1 Lost in memories

Drop.

Drip.

Drop.

SCREE!

In a dark corner, I lay. Curled up atop a few strands of straw and used my twin tails to rest my head. There's not much in my room; a cobbled floor and walls made of a composite of limestone and mud. The straw in which I lay. And a 'window' that is less than the size of my paw; to make things worse, this small hole is netted with some cast iron to ensure I do not escape.

SCREE!

There is that noise once again. The sound of my kin being tortured, experimented on, and slaughtered. Whenever I hear those wails of pain, my chest tightens while a shiver runs down my spine; a fury burns in my heart. Those humans drug us; inject us; gut us; replace our organs with others; sell our parts for the majority to enjoy. I often hear some of them rationalize their actions to the pleading foxes and other magical beasts. They say, "I am sorry, but this is for the greater good; this will warm the poor," or "we need your fur to fuel the war," or "these experiments will improve the lives of future generations." Humanshit! Their excuses don't change that they are experimenting and slaughtering intelligent beasts!

SCREE!

Another screech, another shiver. I swallow the lump in my throat while I await the ever-looming inevitability of what is to come. All I can do is surrender to my inner animal. A feeble attempt at preserving my own mind, moving my consciousness to the memories of my parents and home.

Shivering and hugging my tails, trying to lose touch with reality, I notice two phantoms in the corner of my room. Two foxes sitting side by side, looking at me. I can see the cold, dark limestone wall through them, but these two figures are filled with warmth as they gaze at me. A light, a beacon in this cold dark room in which I lay. I can make out a smile while my parents' eyes tell me, "We love you, Nike. Come to us." The lump in my throat prevents my breath. I know not if they are an illusion or if they are real. However, I worry that if I breathe, then the breeze will scatter these phantoms into the air, never to be seen again as they become one with the very air that I breathe. Like a wave in the ocean. You can see it, measure it, its height, the way the sunlight refracts when it passes through. And it's there. And you can see it, you know what it is. It's a wave. And then, in seconds, it crashes on the shore and it's gone. The wave has scattered to the vast blue ocean, never to be seen again.

As I stare at them, I fear, like a wave, they will scatter into the vast ocean of the dark universe, never to be seen again. Only to live on in my memory, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

With resolution and an undercurrent of resignation, I stand up and walk to my parents in the stillness of my dark cage. Whimpering and my tails between my legs, I approach my parents, only to be comforted by a loving embrace. Their heads covered mine, their tails wrapping around me, giving me warmth in this cold dark cage.

Like that crashed wave, we were gone. Once again, one with the ocean. Our only remains are in memory. In memory, you could still remember the measurements, its height, the way the sunlight refracted when it passed through it—the experience is still there, but only existing in the memory, awaiting to be lost to the sands of time. Forgotten.

﴾֍֍-֎֎﴿

"Again!"

"Reset your fighting stance. Again!"

"Focus on control, not power. Again!"

"Again!"

"Your balance is off. Again!"

"Again!"

"OK. Good work, we're done for now." My father sat utop a low hanging tree branch, giving me an approving and proud smile. "Your mother is waiting for you inside. She wants to start her lessons early, so you best hurry; you don't want to keep her waiting."

"Mn. Thanks dad!" I nod in agreement. I can't be late again! If I'm late again, my parents will punish me.

After drinking some water from a nearby water bowl and giving my father a loving headbut, I sprint through the forest. Rays of the sun break through the thick pine tree canopy, piercing through the morning mist, lighting up the mossy floor of this temperate forest. Every day, week after week, month after month. I've used this path for years; time and repeated use have turned this once soft and fertile soil into a stone path—only topped with a fresh layer of recently fallen pine needles.

As the fog begins to clear up, I smell the markings of my family's den—an indicator that I am near the entrance. My home—the den—is inside a natural cave, erosion slowly eating away at the walls while a massive evergreen tree attempts to hold the ground together. In the distance is a snowcapped mountain peak. If I focus enough, I can see streams of water running down the mountain, forming a river of freshly melted snow. Eventually, the river flows down into the underground—a deep abyss of unknown depth.

The den's entrance is small and covered by dense shrubs. Entering, I follow a narrow tunnel that leads to an underground river. Further in, the once slender cave opens into a massive cavern. Like melting icicles found at the end of winter, the scattered stalactites constantly drip with water onto stalagmites—adding to the underground river. Deeper in the cavern, the sun pierces through the forest canopy and floor, lighting up the cave.

As I follow the underground river, I head deeper into the cavern. Now underneath the large hole in the cave roof, the rush of a waterfall roars. Meanwhile, glints of light reflect off the many drops of falling water from the waterfall. Following a carved-out path near the falls, I descend into the dark depths of the cave. However, before my night vision can fully kick in, bioluminescent fauna begins to light my path in a blueish-green hue—these are the many glowworms that have formed vast, intricate webs to catch insects and spores. I've yet to understand the depth of this cave; I just continue towards my home down in the vast pits of this planet.

Finally reaching the bottom, I see an extensive underground aquifer. Slowly, my eyes adjust to the pitch-black cave, but with the help of magic, I rush night vision's activation. Quickly, I begin to see off in the distance, beyond a vast underground lake, ruins of old—my home.

Lightly jogging through the once advanced city, I pass through many skyscrapers that have long since fallen over, and I weave through the overgrown flora that has planted itself in the crumbling buildings and streets, attempting to continue to keep them together with their roots. Many light crystals scattered through the city illuminate a subterranean forest that recaptured the city long ago. These crystals of light—powered by some forgotten energy—radiate heat and somehow allow for these overgrown plants to continue to thrive. More bioluminescent glowworms shine in the darker areas of the foregone city—their bluish-green hue lightly reflecting the many webs.

