Sora repositioned herself on the couch, head leaning back as she got comfortable; she entered the Outer Body Technique.
Opening her eyes, she stared around the endless blackness before her vision fell to the bright white floor, scanning for her aunt. Doing a complete spin, she found herself alone.
“C’mon, where are you?”
“Thinking,” her aunt’s pleasant tone sounded behind her. “My usual self is much too busy to sit back and ponder; when I make Intelligent Constructs, I enjoy the peace and slow tempo it brings me when it returns.”
Flipping around, she pulled back her hair as it whipped in front of her face; Inari sat in the same white and gold extravagant armchair she’d conjured before. Her patient yellow eyes waited for Sora continue, tails folded across her lap, and her fingers intertwined atop them.
Swallowing, Sora scratched the back of her neck. “Umm, so, you know about Miyabe, right?”
Her aunt nodded but continued to keep her silence with a light smile.
“Is it possible to help her?” Sora asked, sitting on her own simple red chair that popped into existence with a thought.
Inari’s head tilted, her smile growing ever-so-slightly. “There are many possible means.”
“Possible…” Sora looked down at the shining floor. “Not many I can do though, right?” She mumbled.
“Sora,” her aunt’s sigh ended with a light chuckle. “What do you think my purpose is; why was I placed in your Core?”
“As far as I know, to prepare me,” Sora said, shifting a little at the question, and playing with the fur on her second tail.
“A proper answer, but there are countless other reasons; I do enjoy having personal time with you … oh, how I relish it. However, yes, I am preparing you for difficult times. Time is tough, and you must learn that you cannot always fix everything. There is a method to regain a bit of Miyabe’s lost memories.”
“I’m sensing a but…” Sora groaned, head falling to the seat-back.
Inari let her head fall back against the chair, long, thick white hair bunching slightly. “I’ve told you over and over again, Sora, there is always a sacrifice.”
“What’s the sacrifice then?” Sora asked, getting a little frustrated.
Her aunt was silent a moment. “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. The magic used to shred Miyabe’s Intelligence was powerful enough to not be recoverable by normal means. Your aunt herself could dissect this realm’s history, the timeline, and return every scrap of information lost, but that is not something you are able to do with your power, even with me guiding it.”
“But … you said there was a way.”
“I did,” their focus shot to the small cat-form of Githa as an image of her appeared between them. “Githa interacted with Miyabe’s Core; she has the essential blocks to rebuild at least a fraction of her former self; however, she does not have the magic capable of such a feat.”
“I do though, right?” Sora asked with excitement welling up within her.
Her aunt nodded. “Indeed.”
When Inari fell silent, Sora’s hopes began to fall again. “What?”
Taking a deep breath, Inari lifted one of her tails to stroke up its length, combing through it with her fingers as she examined it. “Githa knows that I have an Intelligent Construct inside of you; she figured as much when I informed her about Miyabe.”
“Okay? Why’s that a bad thing? Does she not like you, kind of like the dragons?”
“Nothing is free, Sora; think about it.”
Sora sat back, cheeks pushed to the side as she glared at the floor. Why are you so freaking cryptic all the time; you can’t just tell me … think on my own and figure out the question so I can learn how to deal with stuff…
She sighed, rubbing above her eyebrows. Think … there’s a sacrifice; nothing’s for free. Githa has the pieces, but not the ability to put them together; I have the ability to put them together, but not the pieces. It sounds so straight forward; we work together and help Miyabe as best we can. Wait…
Sora looked up at her aunt’s solemn expression. “Githa … she knows you’re inside me, but she didn’t offer any suggestion to speak to you or any means to help Miyabe. She doesn’t care…”
Inari’s lips pursed for a moment before she looked up at her. “Sora, I’ve done a lot of things to help your goals, but would they be things that I did without that reason? No, I would not bother. You have a wonderful heart, untainted by the eons inside the cold confines of reality; the world isn’t fair, Sora. No, Githa does not care about the poor fox, but Eyia does.”
Eyia appeared beside Githa. “Eyia cares very much, or so I expect from the information I have on the girl. However, again, she cannot help Miyabe.” Eyia faded out. “No, the only one that can help Miyabe regain some of her former memories is Githa.”
