Sora stayed in her seat as the two Vulpes assured the group that they were alright, and the others quickly joined them.
“It was a success, then?” Eyia asked. Jin was by her side; they both wore the same black, sleeveless evening dress she’d given Eyia what seemed an eternity ago. She’d added multiple sizes, so they’d each found one that fit them well enough to wear.
I guess they really liked it; I bet it’s more nostalgic for Eyia, though. She probably feels somewhat guilty for losing a gift … that’d be like her.
“Yeah, it was a success. My aunt showed me what’s causing the issues with the Vulpes of this realm, and I don’t like it.”
“Hmm,” Jin’s cheeks pushed to the side as she examined the two recovering women. “So, my suspicions were correct; there is foul play at work? I thought their spiritual energy was acting funny, and the way they responded when Alice came in contact with your energy … it smelled fishy.”
Aiden seemed conflicted. “They all seem so happy outside. Are you saying something is forcing that happiness? I thought … it looks so genuine.”
Sora’s ears twitched at Aiden’s question, causing her to scratch the left one. “Not entirely … I know we’ve all been through so many explanations recently, and it’s gotten so complicated. Do you all really want to know right now?”
Eyia crossed her arms, tone serious. “To see the bear before it strikes is better than noticing its bite.”
Emilia’s brow creased. “I—don’t get it…”
Mary hummed thoughtfully, nodding as she glanced at Eyia before her sight returned to Sora. “I agree with Eyia; yes, this day has been overwhelming, but it’s better to be aware of an issue before it becomes a real problem.”
“You’re sure?” Sora sighed, glancing around at the group; they all nodded, expressions troubled.
“Is that what that means?” Emilia mumbled, still trying to figure out the comparison while scratching her twitching ears. “I—oh, the bear is a problem, like the girls crying—we’re going to talk about the problem of them crying? I’m … confused.” She grumbled.
“It’s not something you’re aware of, Emilia, don’t worry about it. In any case,” she moved her hand to scratch the back of her head, “I’ll try to make it as brief as possible.”
“That would be awesome,” Wendy mumbled with a strained smile. “I’m so spent.”
“Basically, every person in this realm are victims of a spiritual genetic seal that is passed on from mother to child. This seal forces the spirit to reject all other energy except the force being produced within the world, and their spirits work against that, trying to expel it while it’s unwillingly driven into their Cores.
“It also makes them a lot more gullible and trusting than is normal, redirecting their focus if things become too stressful. All their emotions are mostly reduced to a mere shadow of what we feel, which is why they’re crying, having their first taste of emotion.”
The two Vulpes burst into tears again, and Sora spun her magic to dampen the sound around them so she could be heard. Everyone glanced at them with concern, but Sora brought back their attention by clearing her throat.
“Ahem—anything can really set them off; please don’t mind them. Give them a little time to adjust.”
Mary and Ashley stayed close to them, rubbing their backs soothingly as they listened.
“One of the big things this seal does is block Vulpes nature. We’re normally very emotional creatures, and the seal to their base instincts play a role in that. It almost turns them into robots, which is why this place is so structured. They do the same tasks, day in and day out. They only have surface-level friendships that don’t go beyond familiar groups of faces they hang around, but can just as easily pick up and move to a new location on demand.”
She looked around at the disturbed faces of her companions. “That’s about all I have to report.”
Mary sighed, running her free hand through her hair. “Well, that’s—it’s beginning to make more sense. The scattered bits of information we’ve been gathering today.”
“Some,” Ashley mumbled. “There’s still a lot we don’t know; the why is a big question that we don’t have answers to.”
“The Capital,” Nathan glared at the white floor. “That hidden spell inside Emilia, and the reason for this entire farce of a paradise.” He rubbed the stubble, beginning to sprout on his chin. “Is there any way we can get information on it? We’ve already determined that there are some seriously shady things going on here, and I, for one, would like answers.”
Wendy’s brow creased. “What was inside Emilia?”
