0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Ti18 – Embedded Memories

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0


"Leave my tail alone!"

"You wash it now, gatita, or I will dump this bucket of water on you!"

"What! It didn't touch the ground at all!"

"I saw you dancing in the trees, you must've picked up all the grit there is!"

"I wasn't dancing, I was practicing!"

Yutsu's antennae twitched ever so slightly as she lazily opened her eyes at the annoyed voices of Sakura and Mona inside the cabin. The Desman had brought some food over upon Esme's request because the Dhole was too busy today to visit, and so the Foxroach got scolded because she was doing some sort of training regiment in the woods again.

It was day three of their arrival in Fenrisyr, and already each of them was getting antsy at this waiting game. The coast wasn't clear for them to leave Xenoc yet due to the troubles brewing north around Hodous. In order to secure a safer train ride, they must wait for a few more days. Therefore, Sakura had been practicing her acrobatic flips and lunges in the meantime while Rui took long walks whenever she wasn't cleaning the cabin. Nita did whatever she could assist in but she usually meditated in the woods.

Sighing, the bounty hunter halfheartedly sat up on the roof and wondered what she could do today. Already, the lack of having a mission was making her goal-orientated mind restless, but more importantly, there was no focus to numb her mind from thinking about irrelevant, wearisome subjects.

She was not meant to stay at one place for too long, especially when it was not her home.

Groaning quietly, she rubbed her temple and tried to stop thinking about the strange sense of disconnection from Rui. They both have a lot on their minds right now, so she reasoned it was simply inevitable and hoped that this disconcerting feeling was only temporary. She also couldn't blame the golden-haired woman for being displeased with her. After all, she had sent Sakura back with Esmeralda yesterday and went off around the city by herself. Of course, it wasn't as if she was wandering without a purpose. She had chatted briefly with Lin's agent and heard about the unrest in Guien, one of the port towns near Rainwall as well as a trading point with the Samarian cities.

In conclusion, only trouble awaited them no matter where they decided to go.

Last night, the bounty hunter had briskly explained to her companions of their itinerary before she went outside to sleep on the trees again. Their train would pass through Desmocyn and stop at Carpoc, where they will travel by foot to Askook and hopefully that would be far enough for them to safely drop off Nita. Yutsu explained that she had never gone that far north so she would prefer to spend as little time as possible in an unknown territory. After all, Rui and Sakura were new when it came to traveling through the wilderness, for their little escape from Torden hardly counted.

The two teenagers had been a little taken aback by her apathetic speech, but Yutsu did not care for their reactions. She didn't want to get involved with the Bear any longer because she already felt saddened by their impending parting. Such emotion already surprised the blunette, thus she would rather severe their bond before it really took root.

Nevertheless, the slightly hurt look in the blonde's blue eye bothered her conscience more than it should.

Agitated by her unproductive musing, Yutsu hopped off the roof and headed down the road, unable to stay idle any longer. Just as she was trying to decide where to go, she noticed a small presence following her in a hurried pace.

Surprised, she turned around to see Nita approaching shyly. "U-um, is it okay if I accompany you, Miss Yutsu?"

"Hmm, I don't know, did you tell the sour Fox or Sa-chan where you are?"

"Yes, I told them I want to take a look around Xenoc and Miss Rui said I can only go if I go with you."

The ponytailed woman frowned imperceptibly, wondering if her lover wanted to monitor her somehow but she quickly tossed the idea, knowing the golden Fox was too prideful for that. This was mother hen Rui, so she probably just wanted to make sure the Bear was with someone competent, a person strong enough to protect the girl. Either way, Yutsu didn't want to go back and face the former bartender's wrath for running off unannounced, again.

"Alright, I'll take you with me," the blunette shrugged, "I wonder why Sa-chan didn't chase after you though. Is Mona still scolding her about her tail?"

"I think so," Nita smiled lightly, seemingly so happy to accompany the bounty hunter that the latter had to look away before guilt started to fester. "Miss Rui said she's personally going to scrub Sakura's tail. I wanted to help but… I don't know which side to pick, hehe."

"Is that so?" Yutsu allowed herself to chuckle a little at this turn of events. When she returned last night, the Foxroach somewhere in the woods while Rui was grooming her tails in the bedroom. Unexpectedly, the golden Fox had allowed the young Bear to assist, which meant that the two must have bonded quite a bit over their respective unique traits.

Having magic was a feeling Yutsu could never relate, so she was glad her lover had found a kindred spirit.

"I almost wanted to stay but… I'd like to get out of the cabin too," Nita was fiddling with her thumbs again, probably nervous at how impassive the blunette was.

"Well, that much I can understand. It's frustrating to be cooped up in one place," the Bunnyroach twittered to diffuse the tension a bit, "But at the same time, I won't be surprised if you somehow dig out gold nuggets or some other rare metal from Sa-chan's tail. After years of knowing her, I'm starting to believe that black mop can magnetize all kinds of stuff~"

"R-really? Is that possible?" The Bear's blue eye widened in interest.

"Mhmm~ Could be the Roach genes. See, other than my blue hair, I'm pretty tall for a Bunny. It's possible that our favorite little midget got a magnetic tail."

"Ooo, I guess so, but Sakura's tail is really fluffy and cuddly and warm…" Though giggling as well, the blonde seemed quite defensive of her friend's much-abused tail.

Smiling, Yutsu found herself patting the Bear's head before she could realize it. The affectionate gesture made the girl fluster but also relax. Ears reddened, she stuttered out a question. "M-Miss Yutsu… c-could you do me a f-favor…?"

"What is it, sweetie?"

"C-c-could you flop down your ears?"

The blunette blinked slowly, completely unprepared for the random request. She rolled her eyes exasperation, wondering just what Rui and Nita were talking about yesterday when she wasn't around.

She was in a humorous mood though, as she always was after making fun of a certain Foxroach, so she lowered her long ears until they became flaccid against her head. The Bear beamed in fascination and looked so adorable that Yutsu crouched a little so she could caress those blue ears.

"Funnily, Sa-chan asked me to do the same thing not long after we first met," the bounty hunter spoke lightly as this déjà vu sensation brought an interesting memory to mind.

Wiggling her tail eagerly, the blonde healer gazed at her in expectation while the blunette thoughtfully stroked her chin to recall the event.


Emerald eyes narrowed indiscernibly as the ponytailed teenager rested her elbow on the bar counter and glanced at the bright garnet eyes peeking from behind it. She raised the martini glass to her lips and sipped slowly, noting how fixated the black-haired kid was on her and her only.

Now, Yutsu was used to such attention but she thought Sakura disliked her based on how the Foxroach buzzed and hissed the last time they talked. Then again, she did take care of those traitor rebels for this little mascot. Who knew how young girls think nowadays? Sakura came back to the Cog Weasel even though there was no apparent reason to do so, but she seemed to like this place just as much as the bounty hunter did.

Rolling her eyes, the blunette twirled her drink idly as her long ears flicked slightly to hear what the patrons were gossiping this time. Rui was speaking to the saxophonist on the stage at the moment, so Yutsu decided to keep the little girl company until the bartender returned to her post.