“She might if I ask though, right?”
Her aunt smiled sadly. “You have such a warm heart, my dear little niece … no, she won’t.”
“Why? Is it dangerous?”
“In a way,” Inari acknowledged, legs shifting to the opposite side of the chair. “The spell would require you to interact with Githa’s Core, meaning she’d have to lower her defenses and allow you in.”
Sora’s ears drooped. “I see; I guess I can understand why she wouldn’t want to do it.”
“You don’t,” Inari stated bluntly, causing Sora to look up at her in bewilderment. “She does trust you inside her Core to perform that form of spell.”
“Why won’t she do it then?”
“I already gave you the answer,” Inari stated, shifting back to comb through another long tail.
Running her fingers through her hair, Sora groaned, flipping it out before yawning. “Fine … give me a minute to figure it out…”
Githa trusts me inside her Core and to do the magic, but won’t help me … why? If she trusts me to actually do the spell, then is it because it’s too much of a bother? I could see that with her personality, but…
She glanced at her aunt’s slightly depressed demeanor; it was the first time she’d seen the expression on her aunt’s face. Is she sad that I’m not getting it? Is it supposed to be super obvious?
A growl shot through her throat, but her aunt ignored it; somber slit yellow eyes locked on her chosen tail as the sleeping image of Githa sprawled out on her side at her feet.
Sora’s eyes widened. A sacrifice! Githa requires a sacrifice, but Inari said she simply wouldn’t do it … can I not give the right sacrifice? I could—wait, if I ask her what the sacrifice is then, she’ll just ask me to think about it.
Folding her legs, Sora leaned back in her chair, tails swishing above her as she thought. The lecture, did it have anything to do with sacrifice? There was Pinocchio sacrificing the furniture; I think it was about … something with the old ethical structure … like … am I thinking too hard on this? What would Githa want from me?
Her mind blanked; her vision wandered the bare space, looking for answers, but none came. Nothing … I don’t think there’s anything I could give her. I don’t get it … what sacrifice could I make to … it’s not me.
Sora looked up at her aunt’s gloomy demeanor. “You said she knows you’re in my Core … she wouldn’t want me to sacrifice something; she’d want you to do something for her.”
“Correct,” Inari stated. “The Nekomata Faction could gain valuable information from me that would help them tremendously; however, I have no intention of divulging that knowledge with them. Therefore, I told you there was nothing that can be done to restore her memories.”
Sora’s eyes dropped to her lap. “Well … that sucks…” She mumbled. “Even if it means we can get more information on The Capital?”
Inari’s voice was soft as she stroked another tail. “The stakes are high, Sora. This is an extremely rare opportunity to hold something of value in front of me; it’s bigger than Githa or this realm, and you must realize that. There is a much bigger board that I am a part of and The Nekomata Faction have stakes on that board.”
“It’s always more complicated,” Sora sighed, scratching her left fox ear.
Her aunt’s somber attitude lifted slightly. “Explain to me why you wish to help Miyabe.”
Taking a long breath, Sora puffed it out through her lips. “I instantly felt bad for her when I heard the story, but I suppose you want me to dig deeper than that … why did I feel bad?”
She was silent for a moment, unfolding her legs as she thought. “I—memories are part of make us what we are. From the lecture you gave, I can see that we’re more than just our memories … it’s way more complicated than just that, but it wasn’t just memories that were wiped out with her Intelligence being wiped. It was everything, wasn’t it?”
“Just about everything,” her aunt nodded.
“Right … emotions, intuition, vague recollections of times past, dreams, desires, even her base instinct to a certain degree I’d imagine. All of what makes us … us … alive…”
Her aunt smiled warmly, attention lifting to study her eyes. “Yes, remember back to the first lecture we had. An Intelligence is a little I Am … think about it for a moment. What does that mean to someone that had that erased?”
“I Am…” Sora repeated lowly. “Oh,” her ears laid back, “oh…” She shook her head, feeling the weight of the information. “She can’t identify between herself and other things … she has no self-awareness.”
“Yes, a tragedy indeed,” Inari whispered. “However,” her smile widened with compassion, “what if I told you that through your magic, and my guidance, we could restart that spark? We could give her Intelligence the boost it needs to restore to a workable state, and repair her shattered Core?”
