1. Seiōbo (Sora’s Dark-Furred Aunt Who’s Haunted By Her Past)
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A pleasant tingle passed through Seiōbo’s heart while watching Emilia’s eager resolve to support her mother redouble; her short time since returning to life had been nothing but turbulent, yet at least this alleviated some of her shattered expectations.
Her vision drifted between Sora’s two combative forces, trying to rip each other apart, Seiōbo took a deep breath and eased it out. “Remember your desires are the key to controlling your magic, Emilia. A desire is more than a simple wish; it is a longing that motivates action, and that spark of ambition molds and infuses into a weave to form Existence itself.”
Emilia attentively nodded, watching her create a clay mold before filling it with molten metal. “It is no different with fashioning a tool—if your desire is not pure or the conviction is not there—the construct could break or elicit unwanted flaws that have consequences.”
“Mhm! Mhm! Umm, but I just want to help my mom … Is that not enough?” she asked, copper eyebrows drawing together as her focus shot to Sora’s Intelligence. “Is that not pure enough?”
A patient smile moved Seiōbo’s lips; the question sparked memories of Mia’s own inquiries to their mother. “It’s not about how pure your desire is in helping your mother but the direction that energy is placed. If you have pure metal but a misshapen mold to place it in, you will not get the results you want … You need to have a clear course and proper control while pouring your hopes into the weave.”
Emilia’s ears twitched, a lump dropping down her throat. “Mom always made it look so easy … She created so many clothes and stuff for everyone this one time … It’s because I didn’t start as a Vulpes Founder. Right?” she whispered, heart wavering, but it was necessary for her to realize the hurdles and correct possible failings
Seiōbo closed the distance to slide her hand around her waist, drawing her light blue eyes. “It doesn’t matter that you were not a Founder at your Intelligence’s creation; you are a Founder now, and your Intelligence is trying to adapt to it. Trust me, this is nothing to be ashamed about; in fact, he-he, Wendy and Mofupsi will require far more practice than you.”
Spotting a point of weakness in the girl, Seiōbo’s fingers moved to enclose Emilia’s hand while removing the forging materials to show the decaying figure of Loral from the time she’d been tricked. “Are you still held up over this broken creature’s words?”
Emilia’s grip bolted against hers, tail fur going on end. “S-She … Umm, I don’t want that to happen again,” she mumbled, skittish eyes refusing to look at Loral’s pre-revived incomplete state. “I was stupid, and I could have hurt my mom…”
“Hmm…” Seiōbo let her emotions settle a bit with the stationary image of the shattered Intelligence in front of them. “Saying you aren’t as talented as your mother is not a proper view of the difference between the two of you, Emilia; it was a very shallow and manipulative statement to bludgeon you into dancing to her tune.”
The girl’s tails lowered further with her ears and vision. “So … I was double tricked. Great…”
Seiōbo giggled. “You can be smart and naive; although, it can be hard to differentiate the two, but look at the path your mother has walked—it is not devoid of folly, yet she presses on. There is a reason why this cracked version of Loral needed you; she provided the mold that you fed your magic and desires into so she could accomplish something she could never do … You’re amazing, Emilia.”
“I don’t feel it,” Emilia grumbled, free hand rubbing her arm. “All I do is mess up, and I really don’t want to, but it always ends up that way. It’s like I only exist to make my mom’s life harder and … and that feels horrible,” she cried, tears gathering in her eyes as emotion took her. “I don’t want to feel like a burden!”
“I know,” Seiōbo whispered, reaching over to pull her into an embrace as the girl’s arms and tails wrapped around her, “I know … Holding it together is so hard when everything seems to repeat no matter what you do.”
Seiōbo’s chest puffed up to press against Emilia’s before releasing the air; gazing across Sora’s violent Oltera Nexus, she maneuvered them through to remain close to her niece’s Intelligence. She couldn’t be more proud of Emilia, and the young Founder didn’t even realize what she was doing.
“What do I need to do, Aunt Seiōbo?” Emilia whimpered, chin resting against her collar bone. “What do I need to do to be useful?”
“There, there,” she said, rubbing her back. “Can you answer me a few things?”
