Note: Patrons have chosen UE in a poll to take ATM’s place on Fridays. So, updates for ATM will be more sporadic with my changed schedule. I will continue to write in it, but it might be at a maximum of 2 weeks to get a chapter out. I hope you understand. =)) I still very much love the series and will continue to write in it.
POV: Sora (the daughter of Mia; Inari’s niece; Fox 3rd Gen Founder)
Recap: Kari followed the group of cultists called The Brotherhood that Fen had created, and listened to them have a group meeting. They talked in code, likely following Fen’s explicit instructions, and being so easily manipulated, they’ve eaten up the rhetoric. From what Kari discovered, they might be plotting to kill Sora to set her free, bypassing the danger sensing of Eyia, Sora, and the others. Kari believes they wish to release Sora from imprisonment, not harm her.
Sora breathed out a weary sigh as she glanced around at the Vulpes and humans going about their daily tasks; not a single eye left them, but it seemed they the crowd didn’t dare impose. The eight long red-furred tails in Mary’s hands were the object of their attention.
Shifting Emilia around a little in her arms, Sora glanced down at her daughter’s sleeping form; she appeared at rest, but her Spiritual Network was a panicked flurry, and with Sora’s advanced perception, coupled with Emilia’s lack of defenses, she knew what the issue was at a glance.
It’s only been a day, yet she feels like she can’t do anything right. Why didn’t you make me more mortal in her eyes? I’m like a superhero to her.
Her aunt’s soft hum seemed to ripple through her body, making her tails pause in their swaying motion. “It’s a necessary part of growing up, dear. When did you first discover your father wasn’t superman?”
My dad … I guess I kind of still had that image of my dad until I saw Devin throw him across the room.
A lump dropped down her throat, mind returning to the fear that had gripped her. It was the first time I ever thought I might lose my dad, and then … when Eric stabbed him. He was trying to protect me, even though he knew there was nothing he could really do, but he still tried.
“The life of a parent,” Inari whispered. “It’s something I’ve longed for and feared. It’s the dream of many women, including myself … to one day love someone more than anything … more than life itself. The willingness to confront eternal pain if it means saving the one light that you cannot give up. Your father understood that.”
Sora’s green irises shifted down to Emilia’s soft lips, remembering the fight she’d had with her dad, the last turbulent moments she had with him. Is he okay? Have you found anything else out?
“I’m afraid your aunt has yet to send any information regarding your father. I suspect your mother is also on the hunt for answers.”
You still haven’t talked to her, even after meeting with me?
Her aunt was silent for a few seconds before releasing a soft sigh. “I will never lie to you … unless I must. I rarely speak in absolutes; life is too complicated for that. Yes, I have talked with your mother, at least, my actual self did.”
Sora’s throat constricted, fingers tightening around Emilia’s shoulder. And?
“She was angry; I was angry. We argued, tensions were high, insults were thrown around, and then, we calmed down and talked over tea. Your mother made it … millions of years, and she still can’t make a decent cup,” Inari grumbled. “I think she does it on purpose to take a jab at me, or maybe she actually enjoys her mud-like concoctions.”
Inari sucked on her lip for a time before continuing, and her silence plucked at Sora’s nerves. She turned left at the next junction, remembering the house at the corner as a landmark to get back to the building they’d been assigned.
“Your mother apologized for keeping you from me, but she had her reasons, and I bitterly understood; however, Aiden’s tiny manipulations caused a massive ripple effect that had, for the most part, remained unnoticed until your change, and that was the catalyst.
“Unknown to Aiden himself, years of actions he’d taken contributed to you meeting Eyia and Jin, Kari, and a multitude of other pieces falling into place. Nilly herself was a bit of an anomaly, and your mother didn’t want you two to meet, which caused more of a change than you might expect. A lot of your decisions were affected by Nilly’s presence … my, how things have become more complicated than even your mother predicted.
