Note: More family stuff; keep updated on the Patreon, but things should be easing now that my grandmother is in the care center. We had less than 4 days to get EVERYTHING set up, including paperwork on multiple facilities, getting new items for her room, bringing things she needs from her home, making sure the new medication worked by talking to doctors and making sure she was comfortable in the new place.
It’s been an exhausting week, but well worth it to get her the help she needs.
1. Sora Moore (Our Vulpes Founder with a new daughter to protect and we’ve got a REAL threat on our hands now)
Recap: Sora discovered a chilling secret in the last chapter … The First Generation Founder of the Tanuki … Tsukuyomi is below her feet, within the planet itself. The same Founder that was involved in the death of two of Sora’s aunts and her grandmother … Fenrir Brothers, sure, Bathin? What’s a Demon going to do, huh? Now … a malicious First Generation Founder that is bent on making Vulpes extinct? Uh-oh … We gotta problem, folks!
How will our girl handle this?!
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Iobe I, Alex I, Dangling Participles, Etly Lindman, Cedric Isaac, Ambrosia, Xalibur, Jymbo, and my other Patrons!
Sora brought everyone back to the library; not wasting any time, she called for every volume that would help them understand what they were dealing with and waited … and waited.
She glanced around, pulling back her copper hair; nothing came … why did nothing come?
The group scanned the area with discontent. Eyia and Jin moved off a little. Kari and Emilia stood by Sora, just as puzzled as her. Tola wouldn’t let Hallaway get too far away, and Githa just slept on the floor, belly up.
Jin released a low hum in her throat, clasping her hands behind her head. After another few seconds, she popped her tongue a few times. “Eh … anyone else asking for answers and not getting any?”
Everyone’s gaze snapped to a scroll that flew up from the bottom layer, landing in Eyia’s outstretched hand.
Sora gave her a questioning look with the rest when it suddenly left her hand, returning below.
The Valkyrie’s frown deepened. “It appears we are not blocked from utilizing the library’s functions. Other options should be tested.”
Kari folded her arms under her chest with a short huff, face half-obscured by her absurdly thick black bangs, and a swift flick of her tail showed her irritation. “Mmh … can we assume he’s somehow blocked us from finding anything that could stop him? I wouldn’t put it past a Tanuki…”
They all jumped to the left, guard flying up as a nine-tailed purple Vulpes appeared out of thin air just a few feet away from them; naturally, Eyia was first to respond with her warrior instincts, spear held to the woman’s throat and ready to jab it into her brain.
“Sister, should I execute her?”
The chilling pressure Eyia released was quickly brushed off by the invader, yet she made no attempts to defend herself. Sora assumed this was Loral, and she gave a surprisingly motherly aura, showing not a hint of concern for the Valkyrie’s icy weapon. Her patient silver irises shifted to Sora, waiting for everyone to calm down from her sudden appearance.
“Loral…” Hallaway whispered, and a shiver ran down her spine.
Chatter erupted as they surrounded the silent resurrected Vulpes, but Sora noticed Githa had yet to even react to her entrance. Emilia swiftly ducked behind her, gripping the back of her dress.
… Githa’s determined she’s not a threat … I can’t forgive her for what she did to Emilia. Still … she sent us there to discover that mountain of dark energy. We need answers.
“Well … you’re looking better,” Jin mused, circling around to her back with Kari.
Kari flexed her clawed fingers before reverting to her Fenris Form, clothes retreating into her skin; she was shockingly bigger than the last time Sora had seen this version of her former bully. Kari was now 7”4, towering over the shapely ancient Vulpes. “… Why are you here?” She asked, releasing a low snarl while barring her threatening fangs.
Tola and Hallaway seemed conflicted with what to do, and the Green Seat was probably close to fleeing by the expression on her face.
Taking a deep breath, Sora prayed to her aunt for strength, finding comfort in the action. “… Let’s sit … you’re here to talk after sending us to see that monolith of dark emotional energy. Right?”
Eyia slowly retracted her spear, but not her burning gaze, and Kari reluctantly returned to her human form, giving the woman the same glare as the Valkyrie.
Loral’s patient smile hadn’t faltered while slowly lowering her head from the position Eyia had brought it, yet the legendary weapon hadn’t punctured her skin. “Astute. Hmm … what I wouldn’t give for a good brew of tea, but wants are not needs, and proper beverages are always done from scratch … still, I’d like at least one cup before the end.”