"Hmm, I'm very flattered, Sa-chan, but I don't like people younger than me, not that way."

She twittered smugly when the Foxroach fluffed up in indignation as expected. "W-who says I like you, damn Roach? I was just staring!"

"…that doesn't make any sense~" Yutsu winked and fluttered her eyelashes, "Am I too pretty?"

"No! Stop making things up!" Yowling, the eleven-year-old hopped up and admirably clung onto the high counter so she could scowl at the very amused teenager. "I-I was just curious about your ears, hnff!"

"My ears? Now that's unexpected. What about them?" The bounty hunter thought about all the inquisitive questions directed at her in the past and the majority of them were about her unnatural shade of hair.

The Foxroach probably wasn't expecting such a normal response, for her whiskers frizzled as she blushed rather bashfully. "Er, I've never seen a Rabbit before so I was just wondering if you can bend or flatten your ears…? I-It's just a random thought, that's all!"

Utterly entertained by her emotional reactions, Yutsu leaned forward and whispered all secretively. "If you insist… I guess I can show you, on one condition~"

"W-what?"

Giggling, the ponytailed teenager reached over the counter and pulled the girl onto her lap, cuddling tightly in spite of her explosive protests.

"Shhh, you're bothering the other customers~" When Rui turned around to see what the fuss about, she gave the golden Fox a playful wink which caused the latter to sigh in annoyed exasperation.

"Well that's your fault, grabbing so suddenly-!"

"Anyhoo, I got my huggles so watch closely~"


"…and after I showed her, she was so surprised that she didn't even notice me tying her tail to the adjacent stool," Yutsu smiled fondly at the memory and decided she should try to be nicer to the small rebel leader, who was always able to cheer her up at the girl's own expense.

"P-Poor Sakura," Nita was trying to muffle her giggles by covering her mouth, but her stubby tail was wiggling in too much mirth. "She must have been so angry…"

"Mhmm, she was, but Rui gave her a milkshake afterwards to quiet her down so all was well," the blunette stuck out her tongue, "I got kicked out of the bar though… tsk, those two Vulpines, so uptight~"

Emerald eyes softened at how entertained the Bear was at this little story so she added. "But just between you and me, Nita, my ears shouldn't have been able to stand upright. I… somehow got them to do so, perhaps because of my profession, but in the end I'm able to hear so much better this way."

"Right, that makes sense," the blonde nodded but it was obvious she was trying not to ask when or even why Yutsu became a bounty hunter. Smiling, the ponytailed woman gently rubbed the Bear's ears again. "The shadows always have secrets, sweetie. Keep to the light like you always have, hmm?"

Nita nodded again without commenting on the riddle-like words, though she boldly took the bounty hunter's hand as they made their way down the street. Though taken aback by this gesture, the older one of the pair merely allowed her to hold on and continued to share more anecdotes. It was rather bittersweet though, for Yutsu realized how much she enjoyed the peaceful daily happenings of the Cog Weasel more than she thought. Having an ordinary, stable routine life was something most people complain about because it lacked excitement and unexpected events.

However, a normal lifestyle with a family was what she missed the most. That satisfying, subtle joy was usually taken for granted, an aspect one would only appreciate after it was gone.

Or brutally ripped away from you.

Yutsu flicked her antennae dismissively as she told Nita how she would always bring Sakura the best carrots she could find from different continents. She was intrigued by the Foxroach's unusual love for the vegetable but it was also because she wanted to check which place had the most delicious product.

So far, in spite of being so well-travelled, the blunette deemed her family's farm the best of the best. Even now, after more than a decade, she still held incomparable pride in the carrots her father cultivated.

Before the haze of memories took over her mind, she felt Nita cringing and huddling close to her side. Yutsu immediately squeezed the Bear's hand in reassurance while she gave the surroundings a more thorough scan. She had detected nothing out of ordinary when they entered this street to go up the hill towards the mountain range. So why did the blonde get so scared all of a sudden?

"What's wrong?" The bounty hunter kept her voice soft so it was only audible to the girl. If she remembered correctly, this was a plain neighborhood inhabited by the lower class citizens of Xenoc whose livelihoods depended on either carpentry, factory labor or mining. From as far as she could see, there were only a few people chatting openly near a tavern since most locals were already at work.

Without stopping their leisurely pace, she concentrated on the only figure that stood out from all the average-looking residents. The tall Greyhound was dressed in an immaculate suit befitting of a gentleman of bureaucrat class, with his glossy coat folded neatly over his forearm while his cane was tucked beneath his arm. He sophisticatedly removed his silken gloves before brushing his heavy mustache as if to smooth a nonexistent tangle, his tail wagging in complete friendliness. His smiling blue eyes glimmered amiably behind his monocle as he puffed on his cigar and chortled at an acquaintance's story. Yutsu swiftly searched her mind for a face with these distinctive features and recognized the elderly Canine as Sir Francis Langley. The fair-haired man hailed from an old family connected to one of the Dog Noble Houses, promoted in rank because his ancestor had founded the port town of Cynarc that eventually prospered into the large city it was today.

While the bounty hunter personally disliked snooty rich people, she tolerated them as long as she didn't have to interact with them more than necessary. Besides, the Greyhounds were known for their more outspoken dissent towards Tyradum's hold on the Beryn Peninsula so they were acceptable in her book.

But what was a man like Francis doing here in this remote neighborhood?

"Is it because of him?" She casually steered her companion towards a narrow alley between the blockhouses so they were out of the Canine's awareness range before he could notice them.

Nita nodded timidly, her voice subdued and rather squeaky. "I-I recognized his voice… he's the o-one who… I saw him briefly in Hodous when he o-ordered to s-ship me to M-Middleport…"

Yutsu pursed her lips as cold fury simmered for the blonde's maltreatment, since she had seen enough during her travels to guess the details. Frowning, she made a mental note to ask one of her contacts in Desmocyn, probably Stella McNeil due to her knowledge about the Canines of port cities. The Golden Retriever's allegiance was questionable, but at least her information had always been reliable.

The ponytailed bounty hunter hadn't gone off on personal missions for years, but exposing Francis's real character and preventing further slave trade seemed quite appealing especially if he had any connections with the Vertalisian mafia.

The Bear's fearful tremors persisted though, so Yutsu pulled her closer and draped the cloak around her small form. "Don't be afraid, Nita, I'm here," the blunette spoke assertively, "I'll protect you from those bad guys, hmm? No one will hurt you again, not even that man."

Nodding, the blonde loosened their looped hands and wrapped her arms around the woman's arm to seek further reassurance. The gesture made Yutsu smile nostalgically, for it was similar to how Charlotte pulled her towards the haystacks. She quickly dispelled the memory, frustrated at how sentimental she was getting these days.

However, even after her resolve to keep a distance with Nita, she couldn't bring herself to push away the frightened girl.

"I bet Esme will be surprised to see us," Yutsu said quietly to ease the Bear out of her trance.

"M-Miss Esme?"

