POV: Sora (the daughter of Mia; Inari’s niece; Fox 3rd Gen Founder)
Recap: Sora finally pulled the trigger on the decision; they’re going to the Vulpes Capital, but first, they need to sort out their feelings and mentally prepare themselves. Sora’s trying to get Aiden on her side, knowing his ability will help her dodge a lot of bullets in the future if channeled correctly, but doesn’t want to just use him.
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Sora spent the next forty minutes walking the town with Aiden, wrapped in illusions while he slowly opened up about the time he’d had with Nathan. The conversation went from tensing to casual to wonder and soon became personal.
The buildings and people were a blur to Sora as she focused on Aiden, but occasionally she’d glance around to see the loaded carts coming in, stocked with all kinds of fruit and vegetables, or an empty one returning to the fields.
They passed a few different districts, showing a mix of single and two-tailed Vulpes, and every so often, a three-tailed Vulpes would wander past them with paper and pen, marking or checking inventory.
It shocked Sora to see how many storehouses the Vulpes had; after some thought, she noted that they were providing for not only the entire year, but also for the festivals of that year, and the possibility that nearby villages might share in their harvest.
Taking her focus away from a group of men on break, she turned back to Aiden as they started getting into the meat of the conversation. His sad blue eyes were on a few single-tailed Vulpes, and a lump dropped down his throat. “Misery is the venom in my brain … it’s like poison in my veins. How do you do it?”
Her green eyes followed his gaze. “Do what?”
“Bring hope to people?”
Sora released a long puff of air, giving him a half-smile. “I don’t seem to be having much luck with you. I still feel a void eating at your heart, even after the freakin’ killer friendship speech I gave; well, from what I can sense past those walls.”
After a moment’s silence, he bypassed her comment. “Kari’s different … you got her to reveal her ears and tail. I haven’t seen her like that in … longer than I can remember. What did you do?”
Sora’s ears twitched for a moment as a spark of frustration hit her, but she let it go with a sigh and smile, looking up at the bright blue sky while dodging around a few groups of humans. “Kari … honestly, I felt her pain, and she felt mine; we kind of connected over that. It was kind of a more powerful version of what I did to you at the graveyard.”
She dashed ahead a few steps, turning to walk backward while giving him a wink. “A few teasing remarks in the right direction, and poof, wolf-girl Kari. Isn’t she cute?”
A twitch lifted Aiden’s lips as he stared down at her shoes. “She’s always been cute; it doesn’t matter if she’s got a tail or not.”
Sora huffed, folding her arms under her chest while glaring at him; she didn’t sense the kind of emotions she’d expected from that remark. “You can’t say that! Why do you think girls change clothes, wear differing make-up, and constantly look into mirrors?”
“Because they’re vain?” Aiden smirked.
“A joke? Better be a joke!” Sora chuckled, eyes narrowing dangerously as she jabbed a finger in his direction. “They want you to notice them! If a girl’s wearing a low-cut top, it’s for people, or more importantly, a person to notice it. You gotta catch onto those hints,” Sora pouted.
“Okay,” Aiden’s brow creased as he looked up. “What’s up with that twist? Is there a girl with a low cut shirt that’s looking for my attention?”
Sora flipped around, flicking her tail to the left. “No, I’m just saying. I mean, sure, girls can be vain, but no more than boys,” she giggled. “Boys just do it in different ways; don’t you comb your hair and work out to show off your body, too?”
Aiden hummed softly, folding his own arms. “True … my point was, why are we talking about this right now?”
“Didn’t you say Kari was cute?” Sora asked innocently. “I mean, you’re the one that said it!”
“You directed the conversation that way, forcing me to say it.” Aiden shot back with a soft glare.
“You still agreed,” Sora chimed.
“Okay, hold up…”
Sora turned, giving him a confused smile. “Hmm?”
They both shifted to the side of a building to get out of the main flow of traffic.
“So,” Aiden asked with a doubtful tone. “Your big plan to get me out of depression is setting me up with a girl that I’ve known all my life … that I see as a little sister?”
“Shoot,” Sora mumbled, sucking in her lips as she stared down at the ground. Both Kari and Aiden seem perfectly content with their brother-sister relationship. They totally haven’t even considered looking at each other as a possible couple, but they’re compatible. The two of them could easily become a thing.
Kari’s become a cute … wait, she’s almost turned into a kind of tsundere. She could get Aiden’s butt in gear and tell him off for being so down on himself; if only she could take that type of attitude with herself.
