Sora shivered as a chill radiated through her body. I might not always have my mom or aunt … I’ve lived all my life thinking I had to live without them. It’s not fair, but I guess that’s why she’s teaching me all this … life isn’t fair.
“Oh, my adorable little niece,” Inari sighed. “I wish I had my mother; life is full of regrets and lost dreams, but still we move forward. Life isn’t meant to be easy, fun, or happy; life is meant to have meaning. Can you have happiness and fun?”
Folding her arms, Sora leaned back with a sad smile. “I get it; yes, we can have fun, but it’s the product of finding meaning and working toward it.” She looked back as Jane finished her meal and moved to lay on a foldable chair beside the pool, sighing with satisfaction. I still don’t understand my mom … Inari said I shouldn’t judge her, but I don’t… Frowning, she glanced back at her aunt; she was calmly gazing into the ocean. “Aunt Inari…”
“Can you—what kind of stories can you tell me about my mom? I just—I don’t know anything about her. Well, besides what my dad told me about them getting married.”
Her aunt was silent for several seconds as she turned toward the ocean. “Stories about your mother … I have so many fond memories with your mother, bitter ones as well.” She licked her lips, shifting two of her tails to rest atop the others. “We do have the time for part of a story before Wendy returns.” She knows exactly when Wendy will return … she really is amazing.
“When your mother and I were very young, and when I say young, I’m saying four-hundred and seventy-three years from an Earth perspective, our world was thrown into chaos. That was the start of The War … we were nowhere near capable of contributing, but we all wanted a part, every young Founder.” The War? Kind of like how they call the World Wars … the war or the biggest conflict?
“Yes, Founders had their scuffles, but it was never on the scale of a war and was always solved amongst the parents in the end. We are a very hierarchical society, and before things would become dangerous the parents would step in, and we’d come to a compromise; all of the adults had no desire for bad blood between us … for the most part. There were jealousies and bitter rivalries, but up to that point, it hadn’t gone as far as bloodshed.
“When they appeared though, the Five Factions, they were warful, a conquering breed—we were swept into war, and for the first time, there were beings that rivaled us. The Five Factions were initially divided, but formed a temporary and fragile truce to combat us … however, that would take a long time to explain—the war lasted ages, and eventually my sisters and I entered the conflict, but that was much later. No—that story is just to set a timeline for this next tale. Before The War, we were each taught by our parents, but would also have lessons from other Founders every so often, and this caused a rivalry to be born between the second-generation.”
Sora shifted a little to get a better view of her aunt. “So, you guys were competing to see who was the strongest?”
“In a way, there are many forms of power, and we each tried our best to make our parents proud … each of my sisters had their own strengths.” She turned to look across the beach with a small smile touching her full lips. “Wendy’s on her way back; it would be beneficial to wait for her to join us.”
Sora followed her aunt’s gaze; Wendy had just came back into view, slowly walking their way, head lowered. She looked up a few times and slowed her pace, trying to avoid eye contact. I know she’s hurting, but she’s also overcoming her fears … I know she can do it! They watched in silence as she continued to make her way toward them.
Sora jumped as a chair appeared beside her; Inari smiled as Wendy reached talking distance. “Wendy, why don’t you join us. I was just telling Sora a story about her mother.”
Wendy rubbed her left shoulder nervously. “Are—you sure? You were pretty—you wanted me to confront my mom…”
Inari shook her head. “Confront is a strong word; what you talk about with her is up to you, but you must overcome the fear of at least looking her in the eyes. We have time to let your nerves settle.”
Swallowing, Wendy moved to sit in the seat beside Sora, taking a quick glance at her mother across the pool. “I—I don’t know if I can…”
“I’ll be clear,” her aunt looked right into Wendy’s eyes. “You have nothing to be ashamed of; any mother should feel honored to have you as a daughter.”
Wendy bit her upper lip as she settled in, shifting the chair to face away from her mother. “Umm—so, you’re telling a story about Sora’s mom?” Sora nodded and reached out a hand. Wendy took it, smiling back as she squeezed.
