Sora’s vision cleared as the ceiling came back into view; Wendy stirred beside her, rubbing her eyes. “I’m a little scared about what we’ll be doing.”
Lifting herself, Sora nodded. “Me too, I don’t want to mess up. I don’t know what opening your Core levels will do or what that involves. My aunt described it like the demigods and gods in legends; they went through trials and struggles to obtain that power.”
Wendy scooted against the edge of the bed. “Right … like Medusa or something? Like when that one guy that went to the underworld … well, I think there were a lot of legends like that—wait, does that mean there are multiple underworlds?”
Sora hummed. “I think so—it’s like different dimensions, like this Vulpes Realm, each was created for different purposes. You have places like hades, and then you have hell … I guess Bathin comes from there.”
The door opened to reveal Ashley; she smiled at them. “Hey, we found the restroom and shower—it’s so odd.”
Nodding, Sora cleared her throat. “Hey, Ashley, could you get Mary and Nathan? I have something I need to talk to you about.”
She frowned. “Umm, sure, I guess. Give me a second.” She left the door open as she walked to her left. The sound of another door opened before she said, “Hey, Nathan, Mary, Sora wanted to talk to us.” Shortly after, the three of them entered the room.
“What is it?” Nathan asked, concern evident in his tone.
Sora licked her lips. “Okay, so—I don’t want this to sound creepy, but I can see your emotions and know what you’re all feeling; I can even understand what your thoughts are if I study your Spirit just a bit more than a casual glance.” The three of them shifted uneasily, their networks telling her that it did make them uncomfortable. She sighed. “I know that makes you uneasy.”
Mary nodded. “Yes, it is an—you were human, I believe. So, you can imagine that we are not used to our emotions and thoughts being so—exposed.”
Swallowing, Sora nodded. “Though, I did wish at times people could see how I felt, maybe they’d do something about Kari—that’s beside the point though. I noticed Nathan was very worried about something in particular that bothered me.”
Nathan’s brow furrowed. “Just me?”
Sora shook her head. “The feeling was evident in the others, but it wasn’t as clear. Let me see if I can—what’s the word, Mary? I want to say something, but I want to get it right.”
“Articulate?” Mary offered.
“That’s it, I want to articulate what I’ve seen within you properly. A lot of my own concerns have stemmed from watching the three of you.” Nathan shifted a little as she continued. “We have entered a world where humans are treated mostly like slaves, or seen kind of like objects. You, as a man, are extremely uncomfortable with the thought that you’ll be forced to do—things that you don’t want to do.”
Sora’s attention shifted to Ashley as her mind shifted between different topics, branching from her statement. “Ashley has thought about the human female oppression as well and how humans being forcefully segregated into different camps or towns to accomplish a specific goal, that being to increase the human population. Time also functions differently here; I’ve learned this world’s time operates on a seven to one ratio to the human world. That means one thousand years in our world would be seven thousand in this.”
“Is that so,” Mary muttered.
Sora nodded. “Yes, and it is true that these Vulpes can control you in a manner—not anywhere near as powerful as I can control others, but they can manipulate your hormones. However, the Vulpes in this realm are damaged, extremely weak.”
“What do you mean by that?” Nathan asked, folding his arms as he leaned up against the doorway.
“Yes,” Mary’s posture shifted. “What do you mean the Vulpes are damaged?”
Taking a deep breath, Sora said, “I don’t think you heard Eyia and Jin talk to me about the state of the Vulpes here.” They shook their heads. “Where to begin … every being has a Core that houses many spiritual organs; from the Core, there is a multitude of systems in operation.”
Mary moved with Ashley to the opposite bed, sitting. She rubbed her chin for a moment as Sora spoke. “So, this Core and the systems around it are like the human body, only for our Spirits?”
Wendy nodded. “That’s how I understood it. It’s like the Core is our brain; our real brain, that has something called our Intelligence in it. Our Intelligence is like the part that lets us decide things, and is connected to our memories and other things.”
“Wendy’s right,” Sora shifted to get a better view of the three. “I don’t know how it all works myself, but there is something called the spiritual network. This network is like the human body for your spirit. I can observe this network and determine certain things about people, like how you feel. If you have the power, you can interact with it and influence someone through it.”
“That’s how you controlled those Vulpes?” Nathan asked.
“In a way,” Sora scratched the back of her neck. “Because I’m a Founder, certain things come naturally to me, like instinct. I can do some extremely advanced things … things that take other Vulpes a very very long time to learn. I can penetrate spiritual networks to their Core and influence their Intelligence directly. From what I understand, normally, Vulpes and other creatures have a hard time navigating and penetrating spiritual networks; even human spiritual networks, which are pretty much unprotected. Not only that but the Vulpes that we’ve met so far—the Vulpes that I’ve seen, they’re all very sick—spiritually sick.”
