Sora took a deep breath before enhancing her spiritual perception. She was a little shocked to find Fen’s Core entirely open to her. Fen’s defenses seemed like tinted glass that she could penetrate with just a little bit of study, and what she found caused her to change her plan entirely.
“I know what you’re getting at, Fen, and no, I can’t awaken your Core.”
Fen’s left eye creased with confusion. “Awaken my—why not?”
The silence stretched as Sora debated on how to respond.
My perception has gotten a lot better since seeing everything my aunt did, but to be able to sense this much … no wonder Fen’s envious. There’s just no way I can tell her about Emilia, though. How much do I tell her, and how should I approach this direction? I need to be curt, and this needs to really sting.
“When I first met my aunt, she put an Intelligent Construct in my Core that acts as a sort of teacher for me; consider it a powerless copy of her. She can use my power if I let her, but has no power otherwise.”
“I don’t even know what you mean by Core Awakening,” Fen muttered, “and what’s this about Inari being inside you? No, nevermind, this Core Awakening is something like what she does to her Kitsune, isn’t it?”
“To be honest,” Sora paused for a second, taking a deep breath, “I don’t know. Inari took me to a place where I met a being that had her Core unlocked to an absurd degree, and has told me there are countless ways to open one’s Core, but I know next to nothing about it personally. Even more, it’s very dangerous if you don’t understand what you’re doing and there are a lot of ways it can go wrong.
“My aunt used her knowledge and my power to help Wendy and the others begin their Core Awakening, but I have no clue how she accomplished it; from what I understand, it’s similar to what she did with you. You just need to fulfill the requirements just as they did and your Core will begin Awakening.”
Fen’s jaw shifted with irritation as she glared at the humans, calmly ignoring her as they continued eating. “That—I still need to change to fit her mold, though … screw that. If she doesn’t hold any power than what you let her … then you have the power to perform a Core Awakening on your own!”
“Like I said, Fen, there’s nothing I can do for you,” she shrugged tiredly. “I’m not skilled enough to perform a Core Awakening; I might have the power, but not the knowledge, and I doubt I will any time soon. Watching the complicated magic my aunt weaved made me very aware of how inexperienced I am.”
Fen’s fingers pressed against the table, and her nails bit into the wood. “What good are you then?” She growled.
Sora’s lips fell into a deep frown. “Fen, I am not a battery for you or anyone else to use, and I will not give people power just because I can. As of now, even if I could, I would not awaken your Core.”
She felt the atmosphere get thick as she finished her statement; only Githa, Jin, and Eyia seemed unaffected by her declaration, Githa giggling like she was watching a soap opera.
“I—what…” Fen seemed stunned. “You have to…”
A sharp huff shot through Sora’s nostrils as she felt Fen’s emotional spike. “No, Fen, I don’t, and I’m becoming fed-up with your entitled attitude. I’m not some naive girl that will always take your crap; Jian might be willing to put up with you for whatever reason, but I’m reaching my limit.”
Jian’s brow creased with concern as he looked down at Fen’s blank expression shifted into a smile as she cautiously asked, “What—did Inari do to you? You’ve changed … so much…”
The others were trying to keep to themselves to not get caught up in the heated conversation; Sora could even hear Emilia’s nervous swallow at her sharp tone.
“My aunt has given me a lot of insight, and looking back, it’s so clear that I can’t believe how naive I was, but I suppose it’s because I can look right into your Core now. Your smile of plated gold is just a mask that comes off the moment you don’t get your way. Watching you makes me understand Jin’s caution about Vulpes; you sink your teeth into the people you depend on, and I don’t like it.
“How do you sleep so well when you only think about yourself? How do you justify twisting the truth and manipulating others to your own selfish aims? Have you ever thought about anyone besides what Fen wants at this moment? But maybe you’ll change; I see a spark in you that could blossom, and that’s why my aunt gave you a chance.”
