A Tail’s Misfortune — Chapter Twenty: Tearful Reunion

Sora’s POV; Mary’s Core Awakening

Sora opened her eyes as she finished sending Wendy and her copied Intelligences to Jane’s location; the clones were gone.  “So, umm, is that it?”

“Wait, really?”  Wendy asked, brow furrowed as she examined herself.  “I don’t feel any different?”

“No, you won’t,” Inari smiled.  “You just sent your cloned Intelligences to the Human Realm which operates on a different time axis.  Once they have completed their mission, they’ll return and transfer all their gained experience into you, causing an instant transformation.  It will be as if transcendent information opens your mind as you merge.”

Mary frowned at her explanation.  “Couldn’t you just make thousands of Intelligence copies then, and send them out to learn a ton of things?  You could gain a ton of experience. I mean, going through school if someone told me I could have three copies, one studying, one reading a good novel, and another going on dates, then I’d say, where do I sign.”

Ashley and Nathan nodded their agreement but paused as Inari shook her head, a soft smile still in place.  “There are dangers with creating many Intelligence copies, especially for the young and inexperienced. I would highly caution Sora against creating these copies for many millennia without my direct influence in helping her form them.  Any damage a copy received, if not properly crafted, will be transferred to the host Intelligence; Sora could severely damage her Core in uncountable ways that could be seen as worse than death.”

“Seriously,” Sora swallowed nervously, looking down at the ground.  “My powers are so dangerous … I feel like I shouldn’t even use them…”

“Sora,” Inari’s eyes showed compassion.  “Learn from the humans. They could easily trip and break their neck on a step, but do they continually worry about the potential dangers in their environment?  No, they move on with their lives; be cautious, be smart, be true, but do not let fear rule you, be courageous.

“Now, it is time you did this same process with Mary, Ashley, and Nathan.  Once you have created their copies, then you can return each of their Cores to their bodies.  Your magic is connecting their Cores to their copied Intelligence. Once they have finished, they will return.”

Sora’s stomach tightened as she felt the overpowering emotions gathering inside everyone.

Ashley took a deep breath, smiling thankfully at her.  “This really is a blessing … a miracle. Thank you for this, Sora … you didn’t even know Nathan or me, but you chose to dedicate so much time to us,” her voice cracked as tears gathered in her eyes.  She wiped them away, “You even cured us … I—felt so hopeless, but then you broke the Werewolf curse…”

Mary was having difficulty suppressing her own emotions.  “Yes, you were affected the longest, Ashley. I can’t even imagine having to deal with those horrors for months.  The things Eric made you do.” She turned to Sora, “Now, we can truly put it behind us, and focus on the future … even if accepting that will be difficult.  Thank you, Sora.”

“Yeah,” Nathan’s throat caught.  “I—thanks, Sora.”

Wendy squeezed her hand with a relieved smile, glad that her part was over.  Sora’s chest burned with all the emotions being thrown at her. It’s so different, being given emotional energy rather than taking it.  It feels so warm … good.

“Of course,” Her aunt’s voice entered her mind.  “You can gain energy from a vast variety of places as a Founder.  Emotional energy can be intoxicating, and that can be a double-edged sword.  Be careful, because even positive energy like this can become tainted and corrupt your desires, pushing you toward a darker path.  I tell you these things to give you future guidance, not to dampen your mood; there is much to prepare you for, as the actions of those around you will affect you in the future.”

Trying to calm herself, Sora took a few deep breaths.  “Right,” smiling at all the humans, she nodded. “I’m going to create each of your Intelligence copies; I want each of you to imagine where you want to go, and my magic will direct the copies there.”

Closing her eyes, she felt their acceptance as they focused on their heart’s desires.

“That is good, Sora.  Open your magic. Trust is important in helping to unlock someone’s Core.  The open door and faith of a positive outcome has an invigorating effect on their growth.  It is not a requirement for all types of unlocking methods, but for the most potent, a must.  You feel me guiding the magic?”

Yes, but it’s so complicated … it’s like watching someone paint the world … every detail; every person, crack, insect … every stroke is so elegant and precise.  It’s so complex … there really is no possible way I could do this without you.

“Not yet, but give yourself time.  Sora, you have so much power, it is the experience you lack.  You will understand soon; yes, your mother and I struggle, even today.  Compared to your Grandmother, we are still children. Remember, I sent for Gloria to confirm to any other First Generation that a forbidden Vulpes magic hadn’t been used by your mother, among many other things.  When other creatures look at you and see a goddess, know that is not an exaggeration. This wondrous magic you hold, this birthright, most will envy and will not understand the burden you bear with it.”

Sora felt her aunt’s manipulations cease; opening her eyes as everyone’s Core left her.  She found herself alone with Inari across from her, the tingling sensation and warmth of Wendy’s hand fading.  “You … sent them back?”

Inari looked off into the darkness to her left.  “Sora, you will learn a great many things once all of these Intelligences return.  It will be a little overwhelming; Wendy and the others will only have a single Intelligence merge with their Core, while you will have four.  There will be important lessons in each that you will need in the future.”