Inari’s countenance brightened. “Yes, my sisters and I were very competitive; we each inherited our mother’s vast power, but there was also an oddity. We each excelled in different elements; we each were more than proficient with all elements, but there was one that we favored.”
Sora hummed. “I’m guessing my mom’s favorite was fire, right?”
“A wonderful guess,” her aunt chuckled. “Yes, your mother was a fireball and was very proficient at the acceleration of particle motion while your Aunt Seiōbo favored the deceleration and absorption of molecular motion.”
“Ice then?” Wendy asked.
“Wait,” Sora’s eyes widened. “I forgot Aunt Seiōbo’s name! You did tell me it…” I can’t believe I forgot my aunt’s name.
Inari’s smile turned sympathetic. “Sora, you don’t have to beat yourself up over forgetting things you were only told once. Why do you think I’ve repeated so much information and taught it in a variety of different methods? Repetition is the best teacher. I only mentioned your Aunt Seiōbo once.”
Sora shifted her weight, glaring at the floor. “I know, but … I’ve wanted to know about my family for so long. I really want to learn about my mom’s side of the family.”
“Darling, you don’t even know that much about your father’s side. You have time, don’t rush things. Savor the information you do glean. I can feel your emotions rising; don’t be so impatient.” I know … it’s just…
Her aunt nodded. “Yes, I understand. My earlier statement has you fearful that I will disappear soon and you’ll be left alone.”
“I just—I don’t want to be alone again…” She trailed off, trying to keep her voice from cracking as Wendy squeezed her hand with an encouraging smile.
“I won’t go anywhere.” Her sincere aura calmed Sora’s heart.
“Dears,” Inari sighed with a sad smile. “I cannot promise when I will go or if Wendy will always be there. You must understand that this world is chaotic and there are many forces at work behind the scenes that could disrupt your peace. Your mother and I are working to keep those forces at a distance that is manageable for you, but fate is not certain … for the most part.”
A shiver ran up Sora’s spine at her aunt’s tone, Wendy glancing at her with concern. “What do you mean for the most part?”
Inari sat back against the chair, eyes distant. “As long as I have lived, Sora, I’ll tell you that I don’t believe in destiny … I’ve only done what’s best for me, my family, and those I protect and nurture. However,” she sighed, “there are powerful forces that paint a fairly clear picture of the future; I am counted among those forces, but not the only one. You even have beings like Aiden that can even affect creatures such as myself and your mother. Causality is a powerful ability … but even that has its limits. It’s a complicated tapestry … the future.”
Wendy’s brow furrowed. “So—you’re saying we won’t understand it?”
“But,” Sora growled, glaring at the sand. “I want to understand it.”
Her aunt giggled. “Of course you do, but first concentrate on the lessons I’ve taught you thus far. Back to the story … we sisters had a lot of enemies as time progressed. We worked hard to prove the Vulpes name to the other Founders, but all they saw was obsessed failures.”
Sora rubbed her right shoulder, releasing Wendy’s hand. “What did Grandma think about that?”
“Your Grandmother…” Inari trailed off as she looked into the past. “She was wise … she taught us that you cannot change other’s opinions of you by words alone. Our actions would pave our reputation, not the ill-informed opinions of others. She knew that Vulpes were late bloomers; we required much longer to come into our power.”
“Oh,” Sora straightened. “You didn’t have nine tails, did you?”
“We did not … the tail advancement of Vulpes weren’t understood at the time, nor the power that each tail brought. You could imagine within our first four-hundred years that we were quite weak compared to our eight-hundred-year mark.”
“Eight-hundred?” Wendy muttered. “Wait, isn’t it supposed to be like a thousand?”
Inari hummed with mirth. “A fox spirit has a tail at birth and gains a second tail around their one-hundredth birthday; they are not tailless at birth. That means that they obtain their ninth tail around their eight-hundredth birthday. The myth of nine-hundred years was coined from the belief of the nine-tails; it is not so sudden and exact either. Vulpes can be early or late bloomers, but on average a Vulpes will change around each hundred-year mark.”
“Oh,” Wendy smiled sheepishly. “I guess logically it would be the eight-hundred mark … it didn’t occur to me that they already have a tail when born … I feel kind of silly saying that.”
