1. Sora Moore (Our Vulpes Founder with a new daughter to protect)
Recap: Sora has basically taken over the Vulpes Realm, not that she wants to, but feels like her hand is forced because of Niomie’s actions. She goes to some hidden library with Hallaway’s help to learn how to deal with Loral.
However, once they leave, Tola slips away, and we learn that Tola hid Loral inside her own Core, giving her a body that would accept her … Loral now has a body. Tola determined that this was the best direction for the Realm; Loral is the only real member of the Council and is the only one with the knowledge to set things right. In the end, it was best to be on speaking terms with the only person that knew how to fix her Realm and broken people.
Tola won’t hide this from Sora, though, and is going to return and tell her what she has done.
Loral’s first action … to meet with Fen and provoke some strange, unknown force that seems to have control over the population of the world. Once finished with the conversation, Loral basically saying she’s about to deliver a drought to this creature, she dangles immortality in front of Fen’s face before going on a slaughter of the world’s human and Vulpes population.
Ho-boy … well, here we go again, folks … what misfortune next?
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Sora watched the massive book rise from the lower level to plop down on the floor to be read. Emilia and her seemed to be the only ones stunned by the enormous article in front of them.
“Hmm?” Jin gave her a small smirk. “What, ya thought a magical artifact would just have a simple touch here and press there instruction manual?”
“… Certainly not that,” Sora mumbled, plucking at the book’s edge with Emilia. “Hmm … let’s see…” She scratched her forehead with a low groan before throwing it open to a random page. To her surprise, it was blank. “Eh?”
Judging by Jin and Githa’s amused smirks, she missed something important, but Eyia came to the rescue before they could comment.
“Ah, Sister, these types of magical artifacts have far more information than can be translated on simple pages.” The Valkyrie seemed happy to be of assistance while bustling over to help her. “Single magical weaves and information might span far more pages than this small manuscript can contain. What is it you seek?”
Hallaway nodded with a defeated slump to her posture. “I have not even begun to process everything that is within my own artifact’s capabilities. Much of what is very complicated.”
“Typical,” Kari huffed, leaning back to stare at the green-furred Vulpes. “You were never meant to handle something like a Realm; of course, you wouldn’t understand how it works. On the other hand, Sora is a Founder and has the innate ability to process those types of energies.”
The woman winced at her words, and the wolf’s statement caused Sora to force a chuckle of her own.
“Well … I don’t know about that much … thanks for the support, though.”
Emilia’s eyes lit up at Kari’s statement. “Oh, Mom, can you teach me while you figure it out?”
“Eh … I guess. I mean, honestly, though, you should really be focusing on the Outer Body Technique,” she mumbled, eyeing her daughter.
“Aww, but … it’s just so hard!” She whined. “It was so easy to do all of that kind of stuff when Loral had me in that universe pipeline thing, but it’s so difficult now. Please … I just wanna learn something new.”
Sora sighed, scratching her head. I know I’ve been learning how to use my powers for like a month now … it feels like several, but I suppose Inari said my training with her would accelerate that process by a crazy amount. It was just so easy to grasp everything when she was around.
Kari and the others stayed utterly silent, watching what she was going to do since they really didn’t have any input on how to raise her new daughter. She wanted help; it wasn’t like she knew how to handle someone so dependent on her, but in turn, that wasn’t a new feeling for any other mother. By all intents and purposes, Emilia was her daughter, which meant she needed to figure out how to best bring her up.
Emilia continued to give her pleading fox eyes, hands resting on her lap.
Sora’s lips drew in. “Hold on, let me think about this,” she groaned, tossing her hair a bit to brush it to the side.
“Sure, take as much time as you want,” Jin snickered. “If you’re gonna be workin’ on all that, then I suppose we can be busy looking up more information … I actually like libraries,” she mused, vision sweeping the endless rows of shelves with ancient articles. “It’s not every century you get to visit an ancient library consortium.”
Eyia nodded with a brightening smile. “Are there records on my people?”
