I feel like this chapter is going to trigger people. xD I try to be as objective as possible; I do as much study as I can into a subject to get the facts right.
Also, I’m beginning to release Undying Empire Chapters to the public. If you enjoy The Oscillation, then you’ll really enjoy UE, and I’ve been told that Chapter 9 is basically mandatory for TO fans. I don’t know if I’d go that far >_> but it does give answers and presents questions that are pretty interesting regarding The System.
I’ll give you a link here to Undying Empire if you want to open it in another tab.
Sora passed a few plates as they took turns moving around the platters, loading up on food. She noticed Wendy trying to hide her glare, gaze darting to Kari every so often. The Fenris Wolf must have seen, but ate quietly, keeping to herself.
Ashley and Alice weren’t touching the food they’d prepared, choosing instead to smile at the others as they helped themselves.
“So,” Mary hummed, eyeing the unusual purple vegetable mix that was passed to her. “What—are all of these dishes? I mean, those look like purple eggs and ham.”
“Purple eggs and ham,” Nathan chuckled.
“For real,” Ashley giggled. “It tastes surprisingly similar, but there’s this tang I can’t place. They have some strange ingredients here, too; Alice was giving me a rundown.”
“What—color are your eggs?” Liz asked, suppressing a yawn. A smirk curved her lips as she helped herself to a fairly large portion, “Yellow?”
“Yes, actually,” Mary smiled.
After a moment, Mary glanced around as they slowly began eating and cleared her throat. “I suppose I’ll be the one to ask. I don’t want to interrupt you just as you started eating, but … what have you decided, Sora?”
Sora swallowed the purple eggs she’d just taken a bite of; it did taste a little more potent than what she was used to. Taking a sip of juice, she paused; it reminded her of a mix between apples and oranges.
Lying her utensils across her plate, she released a long sigh; everyone eyed her expectantly with their heads over their meals as they ate. “To be honest, I ended up actually sleeping last night—heh, I know, shocker. My aunt said I needed to rest my Spiritual Network, but she said some things yesterday that stuck with me.”
Looking for the right words, she shifted her tails a little across her lap, trying to keep it away from her food. “I think … I want to be honest with them, and if they ask for help, I don’t want to deny them. That being said, I don’t know how to fix this place … I don’t know nearly enough. I’m afraid I could make things worse for them if I tried.
“I know the people here are hurting,” she whispered, vision moving to Alice and Liz, “I don’t know how to help all of you. Maybe I’ll change my mind as things go on, but for right now, I don’t plan on making this public knowledge. I’ll tell Mimi what I’ve done, and see what she wants to do.”
She licked her lips nervously as the two Vulpes looked away. “I promise that I’ll help both of you however I can, and Kari has two Vulpes she’s asked me to help … I can’t stretch myself too thin, though, and I don’t really want to shout it from the rooftops. We just—we have a lot on our plate—heh, no pun intended—and we’re a small group … There’s no way I can fix every Vulpes in this entire place.”
“I was wondering about that,” Liz mumbled, drawing everyone’s gaze. “You’re supposed to be a Goddess, right? You don’t have the power to do what The Council does, though?”
“She’s only sixteen years old,” Mary said in her defense. “She’s only known she’s a Founder for … what, two weeks?”
“Yeah, it’s impressive she’s been able to do as much as she has,” Nathan sighed.
“What about Emilia? Is she stronger than Sora?” Liz pressed.
Emilia tensed, choking a bit. “N-No way! I—I don’t know how to do anything…” She mumbled, ears falling a tad.
Sora’s mouth drew in as she read Liz’s Core, trying to understand her question; the others looked a little troubled as she watched Liz’s confused expression. “Ah,” Sora’s tail twitched as her head dropped to the back of her chair. “You want to know how you’ll develop compared to us.”
“I mean … I just,” Liz sat back, ears laid back as she looked off to the side, “I just don’t really want to go into the fields today, and—and I don’t know what I should do. I was thinking—I don’t know—maybe I could just go explore the far forest. I’ve never been that far … I’ve never felt like this before.”
