The Last Chapter Of Volume 3
POV: Sora (our Vulpes Founder)
Recap: Sora returns to their building with a heavy heart, feeling bad that she couldn’t do more for Aiden when she really tried. Inari helps her remember that life is about mitigating the daily dose of torment to make it bearable and that she needs to focus on her own health and that of her daughter before worrying about others. She’s neglecting Emilia by stretching herself too thin.
Fen’s trap finally springs, and Sora is horrified by the vitriol the jaded Vulpes put into the terrifying revenge. Inari then gives her some unsettling news … she doesn’t have to make this critical decision.
Soon after, Tola, the Blue Seat of the Council, popped out of nowhere with Nathan and Aiden by her side. Inari confronts her through Sora’s magic, and after a few pointed remarks by Sora’s aunt, they head inside to discuss how to proceed.
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When Sora entered the building from behind her aunt, she caught sight of Brandon and Mary, waiting by the stairs with worry; they stared between them, reading the atmosphere, and after a moment, moved to take their own seats. Wendy and Ashley were upstairs, getting clothes and things ready for the kids and comforting her daughter.
Sora’s ears twitched, catching Emilia tense before stretching out across her bed, mind returning to the panic as she recalled the scene before her blackout. Ashley and Wendy tried to calm her down as her whimpers awoke the kids.
Emilia will be down here soon, but should I go upstairs and make sure she doesn’t come down? What will Tola do if…
“No need for concern, Dear.” Her aunt stated with a warm smile on her full lips. “Wendy and Ashley will calm her down, and it would do her good to listen. She needs more experience.”
You’re sure? What am I even asking…
No one spoke in the uncomfortable silence, sitting in the large octagon-shaped conversing area they’d made of the couches and chairs on the first floor.
Tola and Inari sat across from each other, Sora taking the right side of the couch beside her; she left a bit of room by the arm so Emilia could join her when she joined them. Kari promptly took the left side, sitting on the center cushion, which made Eyia frown, shifting directions to be closest to Tola, spear still held in her hand. Jin plopped down beside her, hands behind her head while staring distrustfully at the blue-furred Vulpes.
Githa was back in her cat form, taking an armchair all to herself, stretching out across it to stare at Tola. Nathan, Aiden, Brandon, and Mary all chose their places around the space, waiting for someone to speak.
“So,” Inari started, drawing everyone’s attention; her aunt’s smile was pleasant. “Tola, would you like to start?”
“My, aren’t you putting me on the spot?” Tola giggled, lifting her nine tails above her lap to smooth out her dress. Settling in, she breathed a soft breath while glancing at every face observing her. “Hmm, where to begin? Oh, well, let me think for a moment.”
Sora did her best not to allow her nervous jitters to show, but the council woman’s demeanor was a lot more open than she would have liked.
Tola’s large, blue-furred ears moved slightly with her hair as she tilted her head left and right, lips holding a mild smile. “Let me see … to begin with, I suppose I’m a little at a loss,” she laughed, holding her hand to her mouth. “I’m afraid I’m at a severe disadvantage.”
Huh, how so? She could probably kill all of us with a wave of her hand!
“She’s not so crass; she’s talking about information. To any person of real power, and especially in a place they’re expected to have authority, not knowing something, much less a great many things, can be quite disconcerting.”
‘Would it be possible to answer a few simple questions?” Tola queried with a polite tone.
Inari nodded, legs crossed as she held a simple but dignified posture. “By all means, but why don’t we make a short, little game out of it?”
Tola’s blue irises darted to Sora, lips rising slightly. “How I love games; my sisters and I have our little wagers quite often, but as you said, I’m sure it will be short. Then, may I start?”
“By all means,” Inari smiled.
The councilwoman sat back in her chair, focus still trained on Sora. “I have no doubts, Inari, you are an actual Intelligent Construct, which makes me question more than one thing I’ve been taught.”
“Do tell,” Inari gestured.
Tola licked her lips, her vision never wavering from Sora’s face.
Does she have to keep looking at me?
“Bear with it, my dear; Tola is working through a great many possibilities, and you’re about to learn quite a lot about this Realm. The curtain is coming off.”
She’s making everyone look at me, though… Feeling a little self-conscious, Sora chuckled, “Something interesting about my face?”
“Quite!” Tola cheerily replied.
Sora’s lips tightened when she didn’t elaborate.
