A Tail’s Misfortune — V4 – Chapter Eighteen: Niomie’s Design


1. Sora Moore (Our Vulpes Founder with a new daughter to protect)

Recap: Auntie Inari’s back!  Wooh!!  She’s working on unlocking some of the opening stages of her father’s bloodline—things are getting exciting!  Sora’s family coming back, learning more about Dad, and trying to get this realm put back in order while going after her family’s long-time nemesis!

Where will this arc take us?!

I want to thank my patrons for continuing to support me:

Jazzeyennano, Dylan K Hoadley, Alexandra Hunt, Ensos2, Andy, Jeffrey Forsgren, Toby S Myers, and my other Patrons!

Sora breathed out a long sigh before staring down at the massive circular table below with its unsettling surface that appeared to be solidified liquified; however, hovering in midair began to feel restrictive as she didn’t know how to control it.

Deciding to go the easy route, she tapped into the Realm Core to aid her, desiring for it to counter Loral’s weave as simply as possible to put them on the ground.

Githa floated down to the table, still curled up in her tight sleeping ball.

Loral was strangely calm about being overpowered; her hands tightened around her back with a sad yet impressed expression as her magic was completely reversed, and the new weave not only unraveled hers but added a gentle anti-gravity spell to smooth out their landing so they didn’t land as hard.

Everyone else seemed to have a similar reaction except her daughter, who was spinning in circles while falling, releasing giggles.

“Interesting design…”  Loral complemented, nine purple tails coming together before moving in unison to her side as she seemed to stare at something immaterial.  “Although … somewhat depressing, the Realm was able to exploit such a flaw in my magic.”

Jin clapped her hands a few times with a weak chuckle after the comment.  “I’m sure it was depressing, but that levitation spell was so simple … practically effortless … better than anything I’ve thought up.”

“Eh … I don’t know,” Kari mumbled, ears twitching while Sora’s desires took effect; she seemed somewhat agitated with her brisling tail fur, “it was kind of invasive for me … seeing as I lift myself by using my own spiritual energy.”

Sora’s mind blanked for a moment, trying to process what Kari said, but it soon turned on like a horrifying light bulb in her mind.  “You mean … oh … I’m so sorry!  I didn’t mean for it to be like that … I just wanted us to sit down.”  To force Kari out of the sky, the Realm Core had bypassed her spiritual defenses and cut off her ability to control her energy.

“… You could have just asked,” Kari mumbled, rubbing her arm while glaring at the floor.

Eyia appeared to have had a similar effect because she silently stared at the smooth marble floors with a calculating expression.  “The manner in which it struck was … unexpected.  I applaud the Realm’s ingenuity; my death would be assured by such a route … I will make a note of it for the future.”

Sora didn’t know what to do with her hands, guilt flooding her chest, so she hid them behind her standing-up tails.  “I’m sorry, guys, umm … yeah, I’ll warn you next time.  So, think we can sit and talk about what … oh…”

She trailed off with everyone practically already finding their own seats, caring little for who’s they took.  Sora went to the elegant yellow one, looking up at her Aunt Nari’s golden hair and face; Inari said she was the most beautiful of her sisters, and she wasn’t wrong … there was elegant yet playful mischief in her golden gaze.

I can finally know you … all of you.

Emilia followed her focus, probably thinking the same thing, but there was also a hint of nervousness in her daughter’s eyes.

Loral cleared her throat to gain everyone’s attention.  “We only have a few hours to prepare you; however, seeing as you know the Outer Body Technique to a relatively advanced degree, I am not too worried about time as much as the level of preparation you will need.”

Her indigo irises moved between Eyia and Kari.  “I understand that Eyia has a great deal of combat experience and is versatile in battle with many abilities; in fact, she will go the furthest with the knowledge I have, even combatting the higher-tailed Vulpes, and Kari has a solid resistance to almost all forms of magic as a Fenris Wolf.  However … Sora, I believe with how you are, you will struggle once getting to a certain point within this mortal combat.”

Sora sighed, scratching her left ear before straightening her hair across her front.  “I know … I’m super strong for a two-tailed Third-Generation Vuples Founder, but these women are much older, ruthless killers and will be targeting me.  That’s why my aunt is preparing something for me to match-up.”

