Aoi stood on the outer edge of her village, facing the forest. She sighed softly, closing her eyes and flicking her six blue tails. "Come on, Minoru, what is taking you so long?" she grumbled. "Damn it, I shouldn't have let you go out there! I should have gone myself!" She started to pace back and forth impatiently before she saw Flare and Lunar approaching the village.
"Flare! Lunar!" Aoi exclaimed, running to the pair. "Where's Minoru? Have you seen him? Tell me he's alright!"
"He went with Yuki to bring Cyan to Pyro's house," Flare answered. "He's fine."
"Ah, thank goodness," Aoi sighed, relieved. "I'm sure you've noticed that he hasn't been himself lately. I'm worried he might do something rash."
"I haven't been myself, either, so it's hard for me to tell," Flare bluntly stated. "What is going on with him?"
"He asked me not to tell anyone else, especially Cyan, but I can't keep it to myself any longer. Lately, Minoru has been having recurring nightmares involving Cyan and himself being held captive by Shiryu," Aoi explained. "Shiryu would use Cyan's well-being as a bargaining chip to force him to her will."
"But why would she use Cyan to get to Minoru? As far as I know, her relation with Minoru is merely platonic."
"Minoru feels it's his duty to protect her, as well as almost any female he is acquainted with. He can't bear to see any harm come to them. When Cyan lured Shiryu out of the village, we had to hold Minoru back from following." Aoi started to walk back into the village, followed by Flare and Lunar. "That was by Cyan's request. She didn't want him or anyone else to follow. I don't know exactly what she was planning, taking on Shiryu alone."
"I don't know. Luckily, she is safe, though."
The three vixens entered a house with papers and books scattered on the floor. Flare walked to a desk and picked up a maroon book with a gold crescent moon design on its cover. "I actually came here to get this," she said. "I wanted to read it with Yuki." Lunar took a grey book with a similar design.
"Ah, your journals," Aoi nodded. "You left those here in a hurry. You want Yuki to know what you've been doing after you left him?"
"Yeah. Also, there are some earlier entries I want to look over again." Flare flipped through some of the pages in her journal. "I don't know if it will help what we're dealing with here, but I think it's worth checking."
* * *
Minoru walked through the forest, lost in thought. He wasn't aware of how long he had been walking, and for a brief moment, had forgotten where he was heading. "Right," he mumbled to himself, stopping and closing his eyes. "Aoi's village. I have to make sure they are safe." Before he could continue walking, he felt a tugging sensation on one of his tails, followed by numbness coursing through his body. He found himself unable to move except to turn and see who had pulled his tail. Minoru quickly recognized her as Shiryu, standing in a bipedal form. Her bust was covered with a black and purple breastplate, and she was wearing black fingerless gauntlets.
"I see you are still susceptible to paralysis when someone grabs your tails. Not a very good weakness, but whatever." Shiryu grinned, keeping a firm grasp on Minrou's tail. "You will not be going anywhere except with me."
Minoru winced, and glared at Shiryu. Before he could utter a word of protest, she yanked on his tail, causing him to yelp. Shiryu sneered. "I know you would like to refuse, but you really do want to give yourself up to me." She leaned in closer to his ear. "Somewhere, deep down inside, you know I am right." She pulled back, continuing to hold Minoru's tail in her hand, her other hand hidden behind her back. "Of course, I could always take Cyan instead, or Aoi. The choice is yours."
Minoru started to answer when a young three-tailed orange fennec ran to him and Shiryu. "Papa!" she cried. Minoru turned to her. "Chibi?!" he exclaimed, wincing from Shiryu's tight grip on his tail. "I thought...I told you...to stay home."
Shiryu grinned, glancing at Chibi. "This is rich," she said. She looked back at Minoru. "Normally, I would not bother with little kits, but if you do refuse to go with me, I could take her
instead," she smirked. Minoru groaned, continuing to look at Chibi. "Alright, as long as you don't harm my daughter."
"I shall leave her alone," Shiryu replied. "For the time being. But right now, I only need to deal with you." She pulled Minoru closer to her by his tail, and wrapped her other arm around him. She grinned at Chibi. "Be sure to tell your village elder this. If she wants to see him again, she will have to come out and find us, and she knows who to bring." With the last word, Shiryu vanished in a flash of purple lightning, taking Minoru with her. Chibi ran to the spot where the two were standing, and stared at the ground, speechless. She was unaware of Garou jumping down from the trees next to her. "Damn, I was too late!" Garou muttered. She glanced to Chibi and tilted her head. "What are you doing out here by yourself?"
Chibi turned to Garou and looked up at her. "I was worried about Papa, so I was going to check on him," she responded. "I saw him getting grabbed by that awful purple dragon. What does she want with him?!"
Garou placed her hand on Chibi's shoulder. "That was Shiryu, I'm sure you've been warned about her," she calmly replied. "As for what she wants, I don't know for sure. All I can tell you is that we should go back to your village and report this to Aoi."
