Dhole, Warren nodded and procured a folded piece of paper, "just some numbers for you to crunch, Mija, but don't bother with it until later. I know you have a lot to catch up on with Yutsu."

To everyone else, the Desman bowed almost gallantly, like a true gentleman. "Pardon my leave. For now, please relax… and perhaps enjoy the feeling of being on solid ground again. Hasta luego, senoritas."

And with that Warren left the party in the cabin.

"Hay~ mi papi y su adioses extravagante," Mona sighed in fond exasperation as she sauntered towards her guests. "That's his only form of dramatics I suppose…" Swishing her long furless tail, the young Desman smiled almost too sweetly at the guests in such a way that made Rui realize that this girl might be dangerous in the future.

That is the smile of a heartbreaker…

"In any case," the mousey-haired girl flicked her wavy tresses before she sat on the table, her voluptuous hips well-developed for one so young, "there's really nothing worth noting in Xenoc, so if I were you… I'll just laze the day away here in the cabin. But if you're one of those restless types," she pointedly looked at Sakura, who immediately scowled at the attention, "then that's alright too. No one will bother you here, especially if you don't have dineros, si?"

The golden-haired woman quirked an eyebrow at the strange new language that the Desmans preferred using. In fact, Mona spoke with a heavy accent that rolled 'r's and made them sound like a growl. Perhaps it was a Canine thing, since Esmeralda used the same language. However, the Fox also knew that to some people, the slurring would sound like a Feline's purr as well.

"No to precupes que Sa-chan va caminando a qual quire lugar." Yutsu twittered as she went over and pinched the yowling Foxroach's cheek, "estaba sacudimiento sus whiskers muy fuerte camindo aqui con los otros."

"What are you saying?" Sakura buzzed loudly, obviously getting frustrated at not being able to understand what the other two were talking about.

"Oh, nothing~ just telling Mona here how incredibly adorable you are, Sa-chan~"

"I don't trust you, you damn Roach! You're teasing me again!"

"Aha~ ella es muy salvaje~" the Desman laughed heartily, unfazed of the black-haired girl's vibrating rage.

"Now, now…" the Dhole clapped her hands to stop the escalating teasing. Right on time as well since Sakura seemed ready to pounce on Yutsu and Mona. "Let's not be mean to each other, si? There are still many things that we must attend to… like what they'll need while they're here and such."

"Again, mi hermana perrito, we're not maids. And besides, I'm just trying to get to know them better, si~" The Desman even winked for effect.

"Still," Esmeralda insisted and shooed the Rodent from the table, "vayase preparar la amuerza."

"Eh…?" Mona whined and pouted but did not resist getting pushed away by her friend, "the stuff we have won't even make decent quesadillas."

"Oh, just go," the Dhole giggled and nudged the Desman, "I will prepare the bedroom for them."

Rui watched the two with mild interest as she stood up from her seat. It seemed like Yutsu had known them for a long while, judging from how easily and how genuine the Rabbit was when talking to them. Moreover, Esmeralda behaved like a person who had not seen a close friend for a very long time. Because of this, the Fox wondered why the bounty hunter never told her about the Dhole before.

Then again, it was not as if the blunette ever told her about her contacts in the first place, nor did she tell her about her missions other than those that have irked her enough. Nonetheless, the golden Fox was baffled about her new discovery, especially since Esmeralda seemed to fuss over Yutsu a lot.

The Vulpine looked at the clock hanging from the wall and was rather surprised that it was only past noon. Sighing, she could have sworn they sat there listening to Warren for far longer than that. The information she heard have yet to settle in her mind, so she decided that she would not think about them for now and focus on what must be done. Not that there was anything she could do at this point, what with the Dhole going around the cabin digging up blankets and linen from old cabinets, all the while wagging her tail amiably to placate Sakura.

The only person who had kept still this whole time was Nita, who was still seated at the table watching everybody just as intently as Rui. The girl was mildly perturbed, unsure of where and how she would fit in this room full of people who seemed to know each other already, so to a certain extent the older woman could relate to her. Although, could it also be due to the discussion earlier?

Esmeralda mentioned that the Bears were all but exterminated, not unlike the fate of the Avians in northern Riphaeus so it was quite possible that Nita was the last of her kind.

