Wendy stiffened. “I—I…” she couldn’t get the words out as she stared at Inari.
Sora got up and stood in front of her, hand outstretched. “You don’t have to go alone! I’ll be with you.” She turned to her aunt, “That’s okay, right?”
“Baby steps,” Inari nodded.
Taking a shuddering breath, Wendy rubbed her eyes before rising to take Sora’s hand. “Alright … I don’t—what do I say?”
“For now,” Inari smiled encouragingly. “Nothing.”
“Nothing?” Both Sora and Wendy’s brow creased.
“Nothing,” her aunt repeated. “Simply walk up to the pool.”
Wendy swallowed as she looked up at the pool, unable to raise her vision any further. “I—alright…” Taking another deep breath, she moved past the chairs to the pool, staring down at the deep end. “Why…” She locked up again, squeezing Sora’s hand. “You—you want me to get closer to my mom!”
Sora frowned as she looked at Wendy’s flushed face, eyes closed, arms trembling. She’s trying so hard to not think about her mom … I didn’t know it was this bad. I can’t blame her … her mom’s supposed to be here to protect her, but she just threw her away; traded her for this.
She scowled at the dozing woman across the pool; Jane seemed to be in bliss as she rested in the tranquil atmosphere. I trust Inari like I trust my dad … I can’t … if they betrayed me, threw me away? Plus, Inari said my mom hasn’t abandoned me … I can feel Wendy’s pain, but I don’t fully understand her emotion; it’s dark, suffocating, how can you fill the void a mother’s betrayal leaves?
Wishing to see through Wendy’s eyes, she activated her magic and attached the tether; her breath caught, the world shrank, light and sound deadening. The terror of inescapable danger made her hair bristle and skin itch; she clutched at her chest with her free hand as the emotions struck.
Memories conflated—Jane holding her when she was sick, making lunches, reading to her, tucking her in at night; her mother asking how much money the adoption would give her, signing away her life, the twisted joy on her face. Worthless, ashamed, hurt, a tool, buried, cold, left outside in a cruel world without a home as her mother slams the door in her face.
The thoughts running through her mind terrified Sora; her hands felt like ice as cold sweat broke across her body. I should have seen that there wasn’t anything good in me. I thought I could be useful, but I guess I’m only worth this. I’d lie for her … die for her, so isn’t this right? Why should I feel bad? I shouldn’t. Mom wouldn’t get rid of a good daughter, so…
Her aunt’s image appeared in front of her, time slowing in her mind’s eye. “Sora, you’ve been warned about attaching yourself to these kinds of emotions. You need to sever yourself; if you continue to absorb this type of emotional energy, you’ll damage your Core, and harm the humans you wish to protect, if not kill them since their Intelligence is housed within.”
She released her tether, each breath felt like knives digging into her lungs as the world opened up again, sound and light returning. Is … how? She looked to her right, Wendy was near motionless, and her grip was like a vice as the world continued to operate in slow motion.
Her aunt brushed back a lock of her hair. “Sora, this condition you know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When you enabled her, you were strengthening her resolve while repressing these emotions, but they have been there since you first met her at that underground base. You must help her combat these emotions by healing her heart in a similar manner that Gloria fixed yours.”
How? Gloria’s the Founding Mother of the Fairies … how can I do that?
“Think back; what did Gloria do?”
She … I remembered all the people that cared about me. She showed me I wasn’t alone, and the emotions that everyone had … that was their real emotions. That’s how they really felt.
“Yes. Gloria took all the spiritual imprints you had and showed you how they felt. You could call it an imprinted tether; it’s very similar to how the Outer Body Technique operates, but at a more advanced stage. What she did, you cannot, not at that massive level, but you can help Wendy in a more isolated manner.”
Gloria was … did she know this would happen?
Her aunt chuckled. “I knew that this was a possibility in the near future, and if I knew, then Gloria most definitely did. I thanked her because she gave you the base understanding of such a technique; you didn’t realize it at the time, but she was giving you the blueprint for training and helping to ease your heart at the same time.”
I don’t get you guys… Sora sighed. You’re too much. It’s like a massive chess game or something, and you guys think years … hundreds or thousands of years ahead.