"Yup, I've decided to give her a lil' visit. That's why we're going up the hill to the mining site. I haven't checked out her workplace in Xenoc at all, so I want to see how she's faring."

"Ah I remember, she said she's the geologist for her company," the nervous shivers of Nita's tail had a more inquisitive nature now, "you seem very close to her, Miss Yutsu."

"I guess so," the blunette smiled a little, "we go way back, and she's always been somewhat of a little sister to me."

The Dhole truly reminded her of her deceased sibling, with their innocent and lively demeanor as well as the inexplicable attachment to her. Even the way they smiled was similar, and it always brought a dull yet comforting ache to Yutsu's chest.

"Little sister… I wonder if that's how Sakura sees me?"

"Who knows how Sa-chan thinks? But I'm pretty sure that's not it~" The blunette twittered at the Bear's confused blink. Sakura seemed to be too dense for this kind of thing, so how their friendship would develop was still up in the air.

Well… they'll have to part before anything happens…

"There she is, that purty pup~" Using her long ears, Yutsu pointed at a conspicuous figure as they neared the construction site. Based on the number of shafts and completeness of equipment, the excavation appeared quite orderly and homely, meaning the Pirines Company had been working on this particular area for a while. Amongst the burly Desmans, Moles and Dholes, Esmeralda stood out like a ball of fluff amidst gravel.

The blunette briefly imagined her metaphor and twittered at how accurate it was in a way.

The auburn-haired Canine must have scented them, for she passed a clipboard to a foreman she was speaking to and hurried towards her visitors. Wagging her tail affably, she greeted them with quick pecks after taking off her hardhat. "Yutsu, Nita, what brings you two here?"

"Nothing~ Can't I visit mi linda perrita?" The Bunnyroach wrapped an arm around the brunette and playfully nuzzled her furry ear. "Besides, the cabin was getting a tad rowdy. I'm sure Mona and Foxy have scrubbed all the fur off Sa-chan's tail…"

Nita let out a quiet giggle, which made Yutsu sigh in relief now that the girl was no longer fearful. Being the astute Dhole she was though, Esme noticed her downcast demeanor and spoke to her worriedly. "Did something happen on your way here? Warren told me the folks have been unrulier lately because of how cheap the newly imported liquor is…"

Before the blunette could explain, the Bear shook her head and smiled sincerely. "It's nothing much, Miss Esme. I'm okay, Miss Yutsu's around after all."

The bounty hunter quirked her eyebrow at the blonde's positive view of her, and became even more exasperated when the brunette wagged her tail in agreement. "Yes, Yutsu just has that protector aura, doesn't she?"

"… I do?"

"Oh mi amiguita," Esme playfully pulled Yutsu's long ears down before allowing them to go upright again, "you'll always be my savior, si?"

The bounty hunter glanced around the mining site and easily recalled a similar one in Nascha, where the Dhole had found her hiding from some pursuers. Before that, she had saved the young Pup from a horrific fate, which probably instilled the unconditional trust Esme had in her even now. In fact, it was because of this innocent, wholesome belief that the bounty hunter left Fenrisyr for Riphaeus and wandered until she met another jaded soul whom she could pour her heart to without feeling uncomfortable.

Suddenly, a nagging tingle in her chest made her chuckle as she realized she actually missed Rui, even though she was the one avoiding her lover. The golden Fox became her new home after her old one was destroyed, but would this hold true in the future?

Esme probably mistook Yutsu's quiet laughter as denial for she pouted cutely and spoke with a firm tone. "What, it's true, mi salvadora."

"Yes, Miss Yutsu," Nita added with her endearingly wiggling tail, "from the short time I've known you and through the stories Sakura has told me… you're really like a heroine."


"Yutsu is the greatest heroine ever!"

The blunette tensed and felt a burning ache in her throat when uninvited images began flashing in her mind.

"Whachu reading?"

Shirley smiled softly at her little sister, who had hugged her from behind after popping out from a stack of timothy hay nearby. Charlotte thought she could sneak up on her older sibling, did she? Well, that adorable buzzing gave away her position long ago.

"I'm reading this new book Dad bought a few days ago."

"Oooh, this… man-ga? From the Fox merchant?"

"Mhmm, I'm still in the process of understanding the panels and frames," the blue-haired girl stroked the Lop's head when the latter snuggled up next to her and tried to peek at the pages.

Chuckling quietly, Shirley placed the small book on her lap so they could read together. It was quite pleasant to indulge in this hobby within the safety of the storage house because they could hear the gentle splashes of the brook nearby, the quiet rustling of leaves of the forest beyond, and the beautiful melody of their mother practicing the piano in their house. In spite of the village alerts lately, they've managed to convince their father to allow them to play in the farmlands while he worked in the fields around their windmill.

Two pairs of emerald eyes became fixated on the stylish drawings on the pages, fascinated by heroic tales of the ponytailed protagonist. The fearless Rabbit was able to escape her foes again and again using her quick wit and nimble physique, protecting the peace of her village by bringing bad people to justice. Even though the sisters could not read the foreign language, they were able to piece together the plot from the detailed artworks alone.

Shirley glanced at Charlotte and smiled at the black-haired girl's riveted expression. "Like the story so far?"

"Yup!" The little Lop beamed and gestured animatedly with her hands, "I love the part where she used those nifty knife tricks on that bad robber and saved those hos-…host…"

"Hostages?"

"Yeah! She's so cool!" Her antennae flicked in rhythm with her determined buzzes. "Yu-zu… Yu…um… Sis, how do you pronounce her name again?"

Shirley turned the book to its front cover, where there was a helpful pronunciation written below the characters for the protagonist's name. "Yutsu, her name is Yutsu, and apparently," she flipped to the appendix and laughed quietly, "it means playing or wandering bunny in this language."

"That's cool," Charlotte's bright emerald eyes lit up again as she hopped up and wiggled her tail, "Yutsu… I like that name! She's like, the greatest heroine ever! Oh, but of course," she beamed and hugged the blue-haired girl so zealously that the older sibling's straw hat fell off. "Sis is still the bestest!"

Smiling gently, Shirley kissed her cute little sister's forehead and returned the embrace.

"Well, Sis will just have to live up to your expectations then, hmm?"


Feeling her eyes sting in warning, Yutsu swallowed thickly and turned away before Esme and Nita noticed her change in demeanor. "Oh, stop it you two, I'm really no heroine. Anyways, it's been awhile since I've been to a mining site so I'm just going to take a quick tour to satisfy my curiosity. I'll be right back, mkies?"

"Ah, claro, mi amiguita! Cuidate!" "I'll wait here, Miss Yutsu!"

With her usual nonchalant strides, the blunette walked away from her companions as she suppressed the urge to break into bitter chuckles or something worse. Breathing deeply, she bit her lips and firmly ignored the feather weight of Charlotte's carrot plushie hidden in the folds of her scarf. The gruesome scar on the left side of her chest prickled mockingly to remind her that no matter what she tried to hide or lie, it will never change the past, especially her decision to travel this path of carnage.