The pivot to lighten the mood didn’t go unnoticed; Sora wondered how effective it really was while following her to a nearby gathering area, taking a couch. Kari and Emilia naturally took both sides, and Eyia opted to sit beside Emilia over sharing space with Kari.
How long will it take for Eyia to warm up to Kari … I get it, her grandpa killed her dad, but Kari hates even being a Fenris Wolf. C’mon…
Tola and Hallaway didn’t sit, but Jin had no issue collapsing into an armchair beside the purple-tailed Vulpes. “So, what’s brought you out of the shadows?”
Loral’s tails fell across her lap, drawing Sora’s focus, and Sora, Kari, and Emilia followed her example. Although, Kari draped her’s down her legs to the floor, avoiding Sora’s fluffy tails.
The former council member’s mature body, groomed appearance, and caring features were a little off-putting compared to the image she had of the Vulpes from her daughter’s memories.
The powerful Vulpes lifted a hand to brush her bangs to the side a little, giving a short giggle before turning to Hallaway. “I must discourage such thoughts, Hallaway; trying to mask an attack using the City Core’s transferable energy will not have the effect you desire.”
Sora’s brow furrowed, glancing to the Green Seat; cold sweats were beginning to break out across her skin.
Why is everything always so tense around me…
“Sit down, Tola, Hallaway,” Sora groaned, leaning back and folding her arms; the action pulled Emilia further into her body and made Kari shift a little to not do the same. “Loral showed us something that really threatens this Realm … that has to mean something.”
Tola rubbed her left arm, giving her a forced smile. “True, Sora … I’m just a little cautious about how to proceed. I … I just cannot see a way in which we can force Loral to do anything, which puts us at a severe disadvantage … yes, I know I caused this, but it was the only option,” she whispered with a depressed sigh. “I still believe it was the right choice.”
“She killed everyone…” Hallaway fearfully added, hugging herself. “I watched … how could you have done that to so many? The rage … only pained screams of mad rage … the creeping madness that spread throughout all those worlds.”
Loral’s expression saddened for a moment, voice falling in tone. “… Those were dark times … yes, I do have war crimes to answer for, including the mental scars I gave your daughter, Sora.”
Sora’s lips tucked in as Emilia’s arm tightened around her’s, and her friends glared at the Vulpes. However, Shadow told her there was more at stake than just them; Tsukuyomi was on the cusp of reviving. “I know you think far ahead of me, Loral. I’m not that experienced, but I’m trying to learn as much as I can … I have to.”
The thought of Tsukuyomi reviving chilled her bones for one simple reason; if he returned, her aunt would die … she had no doubt after seeing Gloria. The First Generation Founders were even beyond her omnipotent aunt, and he wouldn’t stop there; her mother would be next. Emilia and her were also on the table for pure revenge, holding them as leverage over her mother and aunt.
“I hate what you did to us … but for now, there are bigger things to consider. I have a lot of questions … I’ll listen, though, because you’re the only person in this entire Realm that seems to have answers for me.”
Tola winced at the exasperation in her voice; yet, she’d released Loral for that very reason.
Loral sighed, lifting a hand to stare at it before closing it into a fist and bringing it against her chest. “Love exists in pain … even in tragedy. Remember that.”
Her compassionate eyes went to the green-furred Vulpes, causing the woman to flinch; Sora couldn’t sense the magic she was weaving, and thousands of Vulpes filled the entire library, illusions from the past. “I can relate, Hallaway. The sadness and frustration of what you lost … and so much more that cannot be expressed with words alone.”
She turned her silver eyes to Sora, showing a regretful smile. “I am an Intelligent Construct. You understand, I assume? The real Loral is much too busy to converse … there is so much to do, but you provided me a way to accomplish the impossible, which is why I am here. Thank you, Sora, Emilia.”
Sora’s tongue pressed against her lower lip with a bit of agitation; of course, this wasn’t the real Loral. Creating Intelligent Constructs wasn’t a simple matter either; the only person she’d seen that was able to do something like that was her aunt and Kari’s mother, which meant Loral really was on a whole different level than anything she could deal with.
Another figure she was powerless against, yet thanking her because of the mythical things Founders could do. It was just a little annoying to know everyone else could make far better use of her powers than she could.
I guess this is why Emilia’s so frustrated … I’m doing all this stuff, and she feels left in the dust. I really need to spend more time with her … if all these threats would give me the time!
“Gah … yeah, go ahead,” Sora mumbled, trying not to let the vexation of it all cloud her mind.