“Match-up?”  Jin scoffed.  “Listen to this girl,” she snickered, “oh, I’m just going to jump a few more tails at the age of sixteen; you know, no big deal.”

Eyia beamed at her from a few seats over, clapping her hands.  “Most impressive, Sister; you will soon be fighting Jin and I as equals!  I look forward to the practice.”

“Eh … I don’t know,” Sora forced a laugh.  “I don’t really see myself getting that strong.”

“Likely not,” Loral replied, vision hardening while shifting to Hallaway; the Green Seat was still trapped in a mental crisis, trying to work through everything she’s been a part of since Niomie deceived her as a little girl … hundreds of thousands of years of actions taken that had caused so much pain.  “The amount of negative energy we will need is vast … from what I’ve compiled through the City Core … multiply the last two years harvests by three.”

Tola’s hands tightened atop each other on the table, glaring at the smooth, liquid-like surface.  “So much suffering and hate … is there no other option?”

Loral shook her head.  “I would love for there to be such a wonderful resource, but there is not … the mountain was created out of negative energy and requires negative energy to bridge to the horrified despair and madness I have generated from the other planets … sealed within each of their Planet Cores for this purpose.”

“If we can just return her…”  Loral mumbled, looking up at Sora’s grandmother with a reverent longing.  “If we can restore the First Vulpes Founder, then everything can be made right.  My life’s goal is to just be in her presence before I die … just once to feel a glimpse of what I experienced that day.”

 Sora could understand her longing, especially after standing before Gloria, the Founding Mother of the Fairies.  It was overwhelming, and the way she healed her depression … it just occurred to Sora that Gloria had almost instantaneously done exactly what Inari had helped her do with Wendy and the others … cleanse her soul to unlock her Core.

The thankful expression of her aunt’s face returned with clarity; Gloria didn’t have to do that … yet she was playing an infinitely larger game than she could imagine.  She knew who her father was, which had probably played a part, yet she couldn’t rule out the compassion of the Fairy Mother.  It was hard to tell, though … could something be calculated for a logical reason and compassionate at the same time?  It hurt her head trying to think about the mix … personal gain and empathy combined.

In any case, Gloria was on Nilly’s level, perhaps even beyond since the Cat Founding Mother was a shell of herself, and even Inari shied away from Nilly after Frankenstein’s warning.  In fact, her aunt had told her that only five beings could even stand a chance at fighting Gloria, and no one was safe from her wrath … the simple act of wishing someone dead was enough to make it a reality with the Founding Mother of the Fairies.

Pulling her mind away from the puzzling reveal, Sora folded her arms, trying to get caught up on the current conversation.  Kari was protesting Loral’s concerns regarding her own strength at combating the higher-tailed combatants, saying her mother was working to help bridge the gap.  Sora was interested in what that meant but let it slide by, not wasting time; after a moment’s thought, she figured it would be no different from her aunt’s vague reply.

Loral’s tails shifted to the opposite side of her chair, breathing a soft sigh.  “You will be entering the Yellow Sector of the Capital … Mofupsi presides over the area.  I am not versed in much of the savage nature of what you three have designed, Hallaway.”

Everyone’s gaze shifted to the green-furred Vulpes, but she wasn’t even listening, still standing where Sora’s spell had carried her.

“Hallaway,” Tola snapped.

The woman’s eyes lifted to them, and there was so much emotion trapped in them that Sora was a bit taken aback; she mainly ignored the woman, but the emotional struggle must have been cataclysmic within her Core.  Her entire life had collapsed on her head.

Loral wove another invisible spell, causing the Vulpes’s chair to slide out and sweep her up before returning to its previous place.  “Hallaway, I understand what you are going through … more than most,” she whispered.  “If you could pull yourself together enough to explain a little about what will await Sora and her friends, then I will do my best to help you … collect yourself.”

Hallaway’s throat was a bit parched, but with a simple spell, she fixed it, swiftly composing herself; although, her countenance was still that of pained remorse.