Sora’s ears shot up as her tails stiffened. “You mean it? We can help her, even just a little?”
Her aunt folded her fingers, nodding. “Yes, she will not regain any of her lost memories, but we can help her get back to her feet, heal her broken and ravaged Core, and provide her with enough general knowledge that will surpass the restricted information of this realm. You can explain what happened to her and open a place by your side.
“She may choose to go by a different name than the one previous; she will have no connection to it, and with the restoration and wealth of common knowledge you will give her, she will be as prepared as she can be to reenter this cruel world.”
A tear fell down Sora’s cheek, and she sniffed. “This would be a really cruel world … if I didn’t have you.”
Inari sighed, smiling weakly. “Before you do this, we should wait until your Constructs return. Now, return to your friends and inform them of your decision.”
Sora took a deep breath; smile beaming, she returned to reality.
Opening her eyes, she was a little stunned to see a toothy grin inches away from her face. “Eh?” Sora squeaked, sinking further into her chair, she looked up at Githa’s white hair and speckled eyes as she loomed over her.
“Githa?” Eyia asked, getting to her feet.
“So, so?” Githa asked, wide, eager eyes making her stomach twist. “What did that sly white fox say?”
The others looked at them with uncertainty; the tension in the air was palpable, causing Sora’s eyes to twitch.
Sora swallowed a mouthful of saliva before clearing her throat. “Umm—can—can I get some space, Githa?”
Githa spun into a quick loop as she retreated a few steps, tails circling her body. “Okay, okay, so what is it? What’d she say?” Her tone was brimming with curiosity.
Her closed fist was held tightly at her chest as Sora took a deep breath. Inari was right, Githa’s been waiting for me to ask this entire time. When will I have to enter this crazy world of favors, threats, and strategy? It’s terrifying to think about … I just want to help Miyabe, but Githa and my aunt are thinking a million steps ahead on millions of different topics.
Getting control of herself, She took a quick glance around the room; Mary, Nathan, and Ashley were pressed against their chairs, muscles tight. Jin’s teeth were showing a bit as she eyed Githa, clearly not happy, while Eyia seemed to be ready to come between them in the blink of an eye.
It was at this moment that Sora started to realize the situation she was in. If Githa ever turns on us … we’re all toast. She’s here for a purpose; she doesn’t care about me; she’s taking part in a deal that her boss made with my mom, and I have no clue about the details. Still, she’s not hostile, but she’s not a friend.
Looking at Githa, she forced a smile. “I’m sorry, Githa, but after talking with my aunt, we’ve decided to take a different direction. I’ll be repairing Miyabe’s Core and helping her get back on her feet; I won’t need to use the information that I could piece together when you entered her Core.”
“Aww…” Githa’s ears drooped; she looked crestfallen as she trudged back to her couch, dropping into it, belly first. “Stingy foxes…” She mumbled, turning away from her.
She breathed a sigh of relief with everyone else.
“That’s what it was about,” Ashley whispered, looking at her with a thoughtful expression.
Adopting a tired smile, Sora directed it at Eyia and Jin as they relaxed. “Yes, my aunt and I talked, and there’s a way for me to help Miyabe.” Smile fading, her brow set. “So, what have you guys been discussing? Anything concerning?”
“All of it,” Jin groaned, lying back on the couch; her black hair bunched around her face, but she didn’t seem to mind. “We don’t know squat, and if we can’t get that fox’s memories back, then we’re back to square one.”
Sora looked down at her two tails as they flicked gently on her lap. No, Githa’s doubling down. She’s not going to bargain, and it didn’t look like my aunt would either; I don’t know the circumstances, but I don’t doubt it’s essential for both parties if they’re not willing to budge.
She shook her head, feeling a bit glum. “I’m afraid we should forget about those memories and move on; I’d love nothing better than to help Miyabe, but…”
Sora’s body locked up as she felt four pieces slide into place within her; her mind opened as emotions filled her. Tears obscured her vision as they leaked down her cheeks, falling onto her limp tails.