Hallaway shook her head, which slowly petered out as a few volumes floated down from high above at the Valkyrie’s request. “I have … I suppose there might be…”
Kari’s teeth flashed in a toothy smirk, shifting to a couch to lie down on her side, her sizeable puffy tail draping over the edge. “You really don’t know much for being so old … does this have any…” She didn’t even finish her statement before a collection of three volumes sped down the colossal walkway to stop in front of her.
“Wow … this place is pretty handy,” she grinned, licking her lips with anticipation while flipping open a book. “… And it translates everything for you.”
Eyia shot a small glare at Kari but soon settled into her own seat to read her manuscripts.
Tola called her own books, handing a few to Hallway; the green Vulpes stared blankly down at the cover. “Agriculture and culture … these are ages old.”
“Precisely,” Tola stated in a cold tone. “Though I have found a degree of disgust and resentment toward the actions the three of you performed … I must believe at least a part of you wished to do good by this Realm. I believe if we are to help, then we must understand this universe’s base, which is with its people.”
Hallaway released a sad puff of air while taking the volumes to read. “Each new member was selected for a different purpose … you were the bright-eyed young Vulpes that could manage the Realm’s affairs as a single representative.”
“I wanted to stop the pointless corruption I saw within the Capital when I arrived … it was terrifying. If it was for a purpose, then why…”
Githa, Jin, Eyia, and Kari were now all ears with the Blue Seat’s revealed past, and Sora was interested in the story, as well.
“Hold up,” Sora scooted closer to Emilia to try and let her know she hadn’t forgotten about her. “Are you saying the Vulpes Capital was a horrible place when you first arrived?”
Jin popped her tongue a few times. “Huh … well, that must be a good story! We’ve heard it’s basically a paradise.”
Sora felt more surprised about the woman’s resolve with every action she took to support the people of her Realm; in truth, Sora was mainly paying the woman’s words her attention to prolong the need to respond to her daughter’s request. Emilia was immovable, light blue pools of liquid swimming for the desire to do something she felt was productive.
Hallaway’s cheeks puffed out, her nine tails flicking to the side with a bit of agitation while her fists tightened in her lap. “Well … not every section of the Capital is the same.”
“Oh!” Githa’s lips glistened as her tongue slid across them. “I thought I tasted animosity, distrust, hatred … so many negative emotions nearby, but it was so scattered; you compartmentalized, didn’t you?”
Tola’s eyes widened with realization. “Since I cleaned up my section of the city … it only resulted in the same degradation of another?”
“In short … yes,” Hallaway whispered, refusing to make eye contact. “Negative emotion is required for … certain weaves.”
“A disgusting practice,” Eyia stated with narrowed vision. “To force creatures into a predesigned system without cause to extract their suffering.”
“I agree,” Hallaway uncomfortably replied with the heated glares that were centered on her. “I may be among the eldest within the council, but that does not mean I had the power to affect significant change. It was required, and if we did nothing, then chaos would eventually befall a district. It wasn’t as if we caused it, but simply … allowed it to happen.”
Tola looked like she wanted to punch the woman, but somehow, she restrained herself. “Perhaps you couldn’t … I can’t say, but you were a part of the selection process for new Council Members, which meant you had to approve or confirm every new seat. Which district is the current area of chaos?”
“I’m sure you can guess,” Hallaway whispered uncomfortably.
“Oh, humor her,” Githa snickered. “I’m pretty sure I know who it is based on the smell!”
Sora thought back on all the women she’d met around the table but hadn’t discovered any type of crazy smell.
Hallaway’s elbows were tucked against her side. “Mofupsi, the Yellow District. Before her, it was Ella of the Violet, but she was shockingly more orderly in her future governance than Niomie expected.”
Githa’s hand shot into the air, tails weaving around each other behind her. “Oh! What’s the energy for; it must be tasty!”
A crease touched Hallaway’s mouth. “The Soul Well Maw’s Seal.”
“The … what?” Kari asked with a lifted eyebrow.
Eyia’s frown swiftly deepened. “A maw … there is a breach within the Soul Well? That is … unusual.”
“W-What’s a maw?” Emilia nervously asked.
Jin held up her hands in a big comping gesture. “Like a big mouth with teeth, waiting to swallow you whole!”