It took a second for Emilia to clear her throat and gently pull away with a small nod, doing her best to compose herself. “Yeah—s-sorry, Aunt Seiōbo…”
Letting the girl clear her face and sniff back her tears, Seiōbo shook her head. “You don’t need to apologize, Emilia … Emotions are important to Vulpes, but can you tell me what could be the most dangerous to keeping our magical weaves stable?”
Emilia’s puffy eyes widened. “Emotion … Is that why I’m so terrible at magic? I’m too emotional…”
A small smile lifted the corner of Seiōbo’s mouth while gesturing above them. “What have I had you doing this entire time?”
Following her hand, Emilia blinked upon seeing the thread of magic she’d maintained to keep them inside not only her mother’s Core but Oltera Nexus. “We’re … still here … even after I got emotional?”
“We are still here!” Seiōbo laughed, clapping at the accomplishment. “I have only been guiding us around the dangerous zones, but you are keeping us in place; congratulations, Emilia, you’ve shown yourself capable of retaining magical stability even when confronted by deep emotional scars that trouble you … Now, we can start the lesson.”
Emilia’s eyes and lips started to tremble again before launching forward to hug her. “T-Thank you, Seiōbo! I—I love you so much!”
“Oof…” Seiōbo instinctively grunted and chuckled as the girl buried herself into her chest. “See … you’re not useless, Emilia; believe in yourself.”
They remained together for a time as she composed herself, but it was a little sad for Seiōbo, even if she’d figured it would turn out like this. Poor girl … She needs so much positive reinforcement because of all the self-doubt she’s developed, and in such a short period of time.
A low hum rumbled in Seiōbo’s throat as she looked beyond Sora’s Core to the wall of the 8th dimension, knowing she couldn’t see her sisters but searching in heart. Is this what Inari felt toward me … Is that why she always tried to set an example and support us when we couldn’t measure up to her … when we doubted ourselves?
Emilia pulled away again, taking a deep breath but a big grin was on her red face. “O-Okay, Aunt Seiōbo, what do I need to do?! I … I feel that with your help, I can do it—eh-heh, maybe.”
Smiling back at her, Seiōbo’s gaze slowly turned to the colliding Founder and Null-Void forces; now that she had time to analyze the unsealed powers in their actual raw motion, she feared one of Inari’s worst-case scenarios was more than likely to occur.
“It’s going to take concentration, but it will feel exhilarating and fun,” she said, pointing at the neutral force encompassing Sora’s Intelligence. “We cannot do what my sister does to her Kitsune, which is why we need to take this new route I mentioned before.”
“Why?” Emilia asked, scanning the turbulent energies. “Is it because of me?”
Seiōbo shook her head. “It’s a bit too complicated, and I’m not positive as to all the details myself, but Inee, eh—heh, Inari, has given me a wealth of study material her Intelligent Construct did when analyzing Sora’s Intelligence. Is that okay?” she asked, looking at the young Vulpes for confirmation.
“Yup! I trust you, Aunt Seiōbo! Eh, wait … umm, am I being naive now, too?” she questioned, vision narrowing thoughtfully to the side.
“He-he, good second guess,” Seiōbo replied, “but no, we are beyond that topic. Are you actually ready this time to perform real magic?”
Emilia’s head swiftly bobbed with anticipation, hesitant thoughts vanishing.
“Good; take note.” Seiōbo directed her to the blinding quasar that was Sora. “Intelligence is wrapped by the true state of a Spirit, directing its workflow and power generation; the spiritual network outside of the Core is like the skin on someone’s body—a form of protection, sensory receptors, and energy guidance.”
She gestured at the supernovae expanding in brilliant colors across the chaotic zone Seiōbo maneuvered them around. “This … is the factory control room … which Sora’s Null-Void has gained dominance in, but everything around us are the machines that her Intelligence is naturally operating.”
Emilia’s mouth opened while trying to follow the explanation, only retaining a part of it. “Okay … So, we need to … do something with the machines?”
Seiōbo giggled. “No, we aren’t interacting with the production chain of what goes into Sora creating Null-Void or Founder Magic, but copying her Intelligence’s rudimentary instructions, the blueprint of both machine creations, and a tiny bit of the base essence of Null-Void and Founder Magic to compress into a tiny information package—a seed that will grow.”
