Sora joined her friends shortly after sending out her Gina army; she found Emilia, Wendy, Eyia, and Jin in the back, looking at yoga pants.
“They look so strange,” Jin mumbled. “Oh, they stretch?”
“They are so light,” Eyia stated as she handled her own. “These are made for a stretching activity?”
Wendy giggled. “Yeah, and they’re super comfy! I bet Eyia would love them; although, maybe something like biking shorts would be better.” She hummed.
“Why don’t you try some on?” Sora suggested, stopping beside Emilia.
“We would,” Wendy moved to nudge her, “but someone hasn’t made us any dressing rooms!”
Sora clicked her tongue. “Ah, yeah, that’s pretty important.” She created a dressing room at the end of each aisle. “There we go! I’ll have one of the Gina clones in each one to instantly change the size to fit you.”
“This is just too awesome,” Wendy whispered, pulling Emilia with her to the closest room. “You first!”
Sora spent what seemed like an hour following the group, catching glimpses of the others choosing their wardrobe; she’d had a Gina explain the dressing rooms and how they changed clothes to each group.
Emilia was mostly influenced by Wendy and her stories about each item; somehow, she remembered a surprising amount about each of her articles of clothing, recounting tales of her wearing each one. Eyia and Jin found a few of the stories particularly interesting, such as their time in Europe and France on vacation.
Nathan had chosen a more practical approach, choosing more functional clothing, and she even caught some designs that must have been to blending into the forest.
Jin was a bit more extravagant; she indulged in the more expensive designer clothes, influencing Eyia in that direction. Eyia, however, made it a point to select the least intrusive clothing.
Mary and Ashley had taken on a mothering role to Alice and Liz, despite the women being more than five times their age. They didn’t seem to mind as they filtered through the thousands of clothes they were allowed to cycle through; they’d never seen such fine and extravagant clothing, not even the members of the Council had such high-quality articles. It was clear that this realm had very simple material compared to the Human Realm.
Aiden seemed to have gravitated toward Nathan, and he didn’t rebuke him. It appeared that Nathan had forgiven him for his part in Eric’s group. He was giving him some rather odd fashion advice more aligned for tactical purposes. Aiden took the input with a strained grin, noting that it would probably work for Nathan’s muscular build more than his body shape; he wasn’t thin, but nowhere near the girth of a grown man.
Her aunt had vanished, but she knew she was watching from somewhere in her Core.
Eventually, everyone finished choosing a decent sized wardrobe, and brought their loaded carts back to the center of the bright center point; she was a little worried if all the fabric they’d gathered outside would be enough material.
She used the measurements the Ginas had gathered, and wove the magic, changing all the clothing on the outside to reflect the imaginary constructs. On request, she made a few standard bed materials such as toothbrushes, pads, and tongue scrapers; it all required a bit more energy than she expected. After finishing the process, she sent everyone back to their bodies.
Sora opened her eyes to the dully lit supply room; in front of each person sat stacked and folded clothes with sanitary items atop the fabric. “Well,” she smiled at each friend’s sparkling face. “I think this is an improvement.”
“You’re telling me,” Wendy squealed, holding up a black silk nightgown. “I haven’t had new clothes in … so long.” She finished with a whisper.
Mary clapped her hands. “Yes, well,” she yawned, “I think it’s almost time for bed.” She dabbed at her eyes, causing everyone else to do the same as they released their own yawns.
Sora tried doing what she’d seen her aunt do the first time she met her; rising, she commanded the raw magic around them to lift the articles before them, and everyone rose.
Emilia jumped to her feet with wide eyes at her hovering clothes. “How? You can make things float?”
“Impressive,” Jin grinned at her. “This is a bit more complicated than some of the things you’ve done before, even if it does seem a bit simple.”
She chuckled. “Yeah, I saw my aunt do it, and this is a lot more simple than just about everything else I’ve seen her do. It’s just molding raw magic; weak by Founder standards, she says,” Sora scratched the back of her head.
Eyia moved around her floating clothes with a light hum. “Yes, weak, but not easily handled. You must not diminish your accomplishments; you have just recently begun to explore magic, and you have already surpassed powerful human mages in many regards.”
Mary cut in before she could respond. “Just a part of being a Founder, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Sora muttered. “I mean, it does give me a pretty unfair edge; I’m essentially a full-on magic being.”
Both Alice and Liz seemed to have lost their hesitation in the time they spent with Ashley and Mary.
“How unusual,” Liz muttered, sweeping her hand under the clothes.
Alice copied her actions. “What is this?”
“Raw magic,” Aiden said with awe. “I’ve watched a few monsters utilize raw magic, but the way your handling it is like watching an artist paint a masterpiece.”
A slight flush touched Sora’s cheeks. “What are you talking about? This is like me splattering buckets of paint on a canvas; it’s nothing compared to my aunt.”