Eyia’s blue eyes gave Jin an unimpressed look. “That is stupid, friend. What good is a maw with teeth if it does not use them? Worthless instruments.”
“It’s supposed to be scary looking!” Jin sighed, rolling her eyes at the girl. “Geez, ya just can’t get the point of these things…”
“It is just simply illogical for a creature to not chew something if it is able. I knew of many stories of heroes expecting to cut their way out of the belly of a beast only to discover their bodies crushed and broken by monstrous fangs. Such stupidity does not deserve a place in Valhalla.”
Jin gestured toward her with a weak smile. “So says the angel of death, everyone. I guess there is fear for the reaper that discriminates against those dumber than her … may Odin save us all!”
Kari and Sora restrained a smile as Eyia puzzled through Jin’s sarcasm. It zoomed right over Emilia’s head by her frustrated expression, as she tried to understand Sora and Kari’s smiles.
Tola, however, was still on Hallaway’s case. “I don’t understand why this breach would require negative emotion.”
Hallaway shrugged her weak shoulders. “I only help Phebe and Niomie with the weave just before the festivals. The sea of souls is vital to Niomie for some reason, and the design that’s cast is not something I’m familiar with; she just uses our energy as support.”
The enraged blue-furred Vulpes continued to ask pointed questions, but not much else was discovered that Sora hadn’t already puzzled out from the conversation.
A maw in the oceans of souls under the planet … they couldn’t get below, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an entrance to it. Was this part of the crumbs Loral left? Most of the answers will come from using the purple artifact, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it all will come from it.
There’s a very dark secret, but I doubt the chaotic Vulpes district would register on any meaningful level to the likes of Loral … a Vulpes that knowingly slaughtered tens of billions of lives. Although … are they really dead if their spirits are safely stored … are those even the humans and Vulpes she killed?
Her mind was slowly piecing two and two together; there was a hole in the well, which meant it would suck in souls; negative energy was somehow connected in sealing it up. Emilia released an exasperated sigh as Sora prepared to enter the Outer Body Technique again.
“Emilia, I need to really work a few things through, but I’ll keep tugging you toward your own Core … don’t worry! You’ll get it,” she encouraged, leaning over to give her a peck on the cheek. “I believe in you!”
“W-What about … you know, the whole book thing … I thought we were gonna do … I don’t know … something cool together.”
Sora gave her a reassuring grin. “Yeah! Now that you’ve regained your spiritual defenses, we can move to some of the simple things I learned when I first transformed, but I’m just saying, the Outer Body Technique is the big thing that will help you learn magic faster than anything else!”
Her daughter groaned at the revelation, giving her a dubious look before conceding. “Fine … we’ll do some of the other stuff, too, right?”
Kari, Jin, and Eyia smiled at them. Hallaway and Tola were still engaged in spilling more secrets that Sora wasn’t all that interested in, and Githa had returned to her book, reading upside down on a couch with her hair draped across the ground.
Entering the Outer Body Technique, Sora stood at the edge of the black abyss, staring down at the darkness below, and her memories of encountering her Shadow returned. “How are you doing?”
“Oh, better … although, you have been a bit too tight-lipped lately. Still, I’m more content without being so … restricted.”
Sora’s gaze shifted to her smirking body-double beside her, legs dangling over the dark that could have been a floor or empty air. Releasing a soft sigh, she continued to gently tug Emilia further through the maze that led to her inner Core. It felt a little strange sitting next to the thing she used to fear.
Both of their tails waved behind them as they sat side by side. “What about my light self … my Persona?”
“Hah! Well, you’ve basically merged with it at this point,” Shadow replied with a smirk. “Too long playing the jester during our school days. Oh, I kicked her out during that time, though … oh, that was fun, revealing the monster that lurked below. Then … you went shutting me out to please everyone.”
“Yeah … I guess I kind of did … I was scared of who I was becoming … well, how you were taking over.”
Her sinister side burst into laughter, clutching her stomach. “Oh, darling! I’m only one of the foxes within you. You have control over who you feed, but is this really the boring conversation you came in here to have?”