Loral’s solemn expression lifted to the glass ceiling, and Sora realized they were in an entirely different library; she had no clue when they’d changed locations. Sora’s ears twitched, and they weren’t the only ones; Emilia, Kari, and Tola’s tails bristled, ears showing their agitation. Planets hovered within the sky, clearly visible in the brilliant shining heavens.
“Ryominia…” Hallaway’s blanched with horror, knees giving way and forcing her to stumble into a nearby chair. “Why would you…”
Sora’s eyebrows drew together as a white flash exploded in a slow-moving wave across the heavens, passing over the planets. The library occupants of humans, Vulpes, and several other races she hadn’t seen before looked up in astonishment as Loral spoke.
“I knew what would happen when I forced that chain reaction in the World Cores; they first felt cold … the sensation of overwhelming power flooding every fiber of their being. In a burst of foreboding light that blinded every creature, removing all connection from body, spirit, and Intelligence for a brief moment, disrupting the corrupting force that had infected them … it was as if the sky had blown the heavens into stars.
“There was no hope … every soul lost in the wake of the devastation of all sanity … that brief disconnect, and there you were, Hallaway, waiting on the edge of the unknown solar event with a cataclysm raining down … brilliant shooting stars that were so beautiful, yet only brought destruction. You and Phebe were trapped…”
Sora’s skin prickled as they came to a small hut situated far away from a nearby city; the sky was alight with brilliant lights, descending upon the world. The aftermath of the event returned in vivid detail inside Sora’s memory; Emilia had witnessed the aftermath, terrifying carnage and ruin.
Hallaway was like a trembling girl, closing her eyes and folding down her ears while tucking into a ball, using her tails to hide. “It … it’s not happening again … it’s not…”
Loral mournfully continued the tale, swapping between scenes. “So many souls … crying for me … pleading to be saved … the terror of being utterly alone infused into their very being with that blinding pulse of light. I understand why you latched so heavily onto Niomie as your savior … she was the only one equipped to shelter you from that fate … using my bracelet. Niomie delivered that tempered grace that set you free.”
Sora rubbed Emilia’s leg as she huddled next to her, closing her eyes to not see the city in the distance as Vulpes, humans, and multiple other creatures used devastating magic to tear each other apart. She’d started to notice something that bugged her, though.
“… From everything you’ve said, Loral … do you blame Niomie for this? You call her stupid, a fool, talentless, but … I haven’t really heard you place all the blame on her.”
A weak chuckle shook Loral’s frame with a long puff of air; her gaze was still fixated on the trembling green-furred Vulpes. “You know … I felt all of it, Hallaway … I was connected to the Realm Core when Niomie allowed that Tanuki in … no, in the end, I am to blame for allowing such a ruinous disaster to befall this once great Realm.”
Loral got to her feet, changing their environment to a small room that Sora actually remembered; they were at the Vulpes Realm entrance, the in-between space where their enemies currently gnashed their teeth in. The Red Gate was just beyond the corridor of the room they occupied.
“Niomie…” Loral stated, gesturing to their left.
Not far away sat the Vulpes; she was in an entirely different body … the original vessel for her spirit. Niomie looked like a small teenage girl with freckles and a mismatched tail of red and black. She was fidgeting with her two tails, combing them out with a dissatisfied expression before moving to her ears and hair.
Jin’s face split in disbelief, smiling at the agitated Vulpes. “No … no. Shut-up … you can’t be serious.”
“Wow!” Githa giggled, suddenly sitting at the end of Loral’s armrest in cat form. “Hehe … classic!” It was as if she’d never been asleep.
Tola’s tails shifted with discomfort. “I … cannot believe such a … there must be another explanation.”
The image forming in Sora’s mind mirrored Jin’s reaction; of course, a few of the others didn’t seem to catch on. Kari leaned against the armrest of their couch, staring at the priming Vulpes with a lifted eyebrow.
Emilia and Eyia hadn’t caught on, and Hallaway was too scared by the recount Loral gave … so, Sora asked what Kari, Jin, Tola, and she were all thinking. “Niomie was in love with a Tanuki … and let him into the Realm?”
“… More than that,” Loral whispered; she wasn’t wearing a smile or seemed amused. Her head tilted to glare at a young man with a pretty face.
He had tossed, thick brown hair and a solid build, walking through the doorway as if coming from a rough work-day. The man’s frown brightened into a charming grin that almost made Sora blush; his cute puffy tail curved around and his flared ears only enhanced his glow.
Well … wait, I’ve felt something like this before. Yeah … if there was a guy to be charmed by … this is him.