“This is that universe creating aunt?” Jin teased. “Take the compliment.”
“Thanks, guys,” Sora said, turning to hide her burning face.
She directed the clothes to follow her out of the room, walking downstairs with the rest of the group in tow. The girls had chosen the third floor, while the boys were given the second. She dropped the girl’s clothes off first, setting each wardrobe on a different bed. After that, she placed Aiden and Nathan’s clothes in their own room, leaving them to get ready for bed before backtracking upstairs.
Eyia, Mary, Ashley, Wendy, and Emilia had chosen to wear a variety of different colored nightgowns.
It had been a little tricky for Gina to design Emilia’s clothes with all her tails, but she’d managed to find the right size of hidden pocket to make in the back after a bit of testing. Her sapphire blue knee-length gown fluttered as her tails swished to the side; she looked down at the fabric with wonder, fingers caressing the hem. “It’s so smooth … even more than when we were in your Core.”
“Really?” Sora asked, running her hand down a silk shirt in her pile. “You’re right.”
“Thread count,” Ashley grinned. “I bet you made these with a high thread count.”
“Maybe,” Sora mumbled, slipping on her black PJ top and bottom. “I did give most of the instructions over to the Ginas.”
Both Alice and Liz followed her example, removing their dresses and putting on their bra, pad, and panties.
Alice held up the pad she’d been given. “These are so strange … this pad is better than the cloth towels we used before?”
Sora grinned with a wink. “Yup, I must say, they’re probably my best invention … even though I don’t seem to need them anymore. I don’t even need to go to the bathroom; that sounds and feels so strange, anyway, they’re self-cleaning, using raw magic in the atmosphere! Complete sanitary, super comfortable, and surprisingly thin; I’d probably make a fortune back in the Human Realm.”
“I don’t know,” Ashley giggled. “Supply and demand … you supplied a product that won’t go bad any time soon, so it won’t be in demand once everyone has one. Still … you’re a genius!”
Mary yawned; she’d already placed all of her clothes inside her bedside chest and drawers. Climbing into bed, she pulled back the blanket and sheets. “Sorry, girls, but I’m exhausted. Inari gave me a lot to think about, and I need to rest my pounding head.”
“I want to sleep, but my heart’s pounding,” Ashley responded, hands creasing her nightgown as she pressed them against her chest. “I meet my husband and kids tomorrow … the sooner I sleep, the sooner I’ll see them, but I’m just so excited and nervous.”
Eyia and Jin soon followed Mary into their own beds, Eyia saying, “To sleep, one must simply clear their mind after setting traps.”
Wendy nervously glanced around the room. “You didn’t set any traps, did you?”
“Just sensory warnings,” Jin yawned.
Eyia and Jin’s vision snapped to Sora’s chosen bed, where Githa was purring, curled up in a ball.
“You’re so loud,” she complained, stretching out across the fabric.
“When the … nevermind,” Sora sighed, pulling back her blankets. She snuggled under the covers, fixing Githa between her legs; she purred, contorting into an odd angle. “Oh, Liz, Alice, how do you turn off the fires?”
Emilia scooted her own closer to Sora’s, jumping under the covers while everyone else slowly got into their selected mattresses.
Alice and Liz were the only ones left standing; they each moved to the two fires along the ceiling in opposite corners of the room. Both of them started jumping up, tapping the fire with their palms; they did it five times; each strike dimmed the lamps until they produced the same amount of light as a night-light.
Sora hummed with satisfaction as she watched Alice finish her last hop. That’s super inconvenient. I should make some kind of switch for them to use … I’d probably need to wire the whole building, though.
The two Vulpes moved back to the door, turning to smile at everyone watching them. “We will lower the flames throughout the building and return shortly,” Alice said with a bright smile. “Please don’t get up…” she added as each of them moved to help.
“Yeah,” Liz huffed. “Leave something for us to do … we’re supposed to be helping you.”
“Are—are you sure?” Wendy yawned. “It would be faster with all of us.”
“Yes,” Alice said with a slight bow. “I believe all of you have had quite a day; please, leave the rest to us.”
The sincerity in their Cores moved Sora. “Thanks, Alice, Liz. I know you both have a lot to think about too. Please, don’t hesitate to talk to anyone of us if you have questions.”
“Yeah … we’ll manage.” Liz said with a soft smile before motioning for Alice to follow her. They both left, and Sora heard them moving throughout the halls, lowering the flames. Everyone else snuggled further into their beds, getting ready for bed, but Sora followed Alice and Liz’s conversation.
“What do you think, Liz?”
“Same as you, I suppose … it’s kind of hard to swallow.”
“Yeah, but—but you saw Inari. There’s no doubt that she’s like The Council.”