“Oh, excuse me,” Tola waved a hand dismissively. “I’m just trying to wrap my head around this whole situation. You see, I’ve been taught…”
“There are no Third-Generation Founders?” Sora cut her off. “I’ve heard it more than once.”
“Indeed,” Tola whispered, cheeks bunching to the side for a moment. “Now, to be honest, it doesn’t really surprise me that much; Existence is a vast place with many Realms and mysteries. That being said, I can accept a Third-Generation Founder; after all, you’re sitting right in front of me,” she giggled.
Piecing together her words, Sora opened her mouth for a moment before asking, “Then … your real question isn’t why I exist, but why I’m here. Right?”
“Oh, I’d like answers to all of it!” Tola replied, folding her fingers across her fluffy tails. “Although, we do need a starting point. So, how about a simple but important query? How did you get into our Realm?”
“Umm,” Sora glanced at her aunt before saying, “you’re asking about me specifically?”
“I heard that any Vulpes could enter.”
“Not true!” Tola chimed with curiosity. “In fact, the Red Gates are designed specifically to keep out any Kitsune, monster, and even Founders. At least, that’s what I’ve been taught.”
A mischievous edge touched Inari’s tone. “I suppose it’s time to analyze your education system.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” Tola hummed thoughtfully. “You’re saying what I’ve been taught is false?”
Sora cleared her throat. “I—maybe not entirely,” she slowly responded. “I can use True Vulpes Magic, Founder Magic, which your gate seemed to be composed of. All I had to do was wish for it to give me what I wanted, and it responded.”
“Fascinating,” Tola crossed her legs in the opposite direction. Her fingers tightened around each other as her eyes narrowed. “You’ve already given me much to think about, White Lady, and I’d love nothing more than to play this game, but I am quite a busy woman.”
Her sparkling blue irises moved to Inari. “You’re exquisitely crafty, my lady, and I believe you know much more than I about this Realm I’m supposed to supervise. Therefore,” Githa, Eyia, Jin, Kari, and Sora stiffened as she lifted her left hand and snapped her finger.
Tola’s sapphire-like brooch began to glow; the entire space took on a light blue tint, and the claustrophobic sensation of being trapped tingled down Sora’s spine. “Wha…”
Before she could ask, Tola explained. “I’ve separated this entire building from the Realm, locking it into a space-time distortion. I can’t have the other council members accidentally stumbling upon this little chat.”
“Oh?” Inari mused, seemingly totally unphased by the action. “So, you’re ready to finally discover the truth about your Realm?”
“At least a few of the truths,” Tola shrugged. “I’m positive you won’t reveal everything to me. I need to do a little work.”
Everyone glanced at each other in confusion.
“What?” Kari muttered.
Mary straightened in her seat. “You’re telling me that you don’t know what’s happening in your own Realm? From what we’ve been told, you’re the goddesses of this place, and control everything.”
Before anyone else could raise their voice, Inari held up her hand to silence them. “Let Tola explain; she’s an intelligent little Vulpes that is too smart for her own good, which is leading toward her end.”
“What?” Sora’s eyebrows raised. “She’s dying because she’s too smart?”
“Not exactly,” Tola giggled, features sagging slightly. “As far as I know, I’m the fourth Blue member of The Council within this Realm’s long history.”
“You were not there at the beginning?” Eyia queried, relaxing back in her chair after shooting an inquisitive stare at Inari.
Nathan cleared his throat. “Do you know how sick everyone is here? I’m told all the Vulpes are suffering some kind of spiritual sickness, and there was a seal or something stopping them from speaking about The Capital.”
Tola didn’t respond right away, focus falling to the wooden floor. “I do understand you have many questions, as do I, but allow me to tell you a bit about myself. I have not had the opportunity to speak my mind in … my entire life. I suspect all of this is connected, too,” she mumbled, vision flicking to Aiden.
When no one interrupted her, Tola took a long breath. “I was born thirty-thousand two-hundred and sixty-two years ago; not much has changed in all of that time. Like any other Vulpes in this Realm, I grew up loyal to The Council, working day after day to fulfill my purpose.
“I was gifted, my Area Supervisor said, and year after year, I was given more responsibility as my tails grew; I loved it … relished in it. I was brought to the Capital, and … that was when everything began to change. It’s a shocking experience for anyone born outside of those great walls; it’s rare for any Vulpes born from the outside to be accepted within.”