“Uh-huh?” Emilia slowly nodded, eyes narrowed as she tried looking for what Seiōbo was explaining. “Which is…”
Motioning for her to follow, Seiōbo moved to the neutral zone, reaching out a hand to sample the force as the girl stayed close behind her, understandably hesitant. It’s so alien … How can there be something that is neither Null-Void nor Existence … No, I suppose I can’t even question it since I haven’t been to the edges of Existence, much less outside of it.
Head turning to wink at Emilia, she floated inside the energy. “It’s perfectly safe—he-he-he, it feels like a warm bath … like you’re melting into butter.”
“I-Is that good?” she tentatively asked, tenderly sliding her hand across it. “Oh … It does feel good—he-he, it tingles!” Emilia giggled, floating in after her.
Seiōbo brought her attention to the cycling forces on either side of Sora’s Intelligence sphere. “I want you to mold this energy into a few things…
“First, a hand to gather a bit of both essence; just as no Founder magic is precisely the same because of the style of machine they’ve fashioned to shape their energy—even mine compared to my sisters—it can be theorized it is the same for Sora’s Null-Void compared to others of the race.”
Emilia’s forehead creased as she concentrated on her ambition. “Umm … Do you mean like how Mom can make the dinner plates … Heh, that she’s a dinner plate, and others might not be that—kind of how there are differences in every Vulpes or human?”
“Excellent deduction!” Seiōbo praised, feeling happier with every teaching opportunity as the girl grasped the challenging concepts. “Just as everyone’s DNA uses a base molecule standard, each type of force is the same, but in both cases, how they are combined will change the result.”
A short gasp left Emilia’s lips as she succeeded in forming the gathering weave, coated in the neutral energy to protect it against the Null-Void’s natural disruptive attribute. “So! So! I’m doing something like Aunt Inari did to me? Uh, I need the machine instructions to make them into something?”
“Kind of,” Seiōbo hummed, sitting in the air to watch and direct, “but we’re taking a much simpler and more chaotic approach to the process. You could say my sister crafted your Intelligence piece by piece using Sora as a blueprint and perfectly designed your machines, as we’re calling them, to produce in a precise manner … We cannot do that.”
Seiōbo took a moment to gather her thoughts as Emilia did her best to go slow and not mess up her weave. “You see, pulling it into something we can understand, Null-Void and Founder Magic are like two different universes—fundamental forces that are incompatible with each other—trying to mix … two RNA variants being compelled to come together.
“The result would be damage to both as they’re destroyed—Sora never being allowed to exist—but this unknown essence we’re using as the blinding force is acting as a translation catalyst between them.”
Once Emilia neared the end of gathering a tiny flow of the two quintessence, Seiōbo interrupted her explanation. “Second, you need to copy the malleable instruction manual of the neutral essence to adapt a spirit’s functional machines to produce the end result; it’s impossible to tell how that will play out, but it’s the only way this will work.”
Her young niece followed the instructions, fists curling into fists at her side. “Umm … It’s so hard … like trying to push against a mountain … it’s impossible!”
Seiōbo’s lips tightened. “Alternate the desire; you aren’t trying to copy it, but create a surface-level visual imitation, which is far easier than a perfect replica—we aren’t trying to clone Sora—we only need a base blueprint that will allow the two essences to merge.”
A slight jerk shook Emilia’s body as she spun in a sharp circle before regaining balance; it almost made Seiōbo smile at how much she was getting into the act. “Woah! I—It just became so soft and easy … You’re amazing, Aunt Seiōbo!”
“Just stay focused, Dear,” she returned; it was lovely feeling joy again. “You want to take that instruction manual and make a little starter kit from the lingering birth energy surrounding the outer zone we’re in to jumpstart the transformation.”
Emilia did everything she asked to a T, and once it was finished, two tight seeds were condensed before her as the girl eagerly presented her work.
“Did I do good, Aunt Seiōbo?!”
Seiōbo chuckled at her enthusiasm, reaching out to pat her head and causing her ears to twitch at every action. “Your mother couldn’t have done a better job.”
