The sound of dripping water. A bleak stone room.
‘Where is this?’ Miyagi Vulpine wondered as she tried to move her hands.
The clanking of chains.
‘What is this place? This situation… I’m a prisoner?’
She slowly sat up, shifting her position several times to get into a reasonably comfortable pose despite the restriction of the chains. She took a look at her surroundings. There was very little of note in the cell (what else could the bare stone room be?) except for the sturdy iron chains that bound her in the centre of the room. Her wrists, her ankles and even her bushy wolf tail was clamped to the ground by heavy metallic manacles.
And there wasn’t even a shred of cloth protecting her modesty. Rather, Hei Lian’s modesty. It was her memory after all, the Witch was just there for the ride.
‘This isn’t what I expected,’ she thought.
When Hei Lian had initially attacked her with Hellfire, she hadn’t paid her much heed. A rude and uncivilized Cultivator with a rare affinity, that was her assessment of the girl. But when Hei Lian had let loose with that final spell, she had been forced to take notice. The sheer potential inherent within those infernal flames…
She had made her decision then and there.
No matter how suitable Ceres’ body was for her, she couldn’t give up that kind of power. So what if it would be a bit difficult? Her situation was no longer the disadvantageous one it had been.
Even if she’d had to discard a large portion of the core crystal to weaken the creature enough to do it, she had managed to thoroughly suppress the elemental and gain control over the entire Dungeon core. Now, she was much stronger than she’d been in her prime.
Even if the process was a bit trickier, she had full confidence in possessing the body of a Tier 3 fire mage. Why, she even had the perfect tools for the job.
Aspect of Illusions. Aspect of Confusion.
Every kitsune worth their salt studied the Aspect of Illusions. Their clan library back in the Shogunate was chock full of personal records of generation after generation of the fox yokai who had mastered the Aspect. With that much information on the topic, it was eminently easy for the younger generations of the kitsune to become master illusionists but it was clan custom for the kits to be barred access to the records and made to comprehend it on their own in times of peace.
It was both a test of the children’s aptitude and a way to enrich their knowledge repositories even further as without guidance, the children often came up with entirely new methods of cultivation. Yet, when war loomed, the doors to the library would be opened wide and the kitsune would grow into powerful mages that could bend the minds and senses of their enemies at a whim.
Even Ceres’ method of mastery had been recorded and sent to the Shogunate by the Duchess. And as for the Duchess’ unknown Aspect… it was the Aspect of Illusions.
With that kind of background, it was no surprise that Miyagi Vulpine was an old hand at using illusions and that combined with her Aspect of Confusion would allow her to trick Hei Lian’s body into believing that she was its actual owner.
Well, that was the idea, anyway.
In practice, it was much more complicated than that. The body is infinitely mysterious and the mind even more so. And as affinity was closely linked to the mind, if she wished to gain perfect control over Hellfire, she needed to be extremely careful. With her current power, she could easily brute-force the issue but then, she’d only receive an empty shell devoid of any magical talent. If that was to be the case, she’d have done much better taking over Ceres instead. At least that way, her body and bloodline would have been fully compatible.
So, she had used her Aspects to dig through Hei Lian’s memories and bring out the most emotionally significant event in her life and live through it, thereby vastly increasing the compatibility of their minds.
She didn’t have to worry about too much time passing in the real world as time moved faster the deeper one immersed oneself into unconsciousness. At the current depth of her trance-state, a year inside would be but an instant in the real world.
She hadn’t expected much from such a young girl. The most emotionally-charged memory… She had expected Hei Lian’s first night with her husband, or something similar.
‘Definitely not this.’
She tried to channel her mana to disrupt the chains but it disappeared like smoke being sucked out of an open window. ‘Mana-absorbing shackles,’ she noted, surprised. ‘Whoever imprisoned her, took no chances. And it appears that my mana will be restricted as long as I’m bound in these. I won’t be able to leave this dream till it runs its course.’
She sighed. She didn’t much enjoy the prospect of being tortured by whoever had imprisoned the girl but there was little she could do about the situation but wait.
And it was a long wait.
There was nothing to keep her mind occupied in the barren cell. Even the ventilation had been blocked by a mesh grille and set deep into the wall so she couldn’t see outside through it. No windows and only a single stone door that closed without so much as a gap to let light in. Only a recessed smokeless torch in one corner of the cell cast a dim light into the room, lengthening her shadow till it touched the other corner.
The worst thing about it was how humiliating it was. The way she was tied combined with her nudity meant that she was completely exposed to the gaze of whoever cared to take a look. In all her life, first as a kitsune noble, then as a woman of high status in the Regiis Empire, she had never been shamed so thoroughly.
Suppressing her disgust with great difficulty, she kept repeating the mantra that it wasn’t real to herself until she managed to calm down somewhat.
‘Whoever did this to you, girl, I’ll scour them off the face of this world. I promise you that.’
Suddenly a stone block was slid out from the bottom of the doorway and a plate of food was pushed in. Whoever was on the other side of the door used a long pole to push the dish within her reach. She only caught a glimpse of the eyes of her warden.
His sleazy gaze made her skin crawl. Instinctively, she tried to hide herself but all she managed to do was rattle her chains. She heard him chuckling from the other side of the door before sliding the stone block back in.
The Witch’s eyes seemed like they would momentarily spout fire. Clenching her teeth, she decided there and then. She wouldn’t touch the food. If this was like the previous dreamlands she had explored, it would end with her death. Starving herself to death was a bad way to go but it was better than this… this travesty! Even if she told herself that it was just a dream, the humiliation was very, very real. Even if completing the dream prematurely wouldn’t improve her compatibility with Hei Lian as much as experiencing it all would, it would be enough for the initial possession. There would be a lot of time to search for an alternate solution later.
Somehow, she had underestimated her situation again. As a living being, she had physiological needs. Despite leaving the food and water untouched, she still needed to visit the washroom but chained in the centre of the room as she was, she was utterly helpless against her own body. Finally, despite her desperate efforts, she soiled herself.
Looking up at the ceiling with dead eyes, she experienced despair. Even when someone entered the room and splashed her with icy water to clear up her mess, she stubbornly stared up at the ceiling. ‘It isn’t real. It’s all a dream,’ she endlessly reassured herself as she denied the existence of the man. But the same sleazy chuckle she had heard the day before shattered her fragile shell of denial like so much glass. Struggling up to a sitting position, she watched the man’s back as he exited the room with hate burning in her eyes.
The days passed by agonizingly slowly.
Without food or water, specially water, she wilted, her body becoming thinner and weaker by the day. Yet, every day her captor would deliver the plate full of ever more fragrant food as if tempting her to eat. After a few hours, the cold food would be drawn back out of the hollow in the door with a hooked pole and she would hear the same despicable chuckle as if mocking her efforts to preserve her dignity when he had to clear her mess every day.
The third day into her captivity, dark whispers resounded in her mind. She knew her feralization was upon her and she welcomed it as a temporary escape from the hellish dream. But when she regained her mind, to her horror, she noticed blood on her lips. Not far from her was the half-devoured carcass of a deer.
All her efforts to starve herself over the three days reset in an instant by the wolf’s self-preservation instinct. Blunted crossbow arrows lay scattered around her indicating that she had been shot out of her feral form by someone repeatedly shooting at her till her Barrier was exhausted.
Frustration, humiliation and despair combined into the first tears she had shed in decades.
Captive in a cell within a dream, Miyagi Vulpine, the mother of Calamities, cried.