They entered a massive waiting room with three levels going up, ahead of them was a wall of red light. They watched two single-tailed teenage Vulpes with black tails running after Githa, clearly frustrated; Sora could feel Githa’s excitement at the chase and Luna was nearing tears.
“They must be extremely young,” Fen mused. “They haven’t even noticed us. They’re probably younger than you, Sora. Cute, they’re just getting used to human form … to be young again.”
Luna was the first to catch sight of them. She skidded to a stop and started to tremble nervously. “Umm—Rayla…”
Rayla glared at Luna. “What—we need to get that cat out…” She followed Luna’s pointing finger. “What … how…” Fur sprouted out of their skin as they morphed into small black foxes, their simple white dresses falling to the ground as they changed. Darting out from within the folds, they ran toward the red light.
“Stop,” Sora commanded, pushing her influence over them. They froze just before entering the light. “Come here.” The two black foxes walked toward her, trembling as Githa jumped on a sofa, curling into a ball. Sora felt terrible as the foxes looked up at them, ears back, tail between their legs, tears gathering in the corners of their eyes.
Fen smirked as she bent down. “There, there, little pups. We only have a few questions.” A sinister smile lit her lips as one of her fingernails extended, claw scratching the back of Luna’s neck. “I’d answer truthfully.”
“Fen,” Sora said disapprovingly. “Don’t threaten them.”
Fen chuckled as she straightened. “It’s been so long since I’ve threatened anyone. I was just having a little fun!” She sniffed. “You take the game out of everything.” She walked over to a chair with Jian and sat, watching the two girls in a predatory manner.
Sora stiffened as she felt her influence over Kari snap. This is an inconvenient time… Turning to Kari’s confused face, she said, “Kari … I can explain…”
Contempt lit Kari’s features. “You—you controlled me to follow you … you … Eric…” She began breathing heavily, nostrils flaring. Her eyes snapped to Eyia as her spear appeared, and Jin lifted a testing eyebrow. Kari seethed through her teeth as she walked to one of the couches and began tearing it to pieces, splinters scattering across the room. “Eric’s probably dead! Why—what—I don’t get any of this!” She began pounding the floor, the booms resounding, but the floor didn’t budge against her strikes. “I don’t understand!”
Fen giggled at her rage, but the two young foxes had dropped to their stomachs, paws over their heads, low whimpers escaping their throats as they wept. Sora swallowed as their emotions fed through their spiritual network. They actually think they’re going to die … eaten alive.
Aiden took a deep breath, giving Sora a reassuring smile. “Kari…” She didn’t answer as she moved to another chair, screaming as she threw it several meters to fragment against a wall. Walking over to her, he put a hand on her shoulder.
Her incensed eyes turned to him. “Aiden … what—why! Why did Eric do this—do that?” Her fists balled into fists as tears dripped down her cheeks. “Why do I feel so helpless—I don’t want to feel—everything’s wrong … everything’s gone … everyone’s dead…”
Taking another deep breath, Aiden said, “Follow me back into one of those rooms. I’ll explain everything I know.”
She shook for several seconds, processing his words. “You—can explain it?”
Aiden nodded. “It’s not pretty, but I have the explanation.”
Calming herself, she used her dry bloodstained shirt to wipe at her tears. Cheeks red, she nodded. “Fine.”
Sora watched them walk back to the hallway before turning to the quivering foxes, still under her influence. “First off,” she bent to their level and sent a calming wave of spiritual energy through them. “I’m not going to hurt you, and neither is anyone else here.” Their trembles eased as they removed their paws to stare at her.
“You—really won’t kill us?” Luna asked.
Sora was a little shocked. “I didn’t think I could understand you as foxes?”
Fen hummed. “You shouldn’t be able to.”
“It’s the Council’s power,” Rayla sniffed. “They help all of us communicate. You’re—controlling us … like we control humans…”
Fen laughed. “Darlings, she’s a Founder, it’s much stronger than what we can do.”
