POV Change: Sora’s POV
Recap: Mary realized that they’ve been making a ton of mistakes and that the new guest knows about Emilia, an eight tailed Vulpes that shouldn’t be there, is in the town. Sora is struggling to overcome the internal distress she’s experiencing from the spiritual worm.
Sora gripped her right arm, ears pressed back against her head as she looked down at her daughter. Her insides felt filthy, despite her aunt’s statement that she’d purged the creature. “Mary … what are you saying? Are—are you s-saying Emilia is—is in danger?”
Mary’s brown hair bunched around her back as she leaned back against the bed frame. “I’m still trying to work through it in my mind.”
“Is all of—my fault?”
“It’s not that simple,” Mary whispered. “We’ve all played a part, but things are starting to click in my mind. The things your aunt told us … the situations that she used to help us move past some of our past traumas … everything was meant to warn us and prepare us.”
She tensed, eyes snapping shut as the crawling sensation returned, causing a whimper to leave her throat; there was something inside her, burrowing, feasting, squirming. When the incursion ended, she was lying back on the ground, Mary by her side; cold sweat slicked her skin and her body was quivering.
“Sora … please, ask Inari how I can help. This is something different than psychological pain, right?”
“She’s right,” Inari’s heartbroken tone replied. “The worm initiated not only a spiritual attack, but was excreting its own waste as it fed. Your Spirit is linked to your Intelligence and physical body. There are things that you must do to try and move past this horror; it’s one of the many reasons why I taught you the Outer Body Technique … we need to move onto the next stage and this is the fastest way.”
“You’ve been unable to enter the full state you know. You’ve been just using the beginning techniques I’ve taught you—just recalling memories. Mary needs to help you to fully enter the Outer Body Technique … enough to become stable to heal your Spirit.”
Sora swallowed the lump in her throat, rubbing her shoulders; she felt so cold. “S-She said—you need to help—I need to complete—the T-Technique.”
Mary’s lower lips tucked under for a moment as she knelt beside her. “What do you mean? I don’t know how that spiritual stuff works! Can’t—no, if Inari said I had to do it then I can figure it out.”
She released a low curse. “You’re calm enough to temporarily use your powers … ah, okay. First … let’s see if we can calm down.” She said with an edge of panic, taking a deep breath. “Can you sit up and join me?” She asked, holding out her hand with a forced but compassionate smile. “Just sit back with me, and we can figure this out.”
“O-Okay…” Sora said, teeth chattering.
She slowly rose with Mary’s aid. The woman wrapped her in a blanket and welcomed her into a hug as they sat against the bed.
Sora wanted to cry, but tears wouldn’t leave her puffy eyes. “Why—I just—I wanted to help—everything I do … is—is it wrong?”
Mary pulled back her hair, causing her ears to twitch. “You’ve tried your best.”
A few minutes passed in silence as Sora fought past the irascible sensations; she couldn’t help but feel a little angry that Mary wasn’t coming up with an answer already, but knew it was unfair.
This was my decision … why did you help … well, of course, I guess Emilia is the closest thing you have to your own daughter.
“Very few creature’s motives are ever pure,” Inari whispered. “Was that one of many reasons? Yes … increasing my family has always been my top priority. It doesn’t change how I feel about you and doesn’t diminish my love for Emilia. You’re both precious to me.”
Her aunt’s words somehow gave her strength, and she could feel her mind slowly calming, but the feelings weren’t going away. Breaking the silence, Sora struggled to speak. “I—felt something like this … when I was changing, but—but not this long … violent … lasting. I need to—to fix my spirit—enter the—B-Body Technique.”
“That’s what I don’t understand … haven’t you already done that?”
Sora weakly shook her head. “I can’t—not fully. This feeling—it stops me.”
I know you love me, but why—why won’t you tell me how to do it?
“It may not seem necessary at the moment, but Mary is learning something very important. Just hold on. It won’t be much longer.”
I’m trying… She cried.
Mary thought for a moment before responding. “Not fully—there are stages, and it involves your Spirit or Intelligence, I think. There’s a connection … from what I understand of the relationship between Body, Spirit, Intelligence, and Core, at least from what Wendy, you, and Inari have touched upon … let’s see … c’mon—compile the information!
“The body—the physical body—it’s one of the greatest tools to shape our Intelligence, and the Spirit is the medium by which all of that is connected. If your Spirit has been damaged, then that backlash would affect everything as the bridge between them, and your Spiritual Core is the primary machine that directs everything.
