1. Sora Moore (Our Vulpes Founder with a new daughter to protect)
Recap: Sora was told about Loral and for a change, decided to not let all the misfortune around her drag her down; they had to face what was ahead head-on and just deal with it!
They took a photo, and Sora’s helping Emilia get the Outer Body Technique all worked out! We’re getting on with this! Okay … wait … are you serious … that’s who we’re actually fighting and … wait, what?!?!?!?
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A small smile lifted Sora’s lips as she continued allowing Shadow more influence; she took in the sea of spirits, each one housing a slumbering Intelligence, and her glare slowly lifting to study the rusted mountain mass in the distance, nearly reaching the ceiling.
It’s that daily routine; something new would pop-up and demand her attention. She was done letting every little thing annoy and stress her out. She had an inner beast, and it was about time she unleashed it if she wanted to finally live.
Tola and her council were in charge of this Realm; her family may have started it, but it wasn’t her responsibility. She was here to discover the secret her aunt wanted her to find. If there needed to be real action taken, Inari would handle it. Only her aunt probably knew more about this Realm than Loral, and if she pointed her in this direction, then it was worth exploring.
“What do you think?” Sora asked, folding her arms while flicking her two tails to the side.
Jin cocked her head to the side, yellow eyes sliding across everything in sight. “A bit hard to tell from all the way back here, but enough power to cause a real dent in a Realm’s structure if used.”
By the expression on Tola’s face and her tightly nine tightly wound tails, that was not the answer she’d come up with. “Why would … is all you see a weapon?”
Githa’s sharp teeth glistened as she snickered. “She’s a Dragon, of course; what else would she be thinking about?”
The casual smirk and shrug Jin gave in return told the councilwoman her answer. “I mean, she’s got me there. Dragons are on that top game.”
Eyia’s small smile twitched. “Indeed, Dragons are near the top in pride.”
“It’s certainly the only thing she’s top-heavy in,” Kari whispered with a sideward smirk.
Oof, savage, Kari; you’re finally getting back into the spirit of it!
Hallaway and Tola seemed utterly lost in the sudden shift in the topic; by the intense expression on Emilia’s face, she was trying to take notes.
Jin popped her tongue at the off-hand comment, shooting a light glare at the Fenris Wolf. “Not bad, furries’ wet dream.” Kari’s long puffy tail stiffened with her ears, but the Dragon casually moved onto Eyia, “And who’s the Valkyrie that wasted all our Atlantian money on a game with no ending because she was too proud to give up?”
“Wha … how do you know about furries?” Kari’s red face was priceless, but her question raised a valid point.
Sora followed with a chuckle. “Is that from your Dragon lineage memory?”
Jin held her hands behind her neck, leaning back while staring up at the ceiling. “You sound surprised. It’s not like just your human society is all there is in existence; Dragons go back a long, long time, and humans can get freaky with all sorts of things. Oh, the things they’d do to that tail, girl,” she snickered, eyes snapping to Kari.
Eyia released a low hum while nodding. “Indeed. Humans have very peculiar fetishes … that is the correct term, correct, Jin? How could one like wolves? Also, that game was rigged, friend, and I proved it. I am a hero,” she huffed, puffing out her chest.
“Mhm,” Jin mused with Githa’s laughter in the background. “Asgardians are in a league of their own. Anyway, there’s not much here, to be honest.”
“Not true!” Githa winked; she was back in her human form, skipping across the platform to stare into the spirit sea. “Ooh, some horrifying stuff down there…”
Hallaway and Tola followed Githa while the Valkyrie, Dragon, and Fenris Wolf got into a roast war. Kari was holding her own, but she had been the school’s premier bully since the start; she just wasn’t used to anyone returning the scathing and often embarrassing comparisons.
Most of those just flew right over Eyia’s head, though, which was what set the Dragon off. Half of the Valkyrie’s jabs didn’t even land on Kari since she didn’t understand the creatures and comparisons she used, but the blonde certainly appeared smug with the results.
Sora motioned to Emilia to follow her to the edge with the other three, partially listening to the smoke each girl threw with some enjoyment, but that came to a halt when her daughter whispered, “Mom, what’s a furry?”
