POV: Sora (our Vulpes Founder)
Recap: Inari takes the stage, guiding Sora and part into the discussion with Tola while making it clear that there isn’t even a competition. After which, Sora’s aunt announces a shocking development, she will be taking a leave of absence with Alva, delving deep into Sora and Kari’s Cores to solve some pressing concerns they both have. Sora will be without the active support of her doting aunt, and the news plants a knife in her chest at the thought of being separated from her family again.
Steeling herself, Sora prepares for what is to come.
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Sora’s cheeks puffed out as she slowly popped back into the couch; Emilia quickly followed, hands darting out for comfort, latching onto her right arm. Kari dropped to the opposite side of Sora, bending over while staring down at her thick black hair, dangling on the floor between her legs.
It was silent for several seconds as each of them came to terms with the sudden realization that the safety net that they’d learned to trust in had now pulled back, and Sora could sense the unease in her human friends.
Ashley’s kids stared at the spot Alva and Inari had been, mind clicking in silence as they tried to puzzle out what kind of magic had just occurred, but they were the first to break the silence, speaking to their parents.
“Daddy,” Josie hissed, prodding his arm as he held her against his lap. “Daddy! Where’d the puffy tail-ladies go? Are they doing a trick?” She asked with bright-eyed hope.
Cedric smirked, shooting a look at his sister. “No, idiot,” he caught himself, seemingly trying not to glance at his mother, “silly—weren’t you listening at all?”
Josie sucked in her left cheek, glaring at her brother. “I was busy counting their tails; I bet you don’t know how much they have! I count—umm…” She trailed off, glancing down at her fingers to mumble, “One, two, three…”
“She had nine, and the other one had one,” Cedric huffed, rubbing his nose victoriously.
The little girl’s nose crinkled. “Yeah, I knew that!”
“Nu-uh, you were…”
“Kids,” Brandon tiredly mumbled, tightening his grip around Josie’s belly while Ashley pulled Cedric against her side, pressing his head against her left breast.
They both directed dirty glares at each other, but their mouths sealed shut.
Tola was sitting in a very proper fashion, back straight, legs crossed with her tails lying neatly atop her lap while watching them. She wore a mildly interested expression, but made no comment to interrupt the children or silence.
“Wow,” Mary whispered, lips tightening for a moment before exhaling and running her fingers through her brown hair.
Wendy nodded, hugging herself while leaning back, legs tightly locked together. “I was really getting used to the idea of Inari sticking around. She helped me a lot…”
“Me, too,” Nathan added, keeping his concerned gaze upon Aiden. The Son of Homā was standing still, tears still falling down his cheeks as he stared wistfully at the hardwood floor. “How are you feeling, man?”
Sora only partially followed the conversation, reflecting on her own emotions about not being able to call her aunt whenever she wanted, and Aiden’s words resonated with her.
“Like I found something missing … and lost it again.”
Tola spoke into the ensuing silence, looking slightly confused. “I’ve been trying to accurately read the mood, and find the atmosphere most peculiar; I have rarely felt such emotions in a room. Did Inari and Alva not mention they’d be returning?”
Her focus moved to Mary as she offered a light chuckle before licking her lips, brown eyes meeting the blue Vulpes’. “I suspect you can tell we all feel differently about Alva and Inari’s parting.”
She nodded. “Indeed. I have never felt such … negative energy; however, it is not nearly as potent as Aiden’s was when I first sensed the displacement within the town.”
A lump dropped down Aiden’s throat, and his nose twisted. “So, it was me who drew your attention.”
“Cut it out,” Kari snapped, but her voice cracked. She sniffed, running her eyes, face still hidden by her wild hair.
Sora’s focus centered on her new friend’s thick tail, pressing tightly against her left thigh, ears pulled back. She’s taking it far worse than me, but Emilia… Her daughter wasn’t faring any better, body trembling while leaning against her.
Aiden’s lip tucked under before releasing a soft sigh, averting eye contact.
Nathan cleared his throat. “Yo, Aiden, why don’t we go for a walk.”
He glanced over at the former police lieutenant, hands clamping into fists. “Shouldn’t we be getting ready to go?”
“No, no,” Mary chimed in, turning to Tola. “We aren’t in a rush, right? We can come to terms with everything. I hope?”
