B1 — 16. Four Days; Angel or Trickster?

Sora continued through the night; scaring people with hideous phantasmal monsters to legendary creatures of wonder, she played with Miami Beach’s nightlife citizens and tourists.  To some, she switched signs around, to others entire streets, to one couple she made them think they’d disappeared into a fantasy world.  The experience, emotion, and expressions gave her an exhilarating thrill.

Slowly Sora made her way through Miami Beach to Venetian Causeway.  Walking across the bridge, she stopped halfway and looked down at the water and docks as the sharp, cold breeze blew her hair and dress back.  The chill didn’t bother her; it was no different than the knowledge of it being cold while looking through the windows of a warm house.  What am I doing?  Sucking in her lips, she breathed deeply, smelling the host of ocean scents.

Hopping down to the docks, she noticed a few people fishing out of sight from the roadway; they were dressed warmly.  Normally, I wouldn’t even consider it, but I want to talk to someone.

Approaching them, she was surprised they didn’t notice her until she dropped beside a man.  “Whoa!  Girl, you scared me.”  He took a calming breath, a few of the other fishers jumping too, shifting as they returned to their business.

Sora hummed as she examined the underbelly of the bridge, studying each of their emotions.  Homeless, trying to get something to eat without fishing licenses, they’re pretty tense … Seems like they’re new in town.

The man next to her glanced sidelong with concern; he wore a warm jacket and gloves, with blue jeans and boots.  He was Caucasian; a beanie covered his hair, and he had the beginnings of a dark beard growing.  His brown eyes were clear to Sora in the darkness, and she knew he was worried about her being alone on the docks.

Clearing his throat, he said, “Hi, my name’s Dutch.  Not that it’s my business, but what are you doing here all alone—it’s pretty late.”  Noting her dress, he shivered.  “You’ll catch a cold dressed like that and barefoot … have anywhere to go?”

Sora was silent as she continued analyzing their emotions.  They’re good guys.  The man behind her was trying to figure out how to give her his jacket, while the man next to him was working up the courage to light a fire for her, even though it could expose them to the police.

Both men were dark-skinned.  Through their emotions, Sora could tell they were close.  The man that wanted to light a fire cleared his throat.  “I’m kind of cold.  You guys?  Why don’t we light that wood Jeremy got?”  From his emotional shifts, Sora knew the man that wanted to give his jacket to her was Jeremy.

Jeremy nodded and mounted his fishing pole before getting up.  “Yeah, this wind is freezing my … uh, it’s cold,” he said while shivering and glancing over at Sora.  “Joe, you got the lighting fluid?  Isn’t it supposed to be warm in Miami?”

Joe breathed through his teeth.  “No, couldn’t get any today.  You, Dutch?”

Brow creasing, Dutch shook his head as he mounted his pole.  “We’ve managed without.”

Sora looked down at the dark water before gazing across the endless ocean, bare feet lightly kicking out.  The view was interesting in the dark with her enhanced vision.  Not as bright as in the sun, but the moon gave the water a strange, mysterious sheen that played on her mind.  They’re willing to risk getting caught to help me.  They think I ran away from home … which is kind of true.  I bet Ron’s worried sick; I haven’t seen any of the staff for a bit.  I’m likely to get a tongue lashing when I head home.

Getting to her feet, Sora noted the steel drum that had paper and wood stuffed inside by the wall.  Sora lit her tail with foxfire, masking it from sight with illusions; she flicked it; the fire flared into an arc and slammed into the barrel.  A burst of fire expelled from the barrel’s top, the sound making the men jump.

“What was that?”  Dutch cried out, shifting nervously as he stared up at the bridge.

Erasing the illusion to the men, they stared at the barrel in shock and fright.  Jeremy patted Joe on the back.  “Hey, Joe.  Did that barrel just spontaneously combust?”

Joe shook his head.  “I guess.  I didn’t see anything, you?”  Both Dutch and Jeremy shook their heads as Sora walked next to it and held her fingers out to show them it was fine, tail and ears hidden behind illusions.  They looked at each other questioningly but soon joined her.

Shifting uncomfortably, Dutch asked, “So, what’s your name?”

“Sora,” she responded softly.

“That’s a nice name,” Joe stated while rubbing his hands together.

Jeremy cleared his throat.  “So, got a destination?”

Sora shook her head.  “No, I’m not running away from home, I … just needed to figure some things out.”

They all nodded.  “Been there,” Dutch muttered.  Sora could feel their search for meaning and purpose that seemed to have brought the three together.