“It’s not going to hurt … right?”  Sora shifted her tails uncomfortably, ears folding back slightly.

“No, dear,” her aunt chuckled, warm orange irises moving to her as she stroked a few of her long tails.  “Be cautious of your decisions, Sora. I am trying to give you as much knowledge as I can to help prepare you.  Don’t rush things, use the techniques I’ve taught you. I will not tell you what the right path is; life is complicated and not so black and white.  I am giving you the appropriate amount of information to make decisions, but trust in your decision. I will stand by you, no matter what.”

Her aunt’s words made a shiver run down Sora’s body.  “You make it sound a little ominous … what kind of decisions do I need to make?  Are you talking about the discussion with Mimi?”

“Sora,” Inari’s eyes closed as she leaned back in her chair with a soft sigh.  “I will not influence the direction you are to travel. I’ve given you what guidance I can, to my great joy.  I love you, my little niece.” Inari seemed to fade into smoke as she vanished. 

“Oh—well, okay then…”  Sora huffed, scratching at her forehead.  Taking a deep breath, she stared around the empty space.  “Thanks … Auntie.” She smiled, licking her lips. Auntie…

Exiting the Outer Body Technique, she sat up.

* * *

Sora found herself on an open street, her aunt and Mary beside her.  She slowly began cutting off the sustaining energy, keeping Mary stable.  It was dusk, the street lamps along the sidewalk showing their soft glow. Large gnarled trees lined both sides of the road, shadowing the pavement.

“Where are we?”  Sora asked.

“My house,” Mary muttered, “on Coral Way.  It’s in the Coral Gables area…”

In front of them was a white house; there were neatly trimmed bushes, lining both sides of a railed fence and white chest height pillars.  The driveway gates were open, showing two cars under a patio that lead to the garage. The trees and flowers were well kept. It seemed someone was home by the lights shining through the window blinds.

“It’s beautiful.”

Mary swallowed nervously, taking a deep breath.  “Well, we have caretakers.”

Inari stood on Mary’s right, silently waiting as she examined the surroundings with casual interest; her long tails were bunched together, making them almost appear like they were one.

The silence stretched.  Mary rubbed her left shoulder, brow furrowed as she stared at the wooden front door, stained dark burgundy.

Sora shifted a little, tail’s wrapping around each other as she waited for something to happen, trying to distract herself by studying the scenery.  There were cars parked along the sides of the road, and the houses seemed to be for the high middle class.

Taking a deep breath, Mary turned to Inari.  “Could we walk for a bit?”

Inari smiled patiently.  “Of course, you may ask of me what you will.”

“Right,” Mary began walking down the street, glancing at a woman in her mid-thirties that was jogging down the sidewalk.  “They can’t see us, right?”

“No,” Inari stated softly.  “Cars and other such vehicles cannot harm us either.  We’ll just pass through them like ghosts.”

Mary nodded.  “I see…”

Sora walked beside her as they began walking down the road.  She stiffened as a car turned, heading straight for them. Even with the knowledge, she tensed as the vehicle passed through them; Mary seemed utterly unaffected as she looked down at the road, her mind racing with complicated questions.

“Can you tell me … how will everything end?”

Inari chuckled softly.  “Mary, we both know you’re stalling.”

“Heh,” Mary rubbed the back of her neck.  “Still, can you indulge my silly questions?”

“I will answer honestly then,” her aunt smiled, looking up at the trees as she began to speak, Mary’s emotions spiking as she continued.

“Imagine a child that had never seen the ocean before; this star-struck girl looks out at the open sea and the sand that runs along its beaches in wonder.  She can’t wait for the car to stop and bolts out just as her parents park the vehicle.

“Her mother calls after her in exasperation, as any mother would in such a circumstance; after all, the child does not know the dangers that the ocean or a beach can hold, but her father just chuckles at his daughter’s energy.

“After being reprimanded, the mother caringly adds sunblock to the girl’s skin while she bounces on her toes, trying to get another glimpse at the crashing waves.  After several painful minutes, the girl is finally given leave to go at least five feet away from her mother’s side. She runs along the sand, tripping and falling several times, but laughing all the while.

“Finally, they make it beyond the dunes, and she sees the ocean up close; stunned, she stares at the powerful waves crashing down, bubbling along the shore.  She’s captivated; what could possibly be beneath the water? What mysteries? Was it cold? The tub water back home was cold sometimes, but it was so big. What if it was hot?

“She sees a seagull, and suddenly, all those thoughts wash away as something new and exciting lands not twenty feet away.  Her attention is pulled away again, something moved by a washed up log.”

Sora’s lips creased as she noticed tears falling down Mary’s cheeks.  She sniffed softly, “Emily … the first time we took her to the beach. We lived in Oregon at the time; she … she passed away from a rare heart disease four years ago.”

