POV: Sora / Nathan (Human police officer that was turned into a Werewolf by Jenny; Sora broke the curse)
Recap: Sora tried to extend a hand of friendship to Aiden, but she underestimated the depression and cynicism that had grown in him for years. He finally broke away, intent on committing suicide by attacking Skoll. Sora ran back to the house to get help from Mary or anyone that might be able to talk him out of it.
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Sora guided Nathan through the crowd, backtracking her steps to the place she and Aiden had parted. The two of them had to dance around large groups of Vulpes and humans as the packs grew, likely spurred by lunch with the tables and items that were being brought out.
The Realm’s residents were workaholics; Sora jogged around a corner to see Vulpes picking up bread and soup, scarfing it down, and getting back to the fields with a smile on their faces before the two of them even made it to the end of the next junction.
The Vulpes Realm’s culture was more than a little disturbing to her, but at the same time, her mind drew the comparison to bees and the fact that she never thought it strange that other creatures had a completely different way of life than she was accustomed to.
Sora’s focus returned to the street as they came to the location Aiden and her had parted, and she motioned for Nathan to pick up his pace. To her surprise, Nathan was doing an excellent job of keeping a decent speed for a human. Maybe after I started his Spiritual Awakening, he got some physical advancements, as well.
They ran for another four minutes before catching up to him, and Nathan held up a hand, breathing a few deep puffs of air to calm his racing heart. Sora’s ears twitched, tails twisting together as she glanced between Nathan and Aiden, waiting for the man to tell her what to do next.
Aiden hadn’t noticed them yet; he slowly walked through the throng, head low as he stared at the cobblestone street. Vulpes and humans gave him strange looks but kept to their tasks.
Sora could feel the negative energy leaking out of him, completely unrestrained by his spiritual force, causing the Vulpes to instinctively create a wide circle around the bird. The humans were oblivious to the toxic environment surrounding Aiden that would poison any Vulpes that got too close.
Nathan folded his arms across his chest, moving to keep pace with Aiden while giving him a sizable lead. Sora joined him, nerves continuing to rise.
Why are we just standing around? He’s … where is he going?
Sora glanced around, trying to determine their location, but was drawing a blank as they neared the town’s edge. Her eyebrows drew closer with mild confusion when Aiden halted; a massive wall of tall orange wheat-like stalks spread out before them, rising over six-feet-tall.
It was then that she noticed the carts being brought into town were filled with the stuff; her mind filtered it out as they had run. So, this isn’t the way back to the gate … where’s he going, then? No, he looks somewhat tired and exasperated…
“Sora,” Nathan hummed as Aiden began walking around the edges of town, likely following the outskirts until he found the path he remembered to get back to the gate. “You can head back.”
“Wait; what?” Sora crossed her arms, pressing her fists against her sides. “You don’t need my help? I mean, I know I can’t get close, but I can stay if you need me.”
Nathan shook his head. “That’s not it. I think Aiden and I need to talk in private. You should go back and check on Emilia.” He turned to smile at her. “I’m sure she’ll want you to be the first thing she sees when she wakes up.”
Sora’s intertwined tails flicked to the side as her lips tightened, ears twitching with agitation. Why am I still messing everything up? I screwed it up with Aiden, and now Nathan’s coming to fix it, just like my Aunt’s always doing.
Releasing a bit of tension with a long sigh, she released her hands and ran them through her copper hair, shaking it out a bit. “Yeah … okay.”
Nathan gave her a wry smile. “Hey, and don’t go thinking you messed up.”
“Didn’t I?” She asked bitterly, watching Aiden disappear around the nearest house as he continued his solemn walk to his death. “I triggered Aiden into this suicide march.”
Nathan’s lips fell a little. “No, you didn’t. Aiden’s been looking for any excuse to drop all his attachments; it’s natural for him to be acting like this … he couldn’t go through with it unless he’d cut everything off.”
Sora growled softly, dodging around a cart that entered their path, vision dropping to the cobblestones. “That’s why he didn’t say goodbye to Kari? I guess that does kind of make sense, but—but what can I do, then?”