Rui flicked her ear and tapped the blonde's shoulder with a tail, surprising her somewhat, "are you hungry, Cub?"

"U-um…" the Bear twiddled her thumbs while her round ears began to take on a mild shade of pink. "S-somewhat…" She chuckled quietly and stood from her seat as well, "what Mr. Warren told us… was a lot to take in…"

The Vulpine nodded as she shifted her crimson eyes towards the Foxroach, who was, in turn, glaring at the exchange between Yutsu and Esmeralda, her antennae and whiskers frizzled in unspoken irritation. The Rabbit was leaning over the kitchenette counter and chatting with the two Fenrisyrans while tapping her boot on the wooden floor. Mona flicked her hair and playfully swayed her hips before laughing lightheartedly, while the Dhole giggled along as she wagged her black-tipped auburn tail.

Twittering, the bounty hunter rested her chin over an upturned palm, "you two are just as entertaining as ever."

"And you are still as detached as ever, Yutsu. I know a half-hearted laugh when I hear one, amiguita." Esmeralda began peeling an apple for the Rabbit, who ate not the fruit itself, but the discarded skin. The quirk elicited a fond smile from the Canine, "how have you been? Last time you were here, you were in a hurry and only stayed for a couple of hours when you usually spend the night with us."

With her long ears moving to and fro, the blunette shrugged as continued to nibble on the apple skin. "I didn't expect the target to be that clever at evading my pursuit. Oh well… he's behead—" Yutsu conservatively paused and corrected herself, "I got him anyways, but I had to go back to Riphaeus as soon as possible to deliver him to my client." She twittered again as she fondly tweaked the Dhole's rounded ear, "you know… busy busy~"

The gesture made the younger woman giggle and wag her tail even more, "have you been eating well though? Have you been getting enough sleep? It must have been difficult… fleeing from the Feline army like that…"

"Oh, Esme, my sweet amiguita," Yutsu stroked the girl's reddish head with an affectionate smile, "this is me you're talking about, si? I'm fine… I'm here, aren't I?"

"W-well… yeah…" the Dhole trailed off but she still valiantly smiled in return. "You're right… I shouldn't be worried about you, of all people."

"Mhmm~ what about you? Have you been taking care of yourself?"

"Si! Of course I have."

"Only because I'm always here to badger her." Mona interjected, tapping a pair of cooking tongs she had been using to fold and flip the toasted tortillas on the pan.

"Oh, Mona…"

"Es verdad~"

"That's good to hear—oho~ seems like Sa-chan is buzzing again~"

The Foxroach hissed when the conversation turned to her once again. But instead of voicing her concerns, the black-haired girl only flicked her tail sassily before turning around and stomping towards the bedroom while vibrating indignantly. The three young women followed her with their gazes, which inevitably landed on Rui because she was standing next to the bedroom's door.

Coolly, the golden Vulpine flicked her ear and said, "You're not being very subtle, damn Rabbit."

"Subtle~? What is there to be subtle about?" The bounty hunter twittered as she rested her elbows on the counter.

Rui did not answer, and because of that, Esmeralda approached her respectfully while smiling amiably.

"It is nice to finally meet you, Miss Rui. I have heard many things about you from Yutsu."

The Fox pocketed a hand and nudged Nita into the bedroom after Sakura, "I'll take food to you in a moment."

She then fixed her crimson gaze on the Canine, who also seemed concerned about the Cub. After swishing her long golden tail, she responded to their hostess, "I see… it's a pleasure to meet you as well."

Even if this was first time the older woman knew of her existence.

Although the Vulpine's reply was succinct and neutral at best, the Dhole still smiled warmly and wagged her tail without any hint of malice in her stature. This somewhat doused the mild irritation brewing in Rui's mind, making her huff in exasperation.

"Would you like something to eat? I noticed that you didn't touch the food earlier." Esmeralda almost excitedly took the Fox's hand and pulled her towards the counter.

"It's difficult to think of food during that conversation." Truly, there was information in that discussion that she could probably live without, but she had already heard them. She would just have to decide how she thought of them later.

"One quesadilla up!" Mona flipped the toasted tortilla snack on a plate and served it on the counter. "Give it a try, si? I know queso is more of a Rodent staple but Esme enjoys them enough, maybe you would too."