Sora slowly shook her head. “No … gah, I’m just annoyed by being pushed around all the time. I haven’t really had a chance to choose where I wanted to go … for what seems forever. I’ve just been trying to survive.”
“You would if you fed me,” Shadow snickered with an outstretched hand. “I’ll take care of you and Emilia!”
A short rumbling laugh rolled around her belly while conjuring a granola bar. “Help yourself.”
Shadow gave the dry food a lifted eyebrow and a small smile. “That’s more like it! We hate plain granola. Nice light jab.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sora mused, tossing it into the void. “Hmm,” pulling her hair back a little to look down, she asked, “what do you make of all this … insanity within the Vulpes Realm. I mean, Auntie said something’s up here … Loral said it, too. She obviously knows something.”
Her body double brought up her hand to rub her chin with a mischievous grin. “You really want my opinion?”
“One of the reasons I’m here,” Sora mumbled, leaning back to stare up at the white light above them. “I promised to be more open with you, and it seems like things just aren’t looking to go our way.”
Shadow snapped her fingers, creating an illusion in the distance ahead of them. “I’m one of the little sparks of inspiration within your Core that can piece things together you’re too preoccupied to handle consciously. Do you remember this?”
Sora listened to the mix of conversations, pieced together to develop a link between the events; Loral’s words that she’d spoken to Emilia were haunting; stick with it since it’s right in front of you.
While staring at the article, Sora’s eyebrows drew together; she was arguing with herself at the end of the day, like in a store and debating if she wanted vanilla or chocolate chips. “Sure … but checking a hole would be quicker than going through an impossibly large magical book.”
“Seriously!” Shadow dropped the bracelet to scratch her ears with irritation. “When have you ever read a book about Vulpes magic?!”
The lightbulb popped on in Sora’s mind, and she made an oh face.
“Yeah!” Shadow leaned forward to jab her forehead in a somewhat miffed manner. “Honestly, sometimes I wonder which part of our brain you use; we’re smarter than this!”
Rubbing her forehead, Sora brushed her hand away. “Fine, okay, I get it! Geez … ya don’t gotta be mean about it … maybe you do,” she sighed. “Umm … fine,” she scratched the inside of her left fox ear, tails darting to the right in case Shadow snatched them to drive home the point. “What am I looking for?”
Shadow shrugged. “That’s the point … use our instincts.”
Rolling her eyes, Sora left the Outer Body Technique, puffing up her cheeks before rubbing the left side; it still felt a bit sore from the prodding, which was probably intentional. Not much time had passed since time was accelerated in her Core, and Emilia had her eyes closed, desperately slamming into her much stronger and restored spiritual network after the Realm’s Reality Core strengthened to her.
Sora’s gaze shifted down to the pendant and closed her eyes. Everything she’d done had been by instinct, which caused Fen to blow up at her once. She honestly didn’t know how it felt to train and push because things naturally came to her, which wasn’t her fault; it wasn’t as if she could help how she was born.
Her magical probe must have alerted everyone else because even Emilia’s eyes snapped open to watch her as she examined the artifact. The delicate magical weaves reminded her of Inari’s expert hands, which made sense, her family had built this place, and searching for anything out of the ordinary, Sora’s eyes widened.
“Hallaway … Tola,” Sora mumbled.
“Yes?” Tola asked, frowning at the bracelet in her hands.
“Niomie is still connected to this … correct?”
“Is something wrong with her?” Hallaway asked in concern.
Sora didn’t answer, summoning a book with a desire; she read through the few pages with Kari, Jin, and Emilia, shifting to get a look at what she was doing.
“Something up?” Kari asked.
“… I’m just … wrapping my head around it,” Sora whispered, calling for another book. “There are just a few things that I … want to be sure about.”
After four more minutes of examining the bracelet, calling books, and repeating the process, she finally turned to the large volume containing the artifact’s instruction, finishing her examination.
Everyone waited for her to finish her hurried study, but Emilia was noticeably antsy, wanting to help somehow; Sora was a bit too preoccupied to notice. She left the pages open while slumping back into her seat with a furrowed brow.
“… No wonder Niomie looks so old compared to Phebe and Hallaway.”
