POV: Sora (our Vulpes Founder)
Recap: With Inari and Alva diving deep into Kari and Sora’s Cores, our group is left without her wisdom to deal with the Vulpes Council, but she’s made a point of telling them that she’s taught them all they need to know and that they should work as a group to overcome what is to come.
Sora promises to set aside time for Emilia to begin her training with Vulpes Magic, and to her great disappointment, her first lessons will be in healing … poor Emilia, we all want to start with the big stuff.
Some weaknesses of Tola and the Council are revealed when it comes to seeing into a person’s Core. Now, we’ve moved beyond this small village we’ve been stuck in for so long.
Welcome to the Vulpes Capital!
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Sora felt strong magic surround the entire house, causing her hair to stand on-end as Tola transported them to the Capital; it only lasted several seconds, and when she blinked, everything had changed.
The group was speechless as they spun around in circles, taking in the colossal wide open space. The aesthetic felt like a mix between Japanese and Islamic architecture with a blue and white color scheme. Stone and wood appeared to be the base, playing off each other, but Sora knew the materials must have been magically fashioned with how real the blue wood appeared.
A magical force much different than the universal energy they’d felt back at the town permeated the entire space. The atmosphere practically hummed with beyond powerful magic, lacing every inch of what Sora could sense, and despite the seemingly endless hallways surrounding them, Sora couldn’t see a single living thing.
“W-what just happened?” Brandon gasped.
Mary craned her neck, looking up. “We were teleported … we’re all in the Vulpes Palace in the Capital.”
“I see,” Ashley mumbled. “Were these real trees?”
Tola hummed in an unimpressed manner. “Kaltia Wood, from the far east of the planet, along the southern hemisphere.”
“Fascinating,” Mary whispered. “The white lighting comes from the stone?”
“Yes,” the councilwoman’s brow furrowed. “Do they not have such materials in the realm you are from? This is Luminosia, an element mainly found on the asteroids in space. I’ve never seen it decay, and it is extremely durable to impacts and liquids, which is why it serves as a base for the palace. The Kaltia Wood requires a protective coat every ten-thousand years, though … which is quite annoying.”
Mary’s eyes sparkled. “That’s incredible! Wait, does that mean those stars aren’t suns, but glowing asteroids?”
“I don’t quite understand … multiple suns in space? No, our Realm only has one sun.”
“That’s crazy,” Brandon mumbled, still taking in the massive room that was more than thirty meters high.
“Uh, don’t look down…” Wendy warned before swaying and falling to her butt.
Naturally, everyone ignored the advice, and only Githa, Eyia, and Jin didn’t teeter. The blue theme of the floor was so smooth and glossy that Sora’s stomach churned.
“A-are walking on water?” Josie breathed with awe, jumping up and down to test her theory once regaining her sense of balance.
Even her brother didn’t dare question her, getting on his hands and knees to feel the material. “It’s like our counters.”
Mary was right beside the boy, palm gliding across the surface. “It’s the smoothest thing I’ve ever felt, but there’s clearly some kind of grip while we’re standing, and my knee isn’t sliding out from under me. I can’t wrap my brain around it.”
“Where are we?” Brandon asked, noting how expansive the room was before staring down the five branching hallways, and to their back was a huge closed door.
“Seems pretty entrance hally to me,” Jin commented with a thoughtful grin. “Reminds me a bit of the Dragon Palace in Tibet. Hmm, no, this is much smaller and not nearly as gaudy.”
“It has a nice magical grip,” Eyia commented, testing the ground’s grip with a few movements. “Although, it would not provide an accurate training field to practice footwork.”
Sora breathed in and out, trying not to get lost in the new environment; the sheer size almost made her dizzy look around. “Okay, Tola … where are we going, and what about our stuff?”
Tola gestured to the right hallway. “This way leads to the Gathering of the Vulpes.” Sora assumed it was named something different, but the translation system was at work. “It’s a room designed for the Vulpes in my section to speak to me and the area leaders. Vulpes come to pay their respects, greet me, or address any queries or concerns; then, they’d raise it here.”