Tola hummed softly, reading the atmosphere. “I cannot say when any of my sisters will grow curious about my interference here; there was an anomaly, which isn’t exactly unheard of, and since I’ve taken action, they should keep their distance. However, the longer I spend here, the more questions will be raised.”
Taking note of the unfolding situation, Sora cleared her throat. “Okay, in that case, Nathan, Aiden,” she smiled at the two, “you two should go finish up your talk. I think there are some things I need to handle, too,” she mumbled, glancing between Wendy, Kari, and Emilia. “In the meantime, everyone can gather all their items, and we’ll meet back here when everyone’s ready. I’m sure it will all work out.”
“Yeah,” Aiden mumbled, sounding doubtful.
Nathan rose from his chair with a grunt, walking over to slap him on the back. “I got some things to get off my own chest,” he chuckled. “Mind listening?”
“Sure…” He meekly replied, following him out of the door.
Brandon and Ashley gave each other a look before prompting their kids to get up. “Alright,” she groaned, releasing a soft yawn. “We’ll go upstairs and get all our stuff together … the kids kind of threw out all their stuff.” She giggled.
“Oof,” Brandon chuckled, ruffling his daughter’s hair.
“Dad!” She huffed, pushing away his hand. “My hair’s all messy, now.”
Cedric ignored his sister. “It wasn’t me, Mom! Josie was looking for her stuffed animal!”
“Right, right,” she whispered, ushering them toward the stairs.
Mary gave Sora an encouraging smile. “Umm, do you girls need someone to talk to?”
Sora shook her head. “No, I think we’ll be…” She paused as Emilia’s grip tightened. Sora pulled her in more, ignoring how uncomfortable the position was. “We’ll be fine. Oh, did you want to talk?”
“Nope, I’m perfectly good. I’ll just…”
Wendy piped up. “Uh, Mary?”
“Can, umm—can I have a talk with you?”
“Outside?” Wendy pressed, trying not to glance Sora’s way.
Ah … okay, so that’s what it’s about. Guess Wendy will be blowing off the steam she’s been feeling with Mary instead of confronting me about it. That should work out, though.
“Mmh, yeah, okay,” Mary returned, arching her back with a low moan while getting to her feet. “We going right now?”
“Yes, please!” Wendy shot up, giving Sora a forced smile. “See you in a bit.”
“Yeah, be safe.”
Wendy giggled. “In a town of brainwashed … eh, nevermind,” she mumbled, glancing at Tola’s poker face. She power-walked out the front with Mary following, giving the blue-furred Vulpes a brief smile.
Githa was back in cat form, eyeing Tola with narrowed eyes.
Jin seemed reasonably relaxed, lying across her couch again while Eyia passively followed the conversations.
Sora reached out with her left hand, rubbing Kari’s back as she sniffed again. “Hey, want to talk?”
“About?” Kari whispered.
“C’mon,” Sora sighed, scooting forward to get up, pulling Emilia with her. “Why don’t the three of us go on our own walk to clear our heads? Let’s wrap everything up before we go.”
“Can I come to observe?” Tola asked.
Sora’s ears stiffened, turning to give her a curious look, but the Vulpes appeared utterly innocent while staring back. She’s completely ignorant of the mood.
Emilia glared at the councilwoman. “I’d rather you not,” she bluntly stated.
“Oh?” Tola’s brow creased, clearly not expecting the response.
Kari rubbed her face once more before taking a deep breath, exhaling slowly. She got up, her puffy face showing Emilia an approving smirk. “Yeah, you just chill here with the Valkyrie and Dragon; we’ll be back in no time.”
“Am I invisible?” Githa snapped.
“Oh, you’re still here?” Kari grunted.
Githa’s eyes narrowed, mumbling unintelligibly for a moment before sniffing loudly, turning away from the Fenris Wolf. “Ungrateful pup!”
Without waiting for permission, Kari moved to the door, turning to nudge her head toward the exit. “You two coming?”
Sora smiled apologetically at Githa and her two other friends. “We can talk later, too.”
“Don’t feel bad on our account,” Jin chuckled, eyes closed as she rested. “I’ve had more fun in the last week than I’ve had in decades, and Eyia’s just waiting to blow off some steam of her own.”