Mary crossed her legs. “Spiritually sick?”
“It’s like veins in the human body, or how fat and thin a person is—it’s hard to explain. The energy they produce, the strength of their defense, the strength of the fiber of their spirit, when I see them, they’re just sickly. Imagine looking at a starving, sickly human that—just looks very malnourished. That’s what it’s like when I see them spiritually. Mimi should be much stronger than Fen since she has two tails and Mimi has four; however, that isn’t the case. Just by looking at Mimi I can tell that she doesn’t even have a good grasp of her abilities either; she didn’t use illusions at all when preparing to attack us.”
“What does that mean for us?” Ashley asked.
Sora took a deep breath. “Okay, so, this is going to sound a bit strange, but my aunt left an impression of her Intelligence within my Core. It’s like—an artificial intelligence, in a way—she’ll return to my aunt at some point and return all the information she’s gathered. She’s like a tutor for me.”
“Okay,” Mary said, her tone saying she didn’t know how this connected to them.
“She’s told me that it is possible for me to help you get stronger—Wendy, how would you describe what she told us?”
Wendy cleared her throat, before looking at each of them. “Eh—well, Sora—I think Sora took my Intelligence or mind—I think, into her Core—that’s where I met her aunt’s impression. Just seeing her—it’s more than I can explain; she was a goddess in every sense of the word. She sounded super smart, and it felt good that she cared about me—but, umm, she said that humans can become demi-gods or gods.”
“What?” Nathan frowned, shifting his shoulders around. “You mean, we can become like her?”
Wendy shook her head frantically. “No, never! I mean, I couldn’t imagine being like her … ever. She said there’s a difference between human-like gods and Founders; there’s no way we could ever match a Founder, but we can do powerful stuff like move mountains and throw lightning.”
Mary swallowed. “That’s—it’s really hard to conceptualize that for me…” There was silence for a moment as she thought. “Knowledge-wise, I know it’s probably true—I mean I was literally a werewolf not too long ago. However, it’s hard for me to believe—feel like it’s true.” Nathan and Ashley nodded, glaring at the floor.
“Really?” Wendy asked. “I don’t feel like that. I believe it all—I mean, everything Inari said sounded like the truth, completely.”
Ashley’s brow furrowed. “Sora…”
“Yes,” Sora said while scratching behind her right fox ear. “My aunt has an influential aura that is naturally produced; it’s always there around her. It’s much weaker since this is just her impression and doesn’t have any of her power, but it’s still there to a small degree. I could barely notice it—but in her actual presence, I have to be cautious about it.”
“Oh,” Wendy muttered. “I just—she seemed so sincere…”
Sora nodded. “She was, but it didn’t matter if she was or wasn’t, you’d still believe her.”
“Founders are scary,” Wendy mumbled.
“Terrifying,” Mary scratched her left shoulder. “This whole world is terrifying.”
Nathan yawned before rubbing his eyes. “It is—Sora, I don’t—I guess your natural aura is invigorating like Fen said. That’s comforting to know that it’s not influential. All of that being said, I assume what you wanted to talk to us about was becoming gods?”
Ashley frowned. “That sounds so strange.”
“Right,” Sora eased the tension in her shoulders. “My aunt said it won’t be easy. Every human Core has levels to be unlocked, and it’s similar to the legends in mythology. There are tests of some kind you must overcome to achieve that; it’s very personal, and you might be uncomfortable with me—hosting it, I guess.”
Mary leaned back against the bed, tone tired. “How is the little beaten down girl I counseled not three weeks ago now counseling and protecting me? It’s disheartening—this feeling of failure … there’s nothing I can do about that though.” She sighed. “I understand. If we are to survive and feel in control again, then we must participate in these trials to become—gods … how is this real?”
Wendy shifted to a more comfortable position. “It’s not that easy. We can’t just become gods; there are many levels to unlock to get there. We’ll only be unlocking the first stage.”
Nathan grimaced. “I see. Like a video game—we’ll only be going up one level, and she’s concerned we won’t even be able to handle that … I feel pathetic.”
Sora groaned. “I didn’t want you all to feel more depressed by this, but you all have a glint of hope now.”
Ashley sighed with a light chuckle. “Guess we really can’t hide anything from you.”
Mary worked around her neck. “No sense in wasting your time, Sora. After all, you are also our diplomat and have quite the load on your plate. What do we need to do?”
Sora leaned back, licking her lips. “I don’t feel like you’re all wasting my time. I feel like I owe you all so much more, especially to Wendy and Mary—I got Wendy wrapped up in this and Mary was pulled in by Eric and Kari—even if it was mostly Eric, it was in association to me.”