“She was thankful for the support I’ve been lending you, and the extra help she was now getting … some of the threats she’s been dealing with herself are not small. She’s keeping certain individuals busy and their eyes off you, but some of those plans are now becoming complicated because of Hikaru … something your mother chewed me out over, and I can’t fault her for that. It is a real issue.”
She paused as Sora whispered, She loves me, then? She didn’t just forget about me and dad?
“No, dear, no, she loves you more than anything!”
I tell myself that, but at the same time … it’s just hard to believe.
Sora slowed as a warm sensation filled her entire body; it felt like her aunt was hugging her.
“There are many factions that keep a close eye on Founders, which is one reason why Hikaru discovered your existence, and your mother didn’t imbue her own Intelligent Construct inside of you out of her fears, which were founded, as when you met me, you were forced to undergo a very sudden and dangerous transformation.
“I noticed the effect of my presence upon your Core immediately, and that was one of many reasons I brought you back to my Sanctuary. It took not only my power, but also the Herald of Sakura to help stabilize your sudden growth, and I suspect there was another, rather elusive, party involved.”
Mary’s strained voice drew her away from the conversation. “Hey, Sora … can we have a break real fast, or—or slow down a bit? You’re just—moving a bit fast,” she gasped.
Sora’s brows furrowed as she turned to look at the panting woman, and she realized that she’d been making her move at a jog. “Oh—I’m so sorry … yeah, we can slow down a bit.”
“N-no problem,” Mary chuckled as they dropped to a slow walk. “It’s just—her tails are a bit bulkier than I expected; it’s just a little awkward to hold.”
“Thanks,” Sora said with a sheepish smile. “Let me know if you need to sit down.”
Turning her attention back to her aunt, she licked her lips. My mom won’t see me, even now? Sora asked, already knowing the answer.
“No, and it’s not that she won’t, but that it would be extremely dangerous in her position. Meeting my true self again would cause further reactions to your Core, and it’s the same for your mother, which is also a part of how you were born. Your entire Soul is volatile; Jin, Eyia, and even Fen noticed it when they first met you.”
Does that have to do with my Shadow?
“No, not at all, dear. Your relationship with yourself is entirely self-driven, and as you discovered, you can swing either way on issues. This is only linked with how your mother conceived you, and your Intelligent, Spiritual, and Physical genetic makeup. You needn’t worry, though; yes, you are a Founder, and my niece, period.”
That’s … relieving to hear. Thank you, aunt Inari. What else did my mom say?
Inari breathed out a heavy sigh as if dropping into a big chair after a long day. “We caught up a little, and she told me that it was never her intention to get you trapped in this world. To be honest, your change could have happened anywhere from when you were a child to when you were in your late twenties from what information your mother had.
“It’s debatable whether Aiden’s influence had any effect on that timeline; it was Ron and Stephanie’s job to provide a stable framework, but something as small scale as Eric wasn’t that big of a concern, and she had no reason to believe they were even in contact with you.”
I guess he wasn’t, but Kari was, and so Eric masked Kari’s presence, and Aiden’s ability jumbled everything around.
“Precisely, and Stephanie was busy with a lot of other issues that Aiden unknowingly created. A great many powerful beings were being drawn into Miami, which caused an exceedingly pregnant Stephanie … being a Primordial, and with what she is, it requires her to stay in Ginnungagap, which limited the actions she could take and drew Ron’s attention away.
“Your change just so happened to take place at the convenient time that everyone had their eyes elsewhere, and all thanks to our little bird.”
Aiden’s wish … it was to help Eric achieve his dream, to help him change back into the person he remembered, and to do that; it required something like The Herald of Sakura. Right?
“Correct. An extremely complicated plan, but with the perfect outcome he wanted.”
Sora breathed a heavy sigh; eyes centered on the cobblestone ground. Thanks, aunt Inari … will I ever see my mom?
“Without a doubt, and it’s been my goal for some time to guide you in that direction. The issue is the fallout from Aiden’s grand design; you don’t go manipulating creatures like the Herald of Sakura without drawing a lot of attention.
“She was rather amused to have been played to a fiddle by such a weak and young boy, but that’s what his race does, and why they were hunted to, what was thought, extinction. Alva was a bit more crafty than she let on.”