“Like?” Liz mumbled. “No, Inari and Sora are nothing like The Council. Looking back at the last Festival … it’s like my eyes were completely shut. The Council is cold, distant, better than us … we’re like the fruit and animals in the field.”
“Yeah, no, you’re right,” Alice whispered. “Sora and Inari … they feel warm, welcoming … devoted. What are we supposed to do, though? Can we keep living with everyone else? Everything,” her throat caught for a second as she fought back her emotions, “my whole life feels so bland and colorless. Is that how it is for everyone? I mean, you’re the closest thing I’ve had, and that’s because we’ve been chosen to serve in several tasks together throughout our lifetime.”
“Friend,” Liz said, tasting the word on her tongue. “Remember what Mary and Ashley said about the word?”
“Yeah, but … I don’t really understand it.”
“I think—I think you kind of did before. We’ve been together for so long; we know each other and enjoy being around each other.”
“Is it joy, though … I’m not so sure I ever really felt joy, not until Sora—fixed us.”
Liz growled lowly. “Fixed us … The Council locked us into a box, but—it might have been something or someone else, too, right? Inari said it was a genetic seal; who knows how long it’s been active? There’s so much we don’t know.”
“Yeah, but—but we can stay with Sora and the others to learn a bit more, right?”
Liz sighed. “Sure, but they aren’t going to be around forever.”
Alice huffed irritably. “I didn’t say we’d learn from them forever, but we have no clue how to even—I don’t know how to deal with all these emotions.”
“I’m in the same house with you on that one,” Liz said, moving to the second floor to turn off its lights. “It’s just like Mary said; it’s going to take time to learn how to not—not break down and cry … see,” she sniffed. “I—I don’t know—know how to stop.”
“A—a hug?” Alice asked, sniffing back her own tears.
They cried for a bit in each other’s arms, Sora’s heart went out to them; after a while, they moved down the floors, turning off the lights.
She glanced to her right as Emilia scooted closer, crossing the division in their beds; eyes closed, Sora could feel the light swish of her tails and the conflicted emotions inside her Core.
“Hmm?” Sora softly grunted.
“It’s just so sad,” Emilia whispered. “To be honest, I’m also kind of lost.”
“I don’t really know how to—hmm—was it right?”
“Right—what?” Sora yawned, feeling Githa’s weight shift as she pressed her head against her calf.
“Right to repair Liz and Alice’s Spiritual Networks and getting rid of the magical thing?”
“Why? Do you think it wasn’t right?”
“I don’t know … it sounds like they don’t know if it was good or not.”
“Hmm,” Sora paused for a moment before responding. “I can’t tell you.”
“Huh? Why not?”
Taking a not from her aunt’s book, Sora shifted a little, causing GItha to stretch her neck across her foot, pressing it down as if telling her not to move. “Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know … because—they’d live out the rest of their lives without having to know all this stuff?”
“Did they choose to do it?”
“I guess they did.”
“I don’t know…” Sora replied softly.
“Is it really them if they’re being controlled? I don’t know the answer either, but I can help, and I chose to give it a shot.”
Emilia was silent for several seconds before sighing. “I guess I’ll have to think more about it. Night … mom.”
Sora smiled softly at her daughter as she turned her back to her, tails shifting to cover her body. “Night, Emilia.” Closing her eyes, she entered the Outer Body Technique.
Her aunt sat in her elegant white chair, smiling warmly as she opened her eyes. “What a precious memory you have; it is moments like that which makes living worthwhile.”
Sora stretched, yawning as she threw out her arms. Dropping back into the red chair that appeared behind her, she returned the smile. “Yeah, picking out clothes with Emilia was fun. So, what are we going to do tonight?”
“To be honest, very little,” Inari giggled. “You have used quite a bit of energy, and I know you’re mentally drained. However, before you close your eyes and really get some rest, I’d like to discuss a few things with you.”
“Really? I can actually get some real sleep? I don’t even know how long it’s been since I’ve willingly gone to bed. I’ve been knocked out, drugged, and passed out so many times … my life has been so crazy,” she groaned, rubbing her face with her hands.
“That it has,” her aunt chuckled, “and it will continue to be quite the journey.”
Sora let go of a long sigh. “Great—give it to me straight.” She mumbled, leaning back in her seat before playing with her tails.
“Oh, dear,” Inari giggled. “I’m not going to ruin all the possible futures. Me knowing many of the players and likely incidents won’t influence your decision; although, I do nudge away from certain … unsavory outcomes that might come your way, but even I have my limits. No, what I wish to discuss is your own recent decisions.”
“Have I been messing up?” Sora asked dully. “I feel like I’ve been making some poor decisions.”
“Yes, and no,” her aunt said with an understanding smile. “We all make our beds, and must live with that. What is currently bothering you?”
