Taking a deep breath, Sora swallowed and waited. The first time I see a fairy, and it’s Gloria, the fairy goddess… Her breath seized in her chest as tingles reverberated from her ears to the tip of her tail, the force silencing all action. It was the most serene feeling of insensibility she’d ever experienced.
Inari whispered, “Thank goodness, she’s repressing her aura.” Sora regained her bearings as a warmth cascaded across her body. She glanced at Inari, who gave her a quick wink, stoic presence returning. The doors were opened by the two gold-furred Kitsune to admit a woman the same height as her, but she was the very definition of grace.
Her gown was strapless and held a single slit from just below the hip to ankle. The dress radiated a rainbow sheen, emitting vibrant colors that shifted like liquid, the embroidery matching the fabric. She held modest curves and immaculate white skin. Pointed ears parted her long multi-hued hair that changed with the material she wore. Her feet were bare, movements reflecting her dignified presence. Her most notable feature was her delicate six translucent multi-colored wings at her back.
Gloria’s radiant irises left Sora feeling naked. Her voice was soft, yet as dominating as her aunt’s. “Congratulations are in order, Inari. When I received your messenger, saying my dear Morgana was involved in restraining a member of your family, I had my suspicions; it couldn’t have been Mia. Therefore it left another.”
Gloria moved to face her, and Sora did a stiff bow, strengthened by her aunt’s power. Gloria’s laugh sent shivers down her spine, she’d never heard a melody as lovely to her ears and pulling at her heart. “She’s quite young. Her entire life is open, such pain and suffering for one of such age. How unfortunate, Sora.” Her vision shifted to Inari as she spoke and Sora was stunned as even her aunt’s elegance couldn’t compare to Gloria.
“Yes, I was just as dazed by her appearance.”
A curious smile touched Gloria’s features. “Does this mean?”
Inari shook her head. “There is no evidence to assume, yet you must sense the oddity in her.”
Gloria’s smile turned secretive, a knowing gleam in her eyes. “Yes, I have my suspicions.”
Inari nodded, but soon after a sigh left her lips. “It seems that whelp has finally found herself here.” Sora’s eyes widened as she saw a dark circle appear in the sky. Is that a moon?
Gloria looked back through the open doors as the light dimmed. Her voice was curious, holding no ill intent. “I understand why she would want to question you. However, in this manner … is she intent on forfeiting her life by breaking the treaty?” She shifted toward her aunt again. “I noticed her at the foot of your shrine, and you made her wait.” Her hand lifted to her lips as she snickered, “I love it.”
“I thought you would,” Inari said, mirroring Gloria’s laugh. “I wasn’t anticipating that she would be here when this whelp began following me. Although, I can see the correlation with my sister.”
“Certainly,” Gloria returned. “How impertinent. The whelp must be irritated; it must have taken her some time to navigate your shrine’s illusions. Unfortunately, she is not the brightest of them.”
Her aunt nodded with a slight chuckle. “I almost tricked her into thinking Yìnglóng’s shrine was mine once. It would have been grand.”
Sora realized both gold-furred Vulpes had been kneeling since opening the door and Suke had left. She scanned the field from her position, not a single Vulpes remained. When did they all leave?
Moving to the door, Gloria hummed. “How will you respond to her fruitless attacks? I’m sure she will wait for that whelp from the New Moon faction to initiate; it is her style.”
Inari shrugged. “It would be unbecoming of me to patronize such a fool. However, I can make exceptions for the New Moon faction.” A reassuring smile lit her lips as she turned. “Sora, if you could stay inside the shrine. She will not be able to see you inside, and you can shadow me to observe the encounter.”
Brow furrowing, Sora asked, “How can I…” She trailed off as her surroundings blurred. Looking around, she saw her body floating over toward the pillows to rest atop them. What … did she do to me?
“I separated your spirit and intelligence, masking your mental presence.” Her aunt explained with a smile. “Now, follow Gloria and me.” She giggled, losing some of her composure. “This should be fun.”
Sora swallowed nervously but nodded as Inari and Gloria walked out of the Shrine, shadowing them down the steps. Is this just a shrug, no big deal … she separated me from my spirit? How … what? They stopped a few feet from the bottom. She still felt entirely at ease with Inari’s power enveloping her.
The two gold-furred Kitsune rose and closed the shrine doors, before disappearing and taking up position several yards in front of them. Inari raised her left hand and snapped her fingers, the ring resonated in the air. Sora’s stomach did somersaults as glowing white symbols appeared across the ground and began floating up the outer edges of the field, making a shell around them and a bright aura surrounded the shrine before fading.
Sora felt a strong wind hit her with a pleasant scent. Wait … why couldn’t I smell anything until now?