“Yes,” Inari’s voice was soft.  “A curious Intelligence; she was always bubbling with questions.  Is there life after death? Yes, but it’s complicated. It is not some paradise where all your worries are forever gone, and there are many instances where a spirit and Intelligence can be consumed, destroyed, but for ordinary humans like your daughter, she is fine.

“Just like the ocean and all its mysteries that your small daughter couldn’t understand, so too are the Planes of Existence impossible for you to comprehend at this time.  It is the same with time and space. There are so many things, and they are all explainable, but a toddler cannot understand Calculus. There are steps taken to learn it, but it takes many years of patient study and dedication.

“Could you see your daughter again?  Yes, but you must live a certain way to achieve that; everything comes with a sacrifice, but you can choose to make that sacrifice.  That includes the sacrifices required to obtain that knowledge.”

Mary swallowed, brushing away her tears.  “Thanks, Inari … thank you for indulging my heart.”

“Think nothing of it,” Inari smiled at Sora.  “You have taken care of my niece, even at the expense of your own livelihood, quite literally.  You have made the sacrifices needed to obtain my aid; I am merely paying back what you have put forward.”

“Just having that knowledge,” Mary trailed off.  “Thank you, Inari … I’m sure it is complicated. Intelligences, spirits, there are so many strange things.  I mean, just saying the word doesn’t help me understand it. Just like a young child trying to understand the vast ocean in front of them.”

She laughed softly.  “Meeting you … I feel like a child again; no, more, an amoeba.  You make me question everything I know … using my own knowledge.”

“I think now would be a good time to see your husband.  He hasn’t been sleeping well lately, but his lack of sleep has forced him into a state of delirium as he awaits your return.”

“That … that sounds like him…”  Mary muttered.

The pain and guilt eating at her Core escalated, causing Sora to frown.  You want her to feel this way?  I mean, that was a pretty pointed thing to say.

“The truth, no matter how harsh, can set you free.  Addressing the issue instead of skirting it, will lead to healing, but pain.”

Sora hummed as Mary took a deep breath, determination set.  “Okay, take me to my husband.”

The scenery shifted as Inari moved them to the location.  The front room was a mess; wrappers were everywhere, pizza boxes, empty water bottles, half-eaten takeout.  The disheveled form of a man slumped against the side of a white couch. It was clear he hadn’t showered in a day or two, and he held a phone in his hand.

“Oh, Rick…”  Mary whispered as she knelt beside him.  She tried pulling back his hair, but her hand passed right through his head.

Inari sat in the highback armchair across from the couch.  “He’s a dedicated man. He came back the first night and thought you were just working late at the office; however, when you weren’t in bed the following morning and hadn’t answered his calls, he began to worry.  He called your office, and they told him you disappeared the day before. After a few more phone calls to your parents and brother, he filed a missing person report. He thinks you’ve been kidnapped, possibly dead, and without any calls for a ransom, he’s growing quite desperate.”

“Yeah, that … that sounds like him.  Me disappearing … he still hasn’t quite gotten past Emily’s passing.”  Sorrowful lines creased her features. “Sora, is it possible to talk to him?  Bring him to the Dream Plane or Astral Plane … whatever this is?”

She turned to her aunt for help.  “Yes, Sora. This is within your capabilities.  Penetrate his spiritual network, enter his Core, and feed your desire into his Intelligence.  Don’t pull his Core out, like you did before, simply beckon him to follow you; he will accept.  It would be a different matter entirely for someone like Fen, but as a Founder, you have real influence over the magic.  What you did with the others was by force, you stripped them of their Core, but with him, you’re prompting his Intelligence to follow you; his Core will still be in place, Oltera Nexus still sustaining the body.”

Intaking a deep breath, Sora puffed it out.  “Okay … man, I stripped … I still can’t believe how dangerous all this is.”

Injecting her magic into Rick, she penetrated his Core and searched for his Intelligence.  Finding it, she sent a welcoming pulse, transmitting through his spiritual network. To her surprise, she felt it twitch before following the magical trail she left, guiding him out of his Core and into open space.

She watched in fascination as Rick seemed to peel away from his own body, legs sticking through his torso.

He stared down in shock at his own body.  “Aw, crap … am I dead?” His gaze shifted to Mary, eyes opening further.  “Mary?”

Mary jumped up and hugged him before kissing his lips.  Rick went stiff for a moment before he seemed to melt in her arms.  Squeezing as he picked her up off the ground. “Mary!” He cried. “I was … I was so scared.  Then I saw this—this flaming fox goddess … she had blazing eyes and an aura … she was so bright.  I knew, I just knew if I followed her then—I’d find you!” His voice cracked.

Shaking in his arms, Mary squeezed him back.  “I know—I know.” She sniffed. “Thank you—thank you, Sora.”

Rick coughed before clearing his throat.  He turned, jumping as he caught sight of her.  “What? You’re—you’re that fox goddess! Am I dreaming?”

