POV: Sora (our Vulpes Founder)
Recap: Sora runs for help to talk Aiden off the ledge, and Nathan responds. She guides him to Aiden, and Nathan runs after him, telling Sora to go back, he’ll handle it. Sora leaves feeling depressed and useless. Nathan feels for both parties and just walks with Aiden for a while until he breaks down. They talk about their life and Aiden’s concerns, helping the fractured boy realize the things he’s been missing. Out of nowhere, a blue-furred, nine-tailed Vulpes appears in front of them.
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The soft cool breeze pulled back Sora’s copper hair as she slowly returned, passing groups of Vulpes and humans, still cloaked in her illusions. She dodged around the busy crowd, eagerly moving about their daily tasks, utterly oblivious to Sora as she contemplated the path she found herself on, spurred by Aiden’s decision to end it all.
Was there anything else I could have said to him, or was it just inevitable? Aiden has the power to change fate to his desires, so why this? Shouldn’t he have been able to make his life better?
She exhaled a long puff of air, pulling her bangs out of her face; her fingers tickled the base of her ears as she stared down at the neatly maintained cobblestone street.
Maybe it is exactly what he wants … I don’t know him that well, but Kari will take this kind of hard. No, why am I thinking Nathan’s going to fail?
A soft groan rumbled in her throat, and she glanced left at a group of human men, shirts off, showing toned muscles that spoke of the laborious days they toiled in the fields. She could sense the aura of fulfillment and joy flowing off their spirits as she passed; they were laughing about finishing their task early and having fun guessing where the Task Manager would send them next.
My life’s miserable. I mean, it’s always been kind of bad … well, after Kari showed up, but even before that, Jane was kind of crappy, forcing Wendy to give-up being my friend.
“What’s up with my life,” she whispered, causing a few Vulpes nearby to glance around in confusion, ears standing on end.
Sora absently shifted her magic to turn their minds away from the incident; using her powers was nearly effortless after helping Wendy, Ashley, Mary, and Nathan. She could feel herself growing stronger with every new experience and knew her aunt was to credit.
Everything that’s happened … Aunt Inari?
“Yes, Dear?” Her aunt’s lustrous voice chimed in her mind.
Is everything that’s happened … is it all Aiden’s fault; is he right? He can manipulate things, and he thinks it’s his fault. I don’t want to believe it, but … is there some truth to it?
“Mmh,” Inari’s ponderous tone gave Sora the impression that her aunt, standing at the edge of her consciousness, looking off into a great void with her hands held loosely behind her back.
“The comforting answer would be no, but in reality, yes and no. Like most things in life, it’s messy and complicated. Is he right to be frustrated with how things have turned? Yes. Should he give up? No. The descendants of Homā are not all-powerful beings that can control existence like an insidious or benevolent puppet master.
“They deal with small, singular interactions that can branch in a multitude of different ways to achieve their underlying desires. Think about how long it took for Aiden’s desire to free Eric to come into focus, and the countless small things he had to do every day to make that happen.”
It’s all subconscious, though? Sora asked, meandering through the sea of Vulpes and humans that moved around her.
“Yes, and interestingly, it is not set in stone. Desires change, Dear; creatures are not static, and while things will be moving in a particular direction, that doesn’t mean he can’t sabotage his own efforts. There are also many other creatures that have some degree of control over causality; although, few have the type of reach that Homā holds … and the subtlety in which they go about it.”
I see. Sora mumbled, entering into the shade of two buildings as she moved into an alleyway to escape the swift flow of the open street. She leaned against the stone and wooden house, green irises following the sickeningly cheerful townsfolk. You said people change?
“All the time. You are not the same girl you were when twelve years old, and I am not the same person I was when three-hundred thousand years ago. Time is the great shaper, and we are but a mound of clay in her hands.”
A lump dropped down Sora’s throat as her eyes centered on some young Vulpes, likely still within their thirties by the flow of energy they released. I feel like I’m getting callous recently. I know these people are being manipulated, and at first, I was so bright-eyed; I wanted to help everyone, but now … I’m pulling in. It’s becoming too much.
Inari sighed before releasing a solemn chuckle. “All Founders go through our messiah complex, Dear, and the same can be said for humans. Nathan told you his story, which is now making you ponder your recent actions, in conjunction with Aiden’s recent behavior.” Inari paused, and her tone softening. “Do you still want to help people?”