Two of her aunt’s tails shot out on both her sides and struck the air feet in front of her, making large multi-colored symbols appear. The symbols snaked their way through the air until they touched in front of Inari’s body. Her fur shimmered as she slid her finger down its center to fade back to an aura of white radiance.
Sora looked up as a shadow seemed to fall over the entire world, and she watched a dark object moving in front of the blazing sun. A solar eclipse? What’s happening? Her vision shot back down as an umbra appeared eight yards from the gold Kitsune and was instantly surrounded by twenty more gold-furred Kitsune.
The obscurity was tall and thin, shadows filming off her figure. She spoke in a high-pitched hiss. “Inari—Gloria, why would you be here?”
A cold gust rush over Sora as Gloria spoke; even with her aunt’s sustaining magic, her body froze with warning, fur bristling. “Is that the proper way to speak to me?”
The shadow shrank noticeably and hurriedly bowed, tone pacifying, “I pay thee respect, Lady Gloria. May I speak as I wish to the fox?”
The chill lifted and Gloria hummed with amusement. “I have no objections. Speak as if I were not present.”
The shadow bowed again, turning to Inari, her sharp tone returned. “Inari, we sensed something that doesn’t belong. What is here? What are you hiding? We know, now speak!”
Inari’s Kitsune stood poised to attack with wary eyes, each waiting for her aunt’s word; the symbols and designs around their tails glowed a fierce silver. Sora shivered, her aunt’s voice held steel. “Understand that I am not obligated to respond if I am not interested.” Her voice turned lilting. “You’ve fallen so hard since The War. The Order of the New Moon must be sad indeed if you are the one delivering her messages.”
“Respect!” The personage hissed, and there seemed to be hundreds of other voices screeching the same word. Sora’s breath caught as they resonated in her ears.
“Respect?” Inari scoffed, shaking with silent laughter. “I cannot leave you with anything short of expectancy; Founders show respect to those who earn it, and the Order of the New Moon has done nothing to earn my respect.”
“Demand respect? Is it respectable for a lowly creature, such as yourself, to try and penetrate a Founder’s sanctum after the treaty forbids such actions and with Gloria present at that? You were but a child when Gloria aided in the boundaries of the treaty and,” turning to Gloria, Inari asked, “I believe you instituted the sanctum guidelines.”
Gloria’s voice held a smile. “Indeed.”
The shadow snarled. “Treaties mean…”
“Tsk-tsk,” Inari interrupted. “Careful.”
The silence stretched for several seconds before the shade hissed with frustration. “We want to know about the thing that doesn’t belong!” She screeched. Sora felt her hair rise in warning as pressure began weighing down on her shoulders.
Sora’s eye widened as the pressure was blotted out by a sense of horror, a pure malevolent presence burst around the area. Sora knew without Inari’s power sustaining her; she would be frozen in terror, if not dead. A black crack appeared in between Inari and the figure.
“Right on time,” Gloria said with melodic laughter. “It has been ages, Herald of Sakura.”
“Well—isn’t this the day of breaking treaties,” Inari said lightly with a shake of her head as the sanctuary began to shake and symbols appeared across Inari’s body. “Should I get serious? Are these actions a remission of the cessation agreement between all our factions, Herald of Sakura, or are you trying to show off in the presence of Gloria?”
The Shadow seemed to shrink back at the crack as Gloria’s aura brightened ever-so-slightly; the shadows lightened, and the malevolent sensation running down Sora’s spine vanished.
“We wish to know why—the Herald is here—you seek silence of name … of course, we honor your request, but we seek answers! We will receive answers about the one that does not belong!” The figure said, shifting back and forth ominously.
Inari laughed, breaking the tension. “You always ask the strangest requests, Herold. If you do not wish for me to call you by your real name, as always, I understand. Why not use your title?” Her voice seemed to carry a hint of guile as she asked, “Or we could use Sekhmet?”
Gloria burst into notes of laughter. “I almost forgot about that little joke Śiva made!”
“Respect—respect to a Herold!” The Figure hissed but was quelled by another pressure of cold atmosphere burst from Gloria.
Sora was slightly confused. Is the crack talking to them? Why can’t I hear it?
“No harm, Herold,” Gloria’s features almost turned impish. “It is an inside joke. Oh, you are so curious.” She hummed with a glint in her eye. “Oh, Sekhmet is fine? Very well.” Gloria finished with light laughter.
“So, Sekhmet,” Inari said with a curt bow. “Why would you, out of all of your kind, interrupt this confrontation? You despise the Order of the New Moon and hold no ill will of me.”
“Yes—why does the Herald of Sakura come to deny the New Moon’s seeking?” The figure began to say something more, before cutting off as the malevolent presence escalated, but Sora didn’t feel the horror this time.