“Yes, I’m learning!”
Seiōbo allowed the girl to celebrate her first huge accomplishment, discussing which parts had her concerned before letting her in on the bad news.
“What next?! What next?! Do we go meet with Aunt Nari now and complete it?”
Seiōbo let her small smile fall to give a melancholy look at the two shimmering miracles of a seed. “Unfortunately, I’m not skilled enough to prevent the side effects … Inari was right to be concerned, but I didn’t want to admit it,” she whispered.
“Huh?” Emilia’s vision wandered to the balls of information and power to return to her. “What … do you mean … We can’t do it? Did we fail?”
“We fail?” Seiōbo chuckled, a sad smile on the two completed products. “You did everything I asked, to the letter … No, it is me that can’t make the final tweaks because I don’t know how to adapt the instructions inside … It’s like you pushing against that mountain … I couldn’t move it myself, and I don’t know if even Inari could if she were here to study the results.”
Silence ensued as they looked at the seed, and after a few minutes, Emilia puffed out a heartbroken sigh. “So … we can’t help Wendy and Mofupsi?”
Seiōbo shook her head. “I didn’t say it wouldn’t work.”
“It will?” Emilia asked, vision snapping to her face again. “So … what is the problem?”
A bitter smile moved Seiōbo’s deep blue eyes. “A far more painful transition than Sora experienced when her temporary human spirit Frankenstein used as her initial medium was broken down and reforged into her Intelligence’s true structure.”
Emilia hugged herself and concern tightening her lips. “Mom wouldn’t want them to go through that pain … Aunt Inari gave me memories of that, and she was so hurt … Worse than when she got her second tail?”
Seiōbo nodded. “I have a solution, but … Again, it isn’t going to be popular to Sora … I can, however, confidently say that Wendy and Mofupsi would agree to it.”
“A Forced Intelligence Coma.”
“No, but … but for how long?” Emilia asked, hands tightening against her breast as she glanced at the seeds. “That’s like—like they can’t be woken up. Right?”
“Much more than that,” Seiōbo sighed. “Your Intelligence is what keeps your spirit and body operating; they’ll need specialized restorative magic to survive, which this Realm has, yet that means they cannot leave it.”
“Okay … How long, Aunt Seiōbo?” Emilia tentatively asked. “Aren’t we supposed to do something else or go somewhere?”
“Hmm…” Seiōbo’s arms closed around her own shoulders, feeling frustrated at her own lack of skill and knowledge. “To be safe … six months; if they wake up as the change is occurring, it could break their Intelligence from the stress they’d experience.”
Tears gathered in Emilia’s eyes. “It’s not fair … Why is everything so hard?”
Knowing how the future would unfold but needing to go through it to not draw a barrier between Sora and herself, Seiōbo did her best to suppress the spur of inadequacy when comparing how this would be different if Mia or Inari were here. “Let’s see what Sora wants to do; Nari is keeping Mofupsi and Wendy ready for the procedure.”
“She’s not going to like it,” Emilia whispered, brushing away her tears. “Sorry … Hey…” she mumbled as Seiōbo rolled her eyes and wrapped her knuckles lightly against the girl’s head.
“Stop saying sorry! It’s not your fault.”
“I know … I just … I don’t know…”
“At least you didn’t say sorry again,” Seiōbo teased, trying to lighten the mood in her own heart.
Seiōbo led the way out of Sora’s Oltera Nexus, guiding them toward slipstreams of radiating non-violent force to hasten their exit, and once they were out, she looked down at the two resplendent seeds in her palm; they were far too small to actually be seen, but a mirage of sorts was generated to this dimension.
Releasing her stunning spell over Sora, she watched the girl’s Null-Void safeguards, and physical form take shape. Nari stayed quiet, having heard everything that transpired inside Sora’s Oltera Nexus, and didn’t want to interrupt, which was mature for her age.
Sora yawned, stretching out her arms and rubbing her eyes. “Wow, that … was the best sleep I’ve ever had … I feel so rested! Woah, is it done already?” she asked, catching Kari’s amused smirk beside her.
Kari shifted to lean against the side of the couch, cheek resting against the back of her hand. “Morning, sleeping beauty—so, are those things meant for Wendy and the fox?”