Mary grabbed his head, pulling him back, she kissed him again.  “No, dear—no, this is real.” She took a shuddering breath. “I’ll explain—I just … give me a minute … it—it’s been a rough…”  She couldn’t finish the sentence, collapsing in his arms as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Hey,” Rick hummed, holding her against his chest.  “Hey, it’s alright. I’m here … I’m here…”

Sora felt soft tears falling down her own cheeks as their emotions encircled her.  It took several minutes, but eventually, Mary pulled away. Smiling up at him, she breathed a few times before saying, “Dear, could you—I think you should sit down before I … it’s a complicated mess.”  She swallowed, hands trembling.

Rick nodded, before taking a deep breath; he took her hands and guided her to the couch, sitting.  He turned to Sora, but quickly shifted his gaze to Inari, mouth dropping open.

Her aunt smiled innocently.  “Hello, yes, I have that effect on humans.  Take your time.”

Mary squeezed his hands before releasing her left hand and guiding his face toward her.  “Yes—you are basically in the presence of goddesses.”

“Um, hi,” Sora said, tails twisting into a nervous knot as she waved.  “My name’s Sora.” The following silence stretched as he looked at her, making her ears twitch self consciously.

After a minute, he licked his lips, looking down at the floor; his eyes shifted to his body, another questioning expression passing over his features.

“No,” Mary said soothingly.  “You’re not dead, and neither am I.”

“Okay…”  He fell silent, clearly deep in thought.  “So … hmm. I’m not dead; Mary, you aren’t dead?”  He pursed his lips as she nodded. “Alright … this isn’t a dream?”

Inari chuckled as she wove some form of magical shield around Rick.  “No,” everyone’s focus centered on her. “Rick, my name is Inari; yes, I am the same Inari from those Japanese mythologies.  This girl is my niece, Sora. Now that introductions have been made, I would like to offer you an option to make this easier.  Would you like me to gift you all of the events your wife experienced while away?”

He instantly nodded.  “Yeah, if that’s possible; I want to know everything.”

“Not like he can say no,” Mary sighed.  “Your aura is quite scary, Inari.”

“On the contrary,” her aunt’s smile turned mischievous.  “I shielded him with Sora’s magic to give a sincere response.”

“Oh…”  Mary’s arms intertwined around Rick’s chest as she squeezed.  “You—didn’t even hesitate … without Inari’s influence.” Her voice cracked.

Rick ran a hand through her brown hair.  “Of course not … I mean, why are you even wearing a lab coat?  I want to know everything.”

Inari lifted her hand, and faint lights began to appear above it until they condensed into a single speck of white light.  “This is everything; her emotions, her memories, her entire raw experience. Mary, I know you wish to share it, and he wishes to receive it.”

Sora could feel her hesitation but nodded.  “What you told us before though … won’t it be a little overwhelming?  Like the Intelligence merge?”

“Yes, it will; however, Rick wouldn’t have it any other way.  I am merely shortening the exchange.”

Mary bit back her trembling lip as she buried her head in Rick’s chest; Sora struggled to keep her own feelings in check as she absorbed the radial emotion.

One arm holding Mary, he accepted the light as it floated toward him, hand closing around it.  He tensed as his chest began to convulse, tears leaking from his eyes. He sucked in sharply. “Oh, my little Mary…”  His voice was thick as he held her head against his shoulder, kissing her forehead. “I—I couldn’t—I didn’t even know … I couldn’t protect you.”

They cried in each others’ arms as Rick shared in Mary’s emotional dilemma.  After several minutes, Rick looked up at Inari and her, scruffy face puffy and red.  “Thank you, Inari, Sora. I can’t—thank you for being there for my wife.” He sniffed.

“Rick…”  Mary’s voice was heavy with emotion, but he squeezed her shoulders firmly.

“I understand … there’s a powerful organization with a demon at its head.  They’re probably watching me right now.” Taking another deep breath, he looked over at his body.  “I know,” he glanced back toward Inari. “I know I’m nothing … thank you for that knowledge. I know I don’t have the right to ask—that you already know my desire…”

Inari rose to her feet, causing a shiver to run down Sora’s body.  Wait?  What desire?  Oh…

“Yes,” her aunt smiled warmly.  “Both Mary and you have passed my initial requirements.  Mary’s involvement with my niece has all but guaranteed her request, while your steadfast display and love has earned my respect.  I will send one of my Kitsune to initiate your advancement, and in time, you and Mary will join me in one of my realms where you will grow in union together.”

Both Rick and Mary bowed their heads, crying, but this time, tears of joy.  “Thank you, Inari.”

Sora was a little confused at the exchange, but slowly it began to dawn on her.  Wait … they’re going to … she’s taking them into her realm.  That basically means … she’s taking them in as her own. That’s what the Kitsune means to her … oh, wow.

Inari moved to peer through the window; Sora watched her aunt uncertainly, waiting for Rick and Mary to compose themselves.

After a time, Inari hummed impishly.  “Now, I know there’s another question that’s gnawing at you both.  You’re both avid Science Fiction fans. Go ahead,” she turned, expression reflecting her tone.