Okay, that’s all I really wanted to discuss. Now, I need to clear my head and think about things.
“I look forward to our next conversation!”
Sora let a half-smile move her lips, eyes shifting back to her daughter’s face as she thought; she ignored all the eyes following her, too preoccupied to care.
So much has changed … how long has it been? No more than two weeks from Earth’s timeline, I suppose. It’s kind of hard to judge since I don’t know how long I was in that base, but it couldn’t have been more than two to three days … it feels like a lifetime.
Two weeks ago, I was powerless and scared; I had no clue about my family or what I was, and Kari was the worse than anything in existence. Now, we’re friends, and I know things about her that have made me cry. She’s had it so much worse. I was giving in to my Shadow during my transformation … that mouth of hers…
She giggled, causing Mary to glance over, still walking beside her. “Something funny?”
“Just thinking back,” she whispered. “It can’t be more than two weeks since you were just a psychiatrist that my dad hired, and now, look at us.”
Mary’s eyes fell with her tone. “That day—Jenny interrupted us to show me a live video of my husband. It was the first time anything like that had happened to me, and what was I supposed to say?
“It was the police that was standing outside, ready to do what she said; now I realize they were officers turned by Jenny herself. I was terrified, but that’s what happened when people looked into Kari’s background. Ashley and I talked about it for a bit, and—Jenny was terrifying.”
Sora bit her lower lip, picking at the skin as she thought about her. “Jenny’s dead … the people back at the base shot her. It really upset Kari, but … Kari has a huge bag of issues more than me. She was betrayed by everyone close to her, lost everything—twice, hates herself, and feels worthless. Jenny’s death hurt her, and finding out about her betrayal hurt even more; she wonders if she can trust anyone.”
Mary sucked in before releasing a long puff of air and nodded. “I can see that … it shocked me when I heard that you were now friends. Was there any magic involved?”
“I guess you could say that … she felt my pain, and I felt hers. That’s a simple explanation, but it was much … I don’t even know how to describe it. It was just a lot more … think as personal as you can get and multiply that by ten. It was like experiencing every bad thing she’d gone through first hand.”
Silence followed her statement; it took several seconds before Mary responded. “I question my profession, Sora…”
Sora gave her a puzzled look. “What—do you mean?”
“I—I’ve tried to,” she paused, fingers absently stroking Emilia’s tails, and her voice cracked. “My whole life—I’ve tried to help people. I went to prisons and tried my best to work with people, but everything I’ve seen … experienced. There’s just—too much.
“The evil that I saw in Eric and Jenny … Lori was a complicit suicidal victim, but so was I. It makes me think about the things I read about the Russian Gulags … the best of us don’t make it out. Ashley talked about it with me … the best of us die, and the weak survive by throwing the stronger ones under the bus.
“Change a name on a list to be executed a day later … stealing someone else’s bread to eat another day. This—this horrible experience with Eric has really opened my eyes to the worst of humanity … seeing what police officers would do under Eric’s command, and they’d grown to like it … just like what I read in the accounts of the Gulags.”
“What about my aunt?”
Mary’s voice cracked as she chuckled. “Inari … just meeting her made me realize how insignificant humans are, and I know she wasn’t even trying to give that impression. Seeing the miracles you can work … something straight out of religion. I just … I’m not the same, and it’s just like you said … two weeks … two weeks, and I’m permanently changed.”
“Do you—regret it?” Sora asked, voice dying off a little at the end.
“To be honest,” Mary licked her dry lips. “In many ways, yes, I do, and if I knew then what I know now—I can’t say that I would try to help you … I’d probably run the other way screaming, and that’s what I’m beginning to realize. I’m weaker than I thought,” she mumbled, and a few tears dripped down her cheeks.
“And I had it light … Ashley was under Eric’s thumb for months … the same for Nathan. Inari’s work, unlocking my Core, has made me stronger in many ways, but it’s also made me aware of how weak I am. I used to think that god-like beings would be so high and mighty, but now that I have met one … I was the arrogant one.