“Fascinating and all,” Kari mumbled, “but I’m not really that interested in learning about every room of this place. Do you have anything planned, or should we just wander around looking for something to do?”
Sora forced a chuckle as Emilia carefully walked over to hold her hand. Leave it to Kari to get to the point.
“My plan,” Tola whispered with a soft sigh, focus shifting to Emilia with a slight frown. “To be honest, I’d like for each of you to meet my sisters and announce your presence, explain why you are here, and then we can move on from there. However, I suggest we leave your … daughter, here in my section of the city.”
Emilia’s nose crinkled. “Why’s everyone want to leave me behind? Mom, I want to go!” She pleaded, hand tightening against Sora’s while addressing her.
Sora’s cheeks bunched to the side as her gaze slid between Mary, Ashley, Brandon, Kari, and Wendy. Great … I feel for her, but it’s not like Tola wants to make Emilia miserable. This could…
“That would be unwise,” Eyia flatly stated, drawing everyone’s attention.
“No, why?” Emilia moaned, ears twitching with agitation. “I know I don’t know a lot, but I won’t even talk!”
“It’s not about that,” Mary interjected. “Bringing you could put you in danger.”
Emilia’s tails stiffened. “Danger … what do you mean? Is my mom going to be in danger, too? You promised…”
Sora scratched her temple before putting her hand on her daughter’s shoulder to get her attention. “Okay, so, umm, I really do want to take you, but before I can bring you around in public, I need to teach you how to shield yourself.”
“Mmh, not necessarily,” Jin muttered.
“Eh, what?” Sora’s lips became a line, not expecting that kind of response from Jin.
She shrugged. “Just put a spiritual cloak around her.”
“Not a bad suggestion,” Githa purred, jumping onto Mary’s shoulders to hitch a ride.
Mary seemed somewhat agitated by the action but didn’t brush the Nekomata off. “Is it guaranteed?”
Tola looked doubtful. “My sisters are very perceptive, and I cannot be sure of Loral, Phebe, or Hallaway’s level of spiritual awareness. I would still not recommend it; if I had not personally met with Inari, I could not say what my decision would have been.”
“You’re not getting it,” Jin growled, giving Tola an exasperated look.
Githa giggled. “Silly fox!”
Eyia’s focus had moved to the floor as she pondered the Dragon’s suggestion. “It is not a terrible direction, my friend, but does come with its risks.”
Sora hummed, vision moving between the Valkyrie, Dragon, and Nekomata. We’ve already established that Tola isn’t the most knowledgeable about combat or deceptive magic. I can’t blame her; I don’t know exactly what Jin’s suggesting.
“Could you explain?” Sora asked, putting a spark of hope in Emilia’s eyes; it was like Eyia and Jin were Santa incarnate, making her wish come true.
Jin’s fingers locked while stepping back to give Eyia the floor, adding an amused smirk. “Break it down for me.”
Eyia nodded, making gestures while speaking. “Leaving Emilia behind poses a risk in itself; she would be separated from the group and an easy target.”
“True,” Nathan muttered. “I wasn’t even thinking about that,” he chided. “It’s a standard trope in fiction and happens more than often in reality. If you have someone in witness protection, you don’t put them on their own without a suitable defense and back-up plans.”
Tola’s head tilted. “This is my section of the Palace; it is under my supervision.”
“So, you know everything that happens here?” Jin smirked.
“No, not everything, but I have dominion within this area due to my connection with the Blue Brooch; there are preset functions that have long existed, allowing the Blue Seat to activate the City Core’s defensive matrix.”
“Well, that sounds terrifying,” Mary mumbled. “There’s a security system here?”
Jin’s lips fell as she glanced around the charged area, clicking her tongue. “Good to know.”