“The Yellow Sector of the capital, as I’ve said, is the source of the negative energy we used to … as I understood it, sealed the breach in the Sea of Spirits…”

She took another long breath before steeling herself and continuing; still, she was unable to hide the emotions in her voice.  “Tola’s predecessor had begun moving beyond this model on her own, hoping for another path forward many millennia before she was born … it was not the first time such an idea had occurred to a Council Member, and to protect the ritual, that we felt was necessary … Niomie killed her, like many before, and gave…”

She cut off as Tola shot to her feet, magical energy radiating around her, but Sora’s earlier command came into effect, trapping the Blue Seat in a barrier that easily absorbed the furious Vulpes’s attempts to seize Hallaway and suspend her in the air.

“You did what?!  After … she was … Iminula was the closest thing to a mother figure we had in the Sector!  She loved and taught us so much … and you … you just killed her for … for what!  Say something!  Justify it again!”

No one spoke after Tola’s screams; she’d probably been thinking about her mentor’s death for a while after discovering all the corruption, but to finally have it confirmed was hitting her hard … both Hallaway and Tola were crying, one modified and hurt while the other struggled with her past actions, no-longer defensible in her mind.

Tears slid down Hallaway’s cheeks, body trembling as she hugged herself; mistakes and false justifications of hundreds of thousands of years collapsing around her.  “… I can’t, Tola … so many lies and hidden truths that I thought … I never wanted it to be like this … yet I cannot deny that I did take part … a necessary evil.”

“Is that it?”  Tola demanded, quivering fists pressed against the translucent barrier.  “Is that all Iminula was worth?”

Emilia’s body was tense upon the sudden shift in direction, and Sora had the Realm Core cut off all energy between everyone but the two of them, providing a safe place for Emilia to relax in and give her daughter a little reprieve from all the emotional discharges she must have felt … Sora certainly was.

She gave Emilia a reassuring smile as she discharged a tense puff of air, fanning her face.

Her first encounter with Aiden came to mind, and a new set of painful emotions flooded her heart; to see the boy crying over an empty grave … a symbol he’d purchased himself to remind him of Tiri, Kari’s 8-year-old sister, taken from her family by their uncle’s cruel jaws.

A tear fell down her cheek, recalling the warm emotions in Kari’s heart when her sister had tried to snuggle up to her and she’d push her away because it was too hot … how much she missed those simple interactions.

Tola was going through something similar … learning about the death of a mother figure to her, and those types of overwhelming discharges of emotional energy could actually be damaging to a Vulpes if they didn’t know how to properly defend themselves from those waves.

We’ve all been through so much … How many sacrifices are required?  Will we ever really find peace…

Sora’s attention moved to Jin in surprise as she responded to Tola’s demanding questions.

“What do you want her to say?”  The Korean Dragon was chewing on her inner cheek, arms wrapped under her chest.  “Yeah, it sucks … but stuff like that happens all the time in other Realms, and it doesn’t matter how bad Hallaway feels; she’s not coming back.”

Tola’s wet blue eyes darted to her.  “How can you say that … what am I supposed to do then?”  She asked, fist tightening against her chest.  “I’d…”

“Killing her is an option,” Eyia replied, and Sora realized Tola may have been thirty-thousand years old, but her experiences were tied to this very peaceful world, which she took a majority of the responsibilities tending to.

“Would that really provide what she wants, though?”  Loral asked, leaning forward with a sad expression.  “I killed Vulpes and humans without number for what I believed to be right … yet the chances of my success were almost non-existent … and I only did it because I saw there was no alternative.  I was prepared for this kind of action, groomed to fulfill my duties to this Realm … Hallaway was not.  I empathize.”

Eyia shrugged.  “It depends on her desire for closure; the death of that perpetrator of that cut can close the wound … and sometimes it cannot.  There are other options to consider.”

Sora couldn’t disagree, watching the mourning green-furred Vulpes, and she despised thinking about it, but they had limited time to learn what they needed to do.  “Tola … I know this cannot be easy, and I will try to help you find closure … there’s a way I’ve discovered.  I think I first learned it from Gloria … thinking back … I was just kind of subconsciously imitating what she did for me.”

She smiled at Kari; the Fenris Wolf’s lips were pulled in, vision on the table, recalling the time they’d linked.  Somehow, Gloria had done that with every positive influence in her life to show she was loved, personally linking to each of them through her magic throughout space and time.