She blinked, looking up with a blank expression. “Mhm?”
“Shoot, what? You’ve been staring down at the ground like it annoyed you or something. Did I hit the nail on the head?” He asked dryly.
Sora scratched her neck absently, turning away from his gaze. “Umm, I just … oh, screw it!” She turned to give him a hard glare. “Why not?”
“Why not?” He slowly repeated, looking for an explanation.
“Oh, don’t play stupid with me,” Sora growled, giving him a cross stare. “Kari’s cute, she’s got a nice body, and she’s super proactive … well, when she’s not feeling vulnerable. Oh, yeah, she’s totally vulnerable right now!”
She pointed a finger at him. “It’s the perfect time to make a move. You should totally ask her out.”
“Eh,” Aiden took a step back, rubbing the back of his neck. “Look, Sora, I get it, but I’m not interested in Kari. Yeah, she’s got a lot of great qualities, but I don’t see her like that. Geez, you’re going at it like a wolf after red meat.”
Sora breathed out a frustrated sigh. “Of course,” she moaned, folding down her ears while closing her eyes. “Finding a girlfriend and boyfriend would solve all your troubles; you both just need someone in your life that’ll be there for you.”
Aiden’s eyes fell to the cobblestones, and Sora bit her lower lip as the wave of depression surrounding Aiden exploded; her gut tightened, and she winced as the barrier surrounding Aiden’s Spiritual Network momentarily dropped. She was finding it difficult to breathe; the negative emotion caught her completely off-guard.
His features were like a stone as he slowly shook his head, averting his gaze. “I just can’t have anything like that.”
She could see a crack in his wall, and she pushed past harder, fighting past the discomfort that flooded her body. “C’mon, you deserve happiness, too!”
He half-turned away, staring at a few Vulpes as they passed, giggling about some blunder one of them had made. A lump dropped down his throat, and he walked a few steps away before pausing. “Look, Sora … I appreciate it. I do, but … I can’t.”
“What’s so wrong with it?” Sora asked, ears drooping as her strength began to leave her; Aiden’s aura was sapping her strength.
He turned, giving her a smile that didn’t touch his eyes, and she did her best to keep a positive expression. “How am I supposed to love someone when I don’t love who I am? And like you said, Kari deserves someone that can give their all to her, but how can I give her all of me, when I’m only half a man … not even that.”
Sora’s tails almost fell to the ground; she rubbed her left shoulder, brow furrowing as her voice cracked. “You—you can’t mean that.”
Aiden’s sad smile didn’t falter. “I don’t want to hurt you or anyone else, Sora. I’ve been running from myself for a long time … afraid of what I might find, but I’ve known it for a while. Just give up, Sora,” Aiden chuckled softly, refusing to make eye contact. “What’s broken can’t be whole anymore. Go help Kari; she’s worth your time.”
Before Sora could respond, he turned his back to her and walked into the crowd.
Her ears twitched as she focused on his breathing and footsteps, mask slowly falling as her breathing became ragged; his feet didn’t falter, and he continued into the town.
Stepping back a few paces, she leaned against the side of the building. What was that? I’ve felt that he hated himself, but to actually think … he just puts on a mask for everyone around him, but this…
He was just sticking around to make sure Kari was okay; he felt responsible for helping her, but now that she’s doing fine with me … it’s more than just suicide; he’s going to attack Sköll as some last-ditch effort to find worth in himself.
She looked up at the oblivious throng, rubbing away the thin layer of sweat that had gathered at her temple. Will he even come back if I ask? Did I mess up? I don’t even know if I can approach him again; I shouldn’t have pushed so hard … but I just thought…
A low moan rumbled in her throat as she let her head roll back against the wood, hair bunching up as she hugged her unsettled stomach; her strength was slowly returning, but she still felt weak. It’s like freakin’ radiation to me … there’s so much negative emotion. Is he having a harder time locking it inside? Maybe that’s why he’s leaving … is he worried about me, or did he even know?
Sora swallowed, fingers tightening around her abdomen. The first thing he said to me at the graveyard was … he was worried about me; he knew. What do I do? If I let him go, then he may never come back, but he’s forcing me away. What would this do to Kari? No, he has to … he still needs to talk to Alva, but … what if he’s so self-sacrificial that he’d even give that chance up…
Wait, Emilia … he’s a walking time-bomb of negative emotional energy. Was this the last straw? She looked up, sucking in her lower lip. I need to go after him, but he’s too dangerous like this, and if Emilia is exposed to that type of energy. This sucks so much! He’s hurt, but who can possibly help him?