“Go be with your kid,” Nathan chuckled, and Sora winced, ears folding down as he reached over to ruffle her hair a little. “You’re a good girl, Sora, but seriously, quit worrying so much about everyone else. Go focus on your family, and let me handle Aiden. It might even take all day and into the night, but I’ll bring him back.” He smirked, giving her a thumbs up.
“You’re sure…” Sora swallowed, smoothing out her hair while looking up at him.
“To be honest, I think your daughter needs you more than Aiden right now. She’s bound to be scared and confused after everything she saw.”
Sora’s shoulders slumped, her ears and tail drooping. “I feel like I’m always picking up the pieces. When can I relax?”
“When you let yourself … know what,” Nathan’s cheeks pushed to the side for a moment, “go ask Mary that question. I’m sure she’ll have a better answer than my simple response.”
Rubbing her left arm, Sora groaned, refusing to make eye contact. “You sure you’ll be okay … alone?”
“Yeah, and you’re making my jog to catch up with him a real pain, to be honest,” he chuckled while giving her a look. “Go. I’ll handle Aiden.”
Sora backed up a few paces before turning, dodging a man carrying a fruit basket. “Oh, you won’t be invisible…”
“I know. Go!” He shooed with both hands. “Get back to the girl that really needs your help.”
Swallowing, Sora made her way back to the building. Halfway down the street, she turned back, but Nathan had already jogged out of sight; she followed him with her ears, but after a few seconds, shook her head, copper hair flying around her face with the soft wind.
No, Nathan’s right! Stop thinking about all the bad stuff, and focus on helping Emilia. How would I feel if I was in her shoes?
Her father’s image giving her that apologetic grin with Eric’s hand sticking into his side flashed back into memory, causing a cold shiver to run down her spine and tails; the chilling sensation even hit her thighs.
She went through that same thing; Emilia thought I was dying, and there was nothing she could do to save me. I did that to her … I’m horrible, but, no, no … my dad wasn’t horrible for doing that. It’s just a bad situation; I can’t blame anyone for it, including myself.
Sora’s return back was slower than she felt it should have been, and the comparisons to her own life overlapping with Emilia’s small pool of memories filled her mind.
I can do better by … what, reprioritizing? … it’s just like Inari’s conversation with Ashley … exactly like it. I can only focus on so much at one time, and I should spend that on Emilia first, just like Ashley’s doing with her family.
“My dear niece, yes, Emilia is of the highest priority. However, you must first take care of yourself; you must be stable to help others, or else you will both drown.”
“Of course, if it were easy, then everything would be perfect. So, is it?”
Is it what?
“No, the world will never be perfect. It is just as Nathan said, you and he are no superheroes, and you cannot save the world. You are a Founder, yes, but are you perfect?”
No, I’m not.
“None of us are, dear, and it’s an important thing to internalize in the process of growing up. You do all you can, and you’ll make mistakes, I have, and then you must be willing to also take ownership of that. Live with the good and the bad; it is the contrast that gives life it’s value.”
It’s the contrast that gives life it’s value … thanks, Aunt Inari, that helps.
“Emilia has a long and hard journey, which is no different than yourself, and you’ve got a few steps ahead of her on that path. Help her where you stumbled.”
I just hope I can be as good of a teacher as you. She huffed with doubt.
“Be the person you wish to be, not the person speaking to me now. Remember, perfection is a horrifying concept.”
Right … I should be continually striving to be better than I was the day before, not being stagnant. Well, then. She took a deep breath. I guess I’ve got some one-on-one time with my daughter … that’s still so strange.
“Priorities change when you have a child,” Inari whispered. “One day, I hope to have one of my own, even though I take some credit in Emilia’s creation! Just a smidgen,” she said with pride. “I’m doing my best to learn what it’s like to be a mother; we’re on this road together!”
Together, then. Sora replied, nerves easing as she let go of the weight hanging against her heart, leaving it for Nathan to carry.
* * *
Nathan took one last look at the cute teenage Vulpes Founder, head lowered, and tails nearly dragging along the ground as she slowly walked away. Sora’s going to burn into ashes with that heart of hers.