The Null-Void Founder’s shimmering silver irises shot to the seeds. “Wait, so … it worked … Emilia … Uh, what’s wrong?”
Emilia slowly got up, tails folding around each other as she held her hands in front of her. “Umm … There’s a bit of a problem.”
Seiōbo cleared her throat, uncrossing her legs and adjusting the short black skirt. “In short, this transition is going to be far more challenging than my sisters hoped; we are changing the very essence of Wendy from a human and Mofupsi as a Vulpes to … something more. They will not be Founders or Null-Void, but have similar attributes to them at their base, which could be anything.”
Kari’s left eye narrowed. “What does that mean? Are they going to be super powerful or something?”
Seiōbo’s fluffy four tails spread out behind her while looking at the unconscious pair on the beds they’d made in the Training Room. “It’s true, they can gain significant strength from this process; in effect, it is the highest degree to which my sister’s Kitsune can possibly reach, yet without the eons of experience and practice of slow transformation.”
She frowned, rising to her feet and folding her arms. “It is going to take time to properly manifest, and … the process will be far more painful and much longer than your own change from human to Vulpes Founder, Sora.”
Sora’s ears twitched, three tails folding in for her to hold, likely recalling the events. “It was all a blur after, but in the moment … It was terrible, and you’re saying it’s going to be more painful than that?”
Emilia shivered, looking at Wendy. “Umm … Aunt Seiōbo said she could stop the pain, but…”
“But what?” Sora pressed, and Kari sat straighter with the Null-Void Vulpes to listen.
“I need to put them into a comatose state,” Seiōbo answered, “and to be safe, it will take up to six months inside this Realm; they must stay in this room, where I can set up the appropriate medical treatment to sustain them in that time.”
Emilia bit her lip, nervously waiting for her mother’s response, and some of her tails accidentally brushed up against Nari’s shoulder as she observed.
Kari puffed out a low hiss. “That doesn’t mix well with the whole plan to go to Dragon Temple.”
“It doesn’t,” Sora mumbled, but her sad expression turned to her sleeping friend, “but I don’t doubt Wendy would accept the risk … even if she had to go through the pain. I feel bad about telling Jin we’d go with her and then bailing on her…”
Nari hummed, head tilting to the left with a secretive smirk. “I don’t think she’d really mind … If you want, I could go talk to her.”
Knowing Nari had good intentions but would also find some enjoyment in playing a little trick to try to lighten everyone’s tensions, Seiōbo shut it down for a more direct approach. “Have you forgotten you need to help Emilia next, Nari?”
Her blonde baby sister gave her a small pout before turning a brilliant smile to Emilia. “Right … Wait, I get to have some personal time with my snuggle buddy!” she chimed, rising to hug Emilia. “We get some fun time, and after, we can have some good snacks; I’ll show you some cooking recipes!”
“Cooking?!” Emilia salivated, feeding off of Nari’s energy. “I—I’ve never cooked anything, but I want to!”
Kari gave Seiōbo a dubious stare, which Seiōbo didn’t blame the Fenris Wolf for; they may be Sora’s family, but they hadn’t been the most welcoming.
On the other hand, Sora released a sad puff of air to smile at her. “I can go with you.”
Seiōbo shook her head. “I think it would be best for you to be here for the operation; Emilia would do well in your presence.”
“I can go with you then,” Kari interjected, yet Seiōbo once again denied it.
“As Sora is aware, there are things Jin wishes to keep private that I will need to discuss with her; if you will trust me, Sora, I will smooth things over … It is the least I can do considering what you have done for me.”
Kari cracked her neck, thick black locks shifting to obscure one of her amber eyes. “I feel like there’s something you’re not telling us.”
Sora’s light chuckle drew everyone’s gaze. “Probably quite a lot, Kari … It’s just part of being in those higher dimensions,” she whispered, “but what I do know is that my gut is telling me to trust my aunts … and to be honest, I’m relieved because all I’ve wanted was a family … and here you are—two aunts and my adorable daughter.”