Ears standing up, her eyes snapped open. I’m so stupid!
Sora ran back through the streets, quickly reaching the house. “Kari!”
Jin, Eyia, and Kari shot to their feet.
“An enemy, sister?” Eyia asked, sharp blue eyes darting to the wall as Jin stretched her arms out.
“No, Kari,” she panted, still feeling the effects of the negative emotion as she rushed to Kari’s side.
“W-What?” She asked, stepping back with surprise. “Why are you out of breath?”
“Slow down,” Mary whispered with worry, getting up to join her; Brandon, Ashley, and Wendy had moved back upstairs. “Take a breath.”
Sora cleared her throat before shaking her head. “No, Kari—you need to go after Aiden!”
“What do you mean, go after him?” Kari slowly asked, looking to Mary for an explanation. “There’s something wrong with her Spiritual Network.”
Eyia quickly moved over to her with a deep frown. “She has been spiritually poisoned … for something to have affected her past her defenses…”
“What happened to Aiden?” Mary asked.
Feeling a little frustrated with herself and them for not noticing it, she took a deep breath. “Aiden thinks he’s beyond help, and I think he’s going to leave the Vulpes Realm—he’s going to kill himself!”
“But … why…” Everyone’s brow creased with concern, and to her surprise, Nathan was the first to speak up.
“Ah, I was worried about something like that. He’s feelin’ really down, isn’t he?” He asked with a soft sigh, scratching at the scruff on his neck. “He’s got some real crap rolling around his head. I’ll go talk to him.”
Jin’s eyes narrowed. “Wait, Aiden poisoned you by just being close by? That’s more than just some bad thoughts; that’s some serious issues.”
Eyia nodded; features hardening, she gave Sora a pointed stare. “If that kind of energy brushes against Emilia…”
“Yeah … I know,” Sora mumbled, still shocked by Nathan’s declaration. “Umm—he may need to keep his distance for a while, but we have to save him!”
Kari licked her lips before biting them, shooting a confused glance at Nathan. “So, wait, umm … you don’t need me?” Kari scratched her left ear. “I’m just really confused right now; Aiden’s poisoning you? What’s going on with him; is it Eric?”
Mary folded her arms under her chest and hummed thoughtfully before giving Kari a sweet smile. “Kari, letting Nathan handle it might be for the best.”
Before she could protest, Mary quickly added. “From what I remember of the conversation he had with Eric … I was still a little addled after you broke the Werewolf curse, Sora, but I still remember that horrible story and the pain on his face. Maybe having someone unaffiliated with any of this might help.”
Kari’s eyes fell to the floor with frustration, likely listening to her mother; her jaw locked, tail flicking to the right as her ears twitched. “I don’t like it,” she mumbled. “He thinks he can just leave without even saying goodbye?”
“Oh,” Sora paused, her ears just as active as Kari, causing her to reach up and scratch them. “I—umm, okay, Nathan.” She glanced at Kari, still locked in an internal conversation with her mother.
Nathan gave her a sheepish smile. “We should probably hurry. How close can you get; could you guide me to him?”
“Yeah,” she glanced around at everyone, and each of them more than showed their opinion on the matter.
Okay, so, Jin and Eyia are all about team Sora, not team Aiden, and I expected that. Alva’s probably telling Kari to stand down, which she’s not happy about after I came rushing in. Mary’s all for Nathan, and Githa … she’s probably stalking me in the shadows. Frakin’ … I blame the negative emotions! Shoot … that means I’m blaming Aiden, which isn’t fair…
Sora hung her head with a soft growl. “Okay,” she mumbled, smoothing her hair back behind her shoulders. “Let’s go before he gets too far; can you jog?”
“Running used to be in my morning routine,” he chuckled, probably trying to ease the tense atmosphere, and quickly stretched out his legs. “You ready?”
They left through the open door, and Sora wrapped them in illusions, explaining it to Nathan as they jogged back the way she’d come.
“That’s pretty neat,” Nathan commented with a grin. “Would have helped a ton in law enforcement … so much of what you can do would.”
Sora licked her lips, keeping pace with Nathan while searching for a topic to continue with the man. “Umm … so, eh—how did you end up in the police? I mean, I know there’s the thing with your dad, but … I don’t know.”