“Gah … that smile,” Jin stammered, sitting a bit straighter. “Okay, I take it back…”
“… He is … appealing to stare at,” Eyia mumbled, trying to keep her glare in place with difficulty.
Kari shrugged, glancing away, “Meh, I’ve seen better,” but Sora caught the hard blush she tried to hide, and the tone of her voice made it clear her skin was burning.
Githa purred upon seeing the man that could lighten a mood by merely walking into a room. “Ooh … Nephesh? Wow … okay, she had no chance,” she giggled.
Loral’s suspicious gaze shifted to the cat. “Interesting … you know Nephesh?”
The Nekomata tilted her head mischievously. “I know lots of people. Nilly tells us lots of stories. Nephesh is sneaky, sneaky. Plays with hearts,” Githa winked.
Sora kept her attention on the charming Tanuki; the moment he saw Niomie, it was as if she could see his whole world brighten. It was really deceptive. To the Vulpes, it would appear she was the center of his world, and from what she’d heard about Niomie when she was younger, her self-confidence would be in the gutter. She was a perfect mark.
Tola had her hands folded across her lap, watching the scene play out, and her own cheeks weren’t shy of the creature’s charms. “Did … you know about the relationship? It seems that was the case by this examination.”
Loral nodded with a solemn frown. “I did, but it wasn’t as if she had any real authority he could use, and I wasn’t aware of his identity at the time, which makes me question the Nekomata … that does surprise me. He certainly put off a powerful aura, yet not something that would draw my immediate worry … it was a perfectly crafted disguise to fool me into allowing the fling … I thought I was progressive.”
She gave the handsome Vulpes a critical eye. “I had no issue with the girl finding love outside the Realm … entry was held with much scrutiny, but leaving brokered no complaint, and she was free to be happy on her own time. No … Nephesh was very thorough.
“And Niomie was young, foolish, inexperienced, and unfortunately, talentless from birth. It was in some degree her combined genetics … the disjoined mix of her spiritual, physical, and Intelligence make-up.”
Sora had to agree with the ancient Vulpes guardian’s analysis; she hadn’t heard Niomie’s part of the tale yet, but it was certainly painting a vivid picture. At least she was finally getting a clear understanding of what stood ahead of them. The haze of information they’d been desperately pushing through felt pointless before she arrived to throw a wrench in everyone’s plans.
They had a common enemy now; she recognized that. However, Loral must have her own objective, and Niomie might have a slightly different view to add. It was hard to trust anyone at this point.
Loral paused, hurt and grief in her gaze. “There were other Vulpes he manipulated in such ways, using various disguises, and over such a long period that the Council didn’t recognize the nefarious plot at play. He learned of my research through those bonds. No … Niomie was a pawn, a tool he used and threw away. It was sad … heartbreaking, when I discovered it … almost at the point I couldn’t react, and I was forced to make such a horrifying choice … but that was then.”
Her compassion faded while waving the scene away and showing a much smaller library than where they currently resided, only a football stadium in size; Mary, Ashley, Ella, the Purple Seat, and Niomie were close by, looking over several books. The aged Vulpes was clearly agitated with the pair.
She walked around the seated woman. “What was she able to accomplish with the whole Realm at her fingertips for hundreds of thousands of years?”
Loral’s lips tightened, releasing a long sigh while shaking her head. “… Falling into the fingertips of that same Tanuki.”
Sora’s brow creased with a few others. “Wait … Nephesh is trying to revive? I thought Tsukuyomi was returning.”
Githa hummed, vision falling to the floor. “Oh … oh, that’s tricky. Nephesh is … is that how it is?”
Sora ran her fingers through her hair with a low groan. “Please, don’t be cryptic! Just tell us.”
Kari scratched her temple. “Yeah, enough with the games,” she growled, left ear twitching. “Is Tsukuyomi involved or not?”
Eyia was the next to speak, though, looking somewhat worried. “I see … let me explain, Sister.
“When Loral connected to the Ream Core, Nephesh struck, and Niomie allowed him inside while she was preoccupied, using her access to your Council Relic. This is how she currently has ownership over it, likely part of the Tanuki’s long-term plot. He then had an open gate to the Realm Core … all barriers were temporarily inoperative with your actions.”
“Oof,” Jin popped her tongue as Eyia finished. “I get it now … he came for you. How did you survive an aged Third Generation Founder?”
Loral’s shoulders fell, dissolving the illusion. Her back was to them, hand caressing a nearby wooden table. “… You don’t understand the longing to touch … feel … experience … until it’s taken away from you.”