Eyia’s eyes narrowed as she studied the councilwoman. “We must keep Emilia close to us if that is the case. I do not trust you with my sister’s daughter; even if we must enter a combat situation, it would be more acceptable for Jin or me to stay behind with her than leave her in your care.”
Fair … actually, yeah, Tola has been skittish of Emilia from the start. She could sense the energy and magical weave that Inari used to branch off my essence with whatever was left of Emilia, which scares her. I shouldn’t put my trust in her either, even if Inari said she likes her.
Sora smiled at Eyia and Jin. “You’re the best! What was Jin suggesting before?”
Tola seemed more in thought about their response than offended. “Distrust is very strong with each of you. Is it like this in other Realms?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Jin mumbled.
Eyia continued her explanation as Tola fell silent. “Jin was suggesting you place a Spiritual Shield with a specific resistance threshold around Emilia; it only has a limited amount of protected ability but would alert you if anyone was seeking to push past the barrier. You could then actively reinforce it.
“The cloak part would be to layer on top of the shield your own Vulpes spiritual force, covering up what little energy escapes the shield you construct. It would not be perfect, but unless they are exceptionally sharp, and know what they’re looking for, it should be functionally acceptable.”
“Mmh,” Githa purred. “It will also show us who to be wary of.”
Jin pressed her tongue against her cheek, giving Githa a stare. “Someone besides you?”
The cat licked her left paw, lying across Mary’s shoulders, nestled under her hair. “I never said I was a friend; I’m following orders, and the little fox pup wasn’t included.”
“What if I hurt myself because I couldn’t handle something happening to Emilia?” Sora dryly asked.
Githa halted in her action, eyes narrowing. “I won’t play that game, and I do see your point, but understand, no harm will come to you, not even from yourself until I’m told otherwise. I let you go through with the Spiritual Worm business because I knew Inari would not let you die.”
She could tell Kari and Wendy wanted to jump into the heated conversation but likely held back to not make the situation worse, knowing what kind of damage Githa could really cause if she moved from a passive approach to a more active one.
“An interesting relationship,” Tola commented, left hand resting against her cheek. “I’m quite confused about each of your relationships with each other.”
Sora returned the glare at the revelation, ignoring the blue Vulpes. “Oh, so you would have forced me to give it up; drag me outside against my will?”
Mary gulped, clearly uneasy since the conversation was taking place with the murderous monster on her shoulders. “I wouldn’t have stopped you; I would have killed Mimi before you could do anything about it.” Githa sniffed.
Sora’s jaw set, but everyone’s focus was on the Nekomata, waiting to see if things would escalate. She could sense Eyia ready to dash into combat on the drop of a dime, and Emilia’s hand had long since started the shake, not used to confrontational situations as she hid behind her. The discussion had cemented in her mind.
Besides Gloria, the Nekomata Faction is the most dangerous group I’ve met so far. They’ve stood between Kari’s uncles and us, caught aunt Inari off-guard, and been manipulating things behind the scenes all my life. And to think I used to believe Nilly and Githa were friendly to us.
They come off as unstable since their power is based on hate but have some strange ability to suppress it, which makes them appear normal, and the most alarming part is that I have no clue what they really want; no one knows, not Inari, The Herald, or even Frankenstein. Gloria might be the only person that could give me some insight, and fat chance on that in this crazy information war.
“So, what will you do?” Tola questioned with a passive smile.
Sora’s free hand brushed back her hair while turning away from the threatening Nekomata; her nose twisted, and she growled, “I’ll do what Jin suggested; it’s the best option I have.” There’s nothing we can do about Githa right now; we just need to keep playing her game.
She blinked as she caught sight of four Vulpes; Alice, Liz, Holonie, and Braelyn were practically quaking after witnessing the exchange.
“Sorry,” Sora gave them a tired chuckle. “Do you four want to join us while meeting The Council?”