“Old?” Hallaway asked. “I have never seen her old.”
Emilia blinked. “Huh … no, she’s really old looking … the really dark blue-haired woman?”
Everyone else seemed somewhat surprised at the news, as well, and it swiftly dawned on her. “… We’re not affected by the City Core’s illusions that are placed on her … all of you are, though. No … umm, Niomie’s been dying for hundreds of thousands of years.”
“I … don’t follow,” Tola mumbled, bending down to look at the novels she was reading, but she didn’t seem to understand how all of them connected.
Sora slowly shook her head, holding up the jewel. “These devices are literally connected to your Cores. I … Emilia and I have access to all of that … it’s a backdoor through all of your spiritual defenses.”
Hallaway and Tola’s tails went stiff at the news, fingers slowly closing around each of their items.
“You’re … serious,” Hallaway whispered in slight horror. “If you can … does that mean … if Loral has the same access as you.”
Jin winced with a small smirk. “That’s a massive oof if I’ve ever seen one.”
“Indeed,” Eyia nodded, “as my friend has said, a monumental oof.”
The Dragon seemed more amused at Eyia’s return statement than the implications since it didn’t really affect her.
Kari was listening while standing behind her chair with her arms folded. “Hmm … Niomie’s dying right now?”
Sora’s gaze returned to the jewelry. “As far as I can tell, she’s been in the process of withering away for basically all her life, or so much of it I can’t tell the difference, which probably means it started after she killed Loral.”
Reaching down to pick up a book, she flipped it open to the page before, pointing at a few lines of text. “Niomie was likely within a feedback loop of a massive surge of spiritual energy she couldn’t hope to contain. The broken weave sent a flood through the pipeline nexus connected to the Reality Core of this Realm … not that I know what any of that really is … but what I do know is that it was probably the trigger for the calamity, based on the damage to Niomie’s spirit.
“I’m reverse engineering how the process happened, but it’s a fairly unique type of injury … one that has a particular restorative measure … bathing in a large number of spirits to provide a pure coating around your spirit. The only issue is that similar spirits cannot continue to give that shell … you’d need an insane number of spirits to last over seven-hundred thousand years … an ocean full.”
“Ooh,” Jin’s smile returned, giving Hallaway another glance. “Well, the plot thickens! Hehe, I can’t say it’s a method I would have thought of, but it fits a Vulpes … not that you two fit that category,” she snickered, gesturing at Emilia and her.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Kari mumbled, eyeing her.
Sora’s ears folded back a little. “Woah, hey, Kari! Where’s the fire?” She asked with a soft smile.
“Mmh,” Kari’s amber irises gave her a weak glare. “I’ve seen a Vulpes side in you lately.”
A small grin split Sora’s lips as her thoughts returned to the bath incident, and she noticed Emilia looking somewhat anxious to tell her something, but she was waiting her turn. “Okay, okay, yeah, hehe, I can tease you a little! Umm, but back to this sea of spirits … I’m pretty sure that throws some sus on Niomie for this whole system that makes Vulpes die earlier.”
Her gaze slowly moved back down to the bracelet, vision narrowing. “Loral recently used it, too, and she wanted me to know it.”
Done with what she mainly wanted to explore with the artifact, Sora set it aside after placing a temporary protective barrier around it in the off chance someone tried to take it; anyone but Loral would basically be hopeless at retrieving it. The bracelet gave her a backdoor into Niomie’s Core, which was a colossal vulnerability she figured the council members hadn’t realized.
Sora’s brooding frown flipped to a smile on a dime. She scooted away a bit to get a better look at her daughter, already figuring out what excited the girl. “Okay, Emilia, what do you want to say?”
Emilia’s eyes sparkled with pride, but she seemed to have trouble getting the words out, which made her even cuter. “I just … umm, no, but … I was trying to block it all out! You know, the whole world and all, and there was this … this pulse … no, a warm nudge! I … I followed it, and, and I felt your magic for a moment!” She said, almost coming breathless in the process.
A strange warmth filled Sora’s chest at seeing her so excited about finally catching the first glimpse of diving into her spiritual network, causing her to jump forward and hug Emilia. “I’m so proud!”