Tola’s closed fists tightened against her chest, taking a few breaths to force herself back into control, and after a hard silence, she returned to her seat.  “I will … trust in your words, Sora … even if it’s challenging.”

Sora reached over to find her daughter’s hand, removing the barrier around Tola in the process and lowering Emilia’s protective shell.  “You doing better?”

“Yeah … it was just … it was like I was on fire…”  Emilia mumbled, nervous gaze darting between the two Council Members.

“We can work on that in a bit, too,” Sora reassured, squeezing her hand.  “Okay, Loral.”

Loral simply looked at Hallaway with a compassionate smile.  “Whenever you are ready.”

Hallaway took a full minute to collect herself, letting the stains remain on her cheeks remain while she continued.

As the Yellow Seat on the Council, Mofupsi presided over her area, and she’d gained that position by killing the previous member.  In fact, Mofupsi believed everyone on the Council earned their spot by a trial of combat; Niomie had manipulated the last Yellow Seats in a manner to make it not even worth mentioning.

The early days of Tola’s own society among the Blue Sector of the Capital was already tempered by Iminula, the previous leader, and it was she that had learned to unravel the Seal infecting her population, which she’d taught Tola, stripping all of their citizens of the magically induced malleable traits Nephesh implanted into them.  Niomie had already begun turning the Yellow Sector into the living nightmare it had become while Iminula started to change, sensing the shift in direction since the Yellow District was the easiest to manipulate.

Unlike the peaceful and simple lives of purpose the Vulpes around the Realm experienced, or the life of luxury some of the other areas of the city had, the Yellow Section of the Capital had that molding influence used to turn the Vulpes into warring tribes.

The more Hallaway explained, the more outraged and nauseated Sora felt.  With sex slaves being the start of the conversation, Emilia was promptly teleported out to be with Wendy; her daughter had already connected to Tola’s wavelength, crying softly by just experiencing a small part of the woman’s pain.

This reality Hallaway was unfolding was so revolting and alien to her.

“Mofupsi is in complete control of her section of the Capital; it is well maintained … for the most part,” she mumbled.  “Most of the city’s artifacts cannot be destroyed by normal means, and the strength required far exceeds most living Vulpes.  The city’s magic helps to clean the streets of grime or dirt…”

“Hallaway,” Loral gave her a sad sigh, urging her to get to the details.

“… Human males act as the playthings for the Vulpes between most levels of the Yellow Section of the Capital.”

“Playthings?”  Kari asked with a lifted eyebrow.

Her nine green tails flicked with agitation.  “Nothing I would personally involve myself in … or have,” she mumbled, eyes refusing to make contact with anyone.  “Relationships between human and Vulpes … or other species weren’t so … weren’t like this when I was a child.  Pain … to an extreme degree, emotionally, physically, mentally … strange rituals of performing certain acts that seem very … debase.”

Jin hummed with a conflicted expression.  “Something tells me this isn’t the normal sex dungeon stuff … torture would probably be an understatement.”

The images flooding Sora’s mind had her face red with embarrassment and anger.  “Wait, but … but they can’t even refuse?  They control them?”

A forced smile lit Jin’s face.  “Eh … the mind of the innocent.  Best not to think about it too much, Sora.  We’re talking about some seriously illegal S&M on your planet that would set most degenerate’s heads on fire … or other parts.  This is with the influence of the curse they’re under from…”  She pointed down with her thumb.

“Indeed,” Eyia grunted, “most abhorrent … although, there were some Gods that found great joy in such repulsive acts.  Enslaving the minds of humans to enact their every desire until they were bored of them and used them for … other things.”

Hallaway’s lips were tight while listening, but her green locks bobbed with agreement.  “… The closer you get to the City Tower, the more groomed and spectacular living becomes … yet the behavior can be the opposite in many ways.

“The worst is in the 7th Level … we rearranged the city’s architecture a hundred-thousand years ago when Niomie wished to streamline this project she’d thought about, which would give birth to the various districts, rising in altitude to look up at the city’s grandeur … among other things.

“Seven levels were created with gates between, separation points for those that managed to achieve some goal the Council Member could dictate.  It sounded good, at first … we needed more negative emotion since it was very hard to gather, requiring a lot of work in those years … so, Niomie developed this plan.

