Sora smiled at her daughter as she got up. “We might be able to start a fashion trend if we make a few changes of clothes; would that be fun.” Her lips pursed as she looked down at the floor. “Oh, that reminds me, I need to ask Mimi how we can help out around town tomorrow.”
Ashley’s family will be waiting for me to get them; I don’t know how Inari’s going to make that work with Bathin possibly waiting outside, but I’m sure she has something up her sleeve. Maybe she’ll send Suke.
“Hey, uhrm—mom…” Emilia mumbled, feet shifting as a slight blush touched her cheeks.
Sora’s brow furrowed as she looked up. “Sup?”
“Can you—at least I mean … I don’t want people to see into my Core. Can you help me defend against—peepers?”
That’s totally directed at me … way to make me sound like a perverted old man, but I can understand the feeling. Still … I like knowing what she thinks when I want to. If I teach her too well, then … no, get ahold of yourself! How would I feel if the roles were reversed? Exposed … yup, very exposed.
Taking a deep breath, Sora ran a hand through her, ruffling it a bit before straightening it out. “I suppose we can do that, but it’ll take a lot longer than just a single lesson. I’ll see about helping you with that in your dreams later tonight; once we get these clothes, then we can go to bed.”
Emilia couldn’t hide her relief. “Thanks, mom,” she said, and for the first time, it was without any reserve.
A strange sensation shot up and down her spine, flowing through her tails, and making them momentarily stiffen. I … I’m a mom. Emilia is basically my daughter … how long is it going to take to get used to this?
Shaking her head quickly, she rubbed her eyes, blinking rapidly. “Okay,” she took a deep breath. “Let’s go! Everyone’s waiting.”
They left the room, walking upstairs to rejoin the group. Everyone turned toward them as they entered.
Jin grinned when they entered. “Hey, Sora, thanks again for offering to make us clothes.” She glanced down and over at her and Eyia’s spandex underwear. “This stuff is a lot different than what I’m used to.”
“It is appropriate enough for battle,” Eyia stated, stretching a little, and causing Aiden to blush and turn away.
Grin turning into a smirk; Jin poked the back of Eyia’s chest covering. “Well, there were times you went completely nude on the island; of course, you always had to make new ones after they’d get torn from wear, and not many things could handle the types of battles you were in.”
“You make it sound like an issue?” Eyia asked, eyes creasing. “I used everything at my disposal.”
“Wait,” Wendy mumbled, examining Eyia. “Don’t you have that armor you can summon?”
“It’s gorgeous, by the way,” Ashley said with a smile as she spaced out the different sheets, blankets, and pillows with Nathan, Alice, and Liz.
“Yes,” Eyia stated, moving away from Jin’s teasing pokes, shooting an annoyed glare in her direction. Jin’s mischievous smile just increased as she held her hands behind her back. “However, it has its limitations, and I only use it in situations where I am not sure of the outcome.”
Sora hummed. “I see; it’s tied to your concentration and energy. If you were using it all the time, then it would deplete your energy.”
“Naa,” Jin giggled. “Nothing like that; Eyia could keep that thing active in her sleep and for weeks on end.”
“Then, why not?” Mary asked, pulling out more sheets from crates to give the others to fold.
“I do not wish to rely on its protection at all times; doing so would dull my instincts and give me a false sense of security. There are creatures that can penetrate such defenses; the best defense is not to be hit in the first place, and by predicting the flow of battle and adapting to the current you assure the most efficient means of victory.”
“I’d still want armor,” Wendy mumbled.
Jin snickered. “Well, at one point I’d agree with you there, but … Eyia has some nasty tricks.” She said with a glare in her direction. “I used to be so proud of my dragon scales, but Eyia,” she clicked her tongue with a short huff, “showed me there are weaknesses to everything.”
Eyia leaned against the wall to face the group, nodding matter-of-factly. “Indeed, a valuable lesson. I did not wish to lose you to your own pride.”
Emilia moved closer to Sora, leaning over to whisper, “A-are they fighting?”
Sora shook her head, a small smile touching her lips. “No, Jin’s being sarcastic, and Eyia’s being Eyia.”