“Like a bomb,” Emilia shrugged dismissively. “The Council put something in me that would have destroyed the whole…”
“Tssssh,” Sora waved her fingers in front of her throat, causing Emilia’s jaw to snap shut.
Alice and Liz don’t know about that! We even kept Wendy in the dark, but…
She glanced at Liz; she was the first to recover, chest convulsing slightly as she sniffed. “B-bomb? What—what did The Council—what is a bomb?”
Good, they don’t know what a bomb is!
“Don’t worry about it,” Sora quickly interjected.
“A friggin’ bomb?” Wendy muttered.
Aiden’s face had drained of color at Emilia’s words.
“They—you didn’t tell me…” His vision dropped to the floor, and Sora felt a little bad, knowing that he knew they’d purposefully not informed him of it.
He probably thinks it’s for the best … he’s a pretty big martyr.
“You cannot blame him; he has reason to hate himself and his ability.”
I suppose I haven’t thought about that … yes, his ability has caused a lot of us to be here, but it’s not like it was on purpose. We made our own decisions, even if he nudged things along through causality. I still think he’s too hard on himself … in fact, I’ll tell him that!
Wendy huffed. “Don’t feel bad; they left me out of their secret meeting, too.”
“Still upset about that, I see,” Jin winked. “I thought you were cool with it?”
“Hey! Who likes being the only one asked to leave? Not me,” Wendy pouted.
Sora waited patiently to get a word in. Man, Wendy has changed since her Core awakening. I like that she’s speaking her mind more. I guess I’ll be seeing a bit more of her aggressive side.
She cleared her throat, looking directly at Aiden.
After a moment of everyone staring at her, and then Aiden, he asked, “What?”
“Quit feeling sorry about everything, and blaming yourself for all the bad crap that’s happened to us!”
“Well, to be frank…” Ashley mumbled, glaring at him. “Know what, nevermind, it won’t help any.” She grumbled.
Aiden bit his lower lip, peeling back some skin. “No, I get it … I know I ruined a lot of your lives.”
“Not entirely,” Inari stepped in. The moment she spoke always demanded everyone’s attention; her tone alone, without magic, commanded authority. “Causality is a tricky process. Aiden has not totally come into his rights as a Son of Homā. Yes, he has caused some reasonably significant alterations in the threads of fate, but that is contrasted with millions of other players, all seeking their own agenda.
“Even if the poor bird tried his hardest, then things would have more than likely spun wildly out of control for everyone here. In fact, I dare say that the mere association with my niece has unquestioningly improved your prospective futures.”
She chuckled softly, eyes moving to appraise her. “However, you each bring some difficult challenges my nieces’ way; you could say misfortune adorns her adorable tails.”
“Thanks,” Sora mumbled. “That’s reassuring.”
“It’s not—all me?” Aiden mumbled, unable to deny Inari’s fluid words.
“You give yourself too much credit,” Inari smirked. “You were a blind spot, and caused some interesting shifts, but it was the actions of much stronger beings that have turned the game on its head. In any case, fate is something that should be far from each of your young minds. Live in the present, and let those with experience direct universal events.”
“One of those beings being you, I suppose,” Mary chuckled.
“Hmm,” Inari’s smirk deepened. “Actually, I personally find it thrilling to give my niece the floor; the spark of chaos within me, and that has made a few mysterious beings fairly agitated. I’ve been manipulating things to play to Sora’s desires, not my own.”
“You are truly the fox of disorder I’ve heard about,” Jin stated tiredly.
“I have heard nothing but praise from my father,” Eyia interjected. “I also find Inari most logical and efficient. I feel blessed to have met you, mother of Kitsune.” Eyia said with a curt bow.
Inari’s mischievous grin turned soft as she shifted her eyes to the Valkyrie. “I am delighted, Eyia; you do not understand the influence you have had on my niece. You could even say that I am in your debt.”