Turning away, he started jogging after Aiden; several Vulpes’ tails and ears went on alert as he left Sora’s magical field of influence, becoming visible once again. He hadn’t been to this part of town and suspected most of the inhabitants had only heard the rumors about them. I need to get my own head straight. The problem is, where do I start?
He quickly caught up with Aiden, and called out to him, waving with a half-smile. “Yo, Aiden.”
Aiden slowed, looking back. “Nathan?”
They had moved out of the main traffic, now off the beaten path, and circling the town. The orange wheat swayed with the soft breeze, and a mass of indistinguishable chatter could be heard to their right beyond the houses.
“Hey,” Nathan stopped in front of Aiden, putting his hands on his hips before swallowing the sticky saliva in his throat.
Aiden’s features fell tiredly; avoiding eye contact, he rubbed the back of his neck. “Did Sora send you after me?”
Nathan tilted his head to the side for a moment, lips creased slightly. “Eh, I suppose you could say that; she just let me know that you were going through a tough time. I mean, we talked a bit about it earlier, and I just wanted to be here with you. You cool?”
“Not really.” Working around his jaw, Aiden continued to walk away.
Nathan kept pace, not saying a word.
After three minutes of silence, Aiden folded his arms, nibbling on his lower lip, but Nathan didn’t push, resting his hands behind his head as he glanced around for anything to catch his interest.
“Why are you really here, Nathan?”
“Hmm? Just here if you need me.”
Aiden’s lips sealed again. They walked two more minutes before he whispered. “Where’s this damn road.”
“Mmh,” Nathan glanced to their left at the wall of wheat, to the right at the stone and wood houses, and ahead of them that showed a neatly groomed grass path between the two sides. “Not a clue; I’m totally lost,” he chuckled.
“Why’s Sora gotta be that way?” Aiden growled.
A frown touched Nathan’s lips at the random segway. “What about her specifically? Give me some context here.”
“C’mon, you know,” Aiden mumbled.
“Why’s she so helpful?”
“She’s not, not really,” Aiden huffed. “She’s just persistent … nevermind.”
The sound of the low rabble came back into focus, escalating every time they passed an alley. It took a moment for Nathan to get the right words out. “Hmm … what do you really know about Sora?”
Aiden’s brow creased as he looked down at the grass, slowing a bit further. “I don’t know; what do you want me to say?”
Nathan shrugged. “Whatever you know, because honestly, I don’t know all that much about her.”
A lump dropped down Aiden’s throat. “Well … she’s a Vulpes Founder.” Aiden turned toward him as Nathan chuckled. “What?”
“That’s like saying I know Nathan’s a human Caucasian. I mean, I guess Founder gives a bit more information on what she can do … I suppose she’s got a lot of hidden powers she hasn’t really tapped into, judging off what I’ve seen her aunt do. You know … she brought my brother back to life.”
Aiden stopped, and he looked up at him. “Wait … Inari?”
“No, Sora did … well, yeah, Inari guided her on how to do it, but still, it was her.”
“When was this?”
Nathan breathed out a long sigh as the sun began to rise in the sky, sending warm beams to hit their skin. Scratching the scruff on his neck, he nodded toward the shade provided by the stocks. “Want to sit down and talk about it.”
Aiden licked his lips, clearly not meaning to introduce a reason for them to stop, but after a second, nodded with a soft sigh. They both dropped to their butts, brushing their hair out of their foreheads while facing a building wall.
“So, before that, why don’t we get a little background,” Nathan breathed out a long sigh. “Life’s been insane … for all of us from what I’ve heard. I mean, you know I was a part of Eric’s pack, right?”
“Yeah, I saw you around every once in a while,” Aiden mumbled. “Sorry.”
Nathan shrugged. “For what? Eric was a monster … no, he was worse than that. I was a cop, and all I wanted to do was protect people. He forced me to turn a blind eye to things, and that affected me … a lot. You get what I’m saying?”
“Yeah … I helped him.”
“Eh … so did I,” Nathan whispered. A shiver ran down his spine, remembering the things he’d done under Eric’s control as the Alpha. “Although, you know it also felt good, which makes me sick to my stomach.”
Aiden glanced over at him. “Being a Werewolf?”