“I don’t—how do you tell the difference?”
“Experience,” Sora whispered. “Just give it time. You need to learn their personalities.”
Jin’s mouth became a line. “There’s a difference between a lesson and putting me on the ground for two days!”
Eyia nodded again. “Of course, when words fail, action leads to lives saved.”
Sora chuckled as she heard Alice and Liz whispering to Ashey, asking the same question Emilia had.
Wendy’s brow lifted as they finished setting out the rest of the items. “Wait—Eyia laid you out for two days, Jin?”
“The consequence of arrogance,” Eyia sighed. “If she would have defended herself instead of opening her arms for me to strike, then it would have been different.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Jin said, rolling her eyes. “You’re impossible!” She muttered, glaring down at her palm. “You need to lighten up more.”
Sora leaned over to Emilia, whispering, “Now Jin’s moving toward more of a serious conversation.”
“About lightening up?” Emilia asked, utterly baffled.
Wendy’s hand shot up into the air as she dropped to the ground, folding her legs. “Oh, I know; why don’t we all play a game tomorrow?”
“Such as?” Mary asked, lips turning into a frown. “Anything physical and we’ll get smoked.”
“Ah, yeah—I was going to go with tag,” Wendy mumbled, looking down at the floor. “We’d totally get smoked.”
Nathan had been silent throughout the conversation, but spoke up as he leaned against an empty crate. “If Sora can make clothes, why not a card game?”
“Card game?” Alice looked between them, brow furrowed.
“Huh,” Sora lightly bit on the side of her cheek as she gently pressed down.
I suppose I could; making something like Uno would be pretty simple, but it could be kind of cool to make something more fun, and I could make it somewhat educational.
A broad smile lit Sora’s face. “That’s not a bad idea, Nathan. I think I want to make my own game too; it might be fun to play with Ashley’s kids when they get here too.”
Ashley hummed, sitting down beside Wendy. “That might be fun. What kind of card game?”
“I’ll figure it out,” Sora gestured to Emilia. “Everyone sit down, and I’ll see about pulling everyone into my Core again; I’ll ask my aunt to help me bring everyone into my Core during the Outer Body Technique.”
“Eh,” Liz’s ears pulled back as her tails stiffened. “What do you mean?”
Sitting in front of Wendy with Emilia sitting beside her, Sora turned to face her. “I’ll show you; it might feel a little strange, but I think it might be a good first step in healing you.”
“Healing?” Alice mumbled. “You really think we’re sick?”
“On death’s door,” Jin chuckled as she and Eyia took their seat next to an uncomfortable Aiden. He’d been keeping up with the conversation but it seemed like he didn’t feel comfortable butting in and even less sitting next to Jin’s nearly bare body.
Sora smirked her way. She’s totally trying to make him feel awkward. I suppose she must be feeling pretty bored; I actually don’t know a whole lot about Jin’s past … I know a lot more about Eyia. I’ll have to sit down and get her story some time … there’s so much to do!
She glanced between each person moving to sit in a circle. “Alright, everyone, just close your eyes.”
Following her own instructions, she entered the Outer Body Technique.
Her aunt’s mildly interested smile met her as she opened her eyes. “Well, my little niece, aren’t you active today?”
Sora sighed. “Yeah, it’s been a very long day.”
“Keep in mind,” her aunt’s smile fell slightly as she crossed her legs, shifting slighting in her extravagant chair, “utilizing the Outer Body Technique this often can be quite draining for most. You have a Founder’s physiology, which recovers remarkably fast, but don’t overstress your Core; you’re still young.”
“Am I reaching my limit?” Sora asked, creating a chair of her own to sit in.
Inari bunched her left cheek to the side for a moment. “Not necessarily, but it’s essential to know that you do have your limits. You may not be stressing your Core itself, but birthing Emilia did stress your Spiritual Network. Your plan of bringing everyone into your Core is still safe, but it would be wise to not stress your Spiritual Network over an extended period.