Jeremy unzipped his jacket and handed it to her.  “Here, and don’t say no.  I’d kill any man who didn’t give a jacket to a girl dressed like you in this chill.  Cold as the arctic!  Didn’t expect Miami to have wind like this…”

Taking it with a smile, she wrapped it around her shoulders.  Looking at the brooding features of the three as they each tried to figure out what to say next to help her, she giggled.

An unsure smile lit each of their faces.  “What’s up?”  Joe asked.

“You’re all so connected.  I can feel the hardships the three of you have suffered together—it’s nice being able to feel that kind of—love,” Sora said as she looked up into the sky.

They sighed as they looked at each other, emotions troubled.  “I’m sure there are people that love you, Sora.”

Sora nodded.  “There are … I just can’t share what you have with anyone my age … not without getting them in trouble.”

Joe breathed a heavy breath.  “I feel you.  When I was your age, all I had was a gang family and—they weren’t much of a family.  They almost got me locked up several times, but I just wanted somewhere to belong—then I met Jeremy and then Dutch.”  He smiled at his friends.  “Been a family since.”

Nodding, Sora smiled at Jeremy as he tried to hide his shivers.  Taking the coat off, she handed it back to him.  “I’m really not cold, as hard as that may seem to believe.”  Thoughts turning to Wendy and all the pain she had to go through with her mother, she sighed.  Maybe I could talk to Wendy about this … but would that be putting too much of a burden on her?  Setting the coat beside the barrel as Jeremy stubbornly refused, she walked back to the dock edge and began scanning with her ears, focusing them toward the water.

The three looked at her with concern.  “You should come back by the fire, Sora.”  Dutch urged.

Finding what she was looking for, Sora pointed at a spot in the water.  “Dutch, can you cast your rod there?  That’s where the largest school of fish are right now.”

“Um, alright…”  Dutch said hesitantly.  Moving to his pole, he reeled it in and cast it at the spot she pointed.  They waited for a few minutes before Dutch tensed.  “I got one!”

“What!?”  Joe and Jeremy shouted in unison.

They rushed over to Dutch as he fought to reel it in.  “It’s a fighter!”

“Watch the line,” Joe warned with excitement, “we don’t want it to snap!”

Smiling warmly, Sora turned around and jumped thirty feet over the water, claws digging into the bridge side; she launched up to toss her legs over the rails, landing on the sidewalk.  Leaning against the guard, she listened.

“I got it!  Get the box!”  Dutch said.

“That’s huge!”  Joe laughed as he rustled around, grabbing the box to put it in.  “Got it!”

“Hey, guys,” Jeremy asked, “where did Sora go?”

“I don’t see her anywhere…”  Joe trailed off.

They all dropped down by the flaming barrel with a huff.

Dutch’s voice became choked.  “Do you think—was she an angel?”

Joe’s voice was strained.  “I don’t know—but we haven’t eaten in days, and we’ve been praying.”

“An angel that was trying to figure some things out, though—not feeling loved by those her age—and like—taking a break from heaven?”  Jeremy questioned.

Dutch cleared his throat.  “I guess even heaven has its problems.”

Joe breathed, trying to collect himself.  “Sora, whoever you are or wherever you are … thank you,” he said, half in tears, with Dutch and Jeremy expressing their gratitude, too.

Sora looked across the road to the sea.  How can I play tricks on people so casually and then have this urge to help people … my thoughts of Wendy?  What am I turning into?  

Continuing her stroll, she came to the edge of Dodge Island.  I’ve walked further from home than I ever have.  Sora froze as a familiar odor caught her attention.  Double-checking, she confirmed the scent.  “Aiden is nearby—I guess this is a good enough time to see if he really is Kari’s brother.”

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Following the trail, she found herself at a cemetery, and to her surprise, her sharp eyes caught a light dazzling in the distance.  Leaping over the fence in a single bound, she walked toward the strange multicolored glow.  Ducking around trees, she stealthily made her way to the source; Aiden’s scent grew stronger with every step.

Jumping into a tree, she began making her way from tree to tree with light bounds.  Sora wrapped herself with illusions to be invisible.  Silently landing on a sturdy branch, she peered across a ten-meter space to where Aiden sat.

The entire area was lit like a bonfire.  The light was coming from something on a grave in front of him, from what Sora could see.  Ears twitching, she listened intently.  I know he’s not human.  I don’t know what he is, but I know what he’s not, and he smells nothing like Kari.  Listening to him talk to himself, she waited.