They all swiftly shook their heads. “I—I never thought that I’d even see t-the Captial … much less see inside it,” Braelyn stammered. “I’m not—I’m not worthy!” She cried, bowing before Tola.
The blue Vulpes released a soft sigh. “It’s always the same.”
“It’s the seal,” Mary replied.
“Well,” Alice forced a chuckle. “I’d rather not meet The Council either … I just didn’t really think I could refuse to join you guys, to be honest.”
“Same,” Liz mumbled.
“Me?” Holonie grimaced, bowing before Tola. “I’m just—I’m not worthy to be here! I don’t know why I said yes…”
Sora’s cheeks puffed out before exhaling the air. “You four know what we discussed before, right? If you separate from us, then we can’t protect you if something bad happens.”
The four’s eyes shot to the Nekomata, probably remember the conversation where she’d murder whoever put Sora into a precarious position.
“Still,” Alice whispered, eyes dropping to the floor, “I’d like the choice not to participate.”
Liz nodded, but Holonie and Braelyn turned to the councilwoman. “Lady Tola?”
Tola gave them a compassionate smile. “Why don’t you two stay with Liz and Alice. I’m sure this group will rejoin you when we finish.”
“If that’s what you command,” they both replied in unison.
Kari seemed a bit frustrated by the response.
“Very well,” Tola clapped her hands excitedly. “Once Sora finishes her preparations, I will move us to the council chambers and call my sisters.”
Sora took special care of weaving the shield and layering her energy around it. She noticed Ashley and Brandon had long since opted to separate themselves from the group as the conversation turned heated, playing with their kids more than a dozen meters away.
“Mom,” Emilia mumbled, shooting a nervous glance at each of the small groups that had broken off to discuss different topics with one another.
“Mhm?” Sora absently replied, still feeding her energy into the barrier; she used at least thirty percent of her overall pool on making the shell as flawless as she could manage.
“Am I—really just a burden to everyone?”
Sora bit her lower lip, noticing her daughter’s drooped ears and tails; choosing her words carefully, she said, “I sometimes feel that way, too.”
“Not you,” Emilia protested, sitting across from her as Sora formed the magic. “Everyone likes you, and they listen to you. You’ve helped so many people; Mary told me how she got to see her husband again because of you, and Wendy couldn’t stop talking about all the fun you had growing up.”
“Well,” Sora laughed, “people tend to leave out all the bad stuff. I’ve messed up … a lot, and I used to really hate my life.”
“Was that with—when Kari…”
Sora’s ears twitched, noticing Kari glance their way. “Let’s not talk about that. Oh, what do you think about Kari? She’s pretty cute, huh?”
“Sora,” Kari growled, watching Ashley and Brandon play with their kids on her own.
Acting as if she didn’t hear, Sora went on. “She can be a bit stubborn, and man, can she be hard on herself.” She winked, squeezing Emilia’s hands, “Kind of like someone else I know.”
“I just feel so useless, and everyone’s always talking about Emilia’s too weak, she needs someone to hold her hand … I don’t want to be the one weighing everyone down.”
“Mmh,” Sora sighed, glancing over at Eyia and Jin. “You know, I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Eyia and Jin, and even Kari saved me from her brother. You should have seen her headbutt him into a bulldozer,” she giggled. “She really chomped down on him, too!”
“Leaving out a few bits,” Kari mumbled, still several dozen meters away.
“Who’s telling the story?” Sora huffed, shooting a glare at her.
Kari smiled, still watching the kids.
“There’s also this super depressed lil’ bird I know that could learn how to compliment themselves,” Sora grunted, shooting a glare at Aiden, but he was too far away to hear her jab, talking to Nathan about possibly going fly fishing some time.
“Bah,” Sora’s focus moved back to her beautiful daughter. “You know … not that much time has passed since I became a Vulpes, but—it feels like years have gone by. So much has happened, and there has been crazy time-manipulation involved, too.”
“Feeling old?” Emilia scoffed. “You’re already an old lady?”