Fen was about to say something, but Sora cut her off. “I’m not done, Fen. Over a hundred years and you haven’t learned anything about how to live with others; you’ve burned bridges over and over again for your own ends. The only reason you’re even with me is to use me, and I’m not okay with that.
“Even now, all you can see is how I’ve wronged you and the smoke of another bridge burning. How long will you be afraid before you learn how to live with others instead of using them? How long will you play this game? Because I’m sick of walking on eggshells. Yes, I’m a Founder; do I ask for special treatment? No. So, get over it and get over yourself.”
“You what, Fen? Hmm? You deserve to be treated like a princess like Jian enables? No, Fen, I’m through with your crap. If you have nothing to contribute to the group, then I think it would be best if we went our separate ways. I’ve healed Jian, I saved your life, and we helped you escape that horrible facility; I think I’ve paid my debt for you helping me out of those restraints. Don’t you? All I’ve seen is your jealousy and vindictive pleasure in hurting others, and I want no part in it.”
Jian swallowed before clearing his throat. “Sora, I think you’re being…”
“A little harsh?” Sora finished, hard eyes moving to him before returning to penetrate Fen; she kept trying to bolster her spiritual defense, but with every nervous attempt more cracks appeared.
“You forget that I can see right past her spiritual defenses, Jian; yes, I’ve grown a lot since we first met, and I have my own responsibilities as a Founder and … I know what’s in Fen’s heart. I can see that she’s worried about me finding something out; she’s already been working to force my hand in awakening her—that’s everything to her. No one else matters what Fen wants; not even you, Jian.”
Fen went from indignant and filled with rage to cowering before her cutting words. Her ears had fallen, and her tails were limp; however, she wasn’t sad about her actions. The world she had envisioned crumbled before her eyes as every word she spoke smashed another brick in the burning city that she’d constructed in her mind.
“If—if that’s what you feel—then—then I guess I’ll go…”
Sora sniffed disdainfully. “Trying to make me feel bad isn’t going to work, Fen; keep telling yourself that I’m the bad guy, but that’s nothing but a lie that you tell yourself to feel better. Yes, it’s raining, and you don’t know what to do, just like the rest of us, but I’m not compatible with your toxic nature, and it will hurt what I want to do in the future. You have room to grow, but when you’re at the bottom, all you can go is up.”
Ears stiffening, Fen’s surface-level loss collapsed, and she glared at her with hatred, but Sora shook her head with a sad smile. “Your next phrase, a lie; something you say to boost your self-image.”
Fen’s burning vision fell to her plate, nose twisting; after a second of silence, she screamed before slamming her fists against the table, causing Wendy, Alice, and Liz to flinch, but Githa just giggled as Eyia and Jin gave her cold glares. “You’re not being fair! You have everything!”
After a few more seconds of loud huffing and wild eyes, she bared her teeth, glaring at Sora. “You’ll regret this.”
Sora took a calming breath to control herself as a slight edge of worry passed through her mind; Eyia’s cold aura whip a gust around the room.
“I take threats very seriously, Fen,” Eyia stated. “My sister has graciously given you the chance to withdraw without conflict. Take it while you still have legs to walk with.”
Fen’s fur bristled sharply as her spiteful feelings plummeted. Clearing her throat, she got to her feet, trying to hide her quivering arms by folding them across her stomach. “Fine—Jian, let’s go.” She said, voice trembling.
Jian’s eyes were only filled with sadness as he rose. “If—we must.”
They both moved toward the door, the soft sound of rain pouring outside. The room was still as they watched them leave; Jian opened the door for Fen to walk through. She paused for a moment, looking back at her with a hurt expression.
“Fen,” Sora said softly. “If you do change, and I’ll know, then I have no problem with you coming back, but as potential friends, not a tool to be used.”
Fen sniffed spitefully before walking into the downpour.
Jian was about to close the door but paused when Sora whispered, “I’m sorry, Jian. What I said was true; if Fen can clean herself up, then she’s welcome back.”
She watched a sad smile move Jian’s lips before he shut the door. “Thank you, Sora.”