Indeed the soft flatbread looked appetizing, but the first thing that came out of Rui's mouth was, "give it to the kids first. I can wait."

"Oh, sure," the Desman picked the plate up again, "I'll take it to them but… won't the black one pounce on me or something?"

The Fox shook her head, "she can try but she knows the repercussions."

Her response made the blunette beside her twitter. "No one disobeys Foxy, hmm?"

Rui flicked her ear and snorted.

"Tsk tsk… here, have a slice of apple. It's as tart as you~"

For a split second, the older woman deliberated whether she should take the offered fruit or not, for she was still dissatisfied with the lack of proper introductions. She gave Yutsu a stern look before taking the slice from her hand with a sharp fang, nipping the blunette's fingertip in the process.

The Rabbit squeaked audibly, startled at the sudden prickle on her exposed digits, as her long ears flopped down in mortification, her cool bounty hunter mask shattered right in front of her contacts. Both Esmeralda and Mona stared at Yutsu with shock and utter fascination, their mouths slightly agape at the display. This amused Rui of course, but she merely leaned over the counter and picked up another slice of the apple, eating it without paying any attention to the Rabbit's readily reddening ears.

It was not long before Mona's plump lips stretched into a smirk, "my, what was that, Yutsu~? I didn't know you can make that sound, mi amiguita~"

From the corner of her eyes, the golden-haired woman saw that the bounty hunter merely looked away with a small scowl, a decent attempt that somewhat preserved her image. As expected though, the Desman was not about to let her get away with it, "so you are a conejito! And here I thought you were more Roach."

Esmeralda giggled as she went over to Yutsu's side and playfully tugged on her still flaccid ears. "It's been a while since I've seen that face."

In return, the Rabbit poked the Dhole's cheek and chuckled, "don't get used to it, you little Puppy. I was just startled, that's all."

"Exactamente, amiguita," the auburn-haired girl clasped the bounty hunter's hand to stop the playful assault. "You never get surprised… not often anyway, even to us." She then giggled one more as she glanced at Rui with a knowing expression on her face.

"Hay~ we just never learned which buttons to push, mi hermana perrito," Mona snickered as she sauntered over to the bedroom to deliver the food to Sakura and Nita. "I left your quesadilla over there, Miss Sexy~ it's up to you if you want to have a blue Bunny on the side."

Even though Rui planned to remain neutral during the amusing exchange, that last line made her chuckle a bit.

"Tsk, tsk…" Yutsu clucked her tongue as she playfully hugged Esmeralda from behind and rested her chin on the latter's shoulder. She then told the chuckling Dhole, "she may look unaffected but she's one smug Foxy, mhmm~ definitely."

"Oh, I would be too if I can make you that comfortable around people," the auburn-haired girl turned around and tenderly hugged the bounty hunter. Then seeing as Mona was done with her little chore and escaped the bedroom unscathed, Esmeralda stepped back and told the two, "well, we'll leave you to settle in, Yutsu. We still have some work to be done, and I'm sure you all have much to talk about."

"Right… give Warren our regards."

"I will, and we will certainly be back later in the evening." The Dhole smiled one last time as she exited the cabin with her friend, "you know your way around Xenoc so I'm not worried too much. Hasta luego, mi amiguita, Miss Rui."

The golden Vulpine nodded to the two before they closed the door, still uncertain about how to deal with them. They seemed to be harmless, so it was not as if she was thoroughly concerned. But that did not change the fact that she must not get comfortable with them either.

After all, she did not intend to stay here for long.

The Fox huffed and bit into the warm tortilla on the plate as she mulled over the information from earlier. Undoubtedly Warren's words were like fuel to a bonfire as far as Sakura was concerned, leaving Rui wondering how she would douse it once again. Not that she truly wanted to, as that fire was the Foxroach's most notable quality, but she was not planning on continuing this nonsense for very much longer.

The old man had made it clear to her that many had failed and lost their lives. There was no way the tiny black-haired girl could succeed in something those reputable men could not. It was simply impossible…

…and rather vain.

It would lead to nowhere else but more bloodshed.

"Agitated?" Yutsu asked as she munched on an apple slice now that she had finished all the skin peelings.

"Somewhat…" Rui muttered under her breath. She was not sure how to label her thoughts and feelings right now, so she simply redirected the topic to something more intimate instead of the issues that were way beyond their comprehension. "Why haven't I heard about Esmeralda before?"