Mary cleared her throat.  “Right, well,” she squeezed Rick’s hand.  “I mean, it makes me wonder … I know there are whole other worlds and realms out there, but—are there aliens?  I mean, there’s Founders and Vulpes, and Demons. So…”

Rick nodded.  “Yeah … I mean, demons … so, aliens aren’t that far fetched, right?”

“Are there aliens?”  Her aunt chuckled, vision sliding to her.

Sora stiffened, feeling a shiver run up her tails.  “Umm, yeah—I mean, umm, I don’t know … why are you looking at me?”

“Because, my dear Sora,” Her aunt giggled.  “You’re so easy to tease.”

Her cheeks reddened, “Hey … you’re supposed to be a super composed goddess.”  She huffed, folding her arms.

“I am but a simple aunt,” she snickered.  “Now, why don’t we have a little fun?”

Sora felt her aunt weaving her magic into another sophisticated design; her eyes widened in shock as everything changed.  She looked down on a blazing blue sun. “Wha—where are me?”

“Me?”  Inari giggled.  “Did you forget how to speak?”

Mary and Rick’s face grew ashen as they gazed upon the massive star; columns of fire blazing in arcs across its surface.  “We’re in space? Is this an illusion you created?”

Sora shook her head, arms beginning to tremble.  “No … this is real. We’re really in space…”

“Not in body,” Inari mused, “but as Intelligence.  Creating a sun is an effortless task; after all, I’ve created entire universes of my own.  Not quite as vast as the Human Realm’s, after all, it was the first project of the First Generation Founders.  However, even if it was the first that they created, vast it is. According to the human’s stellar map, we are just outside of the Boötes void; of course, it is much further spread than the images your satellites can detect.”

Rick and Mary’s excitement started to spike.  Rick licked his lips nervously. “Wait, are—are you saying that you can instantly travel hundreds of millions of light-years in … in an instant?”

Mary cut in, “No, not even that … this means Sora can travel that far with her own power.”

“I can?”

Her aunt nodded.  “Of course, this is basic.  However, what looms behind us isn’t a void.”

Sort turned, and her eyes widened.  A massive dark spot was swallowing up the light of suns behind them; her fur bristled.  “Aliens?”

Mary’s mouth dropped open, Sora sensed the nervous jitters shooting up her spine.  “B—but they can’t—can’t see us, right? I mean—can they?” Rick and her hands were locked in a death grip.

Inari chuckled.  “No, of course not.  To be frank, there is a limit to what technology can do.  Damaging or even sensing an Intelligence is something very few species have been able to accomplish through technology.”  She turned back to the black object. “These aliens aren’t even that advanced in the grand scheme of Realms.”

A massive gray spherical object seemed to emerge from the dark spot as Inari used Sora’s magic; it was smooth, without any indication of line.  Seriously?  She just revealed a crazy advanced alien spaceship like it was nothing!

Rick rotated his shoulders, suddenly realizing that he was standing in the vacuum of space.  “Wha—what do they look like?”

Inari sighed.  “Nothing like you three are imagining.  There isn’t a space inside this ship where you could fit an average human body.  Why don’t we go to the builder’s home planet?”

A slight shift was made in Inari’s design, and they appeared in a new location; they stood in a void, blackness all around them.  No matter where Sora looked, there was nothing. “What’s going on?”

With another tweak, Sora watched the illusion of a giant planet take shape below them.  It was massive, showing three moons that circled it, red, blue, and green. Large space crafts moved between the moons with many smaller ships breaking away from them or docking.  Space stations appeared across the planet’s orbit, large bridges linking them to the surface.

“This is the planet that used to be here; the tale of this place is a rather sad one, from my perspective.  Why don’t we go to the surface and turn back the clock a little.”

They were suddenly standing on the water; in front of them was a massive city, layered with multiple levels that showed many forms of advanced technology.  A transparent shield pushing back the ocean stood to their left, space crafts shooting in and out of the sea. Large black obelisks shot red and blue energy into the sky at random; the scenery was magnificent.

“This is right out of a sci-fi film…”  Rick breathed with wonder. Mary stood in stunned awe, unable to respond.

“How did all of this disappear?”  Sora whispered, watching a massive blue bird-like snake shoot out of the ocean to fly into the sky.

“Through greed … fear,” Inari said with a sad tone.  “Poor Qebhet … and after all the blessings they received from her hand.”

Sora watched the serpent fly across the sky, shimmering wings radiating the glow of the yellow sun above.  “Is Qebhet a goddess?” 

“Yes,” Inari changed their location; they now stood in the air, in front of the massive creature as it approached them.  “She used to be a very wounded and scary little snake that cowered before Anubis’ boot. He took pity upon her and over several millennia, nurtured her to unlock her Cores, eventually becoming a minor goddess.”

The sound of loud horns sounded all around them as the city’s lights darkened, making Qebhet turn.  She hovered in place as giant rainbow jets of water shot up, taking the image of the city-sized serpent.  The liquid form moved into the atmosphere, taking small human-like figures on her back. Similar scenes of the winged-snake spawned out of the water, showing thousands of events.