They frowned. “What’s a Founder?”
“Excuse me?” Fen stated with narrowed eyes. “Founders are the descendants of the first Vulpes to gain magic. Have you never heard of Inari?” They both shook their heads. “Mia?” Again, they shook their heads. “Impossible,” Fen growled. “What do you learn in this Vulpes Realm?”
Sora felt for the girls as they twitched under Fen’s glare. “Fen, let’s give them time to recover.” Turning to them, she said, “How old are you two?”
“Fourteen,” Luna squeaked.
Smiling, she said, “I’m sixteen.” They both looked at each other, vision moving to her two tails. “It’s a little complicated.” Sora sighed. “Why don’t we all take a seat and we can talk this out. Again, no one will hurt you.” They nodded, and she released her control over them.
Rayla’s eyes moved to their clothes. “Can—can we go get those? We’re supposed to be practicing our human form…”
Sora nodded. “That’s fine. I can wrap you in illusions if you want to get dressed again?”
Both their eyes widened again as they looked at her tails. “You can use illusions … with red tails?”
Fen huffed. “Not fair, isn’t it.”
Sora nodded. “Yes, I can. Go ahead and get ready; I just made you invisible to everyone, but me. Promise you won’t run away?” Swallowing, they both glanced at each other before shaking their heads, spiritual networks confirming their commitment. “Then go ahead.”
They both moved to their dress and put them on, Sora letting them keep their privacy. “We’re done.”
Sora released her illusions and looked at them. Luna’s black hair hung down her back to her thighs, but Rayla’s was cut at her upper back, they were identical twins, and quite cute. They seemed to be a little shorter than Sora.
Sitting on a couch together, they looked at her, vision shifting to the rest of the group. Luna sniffed the air. “Some of you aren’t Vulpes … we’ve never met anyone other than humans.”
Sora stretched out her neck before motioning for everyone to bring over a seat. “Let’s all gather round and introduce ourselves, including what we are.” She judged that the twins had calmed down enough to release her aura. The twins swallowed nervously as her energy left them, but didn’t voice their internal concerns. Maybe Mary’s right. It is kind of a drug.
Everyone took a seat, the humans sticking together; Wendy started, “Hi, Luna, Rayla, my name is Wendy, and I’m a human.”
“My name is Nathan, and I’m a human.”
“Hello, my name is Mary.” She smiled at the girls. “You girls are cute, and you really don’t have anything to worry about, okay?” They nodded, sniffing as Luna rubbed at her eyes again. “I’m a human too.”
“I’m a human too … oh, and my name is Ashley.” She said with a small laugh.
“Jian and I am a bai hu.” At their blank stares, he added, “A tiger monster.” They shook their heads and Jian fell into silence, brow furrowed.
“I’m Jin,” she grinned, crossing her legs on the chair. “I’m a dragon.” The girls began to shake again. “No, really, I’m not going to eat you.” She assured.
“My friend is correct; no harm will befall you. Salutations, my name is Eyia, and I am a Valkyrie.”
Fen sniffed as everyone’s eyes fell on her, making Jian sigh. “She’s Fen, and she’s the same as you,” Sora commented dryly.
Everyone’s head darted to Githa as she grinned at them all, back in human form. “Oh, hiya! I’m Githa … oh, that’s right, I’m the kitty cat. It was fun playing with you two!” Her tails were weaving back and forth.
Sora took a long breath. “Githa—just to be sure—you won’t eat them, right?”
Githa blinked. “I don’t think so?”
“Yeah,” Sora’s vision darted to the girls as they hugged each other with fright. “Could you not eat them?”
“Sure,” She said with a big grin, showing her pointed fangs.
Sighing with relief, Sora studied Githa for a second. “So—while you’re human—though I guess it doesn’t matter here since we can talk with you as a cat—how long will it take you to regain your spiritual energy?”