Eyia’s deep blue eyes darted to her friend. “Steam? I do no understand the comparison.”
Jin licked her lips with amusement. “Finally, I caught this stupid translation system off-guard! It’s all about the meaning, huh? Interesting.”
“Okay…” Sora mumbled. “Well, we’ll be back later.”
They left with Tola’s thoughtful gaze on them, but her focus shifted to Jin as they reached the door. “Could you explain the process you used in testing your theory?”
“Oh, you caught on?”
Tola’s tone held no dejection or disharmony in being excluded. “I’ve never had the thought in the thirty thousand years I’ve been alive to question anything about speech with the magic infusing this Realm. Why is it of such interest to you?”
Sora turned her attention away from the conversation; if it were important, they’d bring it up later. Weaving her magic around them to become invisible before exiting, Sora smiled as the cool breeze struck her skin, gently pulling her hair to the left.
They each took a moment to manage each of their thick locks, and Sora’s ears tilted left and right, finding the other two groups heading down opposite directions.
Sora shot a mischievous grin at Kari as she tried leading them right; reaching out, she took Kari’s hand, pulling her left to avoid intersecting with Mary and Wendy. Nope, this way, little wolfie. Kari gave her a questioning look but didn’t resist.
Emilia latched onto her left arm, soft breast pressing against her bicep. “When is Aunt Inari coming back?”
Technically, greataunt, but who really cares; I mean, I may have been the carrier in a sense, but she … yeah, let’s not go down that rabbit hole.
“Mom?” Emilia asked, frowning as Sora’s cheeks burned.
Forcing a smile, Sora tightened her grip around her arm. “Umm—I don’t know, to be honest. She said it would be a while, and that could mean a whole lot of things for her, but she promised to come back, and she doesn’t break her word.”
Emilia’s copper-colored ears drooped, eyes downcast. “I just really wanted to talk to her more.”
“Yeah,” Kari shot a playful glare at Sora. “You had a ton of time with your aunt, but my mom just zipped off so fast. How’s that fair?”
“It’s not,” Sora sighed.
Kari’s squeezed her hand. “I’m just playing.”
“I know,” she chuckled, “but still … umm, did you get at least a little time with her?”
“Yeah,” Kari whispered; a soft smile brightened her tear-stained cheeks. “More time than I ever thought I would … I guess—I guess that’s why it hurts. I … nevermind.”
“What?” Emilia pressed, leaning forward to look at the Fenris Wolf.
“Umm, well,” Kari tucked her lower lip under, right hand playing with one of her long locks. “Bah … this used to be a horrible habit,” she mumbled.
“Hmm?” Sora gave her an impish grin. “Were you a hair biter?”
“Only when I was nervous.”
Emilia’s eyes widened as she pulled around one of her own long locks, staring at it. “Does it help?”
“No, no, no,” Sora quickly replied. “It only helps in destroying your hair!”
“Yeah,” Kari weakly chuckled. “I wouldn’t recommend it; my mom always got on me about it.”
“She always got on you about it…” Emilia hummed, still staring at the copper locks in her hand.
Snap … is she thinking … please don’t start trying to bite your hair to get my attention more!
“Anyways,” Sora mumbled. “What’s on your mind, Emilia?”
“Me? Umm … well,” she stumbled around her words, “I woke up, and remembered—I just was so scared—they told me you were downstairs, but—but I wanted to be sure. When I saw you, I was so happy, and then—then I thought—well, what if that happened again … what if I lost you, Mom…” She trailed off. “I know it’s stupid.”
“Wait, what happened exactly?” Kari asked, vision darting to her for an explanation. “Lose your mom … what, Sora?”
“Ah,” Sora’s ears twitched, averting eye contact. “Well, we were kind of a little … there’s been a lot happening, and you missed some of that when you followed after that cult Fen influenced.” She paused as Emilia darted in, words falling out like vomit.
“She almost died; I thought she did! She was screaming and scratched up some Vulpes, and twisting in—in strange ways…”
“I’m fine!” Sora firmly stated, tightening her grip on Emilia’s arm.
Sora gulped as Kari’s hand became like an iron chain.