“A celebration.  Qebhet is known for several things on earth that connect to her true image.  She was called the Celestial Serpent, Purifier of the Dead, the Celestial Nile or the Milky Way, and connected to both daylight and darkness.  She was linked to Ma’at or eternal harmony and truth, and protected the humans on their journey across the stars to this planet; a gift bestowed upon her by Anubis.  She was the Benevolent Goddess of Cool and Refreshing Water … a very nice child that loved nothing more than to aid those given to her care.”

Rick hummed darkly as he watched the massive draconic visage before them let out a soft melodic cry that radiated joy as she dove back into the shimmering water.  “Given your tone … I assume something tragic happened?”

Inari’s vision shifted to the city as the scenery altered, showing three more even larger cities, beams of light shooting back and forth between them in a dazzling display of beauty.

“Humans advance, however, normally, they never reach a stage such as this.  The harmony and peace that Qebhet brings and inspired kept the human dogmatic nature at bay, but eventually, their pride in their own philosophical and scientific learning got the better of them.  They could now travel the stars, what need did they have for some god? They had built these great wonders, discovered powerful sources of energy, and means to convert all forms of radiation into power.”

Sora looked out at the mass of advanced technology with a furrowed brow.  “So, they thought they achieved this all on their own? Without the help of Qebhet?”

“Not at first, first they wanted to improve Qebhet.  They wished to upgrade her, but she refused such a notion; she knew they could do nothing to advance her with petty technology, but that decision sparked spite in some.  What could Qebhet know of the glories of science? She was merely a god, a minor one that that.”

Mary shook her head as she watched the cities continue to grow.  “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

“Pride,” Inari stated.  “At their Core, they are not so innocent as to rely on the excuse of good intentions.  Most of human woe is caused by people’s self-importance. Human happiness was never something they could achieve on a global scale without aid; their airs of importance are the credentials of their impotence.  It’s ironic when you get to the heart of the matter. There will always be a human to abuse the rest, and they blindly believe the fanciful language of their peers, asking them to sign away their freedoms for the social good.”

“I’m a little shocked,” Mary muttered.  “Those are pretty harsh words, but it’s not like I can disagree … humanity is capable of terrible evils.”

“Indeed, but as I discussed before, they are capable of great good.  It is important to differentiate between self-interest and self-importance as well.  The want for something is not evil, nor is seeking a better life for one’s self. One must be in a good position to help provide a better life for others and that doesn’t come from nothing.

“Humans can enshrine and foster rationality and self-interest, enlightened greed, if you will.  Those two key virtues we all must consciously adopt and practice if we’re to pursue and attain life and love, health and wealth, adventure and inspiration.  Practiced in society, these virtues produce not only material-economic abundance but the aesthetic values seen in the arts and entertainment that strikes the heart and provides the means to develop such tastes.

“However, will that good or any human system lead to lasting harmony?  No. Not without an absolute incorruptible ruler, and there are no humans that can govern with a pure heart and correct moral standing.

“Even human gods have been corrupted by their blindness.  We’ve talked at some length about this, but Qebhet was no human with pride, but a simple snake that had been granted a great gift.  She took her duties seriously, and tried her best to bring harmony, but eventually, they conspired against her.

“They built a massive weapon, harnessing their own sun.  Can you imagine the irony in that? They gathered their people and took to the skies.  Qebhet had sensed the discord in their Cores but did not fully understand the intent of the human heart, after all, she was but a snake.  So, what happened? They fired, destroyed their god given home to purge themselves of this benevolent snake that wanted nothing more than to help bring harmony to those given to her care.”

Rick breathed a long sigh as he watched the blast of energy engulf the planet.  “She was killed then?”

“Heh,” Inari smirked.  “It’s much harder to kill a god than that, even a minor deity.  Her physical form was destroyed, and she was left in her spiritual state, wounded, but able to recover given a considerable amount of time.

“I cannot say the same for these humans though; with Qebhet’s influence gone, they soon became quite warful, such as humans are, and they used the technology that she helped them to obtain to wage genocide against each other’s tribal splits.  They were on all political fronts, dividing into tribes, much like how your world is beginning to turn. They created an artificial intelligence, and one man hacked it; he had the best intentions, he was going to shut it down and stop the war.  Instead, he flipped the safety protocols and wiped out every last human.

“Now, this is but a remnant of a prideful human colony, destroying many more worlds and life as its soulless programming follows its directives.  Consume and build. With its radiation absorption technology, it spreads across the stars and convert all energy to the Core, awaiting the time they meet life to destroy it.”

“You’ve known about this … for how long?”  Mary asked, watching the massive ships move from star to star and planet to planet, stripping everything to use as raw materials.

“Since the beginning; long before they were even close to turning on the little snake.”

“So, you could have stopped it?”  Rick asked.

Inari glared at the ships.  “Of course, but why should I get involved?  I will not subject my own will upon things that do not concern me.  Humans follow the same corrupt cycle, time, and time again, I have seen this stage played out.