“On the 7th Level, by the outer walls … this is where the newborn Vulpes would be placed…”

“Newborns?”  Sora asked in horror, already imagining the type of behavior she’d already talked about inside the Yellow Section of the Tower … but she couldn’t have been prepared for what came next.

“Yes, newborns because they were the most malleable and able to be shaped to fit the model Niomie developed; she didn’t tell us what it was until calling a Yellow Seat to fulfill the role.  I was not really fine with the idea, yet … we did need negative emotion if we were going to succeed in the yearly sealing.  In the end … I relented.

“Newborns to two-hundred years old would occupy the 7th Level … a wasteland of murder, corruption, exposure, and starvation—the weak and helpless, used for more entertainment for the upper echelon, continuing the cycle of negative emotional energy we required to fuel the spell.”

A chill ran down Sora’s spine.  “Newborns … you’re saying children were sent to a place where … forced to grow up like that?”

Tola was biting her lip, blood showing on her chin as she listened.

“Worse than that,” Kari mumbled, glaring at the fidgeting woman.  “They were starved, too … how did they get food, water?”

Hallaway nodded.  “All nourishment was provided by the 6th Level … which was encouraged at the start to hold off as long as possible … for population control within the district.  If there wasn’t enough food…”

Jin hissed.  “They ate each other … kids, children, all the way up to 200-year-old Vulpes?  Exposure, meaning they had to fight for territory or places to sleep, factions would have joined and broken.”

Sora’s fists pressed against her thighs, glaring at the table just imagining Fen taunting her while eating food she desperately needed as she lay dying, mortally wounded after abandoned by her small group … too spent to move, a teenager crawling over her body to eat her alive … just to survive and satisfy the stinging in his parched throat with her blood.

“How … can you live with yourself?”  She asked in disgust.  “Over a hundred thousand years of this … a continual cycle?  There had to be a better way to generate negative emotion than going to this extreme?”

“Not the point,” Jin mumbled.  “Niomie had a plan … and it had to work.  Right, Loral?  They also had to drop in new baby Vulpes girls from the breeding farms each year, too … gotta keep up the dark emotion machine.”

Kari’s voice was a growl.  “All while this Great White Tower stood high above them, a constant reminder of where they could be … just survive a little longer because they don’t know anything else, and Nephesh’s curse keeps them floating just enough to be molded into Niomie’s plan.  They’ll do anything to make it out … I would, and now that they’re out, time to laugh at pathetic fools below like so many did to me.”

Putting herself down there … Emilia in that kind of hell hole … it filled her with hate … precisely what it was designed to do.  “Not just that … the pain you’d feel … the despair if you didn’t make it to the next level … that would crush me.”

Kari’s nose twisted.  “If you’re too weak or small … the small clique you’re in might kick you out or kill you for food, feeding on more than just your spiritual energy.  Mixed with the upper-level stuff … even worse than Fenris Wolves, congratulations.”

Hallaway took a shuddering breath to continue … even more.  “It is as you say, and yet you cannot blame the Vulpes … they are conditioned to feed into the depravity, influenced to further perpetuate it and delve even beyond their predecessors.  To be hooked on the first taste of the energies a Vulpes can take from a man … the flavors she could extract by various methods and tiers were developed over time.

“Hierarchy evolved within each district, broke apart with revolts, reformed under new leadership … a constant cycle of violence, sexual desire, and fueled by the demand for strength to rise to the next level until you reached the Yellow Seat.”

Sora’s hands were tightened in her lap.  “I can’t believe it … Niomie had to be planning the whole thing with Nephesh from the start … this is just horrifying.”

Loral’s soft voice caught her off-guard.  “I’m afraid the terrifying part is the opposite, Sora … I assure you, Niomie is not so cunning for such a devious act … she is purely a puppet to her own megalomania … finally a ruler over an entire Realm, and this is what that power has revealed … who she truly was from the start that I could not curb.  She is my greatest failure,” she whispered.

“A young Vulpes with such a powerful inferiority complex that without the stern hand of an opposing force has let her become an unchecked tyrant … and this broken … slowly corrupted Realm is the product,” she said, looking down at the Yellow Section of the city from an aerial view.