Sora’s cheeks reddened, causing Emilia to hum with interest as she studied her closer.
“Are you—embarrassed?” She asked with a smile twitching at the corners of her lips. “You look so cute…”
Hey! You … gah! My own daughter is calling me cute because of you! Spouting all this … grahrrr!
“Isn’t our newest member just precious? Oh, I think I must!”
Everyone’s brow creased with confusion as Inari vanished from her chair; Emilia gave a squeak of surprise as Inari appeared behind her, wrapping her arms around the shocked Vulpes.
“I’ve been waiting for what seems forever!” Inari purred, ear folding against her hair as she squeezed.
“I—I…” Emilia’s tense muscles slowly relaxed as tears gathered in her eyes, and she turned, returning the hug.
“Huh?” Sora squeaked.
“Cute,” Wendy, Ashley, and Mary whispered.
Inari slowly stroked Emilia’s hair as she clutched at her Kimono. “Family looks out for one another,” she whispered. “I’ll always be ready for a hug when you’re feeling low.”
I didn’t feel her getting depressed?
“That’s because they were just about to manifest, and I took the initiative; I’m greedy like that.” She chuckled impishly. “Poor Emilia’s been getting lost in the conversation, and she wants to be helpful.”
How can she, though?
“That’s not the point; the point is that she wants to be helpful, and doesn’t know how. Naturally, she’s getting frustrated with herself. You’ll learn to pick up on the signs, but I’m taking this one!”
Sora couldn’t help but feel a little irritated for some reason. You … are you making me jealous on purpose? Why am I suddenly jealous?
“What ever could you mean, my little niece?” Face hidden from the others; her aunt directed a sly grin her way.
You are just … too good…
“Erh,” Nathan rubbed his left shoulder uncomfortably. “All the emotion is good and all, but … can we please get back to the dangerous situation we’ve landed in? We went from Bathin, a known demon, to a bunch of fox-ladies that are all brainwashed, and we could be next. What are we going to do? Is Githa strong enough now that she could put up a fight if we left?”
“I’m afraid leaving is out of the question,” Inari sighed, giving one last squeeze before releasing her great-niece and returning to her seat.
Emilia sniffed, rubbing her wet cheeks with the back of her sleeves.
Nathan breathed out a frustrated sigh. “Wonderful … why did I think it would be that easy?”
“Why can’t we leave?” Ashley bit her lower lip nervously.
“Do not concern yourself with your family’s safety,” Inari lifted her hand to brush back her hair as she sat, tails folding smoothly across her lap. “However, there has been a development that I’ve become aware of, and … it is definitely something that my true self would be dealing with. It is just safer in here, at the moment, at least.”
“Something you didn’t see coming?” Wendy asked with disbelief.
“I saw a slight possibility.” The note in her aunt’s tone was new to Sora, regret. “I’m working tirelessly to thwart the current future I’ve foreseen after becoming aware of this news. I will say that a part of it does involve Bathin and an individual that he’s recently become acquainted with. I would much rather see you handle The Council than this individual.”
“That blows his idea out of the water,” Wendy mumbled.
Sora moaned, leaning back in her chair. “How do you even learn these things?”
“Coded messages that my true-self sends across the Magical Plane. I may not be able to use magic, for the most part, but I can still observe all the planes of existence.”
“What’s our options, then?” Nathan asked, sinking into his previous chair with a grunt. “We can’t go out, but we have some terrible shadows looming over us here.”
Everyone fell silent, and Sora got a distinct impression that Aiden wasn’t saying anything because he thought his opinion was invalid.
He probably thinks he’ll be leaving soon anyway; he’s just waiting for Kari to have her space to talk things over with her. Geez, why does he have to always think the worst of himself … chill, chill … he hasn’t actually had his freedom before. I guess if he was a slave all his life and that hurt people, then I’d be depressed too…
Her head lifted as Mary clicked her tongue a few times before groaning. “Okay—I know this might not be popular with Sora, but I think—I think the best option is to mind our own business.”