“Hey—I remembered your birthday.  A dozen roses for twelve years old—or what you—would have been.  But … I just came to talk for a while.  I have some things…”  Aiden let a bitter chuckle carry on the wind.  “Tiri—I know this isn’t your grave, just some shell that I purchased, but—it’s hard.  You know … I guess,well, I’d do it all different if I could … but all I have are my feathers—these stupid feathers that cage me—and they can’t help make amends,” his voice cracked.

Starting to feel unconformable, Sora shifted nervously.  Why’d I even come over here?  Just because I’m curious?  He’s having a private talk with a dead loved one … it’s not something I should intrude on.  Sora’s ears shot up, and her hair bristled at his following statement.

“Kari’s been going through a rough time lately.  Maybe if you were here, things would be different … then again, maybe they wouldn’t.”  Is Aiden Kari’s brother?

“I’m not so blind to think that heaven’s gates will open for me.  If anyone would get into heaven, it’s you … if it’s real.”  Sora’s focused hearing could distinguish Aiden’s hard swallow.  “Just look how pathetic I’ve become … crawling on all fours and reaching for you … as if you can save me.

“These four walls are closing in on us, and it terrifies me.  Kari’s on her last leg, there’s going to be a confrontation soon, and I don’t need a sign to know how that will end—I want her to be safe, but she’s so stubborn.  All I seem to do is fall with broken wings, and this city has no love for me.  All I see is smog that clouds…”  he sighed, “that clouds what direction should I take…

“One of the girls Kari protects—she got hurt today … pretty bad, and it’s really tearing her up.  She’s petrified; if another one of her girls gets hurt like Jenny—I’m afraid she’ll snap.  She still doesn’t even know what happened to Jenny, and I know it’s killing her.”

A heartbroken sob escaped Aiden’s throat.  “I can’t say goodbye yet.  You drifted away as I broke in two.  You believed in me … I told you it would be fine, but I couldn’t stop it.”  Sora stiffened in shock as he started shimmering, and rainbow-colored lights began dancing around the area as tears fell from Aiden’s eyes.  “My hesitation caused all this pain … a simple word, and I couldn’t say it.”

Sora felt something strange pass through her, an emotional surge that sent shivers up her spine and prickled her skin.  A dull knife dug into the side of her heart, and a burning sensation ate at her body.  A torrent of self-disgust washed over her consciousness in such a wave that it made her lose balance and fall, illusions unraveling.

I’m better off dead…

Before hitting the ground, a face crossed her mind, the image of a cute eight-year-old girl with long brown hair.

She yelped, causing Aiden to jump and look back.  Sora didn’t know what to do; she felt boxed in, trapped inside.  The world was closing in on her, and there was nowhere to hide.

Wiping away at his cheeks, Aiden tried smiling.  “The Nogitsune that almost got me killed is now spying on me … Sora, was it?”  He frowned, brow furrowing when Sora didn’t answer, tears streaming down her cheeks.  “Ah—I see.  It’s not very smart to link emotions to someone as emotionally sick as me.  It can quite literally kill you, but you seem stronger than I first thought.”

Sora’s quaking fingers lifted to her chest as her heart pounded against her ribcage.  Swallowing, she asked, “That’s how you feel?  That’s horrible.”  She couldn’t hear the screams that echoed around the air but felt them pressing in, an internal war that dwarfed her emotional struggles.

Closing his eyes, Aiden sighed, feeling the cool night breeze.  “Follow me.”

Sora shakily got to her feet and nodded while rubbing her tears away.  She reapplied her illusions to her ears and tail.  Easing back her tether, his feelings faded away, and she looked at the grave. It was unmarked, and a multicolored feather rested on it, shining more brilliantly than her foxfire.

Walking with Aiden, he guided them to a bench.  Sinking heavily into it, Aiden offered her the other side.  Sitting, Sora waited.

“So, how did you happen across me?” Aiden asked, looking across the dark graveyard with a passive gaze.

“I was … just on a walk.  I caught your scent and got a little—curious…”  Sora cut off.

“I see, and why did you decide to probe my emotions?”

Sora’s face flushed at the word, and she started playing with her dress.  “I-I’m new to my abilities.  I actually just learned I’m a Nogitsune from Devin’s statement, and—I’m still getting used to it.”

Aiden hummed lowly.  “That’s an odd story.  From everything I know, Nogitsune learn about their abilities very slowly as they turn into humans.”  He glanced at her.  “You’re hiding your ears and tails with illusions—that’s unusual.”