“Why didn’t you say anything when we were coming back?”
“Okay, okay, can you not turn my hand into paste, though?” Sora asked, forcing a chuckle. “Let me tell you what happened before you choke me out!”
Kari’s fingers relaxed a little, but her expression said she expected a good answer.
Exhaling a long sigh, she noticed Emilia giving her a similar expression without the steely eyes. “You both kind of missed that conversation. I was coming back from getting Ashley’s family from the portal—which is another topic entirely in itself.”
Unable to run her hands through her hair since they were taken, she sucked on her lower lip for a moment. “I—kind of saved Mimi from dying, which—I kind of had a hand in causing the whole Spiritual Worm thing hatching…”
“Hold up,” Kari’s brow creased with true concern. “Spiritual Worm—say that again?”
“What is it?” Emilia asked, voice rising with Kari’s tone.
“Can I finish?” Sora mumbled. “I’m fine. I’m not going to drop dead on the spot.”
Kari seemed to be connecting the dots surprisingly fast with Emilia’s description of the event and the creature being mentioned. Her focus moved to the ground as she worked through her thoughts.
“You shouldn’t have the skill to pull something like that out of a person … if you were screaming … did you draw it into yourself?”
“Yes. It was gross, it hurt, and I did almost die … I won’t do something dangerous like that again!” She promised before either of them could respond. “I had enough of a hard time dealing with the after-effects, but my aunt helped me through them.”
Kari growled, brushing her hair back. “You’re too nice; it’s going to get you killed.”
“I learned that the hard way … the painful way,” she winced.
Emilia was about to say something but cut off as Sora darted ahead, leaving their grips; she flipped around to smile at them, holding her hand behind her back while flicking her tails to the left. “By the way, you might not know this Emilia, but we’re invisible right now.”
She’d been keeping them beside the buildings, guiding them around any potential collisions, but the throngs had thinned surprisingly quickly as the mid-afternoon sun hung in the sky.
“Wait, we are?” Her light green eyes widened, darting to the crowd that paid them no mind. “I was wondering why people weren’t staring at us … they seemed super interested in me before.”
“Yeah,” Kari mumbled, glancing back at her eight long tails that weaved in a cluster behind her, “I wonder why.”
“Right, so, in short, I’m going to teach you a bunch about being a Vulpes, and I think going to the Capital will be good for us. It turns out; this realm has a lot of secrets! We might even be able to solve this mystery with our family.”
“You mean it?” Emilia asked, eyes sparkling as the previous conversation was wiped from her thoughts. “You’ll really spend time with me—alone?”
Kari breathed out a low hum, drawing their attention. “Actually, my mom told me, I should be trying to harmonize with myself more, or something like that.” She turned away, eyes downcast while mumbling, “Apparently, I haven’t been getting stronger because I hated myself.”
Sora’s tongue pressed against her cheek for a moment. “Hmm … the Outer Body Technique might help you with that.”
“Oh, my mother already taught me that a long time ago,” Kari replied with an apologetic smile. “Although, I haven’t really used it for years. It was a bit surprising when you used it with me … well, my mom called it something different than what you said.”
Sora sighed. “Aww, I wanted to spend a bit more time with you, but I suppose we’ll be pretty busy with other things soon.”
Kari didn’t respond, hair hiding her face as she looked away, and Emilia quickly took the open stage.
“What are you going to teach me first?” She asked, practically bouncing on her toes.
Emilia’s ears and tail sagged. “Aww … that’s it?”
“Don’t shout for joy,” Sora mumbled. “Geez, healing is super useful, but … no, we first need to focus on control. Actually, I think my aunt teaching me the Outer Body Technique first was primarily meant for me to learn how to gain control over my magic.”
“It’s extremely basic,” Kari whispered, still hiding her face. “I learned that when I was like … five.”
“Oof, man, I’ve got a long way to go,” she chuckled.
Kari shrugged. “I don’t know; I think Inari’s done a pretty good job at catching you up.”
“You mean it?” Sora grinned.
She turned toward her with a slight frown, showing lightly flushed cheeks. “I said it, didn’t I?”
Sora’s eyes widened as she caught sight of Kari’s blush, taking in her ears, thick hair, and waving tail; she darted forward, practically tackling her. “You’re so cute!”