Most of the group looked like they’d swallowed bitter medicine, but no one was objecting. After giving everyone a moment to respond, Mary continued.
“I don’t like it. Just seeing Alice and Liz’s reactions after being freed makes my heartache, but—we have to remember a few points. This is not our world, but we’re upsetting the balance, and we’re trespassers.
“We do not know the circumstances that surround this seal or any of the dealings with The Council. We are trespassers that have upset the balance of this world. We have dangerous enemies waiting outside, so we must stay here. The Council might be able to forcibly remove us if we’re found out. We already have a pretty bad image with the governor and many more issues … Sora recently got herself a daughter for crying out loud. I think we’re pretty stretched thin! Inari?”
Her aunt shrugged, but left it at, “You’re not wrong.”
The space fell back into silence; Emilia’s emotions dropped a little with Mary’s statement. Sora spoke directly to her mind.
That’s not blaming you for anything or saying you’re a bad thing; she’s just saying we have enough on our plate.
Emilia shivered, turning her concerned blue eyes to her.
“Yeah, but—but what are we supposed to do? Don’t you want to help them? I mean, Alice, Liz, and I were freed because of you. What’s Liz and Alice supposed to do now?”
Sora groaned, drawing in a deep breath to let it out slowly, rubbing her eyes. Good point. She used the armrests to pull herself to the side of her chair, looking at the preoccupied Vulpes. They were both still cuddled up to each other, staring at their laps in silent contemplation; from reading their Core, she knew they were puzzling their way through the conversation.
“Liz, Alice,” she asked; they both looked at her, tails pressing tighter against their knees. “What are your thoughts? I know you’re both pretty shaken, but…” she paused as she felt Wendy repress the urge to say but not stirred. She’s becoming a lot bolder.
Clearing her throat, she continued, “but what do you think about your situation? I didn’t even consider how this decision might affect your lives.”
Mary, Ashley, and Nathan all grimaced at her question.
“That’s right; it’s not like they can just pretend that everything’s alright now,” Ashley whispered, folding her arms.
Sora was a bit surprised to see Alice speak up first. “I—I don’t know … not yet. I’m confused, and—and scared, but—but happy. I just don’t know…” Liz nodded, refusing to make eye contact with anyone, lips pressed together.
“Okay,” Sora took a deep breath. “You’ve all given me a lot to think about.”
I need to take responsibility again … you didn’t tell me about this part. I can’t just drop the ball with Liz and Alice; Emilia sees herself in them, now. She won’t say it, but she wholeheartedly believes I’ll help them.
I … I want to say yes, but … it’s getting too complicated for me to say it. I think I need to think about it more. We can’t just take Mimi’s people and do whatever we see fit; this is a massive change for them, and I have my hands full with Emilia. Gah! Is this what it’s like being an adult?
Her aunt’s amused chuckle made her flick her tails with irritation. “It is a part of growing up; decisions can be tough to make when it involves people’s lives.”
A soft sigh left her lips as everyone waited for her response. And I’m the decision-maker … great.
“I—need to think about this; since I’m the one that brought all this up, and was the one that chose to release Liz and Alice’s seals, I’ll take that responsibility, but I’m going to have to think about what that means tonight. I’ll tell you all what I come up with tomorrow; in the meantime,” she pointed at the clothes with a bright smile, “these clothes aren’t going to find you or resize themselves, and that includes you two, Liz, and Alice. Pick whatever you want.”
The group hesitated, but Nathan’s chuckle broke the frozen atmosphere. “Sorry to dump all of this on you, Sora … I’m sure you’re feeling stressed as it is, but sure, let’s put all of this to the side for the moment and relax. Tomorrow is another day to fight, and it’s not good going to bed stressed.”
“Right you are,” Mary took in a deep breath. “If you need us tonight, then you can just enter our dreams, I assume.”
“What a wonderful powers you have,” Ashley commented brightly. “We can rest and help you if you need it. Just know that you’re not alone.”