“Your Core—that’s it … it’s the primary body of the Spirit—more like the heart or brain … the Spiritual Network … it’s the veins and nerves that are outside of the Core that connect to the body. The Oltera Nexus is—what was it—it’s so damn important, but why—think!”
Sora cleared her throat, trying to relax her muscles. “The center—power…”
“Right, right … the Core holds many spiritual organs, but the Oltera Nexus is like the brain or heart … the power of the whole operation. Everything together is a soul … your entire being. If we can figure out how to…”
A pulse shot through Sora’s soul, causing her to moan; Mary’s arm tightened around her left shoulder, fingers shaking. She knew the creature wasn’t really there, but it was like trying to deny the sun was in the sky; the miasmic fluid seemed to course through everything, making her body cramp.
“I’m so sorry,” Mary’s tone was heated with frustration. “I’m trying to piece everything together … I’ve been playing catch-up this entire time. Soul … the soul … what can we do? If the nerves have been damaged—then it could be repeating their last sensation. It’s like an amputee, continuing to experience the firing of the nerves. That means it’s already been impressed into the Intelligence.
“How will calming her down or entering that state fix it?” She asked, running her right hand through her hair. “Think … the body affects the Intelligence through the Spirit’s network … it’s a complex machine. Every pathway hasn’t been damaged or blocked … you were able to heal.”
Sora breathed out a heavy sigh of relief as the pain eased. “I-I’m trying to calm down…”
She made a sound in her throat, looking up at the woman quizzically.
“Can you look for a new route? Entering the Outer Body Technique is like—pulling yourself back … out of your physical body and back into your Oltera Nexus … I think. It follows familiar paths to retract to that point. I don’t think it functions like normal nerves, everything is constantly…”
Sora’s senses went dark; the effect took her by surprise. She couldn’t hear Mary’s words, feel her body pressing against hers, smell the millions of scents around her, taste the remains of her breakfast, or see anything. It wasn’t black or like there was static, there was nothing.
What … what’s happening? Why can’t I see … hear?
“Give it a bit of time, dear … different pathways have been damaged, and your Intelligence is naturally and subconsciously trying to find solutions to your failing soul. Your perception was severed; it’s just hit a dead-end in a particular route. Give it a moment…”
It was like an explosion of sensations hit every nerve as the world rematerialized; she sat in stunned silence as Mary’s voice slowly filtered back. It didn’t seem like she’d even noticed her lack of physical awareness. She had no clue how much time had passed.
“Does—does the Oltera Nexus somehow expand the Intelligence? It shapes it into your entire network … that’s how it affects your Intelligence with everything. That means … you said you could shield yourself … shield your Intelligence? Did it break past it?”
Realizing she’d left that part out of her story, Sora gave a short start before a quake ran down her body. “N-No,” she jerkily shook her head. “No—lowered it—I let it in.”
“If you weren’t protecting your pathways, then it could possibly bypass the distance and send a chain reaction throughout your entire Intelligence—the system the Oltera Nexus is running. I don’t get how … that doesn’t matter! First, we need to get you into the Outer Body Technique.”
“She’s figuring out the severity of the situation.”
“Sora, can you try to enter that state, but try to carefully pull back; avoid any damaged—what do I call them … sections—nerves? You just need to avoid the damaged areas.”
It took a little effort, but she pulled her tail around; somehow it had ended up in an uncomfortable position. She shifted a little before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes. The moment she tried looking for and avoiding anything that could be dangerous, she discovered she was entering it.
Opening her eyes, she looked around and her brow furrowed with concern. The dark space she was in was spotty; the light overhead had dimmed and only fractions of light made it to the black floor she stood on. She felt vulnerable, unguarded.
Her aunt was suddenly beside her; tails shifting to her left as she glanced around the space. She was clothed in a black and red Kimono that was as dark as the void around them, and Sora was a little shocked to see tears falling down her cheeks.
“You’re dying,” Inari whispered.
“W-What?” Sora bent down to examine herself. “I don’t—wait, I don’t feel the pain anymore?”
“Of course not … you’ve retreated to the most secluded and most protected area of your soul. It’s a terrible thing … your Intelligence is creating an illusion to feel in control. If you were to see what your Intelligence truly looks like … it would horrify you.”
Sora breathed in and out, trying to calm her racing heart as she pressed her left hand against her chest, eyes falling to her two tails as she pulled them around. Her hands moved across her fur, the feeling somehow helping to bring her peace.
“If—I’m dying … how can I—I don’t understand. Is there nothing I can do?”