“Wha—hey! G-get off,” Kari moaned.
“I want to join!” Moments later, Emilia slammed into Kari from the opposite side, knocking them on top of Sora with a grunt.
Sora’s muffled voice came out from under Kari, collar bone pressing against her nose while feeling Kari’s bra bar digging into her shoulder. “Okay, uncle … I give,” she laughed as Emilia squeezed them both from behind, tails fanning over the three to blot out the sun.
They slowly untangled themselves, and even Kari giggled softly.
“Geez, you two are so touchy-feely,” she huffed.
Sora chuckled before a sudden premonition caused her to tug her tails out of the way, Kari doing the same; Emilia, on the other hand, wasn’t that in-tune with her senses. The girl yelped, jumping a foot into the air as a passerby unceremoniously stepped on one of her tails.
Her eight copper tails swung around protectively as she hugged them close to her chest, tears forming in her eyes. “M-mom!” She cried, releasing a short hiccup.
“Ouch,” Sora winced, moving in to hug her daughter. “You need to pay attention to that kind of stuff.”
Kari scratched the back of her neck with a short frown as she watched the slightly confused man walk off without much thought of what he stepped on, Sora’s magic blocking out any kind of noise they made. “You should have warned her.”
“Why didn’t you?” Sora hissed back, rubbing Emilia’s back as she trembled in her arms.
“Oh, am I her mother?”
Sora just glared at her, sitting on the ground to their left.
After comforting Emilia, they talked a bit more, and Kari started opening up; to Sora, it seemed like Kari was becoming somewhat of a black sheep aunt to the girl. They slowly made their way back to the house, finding Mary and Wendy already returned, but Aiden and Nathan were still out. Mary and Tola were speaking when they returned.
“You’re saying that there’s some kind of tournament in the Capital?” Mary asked.
Sora noted both Jin and Eyia were paying close attention to this conversation as they entered. She prompted Emilia to head upstairs and get some of the clothes she’d fashioned for her together, and if she could help pack up her own since she had some things to discuss with Tola.
Emilia somewhat begrudgingly went, shooting longing eyes at Kari that shrugged back like, what do you want me to do? “Fine…”
They both watched the girl sulk to the stairs, lingering to give her another puppy-dog stare.
“Go on,” Sora shooed.
“Grhmmm,” Emilia huffed before stomping up the stairs.
Honestly, what’s up with her? I just spent time with her, but … wait, I guess it’s like I used to feel when dad would shoo me away when business people were over. I just wanted to be a part of the group … gah, being a parent sucks.
Taking her seat with Kari, she took a deep breath, listening to the conversation while looking for a chance to interrupt.
“Of course,” Tola replied, focus moving to Emilia as she slunk across the room and upstairs. “How else would you push Vulpes to advance beyond their current tail count?”
Eyia nodded with a soft hum. “A simple yet effective method. Is it the only style of pursuit for your Vulpes to advance?”
“Oh, absolutely not,” Tola chuckled. “That would be rather barbaric.” She paused, tone becoming somber, “Well, at least, not in my section of the city. It was heavily focused on that direction when I was first introduced to the Capital.”
“Hmm,” Jin’s eyes narrowed.
Eyia leaned forward. “Before your revisions, were those fights to the death?”
“Death was not uncommon, but I try to minimize the losses during the selection process.”
Sora cleared her throat. “Tola, I’ve had something on my mind.”
Everyone’s focus turned to her as she manipulated the space, mimicking Jin’s previous spell to a lesser degree.
Tola, Eyia, Jin, Kari, and Githa glanced around with mild surprise.
“A Restrictive Barrier?” Tola whispered.
Jin nodded. “Impressive, Sora. You’re a quick learner.”
“Thanks,” Sora smiled before turning her focus back to the blue-furred Vulpes, frown returning. “How did you know Emilia used to be Miyabe? There’s nothing left of Miyabe in Emilia, so, how did you pick that up the moment you looked at her?”
The rest of the group fell silent, all turning suspicious and questioning eyes on the Vulpes.
“Mmh,” Tola’s hands shifted in her lap as she tilted her head to look at the ceiling. “You’re more than correct about that, and no, I would not understand what happened even if I did look into the girl’s Core. By the way, it’s actually shockingly difficult not to read that poor girl’s aura; it’s as if she vanished … completely.”
