A warmth spread through Sora as her mind roused; shifting a little, she felt the soft caress of something brush against her skin. She took a deep breath, snuggling further into it while hugging the fluffy mass to her chest. The air around her radiated heat as something pressed against her side, and her tails were being held by something.
Tears appeared in the corners of her eyes as she stretched out, dabbing at the liquid; a bright light met her. Vision fuzzy, she was met by orange and red flames. She blinked a few times, brow furrowing with concern. She was staring at a few bushy tails that she held close to her body, the same copper color has her own.
She swallowed, noticing Emilia’s face no more than half a foot away, snuggled against her tails. Emilia’s tails were glowing with Fox Fire, but it held no intent to harm, so the cold flames simply surrounded them.
It took a moment for Sora to realize what was happening. Her muscles tensed as she heard Jin’s quiet chuckles behind her. “Finally, waking up, are we?”
Eyia’s soft voice followed. “We did not wish to startle your daughter, lest she panics, and her energy was to go out of control.”
Sora took a deep and calming breath as she stared at Emilia’s peaceful face; she really was pretty. Reducing her volume as low as she could, she whispered, “How? Emilia doesn’t know how to control her energy.”
“Hmm,” Jin’s tone held an amused ring. “She’s entirely unconscious, releasing excess energy. You should probably absorb it before she wakes up.”
Biting her lower lip, Sora shifted as little as possible; she couldn’t get a good view of Jin or Eyia. “I don’t know how … I naturally absorb energy. I don’t know how to actively do it.”
“I forget how young you are sometimes,” Jin giggled.
She sensed Eyia move to the foot of her bed. “I will not be of much help; I do not know how Vulpes absorb their energy. I apologize, sister.”
“Wait,” Sora muttered. “I … hold on.”
She entered the Outer Body Technique and quickly returned to the moment she first met her aunt. She watched the massive wave of blue Fox Fire erupt across the spiritual plane.
Sora couldn’t help but feel a little depressed watching the scene. I look so weak … was I really that open and scared? I can’t believe that was me less than a few days ago; this is just surreal.
“You have grown a lot,” her aunt said, appearing beside her; Inari’s hands were behind her back, and she wore a black Kimono this time, observing the mental impression her niece had recreated.
Sora sighed, ears twitching as she examined her aunt in the corner of her eye. “I wanted to try and figure it out myself, but … I forgot that I couldn’t—can’t really capture your spiritual imprint. This is just a sad movie.”
“Sad?” Sora frowned as her aunt’s throat caught, making her turn her way. “This was—was anything but sad. Magical … marvelous … miraculous. This moment will be burned in me for the rest of time … it’s the moment I realized I—I had a niece. I even … I didn’t believe the threads of time that opened before me—at this moment.”
She walked around the image; lip tucked under her teeth as she studied her appearance. “I suppose you could say that it was the weakest I’d been in … I was vulnerable … my legs almost collapsed.”
“I—didn’t think about it like that,” Sora mumbled, watching the image of her aunt move around to examine her, pausing the memory “Although, you don’t look weak to me.” She said, walking beside her aunt.
“Of course not; you couldn’t catch such a chance, but if the Herald wished to … at this moment—here, she could have killed me. That is how stunned and uncertain I was—if someone had planned this event, looking back, I would have been powerless before anyone that knew how to harm a Founder.”
“I’m a weakness to you,” Sora whispered, looking down at the white floor. Her throat caught as she realized the implication. “I guess—Emilia is like that for me now … Wendy too. Is that—wrong to even consider?”
Her aunt giggled. “No, dear. Seeing reality as it stands is not wrong, and seeing loved ones as weaknesses is far from a lie. Any connection you hold is a weakness but also a strength. Few things can carry you to greater heights than a loved one can … few things can hurt as much. Having a weakness is not a bad thing, but learning how to keep yourself and that person safe … if you fail that, then that is a tragedy.”
“In that light, weakness is a sin that will scare your spirit; if you cannot protect the ones you love, then you are bound for misery, and if you willingly procrastinate your potential to strengthen yourself against such an outcome, then you have no one to blame but yourself.”
Sora swallowed, eyes low. “That’s … pretty harsh.”
“Such is life … and I’ve had my fair share of blame. No amount of complaining is going to change that, and will only waste valuable time. Power is necessary, Sora; only fools think otherwise. The ability to change one’s fate is power. However, the empty pursuit of power for power’s sake is even more asinine. Anyways, we’re moving away from your purpose here,” Inari giggled.
“Yeah … I came to figure out how to absorb Emilia’s energy, but…”
Her aunt finished her thought. “But that is only a band-aid, correct? You also want to know how to help prevent such things from happening in the future.”