Inari seemed to interject. “That name hits a bit too close to home, coming from your faction.” The darkness deepened dramatically but quickly faltered at Inari’s words, her white radiance increasing. “Are you truly that imprudent? You wish to provoke a fight with me—in my sanctuary—as Gloria and Sekhmet watch me devour you?”
The Shadows began to lighten again, Inari’s voice sharpened, and Sora felt a warm fire envelop her as blue flames surrounded her aunt, a sharp gust expelling around her. “Get out of my sanctuary, worm, before I force you.” The shadow hissed in pain but faded as the Moon began evaporating in the sky, warmth permeating the field again.
Her aunt turned the dark fissure, blue fire dying. “It has been a pleasure to see you again, Sekhmet. I’ve caught a few of your eyes watching me from time to time while away from my sanctuary.” Her voice gained a cutting edge again. “With the pleasantries aside, what business do you have with me? Oh?”
There was silence for several seconds as Gloria and Inari seemed to be listening to an unheard voice.
Gloria giggled. “That is just like you.”
Inari shook her head. “I see—you know I will get to the truth.” She said while glancing back at the shrine.
Sora swallowed anxiously as the silence continued again. Why can’t I hear? I feel like it’s pretty important…
Inari’s voice softened with a sigh. “Now you are just insulting me. Of course, I know what will happen in the manner that she has met me.
Biting the edges of her lip, Sora resisted a growl. Why am I the only one left out!
“Is that right?” Her aunt mumbled. Her tone shifted with intrigue. “That narrows the list down to one Being. Only he could have done it, but you knew I would get the answer and you also knew I could not follow the same route as my sister.” Sighing again, Inari shrugged, her voice full of exhilaration. “Yet, it is possible. I see that now. I understand and do not worry that funny little cap of yours.” She chuckled as she turned to stare into Sora’s eyes, her vision was alive with fire.
Gloria seemed to be listening to the hidden conversation with deep interest. After Inari turned away, Gloria hummed. “I understood everything the moment I saw her and am very interested in seeing the path that led to this moment.” She nodded with interest. “This will change everything, and it was not even intentional. How wonderful.” She said with a mirthful shake of her head. “What was he thinking? This is the beginning of a new era, and yet the players do not even know the game has evolved. Truly a marvel.”
Inari turned back to the fissure with a huff. “Fine, I will figure it out myself, but you know what I want the most. Yes, I will even let you keep an eye here to observe. I expect a little more information. Of course.”
The golden Kitsune around the field didn’t ask a thing, vanishing from view as the crack sealed itself. The two doorkeepers appeared as her aunt motioned to her and the three of them ascended the steps. Inari’s tails made the exact motion as before, making the symbols reappear; she slid her finger up the center but made a small symbol with another tail off to her side that vanished with the runes. “Your eyes have limited access as long as Sora is present, Sekhmet.”
Sora quickly moved to her original position as they walked through the opening doors. Inari entered the shrine with Gloria in-toe. Sora’s vision blurred and she was staring up at the ceiling. Blinking in momentary confusion, she stretched, it felt strange. She looked at her aunt as she spoke. “Sora, everything is fine now. Sorry for the scare.”
“She is so fun to talk to,” Gloria commented with a light laugh as Sora quickly moved off the dais.
Biting the inside of her cheek, Sora sat down on the pillows as Inari and Gloria took their places atop their cushions. Chuckling lightly, Inari said, “Go ahead, Sora; formalities have already been met.”
“What was all that about?” Sora asked, unable to hold back any longer.
“A squabble among old enemies,” Inari stated casually. “Founders have a lot of them, but those factions are among the most dangerous.”
“They were looking for me though, weren’t they? What did she—or they—mean by I don’t belong?” Sora asked with apprehension.
Taking a deep breath, Inari let it out with a thoughtful expression. “I noticed it the first time I met you and was initially why I said what has my baby sister done.” Looking Sora straight in the eyes, she said, “This is not the first time your mother has dabbled in creating her own daughter.”
Sora tried to say something, but she found herself speechless. What does she mean dabbled—I’m not mom’s first try at creating her own daughter? She makes it sound like I’m an experiment…
“Your Mother has dabbled in Philosopher Stones, Homunculus, and unusual forms of magic you have never heard of—however, one of the reasons Gloria is here is to be a witness that Founder law has not been broken.
“Over the ages, your mother has tried just about everything and I wished her success, but she never did—yet, there is one guaranteed way, the strongest Vulpes Founder magic—but that is beside the point. You show no signs currently that it was used and evidence points elsewhere—honestly, I’m hesitant to say your mother nor I could even accomplish that magic. It has only been used once by your grandmother and—it was that moment that turned the tide of The War, but she did break a fundamental law among Founders that had drastic consequences for both sides. Let us not get into that horrific age though—you will learn in time. Now, however…” Inari said brightly.
“There’s me.” Sora finished uneasily.
“That’s right,” her aunt chimed.