Inari’s lips lifted into a sad smile as she walked in front of her, pulling her into a hug. “If you were looking at a physical body, dear … you’re hemorrhaging; it hurts me to watch. Fixing it isn’t so simple.”
Her aunt’s embrace tightened; soft skin and chest pressing against her as her hot breath made Sora’s ears twitch. “To fix it, you’ll need to turn your focus inward and meet your Intelligence.”
“Meet my Intelligence?” Sora swallowed. “Isn’t that—is it just like an Intelligent Construct?”
Her aunt shook her head, pulling away to hold her at arm’s length. “No, my dear little niece. The damage caused by the worm has, in a manner, fractured your Intelligence; it was caused by compounding events. You should naturally be able to recover from such spiritual wounds, and quickly, but the thing the worm most loved and targeted … it was the good desires you have for others.”
“My … will I stop wanting to help people?” Sora asked with disbelief.
“It’s not so simple. Unable to cope with the effects of your actions … there’s a battle between love and hate. The target for that is the one person that is your greatest enemy—and your greatest friend.”
Inari tucked her lower lip under her perfect teeth, orange irises staring into the abyss. After a moment, she took a deep breath, vision returning to gaze into her eyes. Sora’s stomach tightened at the anguish on her aunt’s face.
This was worse than the pain; her aunt’s clear, compassion, knowing, and yet uneasy eyes. “There’s a war brewing beneath the surface of your consciousness; remember what I told you—emotions can kill you, and there’s a reason for that. Inside you now—there’s heartache and pain that you can’t face subconsciously. In short … you’re killing yourself.”
A lump dropped down Sora’s throat. She pressed her left hand against her chest, feeling the beat of her heart. “So … the worm did cause damage, but—I don’t feel like I deserve to heal it?” The words slowly began to sink in.
Her aunt took a shuddering breath. “We’re just in an impossible situation,” she whispered. “I can’t say that what you did was right or wrong … it was a choice, and now, we need to handle it.”
“But … you wouldn’t have done it—would you?” Sora mumbled, eyes dropping as tingles shot down her spine and through her tails. “You would have let Mimi die…”
“Yes … if I was in the same situation, I would not risk everything to save a Vulpes I’ve known less than a day and had only met one time. Not if it risked everyone else that was relying on me. That being said, I am not you, and you are not me. You should not model your life off of mine.”
Sora’s vision fell to her aunt’s perfect feet, wrapped in elegant stone-like sandals. “How can I … I don’t know anything about you.”
“Quite right,” Inari chuckled. “It would take far too long to explain all my adventures, and we need to get you ready for yours.”
The time passed as Sora continued to stare down at her aunt’s feet. “I’m killing myself … stopping myself from healing. How do I face that?”
“With courage,” Inari’s tone brightened, and as Sora’s eyes rose, she found her aunt smiling. “You showed remarkable courage in helping Mimi.”
“Yes, I would have been too scared to go through with it. I am by nature far more cautious than you, which has its advantages and disadvantages. There are things that I believe you need to work on, and be nudged in the right direction so that you can survive … however, I adore you more than just about anything!”
“Well, darling, there are levels of priority in everything. It would be an extremely hard choice for me to pick between your mother, you, and your daughter. I try to be as honest as possible, and if a situation came up where I had to make a terrible choice, then I’d have to make it.
“It’s not something many people tend to consider. Some pridefully think they can save both in such a situation, but that is a rather foolish and indecisive point of view bound to get both killed; to not make it is to fail both parties. So, are you ready?”
Taking in a quick breath, she released it before squaring her shoulders; her aunt stepping back to smile encouragingly. “Okay … what do I need to do?”
“Reach down, below the surface, down to a place where you shy away from. This stage will help you dig deeper into other’s Oltera Nexus; this is digging down beyond the persona, meeting the whole of an individual. Don’t be surprised as you fall through space; you’re going to meet the other side of your Intelligence.”
She closed her eyes, following her aunt’s instructions.
“The method of entering through someone else’s spirit to control them diverges from the method of reaching down into your own; The Outer Body Technique is the process of learning how to do it. Facing the manifestation of your malevolence is not easy. It’s no different than a dragon’s lair, the fear that grips you with imminent danger … go to where your Shadow lies.”
Sora didn’t exactly know when but at some point when her aunt was talking, she was falling through the void, yet she could still hear her voice. The darkness swallowed her and a chill began to climb up her spine and tails as she continued to descend.
It was the strangest feeling; she was falling, but she wasn’t flailing around in the wind. There was some kind of force that kept her level, despite how her legs or arms moved, and her dress fluttered but didn’t so much as raise a few inches.