Unlike the heroic character from the manga, she became a soulless killer who had stained her hands with the blood of countless people, and she knew it was only a matter of time before Rui and the others would be exposed to the atrocities she had committed. Shirley died on that fateful day, replaced by this vengeful existence named Yutsu who disgraced the memory of her little sister's pure admiration of a noble savior. This embodiment of cynical bitterness and contradictory values should have stayed within the shadows so the line between black and white wouldn't become indistinguishable. From the moment of its creation out of malignant hatred, the phantom was not meant to mingle with the light ever again.

"But I did," she murmured tiredly as she reached the nearest entrance and entered the cloaking darkness without hesitation.


The Kit finally came out of the bedroom after a tedious, hour-long bath courtesy of Mona and Rui. Truth be told, the golden Fox did not expect the black-haired girl to show herself to her again after that ordeal but it seemed like, despite the torment, the young Foxroach was rather excited about donning the new set of clothes that Yutsu had bought for her the day before.

Sakura fidgeted as she tugged down on her blue shirt, her whiskers and antennae twitching in some unknown uncertainty that made Rui perk her ears. The older Vulpine did not say anything though, and merely observed closely as the younger one fought to keep her currently pristine tail from touching the dusty floor. For a moment, she made a mental note to sweep the planks later, for she could have sworn she saw a broom tucked beside the fridge.

Yes, that should keep the Kit's tail clean longer.

At least, that was the hope.

Upon inspection, the new blue shirt seemed fitting for a girl of the Foxroach's age. It was bright, somewhat hip, and the decal spoke volumes about the owner's personality. Sakura had always been a person to have a clear vision of herself, or at least of what she should be anyway. Whether that mental picture was of who she really was or who she should be did not matter as much, because Rui was only glad to see the old and flimsy shirt replaced. For the longest time, she had wanted the Foxroach to throw that accursed thing away because it was old and always looked dirty.

The golden Fox chuckled under breath at the realization that the old top was like the Kit's tail.

Sakura scanned the vicinity and was relieved to see that Mona had left the cabin already. The Desman took an immediate exit the moment another Mole had knocked upon the door. Of course, she did not part with their company without a threat that she will give the small rebel a proper make-over once she was done. Not that it would actually happen. The only reason why the black-haired girl even consented to wear something girly, like that dress in Middleport, was because it was a special night, their last in Central Riphaeus.

Otherwise, it would have been a battle royale of scratches and protests.

Speaking of protests, the Kit had yet to yowl one about Yutsu, who was the one that escorted her around town yesterday. It was not hard to envision the Rabbit making fun of the younger girl's choice of clothing so Rui waited for a string of irritated words. Nothing came, however, and the black-haired rebel only pouted even more as she neared the table where she was finishing up her brunch left behind in favor of cleaning the former's forsaken tail.

The golden Fox quirked an eyebrow in question, to which the short Foxroach muttered, "Where did everyone go?"

Rui flicked her tail in response and thoughtfully chewed on some toasted bread, "I don't know, but the Cub wanted to explore town so I had her follow Yutsu out. At least, she'd be relatively safe with her."

"O-oh," Sakura glanced at the door with her antennae moving to and fro, probably trying to detect where the other two had gone. When her search proved fruitless, she began to fidget once again, "so um… Foxy…"

"Hmm…?"

"W-what do you th—"

"Turn around."

"Huh?"

"I said, turn around and let me see." To demonstrate her words, the golden Fox raised her tail and twirled it in a circular motion. The Kit blinked in mild confusion before she obediently did what she was told and then raised her tail once she was done.

"Well…?" Sakura mewed curiously, her head tilted to the side though she still wore an unmistakable glower that supposedly preserved her dignity.

Rui wordlessly stood from her seat and examined the black-haired girl as she circled around her. "Why did you pick boys' clothes, Kit?"

The Foxroach's antennae visibly frizzled. "T-they're not boys' clothes!" She exclaimed animatedly with her tail whipping side to side, defensive of her choice of clothing. "And they're c-comfy and easy to move in!"

"Hmm…" the golden Fox reached down to Sakura's shoulder and tugged the brown vest over her charge's frame so it would not look sloppily put in place. "You should've picked something a little more feminine when you had the chance. But no matter… at least it's not baggy under the arms and loose around the stomach." She then combed the Kit's shiny black hair with her fingers so that the strands would rest over the vest where it would not be tangled as easily. The gesture was rewarded by a soft, inhibited croon from the younger Vulpine, who probably thought that her quiet sound of happiness would go by unnoticed.

"There," Rui stroked Sakura's ears to even out the fur there as well, "try not to get dirty within a few hours. You look respectable for once."

"For once? What's the supposed to mean, Foxy?" The Kit looked up to her with a scowl that exposed one of her tiny fangs.

The older Vulpine ignored the question and answered it with another one of her own, "why didn't you buy a new pair of pants? Or even something thicker? That vest will hardly keep you warm."

To that the black-haired girl frizzled again in slight embarrassment, "I… forgot. I did get a jacket and a scarf though!"

Sighing, Rui left the girl and began picking up the plates on the table after one last sip of her cold coffee, "Ah, but you should have gotten pants too."

"R-right, uh…I know! Why don't we go back to that shop so I get a new one?" She sounded truly excited now as she tailed her guardian around the cabin with her fluffy tail waving about like a banner.

"Do you still know the way?"

"Of course! It's easy for me to remember landmarks and such, c'mon, Foxy!" To make sure that the older Vulpine was not tuning her out, the Kit relentlessly tugged at her sleeve.

"Alright, fine," Rui relented after briefly thinking about what else she had to do today, as per her habit. Realizing that there was really nothing for her to stay in the cabin for, she quickly finished the dishes, dried her hands and followed Sakura out, wondering if she should have brought her shotgun with her just in case. But then she supposed that having a firearm could also prove dangerous in these parts where they were uncertain of how people think. Carrying a gun around might incite unneeded attention. Fortunately, she was not completely unconfident about her fighting skills.

Walking with her hands in her pockets and trailing behind her rather cheerful Kit, the golden Fox could not help but recall the last time she and the black-haired girl had wandered a city together. That was back in Kaltrea, was it not? They were getting their weekly groceries after the Cog Weasel's refrigerator had run out of supplies, and everything felt like it was back then, perhaps aside from the warm, salty climate, the smell of wet Mutts, the lack of skyscrapers, and the fact that Sakura was walking ahead of her with that distinctive white-tipped tail held high.

"I think I still have Yutsu's change in here somewhere," the black-haired girl mumbled as she dug her pockets for money. "She gave the shopkeeper too much and then told him to keep the change, but then he just gave the change to me instead. Hnff, what was that damn Roach thinking?"

"Hm, that sounds just like her," Rui absentmindedly flicked her ear and tried not to think about where the Rabbit was. In the past few days, Yutsu had only showed herself to her during mealtimes or when she wanted to speak to Nita and Sakura, leaving golden Fox confused and slightly irked about the odd behavior. It was almost as if the blunette was acting like she did not know them.