Sora shook her head with exasperation as Fen snapped, “Why are you thanking her for kicking us out, Jian? That’s stupid … you’re stupid! She’s a spoiled goddess that treats everyone like dirt!” She began crying as she hit Jian’s chest, which was at least in part an act, hoping to elicit her sympathy.
Jian tries so hard; even though I can’t see much of his Core, he’s so pure-hearted but completely loyal to that train-wreck. The sad part was that Fen was actually trying really hard to quell her nature, but if I didn’t do at least this much it wouldn’t have cut deep enough to cause a change … is this what it’s like when my aunt sees people’s Cores? Maybe at the simplest level.
Wow, I really have changed since meeting my aunt. The only thing that will cause a change in Fen was pointing out all her flaws that she was trying to cover; hopefully, those wounds can at least cut deep enough to force her to reflect on her own life and what she has left. If only she could appreciate Jian, then it’ll be worth it.
“Sora?” Mary asked with a creased brow.
Her eyes widened as she realized she was crying; she sniffed, chuckling softly. “Yeah, that was a bit emotional; looking that deeply into someone’s Core is always pretty intense.”
“That’s what you really saw at her Core?” Ashley asked, poking at some cut vegetables with her chopsticks absently.
“Yes, and from it, I think we’ll see some problems in the morning. Fen was causing some sort of trouble when she left; I just hope it’s salvageable and she doesn’t do anything else to damage or twist our image. Believe it or not, this was actually the best move I could see for Fen, but it could really come back to haunt us.”
“In my opinion, sister,” Eyia said with a slight frown as she cut some meat, “you were too lenient on her. She very well could be a threat that could compromise our stay in this realm; we should have either restrained her or killed her.”
Sora responded before Mary or Ashley could voice their dismay, but Nathan and even Wendy agreed to a certain extent with Eyia. “I can understand your train of thought, Eyia; the harm that she could do within the group and outside is significant, both to our family and to undermining our efforts to find a future direction.”
Ashley’s attention seemed to defocus as she realized she was also adding her own family into that mix, and suddenly she found herself wondering about Eyia’s position and the reason she had booted her out of the group.
Taking a deep breath, Sora let it out in a short stream. “Yes, she is a real threat, but I have the hope that she’ll change; if we did confront her, I know that Jin and you could have likely killed both Fen and Jian in a manner that would most likely prevent Vulpes casualties with the released Spiritual Energy, but I couldn’t take that chance.
“We had a big disagreement with Fen, but she’s not brave enough to openly oppose us, and all it does is put herself in harm’s way; even if she hates us, she won’t stake her life on getting back at us for any wrongs she thinks we’ve committed. She might cause some rumors and try to make a little mischief, but I don’t think it’s anything we can’t handle, and that Liz and Alice as witnesses can’t dispel.”
“Wow,” Aiden muttered. “I can’t believe you thought of all that…”
“You—we’re even a part of that plan?” Alice asked with a stunned expression.
Sora smiled at both of them. “Yes, and I’m very sorry you had to be witness to this unpleasant event. I kind of feel like my aunt when I say, I did it for many reasons.”
Jin hummed with a sly smirk. “Now you’re starting to act more like a Vulpes. I can see the clever meaning in your actions now.” She said, glancing at the closed door.
Eyia sighed. “I still believe cutting out the root of the problem would have been wiser, but I respect your decision.”
Nathan finished chewing a mouth full of meat before humming darkly. “I can’t say I’m comfortable with Eyia’s option, but … I could see it being a necessary evil. I have no doubt Fen’s killed people and would have no issue killing more to get what she wants.”
Sora sighed, pulling her hair back before scratching her scalp. “Yes, she more or less admitted to draining human lives to stay alive longer, but I don’t see killing her for the past crimes really beneficial or even justified. There was something in my aunt’s words that caught my attention and made me think … when is it justified to kill someone, and the answer I came up with kind of surprised me.