Alice rubbed Liz’s left arm, ears as flat as her friend’s. “It might seem strange to all of you—maybe—but you see, for over a century, we’ve been doing the same things every day, and—and I understand how Liz feels. It’s just a little stressful … this is the first time we’ve ever felt like not working.”
Ashley giggled. “What that must feel like … to be motivated to do something all the time—well, manipulated to do something, I suppose—oof, yeah, maybe not … It sound less appealing now.”
“I don’t know—I really enjoyed my work,” Nathan said between bites.
“You were a workaholic, though,” Sora forced a smile before it fell; Kari finished her plate, got up, and moved to take it to the kitchen. “Kari?”
She stopped, turning with a questioning frown.
“Umm—where are you going?”
Kari’s left eyebrow lifted and a reluctant sigh blew through her lips. “I just feel like going on another walk … I have some things to think about. Why … is there something you need?”
Sora shook her head, smile returning; she seemed troubled about something. “No, sorry; I was just curious.”
“Have a good walk,” Ashley said, waving her goodbye.
“Yeah,” Kari whispered, staring down at her plate. “I’ll wash my dish and come back later … Thanks again, Sora.” Turning away, she entered the kitchen.
Sora released a heavy breath, turning back to the group, catching Wendy’s glare at the closing door before her friend rolled her eyes.
Eyia cleared her throat. “Sister, has something changed with your relationship with the wolf?”
She nodded cheerily, trying to stay positive. “Yes, we’re friends now.”
“Wow,” Mary muttered, brow creased as she looked back at the door. “You…”
“I can tell you the story later,” Sora cut in. “Anyways, I’m actually pretty hungry … well, I don’t need to eat, but it tastes good,” she chuckled. “Thanks, Ashley, Alice.”
Ashley folded her arms. “Don’t mention it; stress cooking helps ease my nerves … the kids always love it when I have a deadline or big meeting coming up.” A fond, reminiscent look crossed her eyes while thinking about her family.
Eyia finished the food she was eating and cleared her throat, “I’m excited to meet them.”
“I’m sure they’d love to meet you too, Eyia,” Ashley’s laugh turned nervous. “Just—they’re kids, and not Asgardian gods … Be gentle—please.”
“Of course,” Eyia nodded.
Jin cleared her throat after drinking some juice, a grin in place. “Translation—we’ll start with tactical movement.”
“That would be a good place to start,” Eyia hummed. “I would often sneak into Dothaed’s hole; the mad dwarf had a short-lived memory. It was quite easy to steal his food during the winters.”
Ashley’s expression was forced at this point. “As fascinating as that is … Please, nothing dangerous—just playing.”
“Of course, we’ll have great fun!” Eyia promised, likely not understanding what Ashley’s understanding of play was.
Jin breathed through her teeth, glancing off to the side with a slight shake of her head, and Mary giggled. “I think fun translates as training to Eyia.”
The others gave solemn nods, causing Eyia to glance around in utter confusion.
“I—do not understand the atmosphere. Is training not fun for you?”
Nathan leaned back with a low grunt. “Yeah, it can be. I enjoyed some of the paintball training exercises the department would set up. By the way, Eyia, are dwarfs small?”
Eyia’s brow furrowed. “Not the ones I have battled. Are they small in the Human Realm?”
“Well, my image’s shattered,” Nathan muttered, “and nope, no dwarfs in the Human Realm … well, depends … I guess there are human dwarfs,” he muttered, scratching his temple.
Kari opened the kitchen door, bringing a stop to the conversation; she was empty handed. Without making eye contact, she moved to the exit, eyes low, as if deep in thought.
“Bye,” Sora called out.
She turned and waved, a small forced smile in place before she disappeared through the front door, shutting it behind her.
“Human—dwarfs?” Eyia seemed utterly perplexed at the notion. “The dwarfs I am aware of are muscular, misshapen creatures; they are about the same size as the humans I have seen—similar to Nathan.”
The man flinched, choking a bit on his juice. “Similar to—misshapen creatures—what?”