“Inari has nothing to prove, and she could see us as we view ants. We don’t look down on ants; we hardly notice them at all unless they annoy us, but humans can’t even do that to her. Earth? Why would they even care? Yet, I met something as pure as Qebhet … Inari doesn’t do things without purpose.
“I watched humanity trample over someone that desired nothing more than the best of what every human wishes … peace, but the dark side of humanity won over and destroyed her before ruining everything she helped to build. I’ve been questioning everything lately … and for good reason, yet Inari also told me humanity has good. It’s hard, Sora … it’s just hard for me, and I feel weak because of that.”
Sora tilted her head down, causing her hair to obscure a part of her vision. “I feel that way, too, Mary … not in the same way, I think, but similar. My whole life’s been shattered to pieces. My dad’s missing, I have like over a dozen people coming after me, and I’m trying to pick up all the shards of glass around me, cutting myself along the way.
“Not only that, but I keep making so many mistakes, and my aunt has been doing her best to help me … my mom’s out there doing the same thing. I had no clue what was really happening; I was trapped in this bubble, and the moment it popped, my head’s been spinning.
“At first, my Shadow was out of control, and I lashed out at everything … well, I guess I didn’t really let my Shadow out, now that I met her. I just let her have a bit more control, and I felt powerful … so powerful. Yet, that part of me really scared me, too; it was so confusing.
“Then, everything kept getting more and more serious, and here we are, in another mess; it’s like my whole life is shadowed by misfortune. I want to start solving my issues instead of getting tangled up in them. I want control back, and to do that…” A thought made her pause, which drew Mary’s eye.
“To do that?”
“To do that … I need Aiden on my side.”
Mary’s brow furrowed. “I can see where you’re going, but … he can’t really control that power, right?”
“It’s not about control,” Sora smiled. “It’s about desire. Can you walk a little faster?” She cleared her throat before sucking on her left cheek a second. “I have a lot to do today.”
First, I need to find Kari … my Shadow’s pulling me toward her for some reason, and I promised to let her in more. This could work, though! I just need to get Aiden onboard.
The two of them picked up their pace, and soon arrived back at the building they were staying in; Mary opened the door to allow them inside.
Jin, Githa, and Eyia were still all sitting on the couches, like old ladies waiting for something interesting to happen. Brandon was sitting on the couch, and she heard Ashley upstairs with the kids, tucking them in bed.
Sora lifted an eyebrow as she entered, Liz was sprawled out on a table, tails flicking between her legs, and she was still dressed in her nightgown. Man, she has a different personality after I took away the magical drive machine within them.
Eyia smoothly rose to her feet, rushing over to greet her as her long spear appeared in hand. “Sister, has something assaulted you?”
“No, no,” Sora muttered as Eyia stood at the doorframe, glaring outside. “We weren’t attacked … well, I was attacked by a Spiritual Worm.”
“Come again?” Jin asked, features now alert as she quickly joined Eyia. “How did something that nasty get here and attack you? You okay?”
Githa groaned, still in cat-form as she stretched out her back. “Your Spiritual Network is repairing itself,” she hummed, and without warning, she was in human form, standing in front of her while looking Emilia and her up and down. “I see … Emilia caught you just about dead…”
“Dead?” Eyia’s frosty aura began to radiate from her spirit. “How did this happen?”
“Yes,” Githa hummed, thoughtfully glancing over at Mary. “Mhm, okay … not good, Sora, not good at all!”
Sora pushed forward, making Githa dance out of the way. “Reading Mary’s Spiritual Network is breaching her privacy, Githa. Is it too much trouble to ask and wait?”
“Yes,” Githa chimed, appearing beside the couch she’d been sitting on as Sora laid Emilia on it. “Why did you pull that thing in? Those things are icky little bugs.”
Mary just sighed, lips pursed as she set Emilia’s tails down and glanced over at the frowning cat, but she didn’t say anything.