… Yeah … okay, better save her from that right now…
“Not that important,” she mumbled. “Uh, what do you think about the place?” Sora asked, redirecting her daughter’s thoughts. “Think you can practice identifying individual spirits here?”
“Hmm … I guess,” Emilia’s face creased with concern, peering over the side to stare at the endless host of slumbering spirits. “What would that do?”
“Sharpen your ability to utilize stronger magics,” Sora absently replied, trying to find what Jin had apparently missed, but nothing was popping out to her; all she could identify were spirits, the magic-infused stone that held everything in, and the seemingly dead mountain of unknown substance in the distance.
If it’s not here, and Githa’s looking down…
The elimination process brought Sora to utilize the Realm’s magic to create invisible hands, much like she imagined her aunt doing the first time she’d met her in the Spiritual Plane, and gently pushed back the bottomless sea of dormant lives below them.
“Oh, oh, did you notice?” Githa asked with a bright grin. “I was counting how many I could eat when I found it!”
Tola and Hallaway’s brows creased with frustration while scanning everything around them.
“What?” Tola asked.
Judging by the color draining from the Green-Vulpes’s face, she’d discovered it.
Githa snickered. “Silly! Something I wouldn’t eat.”
Sora was too preoccupied creating a tunnel for them to descend to the floor; it really did look bottomless as the abyss continued to open up before the burrowing magic. Emilia appeared to be trying to focus all her senses on the opening to see what lurked in the darkness.
Even her three bantering friends ceased their game; although, Sora guessed only Jin thought of it as such. Eyia probably saw it as another battle to be won while Kari was just trying to keep face with all the wolf puns and jokes the other two lobbed at her.
Jin whistled. “Yeah … you can’t expect me to penetrate that many spirits, Githa.”
“I thought Dragons were supreme,” Kari scoffed.
The Dragon lifted an eyebrow at Githa. “How old are you?”
“Rude!” A smile curved the cat’s lips, and she gave her a wink. “Hehe, pretty old compared to you.”
“Case and point,” Jin grinned, but it soon fell as a low hum rumbled in her throat. “On that note, how did a Nekomata get immortality? Nilly?”
“Shh, we don’t talk about that,” Githa whispered with a forced smile and finger held to her lips. “Oh, look! We’re getting to the bottom.”
Sora had been concentrating on the sea of spirits as her magic continued to speed up, pushing the spirits away, and she hit the ground at an astonishing 7.79 miles, judging by the length of the weave the Realm spun on her desire.
Stunned at the depth she had to go, Sora was about to ask how deep Earth’s oceans were when a foreboding spiritual presence touched her spell. “How … what is that?!”
“What?” Emilia groaned. “I can’t see that far…”
Hawthorn slowly shook her head. “Impossible … how could we not notice?”
“I’m as confused as Sora,” Tola growled.
“Oh, oh, let’s take a closer look!” Githa encouraged, bouncing on her toes, which caused her fluffy white tails to flick a few times.
“Is it safe?” Kari mumbled, ears pulling back a bit. “Is that … it can’t be.”
“What?” Sora asked, but Eyia had ceased her banter with the others to focus on the opening Sora had created, and she wasn’t smiling.
“Founder Magic … that’s not Vulpes, though…”
Jin’s interest seemed to be piqued a bit at the Valkyrie’s statement, and she trained her senses below. A moment later, she gave a short start. “Wait, hold-up … Sora get us closer … this can’t be right?”
“Hm-hmm?” Githa’s cat-like smile and eyes intensified while hopping over to Jin to nudge her side a little. “Oh, do you know? Do you know? Pretty juicy stuff!”
Sora quickly formed the desire, adding a shield around them on the chance the force became hostile; the spiritual power made her skin crawl and want to shrink back, but if answers could be gained, then she’d press forward with the recommendation of those more experienced than herself.
They appeared several dozen meters above the ground, walls of spirits rising above them in an endless mass; below them was a glowing white stone, fashioned out of Vulpes Founder Magic that was similar to all the other impossibly complex weaves that her family had crafted who knows how long ago. However, the difference between this and the ceiling was the black spiritual force slowly cracking the floor.