“Mmhm!” Eyia seemed utterly oblivious to the burn, nodding emphatically. “They are quite hideous to look upon and have diverse powers. The dwarfs are quite taken by the opposite gender of different races—including Asgardian and human—so you must be careful around them.”
Her expression darkened, giving Nathan a concerned look that made everyone suppress laughter around the table. “The females seek affection from powerful males of other races, and the males chase beautiful women to force themselves on them. I slew the fourteen dwarfs on the island before leaving.”
Jin grimaced, her nose twisting. “They were a debauched lot … Pretty perverted, and had quite the colorful language; I had to hold myself back a few times. I almost killed them.”
“That doesn’t sound very appealing,” Alice mumbled. “Is that normal?”
“Killing things that I don’t like or insult me? Sure. Dwarfs foul mouths? Yup,” Jin grunted, grabbing one of the meat dishes and digging in.
Eyia’s eyes sparkled innocently. “I could teach you where their major arteries are! Oh, but what are these human dwarfs, though?”
Everyone turned to Nathan, causing the man to groan. “I should have kept my mouth shut … It’s, eh, a congenital disability … Really small humans—they call themselves dwarfs, midgets, or little people … It’s a touchy subject and depends on the person.”
“Why? Dwarfs may be smaller than gods, but they are not children. Do you call children such things too? I do not think children are misshapen, degenerate, ugly creatures.”
Githa giggled on the couch, and Jin smirked, waiting for Nathan to respond as the others quickly shoved food in their mouths.
“Uh,” Nathan breathed in through his teeth before shooting it out; he scratched his scalp, glancing around to find an answer. “We don’t—I mean kids aren’t the same thing as dwarfs…”
“Yes, that is why I am confused,” Eyia pressed.
“You’re—conflating little people—with children … They’re different. Little people are adult humans that—that are just really small.”
“Oh—I see … How strange. I have never seen one of your little people,” Eyia said with a thoughtful expression. “I have a difficult time imagining how they would look.”
Nathan cleared his throat. “So … what other creatures were on that, umm, island?”
Sora wiped her mouth with the cloth next to her plate, getting up as she finished. “Alright, Ashley, I’ll just clean up, and we can go.”
“Please, don’t worry about it,” Alice said, rising to her feet. “I’ll get your dish.”
“Ah, sister,” Eyia said, turning away from her conversation with Nathan. “I will join you after finishing my meal and discussing this topic with Nathan. I wish to examine the images on the walls, and I look forward to meeting your family, Ashley.”
Nathan’s head drooped at the curiosity in her tone. “Please, no more…”
Ashley took a deep breath as she scooted back, rubbing her thighs. “Okay.” Her fingers were trembling as she used the armrests to lift herself. “I don’t know why I’m so nervous,” she chuckled.
Everyone wore an encouraging smile, and she followed Sora out.
“Thanks for cooking and cleaning up my plate, Alice,” Sora called back, shutting the door behind Ashley.
She took the lead, Ashley following behind, but paused a moment as she caught a scent on the breeze, flowing from the opposite direction. Glancing back, her vision shifted between a few humans and Vulpes, and her focus centered on Olivia.
Olivia was wearing a simple long-sleeve dress with two blue ribbons on her left wrist, and beside her was a three-tailed Vulpes she’d seen at the meeting with Mimi—this Vulpes had three blue ribbons tied to her forearm—they were heading right for them.
Ashley turned, brow creasing with worry as she caught sight of the pair. “Is it already time to meet Mimi?” She whispered.
Both Vulpes shook their heads, picking up their pace to close the distance, and the new Vulpes spoke first. “I apologize, Sora, but Mimi is feeling a little worse for wear this morning. Is it possible to postpone the gathering until later tonight?”
“Of course,” Sora breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m a little busy this morning, as well.”
“Is something wrong?” Olivia asked, glancing between them with a slight frown.
Sora pursed her lips to the side, vision darting to Ashley; she was shifting nervously. Should I tell them? I don’t want to lie … it could cause a lot of problems later, though.
“I know this might seem, mmh, tough to swallow,” Ashley’s hands tightened around her stomach as she looked down. “I—I want to be as open as possible,” Sora continued. “We’re going to get Ashley’s husband and kids; I understand you don’t know what a husband is, and children are pups.”