Sora cleared her throat. “Umm, just to be sure, can you talk about the Capital? When Miyabe tried to talk about it … the seal inside her, it killed her and tried to kill all of us. Did you put that there?”
A lump dropped down Tola’s throat, ears drooping a bit. “I see … so, that’s how it happened. I long suspected something of the sort, but … no, I did not put that seal there. To the outside world, there is a balance among The Council, and to a degree, that’s true.”
Reaching up, Tola carefully removed her brooch, brushing out her long blue hair to flow down her left side. She didn’t speak for a bit, and Sora heard the group upstairs finishing their descent. Everyone kept their focus on her radiant jewelry piece as she fiddled with it in her hands.
“Mom?” Emilia’s voice quivered as she reached the bottom step.
Emilia was wearing one of the long black nightgowns she’d made her with buttons on the back to allow her tails to exit.
Sora got to her feet, giving her a reassuring smile. “Sorry I worried you.”
“Mom!” Tears fell down her cheeks as she rushed across the room, arms closing around her neck as she cried into her shoulder. “I—I—you were s-screaming—dying—I couldn’t do anything!”
“I know…” Sora soothing, rubbing her back while guiding her down. “I’m sorry.”
Wendy and Ashley froze upon seeing Tola, silently observing the scene.
“Uh, Sora?” Wendy muttered, brow furrowing further upon seeing Inari. “What’s going on?”
Ashley kept her hands on both of her kids’ shoulders, ready to run back upstairs.
“There’s no danger,” Inari assured, gesturing for them to take a seat. “We’re just listening to Tola’s confession.”
“Did—she do something wrong; who is she?” Wendy pressed, slowly making her way to one of the few empty seats. Ashley quickly ushered her confused and wide-eyed children to their father’s side.
“Jose,” Cedric whispered. “Look, everyone’s blue!”
“She’s pretty … two pretty fox-ladies!” Josie squealed. “Are they telling stories? I want stories!”
“Shh,” Brandon put his fingers to his lips before lifting Josie onto his lap. “Let’s just listen, okay?”
“Okay, shhh?” Josie huffed, glaring at her brother. “You need to listen!”
Cedric’s eyes widened with confusion before his lips fell into a deep frown, but before he could retaliate, Ashley pulled his head against her side, rubbing his left shoulder.
Tola smiled at the two. “What strange children; they have such a different atmosphere than the humans within the Realm.” She paused, blue eyes falling to her brooch. “Inari mentioned that I’m a Spiritual Outsourcer, and she’s right. Living for over thirty thousand years is nowhere near the level of power a normal Vulpes would need to maintain a Realm such as this. No, we borrow that power.”
Kari leaned back, tail flicking a little against her lap, glancing to her right at Sora as she comforted Emilia. “Okay, I’m getting lost. Could you complete a story before jumping to some other pointless topic.”
“Oh, I apologize.” Tola sighed before releasing a soft chuckle. “I suspect—I’m a prisoner of sorts—or so much as I’ve been able to discover along my investigations.”
“Explain,” Eyia demanded, the spear vanishing as she determined the Vulpes was not a threat.
Tola brushed her hair out of her face, giving Emilia a soft smile before her ears drooped further. Her frozen smile didn’t touch her voice. “When I was eight hundred and thirty years old, I was brought into the Palace; it’s a masterpiece beyond any structure within the Capital.” A lump dropped down her throat. “I’d been an understudy of Lady Tola … you see, once we take the mantle of a council member, then we are transformed.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” Inari commented.
Tola winced, eyes darting to the side. “I suppose,” she mumbled, fiddling with her brooch.
“Mmh,” Inari’s tone turned curious, and everyone jumped as Alva appeared in the seat to Inari’s right. Her bare immaculate legs were crossed as she studied the woman. “It appears that Alva wishes to join the conversation.”
“Mom?” Kari swallowed, legs tightening.
Alva smiled at each of them; every seat was now taken. “I feel that Inari is letting things play out a bit too slowly.”
“I enjoy taking my time,” Inari chuckled. “It allows the spirit to breathe and lets the mind rest.”
Alva gave her a sidelong look. “You’re just making the poor Vulpes squirm.”
“A little tension isn’t bad,” Inari shrugged. “However, yes, I could direct the conversation.”