“How can you do that?” Mary questioned, sounding truly puzzled.
“What,” she read Mary’s spiritual network and hummed. “Ah, I see, take on so much responsibility. I went through a really rough time with Kari—you know how terrified I was, and I had a lot of baggage because of that. When I met my aunt, gaining my second tail, I also met the first-generation Founder of the Fairies, the Founding Mother, Gloria.” They all sat straighter at the knowledge. “She’s vastly more powerful than my aunt, probably one of the strongest beings ever, and she healed my heart—I guess with love, as cliché as that sounds.
“After all that emotional trouble was healed, my aunt enhanced certain characteristics within me to help me deal with my unbalanced state; helping me come to terms with my Vulpes nature and human experiences. I guess that had a part to do with it—I guess she unlocked my Core.”
“That’s—incredible,” Mary whispered. “As a psychiatrist, it sounds too good to be true. To help someone to that extent in such a short amount of time—to have that kind of power—and to not abuse it.”
Sora shrugged. “I guess, why would you abuse it—why would they need to? They’re strong enough to have their own worlds … in fact, from what I understand, Gloria helped in the creation of the Human Realm. They don’t need anything as far as I know, but they do have enemies—beings as strong as them having enemies is frightening to me; what kind of creatures are they? What could put those,” she was at a loss for words.
“Transcendent beings?” Ashley muttered.
She nodded. “Exactly, what could make those transcendent beings cautious … I’m in that world, connected to them. I mean, just the beings I’ve met are overwhelming; Githa and Bathin alone are monstrous in power, yet I come here to the Vulpes Realm, and I’m the monster that destroys their security. It’s—confusing. Anyways, what I’m going to do is guide each of you into my Core, then, I don’t know, my aunt will take it from there. All you need to do is lie down on the bed and close your eyes. I’ll do the rest.”
Mary and Ashley leaned back, folding their arms across their stomachs as they closed their eyes. Sora scooted over to allow Nathan a spot. Sora closed her eyes and gently found each of their Cores, nudging their Intelligence with her as she entered the Outer Body Technique. Opening her eyes, she stepped back to study each of them as they stared around the dark space.
Nathan breathed a heavy sigh. “That was…”
“Intense,” Ashley finished, pressing her hand against her chest. “It was so warm, like everything inside me, and then I felt pulled all over the place.”
Wendy giggled. “Yup, it was a little rougher the first time. I think Sora got a little better at it.”
Sora chuckled. “Sorry for using you as a guinea pig.”
Their attention shifted as Inari appeared at the far end of the light, sitting in the same chair, white tails across her lap. “Greetings, Ashley, Nathan, and Mary. It is a pleasure to meet you.” Each of them seemed speechless. “Yes, I understand.” Inari giggled. “Sora, we should begin soon. Do you have any objections?”
She shook her head. “No, what’s next?”
Her aunt nodded, studying each of them. “I would love to get into a deep psychological and philosophical examination; however, it would be much too dense of a lecture for each of you to digest so spontaneously.” She smiled at Mary. “I understand your disappointment. I must construct this lecture in a manner to get the same points across while being understandable to Wendy.”
Mary took a deep breath. “I just—you know, of course, but I was hoping to learn from you after everything I’ve heard.” She swallowed, nervously. “Just seeing you is…” She trailed off.
“Yes, Founders that have learned how to control their abilities to even a moderate degree will cause that reaction. Now, to begin; I am going to set you on the path to unlocking your Core. I am not casual about spreading my knowledge or power; Vulpes must undergo trials or quests in order to earn the gifts I can bestow. Why is that?”
Nathan rubbed his chin as Sora created chairs for each of them to sit in. Taking the seat as the silence stretched, Mary was the first to speak. “Interesting—asking us to identify your reasons. I’m considering a few possibilities, and I doubt it is so simple as a single reason; however, for a primary reason—could it be related to your image?”
Wendy’s brow furrowed with concern. “Are you saying she’s selfish? I don’t think she’s selfish.”
Inari giggled. “No, Wendy, she’s saying I’m cautious, which is a fair assessment. It is most productive to engage with people if you wish them to learn. Ashley, why would I be cautious about my image?”
“Umm—I see, you already know I have a thought about it; since you can read my mind. So, I was thinking that it has to do with how your name is represented. If I were going to interview a corporation executive, then the actions the company had taken would be attached to the executive, and I’d question him about that; good or bad, the actions of individuals in the company would be connected to those in leadership positions. You don’t want your company or yourself to be represented in a negative way—umm, your Faction, not company … sorry.”