“Give it time, my little niece, in time you will begin to understand the methods, but you must take one step at a time. You saw the image of your mother; she nor I started off as we now are.”
Alright … so, how do I do that then? What do I need to show Wendy?
A warm smile touched her aunt’s features. “What else is stronger? Love.”
So … find someone in her spiritual imprints that loves her?
“It’s a little more complicated than that. It’s not just love that Wendy needs; she must be reminded that she’s worthy of love. Being told someone loves you and actually feeling that you are worthy of being loved are two separate things, and usually takes much time, however, you, my little niece, have magic on your side. One name will spark this process.”
One name? Just saying a name seems rather too easy. There has to be more to it than that?
“Now you’re thinking about the complexity of the world, but the most complex things can also be the simplest. What follows is complex, but what starts the transformation is but one simple name, Theo.”
Sora tucked in her lower lip. Theo? Her aunt changed to smoke in front of her as the world returned to its normal pace, Wendy’s shivers vibrating up her arm. “What?” Turning, she found her aunt still in her chair, staring out at the ocean with a passive smile.
“I just … I can’t.” Wendy shook her head, eyes closing, head lowered. Swallowing uncertainly, Sora gently pulled Wendy close before hugging her. “Sora?” Wendy sniffed.
“I know it’s hard. You know I love you, right?”
“I’m just useless baggage though…” Wendy muttered against her shoulder, tears staining her shirt. Should I say it? Who is Theo?
Licking her lips, Sora pulled away, holding her shoulders at arm’s length before sniffing back her own tears. “Would Theo think you’re useless baggage?”
“Theo?” Wendy’s puffy eyes blinked blankly for a moment. “What does … how do you know Theo?”
“I don’t … who is Theo?”
Tucking under her lower lip, Wendy looked down at the wooden deck. “I—what does Theo have to do with my mom?”
Sora shook her head. “I don’t know, but he’s important to you, right? I’ve never met him, and you haven’t talked about him to me … who is he?”
“He…” Wendy rubbed her shoulders nervously. “I—just a guy.”
Frowning, Sora closed her eyes and activated her magic, desiring to know more about Theo; his spiritual imprint surfaced in her mind. Oh! He did go to our school, but I never talked to him. He … he was another student janitor. Of course Wendy would know him, she worked with him.
“Oh, I found him.”
Wendy’s shoulder’s stiffened. “What do you mean…”
I heard his name a few times in the halls … didn’t he play sports? That’s right, he transferred into our middle school in eighth grade. Which person’s mental image has the clearest interaction with him? Reece. I had two classes with him in ninth-grade. They played baseball.
“Sora?” Wendy’s tone was apprehensive. “What do you mean, you found him?”
Spinning her magic into the spiritual imprint, she willed it to take shape behind them, and Theo appeared. Sora turned with a triumphant expression to smile at the image. I did it! It’s like a training copy from the Outer Body Technique!
Wendy turned with Sora; the moment she caught sight of the tall, sandy blonde haired boy behind them, she let out a squeak before her face went from white to scarlet. Sora frowned as Wendy’s surface level emotions fed to her. She looks terrible? Her eyes widened as Wendy’s hands clamped onto her wrist and she stepped back into open-air. “Wait!”
It was too late, Wendy dropped into the pool, taking a stunned Sora with her. Sora was shocked as luke-warm water met her, hair fanning out above her. What just happened? Wendy … she likes him! Why didn’t I think of that sooner? She looked to her left, Wendy’s body was rigid with shock. I just materialized him not six inches from her back … she just turns around and … stupid!
Surprisingly, the water didn’t feel any different from normal water, but she could breathe underwater if it was water at all. I guess since we’re Intelligence Clones, we don’t really need air to live; plus, we’re on the Astral Plane.
Wendy still seemed to be in shock as she stared up at Theo; pulling on her arm, Sora swam to the surface, dragging Wendy with her. They broke through, Wendy breathing heavily, and not because of the water. “What—what the crap, Sora? Is that … did you teleport…”
Sora smiled apologetically while keeping herself afloat. “No—sorry, it’s just a spiritual imprint … well, it’s like, it’s him without his Intelligence … like a very close copy of his Intelligence, but it has no free will.”