Mary, Nathan, and Ashley had similar expressions, and she could feel their spiritual organs stir as a light barrier filmed through their Spiritual Networks, creating a protective layer. Their spirits gushed forth energy, dipping into other spiritual organs. It wasn’t just the humans; her chest burned with more than emotion; a warmth spread from the tips of her ears to the whites of her tails.
Eyia and Jin understood what was happening instantly, relaxing their guard as they watched the transformation; Githa ignored them, seemingly sleeping with the soft motion of her side.
She flexed her fingers, passively staring at her perfect fingernails; it felt incredible, and the knowledge opening to her mind made her chest burst with joy. Ashley, Mary, Nathan, Wendy … there’s so much.
She looked up as Ashley lurched from her chair; she stumbled over to Sora before wrapping her in a tight embrace. “Thank you, Sora … my family … thank you…”
Wendy burst through the kitchen doors, face puffy and red; she ran to her side and threw her arms around both Ashley and her. “Sora…” She bawling.
After a few minutes, both Wendy and Ashley released her, but Sora was still too stunned by the experiences to fully realize it.
Wendy’s lips were tucked in with concern. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” Eyia said. Her smile was soft as she appraised Sora. “She is merely processing. Give her time.”
Mary was looking down at her lap with Nathan. Running his palm down his face, he chuckled. “What an experience.”
“You can say that twice,” Mary sighed, fingers pulling back her brown hair.
Wendy touched Sora’s hand, kneeling by her armchair. “I can feel … it’s warm, and I see a golden glow around you, Sora.”
Sora was slowly coming back to her senses, trying to sort through the mass of stimulation coursing through her Core. Her fingers twitched before she pushed her body against the right side of the chair, blinking a few times.
“Wow,” she muttered, locking her soft lips.
“Are you okay now?” Ashley asked, kneeling against the opposite side of the chair as Wendy.
“Yeah,” Sora mumbled. “It’s just a little overwhelming … I saw your kids … went into space … Wendy,” she trailed off, chest fluttering as she looked into Wendy’s concerned brown eyes.
“Take your time,” Nathan said, wiping away the tears from his cheeks and rubbing his forehead. Alice and Liz stood in the doorway; their confused and nervous scents carried through the air, tickling Sora’s nose and helping her mind clear.
“Jin, Eyia,” she mumbled. “There’s some stuff you should know about.”
Ashley took a deep breath before returning to her seat, and Wendy went to pull up a new chair. Eyia and Jin didn’t interrupt or ask her what she meant, but waited patiently, expressions neutral.
Sora turned back to the two Vulpes, both their tails were pulled around their front and hugged against their chest as they watched the strangely silent scene of them crying, ears pulled back. “Alice, Liz, sorry to worry you; there’s nothing to be concerned about.”
Jin’s passive features creased into a smile. “You know they can’t hear you.”
Sora’s slight smile faded, and she ran a hand through her copper hair. “Right,” she chuckled sadly. “Your barrier.”
Getting up, she walked over to the two foxes, causing them to start trembling. “Is there—something wrong?” Liz asked.
She shook her head, stopping beyond the small sound barrier Jin was holding. “No, I just wanted to let you know that everything was alright. I’m sorry we’re confusing you two so much. How long until breakfast is done?”
She glanced back, seeing Wendy, Nathan, Ashley, and Mary talking to each other, but their voices weren’t bleeding through Jin’s magical bubble.
Ashley shook her head. “We’re okay, but—are you sure you don’t need anything. You all—you’re crying.”
“It should be ready soon,” Liz mumbled, looking behind her at the now laughing humans. Her vision returned to Sora, feet shifting uncertainly.
Shaking her head again, Sora took a long breath, cleaning up her cheeks. “No—no, we all just got a little emotional. Thank you again for all the work you’ve been doing for us. We just need to talk a bit more.”
“Is—are you using some kind of magic?” Alice asked. “I can’t hear them talking.”
“Yes, Jin is creating a magical field that suppresses sounds. I can tell you a bit about our conversation at dinner if you like.”
They both quickly shook their heads, slight shiver running down their frames as they bowed. “No—that won’t be necessary,” Liz stammered. “We’ll get back to cooking,” she nudged Alice, and they both retreated into the kitchen.