Four thin fissures were slowly eating away at her family’s mysterious weaves, magic she couldn’t hope to accomplish or understand. If there were four within this general area, Sora had to wonder how far it went.
Jin’s lips pulled in, her left arm holding her thin stomach while her right cupped her chin, clearly pondering how to say something. Githa sat crisscrossed in the air as the magic Sora transported them with held the group in place.
Hallaway was biting her lower lip, her complex sensory weaves analyzing the area. Tola was doing the same, but judging the two side by side, it was clear the elder Vulpes’s intricate magic would yield more results. Apparently, Githa and Jin didn’t even need to investigate further since they’d moved on to pondering their past experiences.
“Mom…” Emilia shivered, drawing Sora’s attention. Her daughter hugged herself, tails gathering around her body shortly after. “I don’t like it. It makes me feel … feel vulnerable.”
Sora more than related with the sensation; it was a rather nefarious spiritual pressure that seeped out of the cracks. “Eyia, Kari, what do you know about it?”
“Hmm, without a doubt, it is hostile, Sister,” Eyia growled, colorful armor appearing with her ice shield, Svalinn, in her right hand, and Skofnung, her greatsword, in her left, that produced mist and the twelve female berserker bodyguards.”
“You aren’t gonna do anything with those,” Githa snickered, causing the Valkyrie to frown.
“I must be ready, even if it is futile; such is the Asgardian way.”
Kari rolled her eyes. “Right … well, umm, Sora … sorry, but all I know is that it’s Founder Magic … First Generation, and not Vulpes.”
“Give me a second,” Jin growled as the three turned to her, “I’m thinking … it’s just hard to imagine…”
“I imagined it just fine!” Githa teased. “Really interesting; I wonder if Nilly knows. Mmh…” The girl’s smile fell a little while studying the spirits to her left. “Nilly knows everything, though.”
Tola’s tight jaw unlatched while glaring at Hallaway. “Explain. This is the thing you were supposed to have sealed. Correct?”
Hallaway didn’t seem to hear the younger councilwoman. “… Founder Sora, can you … could you lift any more of the spirits around us?”
On her suggestion, a thought passed through Sora’s mind, and she complied, extending her reach above to keep the tunnel open in case the rising of the spiritual sea pushed up too high.
Jin suddenly barked, “Not too high!”
The shock made Sora and Emilia flinch. “W-Woah, hey,” Sora mumbled, but since the Realm was handling the weave, the magic didn’t collapse as it would have had she done it with her own. “What’s up?” She asked, amending the command to only lift the spirits a mile around them several meters into the air.
Everyone must not have expected just how wide of a range she lifted them up because their mouths dropped open as the sea of spirits rose above the ground, or it could have been the several dozen long cracks that spider-webbed across the visible space.
Githa gave a musical whistle, pulling back her hair as the wind rushed down the hole to fill the empty area with air; everyone followed suit except for Eyia, whose locks were already tightly bound into a ponytail.
Hallaway used her own magic to guide her underneath the fathomless army of spirits, head darting left and right with a worried look. Tola swiftly followed after her, scanning the underbelly.
“It’s … is this what we’ve been fighting; how did this happen?” Hallaway mumbled, green eyes locking onto several locations.
Tola changed directions, lifting to a cluster near the edge of the tunnel. “Hallaway … these spirits aren’t … their Intelligences have been completely consumed, but how did it bypass their defenses? It shouldn’t be able to.”
“Mmhmm,” Githa smirked, vision shifting to Jin again. “Founders are tricky, tricky.”
Getting a bit fed up with the stalling, Sora folded her arms while staring at the Dragon. “What is it, Jin?”
The small Korean girl’s lips pulled in, nose twisting with agitation. “Look … it’s just … it doesn’t connect with what I know. Okay? Geez, I’m trying to figure it out,” she growled, fingernails vehemently scratching her scalp before shaking out her long black hair. “Ask the cat!” She mumbled, fists balling before finding themselves around each other as she crossed her arms.
Puffing out a long breath, Sora let Jin brood, rising to join Tola; Emilia’s longing groan followed, and she tugged her daughter along to her joy. “What do you mean they’re consumed? What’s going on?”