“I help those that ask and are willing to pay the sacrifice; I am not so kind as to save every helpless or misguided bird that falls at my feet.  The proud wish gods would agree with them, and are not interested in changing their asinine and short-lived opinions to agree with the gods. Am I saying that I have not learned anything from humanity, Rick?”

Rick shook his head with a heavy breath.  “No, you’re not saying that.”

“No, I have learned a great deal from humanity.  The perspective of their short lives gives much insight; however, they are far from the purity of Qebhet.  I hold no love for humanity, but I do not despise them as a whole; I judge the individual based on the actions and philosophies they follow.  I can accomplish that because I am powerful. I do not hide who I am behind a mask, what need have I for pretense? What you see is what I am.  That being said, I have no doubt there are beings greater than Founders and that are far above me.”

“Really?  Quite honestly, I couldn’t imagine anything above you.”  Mary stated, every word sincere.

Sora scratched her left fox ear.  “Everything’s so complicated … so, you have faith in a higher being?  Even higher than Grandma?”

Inari’s distasteful tone dispersed as she addressed her.  “Yes, Sora. I live as if there are. That is the most logical decision a person can make.  You don’t necessarily have to believe there is someone or something, but just the possibility, believe that and live a life that you won’t regret if that were the case.  Not belief in fear, but the truth that you lived in a way that if you were to meet such a powerful being that you could stand on your own two feet and own every mistake, just as Rick and Mary have done with me.”

Rick and Mary’s emotions reflected the shock on their faces.  “You mean…”

“I would not take anyone,” Inari winked.  “Yes, Mary’s feats impress me, but I look far deeper than a few weeks or years.  I see the threats of fate, time itself. That does not mean things are predetermined; again, it is more complicated than that.”

Sora hummed softly.  “It always is … I still feel terrible for Qebhet though.  Like … all that effort, so much time—she sacrificed and tried her best to provide for them, and they murdered her.  Wait … you said she wasn’t dead?”

Inari’s orange eyes moved to examine her, face unreadable.  “What are you asking?”

“Well—if I can, I’d like to help her.”

Her aunt’s eyes narrowed slightly.  “Why?”

She pulled down her ears.  “Ack, can it ever be simple?  I just feel like it—no, didn’t think so.”  She looked down at the darkness, playing with her first tail.  “Umm—I feel bad; I mean, you knew it would make me feel bad, and I’d ask this, right?  So, this must be another learning lesson…” She puffed out a deep breath. “I don’t know her, I don’t owe her anything, but I sympathize with her circumstances.  I don’t think I’d die trying, but if I can help, then I’d like to.”

Her aunt’s lips turned to a soft smile.  “Sora, explain this phrase, check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

“Eh—well, to like, back off?”

Mary ran a hand through her hair with a light chuckle.  “I think I understand, Inari. It’s a bit more complicated than that.  Basically, it means: Take a step back and examine your actions, because you are in a potentially dangerous or sticky situation that could get bad very easily; often in a harmful manner.  Correct?”

“Right on the head,” Inari giggled.  “You are quite the treat. Sora, I’m not saying you shouldn’t get involved, but what I am saying is think before you act.  Remember back to my lectures, ponder the circumstances and consequences. In essence, don’t act rashly.”

Sora nodded.  “I kind of get what Mary was saying,” she mumbled.  “I feel like a baby…”

Mary chuckled with her aunt, making her self-conscious.  “What … oh, yeah,” her face began to flush as she read Mary’s thoughts.  “I am a child compared to both of you … can I die? I always look like an idiot…”  She whimpered, trying to hide her face.

“No, darling,” her aunt laughed.  “You’re my pride and joy; you do not understand the significance of that statement, my little niece.”

She breathed deeply, trying to calm her nerves.  “Okay, check myself … I don’t even know? I don’t know if I could help her; I don’t know if she’d attack me; I don’t know if she’s even still there … I don’t know anything…”

She stiffened as her aunt appeared in front of her, foreheads touching.  Sora’s ears twitched with shock as their tips touched. “Hey,” she winked, “I’m messing with you.  Yes, it’s an important thing to consider, but I can’t help teasing my adorable little niece. So, you want to help the poor little snake?  Then we shall.”

Unable to restrain herself as the positive emotions filled her, Sora hugged her aunt as tightly as she could.  “Thank you.”

Inari stroked her hair, rubbing her back.  “Of course,” as Sora was about to pull away, her aunt pulled tighter.  “Just a little more…” Taking a deep breath, she rubbed her cheek against her ears.  “You’re so adorable!” She squealed.

“Alright!”  Pulling away, she turned her around.  “Right in front of us; close your eyes and feel for a spiritual network, but don’t look for something small, like a human.  This network is massive, think the size of a city.”

Sora pulled back, studying the space, and there it was, a dormant power that was hidden until she began her search.  Opening her eyes, Sora looked at the slumbering spiritual serpent in front of them. “Has, has she been here—the whole time?”