Her aunt’s words ended what seemed ages ago, but still, she fell. Unexpectedly, her feet struck a fathomless floor; it was as if her body knew when she’d land before her mind. She looked around; there was no sound, sight, or smell.
A lump dropped down her throat as she slowly worked her feet out, gaining a better purchase against the unfathomable darkness. Clearing her throat, she said, “Hello? Umm … can I get some li…”
Just as she had the thought, a dim light came into existence overhead, yet she still couldn’t see anything below her. Her body was dully illuminated, but everything else was black, and that was when the voice came.
“The goddess descends! Look at that.”
Sora looked around, but couldn’t find the source as it kept changing positions; it was behind and beside her, far away to her left and closer to her right. The thing that sent a shiver down her spine, though, was the tone; the disembodied voice was cold, strong, sarcastic.
“Come to join the rabble?”
“Rabble?” She looked to her left as she heard soft weeping. “Is that—is someone crying?”
The cold voice breathed out a disgusted sigh. “It won’t shut up! Boo-hoo, I hurt Emilia. Get over it! It’s not like I can shut it up—because you’re such a goodie-two-shoes! What if I hurt her feelings? Gasp! No, poor Kari … it’s not like she literally tried to eat us!”
“Us … so, you are me … my Shadow.”
“No, duh, idiot! And look at you, all brave—I’m going to go down and kick the shit out of this little prissy and get my glorious throne back! Oh, little depressed sissy over here has the waterworks? What?! The bellyacher is killing us? No!”
With a desire, a light appeared, illuminating two clones of herself.
Her Shadow stood tall, flats pressed against her clone’s back as she rubbed her toes in, leering over the girl. The other was puffy cheeked and a complete mess; her clothes were ripped, face bloodied and bruised, and streams of crimson flowed out of open wounds to disappear into the void.
Shadow laughed as she stomped on Anguish’s tails.
“How pathetic can you be?” She growled.
“Ow … I can’t—I hurt people … I can’t help anyone…”
Sora’s tail bristled at the bullying, memories flashing back. Shadow smirked, turning her cold green eyes in her direction; the intensity of her irises completely shut down Sora’s thoughts.
“What?” She sneered. “You’re going to come to its aid; are you that naive? No, what am I thinking? Of course, you are!”
Sora’s skin tingled with warning signals as Shadow prowled over to her, nose twisted with contempt.
“Little Ms. Princess,” she scoffed, making Sora take a step back, air freezing in her lungs as Shadow came inches from her face; a wave of dread crashed against her. “Stupid enough to let a filthy, ravenous, cancerous, worm into my soul! For what?” She shouted. “For some worthless sniveling slave that checked out the moment you carelessly gorged on her cancer? Wretched filth!”
An ugly grin split her lips as a wall of red flames shot up from below, causing Sora to fly back, tumbling across the formless ground. She gasped after each strike, coughing while trying to collect herself. Swallowing, she looked back; Shadow was already circling Anguish, revulsion clear on her face.
Sora wanted to fight back, but her eyes, the way she moved, the aura she released, her Shadow was terrifying.
Anguish was hugging herself, tucked into a tight ball; she remembered the exact pose she’d used when defending herself from Kari’s pack. She cried unintelligible words, mumbling things Sora couldn’t make out.
Shadow clicked her tongue. “If you’re going to keep insanely rambling about how defective and witless you are, then at least make it understandable! Are you dumb? You’re no different than that worm; a cancerous, malignant, grotesque tumor that licks boots for pity. You are unlovable, repugnant … a misshapen wretch!”
Sora’s mind slowly came back under control, but she could feel her body shaking with fear; it was like she was back in that bathroom, Kari looming over her with absolute power, but her aunt’s instructions filtered back into her mind.
Facing the manifestation of your malevolence is not easy. It’s no different than a dragon’s lair, the fear that grips you with imminent danger … go to where your Shadow lies.
I’m not here to fight Anguish … I’m here to face down my Shadow.
Tucking her lip under, Sora took a long, shuddering breath before rising. Shadow glanced back at her with a leer. “Remembering what Inari said? If only she’d taught you a little more grit? Oh, maybe that’s why you’re here!” She chuckled, marching back over to her.
Sora set her jaw and tensed her muscles before clearing her throat. “You need to…” She choked as every nerve in her body screamed there was an immediate crisis. It was as if a black hole were sucking out every atom of oxygen from her body.
Shadow hovered before her like a storm, expanding into a giant. “You think you’re hot stuff, strong? I’ll cut off your tails and force them down your throat! Would you like that? I bet you would. No, better idea, I’ll cut its tails off and force them down your throat! We can play a game about it. Who can eat the most tail?”