Her gaze shifted to Hallaway as she shifted between spots, studying, weaving several different spells, and moving on to the next. Sora’s focus returned to the blue-furred Vulpes as she shook her head.
“I can’t really say, Sora … I’ve never seen anything like it. The energy seeping through those cracks may be Founder Magic, but it’s not strong enough to bypass even a human’s spiritual defense. Something definitely slipped through and drained these poor Vulpes, though. I can…”
Everyone turned to stare at Jin as she scratched between her eyebrows in frustration. “How is this here? He’s dead, dead-dead!”
“Are you going to quit talking in circles?” Kari huffed, glaring at the fuming Dragon.
“Fine, okay. So … he’s not dead, Githa?” Jin asked in a confused tone, her right hand pressing against the back of her head.
“Mmh?” The Nekomata glanced down with pursed lips, and a toothy grin split her lips. “Seemed dead to me!”
“No,” Jin mumbled with frustration, “that’s what I’m talking about; it doesn’t make any sense! He’s dead, all the dots connected … all Dragons should know it, it happened ages ago, but … he’s here? Yet he’s dead … but not dead…”
Sora released a low sigh at how cryptic they were being, but Githa made the air in her lungs freeze, her skin iced over as her memories of the word practically stabbed her through the gut.
“Tanuki are tricky-tricky, just like Vulpes.”
Her aunt’s words from their first meeting collided with the icicles piercing her body and the dots connected in her numb brain. First Generation Founder … Dead … Tanuki…
Sora’s throat constricted, voice going hoarse as she whispered, “The First Generation Founder of the Tanuki … Tsukuyomi is below us?”
Only Kari and Eyia responded to her terrifying revelation. The Fenris Wolf’s hair bristled at the news; more than likely, she heard the story from her mother. The fall of half the Vulpes Founders at the hands of the first Tanuki. Eyia’s frigid energy expelled, glowing eyes falling to the floor.
“I am with you, Sister; we will investigate further!”
Kari’s jaw locked; her body was tense while staring at the fissures in the floor. “Jin … you have to have more information than just that.”
Emilia’s own fur had stiffened with their response, recalling the story her mother told about the Tanuki that had devastated their family and was so dangerous to and hated by Vulpes, especially their Founders. Tola and Hallaway appeared just as blissful to the information, too.
The heat in Sora’s chest surprised her but just thinking about how the Tanuki stripped her of even the chance to meet her aunts and grandmother was a personal attack against her, causing angry tears to well up in her eyes that she didn’t know were there.
Vision starting to blur, Sora tried cleaning away the liquid, sniffing a little before clearing her throat. “Umm … yeah, let’s figure out what’s going on.”
She took a few deep breaths to calm her turbulent emotions, mind returning to all the time she’d spent with her aunt. “If … if my aunt and mother haven’t arrived with fire and brimstone … no, there’s more to it, but just…”
She trailed off, hot air pumping out of her flaring nose just thinking about the moment she shared with her aunt’s loss; it wasn’t just her’s anymore; Sora felt it like a brand against her soul. “If Tsukuyomi is trying to revive himself … we’ll kill him … for good this time,” she growled. “Githa, what do you know?”
“Ooh,” Githa’s feral smile and bright expression grew somewhat monstrous while looking at her. “I think I’ve seen you grow a bit, little Sora! Hmm, oh, but to kill a First Generation Founder isn’t so simple. No, no, no, no, sweetie!”
The cat’s gaze lowered to the dark cracks. “Jin’s right, he’s dead, but not dead, but … yeah, mostly dead,” she giggled.
Her larger than normal eyes lift to penetrate her. “The real question is how did he get here, hmm? Inari is always more than thorough when she wants to murder something, and Tsukuyomi was her most ambitious undertaking.”
Emilia’s ears were laid back while trying to follow along, but Sora was too focused on the conversation to fully notice her discomfort.
Jin shook her head with a low growl. “It’s not only that, but … Inari used Gong-Gong’s orb in the process! There’s just … I mean if he does end up reviving after everything she utilized, and … it’s just insulting the pride of all Dragons! Gong-Gong was the peak of Dragon power, only outshone by the Dragon Mother. Even if he was somewhat dumb, no one could doubt his strength; he fought First Generation Founders and Primordials all the time.”