“Your Spiritual Network are like veins, and they’re only so big; the energy expended to reform Emilia required a substantial amount of stress on them. Inviting other Intelligences into your Core isn’t really that stressful, but it is like you’ve just run a marathon when you have not practiced and expanded your muscles for it—in short, you need to rest.”
“I see … was it really that stressful? I don’t feel that tired.” She muttered, looking down at her tails across her lap.
“You wouldn’t, I optimized the process to the greatest degree; a normal person can run a marathon if they optimize their energy release.”
“You’re saying I can still bring them in, though?”
“Yes, but you’ll likely need to tell Emilia that she’ll have to take a raincheck on that trip to the Human Realm; you must rest your Spiritual Network tonight.”
Sora’s lips became a line. “I already told her I’d do it, though. Is there no other way?”
“You could, but it will cause your recovery time to increase the more you put it off and continue to damage your spiritual structure.”
“Shoot … what about Alice and Liz?”
“Yes, I can show you how to recover their Core; it won’t be hard since they’re already within your Core. I will explain how to do it outside your Core at a later date because I do not wish you to bring just anyone into your Core; this is leaving you very open to anyone skilled enough. A complete novice could even harm you here.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Sora took a deep breath, folding down her left fox ear to scratch it. “Do I simply beckon for them to follow my prompts into my Core?”
“Yes,” Inari smiled. “Same as before.”
Nodding, Sora sent a welcoming call to every person around her; they each followed, Eyia and Jin arriving first. They appeared inside the bright light, looking around with mild interest.
“So, this is…” Jin trailed off as she caught sight of Inari, swallowing nervously. “Ah, you must be Inari.” She said, throat a bit dry as she backed up a little.
“Indeed, little dragon.” Inari greeted. “I appreciate what you did to protect my niece from Eric, despite your prejudices toward me at the time. It was a key point in time that led to me meeting my niece.”
“Y-yeah—don’t mention it,” Jin stumbled over her words, showing Sora a completely different side to her.
Eyia’s tone was respectful. “Second Generation Founder Inari, I am honored to make your acquaintance, my father spoke of you with the utmost respect.”
Inari giggled at Eyia’s tone. “Yes, Odin was quite the character and was quite the complicated man. Of course, your mother Freyja was an essentia of intrigue herself that could even leave Odin agasp with fascination.”
“I know very little about my mother,” Eyia stated, eyes lowering to the white floor.
Her aunt’s lips curved mischievously. “Why speak as if that possibility is barred from you?”
Eyia’s vision widened as she looked up at Inari, Sora straightening in her chair as she caught the implication, but they were interrupted by the others arriving.
Wendy and Ashley held their hands to their chests with deep breaths as they arrived. “That’s always so wild!” Ashley muttered, looking out at the dark expanse before glancing around at the others.
Jin quickly cut in before Aiden, Alice, and Liz could interrupt. “You’re saying her mother survived the destruction of Asgard?”
“What about Asgard?” Mary asked, appearing beside Nathan.
“Did I say that?” Inari mused. “Perhaps—in any case, it’ll be something for you to ponder upon. Maybe you’ll have to visit the Broken Gate and see the remains of the great realm.”
“Visit?” Eyia asked, tone unusually uncertain and Sora sensed a hint of fear. “How—it’s the Broken Gate … how can I enter a broken gate?”
“I’ve said enough,” her aunt said, shifting to stare at the two petrified Vulpes that had just entered. “Greetings, Liz, Alice, I’ve been looking forward to meeting the two of you.”
Both foxes had dropped to their knees before collapsing to their butts as they stared at Inari in utter shock; their eyes moved between her soft glowing white fur, nine tails, ink-black whiskers that seemed painted on, and thick white hair.
Aiden seemed to be giving her the same treatment but recovered much sooner. “I-Inari, you’re—you’re everything Alva said.”
“I still don’t get it,” Sora mumbled. “Why does everyone act like that when they just meet you?”
Her aunt giggled. “Reputation, presence, the undeniable fact that I am a force beyond nature; that realization, the power that can be sensed when in my presence, even as an Intelligent Construct, is something that you do not feel since you are so closely tied to the same energy. You did notice quite the difference when in my actual presence, though, remember?”