“C’mon,” Sora sniffed. “I’m still only sixteen years old; so, you can’t drop that label on me!”
“But I’m only like a few days old!” Emilia shot back. “So, you’re super old!”
Sora glared at her daughter. “Okay, I see where you got that tongue. If we’re counting like that, then my hair should look like Aunt Inari’s.”
“Pfft,” Emilia scoffed, “You’ll never have white hair, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a grandma.”
Sora’s tails bristled. Grandma? What, she thinks she’s ready to date and have kids? Nope! “Think we’re a far way off from that,” she stated with a forced chuckle. “You still need to learn how to make your own clothes!” She huffed. “I’m over here, slavin’ away with this magic business, making you nice things.”
“Except someone won’t teach me, hmm?” Emilia glared back.
“Well, it’s not like I’ve had a lot of time, and we’ll get to it!”
“Right, right,” Emilia mumbled, rolling her eyes doubtfully.
“Hey, have a little faith in your mom.”
Emilia’s smile returned. “Always.”
Sora’s heart warmed. Wow, being a parent isn’t that bad!
She finished up her preparations and turned to Jin and Eyia for confirmation; they’d joined halfway through to observe the construction.
“Eh, it—might pass,” Jin mumbled with a slight frown.
Well, slap me in the face!
Eyia walked around Emilia, making the nervous girl’s tails stand on end. “Apply more of your energy around the inside of the shield, around her Core. If she does not accidentally absorb it, then it should act as a redundancy.”
There, give me advice instead of shooting me in the heart! I need this to work, not maybe work. She took the extra time to layer her Vulpes magic inside Emilia’s Spiritual Network, blanketing her own Spiritual Veins.
“Mmh, not bad, Eyia,” Jin whispered after taking a second look. “That’s pretty good advice. Yeah, it’s as good as it’s going to get.” She grinned, giving Sora a thumbs up.
Tola approached them with a mildly surprised expression. “I would have never dreamed of such a solution … quite unorthodox, but I cannot sense anymore of her strange Spiritual Energy. The one drawback is that magical signature appears neutral, which would raise some eyebrows, but I don’t expect you can do anything about something so complex.”
Sora shook her head. “Nope. It was hard enough trying to erase my own spiritual signature, much less trying to manipulate a constant unique state for the entire weave.”
“Understandable … if we are ready, then I will transport Alice, Liz, Holonie, and Braelyn to a room so that they may wash and rest while waiting for our return.”
Ashley jogged over, clearing her throat. “Sora.”
“Can—I know it’s also a risk, but I don’t feel like having my children in this meeting is a good idea. You may be able to protect your child, but—but I can’t, and I wouldn’t expect anyone to jump in and do it on my behalf. If Brandon and the kids could be sent with the Vulpes, that would ease my mind.”
“You don’t want to join them?”
Ashley gave her a sad smile. “I promised Inari to support you, and that’s what I intend to do. My husband will take care of the kids while we’re busy with the meeting; to be honest, I’d be kind of nervous with what they’d blurt out.”
“I get it. Yeah, if that’s what you want.”
“Very well,” Tola glanced around as the rest of the group seemed to realize they were getting ready for the next step. “Let’s go see my sisters … this is bound to be interesting. I suspect nothing will be the same … some of my sisters may even consider me an enemy after this.”
Sora’s brow creased. I didn’t even consider that, but she’s really risking a lot, and she’s been wearing a smile most the time. I guess she is thirty-thousand years old, even if she’s somewhat innocent in a lot of things.
“I’ll be here to support you, since you’ve been supporting me,” Sora stated. “If you don’t double-cross us, then we won’t double-cross you. Partners for the truth?” She asked, extending a hand.
Tola hesitantly mirrored her action. “The truth? Yes, that is something I have sought after for quite some time. Thank you, Sora. Partners for the truth.”
They shook before the blue Vulpes spun her magic, teleporting them to their chosen locations.
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