“I—see,” the new Vulpes whispered, turning to stare back the way they’d come with a slightly nervous edge. “Umm—might I join you? I’d like to understand—just a little, about how you bypass the gate … If that is alright with you.”
Sora hesitated for a second but nodded. “I—completely understand. I have no objections … Ashley?”
Ashley shook her head, her throat dry. “No—I have no objections, either.”
The Vulpes breathed a relieved sigh. “Thank you, Sora, and you don’t prefer any other name—do you?”
She was a little taken aback by her reluctance. “No, umm, no … Sora’s my name. Yeah, that will work just fine. Eh, what’s your name?”
The woman winced, and Sora noticed her ears twitch as her tails moved to twist around each other, but she caught herself; tails spreading out again, she took a quick breath before saying, “Gurakuqi, Lady Sora; I am second to Lady Mimi.”
“Umm—Sora’s fine … Lady makes me think of my aunt,” she chuckled.
“Ah—I have offended you,” she mumbled, ears drooping further.
“No, not at all!” Sora forced a smile. “I’m just … not really—my aunt’s elegance makes it natural for me to see people calling her lady, but me … I’m just a bumbling teenager.”
Both Olivia and Gurakuqi’s eyebrows rose as they glanced at each other. “That … I have not heard anyone speak about themselves in such a way before. It is … unfamiliar.” Olivia said, choosing her words carefully.
“It’s fine. Like I said, Sora’s my name, so that will do.”
“Very well. Thank you, Sora.” Turning to Olivia, Gurakuqi’s lips curved into a smile that was obviously fake. “Please take care of Lady Mimi in my absence.”
“Of course,” Olivia said, bowing slightly. “I will take my leave.” At their nod, she turned and walked away, tails swaying with her exit.
Sora raised her eyebrows. “Well—should we get going?”
“Yes, please, I don’t wish to interrupt … just observe.”
They walked back the way they’d come, moving along the main road since she didn’t know how else to get to the proper path back to the Red Gate. She noticed their dresses were gathering a lot of attention, and it seemed Gurakuqi couldn’t keep her eyes off her.
“Is—something wrong with our clothes?”
Gurakuqi gave a start, quickly turning away. “Oh, no—no, they’re just—they’re lovely. I have not seen such quality items … The only thing I can compare it to is—is The Council,” she whispered.
“Well, the humans beyond the Red Gate have advanced in a lot of ways,” Sora chuckled. “They’ve made big improvements to clothing over the ages.”
Gurakuqi’s eyes widened. “The humans—they give you gifts?”
Sora hissed, glancing at Ashley as she silently followed beside her, eyes downcast. She could smell her trepidation from the chemicals her body released. “Humans do give gifts to those they love … I made these last night, though.”
“You—made them? Those entire—the entire thing—in one night?” She asked in disbelief.
“Oh, I used my magic, of course,” Sora laughed it off. “I made several dozen outfits; no one had any clothes, and they were torn or could barely pass as clothing. I just thought it would be nice if everyone had something of their own to wear.”
“That’s really thoughtful,” Gurakuqi mumbled. “I’ve never—that would have been a precious gift to receive, and you made clothing like those for—for everyone? Such delicate blue dresses … and those strange shoes?”
“Not a dress like mine,” Sora smirked, imagining Nathan in the outfit with a smirk. “No, I gave them a lot of options … Well, I guess I can just say magic. I gave them the liberty to choose out of every piece of clothing that I’ve owned or thought about buying.”
“I never could have imagined such a custom existed,” she whispered. “What is … buying?” she asked, testing the word on her tongue.
“Umm—I give up something of value to get something we both believe is a worthy equivalent. It’s kind of like an exchange of goods.”
“I see…” Gurakuqi fell as silent as Ashley when they made it to the edge of town, walking along the road that led up to the Red Gate.
Sora took a deep breath to smell the sweet scent of the fruit on the trees around them. The human and Vulpes hadn’t begun working the fields, so the further they moved toward the forest, the quieter it got.