“Is it justified to kill Fen based on an unknown number of people that she may have killed in the past? No, because that doesn’t bring people back to life; perhaps it could bring comfort to see the person that caused you so much pain to no longer be in this world? Possible, who’s to definitively say that that won’t help those harmed? It would be pretty arrogant to suggest it would have no merit, but let’s shelve that for a moment.
“I think the big thing is not belief, but what they espouse to do. Why would it be justified to kill Bathin? Because of what he espouses to do to us. Killing someone is justified when one can save the many, which is a hard choice, but I believe it’s the right one. Now, I have hope that Fen can change, and I’ve seen it is possible; so, giving her a chance is something that is also justified.”
She turned to Eyia with a sad smile. “I know you have some beliefs in restitution, and I don’t want to stamp out your beliefs either; just as I know, you are respecting my decision. Wow … this conversation got heavy—I’m thankful for your understanding, Eyia. I believe Fen’s bedrock of self-pity and vindictive action can be scraped away and replaced. It’s the measure of the strength of an actionable negative belief that you take action against.
“I know that this is a deep ethical discussion upon a lot of complicated topics, but at the core of it all; I believe that Fen can change her beliefs toward a positive light.”
“You’ve—put a lot more thought into this than I first wanted to believe,” Mary muttered. “I understand that discussion of getting down to the ethical grounds to justify killing someone, and I have some gripes with it, but it is a hard position to argue as well. If someone’s coming at you with a knife and the only way to defend yourself is lethal force, then most will take it.”
Alice cleared her throat, trying to be as soft about it as possible. “Are all of your discussions this intense and deep?”
Sora took another deep breath. “No … at least, I hope not moving into the future,” she chuckled tiredly. “Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, why don’t we get to something a bit more lighthearted and fun? Ashley, what’s happening tomorrow?”
“Well—I’m getting my family back,” she said, a warm smile brightening her cheeks.
“Wait—what?” Mary asked, eyebrow lifting.
Ashley slowly nodded, rubbing her thumb against the chopsticks in front of her. “I—Inari is sending someone to get them and bring them to the gate; Sora’s going to open it for them to enter … I’ve been missing for five months; they weren’t doing well.”
“You—don’t you have kids?” Nathan asked. “They’re coming too?”
“Yup,” Ashley said, setting down her chopsticks to run her hand through her hair. “I don’t know how they’ll fair with how uncertain the future is, but Inari promised me that everything would work out.”
“Umm,” Liz glanced at Sora with a furrowed brow. “I—don’t understand what they mean by family. What are you bringing here tomorrow?”
“Huh,” Aiden’s left eye narrowed with a questioning look. “You don’t know what a family is?”
Alice and Liz shook their heads, both flushing nervously.
“You can’t be serious,” Nathan mumbled. “Could it be a mixed up translation? Maybe they know it by another word?”
“It’s family … what other word is there?” Aiden questioned.
“Hmm,” Eyia seemed a little perturbed by their responses as well. “Do you understand any of these words: clan, household, lineage, descendants, offspring…”
“Oh, we know what offspring is; they’re pups, right?” Alice said with a big smile. “Yes, we have those.”
Wendy’s brow was raised with shock. “Well, at least there’s that; I was beginning to think everyone here was cloned!”
“My mind went there too,” Ashley whispered.
Eyia seemed less relieved, and Githa’s cheer seemed to dampen as the conversation continued. “What do you know of pups; what do you do with them?”
“Ehrm,” a low vibration rumbled in Liz’s throat. “During the Harvest Festival, The Council requires the yearly consumption. We drink Fog Juice and consummate after drinking a cup. We have the pup, and then the pup-handler handles the rest before they are sent to the Capital.”
“Eh—what?” Ashley asked. “You—Fog Juice—so, you get drunk and get knocked-up, and then you don’t even know what happens to your kids? What about the father? Can anyone fall in love here or is that forbidden?”
“Drunk—fall in love—knocked-up—father—kids?” Liz tasted the words on her tongue. “I don’t know what any of those really mean.“
“Yeah, those are some strange words,” Alice hummed, scratching the side of her head.