Sora couldn’t really see anything in particular from this distance, but the point was made … Loral didn’t want to show her what it would be like yet; she would let her mentally prepare herself.

“So,” Kari spoke up, scratching the back of her neck with irritation, “basically, Niomie’s more gratified by her power over the Council and this Realm or the crack in the Sea of Spirits, the Vulpes, or anything else?  You and Sora already took everything from her … so how does she feel about that?”

“Good point,” Loral replied, staring down with a sad expression.  “She’s bitter and buying her time to retake control, plotting to use whatever she can, but I’ve already taken care of Niomie … there’s no need to worry about her actions.  What else can they expect, Hallaway?”

“More?”  Sora asked, already emotionally fried.

“Many more … the few male Vulpes that are born here are given special treatment for more exotic sexual exchanges, human women tormented with horrific visions, crushing their psyche.”

“Why?”  Sora asked, now seeing Ashley or Mary strung up in some dungeon, mind wracked with magical torture.

Hallaway shook her head, eyes closed again while hugging herself, just thinking about it.  “The intense jealousy Niomie placed in their minds … feeding them the lie that by their very nature, human females will take their men away if given a chance.”

She continued as if in some kind of confessional.  “When men reach a certain age … if they survive, they are sent to Niomie’s assistants, who are trained to wipe their memories and send them to the human breeding camps … but they’re never the same after everything that’s been done to their Cores.

“Throughout the year, the male number is replenished … imported from around the world on a set schedule.  Most are kept within the Tower at first, then passed down to the lower levels…”

“Like scraps of meat,” Kari mumbled.

Loral pushed forward.  “Hallaway, we have a limited time before it begins.”

“I know,” she mumbled, “it’s just … nothing makes sense anymore…”

When Hallaway got to the process of actually making it to a new level, Sora already saw Niomie as a monster … how anyone could methodically develop something like this … cultivate it like she was taking care of an ant farm … it was repugnant, and she was relieved she’d sent Emilia to Wendy before her daughter heard this.

  Any Vulpes could attempt to advance to the following levels, but unless they had reached three tails, then it was suicide … simple as that, which many tried … they’d probably die that year anyway.  The competition to just get the 6th Level was intense, and it only grew more challenging, each sector having more powerful Vulpes with expanding abilities.

Sora could participate in the event, rising to each level, and just as Loral wanted, it would be met with scorn, and eventually, contempt.  The more progress she made, the more jaded they’d feel, and if she mocked them by saying they weren’t even worth killing … in a society that was kill or be killed, it would further build the storm they wanted to generate.

The contest was displayed to every Vulpes not participating, even the lower-levels, to see what they’d missed, to know a safe spot away from their horror-filled life had been taken by a foreign Vulpes, and worse, non-Vulpes … it was horrifying.

Sora could practically feel the odium … it would be palpable through the blood-soaked streets.  Yet, if they wanted to tie Loral’s spell to the amalgamation towering over the Sea of Spirits, then they would need every inhumane drop of negative energy.

It wasn’t right to Sora … and she actually hated it, but there wasn’t any better method that could generate the kind of power they needed … to get her family back and fix this broken system; she had to participate in something she despised.

Sora was sure the Human Realm’s negative emotions could provide it forever, but that wasn’t an option with the forces waiting for them outside.

Feeling trapped and frustrated, Sora asked, “Has there ever been friends … anyone that helped one another?”

Hallaway’s closed eyes trembled a bit before shaking her head.  “Not that I’m aware … if there were, then they would have stabbed them in the back.  Friendship doesn’t mean anything in that kind of environment because it makes you vulnerable … by design.  A group only accepts you if you contribute … don’t bring back enough food or water … pay the price.  If you did not cause enough damage to the opposing group … they don’t need another body to feed.”

Kari had taken the news a lot better than her … it wasn’t all that different from where she’d lived; her brother had killed Lori in front of her, stabbing the 16-year-old girl through the heart to simply teach his sister a lesson.

By her glances, though, she knew Sora wasn’t accustomed to that level of brutality, so she pushed forward.  “Okay … what do we need to do?  When it starts, what are the rules?”