Sora thought back on the first time she’d seen her aunt, a tsunami of blue flames that seemed to engulf the world around her. “Yeah—I did feel that when I first met you too, I suppose that I got used to it pretty fast.”
“Yes, because you synchronized with my presence, something not many can do so easily; in most cases, I must shield others from that aura.”
Can you tell Eyia about her mom? That was pretty mean to tease her about her mom being alive!
“I always have my reasons, Sora.” Her aunt’s voice said mysteriously in her mind. “I’ve given her a taste of something, and now it is up to her to decide what to do with that information.”
Plots within plots within plots to direct more schemes that have hidden plots … you’re freaking ridiculous!
“That I am. That I am.” Her aunt chuckled.
Sora groaned as Emilia appeared beside her, and she conjured chairs for everyone to sit in. Linking to Emilia’s Intelligence, Sora talked into her mind.
Hey, it’s me. I’m talking directly to your mind so the others can’t hear.
“Holy crap!” Emilia’s eyes widened as she stiffened sharply, eight tails bristling as she jumped. She looked down at her with wide eyes before tentatively taking her seat. “What … you can just talk to me in my head?”
Yes, and Inari can hear everything we talk about too … of course, she knows everything, so that’s not that surprising, I suppose. I’ve got something to say that I feel awful about.
My Spiritual Network is kind of stressed right now; I need to rest tonight to recover, which means we’ll have to postpone our Human Realm trip until tomorrow. I promise I’ll do it as soon as I can!
“Oh, umm … yeah—yeah, no, I’m totally fine…”
“Okay … yeah, I’m disappointed, but I get it. Still, I’m sad.” She said, ears drooping with her tails.
“Are you okay?” Mary asked, noticing Emilia’s crestfallen demeanor.
“Eh—yeah … I guess. I’m just … it’s nothing.” She mumbled, staring down at the floor before rubbing her arm.
She seemed unconvinced, drawing everyone else’s attention. “Are you sure?”
Sora could feel her daughter’s embarrassment rising with everyone’s eyes centered on her. Clearing her throat, Sora drew everyone’s attention with a sad smile. “Yeah, everything’s fine. I just told her we’d do something, but I’ve had to postpone it.
“Anyways, why don’t we multitask a little,” Sora called upon all the male and female designer clothes she’d tried on, had in her closet, and seen in person, placing them all on display; a massive twelve aisle line of clothes appeared to her right from out of the blackness, the same bright light illuminating it.
Everyone’s attention was instantly drawn to the massive lines of clothes, sounds of awe sparking in their throats. Alice and Liz seemed to be having a hard time comprehending what was happening, Intelligences spinning out of control.
Liz stumbled back to fall into the chair Sora had conjured for her. “What—how—huh?”
“What’s happening? I don’t know—I just followed—I followed you, and…”
Inari smiled compassionately. “Girls,” the two of them stiffened, bodies calming at her aunt’s soft voice. “You are fine; my niece will explain everything to you while the others go find clothes that will fit their taste.”
Her aunt turned to the group. “Sora, could you give them each a cart? You could also add a replenishment quality to the clothes.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea!” Sora whispered, fulfilling her aunt’s requests.
“This is awesome!” Wendy cried, running to a cart. “You’re awesome, Sora! This brings me back … man, you spoiled me so much when we were kids.”
“Yeah,” Sora chuckled softly. That’s one of the reasons why your mom hated me so much, but it was super fun…
Nathan, Aiden, Mary, Jin, Eyia, and Ashley, were a bit more composed as they moved to their own carts; Eyia and Jin were a little hesitant, but quickly understood its purpose as they watched Wendy rush off to do something she’d daydreamed about for years since breaking ties with her. They each thanked her as they went to their own aisle.
It must have been really hard for her; she grew out of most the clothes I bought her … she didn’t have a lot. How many times did I see her use the same two sets of clothes in a week? I’m sure some of the other girls teased her about it.
Turning back to Liz and Alice, Sora took a deep breath. “Alright, where do I begin?”
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