Originally posted on FA on Jul 19th, 2016 06:36 PM
Christina sighed as she leaned back in her chair. With her head turned to one side, she gazed out the window, watching two birds wheel past each other in the distance.
"Christina! Pay attention!"
Christina jumped, fur standing on end, and sat up straight in her chair. She brought her attention back to the front of the small schoolhouse, where her teacher stood, arms crossed in front of her chest.
"Now that I have your full attention, perhaps you can tell me how many years there are in the goddess reincarnation cycle?"
Christina sighed. "Isn't it a thousand?"
The teacher narrowed her eyes. "Yes, that's right. Every one thousand years, the goddess clothes herself in mortal flesh and lives a lifetime among us. During that time, she refreshes herself so she can continue protecting us for another millennium. If the calendar's are correct, the time should be coming any day now!"
Christina shrugged and turned to look back out the window. She didn't know why her teachers thought that these old superstitions were so important. Yes, she was grateful that she had been able to grow up in the valley, but there was nothing supernatural about it: their ancestors had simply known a good spot of land when they saw it. The valley's fertile soil made it easy to grow crops, and its secluded nature kept out invaders. None of it was due to the protection of some "goddess."
Christina let out another sigh as she waited for the lesson to end.
In spite of the growing darkness, Christina made her way through the trees without trouble. The forest surrounding their village had always been her favorite place to go to clear her head. She inhaled, breathing in the scent of pine needles and soil. It was so much better out here than in that stuffy classroom.
However, she had begun to grow bored of the forest. After years of exploring, she knew its every nook and cranny. She longed to see more. The valley was large enough to hold several small villages, but she had already seen them all. She longed to explore the world outside the valley; forests and mountains and caves waited for her visit. Just one more summer: once she passed her next birthday, she would officially be an adult, ready to take on whatever profession she should choose. With no parents or family to keep her here, if she decided that "explorer" was the profession she wanted, the village council couldn't stop her. Hell, they'd probably be glad to be rid of her.
She wasn't sure how long she'd been lost in her thoughts when she noticed the glow. It filtered through the trees, coming from a source not far off, painting the woods with golden light.
Who could possibly be out here this late? Most of the village was usually asleep by now. Curious, Christina made her way towards the light, and found herself at the edge of a small clearing.
The source of the light was not a lantern, but a person: standing in the center of the clearing was a lithe female fox. Christina didn't recognize her, which meant she must have come from outside the village. Her body seemed to glow with its own inner light, shining off her golden fur.
How had she managed that? Christina knew that some of the caves in the area had moss that glowed in the dark; had the fox doused herself in some kind of solution made from it? The glow seemed much too bright.
Christina would have just walked up and asked her, except the fox was not alone. Several young women, all around Christina's age, were kneeling in the grass in front of the fox. It looked like some kind of ritual, and instinct told her not to interrupt.
Besides, these girls she did recognize: they were all from the village. Not all of them looked happy to be there, either; some appeared to be in a kind of daze, but others looked frightened, as though unsure of what they were doing there. Was the fox about to give a speech?
The fox didn't give a speech. Instead, turned her gaze to one of the girls, a mouse that Christina recognized from her class. The fox approached her, leaned over, and caressed the girl's chin with her fingers.
Then the fox opened her muzzle wide and swallowed the mouse whole.
It happened in an instant: one moment, the mouse was kneeling there in a daze, and the next, the fox just... slurped her up. The fox's cheeks bulged out for a moment, and then the bulge slid down to settle in her belly, causing it to balloon outward. Christina heard a wet slap as something hit the ground, and she realized it was a pile of clothes; she wasn't entirely sure if the mouse had been sucked right out of her clothing, or if something else had happened.
The fox stood up straight again, licking her lips, with a satisfied smile on her face. Some of the more lucid girls looked even more frightened than before, but they still remained kneeling in the grass, making no attempts to flee.
Christina watched in a sort of daze of her own as the fox moved from one girl to the next, giving each the same treatment. Each one was easily gulped down, leaving behind nothing but a pile of clothes and an expanding fox gut.
The fox finished devouring the last of the girls, then turned to look in the direction of the tree Christina was hiding behind. "You can come out now," she said. "I know you're there."
Christina's heart leaped into her throat. Her legs seemed to move on their own as she stepped out from behind the tree and walked into the clearing. Golden light still shone from the fox's fur, so solid and thick it seemed to rise from her like steam. The light pushed down on Christina, causing her legs to shake, though she resisted the urge to drop to her knees.
Now that she had a closer look, she was taken aback by just how beautiful the fox was. Her fur was perfect and unmarred, and her thick tail flicked back and forth behind her. Even her enormous belly looked good on her.
Christina swallowed. "Y-you're the goddess, aren't you?"
The fox smiled and nodded. "That is what your kind call me."
"Then why... why are you doing this?"
Christina blinked, trying to reconcile what she was seeing with the stories she had heard growing up. "I thought... I thought you were supposed to protect us."
"I am protecting you."
Christina hesitated. She knew the question she had to ask, even though she suspected she already knew the answer. "Are... are you going to eat me, too?"
"Well, let me see."
The goddess approached Christina, stepping to one side of her so that her large belly wouldn't be between them. Then she took Christina's chin between the fingers of her left hand and slowly turned her head, examining her from different angles. Christina couldn't help but think that the goddess was looking at her the way one appraises cattle.
"Yes... yes, I think you'll do. Not as appropriate as some of the others, but that wanderlust gives you great potential."
"I... I don't understand," Christina said. She had already tried to run, but her legs seemed rooted in place; in fact, it was taking all her strength now to stop from falling to her knees. Tears were forming in her eyes, as though she were looking into a strong wind, though the night air was still. "You said... f-fate? Is it my fate to be eaten?"
"Quite the opposite," the goddess said. "It is your fate not to be eaten. That is what makes you so delicious."
"I... I don't..."
"When your ancestors first encountered me, they sought my help. They begged me to give aid to them and their children. I agreed... and I never go back on my word." The fox released Christina's chin, running her hand down to rest on her shoulder instead. "And it's not just this valley that I protect, though I admit this has always been one of my favorite places. But making a field grow, or turning an army of invaders away, that requires a change in fate, a change that affects the balance of everything. Just as one end of a lever cannot go up unless the other goes down, I cannot affect a real change in the world unless I take the fate of someone else. So I travel the world every once in a while, to see in person how things are going and to collect enough fate to keep doing my job for the next millennium."
"And we..." Christina looked at the goddess' stomach. "We just have to die?"
The goddess shook her head. "No, for even death is still a fate. Instead, you will become part of me. I will use your spirit to help sustain my form -- to keep me young, or to keep my fur soft for a while, or to keep my tail fluffy. How would you feel about being part of my tail for a few millennia?"
Christina swallowed hard. "I don't..."
"I'm sorry," the goddess said. "But it's not your choice to make. Your fate has already been stolen."
Then she opened her muzzle wide.
The fox stood alone in the forest clearing, surrounded by piles of clothes. She ran her hand over her full stomach, enjoying the sensation of the young mortals struggling inside.
Soon she would need to get down to business. A few minutes of focus and her stomach would shrink back down to normal size, and then she could take the souls she had absorbed and allocate them to wherever she felt they were needed -- her fur, her paws, her stomach, her ears, her teeth, her tail. She would use them to disguise herself as a mortal, so she could walk among them and see their world for herself -- to see where her help was needed. And of course, she would pick up a few snacks along the way.
But for now, she would enjoy her full belly for just a few more minutes. She had time, after all -- an eternity's worth of it.