Sora tucked under her bottom lip, sucking on it for a moment as she thought about the question. Do I still want to help people? Yes, but … I’m also learning how trying to save everyone will only result in hurting people.
“Is hurting people bad?”
Yes … I wouldn’t want to be hurt, and so, I imagine no one else wants to be.
“And that makes it bad?”
She bit lightly on her lip, applying and releasing pressure as she pondered her aunt’s words. I don’t know. I suppose everyone will be hurt, but it’s the intentions that matter.
I … guess even if you have good intentions, you could still hurt people, and that would be bad. Everyone gets hurt.
“Exactly. We’ve discussed this before. Pain is a part of existing, my little niece; life is about mitigating the daily dose of torment to make it bearable to continue on to the next sunrise. Every person develops their own coping mechanisms while also inheriting some from their culture, and even those evolve over time.”
Her aunt’s voice became crisp. “There’s a fine line to be drawn, my dear. So, you wish to minimize others’ pain, but that does not necessarily mean you are addressing your own daily dose of torment, and thus, fall into a spiral.
“You’ve heard the phrase, do unto others as you would have done unto you, but in honesty, people treat themselves rather poorly, and others much better. Look at it from a pet’s perspective; you will groom him, feed him, make sure his medical health is looked after, but constantly neglect yourself at the same time. People don’t take their medication correctly, eat properly, or organize their lives to be more fulfilling.”
Sora rubbed her left shoulder, pressing her right arm across her stomach. I think I get the lesson; I need to take better care of myself, and I’ve got limited time and resources to use in a day … spend them wisely. Rather than looking at all this crap around me, I should first focus on those closest to me, including myself.
“Hmm,” Inari hummed dismissively, “I’m merely pointing out facts, Dear. How you interpret them is up to you, but reality is not fair and will never be. Do what you think is best, and make sure you can live with the consequences of your decisions because there will always be negative reactions. That is all.”
She nodded, breathing out through her nose as she entered traffic again. Emilia needs my help; my daughter needs me.
“That, she does.”
Then that’s where I should be.
Peace fell upon her soul as she made the statement, and the rest of the journey back was taken in silence. However, upon reaching the house, she slowed to a stop, brow creasing with confusion, and her serenity began to break down.
Standing in front of their building were over four dozen Vulpes and humans, all hanging around while the rest of the crowd continued about their busy tasks. Her gut tightened as she observed them.
This is off … but I don’t sense any danger from them. In fact, they’re feeling way too happy to be just standing around looking at our building. Aunt Inari?
“Hmm, you’re not wrong,” was her only comment.
Okay … this has got to be related to Fen, and you’re being way too quiet about this.
“Events are in motion.”
Now, I’m worried. So… Sora trailed off, abdomen tightening as she moved closer. They don’t know I’m here, but I assume they’ve been ordered to do something once they see me. If they don’t see me, then what will they do, sit around all day?
Inari didn’t respond, making Sora scratch her left arm nervously. Right … hmm.
Sora walked over to one of the black-furred single-tailed Vulpes, waiting beside the house, and gently eased into her Spiritual Network, accessing her Core. A lump dropped down her throat as she connected with her. She’s obsessed with me.
The Vulpes’ name was Remia, and the closest thing Sora could relate her to would be a mentally ill fan. Fen had her convinced that her happiness depended upon setting her free from her physical prison, and only a select few could do it.
She took a step back from Remia; the tingles running down her arms, ears, and tail made her hair bristle. They … how could Fen do this? A tear dropped down her cheek as Fen’s plan finally became clear; she shivered at the revelation, hugging herself. This is—horrifying. She really hates me that much? How could she—anyone do that to someone?
Inari’s tone was neutral. “Envy is an ugly creature, Dear.”
Sora’s tails twisted around each other, and she backed up further, stumbling a little on her retreat. I—I can’t reveal myself to them. How could she make them believe setting themselves on fire would release me from my prison? And—they believe it—without a doubt. They don’t even think they’ll be saved … they only care about protecting me—from a lie.
“Belief is a powerful, and often beautiful thing, but sadly, as is with everything lovely, it can also be weaponized, twisted to achieve others’ nefarious goals.”