Nathan chuckled softly, taking on a reminiscent tone. “It might seem cliche, but growing up with my dad, and all this talk about climate change … I don’t know, ever since I was a little boy, I always thought that the world was going to end in my lifetime. So, I tried to seize every opportunity as it came to me because I believed it might stop the sky from falling down one more day.
“You know, doing my part to save lives, but the older I got, the more I realized that I cannot save the world. I’m not a superhero that can save every boy from an abusive father; I’m not perfect, I’m just me, a human being, and the more I step into your world … this world of gods, the more I realize that I need to let certain things go. It’s actually liberating, to an extent.”
Sora didn’t respond for a moment. “I’m kind of realizing that, too … I want to save everyone, but there’s just so much to do … so much I can’t do on my own.”
“That’s humbling,” Nathan said, grinning down at her as they dodged carts and people.
“Like I said, you’re not a superhero; you’re not perfect, you’re just you, a scared teenage girl trying to deal with what life’s thrown her way.”
Sora laughed softly, feeling a bit of the weight against her chest ease. “Thanks … everyone keeps putting me on this pedestal … no, maybe it’s me.”
Nathan took deep even breathes as they ran, and after a short break said, “I’ve seen the hardships of so many people on the streets, lived in darkness, and was thrown from the mud into a marsh. My reputation has been tarnished in the past, and that almost made me really bitter … the things police officers have to deal with, but still, I had to believe I was awesome.”
“Awesome?” Sora giggled.
“Super awesome! Everyone points fingers at everything else around them as the problem, but rarely point the finger at themselves, and then…”
“You have people like Aiden,” Sora groaned.
“Yes, people that blame themselves way too harshly, and I think you can do that, too,” he said with a slight frown.
Sora lifted an eyebrow as they dodged around a group of workers, bringing baskets into a warehouse. “How so?”
“You said it in that story you told us before; you’ve been thrown into a hurricane, and it’s a wonder you haven’t gone insane. You went from bullying to being kidnapped, trying to learn these new abilities while dealing with people coming after your life. I’ve seen grown men crack under that kind of pressure under witness protection. Don’t sell yourself short.”
A warmth grew in Sora’s chest; she pressed her left fist against her breast. “Thanks … that helps … a lot.”
“Of course,” his smile fell a little. “Just remember, you only have so much personal time, and you can only focus on one thing. Take it slow, and don’t carry anything you don’t need to; you have enough to worry about without trying to be someone’s savior.”
“I know, without your time, I’d still be stuck as a Werewolf, my brother would be dead, and I wouldn’t have seen someone as perfect as your aunt! Help if you can, but just don’t stretch yourself too thin.”
“Right,” Sora’s lips rose slightly. “You’re pretty good at talking when you do talk.”
“Ouch,” he laughed. “I can be a little shy, and I just felt out of my league when I stood in front of your aunt.”
Sora smirked. “She’s pretty beautiful, right?”
“Hey, don’t tease me,” he chuckled, but his tone was wistful. “I doubt any man could hold down your aunt, human, god, or Founder. She’s in a league of her own, and honestly, the intimidation of just standing in her presence is,” he smacked his lips, “it’s something. She lives up to the title of a goddess, without a doubt.”
“Now who’s selling themselves short?” Sora huffed.
Nathan just shook his head with a half-smile, but his aura told her enough. “She is pretty amazing…” Sora whispered.
Sora let the conversation drop, knowing not to push it, and honestly, she didn’t want to give him hope. Sure, anything’s possible, but … I mean, it is my aunt.
“Oh, aren’t we a little presumptuous?”
Her eyes widened. Wait; what?
“I’ve lived a very long time, Dear, and while I’ve never spent parts of that time with a human, it’s not like I’d rule it out.”
Okay … are you teasing me with this image you’re crafting in my head?
“Time will tell,” her aunt giggled impishly.
You’re evil! Her smile grew as the image of Nathan and her aunt at some fancy restaurant played at the back of her mind. She giggled, causing Nathan to give her a curious grin, but she just gave him a secretive wink. Thanks for cheering me up, Auntie.
You don’t lie, either. You said that!
“That, I did!”
So, you’ve thought about it!
“I think about a lot of things.”
The dodge-game. Sora smirked, and she caught Aiden’s scent.
“Look at that! He’s close,” Inari chuckled. “Good luck!”
I’m totally going to get back to this subject; I need someone to find love in my life!
“Matchmaker Sora; what a profession.”
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