“Just an old myth among humans.” Inari smiled lightly. “My sisters and I were bullied too, Sora. Could you imagine?”
Sora shook her head. “I mean … not really. I’m trying to, but you’re—you’re you … I just can’t imagine the goddess aunt beside me letting anyone boss her around … not even Gloria.”
“Not even Gloria,” her aunt chuckled. “Well, there’s some truth to that. Time changes a person, and the little fox pup that Gloria knew has changed quite a bit over the ages, but I would still be extremely cautious around someone as powerful as Gloria. Sora … I suppose this will be a good lesson.” Lesson?
Wendy frowned. “Umm … lesson?” She turned to Sora. “So—who’s Gloria? She sounds really strong.”
A smile lit Sora’s features. Is that what she meant by lesson? “Oh, let’s see if I can do it.” Wendy’s right eyebrow lifted as Sora took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Calling forth her magic, she tried projecting an image of Gloria.
She heard Wendy’s breath catch. “Wow—she’s beautiful.”
Opening her eyes, Sora saw an image of Gloria standing before them; she was even more radiant than she remembered. “I—she’s—it’s like real…”
Her aunt smiled tiredly as the image of Gloria smiled, her full lips curving as she looked between Wendy and Sora. “Well, well, my prediction was correct.” Sora and Wendy’s mouths dropped open.
“Gloria,” Inari smiled before taking a deep breath. “How is Avalon?”
“Wonderful,” Gloria stated, a pure rainbow chair appearing behind her as she sat. “My children have begun bickering about what to do with Múspellsheimr since they’ve begun to expand into some of their worlds.”
“Bold, but expected.” Inari nodded.
Gloria shrugged with a light sigh. “Indeed. I warned Magna, but she’s strong headed. She may be respectful on the surface, but she considers this grand old lady a fossil from times past.”
Inari clicked her tongue. “Avalon has never even seen an enemy despite the countless attacks against your realm over the eons; of course, I’d lay the blame at Magna’s great grandmother for not teaching her line the history of Avalon or your feats.”
“Yes, Venus was rather impertinent. It was a shame she let her pride split her house and caused the clan wars. They have their own agency though; if they choose not to heed my warnings, then all I can do is watch.”
“You never were one to interfere too much in your children’s strifes.”
“Only if it involves my own realm,” Gloria shook her head. “That’s what my grandchildren decided, and I intend to keep my word—even if it pains my heart. On another note,” she giggled as she turned to Wendy and Sora, still dumbfounded. “It seems you will be teaching your young niece another important lesson; don’t conjure the image of a being such as myself, because they will always know, and many may not be so kind.”
Inari nodded with a slight bow. “Thank you for taking part, Gloria.”
“Of course,” she smiled impishly. “I’m growing rather fond of your little niece. Well, I wish you a wonderful day, Sora.” She folded her delicate fingers together before staring into Sora’s eyes. “Our next visit will be quite enjoyable.” With that, she faded out.
“What…” Was all that Wendy could express.
“Gloria … that was really Gloria…” Sora muttered. “I didn’t feel the pressure though?”
“No,” Inari smiled before running a hand through her hair. “When Gloria meets someone, she has a complete understanding of their magical signature, and you cannot even hope to contain her spiritual imprint. You did not record her presence in the least, but the mental observation of her image; that same image she can keep note of and when you combined that image with magic, it resonated in an extremely small ripple across the magical planes. Gloria could easily detect it and hijacked your magic, controlling the image you created. You couldn’t fathom what she did … it’ll be eons before you understand the surface level of that kind of magic.”
“Who … who was that?” Wendy breathed a heavy sigh.
Inari responded. “Gloria, the First-Generation Fairy, the Founding Mother of the Fairies, the High Queen of Avalon.”
“She was—can anything be that beautiful?” Wendy asked, doubt clear in her tone.
Sora shook her head. “I haven’t seen anything as beautiful…”
“Right,” Inari leaned back, staring up at the sky. “Sora, your mother was practicing one day; she was completely focused on her magic when Marduk, the second son of the First-Generation Founder of the Cows, approached her with Kutkh, third son of the First-Generation Founder of the Ravens.”