Sora folded her arms, remembering the trouble she’d gone through while trying to fix the Red Councilwoman’s Guardian; Inari’s explanation of how even with Githa’s help, if they were able to get it, would not be enough to fully restore the Vulpes.
“My aunt explained to me that her Intelligence, the thing that allows her to function … she won’t even be able to have an afterlife like any normal person that dies. Everything that was her, is gone; it’s as if she never existed in the first place, and the only thing left is the memories we have of them. So, how did you know?”
Githa yawned, licking her lips before spreading out on her belly. “That’s easy,” she mumbled.
Tola gave the cat a forced smile. “I may not be very adept at looking into people’s Core, but in response, I’ve heightened my ability to sense energy outside of it. I can feel the power radiated from the trees, wind, sky … inside the Earth,” she mumbled, staring down with a soft frown.
Her polite smile returned with her focus on Sora. “I could identify the small trail of energy left behind by Miyabe within the town, which will last several weeks before fading.”
“Woah,” Wendy mumbled, “she’s like a magical bloodhound.”
Tola bypassed the remark. “I followed that trail back to this house, to that location,” she pointed in the unoccupied armchair, formerly used by Alva. “It was there, then a strange energy mixed in an unnatural manner, and potent magic was used … completely shielded from any outside observation, even still,” she mumbled.
“I would need to be in close proximity to this location even to notice it, which is … seemingly impossible. The level of weave that took place here far outstrips anything I ever thought possible; it’s as if I’m staring into the Core of this Realm … which I cannot do. It’s far more impossible to comprehend than … how would I compare it? I could understand the City Core faster than even guess what that is.”
Sora’s eyes narrowed while following her finger. She pointed directly at the place Sora could hear Emilia grumbling about being excluded from the conversation and annoyed she couldn’t hear anything, blaming everyone but her mother as a likely culprit for the action.
“I don’t like you saying my daughter is a thing,” Sora growled.
“Another mystery,” Tola stated without a hint of remorse. “This … Emilia,” she caught her phrasing, tone keeping a polite level, “is by no means similar to the Spiritual Force you leave behind, little as it may be, and gives off an entirely different … she gives me goosebumps, to put it mildly.”
Sora’s eyes shot to Eyia, expecting some kind of support, but her friend seemed to have no problems with the Vulpes’ blunt statements. Jin was deep in thought, likely doing her own analysis of Emilia’s energy. Githa just yawned while flopping dead on her side, exhaling softly.
Kari and Wendy were the ones that jumped in.
“You’re being really rude,” Wendy huffed.
A low growl left Kari’s throat. “Watch how you say something.”
Wendy nodded. “Right? Emilia’s awesome, and she’s not some mutated freakish monster-thing like you’re implying.”
“She’s a really sensitive little girl with feelings,” Kari interjected.
Sora couldn’t have been more proud, seeing her two friends jump in to stick up for her daughter.
“Yeah, she’s like fourteen!” Wendy inched forward in her seat before mumbling as almost an afterthought, “Even if she looks older and freakin’ super hot.”
Kari smirked at Wendy. “More like twelve.”
“Eh, okay, maybe she does act a little younger,” Wendy admitted. “By the way, sorry, Sora … I’ve been a bit of a bitch lately…”
“Hey!” Sora growled. “Don’t call yourself that.”
Wendy rubbed her arm. “Anyways, sorry … oh, and you apologize, too!” She barked, giving Tola a heated glare.
Tola’s features didn’t change in the least. “I did not mean to offend, but explain myself.”
Eyia seemed a bit confused by their outburst, too. “Yes, I fail to understand the reason for the offense? If I must bear arms, please explain.”
Sora sighed, shaking her head. “No, no … I don’t like how she said it, but … I get there’s a bit of a cultural barrier.”
Mary was forcing a smile as she watched the scene. “That’s rather mature of you, Sora, and I must admit, I myself was becoming a bit worked up over your statements, Tola. Emilia was a victim of your council’s magic, which forced Sora into an impossible position, from what I understand.”