“Why—he—what are you doing?” Wendy looked up at Theo before sinking back into the water, letting go of Sora’s hand. She didn’t even let me explain … Inari’s probably really enjoying this… Dropping below the surface, she found Wendy at the bottom, huddled in a ball as she stared at the wall, cheeks red. Wow, Inari … you knew she’d be trapped between her embarrassment of how she looks with Theo in front of her and her mom’s ominous presence nearby. She’s just trying to hide … water works way differently in the Astral Plane.
Swimming toward Wendy, she pushed herself to the bottom where she stayed. Wendy’s cheeks darkened as she turned away, back to her. I forgot how shy she can be.
“Wendy…” Her voice was surprisingly clear. Wendy shook her head, hair shifting wildly in the liquid. “Hey, I’m sorry for not warning you, but it’s not him.”
“Why—I can’t believe you! Why did you even bring—create him?” At least she’s talking to me.
“Because—I think you should know something about him.”
“Inari told you—didn’t she.” Wendy huffed.
“Not everything,” Sora said carefully. “She just told me that saying his name would—no, she told me a little bit about how to create his spiritual image before giving me his name … really, she can be sneaky, but she knows how to help you.”
Sora could imagine Wendy rolling her eyes. “Well, she is a super old goddess, right? Of course she’d know…” she looked up at the surface. I think sarcasm is a good thing, right? She bunched her lips to the right as Wendy asked, “Why’s Theo important?”
“Why don’t we go back up and find out … my aunt loves to give me bread-crumbs to follow.”
“I know you’re doing all this for me,” she sighed. “I don’t want to pull you down…”
“How could my oldest friend pull me down? You were there for me…”
“No!” Wendy turned, and she could have sworn there were tears in her eyes, masked by the pool. “I wasn’t there for you! I left you to deal with Kari because I was scared … weak. That’s why my mom sold me! I’m useless—a useless human while you’re a powerful goddess with a perfect aunt and dad!”
Sora’s ears pulled back. “Hey—that’s not fair.” She’s mad at herself and then strikes out at me? No, she’s just trying to push me away. “I know…”
“I hate your Fox Magic telepathy! You don’t know! You can’t! If I hadn’t met you, then I’d still be with my mom!”
A dagger struck Sora’s heart, her nose burned, and now she felt like crying. I know she doesn’t feel that way, but … it’s true … that part is what hurts, and she knows it. If she hadn’t met me, she would probably still be with her mom. “I know,” she swallowed a lump in her throat. “You’re right. All I wanted was—I even tried making your mom treat you better … I just wanted you to be happier. Well—maybe I was being selfish … I wanted more time with you.”
“Why? Why spend time with a loser like me? You’re a freaking goddess! A real goddess! You should just leave.” She … oh … she’s a weakness for me … that’s why that organization wanted her. She’s angry with me, herself, everyone, but still she’s trying to distance herself… Setting her resolve and sniffing back her tears, Sora pushed toward Wendy and hugged her.
“Hey, get off!”
“You’re not my weakness—I know how cliche that sounds, but remember what my aunt said? Life is complicated and filled with misery; what’s life without meaning? Your friendship gives me meaning!”
“What—no—why?” Wendy cried. “I’m useless; my own mother doesn’t want me … so, why do you?”
“Because—I don’t know … that’s just how I feel. I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else; you’re my closest friend! You’ve always been my closest friend.”
Wendy took a shaky breath before hugging her back as they began to slow against the rough bottom of the pool. “I don’t understand—I dont, but … thanks for loving a useless friend like me … that abandoned you.”
“You never abandoned me; you just stepped back to help your useless mother. She’s the useless one.” Releasing her, Sora smiled. “Want to go up and see what my aunt wants us to find out from Theo? Although, I think I can already take a guess.” Sora said with a sly grin.
“What? No … Theo was too worried about taking care of his sick grandma. I just—I was just the cover girl—for his shifts when he needed time off.” She blushed.
“One way to find out.”
“Hey—wait!” Sora pulled her up to the surface. Breaking through, they both looked over at Theo’s imprint, still standing in the exact same spot, a handsome smile in place.
“He is kind of cute, eh?” Sora nudged Wendy.