She smiled as she glanced around the fields. “Ashley.”
“Huh—what was that?” She asked, pulling back her brushed out blonde locks to look at her.
“I didn’t expect you to be this nervous. What’s going on?”
“It’s—this is just a big change. I’m worried about the kids … What if they suddenly hate me? What if Eyia’s too rough? What if this wasn’t the right choice, mmh … What if—what if Brandan doesn’t…”
“Hey, that’s a lot of whats! You gotta calm down.” Sora soothed. “You saw how upset your children were … they missed you to death.”
“Yeah … I know … The knowledge is up here, heh-he, but … mmh, it’s just hard emotionally…”
They fell back into silence, and eventually, they made it to the forest. The scene brought back memories of their first entrance to the realm with Rayla and Luna. The sounds of birds and insects escalated, and Sora did her best to keep a strong face, but she was beginning to worry herself.
Inari said it’d be fine, but … if Bathin’s there. Why wouldn’t he be? She said she’d rather we fight the Vulpes Council than this guy that teamed up with Bathin. Why don’t you ever tell me everything! She fumed.
“Because information is important,” her aunt answered slyly.
There you are! Okay, whatever, but what did you do with Kari? You wanted to show her something, right?
“Indeed. Kari needs a kick in the tail to get her moving. You realized how broken she is? Her declaration that she’d die if you did … You’ve given her a line, and if that snaps, she’ll drop into a place few have returned from, and never the same. That isn’t healthy, though. What we need to do is strengthen her, to give her some of her confidence back.”
I can see that … I feel like I need to be there for everyone, but there’s only one of me. I mean, you could help me with Intellectual Constructs, but I doubt that’s the answer. Each person really needs personal attention.
“You are far, far from being able to craft Intelligent Constructs, Darling. How about this … You were talking about an exchange with Gurakuqi … What is the most expensive thing?”
“Good guess, but time is only a small portion of a larger root. Experience, Sora … you can have a ton of time but gain little experience. Experience is costly and requires many attributes that can fortify or shatter someone. They can be easy, tough, painful, joyful, and repugnant … all at the same time. It is the hardest thing taught, and the most valuable thing we can impart.”
I haven’t thought about it like that.
“You can seriously damage someone by robbing them of experience … that is one of the reasons why ethical discussions on murder can be so vehement. Experience is not just feelings either, but so much more; it’s like conflating knowledge, understanding, and wisdom … they are not the same thing.”
What should I do? Am I robbing this realm of experience by offering them something more?
“It’s a complicated question that you’ll need to discover yourself, but you can be thankful that this energy coming from the earth destroyed the harmful viruses; it has its good, although its harm far outweighs its benefits.
“Cultures mix and match; it’s just natural for people to explore, and when that happens, death can occur due to diseases, misunderstandings, greed, and envy. Is death inherently evil because it’s a natural process, though? No. Can it be tragic? Yes. The world is a complicated place, and everyone does evil and is capable of doing good … Be careful about who you trust because no one is free from vice … Even myself.”
So … you’re saying I’m going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. I just need to do my best to live as best I can. That … actually does make me feel a little better, oddly…”
“Just like every person alive, you will make mistakes, and you will also do a lot of good; at some point in your future, you will have the desire to enact some terrible atrocious act of vengeance, which is not an if, but when, and how you handle that will affect the rest of your life. It was the same for an entire culture or a single person.
“We’ve already discussed the topic of whether people should be forced to live your personal creed or pay the consequences. Life is never fair, Sora, but it can be fun at times.”
Complicated … too complicated.
“Well, you’re coming upon the entrance. Have fun!”
Sora groaned as she scratched her ears.
“Something wrong?” Gurakuqi asked.
“No … just had some thoughts that are too sophisticated and entangled for the morning … my age. I shouldn’t be thinking about this kind of stuff, but life was never fair.” She mumbled, forcing a chuckle as she looked upon the entrance. “You ready, Ashley?”
Ashley’s lips were tucked under as she shook her head, voice a squeak, “No—not really … but you’re right; life was never fair.”
Taking a deep breath, they went inside.
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