“You pulled it in?” Jin asked with disbelief. “I’ve never—that was incredibly stupid.”
Eyia closed the door, face etched with concern as she joined them. “I must agree with Jin. My father was very explicit about destroying and avoiding, if possible, such creatures.”
“It was either let Mimi die or do that … my aunt was against it, too, and I didn’t really know what she meant when she said it would be the most painful thing I’ve ever felt. It’s over, though; we can move on. I saved Mimi, and I’m healing.”
“I understand,” Eyia said, touching her shoulder to draw her attention; Sora was a little taken aback by the worry in her deep blue eyes, and Liz shot up to look over at her, ears twitching. “It was a tough decision, but if I lost you, then I would be heartbroken. Please rely on us more; you are taking too much upon yourself.”
“The little fox fainted, the poor thing,” Githa whispered, playing with Emilia’s long copper hair as her two puffy tails rose into the air. “If you die, then Nilly will punish me.” Githa’s burning multi-hued eyes lifted to glare at her, “Don’t die,” she growled.
A shiver ran down Sora’s tails; it felt like white flames shot from Githa’s stare, hit her skin, and flooded her veins. Jin and Eyia leveled a stare at Githa, but her radiating heat was gone as quickly as it came. “Sora needs to live,” she giggled, flashing her sharp teeth. “Don’t let nasty worms inside you!”
Sora forced the lump in her throat down, and she chuckled as if it were a joke. That was a threat … what does the Nekomata Faction want with me?
Liz hopped off the table. “What about Alice? You said Mimi was in trouble? Olivia said something like that before leaving, but Alice didn’t come back with you. Where is she?”
A moan left Sora’s throat, and she scratched her left fox ear as it itched, flicking her tails to the left. “Okay, let me make this quick. Mimi was being affected by some kind of magical seal or curse, and for some reason, there was a dormant Spiritual Worm inside her that hatched.
“Olivia ran to get me, and I went with Gurakuqi to help Mimi. When I got there, she was dying and in a lot of pain. My aunt told me how to stop it, and against her warnings, I went through with it. It was dangerous, and I don’t think I’d do it again, knowing the consequences now and what I have to lose; thank you for the concern, Eyia, Jin.
“Emilia was out in the town with Alice and Mary; she found me when I was fighting the worm, and thought I was going to die. She fainted, and then Mary and Alice came to help me. I solved the issues with Mary’s help, thank you, and my aunt guided me through the rest.
“Now, I have a lot of things to do. Eyia, Jin, I know you’ve been cooped up in here,” she said with an apologetic plea, “but can you please watch Emilia while I go look for Kari and Aiden. I have some things I really need to talk with them about, and I want to leave my daughter in a place I know is safe.”
Sora shot a glance at her former psychiatrist. “Mary can catch you up on the new dangers we’re facing, like with the discovery of something called an Inquisitor, the new guest in the town, and Eyia can tell you about…” She paused as Liz ran to the door.
“I’m gonna go help Alice!”
“Okay,” Sora mumbled as Liz slammed the door behind her. “And Eyia can tell you about Hikaru and some of the other things we’ve seen. Sound good?” When they all nodded, she clapped her hands. “Great! I’m glad I can count on you all, and I’ll be back with Kari, Aiden, and Nathan soon. We really need to talk about our plans … we need to get our lives in order!”
“I look forward to that,” Jin mumbled, dropping into an armchair. “It’s been fun with you, but crazy.”
“I’m still digesting food,” Githa yawned, turning back into her small cat form to sleep above Emilia.
Brandon seemed utterly lost, and without a voice in the conversation. He just nodded and gave her a thumbs up. “Good luck! I’m really thankful for what you’ve done for my family.”
“No problem,” Sora chuckled, rubbing her neck as she moved to leave. “I’m glad I was able to be a small part of bringing your family back together.”Waving a few more times as she exited, Sora sniffed the air and quickly found Kari’s most recent scent. I’m glad they care, but Githa and Nilly … there’s so much to get to the bottom of, but if I can just inspire Aiden, then things will start looking up.
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