“The pleasure is mine,” Tola smiled at Alva. “My, you Founders are full of surprises.”
A compassionate look moved Alva’s features. “To alleviate a few fears some of the others have could you please tell them of the limitations you’re under.”
Tola nodded. “I guessed properly, then,” she mused, giving Inari a small grin. “You were making fun of me with your earlier comment. I did not invade your niece’s Core because I’ve been trained not to. I naturally avert my gaze from looking too deeply into the essence of individuals.”
“Hmm,” Nathan leaned forward, resting his hands against his knees. “Is the whole council like you?”
Jin snorted, drawing everyone’s attention. “No, she stated before that the members of The Council are not equals.” She glared at the blue-haired Vulpes. “Who’s really in charge, what can you do, and what purpose are you here for?”
“Bravo,” Inari clapped. “Some pointed questions!”
Jin rolled her eyes, focusing on Tola.
Taking a deep breath, she swallowed. “I am the fourth oldest of the seven council members. I am not aware of my older sisters’ ages. However, in order of influence, Loral, representing Indigo, Phebe, Red, and Hallaway for Green. I have come to suspect that seven Vulpes are needed to maintain this Realm, or to be attuned to these brooches,” she whispered, holding up the item.
“It’s pretty!” Josie cooed, pressing her back against her father’s chest. “Is it magical?”
“It is,” Tola whispered.
“I knew it!” She squealed.
“Shh,” Bradon urged, ruffling his daughter’s hair.
“Mhh, such kindness,” Tola mumbled. “The Capital was not what I’d dreamed it would be as a young innocent girl. Every faction has a different section of the city, spanning many miles, split in seven for each color. It is left for us to govern how we see fit within that space; we are expected to not even so much as question what is happening to the other side, and we cannot interfere with the status quo beyond the Capital’s borders.”
“Not even you?” Wendy asked.
“No, but I do have the authority to return things to normal, and to be honest, I’ve always been curious about why this world functions as it does.” Her gaze moved between each of them. “By the energies I feel you releasing, I can tell most of you have spent much of your time within the Realm beyond the Red Gate within the nearby mountain.
“It’s not something I should understand,” she sighed. “I am a tool of a much larger and more complex system that has been in effect for an unknown amount of time, and I fear I am nearing the end of that time.”
Emilia had slowly calmed down, sniffing as she sat, snuggled between Sora and the couch’s arm. “Y-You’re going to die?”
“I can’t say,” Tola stated. “I’ve done my best to govern my section of the city to my satisfaction, and I just hope the peace I’ve found in it can continue. It was not always so nice when I first arrived; I suspect, given my sisters’ personalities, their areas are not so … tranquil as I’ve managed to make mine. Although, I suppose that shows how low my expectations are for my sisters.” She mumbled with a broken heart.
“Then you do not know what your sisters do?” Eyia pushed.
Tola sagged a little in her seat. “No, as I said, we’re trained from a young age not to look too deeply into things. We’re just supposed to fulfill our role, and mine was to use this brooch to enact the will of the senior members of The Council. All seven are needed to perform large scale actions within the Realm.”
Alva’s eyes narrowed as she stared down at the jewelry piece in Tola’s fingers. “Inari…”
“Yes, yes, I know,” she whispered. “Sora, if you could reach out and touch that brooch with your raw energy. Just a graze.”
Tola’s body stiffened, but she hesitantly lifted it forward.
Sora’s lips tightened. “What will happen?”
“Something interesting,” Inari replied, tone mysterious.
Tightening her arm around Emilia for a moment, she did as she was instructed; the moment her magic interacted with the glowing sapphire needle, it flared to life with red markings, tracing down its length. Tola’s hand was shaking, but she didn’t release the item.
Githa appeared beside Tola’s arm, standing upon her armrest with her fur bristling. They all watched the fine symbols move like liquid across the sapphire piece, and Jin and Eyia leaned forward to study it as a familiar wave emitted from within.
A flowing warmth filled Sora’s entire being, melding into her Core like a gentle brook, and a lonely, broken tear fell down her cheek. She retracted her magic, quickly rubbing her eye. “W-What was that?”
Inari and Alva didn’t respond, brooding eyes still centered on the brooch as the Vulpes symbols faded.
“There was a connection,” Jin whispered.
“Vulpes Founder Magic,” Githa mumbled, head bobbing left and right as she examined the lightly glowing needle. “Old, very old!”