“I see,” Tola mumbled, eyes finally moving down with a hint of shame. “I apologize on behalf of my sister. I believe Phebe has been experimenting with Vulpes Symbols for some time; I shy away from such activities myself … it can be quite volatile with my limited knowledge. Perhaps it was a mistake.”
Githa snorted. “That’s a good one!” She giggled, flopping over to the opposite side. “Wait,” her speckled, feline eyes opened to stare at the Vulpes, unable to contain her mirth. “You actually believe it was an accident?” She burst out laughing, tails flicking around as she rolled on her armchair.
“Was it not?” Tola whispered, almost as a plea.
The white puffball stretched out on her seat before jumping down to the floor, enlarging as she took on her Snow Leopard form. A small film of emerald flames licked across her two long tails as the air hummed with her purr. “I haven’t had a decent meal like that in ages. In fact, I’m still digesting that particular spell. You must introduce me so I can thank her.”
Jin, Eyia, and Kari straightened, giving the Nekomata a hard look, but just as before, the cat’s heated waves were repressed by the energy leaving Tola. The blue-furred Vulpes seemed more uneasy than before.
“I have a feeling you are suppressing yourself by a significant margin, Githa. You are quite dangerous compared to what I’ve been taught of Nekomata.”
“Oh?” Githa’s fur bristled slightly before she giggled, reverting to her small house cat form before jumping upon her armrest to look up at her. “I look forward to seeing this Capital! I believe there are quite the treasures inside; don’t you agree, Sora?”
A shiver ran down Sora’s spine as she looked into the cat’s wide eyes, once again reminded that Githa was not a friend. “Yeah…”
The tense atmosphere broke as Aiden and Nathan burst through the door, looking somewhat confused as they glanced around at the agitated group. Sora dropped the barrier.
“What’s—goin’ on?” Nathan asked.
Thank Aiden for his causality! Sora breathed a sigh of relief, smiling at the two. “Oh, nothing! How about we finish up getting ready?”
“Hmm…” Tola followed Githa’s leisurely prance back to her seat. “I do sense two oddities that cannot be set right; two Vulpes close to Mimi.”
Sora breathed out a long breath. “Oof … yeah, I kind of removed the seal they were born with, and Kari wanted me to do the same with two others.”
“You remembered?” Kari asked, giving her a warm smile. “Those two were a bit of a handful when drunk, but they really helped me out when I was in a dark place.”
“I see,” Tola whispered, closing her eyes. “I’ve followed each of your paths since entering the Realm, and … are these the Vulpes you mentioned?”
Sora, Mary, Kari, Wendy, Nathan, and Aiden jumped as four Vulpes popped out of nowhere between them, looking thoroughly confused. Liz, Alice, a black-furred single-tail, and a gray two-tailed Vulpes.
“Umm, hello…” Alice trailed off as the four of them noticed the Blue Councilwoman.
Liz dropped to her butt, pinkish tails sagging to the floor in defeat. “L-Lady Tola.”
“Holonie, Braelyn,” Kari smiled at the two; Sora guessed each of them by the direction she spoke their names. Holonie was the two-tails while Braelyn had the single black tail.
Holonie’s brown eyes moved to her with shock. “K-Kari?”
They fell silent, eyes popping as Tola asked Sora, “Would you like to take them to the Capital?”
“If they’ll come.”
“Umm … if I can?” Braelyn replied, trembling as she mechanically lowered herself to the floor in front of the blue Vulpes.
When the other three nodded, Tola clapped her hands. “Well, then, why don’t we go back to my section of the Palace. I can gather everything you have here; I know what is foreign to the Realm. Although, you three will need to lower your barriers,” she commented, focus moving between Eyia, Jin, and Githa.
“Meh,” Jin cracked her neck. “We would have done it before you formed the magic.”
Tola nodded as the other two acknowledged Jin’s statement.
Wendy sucked in a breath through her teeth, glancing at the ceiling before mumbling, “Should have mentioned that before. Barriers? Cool…”
Closing her eyes, Sora breathed in and out. Figures, the three powerhouses in our group would have teleportation blocking of some kind. Well, this is it; no more training wheels. Sorry I couldn’t say goodbye, Mimi.
Opening her eyes, Sora gave the order. “Let’s go!”
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