“How so?”  Sora asked.

“Nogitsune shouldn’t be able to bend light—usually you could only do that if you were made into a Kitsune, having your abilities unlocked by Inari or by being a Húli Jīng.  You don’t have white as a sign of Inari, and you don’t have black hair, the sign of being a Húli Jīng.  How did you skip that process?”

A bit confused by his statement, Sora hesitated.  “I—don’t know.  I’ve always been a human—not a fox—at least as far as I know, I have,” Sora said tentatively.

“Oh,” Aiden expressed dully, “I’ve never heard of a Nogitsune born in human form … unless you possessed a pregnant mother before birth.”

Sora’s face went white.  “Did—could I have?  I was told that my mother died in labor.  What if I … d-did I have something to do with it?  Being a Nogitsune?”

Aiden shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I wasn’t there.  From what I know of Nogitsune, they’re always born as part-spiritual part-corporal fox pups and slowly develop their shapeshifting abilities.  I’ve never heard of a human turning into a Nogitsune, not even if you possessed a human.  If you took over a baby’s body, then you couldn’t use any of your abilities; you’d be like a normal human.  Yet, you have a tail and ears, as any normal Nogitsune would develop through shapeshifting.”  Aiden shrugged, still looking into the darkness with a hollow expression.

Sora clutched at her chest as pain gripped her heart, tears coming to her eyes.  “Did I—kill…”

She jumped as Aiden’s hand rested on her shoulder.  Looking up, she found warm, tormented green eyes.  “Honestly … I doubt that’s the answer.  If you possessed a human, even a baby, you couldn’t have altered its physiology that much—not unless you had at least six tails.  If that were the case, you’d have six tails right now, not one.  At least, I think that’s how it works—I’m no expert.  As far as I can tell … you’re unique.  And keep those emotions out of your heart.  Strong emotions like being caged and self-hatred can kill Vulpes, given time.”

Wiping away at her eyes, she smiled.  “I see—I’m just unique.”  Is this really Kari’s brother?  I got the impression that he was a horrible person from her.  Maybe I don’t know Kari’s story.  When did I even start thinking I did?

Softly muttering, Sora asked, “If you don’t want to talk about it, I understand, but when I was … feeling your emotions.  I saw—I saw a little girl with brown hair.”

Aiden swallowed, voice hoarse.  “Yeah … her name is—was—Tiri.  She was a very special person to me and—things happened—things I could have stopped.”

Sora didn’t know why, but she felt an instinctual compulsion to continue.  Idiot!  Stop it!  Don’t ask!  “She’s related to Kari in some way?”

Aiden’s vision sunk, and his body sagged.  “You do know Kari … then you must be the troublesome fox she’s always talking about.”  Sora kept silent, and Aiden sighed forcefully.  “Yes … Tiri was Kari’s younger sister, and I’m their adopted brother.”  Sniffing, he rose.  “I think I’m going to retire for the night.  Goodbye, Sora, I’m sorry if you were the victim in any of Kari’s vents.  Goodnight.”

Sora watched Aiden leave without a word.  Why did I ask such a painful question when I told myself not to?  Again, I did something I don’t like!  I did confirm their relationship, though—adopted brother.  He said Tiri was Kari’s younger sister—so she has siblings.  He’s adopted, which means he’s not a Fenris Wolf.  He smells … strange, like energy … I don’t exactly know how to describe the smell, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Frowning, Sora walked back to Tiri’s grave.  The brilliant feather had faded and now only kept a dim sheen.  Examining it, she pursed her lips.  It’s a reasonably large feather, like something the size of an eagle.

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Reaching out her left hand, she caressed the feather’s edge and hummed as the sheen shot into her fingers.  It didn’t feel bad, just warm.  A warmth she’d just recently felt; she knew that it was an emotion, love.  Did I just absorb emotional energy?

She sighed in disgust.  “Fantastic.  I’m a blunt girl that spies on people’s emotions and grave robs feelings.”  Flipping her tail to the side with annoyance, she dropped to her back and stared up at the welcoming sky.  “Am I good or bad?”

Continuing to consider the starless night, she let her eyes glaze.  The sky filled her with energy, revitalized, and helped her internal struggle.  “Is it right to let all these things I’m doing slide, to just go with the flow of events?”  She shook her head.  “I don’t know … I just don’t feel that bad … which also isn’t right.”

Lying still for a few minutes, she finally rose and made her way back to her hotel,  playing a few weak tricks on some nighttime strollers along the way.

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