“Right now … what Liz and Alice were talking about. I can’t imagine being in their shoes … I’d even say it’s worse than me finding out I’m a Founder, gaining magic, and learning about all this stuff. They’ve been slaves all their lives to this unknown seal that goes back generations. Who knows how long this thing’s been going on?”
“Go on,” Inari’s tone was soft as she stroked her tails.
“Go on … hmm,” Sora looked down at the floor. “I’ve done something that could be seen as good or bad, haven’t I?”
“Consider it like the Garden of Eden,” Inari hummed thoughtfully. “In the story, Adam and Eve, or you could consider it, Liz and Alice were completely ignorant about the good and evil of the environment around them. A snake enters the garden, you, or Satan. Now, that’s not to say that you’re evil. Although, Satan as translated means enemy … that doesn’t tell you what kind of enemy it is. You could even say that Satan was a necessary evil that was planned by God.”
“Huh?” Sora mumbled. “I don’t get all the comparisons.”
“We must set the stage,” Inari giggled. “You can draw so many similes in every circumstance if you’re creative and intelligent enough to catch the underlying message of stories. Now the veracity of such stories is irrelevant, but what can be learned from them is priceless. Remember back; this Realm is the Garden, you are the snake, and these people are the innocent creatures therein. What was God’s commandment?”
“Eh,” Sora scratched her left fox ear. “If I remember right, it was not to eat that one tree that gave them knowledge, right? I never got that.”
“There’s more to it than that, and it was less of a commandment, and more of a warning,” Inari mused. “In the text, God says the moment they eat the fruit; they will surely die. Cause and Effect. That is very key in this story. Adam was very strict about following Order, but Eve succumbed to the Chaos, but why? Think about the text; when she says, is there no other way? There are hidden nuances in that statement.”
“No other way to do what?”
“Think carefully. Eating of the fruit was not the only commandment; the other commandment was, Do not partake of the fruit and multiply and replenish the Earth. They were innocent and knew not how to reproduce or what love genuinely was; after all, they knew not good nor evil. How could one know joy without sorrow? Two commandments with two branching possibilities that God foreknew.
“Eat, learn, multiply, and die, or live in ignorance for all time? There’s also the question, Can you sin when you do not know good and evil? Take this concept and attach it to this Realm. All of these Vulpes and humans were given a seal that prevented their very nature from manifesting, leaving them in ignorance. You come along, and you offer the deadly fruit of knowledge.
“Eve was not stupid; she understood something that Satan did not; God knew all things, and this was all within the plan, but it had to be their choice. Adam was stubborn, Eve was flexible, and Satan played the jester. Everything was planned to the T, and when you study the texts, it’s actually quite fascinating what the plan fully entails. It is no different here; however, this is what happens when a snake is not introduced.”
Sora’s brow creased as she tapped her lip with the back of her knuckle. “This is what happens when Order is sustained without Chaos? If there was no tree of good and evil?”
“Yes, but what is the consequence of good and evil? What did God do?”
“Wasn’t it make them mortal?”
“No, that’s what the tree did by providing good and evil, or suffering, good and bad, joy and pain. God said that working by the sweat of their brow was a blessing. Interesting, isn’t it? Tribulation and suffering, a blessing, but only the dense will not understand such a concept. Now, how does this connect to your worries?”
“Tribulation and suffering … I’m worried about Alice and Liz. Wait, you mean … they’re like Adam and Eve, their eyes are now open, and they must make their own decisions.”
“Hmm,” Inari extended a tail toward her. “They’ve already made their choice; they chose to partake of the fruit that you offered, and now they must deal with the consequences. You help where needed and asked, but they have their agency.”
“I see,” Sora muttered. “What I did wasn’t really bad, but I guess it wasn’t really good … it was just an action that will lead to a reaction. It will have both positive and negative results.”
“Such is life, Sora. Cause and effect are the foundation of our lives, and how you respond to it determines how far you go in life. There is no need to feel so much weight for opening their eyes. If they ask for help, then don’t turn them away, but don’t step on their agency and stunt their growth.”
“This is for me, too,” Sora swallowed. “It’s multi-layered.”
“All parables are, dear,” her aunt giggled. “We’ve only scratched the surface of that story alone. Enough of this, though; it is time for you to rest your body, spirit, and Intelligence.”
Feeling a little better about her recent decisions, Sora took a deep breath before her eyes lifted to her aunt’s stunning smile. “Thanks, Auntie.”
“Of course; now, off to bed with you.”
Closing her eyes, Sora released the Outer Body Technique. The soft sounds of the rain, wind, and creaking wood filtered back into focus. She sensed Emilia’s slight shifts in the bed next to hers. Scooting across her mattress, she snuggled up to her daughter; she was already asleep.
Man, she passed right out … it was a pretty big day for both of us, though.
It didn’t take long for her mind to drift off into oblivion.
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