Sora nodded as she walked closer to her aunt’s image, recalling the Fox Fire around them. “I get that she’s new to using her powers, but is it really this bad?”
“It’s a process. Emilia has never used Fox Fire; that’s a certainty. She may have used illusion magic, but little else. Her body is in the process of changing, too, which means she’ll have episodes like you had during your metamorphosis.”
Sora forced a chuckle. “She’s not going to gain two more ears, right?”
“Of course not,” her aunt shook her head, appearing at her side. “All I can say is, do your best. Emilia is counting on your support.”
“It’s Fox Magic, dear. Your base energy that you utilize with just a desire. Pull it into your Oltera Nexus.”
“Well—that’s simple…” Sora mumbled.
“Yes, and I wish you luck today … it will be busy.”
Sora released a sigh as she opened her eyes, leaving the Outer Body Technique. Doing as instructed, she pulled in the energy, and the fire quickly died; she was a little shocked by how little there was.
It was like a hiccup compared to the power I’m used to using; there wasn’t that much energy in it at all. Just how much power can Emilia output? Jin and Eyia seemed to be concerned when she first arrived … no, this was only a subconscious release, not a full-blown attack.
Gently rising, she removed her tails from Emilia’s grip and pulled back the covers to get out of bed. Emilia moaned a little, and her tails curled in to cover herself. Smiling at her daughter, Sora covered her with the sheet once she was free.
Eyia and Jin smiled as they watched. They were both wearing silk nightgowns; Eyia’s was blue while Jin’s was red. Both had their hair in ponytails, held by the silk hair ties she’d made them the night before.
“That was fast,” Jin hummed, left hand on her hip.
Sora shrugged. “My aunt.”
Eyia walked around to face her; her grin was as charming as ever. “What do you have planned for today?”
Sora’s vision swept the room. Mary, Wendy, and Liz were sleeping, but Alice and Ashley’s beds were made and empty. “I … have a few plans. Where’s Ashley?” Before they could answer, she heard her voice downstairs with Alice, Githa, and to her surprise, Kari. “Wait … Kari’s here?”
Jin made a soft clicking sound with her tongue. “Hear them downstairs? Yes, she got here about fifteen minutes ago. Eyia sensed you waking up, so we came to say good morning, and were greeted with a light show.”
“Thanks,” she replied with a confused smile. “I—umm, give me a second. I need to process this…”
“How about a shower first?” Eyia offered. “What you did to the water makes it quite enjoyable, and I do not know which bottles to use. They all appear to be the same.” She said with a slight crease in her forehead.
Brushing back her thick hair, Sora looked down at the slightly tangled mess, releasing a pent-up sigh. “Maybe you’re right … it would give me a bit of time to think. Have you two freshened up?”
“Can’t you tell?” Jin huffed, looking down at her nightgown. “By the way, these night clothes are surprisingly comfortable. Why don’t you wear them during the day?”
Sora suppressed a chuckle as she knelt at the foot of the bed to pick out some clothes. She chose black undergarments. A sleeveless sheath black dress with seam detail and a zipper closure; it was perfectly fitted to her frame and fell just above her knees. She finished the outfit with some cream no-show socks and black flats.
“Umm … honestly, because it would be embarrassing. Nightwear’s only something you should show … nevermind. It’s just a culture thing.” She mumbled.
“Huh,” Jin’s lips pursed as she shifted her hips to look down at herself. “You made wonderful clothes. Thanks, again, and these undergarments are pretty interesting stuff. Humans make the strangest things.”
“I agree,” Eyia mumbled, digging through her own trunk to find some clothes. She chose a blue dress, T-length, three-fourths length illusion sleeve, sequin lace bodice with a center back zipper. She mirrored her choice in footwear, selecting a matching blue pair.
Jin lifted an eyebrow at Eyia as she neatly folded the items she’d removed to get at the clothes. “Seriously, Eyia?”
Eyia’s fingers paused as she looked up at her friend. “I—do not understand what seriously means? I do not consider myself being serious at this moment. I wish to enjoy the morning with my sister.”
“I’d love that,” Sora whispered, waiting for her to finish cleaning up her clothes by the door. “By the way, why is Kari here? I mean—I know she doesn’t have anywhere to really go, but … what’s she doing?”
Jin shrugged as the three of them entered the hallway, shutting the door behind them. “Apparently, she wants to talk to you.”
“Yes,” Eyia’s brow was creased as they moved to the shower. “The Fenris Wolf is different; I suspect she has some serious questions to ask of you. Seriously … serious … oh, is it related to my selection of clothes? You were asking if I was serious about choosing this outfit?”