I can’t … I could manipulate them into dropping this entirely. It would be easy…
“But you won’t,” Inari said with a sad sigh. “Afterall, they may be misled, lied to, manipulated, but they aren’t under any of Fen’s magic. You’d need to actively alter their entire personality, memories, and even tamper with that seal a little, which is a line you’re unwilling to cross again without careful consideration of the consequences. So, what will you do?”
Another lump dropped down Sora’s throat, and she brushed away the tears on her cheeks, taking a shuddering breath; her body felt hot and cold at the same time. She watched the two nearest Vulpes whispering, tails wagging as they told some joke Fen had said the day before, likely recounted several times already.
What if—what if they never find me? I could just do a little manipulating … I can send them back to the fields. Manipulate the time frame, and once we’re gone, then nothing can be done about it, right?
Inari didn’t respond, and after searching more of the Vulpes’ memories, she cursed internally.
No, I’d have to be more heavy-handed … if they don’t see me today, they’ll burn themselves tomorrow since Fen said they don’t have to be right in front of me, and they’ll keep trying until they succeed. They believe it with all their hearts … they—they really care about me … it’s sickening … twisted.
“In a manner,” Inari quickly noted. “As much as one can when obsessed with a perceived living deity; they have unwavering faith. However, you will not need to make this decision, which would have actually helped you address a future conflict, my sweet little niece.”
Sora’s quakes slowly eased from her aunt’s somewhat comforting assurance. I—won’t?
Her aunt’s tone dropped an octave. “Give it another fourteen seconds. The real challenges are to come, and the hornet’s nest has yet to be kicked.”
She took a deep breath, waiting the time her aunt had indicated, and without deviating a second, the event occurred. Sora’s eyes widened as she felt a colossal magical force expanding in front of the house. A blue glow radiated from the spiritual energy; there was a small hint of familiarity, yet she didn’t know why she felt some acquaintance with it.
Githa was beside her before the entity emerged, releasing a low rumble in her throat; Eyia and Jin were through the door and standing next to her soon after, followed by Kari.
A lovely, blue-furred nine-tailed Vulpes appeared before them, and Sora’s mind flashed back to Rayla’s statement the day before; this was likely Lady Tola, the Vulpes councilwoman that represented Thursday in their calendar.
Nathan and Aiden were standing on either side of her, glancing around uncertainty.
No one spoke as Tola’s glowing light blue eyes surveyed the scene. Eyia held her spear in hand; Kari, Jin, and Githa seemed ready for action on a moment’s notice.
Tola’s focus quickly snapped to Githa after taking in her surroundings, but her soft smile didn’t falter. “My, what interesting creatures have found their way into our Realm.” Her voice was higher-pitched than Sora expected.
The blue councilwoman was thin but fair looking; her modest curves were hidden beneath an elegant black mermaid-cut strapless dress with a slit running down the left thigh. There was fine lace fashioned across the front, exposing her leg, and down the arms, linking the two skin-tight pieces of fabric that revealed her forearm.
Her long blue hair was fashioned into a floral design with a thin sapphire brooch, showing her perfectly proportionate neck. She didn’t seem to be wearing any make-up, but her light skin-tone was without blemish, and her thick blue eyelashes had an exotic appeal to them.
The woman’s feet were wrapped in silky black slippers; she shifted her focus between Githa, Eyia, Jin, Kari, and finally settled on Sora; every Vulpes and human around them except for the ones waiting for Sora had dropped to their faces, bowing to the woman.
Tola licked her thin blue-tinted lips before speaking again. “Well, is anyone going to say anything? It’s getting rather uncomfortable,” she chuckled.
“What do you want?” Githa growled. “Are you here to fight or kick us out?”
Her evenly trimmed sapphire eyebrows lifted in surprise. “By no means, my little kitten. I’m simply here to understand what gross error has occurred that blinded the entire Council to your presence, but,” she paused, turning to give Aiden and then Sora a curious smile, “I believe I have come to a suitable conclusion.”
“For the Goddess!” Remia began to shout with the rest of Fen’s fanatics. Her cry was cut short as Sora felt a sharp pulse of energy enclose the entire area, causing her fur to stiffen; every Vulpes and human in the area besides their group collapsed, unconscious.