“I can imagine where this is going…” Sora huffed, regaining her composure. “How old was mom?”
“She was two-hundred and seventeen in Earth years. Marduk had recently shown how proficient he was with his Sun Fire, which had outshone your mother’s Foxfire. He’d come to gloat about his position … as I stated, we are a very hierarchal society. All the Founders would gather together their children and demonstrate their advancement; it provided a communicative element to the Founders and kept them on good terms.”
“What happened to Sora’s mom? Did they try to fight her?” Wendy pressed.
“No, why don’t I show you what happened. Sora, unleash your magic, and I’ll form it; we don’t want your mother meddling with the product,” she giggled. “You’re mother can be sensitive about her youth.” Oh, was mom a rebel or something?
“Something like a rebel,” Inari mused.
Sora unleashed her magic in a wild form, and she felt her aunt take control of it; what she experienced was awe striking. Her aunt wove the magic like a seamstress with raw materials, forming an unbelievably complicated work of art.
The beach in front of them shimmered before the scene in front of them changed. The ocean turned into a forest with towering mountains beyond, larger than Sora had ever seen, reaching high into the heavens. They were in a small clearing that had a short cliff where a waterfall fell, branching into five streams that flowed around small islands to converge into a single stream further down the meadow.
The grass and trees were a vibrant green, and there were gorgeous flowers of varying colors all around the field. On the center island before the waterfall hovered a small red fox with white tail-tips. Mom in fox form? She’s a lot smaller than I would have guessed she’d be; she’s just a little bigger than the twins.
Her mother was hovering several feet off the ground, eyes closed as three balls of blazing Foxfire circled her with three runes between each flame. Her three tails were fanned out, straight and stiff. Wow, I even feel the strength of those fireballs … they’re about a fifth the strength of Githa’s flames. Mom was able to do that at two-hundred and seventeen years old? Isn’t Githa supposed to be like thousands of years old?
She shielded her eyes as a massive burst of light lit the area; looking up, Sora followed a golden-skinned bull descending from the sky with a crow that left an aura of dark energy behind him. Marduk landed before her mother while Kutkh seemed to land on something in midair, folding his wings. So, they just show up out of nowhere? Mom’s minding her own business, trying to train, and they just decide to barge in and brag about how his fire was stronger?
Sora huffed. “He’s just trying to show off, isn’t he … dropping out of the sky like that.”
Inari’s light smile didn’t falter. “Yes, in his youth Marduk was quite hungry for the spotlight.”
“He’s flashy alright,” Wendy crossed her legs.
They stood in silence for several seconds before a voice echoed throughout the area. “Huh, she’s trying to strengthen her Foxfire with some kind of Fox Runic Magic; she can barely even keep the symbols stable.”
“Indeed,” Kutkh chuckled. “It could be powerful if she’s able to combine them, but she doesn’t have the ability. The second to the left is just about to collapse; it’s sad that her mother’s teachings go to waste.”
“Yes, Seiōbo’s even more stable in her Fox Runic Magic.”
Kutkh’s feathers ruffled a moment, and three shadowy feathers materialized around him. “It would just take a small amount of pressure right … here.” His feathers shot out toward her mother’s symbols, the barbed end sticking into specific locations.
“Hey!” Sora jumped to her feet, feeling her fur bristle with anger, but one of her aunt’s tails blocked her as the image froze.
“It’s okay; it’s an event of the past.”
Sora took a deep breath, fur still bristling. “I just—it feels so real.” She fumed. It’s like they’re really there … I can feel their presence, the breeze, sun, sounds, smells, everything is so clear.
“Yes, I’ve constructed the exact event,” a sly smile turned her lips. “What did you think you could do though? You can feel their presence.”
“Yeah—I can,” Sora sat back, hugging her tails against her stomach. “I don’t know—I know they’re super strong … it just didn’t feel right watching them pick on my mom…” She mumbled.
Wendy giggled, making Sora turn toward her, brow furrowing. “What?”
