Sora sat in silence as she listened to the surrounding noise; there weren’t that many people that moved across the beach or ate around the area. Wendy’s mother seemed to be enjoying the silence as she drank her wine and dined on the expensive food. It’s been a while since I’ve been here … everything’s changed so much for me.
She recalled the past few weeks; trying sort everything out. I used to be so constricted; all I could think about was Kari and what her gang might do tomorrow, but now that seems so small. I’ve almost died several times, I have friends, my dad’s still prisoner… “Inari…” Her aunt turned to her. “You’ve been alive for a long time; is life just suffering?”
Inari hummed as she turned to stare out at the sea. “Sora, existing is suffering—there is suffering in the very nature of existence, and every being is tainted by malevolence that extends that nature. The question becomes not if there is suffering in existence, but what’s meaningful in that suffering? There’s pain to alleviate, chaos to confront, order to establish and revivify, evil to constrain; not least in your own heart.”
A sad smile crossed her lips as she looked sideward at Jane. “The life of the selfish is a short-lived existence—once you have balanced yourself and accept that there will be suffering in living, then the only satisfying continuity is to bring that harmony to others … a family; the joy of building bonds with unique individuals and encouraging them to reach their maximum attainment.” She paused as she turned back to the sea. “That’s the only lasting joy; my work and my glory.”
Sora looked down at her tails. “You mean the Vulpes community that you help?”
“Not entirely,” Her aunt sighed softly. “There are few lasting motivations in a life as long-lived as mine and your mother’s—it must be comprehensible, enjoyable and self-maintaining or else you will leave. Family is one of those things that can continue; that doesn’t mean there is not suffering that comes with family. Being enjoyable does not mean without struggle, in fact, you cannot relish the joy without the suffering; to live without struggle is a short-sighted and ill-wished existence bounded by ignorance. There is a reason even the gods suffer in all of your religions, and there’s meaning in it for everyone to continue.”
Sora scratched her forehead. “So, suffering is just a necessary part of life then, but that doesn’t have to define us?”
“It’s not only logical but self-evident.” Inari stroked one of her tails. “There must be opposition in all things; without the sorrow, you would not enjoy the bliss … there’s more to that statement than you imagine. Bliss is perfect happiness, and that accompanies utter misery; the yin and the yang. It is a law of existence.”
Sora frowned. “So, I should enjoy the suffering?”
Her aunt chuckled. “No, dear, just because something is a necessary evil and fact of reality does not make it good or bad, but simply there. You are here, and because of that there will be suffering, but there’s so much more than the suffering; if all you can see is the suffering then your priorities are not in order, and you are not in balance—that is actually a natural warning. If you cannot see the joy, then you are not walking in the right direction, but there will also be misery in the right direction. A part of that balance is choice which separates you from many creatures and the elements.”
“Like free will?”
“Yes, Sora, there is a divinity to discover within your Core that at this moment, you cannot even begin to fathom. It is written in your very spiritual biology, you can become gods, but you must take up your cross, as the saying goes. There is suffering and sacrifice that bounds that journey that all the legends demonstrate; the implication is not something many conceptualize.
“Because of this spark within each of you there is pain; as independent souls, there will be differences. That spark of divinity within you that few creatures possess can be cultivated and unlocked. However, with that gift also comes the inevitability of conflict, but again, that is necessary for growth. Imagine Kari as an example.”
“Kari?” Sora rubbed between her eyes. “I never really imagined it from Kari’s point of view … I guess because I never really tried to understand her. I just thought she was the incarnation of evil or something…”
Her aunt chuckled. “Yes, it’s easier to cope that way, but not to sustain yourself over an extended period of time. She must be understandable; your circumstance must be understandable.”
Sora sat back to stare up at the bright stars as she thought about what she knew of Kari’s past. “She really has had a lot of tragedy—even more now … I don’t even know if I can imagine it. She’s never really experienced … a real family. From what I’ve heard from Aiden, she was basically isolated in her mother’s sanctuary. Her first contact with the outside world would have been … with me, right after walking in on her dead mother—brother telling her to eat her mother … that’s horrible. I can’t even imagine that—if I was in seventh or sixth grade and that happened to me.”
Sora’s vision shifted to Kari as she appeared in front of her, her younger self, back when she’d first met her. Her aunt took a deep breath. “I know a fair bit about Alva’s decisions that lead to Kari’s life, including her uncles, half-sister, step-uncle, and brother’s acts and so much more. This is an extreme example of a tragic history; the level of experience that Kari had when she met you was minimal and with much suffering. The level of hate she has for her brother far exceeds your minor interaction with him—he’s the incarnation of hell itself for her that she’s struggled against much of her life, and all alone.”