“Okay—that’s messed-up,” Ashley said with disgust.
Mary nodded with abhorrence. “Who takes those beautiful words out of the dictionary? Falling in love, father, and kids are a completely foreign concept … I didn’t even think that’d be possible…”
“C’mon,” Aiden chuckled nervously. “This has to be some kind of mistranslation or something … I mean, you can’t really believe that they don’t know what love is or—or families, right?”
“You heard them,” Wendy muttered. “They have no clue.”
Both Vulpes’ muscles were getting tighter and tighter at the disbelief, disgust, and confusion sweeping the table. “What—why are you—is it really that bad that we don’t know what they mean?”
Sora hummed thoughtfully as she set her chopsticks down on her plate; supporting her head with her hands, she studied both of their Cores. “Alice, Liz, it’s a complete shock to us because we kind of take it for granted; I can’t think of a time where intelligent beings wouldn’t know about families, but—I think it’s something we’ll have to accept right now and talk about it amongst ourselves later. I don’t want to make each of you feel any more embarrassed.”
She felt the uneasy emotions swirling around the table, and for good reason. These Vulpes are being so rigidly manipulated into this box that it’s no wonder everyone’s acting like this. It’s truly horrible, and I can feel everyone’s opinions of The Council drop like a stone at this information. We’ll have a whole lot to discuss with Mimi tomorrow, but we still need to be very careful.
Making a quick decision, Sora said, “I think we should change the topic; let’s not focus on the stuff that upsets us and try to bring some joy back into the conversation. We can discuss a lot of the important things with Mimi tomorrow.”
Sora turned to Mary with a warm smile. “Why don’t you tell us about our space adventure?”
“Space—adventure?” Nathan, Ashley, and Wendy repeated in unison.
A short sigh left Mary’s lips as she smiled tiredly at her; she could feel that she really wanted to pursue the conversation and get a better understanding of how repressive this society really was. There were a few works of fiction that she was pondering on with serious thought in connection light of this information, and Ashley and Nathan weren’t far behind, but also recognized that they should speak to Mimi about it instead of these two confused housekeepers.
“Alright, Sora, yes—Inari took my husband, Sora, and I on a little trip to the Boötes void; I suspect she did that because my husband and I have often stayed up late talking about how it exists.” She chuckled.
“Umm, what is the Boötes void?” Wendy asked, raising her hand before quickly returning to her food to listen.
Sora caught Aiden staring at his plate, and he seemed to be in deep reflection, uninterested in the tale Mary laid out.
He’s probably worried about Kari and his relationship with the group now that Fen’s been kicked out, and he’s probably concerned about the information we’ve just heard. Family is a massive part of his life with Eric and his connection to the Fenris line. He’ll probably want to talk in private later … I need to learn how to do that silence spell that Jin did. There’s a lot I need to know … yeah, I should use the Outer Body Technique and learn a few things from my aunt tonight.
Her attention was pulled back as Alice tentatively raised her hand, likely copying Wendy’s earlier action. “Eh—I don’t know what any of that means … what’s outer space?”
“No way,” Wendy muttered, leaning forward to stare at her in disbelief. “You mean, you’ve never wondered what those moons in the sky are … or those specks in the sky. I mean, there aren’t nearly as many as what we see on earth, but I’m pretty sure I saw some stars outside when I looked out the window.”
“Those specks,” Liz shifted to the left side of her chair as she fiddled with her chopsticks. “Aren’t they—they’re just like the sun, right? The Council keeps the fire alight to brighten the day.”
Mary’s cheeks bunched to the right as she looked into the corner of the room, staring at one of the burning flames that lit the space. After a second of silence, she sat back, folding her arms thoughtfully.
Nathan glanced at her questioningly before his vision returned to the two women. “Eh, I think it’s pretty simple. The sun is a mass of incandescent gas where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees … I mean, it’s not that hard to understand, right?”
“Not so,” Mary muttered. “This topic can get a bit complicated in itself.”