Letting out a soft sigh, Sora closed her eyes for a moment; she could hear the faint sounds of Vulpes and humans outside, but the crowds had thinned dramatically compared to when they’d arrived. What time do these Vulpes usually go to sleep?
Returning to the conversation, she heard Wendy’s gasp of shock. “… understandable, but aliens?”
“Freaking aliens,” Nathan mumbled in disbelief. “I should have asked something like that … that’s crazy.”
“Well,” Ashley hummed thoughtfully. “I guess you could call us aliens to this realm, and they’re aliens to us. Why does that sound more complicated than I feel it should be?”
“I completely understand,” Mary giggled. “If you saw the cities though—the stars and spaceship … it was out of this world, but—no, the craziest thing was Qebhet. I never expected to see any creature that size before … it was like—take Godzilla and the Kaiju, and times them by like … a lot. She was—imagine a snake the size of New York City, only much bigger.
“You know the massive super Costcos?” They nodded as they tried imagining the store. “Well, that’s like, her pupil.”
“Crazy,” Wendy muttered. “And she turned into a tiny little girl?”
“Yeah,” Sora said, butting into the conversation as she retook her seat. “I really liked her—so, let me explain the important bits so far.” She took several minutes to explain to Jin and Eyia what was planned for the future; the other’s jumping in to help with a few details.
“I understand,” Eyia said, a soft smile creasing her lips as she stared at Ashley. “Family is a wonderful thing; I look forward to meeting your children.”
“I have to disagree,” Jin mumbled. “We’re not in a position to be taking on more troubles. However—if Inari is preparing it, then it’s not like I can see it as a problem. Even though I can’t see how … it’ll probably be a benefit in some way.”
Sora nodded, looking down at her tails. “I completely understand that feeling, Jin. I don’t get my aunt’s plans, but I know that she does think really far ahead.”
Mary chuckled. “Yeah, Inari’s playing next level four-dimensional chess.”
“I will join you in the journey tomorrow,” Eyia said. “I would like to study the cave walls.” Everyone fell silent as they thought on Eyia’s words, causing her to look around at them in bewilderment. “Is that wrong?”
“No—no,” Mary muttered. “It’s a good idea.”
Ashley leaned back in her chair, cupping her chin. “Good idea? It’s the only lead we have … I can’t believe I didn’t think about it. If the Vulpes don’t know anything about this realm’s history, then we’ll have to look at the past through its art, but—I’d be lying if I said that interested me … I just want to see my family.” She whispered, staring down at the floor, lost in thought.
“Understandable,” Nathan nodded, but his attention shifted back to Miyabe. “Sora, I don’t want to change the subject, but … what about her?” Everyone turned to look at the woman before their vision returned to Sora.
“Well,” she scratched her neck. “I’m going to be helping to jumpstart her Intelligence and healing her destroyed Core … more like my aunt’s going to do it. She’s going to know basically everything you or I’d know; she’ll understand a lot more about the outside world than the Vulpes of this realm. She’ll pick up on things a lot faster too, but she’ll only have as much knowledge of this realm as we do.”
“I see,” Nathan mumbled.
Eyia’s smile was beaming. “Sister, you do a great service for Miyabe; your heart is filled with compassion.”
“Thanks,” Sora whispered, face burning. “I just—don’t like seeing people suffer when I can help.” Taking a deep breath, she looked around at the bright faces around her. “Well, I’m sure some of the others will be returning soon. I’ll go help fix Miyabe while you guys finish getting ready.”
Her eyes widened as she noticed Eyia and Jin’s clothes, rosy cheeks deepening. “Oh! I’ll fix you some clothes in a bit too.”
“That’d be appreciated,” Jin chuckled, and Eyia nodded with a thankful smile.
“Alright, I might as well start with Miyabe.” She got up, stretching her hands over her head; her tails arched between them as the burning sensations cascaded down her spine.
Ashley and Wendy moved toward the kitchen while Mary and Nathan went upstairs to continue looking through the rooms; Jin and Eyia continued to sit in their chairs, watching her curiously as Githa continued to sleep on the couch she’d chosen.