“She had a whole pack of girls; she had tons of people supporting her.” Sora’s brow creased, feeling a bit of heat shoot up her chest.
“People, but not friends—did they stand up to her? Were they independent souls of reason in her life? No, they were merely riding her desperation—resonating and living through her. They each had their own issues, but nothing in the face of Kari, and they felt that and let her be the excuse for their dark release—they used her. Kari was searching for any measure of happiness she could find, and she found a portion of that in sharing her suffering with you.”
“She was using me then … just like they were using her.” Sora scowled.
“Sora,” she looked at her aunt’s compassionate features with pursed lips. “You should understand Kari more than most; what happened just before your transformation?”
Sora folded her arms; she looked down the beach, but Wendy had already disappeared. Why is this turning into a Kari pity party … wait, is she trying to help me with one of my problems because Wendy’s… She glared at her aunt. You tricky fox. Her aunt just smiled innocently. I know you can hear my thoughts … fine. Taking a deep breath, Sora glared at the sand. “What did Kari do just before my transformation? She told me to leave…”
“Why?” Her aunt pressed.
“I—how should I know? She got bored with me—I wasn’t fulfilling her joy meter anymore?”
“Think about it, Sora.” Her aunt prodded. “Since seventh grade, she tormented you and then she decided not to do it. Why?”
Leaning back against her chair, Sora huffed. How should I know? Yeah, she had a really tough life, but she made my life tough to feel good. She hated competition … well, that’s what I thought when I changed. I was another supernatural being that was in her territory; so, it was a game of pick on the fox. She decided to run me out before that though… She turned to her aunt. “Why did she decide to chase me out of school?”
“It won’t be as significant if I give you the answer,” Inari smiled patiently.
She sunk into her chair with a low groan, shifting her tails a little. “Alright, so, this has to do with chaos and order … probably. I mean, you’re telling me all of this because I’m too orderly and not accepting chaos or potential, right?” Her aunt didn’t answer. “Right…” Kari hates losing … the wolf in her. What did she say?
Calling upon her magic, she searched for the memory to play in front of her; she stiffened for a moment as Kari appeared, dressed in her sports clothes. Kari’s cold and dominating presence made her swallow as she repeated the information “I’m finished with this little game, Sora. After today, I want you to leave…”
Her image seemed to cut as the second half played. “I’ll give you the week to set everything up. Homeschool, transfer schools, leave the state, I don’t care. I want your foul stench of an existence out of Miami Beach Senior High by the end of the week, period.” She stood, her eyes penetrating, making a shiver run down Sora’s spine as she felt the aura again. “If you stay…” She trailed off with a murderous look of contempt before moving to leave the locker room. “Don’t make a scene, Sora.”
The image of Kari vanished; Sora took a calming breath. I forgot how scary she was … that’s how I remember her. She was larger than life, but she was really just hurt and broken inside, releasing stress; so, why let her stress ball go? She was finished with the game … she never acted like it was a game though. Her brother made her life hell, and she took it out on me. She was the one in control with me, but then she let that control go … why would she let go of control? Inari was talking about … no, family? Kari had feelings of family and let me go? Absolutely not, not at all … Lori and Jenny? Maybe … with how she acted … possibly, but she was still pretty controlling. That was how family was to her though…
Inari sighed. “Yes, Sora, Kari was finally finding a second family. She was beginning to feel happy with her life; why was that?”
Sora tucked in her lower lip. She wanted me to leave … she wasn’t going to go. The school, how she talked to Lori in the classroom … it was like it was her sanctuary, and she didn’t want her brother or his gang near it. Was the school like her new home? She found a place she belonged? She was the star of most the sports teams, people praised her, she was accepted, and she felt a measure of love. She didn’t need to bully me anymore to feel something in her life … she had a bunch of girls around her. She was trying to create her own family … Eric’s story, the deaths of both Lori and Jenny … being separated from the school and unable to return … finding out about her uncles… “Wow—that’s actually really sad…”
“There’s much more to be examined,” Inari’s voice was soft as she stared out at the ocean.
“There’s always a deeper layer. Look further into her current mind; complete your thoughts.”
“Her uncles, they want—yeah, super disturbing … I don’t really want to go there. Umm, Kari’s here with me because—well, the deal I made with her brother … that makes my skin crawl.”
“You’re focusing more on yourself; think about it from her side.”
“Okay … she lost everything and was then controlled by me. I saved her … forced her to come with me when she was weak. She woke up, found out everything from Aiden, was super hurt, confused—she was just in a lot of pain. Then she followed me because she didn’t have a choice. It was the best option; so, now she’s downstairs…”
“There’s a lot left unpacked still. What’s going through her mind?”