Chibi nodded and lowered her head. "Right," she sighed. "She did say we need to tell Aoi to bring someone to her. But who does she want, and where did she even take Papa?"
"I think she might have taken him to one of her villages further south," Garou glanced in that direction. "And again, I don't know who or what she wants. I have a feeling Aoi might know. Let's go and talk to her. Standing around here isn't accomplishing much of anything, and you need to be brought back to safety."
* * *
Cyan sipped her tea and leaned against Yuki's side. "My search had led to Minoru's village, where he insisted that I stay. I told him that I was looking for my sister, and couldn't stay for long, that I should get back home to you. Minoru was planning on escorting me there because he was worried I would get captured by Shiryu."
"Yet, she was chasing after you anyway," Yuki said solemnly.
Cyan lowered her head. "I know. But she actually came for Minoru. I stepped in and lured her away, despite his protests. I thought..." She shook her head and sighed. "I don't know what I was thinking, really. But I guess Shiryu somehow knew I was searching for my sister, and she said that I would find her if I surrendered."
"So you lured her out so you could ask her personally? Do you think Shiryu might be holding your sister hostage?"
"I suppose that's one of the reasons, though the possibility of Shiryu having my sister didn't occur to me," Cyan took another sip of tea, closing her eyes and pausing to think. "I don't remember Shiryu being involved with...that incident." She shuddered.
"I see. And another thing, why does she want blue foxes specifically?" Yuki asked. "First she captured me, then she threatened Mizu, and now you?"
"Damned if I know. Probably just her color preference." Cyan shrugged. "Most of the village leaders here are that color, so that could be it. Blue or...green. Remember, she did go after Minoru before I lured her away. Although...he isn't..."
"A leader," Yuki said, finishing Cyan's sentence. "Neither is Mizu, for that matter."
"Does it matter, anyway? She needs to be stopped whether her targets are blue, green, or even pink! We just need to track her down. Flare should be able to help with that," Cyan looked up at Yuki with a smirk. "She was
working for Shiryu until she ran into you," she teased. "You've charmed her back to her senses. I've heard that much when she spoke with her daughter and Aoi."
Yuki patted Cyan on the head and was about to respond before he was interrupted by a loud, frantic pounding on the door. "Who could that be?" He stood up and walked to the door. Before he could open it all the way, Aoi shoved the door, knocking Yuki back a bit, and ran inside followed by Flare. Yuki closed the door and turned to Aoi, startled by her behavior. "What is it?" he asked.
"Sorry," Aoi panted. "It's Minoru."
Pyro and Pyra entered the room. "What's going on?" Pyro demanded. "What about Minoru?"
"Damn it! I told him not to give himself up to her!" Pyro slammed her fist into the wall, wincing lightly as she realized she hit a stud. Her anger helped to dull the pain. "He never listens! When I get my hands on him..."
"From what we were told by Chibi," Flare interrupted, holding a hand up, gesturing for Pyro to calm herself. "He...didn't go willingly. He had...to choose whether Shiryu would take him...or her."
"Chibi?! Why would Shiryu...Damn her. Going after kits now?!"
"Chibi was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Aoi had finally caught her breath. "Minoru was apparently ambushed, and Chibi walked in on the scene. She's safe now, though. We need to worry about Minoru. Shiryu has him, and wants Cyan in exchange. Except, I'm pretty sure she intends to keep him, if I am interpreting his dreams right."
Cyan slowly stood up. "His dreams?" she asked. "What happened in these dreams?"
"I'm sorry for keeping it from you, but he asked me specifically not to say anything to you about his dreams. He didn't want you to be worried," Aoi answered, walking to Cyan. "There isn't a point to hiding it now that they seem to be coming true." She sighed. "Minoru had recurring nightmares where both he and you were held captive by Shiryu. She'd threaten to harm you if he didn't surrender his will to her. In one dream, she had thrown you into a maze that would cause you severe pain for every wrong turn taken. Eventually Shiryu would decide...to kill you, and to force Minoru to be her servant. He'd try to avenge you, but fail."
Cyan stepped back, sitting down again, her ears lowered. "So that's what's been bothering him," she muttered.
"Exactly. And it sounds like something she would actually do, considering she's targeted you both. She wanted Minoru for...who knows what, and you, because of your sister," Aoi said. "Now, I'm not going to force you, but I suggest you stay here, where it's safe. Minoru would be devastated if anything were to happen to you."
"I'm going," Cyan firmly responded. "Not just to free Minoru. I must find out if Shiryu does have my sister. I intend to get an answer from her one way or another, no matter the risk. Besides, she might just come here regardless."
"Understood," Aoi nodded, walking over to the table where the map of the island still laid. "Shiryu is likely holding him somewhere in the southern region. We should come up with a plan to get him out of there safely."