Walking up to Miyabe’s sleeping form, she studied the woman. She was slumped in her chair, long purple hair tangled behind her, a ruby-encrusted pin twisted in a few locks. Taking a deep breath, she entered the Outer Body Technique.
Her aunt was beside her when she opened her eyes; Miyabe sat in the same chair at the center of the brightly lit space, centered in the darkness.
Inari brushed back her purple hair as she moved forward. “The poor child.”
“So, what do I need to do?” Sora asked, stiffening and shifting her tails as they touched her aunt’s.
“Just open your magic; I can do the rest; it is a delicate process to renew a shattered Core.”
“Okay,” she sighed, releasing the tap on her magic. “I’m starting to feel like my energy is getting low?”
“It’s no wonder,” Inari giggled. “You’ve been using your abilities a lot; you’re lucky this realm is supplying you with more energy than is normal within a realm. You have used nearly half your supply, and I will be using twenty-eight percent of that; a significant amount of energy compared to everything else we’ve done.”
“It really takes that much? Even if you’re being super conservative?”
“Yes, the Core is the foundation of a being’s existence.”
Sora watched her aunt perform a miracle; it was the only thing she could describe it as. The magic she weaved before that was so complicated to her didn’t even compare. This was beyond her level of understanding, like trying to comprehend what lies beyond space and time, and her energy rushed out of her in a torrent, making her body feel heavy.
Miyabe opened her eyes, looking up at Inari with utter shock; her voice was soft, beautiful, and lush. “I … my Goddess,” she whispered, bowing her head.
Inari’s delicate fingers lifted her chin. “I am not your savior,” her aunt soothed. “That honor goes to my niece; she was the one that worked through obstacles to bring you back. You understand what has happened; so, now that you’ve been given a second chance, what name shall you be known by?”
She looked at Sora with a reverent light in her eyes. “Can I be given a new name? I don’t … I might have been born in this realm, but I know nothing of it.”
“Me?” Sora stiffened, stepping back.
“Come now, Sora. It is her request; this is the first thing she has desired since being remade.”
When you put it like that … I feel even more intimidated!
She swallowed at the woman’s intense gaze. “Umm … I don’t want to give you a bad name…”
“I could never see it as bad,” the woman said with fervor.
“Geez,” Sora whispered. “Okay … how about—Emilia? Crap … too fancy?”
“I think it is a wonderful name,” Inari’s smile was beaming.
“Emilia,” the purple-furred Vulpes whispered. “I like it,” she tasted it on her tongue a few times. “Thank you, Sora.”
“Yeah,” Sora muttered. “Oh, and—please don’t treat me like a goddess, or your savior, or anything like that. I’d like to be friends, though.”
Emilia smiled warmly, “I owe you everything I am; if that is what you wish, then I would love to be your friend.”
“So,” Sora trailed off.
“Yes,” her aunt giggled. “Right now, both your Cores are resonating. It was effortless with her Core being shattered, but now she is whole; her entire Spiritual Network is renewed, not recovered. Her original state was very weak and frail, but now, she has been reforged; look,” she smiled, pointing at Emilia’s hair as it slowly began to change color. “Your energy has resonated with her Core, causing it to unlock and your spiritual force is imprinting on her Oltera Nexus.”
“What? Is that bad?” Sora asked with sudden panic as she looked down at her eight tails, changing from purple to copper, marked with white tips.
“No, dear,” her aunt said. “This is the beginning stages that Fen so desperately wishes to achieve; however, it is something that she could not obtain. This form of Core Awakening has been known as The Acceptance. You can’t fathom the gifts you’ve given Emilia; within a few years, she will even obtain her ninth tail and has gained the ability to live for millennia more and the possibility of furthering her advancement through spiritual cultivation. Your first follower.”
“What?” Sora’s face paled. “I don’t—don’t want to compel her…”
“You misunderstand, my niece,” her aunt whispered. “She does not wish to follow you out of compulsion, but loyalty to the honor you’ve shown; honor is where real power lies.”
Sora looked down at Emilia’s soft smile, causing her ears to twitch as she felt the emotions freely expressed through her spiritual network; her irises turned a light blue as her skin lost its red tint, clearing up and becoming smooth as silk. “Thank you, Sora; your aunt is right, I’m not compelled, but touched.”
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