“Hmm,” Tola whispered, giving Remia a concerned frown, “it seems there has been quite a bit of trouble circulating this area. Mimi is so distraught.” She turned to stare in a specific direction, appearing to be looking through the town at the Head Supervisor. “So much trouble surrounding this town that went unnoticed … and in such a short time.”
Her smile brightened as she turned back to them; Nathan, Kari, and Aiden swiftly ran to Sora’s side.
“Sora,” Nathan muttered, stopping beside her. “She showed up out of nowhere and teleported us here.”
“What’s going on?” Kari asked. “My mom said…”
“Yes,” Tola cut in, taking a few steps forward; as if a ghost, she walked right through the unconscious bodies between them. “I am here to understand what has occurred, which was difficult from within the Capital, and no,” she chuckled, stopping as Githa and Eyia appeared before her, tails lighting with green flames as Eyia’s frosty aura expanded threateningly, “I’m not here to cause conflict.”
A shiver ran down Sora’s tails; both Githa and Eyia’s offensive power was being contained by the calming waves emitting from Tola’s fanned out nine tails, keeping the wild forces from harming any of the citizens surrounding them.
“As I said, no need to be violent…” Her pleasant voice trailed off, eyes widening before lifting to view the third story of their building. “What … is that? Miyabe … no, not anymore, then—what?”
Inari’s soft voice spoke in Sora’s mind. “If you will allow me to take control of your magic, Dear.” Sora gladly gave it, and a crafted image of her aunt appeared between them.
“Tola, I assume,” Inari said, giving the woman a pleasant smile.
Eyia and Githa’s eyes narrowed, but upon seeing Inari, they retreated to Sora’s side.
“What is to be done, Sister?” Eyia asked, knowing the Vulpes could hear them if they whispered or not. “She is very dangerous—powerful.”
Githa’s guard had dropped entirely, waving her hand dismissively while holding her hands behind her head; the Nekomata’s flames dispersed soon after. “Not interesting anymore; the crafty fox is spinning her webs.”
“Fox and webs?” Eyia questioned, turning to Jin as she joined them. “Jin, what does Githa mean by Inari spinning webs, or is she referring to…”
“Nevermind that,” Jin sighed.
Everyone’s attention snapped to Tola as she gave Inari a deep bow, catching them off-guard. “Oh—the great Vulpes Founder Inari; I hope it comes as no offense that I am shocked to find The White Lady in our insignificant Realm.”
Inari turned, giving their group an amused smile. “You have yet to invade any of their Cores to obtain the proper information. Your decorum is a little surprising; I expected less … finesse from a Spiritual Outsourcer, to be honest, but with your declaration of non-violence, I suppose it’s to be expected. Are all your sisters so careful?”
“You flatter me,” Tola chuckled, head still lowered for three more seconds before rising. Her expression became somewhat forced. “I’m afraid most of my sisters do not share the same courtliness as I.”
Both Vulpes hid their hands behind their tails while facing one another.
“Pity,” Inari’s tone held a slight point. “We have never met, have we?”
“Perhaps not,” Tola’s face tightened slightly, yet quickly relaxed, “but I am positive you have heard of our Realm and with your entry … I suspect we will be seeing your true-self within time.”
“That, you might,” Inari stated. “Time will tell.”
“Wonderful!” Tola clapped her hands, causing a burst of magic to awaken the Vulpes surrounding them, and without even glancing at the group, every human and Vulpes moved along their way, paying them no mind.
Tola’s eyes narrowed, lifting back to stare at the building. “My lady, will you kindly tell me the story behind the death of our little Miyabe? My sister will be quite perturbed to hear of her passing.”
“We might touch upon the subject,” Inari mused, gesturing for her to enter the house. “Why don’t we have a small chat before you inevitably take my niece and her friends to the Capital of this Realm. I’m sure it will be most beneficial to you before discussing how to proceed with the rest of your sisters. There’s much to think about from this … sticky situation.”
Sora couldn’t help but feel the hidden daggers being passed between the two, but by all appearances, they were anything but polite.
“After you, my lady,” Tola nodded.
They all exchanged nervous glances as Tola and Inari led the way, entering the building. After some hesitation, the rest followed.
Umm … are we safe?
“As safe as you can be when entering a spider’s nest. Pay close attention; battles are often won before they even begin.”
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