Githa hummed. “Maybe—a week? Bathin should take about that long too … I can’t believe he cheated! I mean, I was totally winning! How was I supposed to know his meat suit protected him against Holy Water?” She pouted, sinking back into her chair.
“That was a surprise,” Sora mumbled, turning back to the girls. “So, I don’t know if those other two will introduce themselves—the ones that left, but don’t be too worried about them. Lastly, there’s me, I guess. My name is Sora, and I am a Vulpes Founder … I guess you could call me a Vulpes goddess … I can use every magic there is to a Vulpes.”
Rayla and Luna’s mouths dropped open. “You—you’re like the Council?” Luna whispered in almost a reverent tone.
Fen’s brow furrowed. “You mentioned a council before … what is this council?”
“They’re the most powerful Vulpes ever! They can move the mountains and make the rain fall from the sky.” Luna said with awe. “They glow with pretty designs and rule the realm.”
Fen’s nose twisted. “What color are their tails … white?”
Rayla shook her head. “No, I’ve never heard of a Vulpes with white tails, only gray. The Council’s tails are all sorts of colors. Lady Tola has blue; I think she’s the prettiest.”
For once, Fen seemed speechless. She mouthed the word several times, probably trying to picture it. “Blue?”
Sora hummed, looking back at her tails. Creating an illusion around them, she asked, “Like this color?”
They both moved to the edge of the couch. “Yeah, blue, like that! How did you do that?”
“Illusions?” Fen questioned. She growled at Sora’s nod. “So, they’re high-tail Húli Jīng?”
“No they aren’t,” Luna stated with a shaky voice. “They’re the gods of this realm! They give us everything.”
Fen’s glare silenced them. “They’re no Founder. That’s certain; they must have obtained their powers from either your aunt or mother.” She stated, looking at Sora.
Sora shrugged. “My aunt never said anything about a Vulpes Realm, but I wasn’t with her long.” She frowned as a thought struck her. “What if—maybe one of my other aunts are alive?”
Fen’s face turned ashen. “What?”
Jin sounded interested. “Yes, what do you mean, one of your other aunts?”
Sora took a deep breath. “I guess I can tell you. I mean, my aunt and mother are really, really old … like millions of years old. It’s not surprising most people don’t know much about them. I’m the third generation. In the second-generation—I just realized Inari only told me about my aunt Nari, she didn’t get to my other aunt, but we were short on time.” Pondering it for a moment, she recounted what she knew about her family.
Jin groaned as she finished. “Really? That’s the reason why we have this inborn hatred for Kitsune … that’s a bit disappointing. If Gong-Gong was that stupid, then he deserved to have his orb taken … though, I can’t completely trust Inari…” Her vision darted to Fen, making her twitch and Jian straighten.
Sora frowned. “Jin, could you let Fen’s white tail pass? She isn’t actually connected with my aunt, just given a chance to start the test to become a Kitsune.”
Leaning back, Jin hummed. “I guess that’s fine. I mean, honestly, after hearing your story, the bite I feel toward Kitsune has diminished. I now feel petty about it.”
Fen let go of a pent up breath, and Sora turned back toward the twins. “I don’t know if this Council is connected to one of my other aunts, but Inari was clear that both my aunts were murdered, and that I was the only third-generation Founder. Of course…” Everyone seemed to be waiting for her to finish. Smiling apologetically, she said, “never mind.” What if these are mom’s … experiments…
Putting the thought in the back of her mind, she looked at the red light. “Rayla, Luna, is the Vulpes Realm beyond that light?”
They nodded, and Luna said, “We were tasked with keeping this area clean by the Area Supervisor.”
“No one told us anyone could enter here though … we’re not supposed to go to the white light,” Rayla muttered. “Intruders shouldn’t be able to enter the red light. You need the Council’s permission to enter the realm unless you’re a Vulpes.”
“We’ve never seen any other monsters before…” Luna mumbled.
“Well, isn’t that comforting,” Fen spoke with a bitter tone.