Likewise, she was beginning to think that she did not know her as well. And the bitter irony was the fact that it was quite possible, that there was indeed much more than even she knew. Of course, Rui was under no delusion that she knew everything there was to know about the Rabbit, but most of these matters were undermined by the lack of necessity to recognize the unknown. After all, in the Cog Weasel, Yutsu was simply Yutsu and being a bounty hunter was just an occupation, a label. Here, it was quite different and light was beginning to shine upon the dark cracks and craters the blunette had been able to hide in the bar's dim lights.

"Is she rich or something?"

That question made Rui blink and tear her gaze away from the sad scenery of Xenoc, "where did that come from?"

Sakura was waving the flaps of her vest as they walked, bored, inquisitive, and expecting an honest answer to her curiosity, "I know that dinner in Middleport was an arrangement with the innkeeper and all, but she seems to be funding us now so..."

"Ah," the older Vulpine trailed off, "finances was never something we talked about. All I know is that she deposits her bounty in numerous banks in Riphaeus and Fenrisyr."

Once again, it was a matter that never needed exploration back then since the Cog Weasel managed to keep all three of them afloat and live comfortable lives. She cared little about the possibility of the Rabbit having stashed wealth in some far off land. Money had never been a major issue in their relationship, and even when it was, she usually kept it to herself as the pillar of support for her makeshift family. Besides, she did not want any portion of riches gained from such a malign job as bounty hunting. It simply went against the values that she had been brought up.

But, at the same time, thinking about this now just made her realize how large Yutsu's world was compared to her own.

"It's like she knows everyone too," the black-haired girl's whiskers twitched as she said that, "even in this place where we know nothing about, she seems to know almost everyone. It's... kind of cool, even though she's still annoying."

"She is well-traveled, yes," Rui swished her tail thoughtfully as she walked around a pothole on the sidewalk, "and well-informed about the situation. But at the same time... I sense a fear in her."

"Fear?"

The golden Fox huffed and dismissed the notion, "it doesn't matter."

"Oh... well, I guess seeing how big the world really is... is quite scary too."

"It's not like you to admit being terrified, Kit."

Sakura's bushy tail poofed in indignation and embarrassment at the words she just told her guardian, "I-I'm not afraid! I'm just saying!"

"It's alright to be afraid," Rui parroted her grandfather's words long ago, "because that's how you know that you're brave."

The black-haired girl's eyes seemed to light up at her elder's words and yipped, "yuuki!"

Courage.

She chuckled and patted the Kit's head, rather proud that the latter still remembered the very few Vulpine words they have learned over the years.

"Yes, yuuki."

Sakura smiled back, her tail swishing high over the ground, and made Rui feel a bit nostalgic because it took her back just a couple of years ago when the challenge of learning their native language was brought forth during a very early breakfast.


She took a deep breath to smother a yawn.

Her tail's tip swayed in tandem with the mellow morning music that came from the radio in the bar as she carefully sliced strawberries to be served with oatmeal for breakfast. Briefly, she glanced at the wall clock in the kitchen, noting that it was too early even for her standards. The only reason why she was groggily preparing a meal at this ungodly hour was because Sakura decided to be a good student at five o'clock in the morning.

She heard resounding clangs and the pitter-pattering of feet earlier, enough to rouse her from her sleep and roll out of her warm blanket. Apparently, the Kit was clamoring to finish some sort of homework due later today, probably an exercise given to her by Tal's daughter. Living up to her being a teenager, the black-haired girl procrastinated on the assignment until the epiphany hit her this morning, making her panic and produce a lot of noise, which in turn, made Rui think that there was some sort of burglar in the house.

It was only because her living security system continued to sleep that the golden Fox did not immediately reach for her shotgun.

The Foxroach had apologized after realizing what she had done, and sat herself at the kitchen table, where she attempted to do her work. This left Rui at a loss because it was too early for her to function properly but it was also too late for her to return to bed.

Left with no choice, she just decided to wake herself up with her morning cup of coffee and an energizing breakfast. After all, if the Kit wanted her brain to work, she needed something in her stomach.

"I'll never finish this on time!" The black-haired girl yipped and whined as she gripped her large ears in frustration.

To that, Rui exasperatedly replied, "then you should've done it sooner."

"B-but! I've been busy!"

"With what...?" This time, her voice was more bland, disbelieving, and slightly accusative like a badgering parent.

"Um..." the thirteen year old Kit seemed to be ready to hide underneath the table like a child chastised but she persevered in making up her excuse, "I was doing my patrols, going with Tal... a-and..."

Rui remained silent as it was the best strategy to make a kid realize her mistake.

"...and read comics." With a pout, Sakura hugged her own tail, waiting for her guardian to bring the final verdict.

The golden-haired woman only sighed as she lightly scratched the back of an ear, getting rid of that morning itch that pestered her when she woke up. "There you go... that was the real reason."

Feeling guilty that she had been irresponsible, the younger Vulpine buzzed forlornly as the older one placed a bowl of oatmeal and sugared strawberries in front of her. "What am I gonna do, Foxy? Lainy will get mad!"

Rui quirked an eyebrow and wondered how a girl just two years Sakura's senior could be so intimidating. But then again, the Kit did not like disappointing people, did she?

"What is it?" She asked absently. As a person with little formal education, she probably could not offer much, but at least a show of interest might be a good form of moral support.

However, when Sakura lifted the small booklet to show her the strange yet familiar characters written in vertical columns, Rui's ear twitched.

Even she did not know how to read, let alone write, the Vulpine language.

"You should know something, Foxy! Didn't you tell me that your grandfather was a poet?" The Kit pouted expectantly, hoping that her guardian was some sort of miracle worker.

"That doesn't mean that I am too." Sighing, the golden Fox took the small booklet from the younger girl and studied the characters. Truly, she could only recognize her ancestral tongue when it was spoken, never when it was written. The way each character was printed on paper made it look more like worm tracks than words.

Nevertheless, she gave it a try if only for the smidgen of pride she had at being Vulpine, but she quickly ran out of steam and flipped the pages for some sort of index since it seemed like the booklet was something akin to a dictionary or miniature textbook made to teach the language anyway. There were diagrams and a table that showed how certain characters were read and pronounced, but even then, she had to say them in her mind to actually make sense of them.

In the end, Rui sighed raggedly and questioned the Kit, "why are you doing this anyway?"

"Well, Lainy said that I should learn my native tongue just like how Mrs. Alsace taught her how to speak hers, so she got me this book when she was in Fenrisyr this summer and made me promise that I'll do the exercises in the booklet." Right after she finished explaining, Sakura flopped down on the table, "but how can I do that when I can't even read a single word!"

"I can't help you with that, Kit," Rui huffed and sat down at the table to eat her own bowl of oatmeal, "I only ever learned how to recognize a few words. I can't read nor write our language, but there are some pages in the back of the book that might help."

Pouting that she could not get an easy way out of her homework, the black-haired girl flipped the pages and tried to read the rudimentary passages in the guides.

"O-oyaho-"

The golden Fox instinctively corrected the Kit, much like how Taichi did to her long ago, "Ohayo."