Scratching the back of his neck, Nathan nodded, licking his dry lips. “Yeah … I hate myself for it; I haven’t told anyone that,” he mumbled. “But yeah … I was stronger than I’d ever been; I didn’t have to work out at all, and I could handle anyone. It’s a strange feeling, really … you feel pretty powerless sometimes as a cop.”
“How? I won’t pretend that I know much about human society, but aren’t the police like … umm, like have a lot of power?”
“No, not really. Our hands are tied a ton, and if we make one mistake, then our entire lives could be ruined. When you put on that badge, you’re set at an almost impossible standard, which is good and bad. A lot of times, I felt more powerless as a cop than I ever did as an ordinary citizen, and the situations you’re thrown into…
“If I got in a fight with someone, even if I were off-duty, then the headlines would read cop beats citizen, or any number of other things. It wouldn’t be about how it happened or who I was as an individual, but my job would be dragged into it, and people would reflect it on the entire police force. It’s frustrating sometimes.
“Especially when you enter high-stress situations and need to make judgment calls that no one should have to make … we’re humans, too, which means we’re not perfect, but it’s like people expect us to be. I can see a bit of that with Sora, and I’ve seen it with a lot of young guys on the Force.”
Aiden’s eyes widened with a bitter huff. “Then, I ruined your life…”
“You talkin’ about that weird power to manipulate chance or whatever that is?” Nathan mumbled.
“Yeah. It’s literally why all of you are here!” Aiden growled, voice rising as he grew heated, pressing his hands against his face. “I forced everyone into this mess, and now Lori and Jenny are dead, Eric’s burning in hell or something, and I’m still here, messing up everyone’s lives this very second!”
Nathan didn’t respond right away, causing Aiden to look over at him with a frown.
“So, you don’t believe in free will?”
“Do you believe in free will?” Nathan repeated.
“I, umm—no, no, how could I? We’re all just puppets.”
Nathan lifted an eyebrow, giving him a sidelong look. “Dancing to your strings?”
“Either that or someone else who has my power … wait, no, it’s Alva’s fault for making me promise Eric things,” Aiden bitterly responded.
“Ah, okay, I see,” Nathan muttered, sucking on the roof of his mouth. “So, this is all just a grand conspiracy crafted by Alva, and she’s laughing at us from beyond the grave. Wait, no, she’s laughing at us as some kind of artificial intelligence inside Kari’s brain. Is that right?”
“It’s more complicated than that,” Aiden snickered, “but yeah, and now I’m a virus.”
“Oh, when did you learn about viruses?” He mused. “Do magical creatures know how microorganisms function? They can just use their magic wand to make them disappear, so why understand them?”
“Of course, Alva was millions of years old; she knew more about the universe than any of your human Science explains.”
“Mmh, yeah, yeah, I have no doubt,” Nathan replied, thinking back to his encounter with Inari. “It’s really somethin’ actually…”
“What—Founder’s manipulating everything for their own purpose?”
“Founders in general.” Nathan shifted against the ground, leaning his hands back while stretching out his legs. “I can’t imagine meeting Alva. I mean, I could try and compare it to meeting Inari, but that’s … no, I can’t even imagine that. I still think my memory and body are playing tricks on me, and it was all some fantasy, but then I have to remind myself I’m not that creative.” He chuckled.
“It’s all a lie…”
“Hey, I’m just a stupid human monkey … I think,” Nathan shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter. I made many decisions that got me here, and I wouldn’t put those on you, so don’t take my freedom away. I chose to stand as a shield for people, even if they hate me for it when they don’t need me.
“And … I have to live with myself—knowing I felt some enjoyment out of being a Werewolf. Call it some kind of Alpha brainwashing or my limited knowledge of Stockholm syndrome. Who can really say? There’s something strange about feeling physically strong; I can’t really explain it, and yeah, with that extra strength, I did help more people than I thought I could, but I also hurt people.”
“How can you justify it?” Aiden asked, nose twisting with self-disgust.