Sora’s features pacified as Kari and Aiden returned. Kari’s cheeks were red. She split off and walked to one of the corners, sitting in an armchair. She seemed numb as she stared down at the floor.
Pulling up a seat, Aiden sat with a groan. “What did I miss?”
Fen huffed haughtily, “Vulpes here don’t seem to know what a Founder is. They’ve never even heard of Inari.”
His eyebrows rose as he glanced at the twins. “Seriously? That’s pretty odd—for an entire realm of Vulpes to not know the origin of their species. I mean, if it weren’t for the Founders, no Vulpes would know how to use magic.”
“Really?” Sora questioned.
Jin chuckled. “Honestly, Sora, I can’t believe how little you know. Yes, your grandmother unlocked magic in a few Vulpes and taught them a little. Inari picked up from there and created the Kitsune. From those Vulpes that had their magic unlocked sprouted the different Vulpes races.”
“That’s news to me,” Sora said with interest. “I wish I could have met my grandma. I bet she was amazing. Just meeting Gloria was pretty awesome.”
Jin whistled. “You didn’t tell us you met with the Fairy Founding Mother. Was that when you were with Inari?”
“Eh, yeah,” Sora said with a short laugh. “Sorry, Inari asked for her to come. There were a few other things that happened. Like meeting the Herald of Sakura.”
Githa snickered. “Nilly doesn’t like her, but she has tasty treats.”
Jin hummed. “I don’t know anything about a Herald of Sakura, but if Gloria was there, then it must have been pretty crazy.”
Sora nodded. “If my aunt wasn’t shielding me … I’d be squashed like a bug.”
Everyone fell silent; the twins looked around in confusion. Sora broke the silence as she turned to Aiden. “What’s the plan with Kari?”
Aiden massaged his shoulders. “Well—she’s processing all that information right now. I convinced her to stay with me until she figured something out. She knows she can’t go outside; being marked by her uncles … this would probably be the safest place for her. If he can’t enter.”
Luna’s expression brightened. “The Council will stop him! They can beat anyone!”
Fen snorted. “Right … some false Founders are going to take on a second-generation Fenris Wolf that’s basically immune to magic … even a real Vulpes Founder would be at a disadvantage.”
Rayla and Luna glared at Fen, which seemed to brighten her mood. “But by all means. You should ask them to try, see what they say.”
Aiden licked his lips. “I don’t know about that. I mean, from what Eric said, they aren’t nearly as purebred as Founders like Inari. There’s got to be a reason they’d … target Kari. They need more power than what they already possess.”
Turning to Githa, Sora said, “I think Nilly went to fight one of the Fenris brothers and that’s why she left me.”
Githa frowned. “Hmm, which brother?”
“Eric said it was Sköll,” Aiden replied.
She snickered. “He’s the stupid one. Nilly’s probably playing with him … he’s not weak enough to be eaten, but Nilly isn’t in a state to kill him either … she’s probably just having fun.”
“Does it have something to do with the golden earrings she has?” Sora questioned.
Githa’s eyes widened, and she put a finger to her lips. “Shh! It’s a super secret!”
Sora bunched her lips to the side. It looked pretty obvious it was linked to her appearance at least. Looking around at the group, she sighed. Is this really our only option? We escaped, but we’re still caged in a sense, and we don’t know what’s waiting for us on the other side. This Council could become our enemies, but we won’t gain many answers sitting around. She glanced at the broken furniture. “Luna, Rayla, will you get in trouble if this isn’t cleaned up?”
They started as they looked at the scattered wooden fragments. “The Area Supervisor would be really mad…” Luna mumbled.
A rumble resonated from Sora’s throat. “I wonder if I could do it?” She muttered.
“Do what?” Wendy asked.
“I saw my aunt do something when I first met her … I’ll need to see it again and study it. One second.” Closing her eyes, she entered the Outer Body Technique and returned to the recorded scene. She watched her aunt’s hand stretch out and with her perception activated; she felt an energy in the air being molded around the mass of red gems.
