When I came to I could no longer hear the slightly rough breaths of the two men who carried me and the fox. There was far too much noise reaching me instead, too many voices and sounds as if something that faint would still catch my attention.
I slowly opened my eyes, only to find me surrounded by even more strangers than I had expected to see. There could easily be dozens of men and women wearing far too fancy uniforms, dresses and armors. Most of them were seated around round tables that had various snacks waiting for them.
The left side of the hall had several windows to let in sunlight. Each of them went almost all the way up to the ceiling, which was several times my own, human height. As if this wasn't enough, there were three chandeliers using several magic orbs each to light the hall.
Several servant girls were running about, some carrying even more food, others bottles of wine to fill the dozens of glasses that were emptied by the minute. All of them wore the same plain but beautiful turquoise and white uniform. It was slightly on the risque side, though.
«Does he want me to wear that, too? Never!»
My eyes wandered to the end of the hall, were a especially long table was standing. Several armored men stood at the walls to both of its sides, with swords ready to be unsheathed at a moments notice. They didn't look like the clowns from before, but rather like real knights instead, much like the two guys who had brought me here.
«So they are the Royal Guards, which means...»
Sure enough, the king was sitting at the table they were guarding, surrounding by his wife and what I believed to be his son and daughter.
The man himself was wearing a uniform like many others in this hall, though his looked a lot fancier. It was deep red and had silver buttons, together with white and black decorations. Over his shoulders, there hung a red-brownish cape that used white pelt to keep its wearer warm. It looked far too similar to the soft fur of my fox.
«... I don't like this.»
Becoming a servant was one thing, but becoming a pelt instead? Even being a slave was better! At least I would live!
Eric didn't even notice the shiver running over my body nor the tail that had grown to twice its original size. He simply walked past all of these strangers and towards his king.
Seeing the two Royal Guards carrying in fluffy pets naturally gathered more attention than I would ever wish for. I felt dozens if not hundreds of eyes staring down on me, each of them trying to finding out what was so special of me that two armed men had to bring me here.
When we finally reached the table of the stranger who had decided to let the two kidnap me, I couldn't even feel relieved. The king was staring at me as confused and curious as all of those surrounding him.
He seemed to be old, at least older than Ofris. Most of his short, slightly curly hair was grey, but here and there I could still find wisps of his original hair, which was dark brown in color.
Far more distinctive than his hair was his body. I couldn't see all of his body, as it was hidden under that uniform of his, but what I saw was enough to tell me more about this man then he probably wished to reveal.
He was fat to say the least. Not only had a big belly, his face, too, had almost merged together with his neck, giving him a double chin. Despite savoring his wealth with ample or at least frequent meals, he didn't look unkempt at all thanks to his combed hair and the well-trimmed beard.
I was still busy examining his appearance when Eric suddenly bowed down to greet his king.
The king nipped at his goblet of wine, before looking at me and the man carrying me. A deep yet melodic voice reached my ears.
"You finally returned?"
"I am sorry your Majesty. I was unable to find her sooner."
"So where is she? Bring her here!"
A loud gulp could be heard as Eric was preparing himself.
«How is he going to explain this?»
The answer was as obvious as direct. He just held me in front of his body to present me to his king before explaining what had happened.
"This is her," he revealed. "She turned herself into this... pet."
"Are you trying to play tricks? There is no way that is true."
Eric turned towards his comrade. "Tolkin, the stone."
Tolkin somehow managed to both balance the sleeping fox pup on his arm and, at the same time, pull forth the very same detection stone that had stolen my freedom a day ago. I silently prayed for it to just shatter in his shaky hands, but neither Shiro nor any other god seemed to listen or care.
"I ask for your pardon, your Majesty, but you can confirm it yourself."
He didn't. With a simple wave of his hand, the King ordered one of the Royal Guards standing nearby to do this task in his stead. And soon enough, the stone was placed onto my back, despite me trying my utmost to fend it off. It took only a few moments, maybe half a minute, before my last hope crumbled to dust.
"He speaks the truth, your Majesty," the man announced. "This is indeed a Foxkin."
"She doesn't look anything like the pictures."
"Your Majesty," Eric chipped in, "she probably used a magic to turn her into this."
"Why would she do that?"
"She wasn't fond of the idea of meeting you."
«What?! He is backstabbing me!»
It was too late to save anything. The king's face had already changed and I was greeted by anger rather than the confusion I could see before.
「I didn't try to question your authority,」 I barked at him. 「I just didn't want to leave Ofris side! I feel safe with him! It is only-」
"Stop barking at me," he demanded.
I immediately shut up. He was already angry enough by now and anything I said would only make it worse. So I just hung there in the air, only hold up by Eric's hands, and with a tail that couldn't grow bigger even if I wished for it. I probably looked like a frightened cat!
"So you understand me."
Upon seeing the obvious signs of fear, the king somehow calmed down a little, though not enough for me to even think about risking anything. So I simply nodded. What else could I do? Who knew what he would do if he started hating me!
"Can you turn back?"
"So do it!"
I had no chance to talk back, no way to escape, no place to hide. I had nothing. So I could only bark. Not the angry or frightened barks Eric and he had heard before, but far more controlled ones. And sure enough, a familiar white mist began spreading out of my body.
«Help me! Shiro?! Can you hear me? Please!»
⊱————- Extra ————-⊰
Rinya: So you are telling me a dog ate your scarf?
Eric: Ye- yes. That is what happened.
Rinya: Do I look that stupid to you?!
Rinya: You said you loved the scarf! Did you lie to me?!
Eric: I didn't!
Rinya: So why did you toss it away? I worked at it for days!
Eric: I didn't toss it away...
Rinya: You still have it?
Eric: ... here.
Rinya: By all gods! What happened to it?! It looks as if..
Eric: As if a dog tried to eat it?
Rinya: What kind of monster dog would do such a thing?! It must have been horrible!
Eric: It was...