The pieces were slowly fitting into place. “When you say Vulpes Founder Magic, that can only mean my mom, or … Grandma, Aunt Seiōbo, did Aunt Nari make this place?”
“Therein lies the true mystery of this Realm,” Inari whispered. “It’s neutral Vulpes Founder Magic. It could have been crafted by anyone in our family, including your mother,” Inari stated. “However, I have the sneaking suspicion she did not, and now, we get to the climax.
“This Realm was so small and insignificant, that I had no reason to even take a second glance at it. However, it has been in existence since before your grandmother’s death … meaning, I don’t know, and upon closer inspection, its defenses are far more complex than I first suspected. Sköll is discovering that problem as we speak.”
No one interrupted after Inari finished, causing the following silence to press in on Sora as the possibilities spiraled around her mind. When she couldn’t take it anymore, she asked, “What does that mean?”
“It means we have a mystery to solve!” Inari chimed, “and answers seem to be in the Capital. However, I believe we have a lot of obstacles awaiting us when we arrive; the other Council Members weren’t as attentive as Tola, but they’ll notice what she has soon enough. I suggest we make our preparations and beat them to the punch.”
Tola discharged a long puff of air. “And what are your plans for me?”
“Honestly?” Inari giggled, giving the blue-furred Vulpes a wink. “I rather like you; you’re smart, and that will go a long way to navigating the coming conflict.”
“With which of my sisters?”
“All of them, in one form or another,” Inari chimed.
Emilia sucked on her lower lip. “But you’ll be here to help, right?”
“My dear little Emilia,” Inari sighed. “I’m afraid my influence will need to be a minimum for a while. I have done what I can to prepare you all for this task. Sadly, there are a great number of things that I must research with Alva for a future time.”
Sora felt like a knife had slammed into her chest. “You’re leaving?”
Inari’s smile turned compassionate; she used her armrests to lift herself up, and somehow, through her magic, she reached down to embrace both Sora and Emilia; Alva rose to meet Kari as she rushed to throw her arms around her, tears instantly falling down Kari’s cheeks.
Aiden’s mouth opened, but his words were drowned out. “No,” Kari sniffed. “I just—I just got you back!”
“There, there,” Alva soothed, brushing her thick black hair out as she cried into her breast. “Inari and I will be silent for a time, but always within you. Lean on one another when times become difficult; don’t pull in, my little wolf.”
Alva turned her amber eyes to Aiden, giving him a compassionate smile. “I understand you have a great many questions, but I’m afraid nothing I say will help you come to an answer.”
“What—should I do, then?” He pleaded, clenched fists pressed into his thighs.
“Trust yourself to make a decision.” Alva combed through Kari’s hair as her daughter held onto her with desperation, arms trembling as she wept. “Don’t close off your hearts; Aiden, come,” she motioned.
He hesitated for a moment before quickly getting to his feet and rushing to her side; he halted, giving Kari an uncertain stare but Alva rached out and pulled him in. “My children, be strong, and you’ll break through. You have people to rely on; don’t push them away.”
Sora was only partially paying attention to the Wolf Founder, arms beginning to quake as the reality of her aunt’s words sunk in, tears cascading down her cheeks to fall into her aunt’s smooth white hair. “It’s not fair…”
“I know, but be strong, and know that your mother and I are always watching. Be the representative in our family to discover this mystery, and make us both proud.”
Sniffing back snot, Sora nodded. “Okay, but—you’ll come back, right? You promise?”
“No Primordial or Founder could keep me away,” Inari promised.
Knowing what Inari’s promises meant, Sora tightened her grip. “I’ll—I’ll do my best.”
“I know you will.”
The group watched for a minute while the five of them calmed down. Inari and Emilia held each other a bit longer after Sora released her grip, but Kari and Aiden refused to release Alva.
“I didn’t—I don’t even know you that well,” Emilia cried. “I want more time!”
“We have time, Dear. We have time,” she soothed.
Inari and Alva gently pulled away, giving them one more encouraging smile before vanishing deep into their Cores. Her aunt was still utilizing her magic, but the spell was so beyond her, that she couldn’t even sense what they were doing. Sora searched, but they must have gone somewhere so deep that she didn’t have the skill to reach.
I’ll find out the truth … and I’ll protect my daughter. If my family can … maybe I can have my family. I just need to be stronger!
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