“You’re adorable,” Jin snickered.
“Adorable,” Eyia repeated. “I—do not see the connection. I did seriously choose these clothes, and that makes me adorable? Adorable is related to charm, correct?”
“Keep working at it,” Jin smirked. “You’ll get it one day.”
“Seriously … adorable … how does that connect?” Eyia mumbled with a mystified expression.
Sora giggled as they entered the bathroom, setting her clothes and hair tie on the shelf with Eyia. “I think you’re adorable, Eyia, but back to the other topic … you think Kari’s here to ask me questions?”
Jin puffed out a sigh; she closed the door and took off her clothes and tie. “She’s got a different air about her; she’s calmer than she was yesterday, and even seems determined. Eyia still wants to cut her throat, but she’s being patient.”
A rumble shot through Sora’s throat as she removed her slept in garments. “Yeah … thanks, Eyia … I know you don’t like Fenris Wolves. It means a lot to me that you’re able to restrain yourself.”
“So long as she does not pose a threat,” Eyia’s statement was so casual that it sent a shiver down Sora’s spine and through her tails.
“Okay,” she cleared her throat. “What about Alice and Ashley … the double a’s.” She chuckled, starting the warm shower.
“Mh—warm showers are so nice,” Jin mumbled, taking a deep breath as she combed out her long black hair.
Eyia closed her eyes, looking up at the sprinkling water. “Alice and Ashley have been up for hours; they have prepared breakfast, for the most part. They put the dishes inside that heating contraption.”
Sora began washing her skin with one of the bottle’s contents; she couldn’t help but notice the difference in each of their figures. Jin was even smaller than her, but next to Eyia, they both looked like children; standing at roughly six-five, she even towered over Kari, and she didn’t lack curves or toned muscles. She truly looked like an Asgardian Goddess.
Jin’s small frame made her look fairly weak and unimposing, but the way she carried herself made it clear she was confident and comfortable in any environment. Her yellow eyes left a mysterious touch to her otherwise normal, yet lovely appearance. If she didn’t know better, she’d say Jin was beautiful in almost a delicate way, but she definitely knew better.
“It appears that Ashley could not sleep; she was worried about what she should wear … which seemed odd to me. Why would she care so much about the coverings? If she expected danger, then why choose something so binding as a full-length dress, and one that could restrict her movements if she needs to run?”
Jin shrugged, taking the bottle Sora offered her and applied the liquid, copying her example. “Hmm … who knows? She did look nice, though … spent thirty minutes fretting about her hair. I suppose she’s meeting someone?”
“Wait,” Sora’s brow creased as she washed her tails, “you guys don’t know about her family?”
“Family?” Jin and Eyia asked.
“No,” Eyia said, rubbing the liquid Sora handed her into her long blonde hair; at some point, her necklace had returned when she hadn’t been looking. “What happened to her family?”
“They were being watched by Bathin’s demons, but my aunt made some kind of deal with her; we’re going over to pick up her family on the other side of the Red Gate … probably pretty soon.”
“That’s wonderful,” Eyia hummed, probably still not sure why that would require Ashley to take such care with her looks. “Oh, it seems your daughter will be rising soon, and Liz is waking up.”
Jin seemed to have caught on; she chuckled, eyes darting to the place she heard Alice and Ashley talking. “I did hear something about her kids, but I didn’t expect them to be coming all the way here. What sort of deal would she have to make to get that done?”
Sora released a frustrated sigh. “That, I don’t know … well, not fully. She just said that she made a deal to treat me like her own daughter.”
“Isn’t that cute,” Jin teased, bumping her with her left hip.
“Hey,” Sora muttered, skipping a few steps to regain her balance. “I—I guess.” She brought her wet tails around to finish washing them. “I’m a little nervous, to be honest.”
Eyia nodded, brushing out her hair with a grim expression. “We are not in friendly lands.”
“Although,” Jin stretched out, releasing a soft yawn. “I don’t expect the famed Inari to offer it unless there was some degree of safety.”
“With my aunt … who knows? She can be a little irritating … it’s like she’s completely transparent, but at the same time, it’s so complicated that even that gets muddled.”
“Bah, that’s just old creatures … Founders especially,” Jin huffed.
Sora’s ears twitched. “Does that mean … you know other Founders, Jin?”
“Eh,” Jin chuckled sadly. “I—guess you could say that. It’s not my fondest memory, so I’d rather not revisit it. I’ll change the subject, then,” she grinned shamelessly at her, showing glistening perfect teeth. “Alice is still having a rough time transitioning. She couldn’t sleep, but Liz passed out like a light. She and Ashley have been talking; I think Alice has been picking Ashley’s brain, looking for some answers.”