Sora breathed out a long sigh. “A lot of pain, probably. Probably a lot of confusion. She doesn’t know what to do with her life—like she yelled at Aiden, what should she live for … the lecture you told us about … the beginning of this conversation … was—was all that to help me—help me accept Kari?” She scowled at her aunt. “Wait—of course there’d be more to it than that—you’re multitasking all the time. So—Kari’s confused about what my plans are for her? I guess I’m confused about it too; I mean, it was because of Eric—wait! No—no, that can’t be right?” She stared at her aunt with disbelief.
“It wasn’t Eric … it was The Herald of Sakura! She—why—you said she was connected with my mother in some way…” She bit down on her fingernail as she glared at the sand. Does that mean … does my mom want Kari in the group or around me? The Herald made Eric serve her and made Eric cause all that panic just to get Kari in the group and around me? No—it wouldn’t be that simple … freaking… She scratched her left fox-ear in frustration. All these Founders and Goddesses have so many plots! My mom…
“Don’t judge your mother harshly,” Inari soothed. “Your mother has her reasons, and yes, I have my own. I’m not just an ecstatic aunt that wishes to spend every waking breath with her niece. Not just … I certainly am an ecstatic aunt, but I do have my own reasons; as you’re coming to realize, beings of my age multitask, and that includes your mother.
“I recognized the host of plots surrounding you from the moment we met. I feel it is not only my right, but my privilege to protect you, and your mother is also working diligently to prevent such occasions, but she also has her reasons to be hidden. The biggest blind spot to all of us, including the Herald, which is a feat in itself, came in the form of Aiden; the poor bird has had a harsh life, just as much as Kari. However, his manipulations have set in motion so many plots that he couldn’t fathom the depth he’s brought you. All the careful planning your mother did was subtly eaten away, and yes, she’s taking back control, but the damage is done.”
Sora stayed silent as her aunt finished. There are so many things she addresses at once … I guess that’s what makes her a goddess … Founder, I think that’s even more impressive than being a goddess. That’s why I love her though, I really do… Her chest burned as tears gathered in her eyes. She’s always so honest and straightforward with me, she’s here, right here with me; she’s shown me nothing but love, she’s dedicated herself to me, shows her concern, acts to help me, she’s patient … I have a perfect aunt.
“You certainly do enjoy making me cry,” her aunt sniffed. “These are feelings that I’ve longed to experience with a daughter of my own, and perhaps someday I will be able to have that joy, and you’ll have a cousin to adore; your mother has given me hope in that. However, I could not feel this way unless I had experienced that longing for … you certainly are a treat, my little niece.” She beamed.
“I guess I know at least a fraction of that…” Sora whispered. I’ve wanted a mother for so long … the pain once I found out she wasn’t here … I took that out on dad. I need to save him somehow. She looked over at her aunt with concern.
Her aunt wiped away a few tears as a sigh escaped her lips. “Could you save your father? Yes, you could have with my guidance; however, your father is not in Bathin’s claws any longer.”
“What! Where is he?” Sora leaned forward, fear twisting her stomach.
Her aunt frowned as she folded her hands across her lap. “I wish I could say, but I confirmed it once I met you. It could have been your mother’s work or the work of a host of different beings. I wanted to do a little investigating before addressing it with you. They did not leave a trace, which narrows the list of potential beings, but there are quite a number of them. I have my suspicions, but that is out of your hands. Your mother is most definitely aware of it and is either the cause or in search of the cause. I know that your aunt is already in search of a solid answer. So, you don’t need to worry about your father; I was waiting for the proper time to make you aware—you’ve had much to deal with as of late. Now that you have a moment to worry, it is the best time to put that at ease.”
“I’m still worried though … who could have taken him … why? To get back at mom? Because of me? If it was my mom, why wouldn’t she let me know? She’s so confusing to me…”
“Yes,” Inari closed her eyes with a sad expression. “Your mother has a method of her own; I cannot say if it is wrong or right or even if I would do the same thing in her place. There are things even I do not know about my sister as there are things she is not aware of with me. We are extremely close by Founder standards, but to humans, it may seem a bit distant; we judge time much differently than humans.”
Sora bent over, rubbing her eyes. “Everything’s so complicated…”
Her aunt chuckled softly. “Yes, Sora, that it is, and you must learn how to navigate in this complex world. There’s a reason why I’m explaining all of this to you. A Founder’s life is very complex and decisions can have lasting impacts on other beings; you will have to navigate this gray moral sphere and live with your decisions. You must make a decision in the direction you wish to take because if you do not then you’ve made a rather poor choice; it is better to choose a wrong path and be the captain of that ship than be the poor fool that is used as the cabin-boy along a ship that is just as misguided. Lead, do not be lead by the nose. These are lessons to help prepare you for your future—your mother and I may not always be here.”
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