“Right…”  Hallaway opened her eyes, wiping at her wet cheeks; this wasn’t the only horrific thing she’d done throughout the ages, Sora was sure, and the green-furred Vulpes was having to deal with all of those tragic, naive actions of believing in Niomie since her youth.  “There are only a set number of spots available that are announced by the Area Boss, starting in Sector 6.

“Over the past few days, Vulpes have been gathering at the outer wall of Sector 7, fighting for the closest spot to the center … the cleanest route to Sector 6’s gate.  Once the Area Boss gives the signal, a magical mark will appear on anyone touching the wall, and if they make it to the gate and touch it, then they will be teleported across.”

Jin huffed, arms held against the back of her head.  “Heh, it’s not a simple race, though.  Anything goes … including their group homies selecting one person to get across and doing their best to get them there?”

“Why?”  Sora asked.  “No one’s friends, so…”

Kari leaned forward with a sad sigh.  “A deal … we get you across, and you throw us down food.  It’s the only thing some Vulpes can do if they’re too weak to participate outright, and so they focus on acting as a group to take out stronger individuals … you’d think that would form a bond, though.”

“Perhaps,” Hallaway whispered, “but from what I have seen … which is limited because I could not stomach it, those types of bonds rarely last more than a year in that kind of environment, and deals for food thrown down forgotten amongst the pleasures and power above.”

“No honor…”  Eyia stated with scorn.

Loral released a regretful hum.  “They were never taught it.”

Sora sat back, feeling a bit spent from the amount of energy she exerted just listening to Hallaway.  “So … we get there and make it to the 6th gate as fast as possible.  It shouldn’t be that hard, to be honest…”

That couldn’t be said the same about the weight that pressed against her heart, and she tried to brace herself for how bad it would hurt, running through a warzone.  Could she just abandon a child that was about to be killed?  She couldn’t help but put Emilia in any of those Vulpes’s place … the pain that would rip her heart apart, but she couldn’t be every child’s savior … just like Nathan had counseled her after the Spiritual Worm fiasco, when she’d ran after Aiden to stop him from committing suicide.

 Her lip tucked under, trying to restrain her own tears while listening to Hallaway.  “Once you reach the 6th Level, and when the last spot is filled, the next event will start very soon after to not lose enthusiasm, which will continue to the Tower.

“After the 7th Level free-for-all, each Vulpes that wishes to participate must put their hands on the wall again, and you will be assigned three random opponents.  Each of them can attack you at the same time, but it is more balanced after this, and no one can intervene with the match unless appointed to you … or they shouldn’t; certain Sector Bosses may allow some types of interference.”

For the first time since her outburst, Tola joined in the conversation, voice drained.  “The Sector Bosses can change the rules … if they each have nine-tails and are the strongest out of all the Vulpes, then could they join?”

Hallaway shook her head.  “No, not unless Sora has made it to the Tower and challenges her there while the competition is still in effect.”

“Can they select Sora’s opponents … not by random.”

“… Yes,” Hallaway mumbled.

“Eh … not that bad,” Jin hummed.  “I bet they won’t do it until much later.”

Eyia folded her fingers together atop the table.  “I agree.  Not until they have seen how powerful we are, which is why we must conserve our strength … we are in a battle of attrition against potentially powerful foes.  We must be efficient.  I believe once we reach the 4th Level is where the Sector Bosses will take particular notice of us, and the 3rd will be a single selected challenger.”

“How can you tell?”  Tola asked, tails weaving uncomfortably to the opposite side of her chair.

“Experience,” Jin chuckled, running her hand through her hair, “with a bit of Valkyrie intuition … you blasted birds…”

“I am not a bird, friend,” Eyia huffed, glaring at the Dragon.

“Could have fooled me with those wings you get when…”  She trailed off at Eyia’s icy glare.  “Gah … you’re so stubborn, I get it … you wanna work on your dad’s stuff, but c’mon; we both know you’re holding yourself back, even against Bathin.”

“As were you.”

Jin popped her tongue.  “Touché.”

“Okay,” Sora groaned, head popping onto the table while trying to get more in touch with Shadow for internal support.  She’d need to let the devilish side of her come out if she hoped to survive this.  “Are we ready?”  She mumbled, hair curtaining around her face with her forehead against the cool table surface.