“Yeah,” Wendy nodded with confidence. “This is nothing! We can figure this out.” Her eyes wandered back to the clothes. “And In the meantime, shopping party!” She quickly broke off from the group, pulling a hesitant Emilia along with her. “Let’s get you some pants!”
“Pants?” Emilia choked, glancing back at her with concern. “I’ve never—never worn them before. How do they feel?”
“Oh, some yoga pants!” Wendy chuckled darkly, looking up and down at her curves, a twinkle in her eyes.
The others giggled as they watched them disappear down an aisle, and they slowly dispersed. Jin and Eyia following after Wendy with interest. “Yoga pants,” Jin mumbled. “Pants specifically designed for a stretching activity? What do they look like?”
Mary and Ashley gently pulled Liz and Alice up, guiding them toward the clothes. “We’ll help you pick some stuff out,” Ashley said motheringly.
Nathan followed after them with an amused grin. “Women and shopping…”
Aiden sank into Nathan’s empty chair, running his left hand through his blonde hair before scratching the back. “Jeez, Sora—you really are amazing. How do you do it?”
“Put everything on your shoulders? I couldn’t dream of making those decisions, but you can just set your face and buckle down. It’s just—it’s amazing to watch. You’re amazing.”
“It’s not easy,” Sora puffed out a tired sigh, “and I haven’t made any decisions. I’m just blowing it off because I don’t have an immediate answer. I’m hoping to come up with something later tonight.”
Her aunt rested her cheek against the back of her hand, elbow against the chair arm. “That’s all you can do at times. Let a problem sit for a bit and refocus your mind. Once you’ve had time to settle, work on the issue again once rested; the hard part is not procrastinating too long.”
“Thanks,” Sora chuckled softly. “I need a bit of a break, honestly.”
She turned toward the boy she barely knew and pondered how they’d gotten here. I have a boy I hardly know inside my Core … that sounds wrong. Is there anything I can do for him, though? He’s so lost and broken.
“You’re doing it again, dear.”
What? Sora asked, green eyes flicking to her aunt.
“Thinking about someone else. It seems hardwired, doesn’t it.” She giggled.
Who knows anymore…
“Look, Aiden,” she sighed tiredly as he looked at her. “You’ve had a pretty rough life, from what I know. You were basically an extension of Eric, and now he’s gone. It’ll take a bit for you to get on your feet and figure out what you want to do.
“So, don’t waste your time with the past mistakes you think you made, but just start thinking of what you want. Don’t even worry about Kari; Kari will do what Kari wants, just like always. Personally, I think you should think about yourself for once. You’re free; nothing’s holding you back but yourself.”
“Wise words,” Inari said with a bright smile. “To help others understand freedom, you must first taste it yourself.”
“My change gave me that taste,” Sora muttered. “I liked the feeling, but I also like…” She trailed off, glancing toward the clothes, but Wendy and Emilia were hidden behind the fabric and racks.
Aiden was silent for a moment before nodding. “Alright, I’ll take your words to heart, Sora.” Getting up, he looked at Nathan; he was holding a black leather jacket, eyeing it thoughtfully. “What do you think about me in a black jacket?”
“Biker-style?” Sora smirked, imagining the jacket on him, he jumped as it appeared. She shook her head, crossing her hands into an x. “Nada, nope, stick with the pretty-boy suave look.”
“Pretty-boy suave look?” Aiden asked with a confused smile.
“Bah! Just get over there and pick something out you like!” Sora grumbled, turning away from him.
“Got it,” Aiden puffed out a laugh as he left.
A thought popped into her head, and she tested it out. She made several Spiritual Copies of Gina, the clothing resizing woman, and gave them the power to reshape the imaginary clothes and tape measures to work with, sending them off to help each person and get their sizes.
Well, isn’t this convenient?“Magic and the knowledge to use it can be very convenient.” Her aunt mused.
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