“T-This is me?” Sora asked, chest burning. “I’m really this nasty on the inside?”
“Nasty?” Shadow laughed. “You have jokes! Oh, honey, I’m just getting started! We’ll move to your uterus next—I heard it’s red, don’t you want to find out? Of course, you do! Now, this is more or less a conceptual reality you created, but it should function fundamentally the same. Don’t you think? I think so; it’ll be a good experiment.”
“Stop!” Sora shouted, shoving her back.
Shadow’s smile turned ugly as she stumbled back. “Oh? I see—is that how you want to play it?”
“I just want to see if I can help her … we’re dying—don’t you know?”
“Oh—of course, I know—moron. Who do you think started this nightmare in the first place because she was too weak? Oh, do I need to point it out? Of course, I do … it’s you, nitwit!”
“I—I know, but what you’re doing isn’t going…”
“Isn’t going to help?” She asked sarcastically, taking a step forward before puffing out her chest. “Is that your expert opinion? Where did you get that from? I’d say I’m doing quite a lot of good work, wouldn’t you? I mean, you’re here right now, right? That means I’ve been doing something right!”
“I—what? What are you talking about? You’re just beating up…”
“That thing?” Shadow pointed before breaking into hysterical laughter. “No—no you can’t be—but it is you … that stupid! You think that thing’s real—us?”
“Isn’t she? That’s just the…”
Shadow brought up her hand, twirling it around in a circle for her to continue as her tails flicked to the right. “Uh-huh—I’m listening? If you have a mouth, use it!”
“What—is she then?”
The girl in front of her popped her tongue a few times with a dubious expression. “Wow,” she stated, clapping a few times. “Whoever told you to be yourself simply couldn’t have given you worse advice. We’re just not pretty enough to be this dumb, but there she is folks, idiocy incarnate, right here!”
“Could you stop insulting me and just tell me? I mean, aren’t you just making fun of yourself? We’re the same…”
Shadow released a mass of air as she smiled in disbelief. “You are impossible to underestimate! Unmitigated asininity at its finest! How can we share the same Intelligence? It’s just—it’s unfathomable! How can we tell ourselves apart? One of us is pretty, and one of us is smart? I wonder who that is?”
“You think you’re ugly? I’m this ugly on this inside … how … I even admit it?”
“I’ve been called worse things by better people.” Shadow scoffed. “You’re like the first piece of bread in a loaf; everybody touches you, but nobody wants you!”
Sora was speechless as her counterpart continued to insult her.
“I wish that for just a moment—just a moment—you could stand in my shoes, then you’d know what a drag it is to see you! At this point, there’s nothing you can do to make me think less of you. I’d ask your opinion on our situation, I really would, but as an outsider, what could your perspective possibly be on Intelligence?”
She turned back to Anguish, still sobbing in a heap; red lightning crackled across Shadow’s tails. “Now that’s settled, where were we? Right, we were getting to know each other…”
“Wait!” Sora swallowed, running around Shadow to plant herself in front of the cowering clone. “I don’t know if she’s the cause of everything or not, but don’t…”
Shadow cut her off like a dull butcher’s clever through bone. “Are you this dense? You’re like the Founder equivalent of a participation award; you’ve ruined everyone’s lives, but still, you crawl back. At this point, I don’t even know if I see much difference between you and it!”
Sora’s ears twitched, the heat in her chest was becoming more and more irritated by her Shadow’s constant mouth. “Could you—is it that hard to explain it to me?”
“That’s all anyone does, dear … look—I don’t have the time or the crayons to explain this to you right now! You’d struggle to pour water out of a bottle, with the instructions on the side—pictures.”
“Okay, fine I’ve had enough. If you want to be like that, then you should eat your own make-up. Then you can at least be pretty on the inside.”
Shadow’s brow furrowed, lips shifting to the side for a moment. “Not great. At least you’re growing a spine. I don’t have make-up; it’s better for people to think you’re an idiot than open your mouth and prove them right.”
Sora’s nose twisted, tails bursting into flames as she squared her shoulders. “Fine, if it’s a fight you want, then I’ll give it to you!”
A sharp puff of air shot through Shadow’s throat as her fingers ran through her hair, pulling it back with a growled. “Why … why am I stuck here? I could be out there, and you know what everyone would say? You haven’t been yourself lately, Sora. Oh, I haven’t noticed! Yeah, we’ve all noticed the improvement!”
Sora screamed before rushing Shadow.
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