“No need to apologize; you are bridging the situation with something you can identify with. Indeed, that is a major concern of mine. I was not always this cautious about unlocking Vulpes’ Core, and that proved to be a mistake; I have lived a very long time and made a fair share of mistakes along the way. This is why I do not give power to those like Fen; can you understand why, Mary?”
She nodded. “Oh, absolutely. I just have to think of…” The environment around them shifted to the twins, cowering before Sora as Fen bent down. “I shouldn’t be surprised,” Mary muttered. “Yes, this incident alone would deter me from giving Fen any form of smoking gun—if you can see into people’s Core—their ego—then I completely agree with withholding power from those that will abuse it. However, I’d like to know why she has a white tail though? That means you did give her power, right?”
“Potential power,” Inari said calmly. “What I did was give her something like myself, an imprint. It is not so complex and complete as myself, but will record and identify when her Core has made the change to begin the first trial.”
“A Core can change then? People can change?” Nathan asked.
“Of course,” Inari chuckled. “People change greatly across their lives; is it easy to change—no, but most definitely possible.”
Mary hummed. “Okay, so, in connection to your image, your Faction requirements, and us—you want us to undergo trials to prove our worthiness—but, no, that can’t be,” she looked down at the floor in thought. “You already know each of our Cores and have already decided to help us—the same for those that begin your trials. So, this discussion, in and of itself, is a trial.”
“As expected,” Inari said brightly. “Yes, there are a multitude of reasons for this discussion. In connection with Mary’s examination, what do you think my goal is, Ashley?”
“Hmm—I would guess that it has something to do with helping us become demi-gods or gods from what Wendy and Sora told us. So, this would be to help us better understand your goal … your goal is to help us understand your goal.” She chuckled.
“That’s not confusing at all…” Nathan muttered.
“It really isn’t,” Mary smiled. “Inari’s goal is to unlock our Cores, correct.” Nathan nodded. “For what reason is she willing to do that?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know … because Sora asked her for help?”
“It’s not so simple,” Mary shifted in her seat to look at him. “Sora could say she wanted Inari to help Fen, would she give Fen power, just because Sora asked her to? I don’t think so,” she turned to Inari as she shook her head. “Right, she loves Sora, but wouldn’t do something reckless just because she asked her to. That means it’s for our benefit—frankly, we’re insects compared to Inari, why should she care for us? Sora’s desire wouldn’t sway her decision; why would an executive hire someone that is unfit for a job when it could reflect poorly on the company, simply because his daughter wanted it—not a responsible executive, that’s for sure. Therefore, even before we came here, she’d already determined we had potential.”
“Okay…” Nathan trailed off and turned to Ashley as she continued.
“Mhm, I see that, but it’s not like Sora’s desires didn’t have anything to do with that decision. We wouldn’t even be on Inari’s radar if it wasn’t for Sora’s desire to help us.”
“You’re not wrong,” Mary nodded.
“Right,” Ashley, shifted to look at Mary. “Inari’s decision wouldn’t have been swayed by Sora if we were unfit for this Core unlocking thing, but it seems Inari decided at the very least it was beneficial to Sora. I mean, perhaps it was close to neutral on a scale, but the exercise of Sora’s power was beneficial, and that tipped the scale in our favor.”
“A good observation,” Mary said, a slight smile curving her lips. “We are not so important but could benefit Sora’s growth while also helping her emotional state. She feels guilty in playing some role in our current situation; however small that is, she still feels responsible. I imagine we are only scratching the surface of Inari’s motivations, but I hope this is acceptable.” She turned to Inari. Wow, I didn’t even consider any of that when asking for help and we’re only scratching the surface? It is my aunt … I guess she’s taking into consideration many things … not just now, but in the future.
“You all did as expected. Each of you have strengths in different areas; you are not inadequate, Nathan.” She turned to Sora and Wendy. “Yes, Sora, this is for not only their future benefit but yours as well. There are certain ethical choices that each of you must make in the future, and you must understand some very deep concepts of psychology and philosophy. This would be very difficult for Wendy to understand, but I will help by simplifying it to the appropriate extent. I know you’d love to get into the deep underlayers Mary; however, you have already studied many of the sociological and psychological studies to draw your own conclusion.”
Mary nodded, features alight with excitement. Wow, she really is feeling excited and all of that information rolling around her head … I can only understand a little of it. Nathan is feeling a little depressed Ashley and Mary were the ones doing all the talking, but at least my aunt’s words cheered him up a bit … probably her aura that makes him believe it. Still, I don’t think Inari would lie … that’s dangerous for me to feel.
Inari giggled. “Indeed, Sora. Be careful, always be careful. Now, let us begin the lecture on ethics.”