"Oh, uh... o-hayo..." the Foxroach's eyebrows were knotted so tightly that she had to inhibit an amused chuckle, "o genki d-deshu k-ka?"

Rui thoughtfully chewed on a strawberry to keep her expression straight and serious.

"W-what did I just say, Foxy?" The black-haired girl demanded when she noticed that the corner of her guardian's lips was twitching. Indignant and red due to mortification, she yowled, "you're making fun of me! See! You're laughing! You made me say something funny!"

"I did not," the older Vulpine retorted, although she had to take a moment to slowly sip her coffee to prevent her facial muscles from moving without her permission. "From what I remember from Jii-san, that means... 'good morning, how are you?' so it's just a greeting."

"Oh..."

That seemed to have calmed Sakura down somewhat, and with a swish of her tail, she resumed trying to read from the booklet.

"Oya!"

"...what?"

Did she just call me her parent?

"O-oya! Guh... I can't talk like this!"

"Let me see," she took the reading material from the frizzled Foxroach and squinted as she spoke the syllables aloud. After all, it was the only way for her to discern what the word was in actuality.

"Oh..." she handed the book back to the girl, "that's 'oyasumi' ...it means 'goodnight' I think."

Sakura blinked slowly as she parroted Rui, her tail flicking side to side in a sweeping motion, "Oya... sumi."

Much to the golden Fox's surprise, the black-haired girl then giggled, "that's so cool."

"You think so?"

"Uh huh!" She even nodded enthusiastically in response.

"Then try to introduce yourself in Vulpian."

Gleaming garnet eyes looked at her expectantly, eager to learn the rather embarrassing-sounding phrase.

"It should be in there," Rui gestured to the booklet, "I saw it somewhere near the top."

Sakura furrowed her eyebrows again, completely absorbed and focused on the task at hand, while the older Vulpine merely watched as she continued to eat. This was somewhat fun, she admitted to herself, and wished that she knew more about her native language so she could teach the Foxroach more about being a Fox. She made a mental note to try and learn a few more words, even if putting them together into a coherent sentence was impossible.

"W-watashi wa..."

"Yes, then you say your name afterwards."

"Watashi wa Sakura desu."

"There you go." Rui chuckled as she nodded in approval. She recalled Taichi's nods as she did so, remembering how even the slightest tilt of the head brought her so much joy and pride, and wondered if her own nods brought that kind of feeling to the black-haired girl.

"Foxy," the Foxroach yipped to snap her out of her reverie, "I want to hear you say it too!"

"Say what...?"

"Introduce yourself!"

The older Vulpine narrowed her eyes and flicked her tail, staring at the younger one with a look of disbelief and reluctance.

"C'mon!"

"...my name is Rui."

At that, the black-haired girl yowled and buzzed, practically jumping on the table in her exuberance. "No! Introduce yourself in our language!"

"Go eat your oatmeal."

"But, but!"

"You still have to finish those exercises, don't you?"

Sakura pouted but relented after her guardian had given her a cold shoulder, mumbling to herself as she shoveled spoonfuls of oatmeal and strawberry in her mouth. After eating in relative silence, Rui placed a tall glass of cold milk in front of the engrossed student, who had begun to recite the phrases she was trying to write. Of course, she was writing her answers with common letters and not the complex Vulpian characters.

"W-watashi wa... hmm... Foxy, what's 'black' in our language?" The Foxroach blinked up at her as she was putting the dishes in the sink to be washed, "I can't find it here..."

"What are you trying to write?"

"Um, 'I am a black Fox'?"

"Hmm... I think it's 'kuroi' ...but I'm not sure either. Go look it up. That booklet should have words for colors at least."

"Okay! So..." Rui could hear the scribbling of a pencil that was being forced onto the paper too much, "watashi wa... kuroi - what's Fox, Foxy?"

The golden-haired woman sighed, "Kitsune."

That word was the most familiar one she knew for her grandfather derived her childhood nickname from that.

Ki-chan

"Watashi wa kuroi Kitsune!"

"Ie~"

Rui looked over her shoulder the moment she heard Yutsu's voice, and sure enough, the blunette was sleepily sauntering towards them after descending the stairs from the bedroom.

"Sa-chan wa chichai na kuroi nekonyan~"

"What! What did you call me!" As expected, the black-haired girl dug her tiny claws on the wooden table and fluffed her tail in fury. "And why are you awake already! You're not supposed to wake up until later!"

"Well with all the happy signals I'm getting upstairs, I can't help but get curious, Sa-chan~" the bounty hunter winked as much as her sleepy disposition could allow. "Oh, you adorable Foxes, having Vulpian lessons so early in the morning? You should have woken me up."

Rui snorted, "as if that's possible."

"Tsk, tsk," Yutsu walked over and clung on the bemused Fox's back, her ears bent and her nightgown lopsidedly falling from her shoulder, "one coffee please, Miss Bartender~"

"There's enough left in the kettle," the golden Fox took the physical contact in stride, and spoke evenly, "it should still be warm, and there's also some oatmeal in the pot."

"Hmm~ such the perfect wife. Marry me already, Foxy~"

Sakura's antagonistic buzz was instantaneous, "No! You're not allowed to marry Foxy!"

"My, my, your little nekonyan is jealous."

"I'm not...whatever that is, you damn Roach!"

Feeling the beginnings of a headache coming, Rui shrugged to shake the Rabbit from her perch, "get off and help the Kit with her homework. I know very little about that language."

"I don't want help from her!"

"She doesn't want help from me~"

The golden Fox growled and dropped the towel on the sink before turning towards the two but she did not say anything and merely let the silence echo in the kitchen until both behaved. Truly, it was like looking after two children with all the bickering, teasing twitters, and hissing buzzes. She massaged her temple before speaking some minutes later, "I'm going out to pick up my supply of cider, so you two get along. The Kit's homework must be done by the time I get back."

"Okay, Sour Fox~ we'll be done in a jiffy."

"Hnff!"

After making sure that the Rabbit had enough coffee in her system to function properly, Rui took her jacket and pressed her wallet deep inside its pocket before heading out. However, before she could even leave through the kitchen's back door, she heard Yutsu already making fun of the black-haired girl, while the said Foxroach was none-the-wiser.

"Say 'nya', Sa-chan."

"Huh? What's that?"

The blunette twittered, "'nya' means hello, don't you know?"

"Oh, then why didn't I-"

"Just say it."

"Nya?"

"Louder, I can't hear you. You have to greet people with enthusiasm, yes?"

"Nya!"

"Very good! But try to drag out the sound longer so you sound like a native Fox!"

"Nyaaaa~?"

Chuckling and shaking her head, Rui closed the door before the inevitable yowl damaged her ears.


An eager tug on her shirt's sleeve brought her back to the present, somehow making her crave the taste of gooey oatmeal and sugared strawberries in spite of just having eaten not too long ago.

"We're almost there, Foxy."

Sakura announced as they turned right in the intersection, where the dilapidated or flimsy-looking residential houses made way for slightly larger commercial buildings that have faded signs, probably due to the salty nature of the air here. The golden-haired woman could barely read some of them, while others were creaking on the rusted chains that tied them to the main infrastructure.