“Y-Yeah, I’m doing it!” Emilia squealed, hugging her back. “I thought I wasn’t doing anything, but then … I felt it! I did!”
“The first battle is always the most difficult!” Eyia cheered.
Kari was close behind, giving her a thumbs up. “My mom was pretty brutal when trying to teach me that … my ears would get nipped to make me focus. Sora’s too nice, though.”
“Could be something about being a wolf,” Jin snickered.
Githa kicked her feet while upside down on the couch, dress folding around her stomach and showing her panties as she hummed; it was as if they weren’t even there, and before Eyia could throw up a negative Fenris Wolf comment, Sora ushered her friends to come closer, Jin between Kari and the Valkyrie.
Tola and Hallaway seemed utterly baffled by their sudden shift in attitude.
“… Ahem,” Tola mumbled, hands pressed against her delicate gown. “Should we … be discovering more about this breach in the Soul Well?”
Sora brushed off the comment while adjusting everyone’s position, and Githa grew curious enough to join in the fun. “… No, to the left a bit more Jin, Kari … umm, yeah, but I’ve learned recently to not let things bother me too much … I’ve got enough to worry about. I need more positive things in my life … ah, there we go!”
Gathering her desires, Sora wove a spell out of her Vulpes Founder Magic, allowing her instincts to take the reins to generate a magical photo like she’d seen in some of her favorite childhood films. “Cheese!”
“Where?” Eyia asked, glancing around as she took the picture. “I do not see the rare delicacy? There was so much at your house feast…” Eyia continued, looking for the savory item in vain.
Everyone laughed, and Sora caught the photo as her spell finished; the moving images took their current positions and short recorded actions to generate a complete set of fluid movements that fit their personalities according to Sora’s understanding of their Cores. It wouldn’t be perfect, but more than enough to serve her purposes.
“Woo! It worked,” Sora cheered, passing it back to them.
Tola and Hallaway seemed completely lost with the purpose of her action, but the others congratulated her. Emilia, Eyia, and Kari forced her to make copies.
“Oh, this is like that one movie with the wizards!” Kari whispered in delight, holding her copy up. “I saw two of them.”
“There’s eight,” Sora chuckled. “Oh, maybe I can recreate it from my memory in the Outer Body Technique! Umm … but yeah, let’s check out this rabbit hole,” she said with a soft smile, stretching a little while rising.
“Here we go again,” Jin said with a long puff of air.
Eyia pulled out her spear, leaning left and right with soft grunts. “It is the same as yesterday, Friend! We carry on.”
“That’s the spirit!” Jin chuckled, nudging her.
Sora’s gaze moved between each of her friends with a fond smile.
I really couldn’t have done this without all of them … in a world where everyone is trying to dig my grave, they’re there for me.
“Okay, gang!” Sora could feel Shadow building within her as she continued to feed the devious, nefarious, and fun part of her personality. “I’m beginning to get fed up with all this gloom and doom that’s been hanging over my head. It’s a long, dark, winding road we’re on, that’s for sure!”
Her small rag-tag group giggled at her bubbling energy, and she powered through the two nine-tailed Vulpes’ speechless looks.
“When it’s cold in this wild world, and everyone’s trying to dig our graves … when all this madness starts to take its toll, we carry on! Now, let’s turn this horror-fest into an adventure!”
Githa mirrored her enthusiasm. “Woo! Sora’s gone insane! We carry on!”
“Yeah, okay,” Kari chuckled. “Just don’t die.”
“She can’t,” Emilia huffed with a confident smile, “my mom’s invincible!”
Eyia put a hand on Emilia’s shoulder with a grin. “Indeed, together we shall conquer all opposition! Be prepared for battle!”
Jin threw a fist in the air. “Let’s go!”
Sora gathered her magic and sent her desire.
They appeared on a smooth yellow platform with the staircase above them sealed off, and the group got their first look at the sea of spirits. Sora’s gaze was pulled from the endless hoard of shimmering pockets of dense spiritual energy to a crusted crystalized spiky mass the size of a mountain in the distance.
Jin whistled before ruefully whispering. “And we carry on…”
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