“I’m not—I’m acknowledging it. Would I do it again? Absolutely not, but did I take advantage of it? Hell yeah, yeah, I did, and I’ve got some trauma … no doubt about that. Actually, I’ve been thinking about talking to Mary about it, but at the same time, she’s got her own crap she’s dealing with, and I don’t want to add to it.”
“See … I don’t get it.”
“You people,” Aiden accused.
“No, why are you all so helpful? I mean, Kari bullied Sora for years, years! I love her like a sister, but even that has me feeling guilty, but now they’re like best friends or something.”
“Guilty for Kari’s choices?”
“But were they really hers?”
Nathan closed his eyes, sighing while allowing his head to lean back. “Look, Aiden, you gotta let people lie in their own beds. You can’t be everyone’s savior … it’s something I had to learn a while ago, and Sora’s still learning, but let’s play this out. Let’s say you weren’t here, then what would happen?”
“Umm—I don’t know.”
“Okay,” Nathan popped his tongue a few times. “You talked about Alva’s grand plan before—let’s see; so, she planned to have you manipulate everything, so she died, traumatized her family—oh, had her youngest daughter eaten by her brother, and—umm, force hundreds of people to live in agony as Werewolves while all converging to center around Sora here in the Vulpes Realm.
“Oh, and I believe hearing somewhere that even Inari didn’t know about Sora before this point. So, Alva must be an evil mastermind that played even that one scary creature they called … Sakura-something, I think. I mean, if Inari’s concerned about her, then I can’t even comprehend what she-thing-it is. Okay, I’m listening—so, what’s the end-game?”
Aiden chewed lightly on the inside of his cheek as he laid it out. “When you put it like that—I sound crazy, but I really have powers to manipulate people.”
Nathan thought back on some of Inari’s lectures. “So … you’re saying no one has responsibility, and we’re all pawns playing on this grand cosmic stage. If that’s the case, then no one should feel guilty about anything—hey, you’re just a pawn. Killing someone means nothing, stealing, cheating, and anything else you can get away with, and you can just blame it on this grand invisible hand moving you to their own will.”
“Do I really sound that crazy?”
“Hey,” Nathan shrugged, “I’m just repeating back what you’re implicating. So, next, let’s say you’re the villain in the story.”
“Okay, I’m listening,” Aiden mumbled, giving him a thoughtful frown.
“You’re what, seventeen?”
“So, for seventeen years, you’ve been the god of all events; meaning, every good, bad, and action in-between is all your doing. You caused cancer in people … or did that happen in the genetic code before you were born? Hmm, then let’s say you caused someone to crap on the street as a joke, making some dude step in it, have a bad day, get in his car and run it off a bridge because that was the last straw.
“Of course, you’re only responsible for the last seventeen years of horrible incidents in his life. Who was it before that, your mom, and what about now?”
“I … I don’t know,” Aiden growled, hands tightening around his head as he stared down at the grass in front of him. “I just don’t know. What am I responsible for?”
“Look,” Nathan paused, releasing a sigh after a moment. “I can’t tell you how this universe works, and I have no clue about your powers. Everything I’ve said, I’m just as lost as you, and we both know I’m not the brightest person in the universe—universes, or whatever. I’m just a dude trying to live his best. I don’t like to think about this crap. What about you; does it make you happy?”
“So, why do you do it?”
“Because—I feel responsible.”
“Like Sora,” Nathan groaned, pulling back his hair while shaking his head. “I’ll tell you what I told her … well, I suppose we need a little context. I grew up with a pretty extreme dad; he terrorized me with what the world was going to be like in the future, preached hate against religious people, and generally was pretty abusive toward me and my brother.
“I thought the world was going to end in my lifetime … I really did, and so I tried to seize every opportunity I had. I felt that I could be that one piece in the puzzle that could save the world, but the older I got, and the more his brainwashing and propaganda faded, I began to see how sad he really was, and then, I realized how weak I am.
“I can’t force people to live a certain way like a god … and I’m learning even gods have their limits.” He shook his head, swallowing as some of his past scars returned. “I can’t save the world. I can’t … I’m not a superhero that can save every boy from an abusive father; I make mistakes, I hurt people, and I’m just a weak human in a chaotic world, trying to make the best of what I’m given.”