Getting to her feet, Sora walked over to hug her, and as the girl’s arms closed around Seiōbo’s body, she felt a new kind of warmth unrelated to her sisters—someone new getting close to her heart—and it touched her heart to return the embrace.
“Thank you, Aunt Seiōbo … I can’t wait to get to know you.”
“Likewise,” she returned.
Once separating, Seiōbo teleported to one of the bathing areas of the Tower; Jin’s dull yellow irises shifted to her, clearly deep in thought.
“Hmm? Oh, Seiōbo … It’s strange, recalling how my mother portrayed you to what I see,” she sighed, water falling off her smooth skin as she pushed herself up in the spa to stand and stretch. “What’s the honor?”
An amused smirk lifted the corner of Seiōbo’s lip as she watched the thin ninety-nine-year-old girl twist her hips and rotate her arms to loosen up. “What a contradiction of a Dragon you are, Jin.”
The girl’s cheeks darkened as she moved out of the liquid to a towel, growling, “I get it, you’re stronger than me—don’t need to rub it in—but you were kind of an insufferable, mmh-hmm-hmm, yeah, not pleasant to be around in my mother’s memories, so … I guess you’re on brand.”
Seiōbo held her hands behind her back, tails swaying as one while wandering around the low-tier bathing space; at least, it was drab compared to the places she was accustomed to in the twelfth dimension. “I’m not the same Vulpes Yìnglóng spoke ill of … And I know you believe those memories are somewhat manipulated and false.”
Jin threw her hair forward, exposing her bare back to Seiōbo while wrapping the wet locks in a towel. “Could you keep your eyes to yourself—perverted Founders always lookin’ places they shouldn’t—all I want is to be left alone … Ugh … What do you want?”
Taking a seat beside her, Seiōbo examined the dragon girl’s gleaming, smooth skin, still dripping water, and petite curves; there were so many contradictions and mysteries surrounding the individuals in her niece’s group, but Jin took the cake.
“I knew Gong-Gong well—at least while I was alive.”
The girl’s hands froze in their folds, air locked in her lungs before chuckling and continuing to clean up. “So? Yeah, great, you know my mom gives all her children detailed information on her favorite son—someone none of us can ever hope to match—congratulations for knowing my golden eldest brother. Te-heh, or do you hate his guts because he was so infatuated by Nari? My mom hated her, by the way.”
“Oh, I know all too well,” Seiōbo whispered, somewhat happy to talk to someone who knew at least pieces of her past. “Although, do you really want to be known as the weakest Dragon Founder … Just so you know, I sense every bit of potential in you as your golden eldest brother.”
Jin snorted, glowing yellow eyes coming back into view as she pulled the towel up to glare at her. “Yeah, and give her everything she wants—no, thank you—I’m not my mother’s pawn to show in family gatherings.”
“Interesting,” Seiōbo mumbled, meeting her dirty look with a smirk. “How can you feel so much like Gong-Gong but be the total opposite.”
“Uh-duh,” Jin growled, turning away to grab another towel to pat herself down, “I’m a girl—he’s a boy … I don’t need to prove myself to her or you.”
Seiōbo crossed her legs. “I don’t think that’s a gender thing, Dear, but tell yourself what you will … Sora is going to be staying in the Realm for six more months.”
Jin’s hand froze near her armpit, cloth falling to gather on the floor as her arm dropped, and she turned to scowl at her. “Why did you do that … What possible reason do you want me to not go to see my sister?”
“Don’t look so happy, and I figured you wouldn’t go without her,” Seiōbo snickered, pointing to the ceiling. “Do you want to discuss this in a more private area? Nari found a good spot away from most prying eyes in the shade of the Herald of Sakura’s hand.”
Unwrapping the towel from around her hair, Jin shook it into a wild mess before snatching her clothes; the girl stood naked before her, giving Seiōbo a withering stare. “I’ll listen … but don’t play games with me.”
“I’m here on behalf of Sora,” Seiōbo said, rising to her feet and smiling. “You’re mistaking me for my sister.”
Seiōbo held out her hand, and Jin took it; they rose through dimensions to the magical wheat field and away from prying ears. There were concerning things to discuss with the young 2nd Generation Dragon Founder that Inari and Mia’s information left out, likely for a reason.
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