"Maybe Nita and Yutsu are here somewhere if Nita wants to look around," the black-haired girl reasoned as she began to scan the vicinity. "A-and if you don't mind, Foxy, I also want to check out Mr. Roc's place..."

Rui perked her ears and tried to remember where and if she had heard the name Roc before. "Who?"

"M-Mr. Roc..." the Foxroach instinctively shrank under her scrutiny, "Warren told me about him yesterday when he visited us in the cabin and... I just want to talk to him about the Balkans."

"What if I said 'no'?" The golden Fox challenged firmly. She was probably in the cabin's bedroom not to have overheard this conversation with Warren, and if her gut feeling was correct, the Desman had probably referred the girl to this Roc person to gain information. Sakura learning more about this Fenrisyran Rebellion would be detrimental to her plans of going to Rainwall after sending Nita home.

"B-but I just want to ask a few questions, that's all."

The brief flashback of her beloved Kit in Cog Weasel had suddenly vanished, replaced by this teenager who seemed to want to do everything that would put them at risk.

Anger began to boil in the pit of her stomach.

"About what? Finding Balkar? Do you even have an idea how dangerous that is?" Rui's ears were now dangerously low on her head, exemplifying how against she was with the idea. Meeting Warren Santiago had been a mistake already, because it gave the Foxroach hope that Hector's dream was not dead, despite of the Rebellion's fate in Riphaeus. Now, the black-haired girl was starting to chase after another wild hunt for glory in the form of Conrad Balkar.

"Y-yes but the resistance fighters here might have had contact with Tal and the others!" Sakura spoke boldly even though her garnet eyes were filled with confusion and fear. "I need to know what happened to them, Foxy!"

That look of defiance nearly made the golden Fox growl, "do not forget that we are here for Nita, Kit. I did not go all the way here to-"

"My my, I leave you two alone for a few hours and you're already arguing like this? It's a good thing I sensed Sa-chan's panic alarms from a couple of blocks back."

Rui took a deep breath when Yutsu walked up to them with Nita in tow. She ground her teeth but kept her words to herself due to the look the bounty hunter had given her. In a way, that aloof expression was right, she should not let herself mention their plans in the future or else they risk the possibility that Sakura might run away from them before they could haul her back to the Ferret Express.

"Is e-everything alright?" The Bear asked meekly before she approached her friend while throwing glances at the Fox's direction.

"Y-yeah..." the black-haired girl's antennae were flaccid and her gaze downcast, "I think so."

"Where have you been?" The golden-haired woman asked the blunette, knowing that she would not get a straight answer.

"Oh, I just took Nita here and there. So you two decided to look around yourselves, hmm?"

Rui did not respond because she did not want to say that she wished she did not leave the cabin at all. She could not help but feel that the Kit only took her along to find this Mr. Roc in the first place. She mentally cursed at herself as she flicked her tail irately.

She did not know what to think anymore.

"Yutsu," Sakura winced when her guardian glared at her, but she asked the bounty hunter anyway. "Do you know where Drunner Street is?"

The blunette twittered almost pompously, "of course I do~ it's just three blocks down this road actually. Silly, Sa-chan, we were near there yesterday."

"Really?" The Foxroach raised her tail excitedly, now that her discovery superseded her wariness of Rui's wrath. "So I can at least talk to- omph!"

"Sorry!" One of two brown-haired children had collided with the small rebel and nearly knocked her off her feet. The child was a little Canine girl with floppy ears, probably a Hound of some sort, who was immediately helped up and promptly dusted by her older brother.

"You shouldn't stand in the middle of the street with your dirty tail, Furry Bug!" The little boy barked at Sakura with the bravery of a child his age.

As expected, the Foxroach was insulted and yowled angrily, "Furry Bug?!"

"Yeah! That's what you are. Those are antennae, aren't they? Beh!" He even stuck his tongue out before pulling his sister and running down the street.

Rui watched as the frizzled Foxroach chased after the two Pups, fumbling and hopping over sidewalk obstacles in order to seize the two agile kids. Sighing, she turned towards the uncertain Cub who was left behind. Nita had a worried gleam in her eyes and it was only a matter of time before she glanced at the two adults and chased after her friend.

"I-I'll go get her!" The blonde called determinedly before she ran after black-haired girl, "Sakura, wait!"

As they both disappeared after making a quick turn into a wide intersection, the golden Fox glanced at the Rabbit beside her before starting her trek back in the direction she came in.

"Where are you going?" Yutsu asked as she crossed her arms, her viridian eyes still glued to where the teenagers ran off to and her antennae moving to keep track where Sakura was.

Rui wanted to say that she was going home, since that was what she would have uttered if they were still in Kaltrea. But they were not, so she muttered, "back to the cabin."

"What happened back there?" This stopped the Vulpine in her tracks.

She looked over her shoulder, "she is looking for another contact about the Balkans."

The statement was enough for the Rabbit to fill in the holes of the matter she no longer wished to talk about. They had barely escaped with their lives in Riphaeus to get here, and Rui was not about to jump into the fire or the frying pan again.

"The sooner we bring the Cub home, the better it will be for us." She said evenly and without emotion, "Warren's influence on the Kit tampers with our plans. We should leave Xenoc tomorrow."

With her bangs shading her viridian eyes, Yutsu twittered with an amusement that the Fox could not quite get or understand. "You sound like a criminal on the run, Rui."

The golden-haired woman clenched her jaw and her fists inside her pockets after feeling this inexplicable disdain of the laughter she loved so much. It sounded so condemnatory and hypocritical that, for a moment, she envisioned physically smothering or striking the sound out of the Rabbit's mouth.

She immediately shook the thought out of her mind.

Instead, she retorted sharply, "I'm not the one running away."

The blunette's long ears twitched but that was the only reaction that the Fox's words elicited from her. The latter paid it little attention and decided to just ignore the existence of this whole conversation altogether. This place was getting into their psyche and it was tearing them apart. The sooner they leave Fenrisyr, the better for all of them. None of them belonged here.

"What's this?" A gnarling and guttural voice rasped, "Miss Cut-throat is playing babysitter now?"

Rui's crimson eyes searched and found an old and crippled man with drooping ears fearlessly hobbling towards them. His face was severely scarred, and if it were not for the cane that supported him, he would probably be immobilized somewhere. Even the exposed parts of his forearms were mutilated and looked burned, making him look like a walking corpse.

From the corner of her eyes, Yutsu seemed to have frozen in place, her eyes wide in silent shock. This surprised the Fox as well, for the Rabbit should have thrown a witty comeback by now, but the bounty hunter only remained still and quiet even as the man continued with his insults.

"So are they gonna get sold or slaughtered to invent new torture techniques?"

"What are you saying, old man?" The blunette shifted her weight after seemingly recovered from her shock, her confident smile returning, but just barely. "I didn't know an old Mutt like you could still bark."

"Don't play dumb, Miss Killer," the Bloodhound spat scathingly, "you're the last person to have the right to play innocent. After all, you wouldn't even let innocent people explain themselves before you slit their throats, would you?"