“Much, we have moved a few locations, but I’ve kept us close.”  Inari winked.

“What do I do?”

“Reach out, don’t try to penetrate her spiritual network, you are far from bypassing the defenses of a minor goddess.  All you need do is wrap her with your raw magic, just surround her with a light shell.”

Sora followed her instructions and couldn’t help but twitch as the massive serpent sturred.  “She—she’s waking up.”

“Where?”  Both Rick and Mary questioned, following her gaze.

Inari squeezed her shoulder.  “Give her a moment. She’s utilizing your magic to form another corporal body.  The blast she received didn’t harm her spirit, her own emotional backlash did; she couldn’t believe they’d turn on her, the sorrow ate at her Core, and her spirit entered a form of hibernation to protect itself.”

Mary and Rick gasped as the city-sized serpent seemed to appear out of nowhere.  Qebhet opened her ocean green eyes, the size of a supermarket. She looked down at them, tongue sliding through her lips.  “Oh—my most humble apologies, Lady Inari. To be in thy esteemed presence when I am in such a wretched state.” Her voice was soft, humble, pretty.

A bright blue glow surrounded her body, and suddenly the figure was gone, replaced by a small girl that looked no older than eight.  She had long light blue hair, bright ocean green reptilian eyes, and soft features; wearing a blue dress, she dropped into a low curtsy.  “To be graced by thee, and to be in the presence of a Third Generation Founder of the Vulpes. I have missed much in my sorrows.”

“Qebhet,” Inari whispered, bending to stroke the girl’s hair.  “I was always fond of you. There is no need for your pretense.”

Sora was a little shocked to see the little snake-girl began to shake, tears leaking out of her eyes as she buried her face in her aunt’s shoulder.  “I—gave them everything…” Inari stroked her hair soothingly, letting her release all the ages of loneliness and sorrow.

I see, she doesn’t have the same nature as humans … she genuinely is confused.  She doesn’t hate them, she sorrows for their deaths, even though they rejected her.  A goddess, comforting another goddess.

The little snake goddess in front of them babbled unintelligible words as her aunt held her; after a few minutes, her aunt released her, and the girl hiccuped, whipping at her cheeks.  “I—I am—am—ashamed … after—after my lord—he entrusted me…”

“Hush,” Inari whispered.  “You have nothing to be ashamed of.  Anubis would have been proud; you did everything within your power.  It was their wicked choice that caused this misery and heartache within you.  Do not eat their sins, for they will pay their own prideful debts. You have had time to grieve these long ages, and now it is time for you to rest from your burden.  I have an offer that you may decline. Do not accept, simply because I ask it of you.

“That being said, I have a place for you in a realm, filled with Vulpes.  You will have oversight, and will perform the same task that Anubis gave you, to protect and guide as a mother watches over her chicks.  Now that your master and charges are gone, will you find purpose with me?”

Qebhet took a deep breath before her soft, puffy face shown with resolve.  “Of course, my lady!”

“Wonderful,” Inari pulling her into a tight embrace.  “Welcome to the family, Qebhet. Now,” she rose, glaring at the blackness surrounding them.  “We will not let this vineyard sow corruption any further.”

Sora felt a tiny portion of her power used; it was almost insignificant compared to what Inari had been utilizing.  “As I said, technology has its limits and is quite weak; disrupt the core functions of the three primary servers and, boom.  An entire destructive empire that swallows entire galaxies, now rendered dead in an instant, weak.”    

She turned back to Sora; Qebhet quickly moving to her side, standing at attention.  My aunt really is something.  “Now, Sora, I think we are finished with this discussion.  Are you three satisfied with the results?”

Sora rubbed her eyes.  A little confused, but I’m sure these are things I’ll come back to in time…  “Yeah, it was crazy, but yeah.  Umm—by the way,” she bent down to Qebhet’s level, holding out her hand.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Qebhet. I hope we meet again someday.”

Qebhet took her palm with both hands, bowing her head.  “Yes, Lady Sora, I thank thee for waking me and bringing Lady Inari to comfort me in my time of need.  I will never forget the kindness in thy heart.”

She smiled at both Rick and Mary as they nodded, feeling their mirrored emotions radiating thankfulness.  Glancing at her aunt’s beaming face, Sora asked, “So—are you going to teleport Mary to your Shrine or does that come later?”

“Later, dear.  I have already communicated the details to her.”

“Oh—okay,” Sora whispered.  “I’m just—I mean, I’ve grown kind of used to her being around … I’d like to say goodbye when you go.”

“Of course,” Mary smiled before turning to her husband.  “I’ll see you in time.” They kissed, and everything faded out.

I can’t believe I actually went there, but it kind of came out, and with the Alien theme came the poor little snake goddess … kawaii

Next week is Ashley’s POV and then Nathan’s.  I was not expecting some of the directions these took.

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A Tail’s Misfortune — Chapter Nineteen: Finding A Path
A Tail’s Misfortune — Chapter Twenty-One: All I Want