She turned to smile at the floor. “I didn’t survive … I couldn’t. So, I hid a part of my Intelligence … no spirit … no body, but I couldn’t allow Nephesh to access the Realm Core. Not after what I discovered and what he knew was there the whole time. Yet … I couldn’t even hope to stall such a creature once he revealed himself and was inside.”
They were now in space, watching a beam shoot from planet to planet; it caused the massive surge of energy that devastated the hundreds of billions of lives on the seven planets.
“So … I trapped him in a sort of cage, enforced by the raw power of all those spirits, and it would grow in strength with him. Of course, it wouldn’t last forever; even with trillions of acting as a pressure wave within a World Spirit Pool, a Third Generation Founder would eventually overpower it and find the smallest fracture to exploit.
“He still managed to destroy me … I didn’t count on Niomie to react the way she did, though. She knew where I would have hidden my Intelligence, and with her own part in that tale … she decided to rip apart that small, lingering piece of me that could hopefully, someday revive to rid herself of that horrible part of her life … so no one could blame her.
“She couldn’t comprehend why I did it; killing me after what I did was understandable … after some thought … so, she sent me to silence. Unfortunately … or perhaps, fortunately, Niomie had no idea how to properly destroy an Intelligence.
Loral’s left hand gripped her arm as a quake ran down her frame. “I was left to wander in senseless darkness, where there was nothing but the memories of what I’d done. I was a trapped hourglass … timeless … for eternity inside the City Core … my own hell.”
Her lips lifted with her eyes to focus on Sora. “… Until you touched that network and lit a spark just bright enough for me to pull myself together … piece by piece … horrifying memory by horrifying memory. All of that destruction … pain,” her nose twisted slightly, “only to learn I’d temporarily block Nephesh from his goal. I will win … I’ve set it up that way, yet … without your intervention, it would have been impossible.”
Sora’s tails bristled a little as molten steel filled her silver eyes. “I am far from perfect, and I will die at the end of this; I have no illusions. However, I set into motion exactly what I planned for that day, and it will be my ultimate revenge against the fire and brimstone I was sent to.”
A small devious smirk lit her cheeks. “You wish to know the great secret, Sora? I have no doubt your aunt has taken a very keen interest in my work. The depths Nephesh went to obtain what he needed … even he could get lost in such an abyss … a blackness that stares with such intensity. Power so great, it could do … anything. Prepared before even the Founder War … on the eve of your mother and aunts’ conception.”
They were instantly teleported without warning. Sora glanced around in slight panic; their entire group floated in the air within the Vulpes Council Room. The mercurial statue of her grandmother behind the purple-tailed Vulpes.
“A thousand eyes opened inside my very Core upon connecting to the Heart of the Realm, pulling me to a place not meant for anything sane and making this place above any Second Generation’s attempt to enter.
“The First Founder’s sight overshadowed my mind. The thrill of that transcendent stage … to ponder the infinite and vast … beyond time and space … behind reality and dream. A weave of such wonder and fright that I could not hope to comprehend … yet one unspoken truth ascended me beyond my limits and what was real … the madness of the First Vulpes’s nightmares made manifest.”
Loral looked up at her grandmother’s statue with reverence, wetting her lips with anticipation. Sora’s breath was held; could she even dream this?
“… The First Generation Founding Vulpes will rise again from the boundless power her nightmares manifested when first dreaming about the horrors she could see for her family. There is a way to revive them, but in doing so, Nephesh’s goals will be realized … Tsukuyomi will return, but so will your aunts.”
Sora’s ears had long fallen back, tails limp in shock; she couldn’t hear anything anyone said after that declaration. Grandma … aunt Seiōbo, aunt Nari … our family can be healed? We can be a family.
Tears were already falling from her eyes. This couldn’t be a lie; if it was … she couldn’t handle it. The implications had her head spinning, but one other thought crossed her mind … if her family could be revived … could Alva or Kari’s little sister?
“Aiden…” Sora whispered.
Loral’s expression of thrilled revenge in motion slowly faded. “Aiden? Ah…”
Everyone else swiftly caught on, but Sora could hardly believe it. The Son of Homā struck again; they’d been guided down a path that may have been difficult, but she could get everything … absolutely everything in return.
Emilia would know her grandmother … her mother surely would be able to return if their family’s grand matriarch was revived. They could look for her father. This changed everything in her entire life. This nightmare she’d been in could be over.
Tears still dripping down her cheeks, Sora asked, “… What do we need to do?”
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