“About her feelings?”
“No, The Vulpes Council,” Eyia replied. “Ashley is quite knowledgeable; I am impressed by her understanding of cultures. She knows quite a bit about human history and makes comparisons.”
Jin sucked on her tongue. “Yeah … it’s not all accurate, but fun to listen to.”
Realizing they were finished, Sora turned off the water, moving over to pass out the stack of towels on the bottom shelf; it seemed like there’d be a few left once they were finished.
“I thought you were only ninety-nine years old, Jin? Well, that is pretty old,” she chuckled. “Does your dragon blood also give you information about history?”
“Man, you need to read between the lines,” Jin scoffed. “I swear, you should be able to tell from what I’ve told you.”
“Hmm … you’re talking about the information with my aunt? It’s not just that, but a lot of events are passed down?”
“It’s fractured, but extensive,” Jin shrugged. “Anyways, let’s go down and meet up with the others!”
They finished putting on their clothes, Jin replacing her nightwear. Sora followed them down, listening for Kari’s voice, but she didn’t say much; Githa poked fun of her clothes for a second, but Ashley and Alice were both in the kitchen.
Alice’s tone had changed; she didn’t sound so reserved. “There’s really that much conflict beyond the Red Gate?”
“I’ve only scratched the surface,” Ashley sighed. “Yes, that might make it sound like a terrible place, but it really isn’t all that bad. Although, I guess if it’s all I’ve known, that doesn’t mean much. What’s the worst that’s happened here?”
“From what I’ve heard … maybe we didn’t meet a quota, and we’re tasked to work harder the next day.”
“That’s it? Wow, I guess when you’re basically brainwashed slaves, you don’t have to reprimand much.”
“I’ve heard a lot about the outside world from you,” Alice mumbled, “and … I think I might want to explore it. I just don’t know—if that’ll be possible.”
“Well,” Ashley sucked on the roof of her mouth for a moment. “I don’t know if you’d want to do it this soon; I mean, there are a lot of dangers out there. There’s an entire organization on the hunt for monsters. I think you need to learn how to defend yourself first.”
“Yes … your talk about self-defense,” Alice hummed with a thoughtful tone. “I don’t understand how to use these new powers … I suppose they aren’t new, just dormant.”
Sora turned her attention to Kari as they stepped down the last step to the first floor; she was staring right at her. A lump dropped down her throat at the intense look on her face. She forced a laugh but was unable to keep her ears from twitching. “Kari—umm, what’s up?”
Kari licked her lips before closing her eyes and taking a deep breath; vision opening, she glanced between Eyia and Jin before settling on her. “Sora, can we talk … alone?”
“Eh—what’s going on? By the way, I made you some clothes … I thought you might like the more sports-type look.”
Her chuckle died as Kari’s nose twisted, and she sucked on her lips, but her voice was calm, even hesitant. “I—didn’t ask for that, but—thank you, Sora.”
Sora felt like she’d been punched in the gut. She cleared her throat, brow creasing as she studied Kari; her Spiritual Network as completely intact again, a solid wall. “Did—I don’t want to sound rude, but—did you just—thank me?”
Githa snickered, rocking back and forth on the armchair beside Kari. “The little wolfy’s turning over a new leaf!”
Kari huffed, turning her head, but Sora caught the slight blush. “I just—need some answers. That’s all.”
What in the world happened last night? Kari sounds completely different. Could…
“You didn’t happen—you aren’t brainwashed or something, right?” Sora tentatively probed, staying beside the stairs.
“That’s what I thought,” Jin chuckled.
“No,” Kari whispered, still avoiding eye contact as she stared at the floor; she was playing with her feet. “No one will ever control me again … understand?”
“Yeah … okay,” Sora mumbled, vision shifting to Githa as she grinned at Kari.
“The little wolfy’s so shy.”
Sora couldn’t help a laugh bubble up through her throat. “Kari—shy? You’re kidding, right?”
Kari didn’t respond, working around her jaw as she closed her eyes. “Look—I’m not shy … will you talk with me, Sora?”
The laughter in her throat quickly died; it almost sounded like a plea. “Kari … what’s going on? You’re like a completely different person.” A touch of worry crept into her voice.
“Nothing, okay—geez,” she scratched the side of her head, shoulder-length black hair shifting. “Can’t we just—talk like normal people?” She mumbled.
This can’t be Kari, but it’s her scent, and I doubt Githa would be fooled if she can stand up to Bathin’s manipulations. What could Kari possibly want, though, and to ask me to join her alone? It smells fishy, but at the same time, she seems so sincere … uncomfortably sincere for Kari.