Entering a restored marble temple—intricate patterns and carvings of marble lay throughout the architecture. The temple's layout is that of a trinity symbol with a circle in the middle. In each of the three corners, statues of various creatures line the walls. These statues are said to be the gods and goddesses of old--once thought to be a myth, then proven to be real, only to be slain and forgotten to time. In the center of one corner is Zeus—an alien plasma creature known as a Cheela. This creature can take on a crystallized skeletal structure that resembles an eagle while plasma fills in for flesh and innards. In another corner is Kronos—an alien creature known as a Thacril. This creature looks very similar to a ball of slime made of condensed cosmic radiation. In the final corner is two empty pedestals that lack their statues. The nameplates have long since lost their engraving.

Entering a side room, I am greeted by my mother. "Hello Nike, how was your training outside the den?"

"It was OK. I want to learn biology!"

"Hehe, alright, my little bookworm. How about we study those glowworms outside the temple?" My mother offered while sitting there in the room, flicking her tail back and forth.

Stomping my four paws in excitement, I let out a happy 'hehe' noise. "Yes!" Rushing off to the side of the room, I quickly grab my note stone and start imprinting mana into it—forming crystalline structures within the stone.

"Ready?" I nod with great vigor and enthusiasm, making my mother chuckle softly and give me a motherly smile. "The name glowworm is a nickname for various bioluminescent cave creatures. The glowworm in our cave is known as an Orfelia Fulton—they are similar to flies. Like in all bioluminescent creatures, the biochemically produced light is a product of a chemical reaction within the bodies of these small creatures." My mother explained more about glowworms: their life cycle, how they hunt and live, what food they eat, etc. Of course, I took notes!

﴾֍֍-֎֎﴿

Drip.

Drop.

Drip.

In the corner I am; cold, dark, lonely I am; my pillow—tail in between my legs, blanked by my wings. I ly there, the illusion of warmth from the sound of my flowing blood—the sound of magma within the walls of my body; Is it magma? Hehehe, yes, a fox with magma blood! Am I a fox? YES, I will always be a fox, right?

SCREE!

Snapping out of my thoughts, I rub my head against the stitches on my tail. The horns touching the wound made me feel like another beast was scratching me. An illusion of the mind that sapped away some of my loneliness.

SCREE!

Breaking out of my manic itching eposide by a shiver, I see blood flowing from my tail, making it feel hot. The dark red liquid, viscous in nature, slowly flowed down onto the floor—a red-stained floor. Ignoring the now open wound, I go back to the only thing I can still control—my thoughts.

SCREE!

I flinch. Sometimes, while awake, the souls of the living would fill the space in my ears, consuming my mind. Their chilling cries like the damned, followed by the lonely torment of silence which beckons death. In my rest, the souls of the dead would fill my dreams. Their laughter like children, their beckoning cheers. I want to join them, singing songs of freedom, songs of release. But the cold iron collar reminds me of my body, which shackles my soul to this cold, dark reality. I am forever tethered to this world. Left alone in solitude down in the darkest abyss.

Often, before giving in to the animal, I engrave their figure, their screams of pain, and finally their smiles as they are unshackled from their eternal prison and returned back into the ocean from which they originate, all of it into my memory, buried behind a metaphysical vault in my mind.

﴾֍֍-֎֎﴿

"DAD!"

"MOM!"

"WHERE ARE YOU?"

Walking around inside the den, I couldn't find my parents anywhere. Where could they have gone? Perhaps outside? Why wouldn't they leave a pee message at the very least?

I was supposed to have my lesson with mom already, yet she was nowhere to be found. Do my parents want me to hunt them down? What if I can't find them? Is this a test?

Sniffing, listening, looking, calling—I continue to search for my parents. In an attempt to continue my studies, I work on calculus 2 questions engraved in my notes stone while my search continues.

"DAD!"

"MOM!"

Now outside the den, I continue to aimlessly wander, only stopping for a quick hunt and a drink of water. Still no sign of my parents. There weren't even tracks left behind. No messages. Nothing. It's like they just disappeared.

Eventually, I reached the edge of our territory. A permanent line in the snow etched into the ground with incomprehensibly powerful magic. There was one rule that I was told never to break. Do not ever cross the boundary line. Despite my tendency to sometimes break the rules, this was one rule I knew never to break. Perhaps it was the extreme pressure that came off the boundary line, fear of the unknown, or the extreme seriousness of my parents when talking about the boundary that stopped me from breaking this rule?

This search of mine continued. Day after day. Week after week.

It was the first day of spring now, and still no sign of my parents. I was left to my own devices, alone, finding only solitude in distracting myself with the routine of my parent's lessons and my constant search. I had been alone all my life, only ever having my parents and the mindless animals in the woods to accompany me.

Every day, I found myself staring out beyond the boundary lines of my home, hoping to catch a glimpse of my parents. I never did, though. I didn't want to admit it, but I knew my parents were beyond the powerful boundary. But something about the edge compelled my mind to stay within its confines. Call it instinctual or call it magic; nevertheless, despite my desperation to find my parents, I knew better than to never cross that line.

But today, I had enough! I was scared and frustrated; fearful and angry. Why hadn't my parents returned! Did something happen? Do they need my help? Why must I be left all alone, secluded from society! ENOUGH!

And I stepped beyond the boundaries of my home—my territory.

Next chapter