“We gotta go some time,” Kari murmured, stretching her arms left and right.  “You’re going to get everyone together to tell them about all this?”

“Uh…”  Sora glanced at Tola with a slight frown.  “If I get everyone together, then can you break it down?  I’d like to get as much practice as I can to prepare myself … mostly mentally … emotionally … I really don’t like this,” she finished, turning to Loral.

“If that is what I can do to support this plan, then I will,” Tola replied, perfectly hiding the hurricane raging within her breast.

Loral took a long breath.  “… I understand, Sora … I understand what it is to make hard decisions … and to live with the consequences.  Let us begin.”

At the end of this, Sora wondered how different she’d be, watching Loral vanish to continue her work.

Tapping into the Realm Core, Sora used it to spirit away Ashley and Mary from their study in the Purple Sector of the Tower, leaving Niomie trapped in the room with a seal; Sora had no clue where Phebe was.  The things she wanted to say … to ponder how to react to Niomie surged in her chest, but Sora managed to temper herself; Tola was a good example.

She transported the two humans to the Blue Section’s living quarters Tola had given them to use; Sora had to wonder how they’d react to the news.

Using her master control over the Realm, Sora found Nathan and Aiden on a jog, and shockingly, both Liz and Alice, the first two Vulpes Sora first released from Nephesh’s Curse, were with them.  She teleported them to the same location to get everyone in the same place.

The two Vulpes Kari wanted her to free came to her mind, but they wished to wash their hands clean of everything complicated involving them, so she respected their wish.  The two had willfully been assigned duties that Tola’s aides had given them to do around the Blue Section of the Capital.

After everyone was in the room, Tola teleported in chairs for the group.

Emilia was a bit miffed about being shoved back to the others, but Sora calmed her down with a hug, taking a seat by her daughter.  Kari took the place beside her, Eyia settling in by Emilia.

Sora smiled at everyone as they prepared themselves to get caught up on current events.  She’d forgotten how big their group had become.

Brandon took the kids for a walk while Ashley stayed to get the information; Cedric and Josie made a bit of a fuss, but their dad made a tag game out of it that had them moving.  The couple held hands and seemed to be in much brighter spirits after having the night alone with one another; their emotional energy was positively beaming.  Sora had no illusions upon why the two had requested personal time … both bathing and sleeping.

Mary seemed to have had some kind of argument with Niomie about the psychological effects of a prolonged life that she’d moved to Ashley; Sora didn’t particularly follow it or find the topic particularly interesting with everything else on her mind.

Wendy sat beside Kari, probably trying to overcome her discomfort and fear of the Fenris Wolf.

Nathan and Aiden appeared to be getting along, and she aimed a curious stare between the two men and their Vulpes companions.  Alice and Liz were many times older than the two, but to be fair, they’d lived a very simple and restricted life until Sora had shown up.

Taking a deep breath as everyone settled in, she did the quick rundown that Tola would be explaining the complicated mess they were involved in and the silver lining of what was to come if they succeeded; they didn’t have long to prepare themselves, but if everything went to plan … she’d have her family back.

However, without hearing a thing from Tola; Nathan, Alice, Liz, Emilia, Wendy, Mary, and Aiden, to her surprise, wanted to participate in a Core strengthening session, asking if she could facilitate the exercise for them.

Sora had no problems doing it, and the Realm could help enhance that to a degree she couldn’t even understand … so, she relented.  Moving them to an isolated room, Sora had the Realm aid her in guiding them into their own Cores for the first time while Kari and Eyia did their own personal Core training without her.

With the Realm acting in her aunt’s place, they were able to scratch the surface of the Outer Body Technique; Aiden knew how to do much of it himself, and Emilia was close to being able to enter the surface level without help, but the other six wouldn’t be able to emulate the process on their own.

Once they were all set on their own paths, Sora dove down to meet with Shadow again … she needed advice that only she knew how to answer … the part of herself she shied away from.

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A Tail’s Misfortune — V4 – Chapter Seventeen: The War Ahead
A Tail’s Misfortune — V4 – Chapter Nineteen: Growing Up