“Hmm,” Sora folded her arms, looking over to the closed kitchen door. “You know—honestly, I’m a little worried about going somewhere alone with you, but … I’m also curious. Maybe that’s the Vulpes in me,” she sighed.
“Alright, why don’t you go to the third floor and take a shower. I’ll grab you some of the gym clothes I made for you, and then we can go on a walk. I need to check on my schedule with Ashley, anyways.”
Kari’s brow lowered as she slowly chewed on her left cheek; after a moment, she nodded. “Okay—schedule, though … are you that busy?” Her amber eyes lifted to study her.
Sora’s tails twisted at Kari’s gaze, but her irises held no steel; the rigid and powerful eyes she remembered were gone. She could sense doubt in her voice, but not for her; it was as if Kari doubted herself, but she instantly dismissed it.
“I guess,” Sora shrugged. “There are a lot of—a lot’s changed since you left.”
“Yeah,” Kari whispered, eyes moving to the ceiling. “I heard about you gaining a daughter; I don’t know what that’s about, but … that’s not why I’m here.”
Shoot … she does have amazing hearing; maybe her ears are even as good as mine.
“Okay—okay,” Sora moved back up the stairs. “I put your clothes in a box on the top floor in one of the storage crates. Do you want some shoes too?”
“You even made shoes … and how did you get my size?” There was no heat or defensiveness in the question; she truly wanted to know.
“I’ll tell you later,” Sora motioned to her. “Just follow me.” Turning to her two friends, she said, “Oh, and Jin, Eyia, you can chill if you like. I’ll just be a second … man, I have a lot more to do than I thought,” she grumbled.
Jin and Eyia let Kari pass, but as expected, Eyia wasn’t so trusting. “Hurt her, and your death will not be swift.” Kari walked by her without comment.
Sora showed her the shower and went upstairs to get her clothes; she chose mostly black attire, running shorts, undergarments, tanktop, ankle socks, and white and blue shoes. Returning to the bathroom, she knocked.
“I got your clothes.”
“Come in,” she replied. “If you’re comfortable, that is.”
What’s up with her? It’s like she’s trying to be nice, but coming off slightly depressed and submissive. It’s completely unlike her.
Walking in, Sora took a deep breath before shutting the door and turning around. Kari was naked; her skin was markless, and for some reason, she could now see just how pretty she was. Kari wasn’t much more curved than herself, but she was beautiful in a fit sort of way. She had a striking presence she hadn’t noticed before that bordered between wolf and human.
I guess she might have been popular with the boys for a reason, but I doubt any would actually approach her with how intimidating her aura was at school. I can’t believe … am I really thinking … well, it’s not wrong, just weird.
Kari tensed a little at her silent study. “What—never seen a naked girl? Geez,” she mumbled, turning away. “You’re actually making me uncomfortable.” She muttered.
Sora smirked, putting her clothes on the shelf before using her magic to dry and clean the other towels. “I can’t imagine you being uncomfortable with anything,” she whispered, folding the towels.
“It’s like you think I’m a monster … I guess I kind of was—I was a monster to you … wasn’t I?”
Tingles shot down Sora’s back and tails at Kari’s confession. Clearing her throat, she straightened. “Umm—I’m going to be downstairs. When you’re ready—we can go take a walk or something.” She quickly left the room, heart pounding.
Kari … that’s like Kari admitting she was wrong! No, no, no—that’s not it; she can’t be sorry … it’s freaking Kari! Still … she thanked me. I don’t remember that being in her vocabulary! What in the heck happened last night?
She walked downstairs and was met by Jin’s lifted eyebrows and an amused smirk.
Eyia seemed a bit distracted as she mumbled, “What’s chill? How do I—chill? Do I just freeze myself?” She looked up with a confused crease in her brow. “Sora … what does chill mean?”
“Eh,” Sora felt a little distracted to give a proper answer. “Didn’t Jin explain it?”
She shook her head. “No, Jin told me to figure it out; it is not hard. Chill is to slow down or the cold air in the morning that bites. You wanted us to chill … does that mean you want us to bite or slow something down in the morning?”
“She’s too funny,” Githa laughed.
“Right?” Jin said with a chuckle. “You’d be amazed at the things I’ve had to explain.”
Sora shook her head. “C’mon, guys, she’s trying to learn. Chill is something we say in the human world; it means to relax and wait a bit.”
“I see … that does make sense,” Eyia hummed with a somber expression before curving into a bright smile. “Thank you, sister.”
“Don’t mention it. I’ll be back; I’m going to talk with Ashley and see when we’re going to pick up her family.”
They waved her off, and she opened the kitchen door.
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