Rui narrowed her eyes and glanced at Yutsu before glaring at the old man, "I advice that you just carry on. We have no business with you."

The Canine laughed, "Business? Funny, because that's how that bitch came into the picture in the first place! Bahahaha, fucking business… who the hell are you anyway? Some sort of agent to make sure your bloody ass little whore does her job?"

Confusion plagued the Fox's mind. Was this conflict due to a past mission? It looked like the Rabbit had transgressed this Hound, but it was hard to deduce the real story behind the scathing sentences that have left the bounty hunter at a loss for words.

Then it happened so suddenly, much to Rui's surprise. Yutsu drew her butterfly knife and held the blade against the man's throat after a couple of fast and practiced steps, her emerald eyes glittering with malice that overshadowed all the remnants of fear they had earlier.

"Don't fuck with me Roc," the bounty hunter sneered coldly as she pressed her weapons' edge against the thin skin of the Hound's neck.

In spite of this, the man still chuckled, sounding like he was being choked by sharply clawed digits, "after everything that you have taken away from me, I'm no longer afraid of you, Scourge."

Yutsu's gaze dulled in the unfathomable depths of her secrets, rendering her more dangerous than an angry beast. She was about to sink her blade into the man's flesh in order to silence him when Rui grabbed her wrist with an iron grip and growled warningly.

"Enough."

The Rabbit blinked as if snapped out of a dark trance and looked up at her with eyes holding that peculiar fear she detected from earlier. As quickly as she noticed it, however, it had disappeared as the bounty hunter stepped back and away from the insulting man, who was now grinning in triumph.

"Foxy!" "Miss Yutsu!"

The presence of the two teens was almost like fresh air to the stagnant and poisonous atmosphere that had descended upon them after Roc showed up. Sakura immediately placed herself between the two women and the Hound, her tail fluffed up and her antennae frizzled protectively, while Nita warily glanced in between the parties involved.

Pulling her wrist away from the Fox's grip, the bounty hunter spoke icily to the old man, "hobble away, Roc, and live the rest of your pitiful life in some hellhole somewhere."

"Thankfully, my hellhole is much better than yours, murderer."

Rui growled audibly again to disperse the tension between the two, "I said, enough."

Sakura, however, chose to overlook the seething electricity flying between the adults around her and asked with her ears perked, "W-wait… you're Mr. Roc?" She then ignored the audible rumblings from the golden Fox, daring to find even the smallest of clues that would help her reach her objective, "You have to tell us where we can find Conrad Balkar!"

"What's this?" Roc snorted, "why's a brat like you trying to find the Balkans?"

"I need to meet their leader, Conrad," the black-haired girl spoke as confidently as she could, although her courage was beginning to falter under Rui's gaze. "And I heard that you're one of the few people who knows how to contact him somehow."

"Don't make me laugh, little girl." The Hound's sneer was made even more horrific because of that way his torn ears rose from the base, giving him the demeaning smirk of a living cadaver, "why would the Balkans waste their time on you?"

"Because I believe I can make a difference, Mr. Roc." The Foxroach was solemn and her words were heartfelt. Passion brimmed in her garnet eyes to exemplify just how sincere she was with her objectives.

Sadly, a child's dream remained a child's dream.

The Bloodhound merely cackled loudly, dampening Sakura's resolve further. "Fool! Make a difference... bahahaha! Arthland, Balkar... those men have been trying to 'make a difference' for decades and still you- ahahaha! What the fuck are you, a sheltered brat? Your parents ought to leave you alone in the woods to fend for yourself for once."

"Stop laughing!" The black-haired girl hissed angrily and looked ready to pounce on the man. After all, Roc just slighted her greatest role model.

"But go ahead and meet Arthland's so-called successor here in Fenrisyr. Go to Hodous and locate the Serbe. Rumors say that there's always a Balkan stationed there to gather information." Roc ignored the Foxroach's noisy protests as he turned his back at the party, hobbling away and practically pulling his damaged self along with his cane, "if that fails, dig downwards."

"Dig downwards...?"

The Bloodhound paid her no heed, "get lost, brat. I've told you enough."

"Wait!"

"Grandpa! There you are!"

Rui looked up and saw the two droopy-eared Pups from earlier have returned and made a beeline towards the old grouch while looking at her party with suspicion. The young boy was certainly leering at them while his sister immediately helped her elderly grandfather. Surprisingly, Roc's rough rock-faced scowl softened at the sight of his grandchildren. The hateful crevasses of his face were gone, replaced by the fond smile of a doting grandparent.

"We're hungry grandpa," the little girl whimpered and wagged her tail.

"Ah... sorry, dear, grandpa got held up a bit there," the elder Bloodhound rubbed his grandpup's head, "as soon as we get home, I'll prepare something for you two."

"Yay!"

It was as if the vile and jaded individual from earlier never existed, all for the sake of preserving the innocence of the young ones.

Indeed, keeping up with the facade and living every day ignoring the tragedies of the past were grueling battles fought within, ever so silently and invisibly.

And more often times, unappreciated.

"Kit..." Rui called for the black-haired girl, who was about to go after Roc and his Pups. "Leave them be. They have no place in your world, nor do they seek it. They have their own."

Sakura looked up at her briefly before averting her eyes and drooping her ears, "right..."

"Let's go back to the cabin," she said decisively and nudged the two teenagers with her tail while she simmered within. They had even more to think about now. Circumstances were being interwoven like a web, with no beginning and no end, and there was no point in pondering about them here out in the open.

Doing so would only leave them empty, at a loss.

As Nita dutifully began chatting with the Foxroach to somewhat ease the confusion and hurt, Rui trained her gaze at Yutsu, who was still watching the Hounds as they walked down the street. Her long ears were bent now, weary and seemingly overwhelmed, while the tension on her shoulders still remained. Anxiety flooded her deadened green eyes as well, looking like a critter that wanted nothing else but to bolt away and out of danger.

The golden Fox mused that, if she really wanted to, Yutsu could probably run away at that moment, never to show her face again.

And Rui would not stop her.

"Are you coming?" She asked anyway, even though she did not expect a favorable response.

As expected, the blunette did not even hear her, and she simply could not care enough to try and be heard again. The Vulpine felt that asking questions was only a waste of time, because she could not be sure if the answer she would get was a half-truth or a blatant lie. Many instances in their brief visit here in Fenrisyr had made her realize that, so what was the point now?

The easiest way to cope was to simply pretend that questions do not even exist.

"Miss Rui...?" From up ahead, Nita called out softly while Sakura's gaze was glued to the ground with her hands stuffed in her pockets.

"Just return to the cabin later," was all Rui said before she followed the two teenagers back to the Pirines' company's housing compound, turning back and parting with the ever so silent bounty hunter, her heart heavy and burning in hurtful flames.

If you even bother to...


AN:

Rough translation of foreign languages used:

mi salvadora - my savior

cuidate - take care of yourself

"Ie, Sa-chan wa chichai na kuroi nekonyan~" - "No, Sa-chan is a midget little black kitten."