At this point, it seemed Jin was behind everyone, stuck in the impossibility of him returning.
Eyia released a low hum. “Could Tsukuyomi revive himself if he utilized this Sea of Spirits? I suggest we start by halting any further progress the Founder can gain. We must buy time.”
“True, true,” Githa mused, but her countenance quickly fell as if she’d just realized something. “… If Tsukuyomi is released … Sora might be blinked out of existence … Nilly told the Faction to protect Sora. Hmm … that makes Tsukuyomi the enemy of all Nekomata.” Her low hiss raised the fur on Sora’s tails as her narrowed eyes fell to the cracks.
“Okay,” Sora mumbled. “So … what should we do, Githa?”
Tola and Hallaway returned shortly after they began discussing everything, connecting the dots as they went, but they stayed silent to better grasp the foe that was breaking through the floor of the Sea of Spirits.
“Odin’s daughter is right,” Githa said, flipping upside down in the air while glaring at the cracks. “One problem, though … it’s growing by the second.”
“Why is that a problem?” Hallaway blurted out. “We used the negative force generated from the city during the Harvests to stop this spiritual energy from rising any further.”
“Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Githa snapped, rolling her eyes with an exasperated shake of her head. “No wonder Loral calls you all stupid!”
“What … am I missing?” Hallaway pleaded.
Loral’s words to Emilia resurfaced as Githa quoted her. “Remember this part, Tola?” She huffed. “Those sultry pups? Juvenile fools that haven’t the faintest idea what they’re executing. I have no need of such dimwitted Vulpes that couldn’t tell a seal from an embargo.”
Tola’s eyes slowly widened. “They’ve linked him to the surface…”
“Stupids!” Githa hissed. “You sealed, fused, melded a pathway through the first embargo using the negative emotional energy to allow Tsukuyomi to infect and feed off the Vulpes above and around here for who knows how long; that’s a big tower he can use to focus all this dispersed spiritual force through! Have you ever asked how he broke through the Vulpes Founder’s first embargo, to begin with? Hmm? Hmm?” She prodded. “Sounds like a Niomie stupid to me.”
Hallaway’s face had long drained of color. “No, but … what can we do?”
“Blow up the big thing … that thing, the giant mountain thing, beaming the stupid Founder’s spiritual energy through the barriers … Nilly, do I really need to spell everything out for all of you?” She groaned, now spinning in circles while her hair fell around her.
Jin gave her a conflicted stare. “That could have a backlash, though. I can’t see a First Generation Founder not having some kind of failsafe for that, even if this is only a fundamental fragment of his Intelligence.”
Githa shrugged with an annoyed tone. “Come up with your own stupid plan, then; ‘cause it’s the only thing you’ll come up with at this point! We can’t make a difference if he can continue infecting Vulpes with who knows what around the world.”
A forced smile lifted her lips as her feline eyes shifted suspiciously to Tola and Hallaway. “By the way, that thing’s strong enough to punch through one of your spiritual barriers given time, and bet your tails Tsukuyomi is good enough to do it without you even being aware. Think about it … okay, I’m done, you stupids figure out the rest,” she huffed, transforming back into her tiny cat form to fall asleep while still spinning in circles.
Sora’s folded arms were held tightly against her body, vision fixating on the weakly pulsing spiritual energy below them; Githa had given out a lot of information, more than Sora thought she would have had the stakes not been so high or her orders … cats would be cats.
Tsukuyomi … how could Niomie be so stupid?! I suppose everything goes back to her … Hallaway and Phebe were never meant to run the Realm, and whatever Niomie did forced Loral to respond in this way … the question is, what was that? In any case, Githa’s right, how did you get here, and if you’re here … is one of my aunts alive … my grandmother? Is that the big secret … could I find a way to revive my family?
Instead of the stress that would have filled her chest at the thought, Shadow’s increased influence made her focus, mind processing everything she’d just learned, and everyone gave her their attention when she spoke.
“Let’s return the Library for a bit … maybe Githa’s right, but there may be a better way we can destroy it and minimize fallout. If there is, it should be there.”
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