The sudden question made the blunette blink in wonder, "I… haven't told you?"

The Fox looked at her with a less than impressed stare, "would I ask if you have?"

"I thought I have…" It was obvious that the Rabbit was either acting sheepish or was actually trying to remember if or when she had told the other about the Canine, for her ears were bent and she would not meet Rui's gaze.

"Who is she anyway…?"

"My ex-girlfriend."

"…"

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding! She's just a long time friend," Yutsu backed away from the Fox's throaty growls, holding her arms up and twittering amusedly. "No need to be jealous, Sour Fox~"

"Tch…" Rui flicked her ear and continued to eat, burying her fangs in the soft tortilla and relishing the sensation. It had been a while since she had been able to do that with her food due to the limited variety on the ship. Once she was done, she pushed herself off the counter and walked towards the cabin's entrance, her tail swishing thoughtfully.

"Are you mad, Foxy?" The Rabbit finally asked with a hint of nervousness.

"No…" She opened the door to the room, "I'll take your word for it..." Her mind was too fatigued to even take the conversation seriously anymore. And if there was something she should worry about Esmeralda, it would be apparent later when the Dhole returned later.

For now, all she wanted was a quiet place to organize her thoughts. Those trivial issues did not matter much, they were certainly not worth her troubles right now.

"I'm going to take a walk," she announced evenly, "that's fine, right?"

"… yeah, but are you okay?"

"Yes," she looked at the new horizon with an already weary gaze. "I just need to think. Check on Nita after I leave… I know she's quite taken with you. What she heard today could not have been easy…"

After all, it was a horrible feeling, realizing that you might be completely alone in this world.

"Alright," Yutsu spoke lightly, her previous amusement gone from tone. The golden Fox did not have to look back to see those sharp viridian eyes trained on her figure. "I'll be here, Rui."

She closed the door and went down the cabin's patio steps, at a loss, and frigidly reminded of the loneliness the Cub was probably suffering right now. After Taichi died, she lived as the only full-blooded Vulpine in Kaltrea, without anyone to turn to or anyone to depend on except for Lana. She recalled the frigid sense of isolation back then, wondering how her life would have been like had she grown up in Yasumaro with other Foxes.

Rui paused her steps as she surprised herself with her own thoughts. Did she really think that way as a teenager? Did she truly wonder how it was like to be a Vulpine?

She scanned the bright horizon of the Fenrisyran city of Xenoc, quite blinded by how the flat-roofed buildings reflected the noon sun. How close was she to that secluded island? She smirked to herself as she realized that this was probably the closest she had gotten to Yasumaro in twenty-seven years.

This is probably the closest I will get...

After all, the only sentiment she harbored for that place was resentment. Whether it was due to abandonment, betrayal, or both, she was not sure. All she knew was that she hated that place even if she did not know why. But it was also because of those uncertainties that made her somehow long for it, wasn't it?

She chuckled to herself as she flicked the tip of her tail. She had yearned for many things, but she had also come into terms with the fact that she might never reach or fulfill that yearning. She was convinced that she would never have a sense of solidarity with her own race and that her loneliness would always be a close friend who had finally left her.

But as her boots crunched the loose gravel on the broken road, Rui wondered if that feeling of solitude ever went away at all.


AN: There is a lot of information squeezed into this chapter but bear with us. This is basically a whole new set-up.

Furthermore, below are the rough translations of all the Spanish that was used in this chapter.

"Dios mio, si no es el conejito azul?" – "My god, if it isn't the blue bunny?"

"Mi amiguita" – "My (girl) friend" another way of saying "mi amiga"

"Gatita" – female kitten

"Mi Hermosa perrito" – "My puppy dog sister" a term of endearment.

"Hay~ mi papi y su adioses extravagante." – "Hay~ my dad and his extravagant farewells."

"No to precupes que Sa-chan va caminando a qual quire lugar. Estaba sacudimiento sus whiskers muy fuerte camindo aqui con los otros." – "Don't worry about Sa-chan wandering off anywhere. She was shaking her whiskers off walking her with the others."

"Ella es muy salvaje." – This is literally "she is so naughty" but Mona actually means, "she's so feisty."