“Well, took you long enough.” Sora jumped as her aunt appeared next to her, looking at the scene.
“Inari?” She stammered.
Her aunt smirked. “No, I am an imprinted guide that she instilled in your Intelligence. She knew you’d need a little guidance from time to time. Can you feel the magical force around you, it was recorded within your spirit. Most cannot perceive such things, but you, my dear, are one of the few. Gifted as a Founder.”
Swallowing, Sora nodded. “Yes, I can feel it being shaped around us.”
“Vulpes control magic with desire. The greater the desire, the more energy that is required. You may not have enough natural magical energy within your surroundings to accomplish something and must rely on your own powers. This is why many human magicians in the past required an extended amount of time to accomplish, what they term, as powerful magic. Comical, but creating something like a dimension with stars and planets is an easy enough task once you understand the principle.”
“You mean—I can basically create a universe?” Sora asked, feeling dumbfounded.
“Oh, darling, you are many ages from being able to accomplish such a task, but how do you imagine the Human Realm was forged? The first-generation Founders’ plaything, a test in developing their own realms.”
“So—how do I mold this raw magic within the atmosphere around me? Just by wishing it?”
“It is much more than a wish, my niece. You have only begun scratching the surface of your abilities. It is an expectation that matter mold to your will; if you doubt the process then it will unravel. The scene shifted to the fox twins. When you commanded them to stop, did you doubt they wouldn’t?”
Sora shook her head. “No … I knew my control was strong enough.”
“Exactly, now, there are limits of course, but that is the basis of your abilities. The source of which that desire is fueled is the matter at hand. You’ve been naturally using your own spiritually produced energy, but you can use the magic around you. You simply must bring it under your control, don’t doubt that it will disobey, command and gather. Magic can be fickle if you let it run its own course … which has been the misfortune of many human mages. Magic will scatter for the weak and gather for the ruler.”
“Thank you,” Sora said, giving her aunt’s mental impression a hug. “I know you aren’t really my aunt, but you are a symbol of her love … at least, that’s how I feel.”
She smiled, patting her head. “I know the love your aunt has for you. This isn’t the time to be dallying though, and I will not answer your questions about your aunts. That will come in time. Your enemies can still reach you in that between space. You are in an admission hall to the Vulpes Realm. Your choices there will bring lasting effects, so think wisely. Remember, your desire shapes the outcome of your magic. As a tip, examine the red gate, present your desires and analyze it. You’ll understand once you connect.” Sora’s smile remained as she exited the Outer Body Technique.
“What—were you just doing?” Jin asked in astonishment.
Eyia hummed in an impressed manner. “You were performing a mental battle? My father taught me such a technique.”
Sora shook her head. “It’s kind of like that, but … it’s a bit more complicated. It’s not just battling, but training and studying different possible outcomes. My aunt taught it to me. It helps me gain insights that I normally couldn’t see.”
Jin nodded slowly. “You’ll have to teach me about it … the way your spiritual network shifted. I couldn’t follow all of it since your shield is fairly well placed, but for a moment I was able to catch a glimpse. The equanimity I saw was rather astonishing. I think it could help me with my Dragon Rage issues.”
Sora rose. “I’d be happy to try and teach you—I don’t know if I’m the best teacher, but I’ll give it a shot. However, I don’t think we’re safe yet.” Turning to the twins, she asked, “Anyone who can find the portal can enter this waiting area, right?”
They both shrugged, and Rayla said, “I guess. I mean, all of you came in, but only people the Council approves can enter the red gate. I don’t think the other monsters can enter. Maybe the humans…”
“Alright,” Sora smiled. “I thought about trying something, but I think that can wait, and I’m pretty confident we all can enter. I’ll talk to your Area Supervisor and make sure you girls don’t get in trouble. Let’s all go through the gate!”