“Yeah,” Ashley hummed. “I don’t think they have an understanding of hydrogen or helium, and it’s even possible that other suns are comprised of a different method other than our sun on earth.”
“I think it’s a bit more complicated than that,” Mary said, still studying the flame. “We know a lot less about the universe than I initially thought. I mean, I’m looking at a ball of fire that doesn’t burn and keeps fueled by an unknown power source that is generated like some kind of nuclear reactor within the earth. For all we know, the sun above us is no different; we can’t take this Vulpes Realm at the same level of understanding as the Human Realm.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Ashley said, studying the same flame as Mary.
“Man,” Nathan groaned, ruffling his hair. “Everything’s questionable these days.”
“But anyways, that’s an issue for us to come to terms with,” Mary said with a bright smile at the two confused Vulpes. “You don’t need to understand the crazy specifics of how things function to enjoy it.
“Alright, so, Inari used Sora’s power to teleport us from a planet like this up to those specks in the sky, but really, really far away—across the universe; for Ashley, Nathan, and Wendy’s perspective, the center of the Boötes void is about seven hundred million light-years away from earth, and it’s a vast expanse of space that is probably about three-hundred and thirty million light-years in diameter.
“The crazy thing is that it has so few galaxies in it; it’s a big mystery that punches some holes in some scientific theories we have, but theories are always molded, dropped, and new ones are brought about as more information becomes available.
“Anyways, my husband and I were listening to an audiobook about a group of explorers that were going to enter the void. It just doesn’t make sense why it’s so empty when space is filled with so many specks of light.
“Inari brought us to a star within the void … it was amazing. She must have done something to shield us from … well, I don’t know how all that works, but it was so amazing…”
She paused as Sora recreated what she was describing around them with an illusion; everyone gasped, and it even pulled Aiden out of his revery. Githa seemed to be enjoying herself again as she looked around, and Jin and Eyia had wonderous smiles on their faces.
Alice and Liz’s eyes were globes of wonder as they looked around.
“What—how are you doing this?” Liz asked.
Alice shifted in her chair, looking up and down at the empty space their table of food and them seemed to have been teleported to. “Where are we?”
“This is outer space,” Sora said with a cheerful smile; she projected the same vision they were experiencing into Emilia’s room.
“Where—is everything?” Alice asked as Sora heard Emilia release a light gasp.
Mary swallowed, looking around at the space. “Ahem, thank you for the visual representation, Sora; I assume this is just an illusion, yes?”
When Sora nodded, she took a calming breath. “Right, okay, so, normally, you wouldn’t be able to breathe in outer space, since there isn’t any air; Sora is just providing an illusion to let you experience what we went through.
“Behind us was a massive class-one supergiant blue star … yeah, that’s pretty.”
Everyone seemed speechless as Sora crafted the image.
“Then,” she turned in her seat to look at an empty space. “There was a massive black spot that blotted out the stars.”
Each of them oohed and aahed as they went through the story; the atmosphere was tense Mary introduced Qebhet into the tale as they studied her massive draconic form, but Mary intentionally left out some details with her involvement or what happened to her.
Jin seemed to know a bit more about Qebhet’s history and talked a bit about how the Egyptian Pantheon was at odds with the Dragon Founders, at one time, but it was quickly resolved with the Egyptian gods reconciling their differences when Nüwa showed up to mediate. It seemed that Nüwa did a lot of negotiating with the Dragon Founders
After the story, there was silence for several seconds as everyone thought on the epic adventure they’d just taken part in. Ashley picked up next with stories about her family and college life that weren’t nearly as much fun, but still entertaining; Emilia seemed to fall asleep halfway through.
After some fun tales, they each helped clean up, and then moved to retire for the night.
Sora went up to the bathroom with the rest of the group in-tow. “Hey, before I go, let me see about changing up your guys’ clothes, and Liz, Alice, do you have any extra clothes I can use to make some more outfits—maybe some extra sheets or blankets?”
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