Gloria hummed. “I like how freely you talk with her, Inari. It makes me wish some of my children would speak so spontaneously.”
“Yes,” Inari said cheerily. “It is a first for me.”
Trying to map out everything that had just transpired, Sora asked, “You were talking to that black—tear thingy, and it told you something about my birth, didn’t it?”
Gloria placed a hand across her stomach as mirth shook her frame and a sly smile lit her aunt’s lips as she leaned forward. “Referring to Sekhmet as Tear Thingy. I love you so much, Sora. Sekhmet never really gives you all the information, it’s infuriating to most. However, when you’ve lived as long as we have—we know a lot about everything. We can piece the puzzle together—Gloria much sooner than I. So, in a way, yes.”
Swallowing while looking down to study the floor, Sora said, “You aren’t going to tell me—are you.”
“Regrettably, little niece, that isn’t for me to decide,” Inari said apologetically. “However, I am looking forward to seeing how you will shape the future.”
Sighing, Sora looked up into her aunt’s tender orange eyes. “You don’t seem like a horrible person.”
Gloria shook her head with a warm smile. “She has a way of dropping your guard.”
Inari’s features darkened. “Oh, my little Sora, I am a terrible person to a great many people and monsters, a friend to some, and seen as a savor to Vulpes; someone needs to do it as your mother has little to do with Vulpes society.” Inari’s demeanor brightened with a shrug. “In short, I am a wonderful friend and a ruthless enemy.”
Noting her words and realizing her inexperience, Sora asked, “Can you teach me anything about being a Vulpes?”
Humming with pleasure, Inari said, “As a Founder, you should naturally gain ahold of your gifts, but I can teach you some basics that should help in your current situation.”
“You know?” Sora asked, not as shocked as she felt she should be.
“Yes,” Inari said atmosphere darkening, intent twisting her features. “And as much as I would relish swooping in to eradicate your…” She cleared her throat; the climate brightened with her smile. “Take you all to myself—I have been reminded that I am not your mother. Your mother has plans for you, and I must respect and trust my sister.”
Sora looked down at the floor as she thought on her aunt’s words. My mom has plans for me? Why isn’t she here then? Why has she never been here? I’ve barely met my aunt, yet I feel like—like she’s the mother I always wanted.
Tears gathered in her eyes; no sooner than she thought it she was being enveloped in her aunt’s soft, yet strong arms. “It will be alright, little niece. I feel every emotion and know ever thought running through your mind, body, and spirit, I understand. I am elated and privileged that you feel that way.” Inari soothed.
Sora shook as tears slid down her cheeks and she hugged her aunt as tightly as she could, while Inari stroked her hair. “Why? Why isn’t my Mom here with me? Why am I always alone?”
Gloria’s compassionate voice cut through her cries. “You only need take a moment, and you will realize you are not alone.”
Sora’s mind began to flash with all the happy memories that had filled her life, brought back by the fairy queen’s magic. She saw her father, hotel tenants, childhood friends, moments of happiness with strangers, and the new friends she had made. She couldn’t stop crying as the warm memories filled her; mending her broken heart. She wasn’t sure how long she stayed in her aunt’s arms, or Gloria’s magic enveloped her, but eventually, she finally felt whole, the pain was gone.
Inari’s arms loosened around her and she held her at arm’s length; that was when she realized tears staining her aunt’s cheeks. “Thank you, Sora, my little niece,” she sniffed. “Thank you for allowing me to be an aunt.”
Sora was breathless as her aunt’s emotions flowing into her. She’s always wanted a family; it’s what her entire life has been centered on. The grief … losing her sisters and mother…
Her aunt’s feelings threatened more tears. Inari smiled warmly and touched her nose; her aunt’s emotions were severed from her. “Enough of that; this is a happy moment.” Rising, Inari turned to Gloria, taking a deep breath. “Thank you.”
Gloria raised a hand. “It isn’t often the ever so stoic Inari cries. A rare sight indeed. I believe we have our answers with my Morgana. So, I will take my leave. I have much to attend to and many plans to make with this savory information.”
Nodding, Inari pointed a finger at Gloria, and a rune appeared before her. Gloria turned to Sora as she began to shimmer. “We will meet again, Sora. I have seen our next rendezvous.” With that, she vanished.
Inari took a deep breath. “Wow, I forget how invigorating emotion can be. I cannot believe how I completely lost control in front of Gloria, and even Sekhmet, how embarrassing.” Taking another deep breath, she began to glow, and her red cheeks vanished, replaced by perfect features. “Now, you asked me to help you with some training. We have about five hours and eight minutes before your time is up.”
Taking deep breaths herself, Sora asked, “What do you mean my time is up?”
“By encountering Fen’s tail, the residual energy I infused it with will affect you; that energy has forced your body to undergo a change that will give you your second tail.”