“I never … freaking fox goddess intuition…” Wendy grumbled, sinking a little further into the water.
“Hey, we can’t have you going turtle again!” She pulled her back up.
“What! I’m telling you, he can’t like me.” She mumbled, but Sora heard a spark of hope flutter her heart and touch her tone.
Licking her lips with a playful grin aimed at Wendy, Sora asked, “Hey, Theo, describe to me the person you like.”
Wendy’s muscles locked up as Theo began talking. “I like a girl; she works with me. She’s kind and pretty,” Wendy’s face turned beet-red, “with brown hair that curls a little when it gets humid. She has beautiful light brown eyes that I swear sparkle like an anime character…”
“Make him stop!” Wendy’s knuckles were pressed against her nose as her heart fluttered furiously.
“Thanks, Theo; by the way, what’s her name?”
“Oh my…” Wendy looked faint as she stared at his lips. “He—he liked me? Why?” Her breath caught as Theo began explaining.
“Because she was pretty and really helpful and covered for me when my grandma needed help. Wendy wore a really nice perfume that smelled like Violets, and she was really sweet, she’d ask about my grandma…”
“Okay! Thanks, you can stop!” Wendy yelled. “I smelled nice? I don’t wear Violet perfume though.” She whispered.
Sora nudged her and gave her a wink. “See, not so unlovable; it’s not just me.” Frowning, she brought her hair around. “So, on a side note … our hair’s not wet when we leave the water.”
“Oh,” Wendy smirked. “Excuse me if I have other things on my mind!” She sent a spray of water at her.
“Hey!” Giggling, Sora sent a jet back.
Laughing and giggling as they played in the pool, Wendy finally broke away; holding herself up with her arms at the edge of the pool, she looked up at Theo with a heavy sigh. “I wish I would have known that from the start … why didn’t he tell me?”
Her brow creased as Theo responded. “You were always so busy. I didn’t think you’d be interested in me; you’re out of my league.”
Wendy huffed, resting her head on her arms as she sunk back into the pool. “Too good for you? That’s a joke…”
Sora chuckled as she got out, hair and clothes completely dry. “Honestly, Wendy, you’re too hard on yourself! He said it’s no joke. You are pretty and sweet—even Theo said it.”
“I feel cheated,” Wendy sniffed.
“Of course you do,” Inari stated. She’d been watching them play and Wendy shout with a pleasant smile. “You have been cheated out of many opportunities, but that’s in the past and cannot be recovered. However, once you unlock the first level of your Core, you’ll see the world in a new light as spiritual phenomena becomes evident to you. You’ll even be able to tell if someone likes you, but of course, as with everything, there is a warning; attraction and love are by no means the same thing. Love is built over many meaningful encounters throughout a lifetime; attraction is only the first gate along the crucible of love.”
“That sounds kind of terrible,” Wendy muttered.
“Yeah, crucible?” Sora hummed, kneeling down beside Wendy to sit.
Inari chuckled lowly. “Love is a long and grueling crucible, but well worth the effort; the Greeks had four words for love, Agápe being the greatest—self-sacrificial love; given freely, not taken or sought after. When done properly by both parties, that is the image of true love. Of course, no one is perfect, and that is also a part of the crucible as you work through the trials.”
“There sure are a lot of trials … so,” Sora smiled down at Wendy. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah, thanks, Sora, Inari.”
“That’s what friends are for! Do you feel like you can take those feelings of love and confront your mother with me?” I can feel Wendy’s so close, but there’s still something more.
Frowning, Wendy took a deep breath as she stared down at her arms. “I’m still scared … my legs are knotted right now … heh, I guess we’ll take it one step at a time…”
“Yeah,” Sora glared over at Jane. “And I thought I was the monster.” Turning back to Wendy, she grinned. “I know—if I was your mom or if she were standing beside me, what would you say?”
“You seriously want to go there?” Wendy asked with a sad smile.
“Why not? You tell me what’s on your mind, and then we can go tell that hag over there!”
“Hag,” Wendy muttered, staring down at the wood. “She was kind of a hag … wasn’t she?”
“See, that’s progress, keep going!” Sora encouraged.
Taking a deep breath, Wendy scowled. “Okay…”
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