Aiden didn’t respond, staring down at his lap as he thought, and Nathan let him be, glaring at the stone foundation of the house across from them, stewing on his own words.
If only I knew these things when I was younger. I lost so much time I could have been happy, just accepting what I could change in my life and what wasn’t worth the effort. Maybe I cared too much myself … just like these kids. I left Bobbie and Davis alone … I should have stayed in touch, and now … it’s too late. At least Inari gave me a chance to say goodbye to Bobbie.
“Nathan?” Aiden asked, looking over at him with concern.
He sniffed, brushing away a tear that dropped down his cheek. Clearing his throat, he gave him a sad smile. “Just remembering a gift Inari gave me.” He shook his head. “You know, even with magical powers—god-like powers … you still hurt. I can’t imagine how Alva did it. Did she know her little girl would be killed like that before even giving birth to her?”
Aiden turned away, biting on his lower lip. “I don’t know…”
“Yeah … it just makes you think. I don’t know how she could have lived with it if she did but at the same time … I don’t know. I feel like Inari knows so much, but at the same time, she gives off this feeling that it’s never enough to get everything she wants. She’s sad … and I can’t say why, but it breaks my heart.”
“Wait,” Aiden mumbled. “You feel bad for Inari? She’s like—there’s just—how can I even say it? How can you feel bad for someone with so much power? If she wanted to, she could snap this entire Realm out of existence.”
Nathan shook his head. “Still, it won’t give her what she wants … at least, that’s the feeling I get. She’s beyond life … beyond any conception of power I have, yet … sad, lonely … and I can now see why she seems so attached to Sora—but what do I know.” He chuckled, groaning softly while falling to his back to stare up at the bright sky. “How did I get so off-track?”
Aiden dropped down beside him, folding his hands across his stomach. “What should I do? I hate myself … I do, but I don’t know if I kill myself if anything gets better for everyone. In fact, I feel like if I do, then I might even cause more harm than what good it might do. I don’t know…”
“Story of our lives, huh? Well, let’s be honest,” Nathan mumbled, “we all don’t know each other that well. I mean, yeah, Sora actually probably knows a whole lot more about us than each of us do about each other. She’s literally peeked into each of our lives, feels our emotions, and can see into our souls—spirits—whatever.” Breathing in, he released it in a slow stream. “I can’t give you answers, man, but hey, if you want to talk, then I’ll listen.”
They both stared up at the sky for a minute, letting nature’s sound and the town’s soft bustle wash over them.
Aiden breathed through his teeth. “At the end of it all … I just want to be normal. I don’t want to have powers; I just want to be normal. To live normal, have a normal relationship, not affect everyone … normal … that’s all I want.”
“Hmm … okay,” Nathan pulled his hands behind his head, glancing over at Aiden. “So, if I understand your power, it’s about making your desires come true, right? So…”
“So…” Aiden’s eyes widened. “The path that I’m on … is leading me to be normal.”
Nathan shrugged. “Hey, I’m just following the logic here, but yeah—if that’s what you really want, then just stay the course.”
“Hmm…” Aiden paused, working through the thought. “Umm—can you give me some time to think about that?”
“Yo, dude, I’m here just speaking my mind, man. Take as much time as you need.”
Nathan closed his eyes, mind sliding back to the time he’d spent with Bobbie, unable to separate the memory with Inari’s radiant image. Goddesses … there’s more to this universe than I ever thought. A runaway boy, looking for a home … I hope Bobbie’s where she wanted to be … she and Davis deserve happiness together.
Nathan and Aiden’s minds froze as a bright blue light pulsed into existence in front of them, causing them to jerk back. Spots danced across their vision as a blue-tailed Vulpes stood before them in a dazzling light-blue dress with three moons embroidered on her sleeves.
The first thing that caught Nathan’s eye was how attractive she was; still, the woman wasn’t even in the same universe as Inari, which tempered his thoughts, and the second, her nine long tails weaving behind her back.
“My, my, my,” she hummed with an amused tone. “I thought I sensed a strange altercation within our world’s fabric here, and what are you?” She asked with a bright smile, head tilting to the side as she addressed Aiden.
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