“It’s just, you’ve changed so much. You used to be so shy and timid—seeing you jump up, all heated and ready to give them a piece of your mind—it’s just really cool.”
Inari nodded, pulling back her tail. “Yes, it means my teachings are sticking. Let’s continue the story.”
Sora glared at the scene as it started again, but quickly grew panicked as her fur stood on end; the symbols cracked as the feathers struck and in a flash of light the letters vanished before the balls of fire around her exploded. Sora couldn’t help but throw her arms up as the blaze lit the entire area. She could feel the intense heat but knew it was only the magic replicating the event.
When the inferno ended, she heard Wendy breath out a heavy sigh of relief. Her voice was hoarse, “I thought I was going to die … I couldn’t even scream—it was so fast.”
“Yeah,” Sora gasped, swallowing a lump in her throat. “I…” She trailed off as she surveyed the landscape. Steam billowed around the field, and much of the topsoil was thrown back, undersoil blistering. The destruction covered most the clearing as the fire continued to blaze, and for the first time in memory, she heard her mother’s voice.
“Kutkh, that was rather rude.” She held an indignant tone, but it was lovely on Sora’s ears.
As the fog cleared, she saw both Kutkh and Marduk unharmed, and a golden shell surrounded them; the protective barrier faded, and Marduk chuckled. “If you were more attentive of your surroundings then it wouldn’t have happened. Fenris would have laughed at how oblivious you were.”
Her mother stepped through the cloud of mist, eyes narrowed. “Yes, Fenris would, he enjoys watching us fail; however, I don’t see why you’d point out my failings as he couldn’t get enough of your failed Shadow Mimicry. Your mother must have been so embarrassed.”
Marduk lowered his head slightly as his sides shook with laughter. “Yes, Fenris did rather enjoy that, but aren’t you forgetting about our show? To have your sister underperform just before you; if it wasn’t for Inari, then your family would have been the laughing stock of the entire event.”
Sora’s jaw snapped together, and she could help but feel a growl rumble through her throat. Seriously! What’s wrong with them? They searched for my mom just to grind her nose in the dirt?
Sora’s brow furrowed with question as her mother responded. “You’re right … if Inari hadn’t blown Enlil out of the valley, then my mother would have seen the most shame amongst the Founders. I know you won, Marduk.”
“Heh,” Marduk chuckled. “I didn’t expect you to actually admit it; have a little…”
“Pride?” Her mother growled. “I don’t have anything to be proud of, but I will! Why don’t we test it out now? My mother showed me a new Runic Symbol. You saw some of them; so, why don’t we test out this one’s strength.”
Kutkh laughed. “Seriously? You couldn’t even handle the previous Runic Harmony, and now you want to try something new?”
“Are you scared?” Her mother’s tails lifted as a rune appeared on her center tail; all the flames around the area changed direction, flowing into her fur as fiery beams the size of school buses shot from her tails, burning with white-hot ferocity. Sora’s breath caught at the spiritual waves they emitted.
“Hey, now,” Marduk’s tone lowered. “You know we aren’t supposed to fight without one of our parents being present.”
“That didn’t stop Kutkh from attacking me,” her mother snarled.
Kutkh breathed out a dark sigh. “That wasn’t an attack … that was just a prank.”
There was silence as the standoff lasted for several more seconds before Marduk huffed. “I have to admit, that move is impressive. You should have pulled that out at the competition … Kutkh, let’s go.” Holy cow … he’s not joking. Those flames are a little more than half the strength of Githa’s.
Kutkh and Marduk rose back into the air, disappearing through a golden gate that appeared before them. The moment it vanished, her mother’s flames died, and she dropped to her stomach, fur drenched with sweat as she shifted to her side. “Stupid bull…” She muttered before the scene dispersed.
Taking a deep breath, Sora leaned back in her seat. “I get the feeling that was really dangerous, wasn’t it? You’re showing me this memory so I won’t repeat what my mom did.”
“Extremely dangerous,” her aunt shifted her tails as she stared at the spot Mia’s image had been. “Your mother used Runic Fox Magic that converts all naturally absorbed energy into a singular element; it could have damaged her elemental threads if she had kept it up or wavered in her concentration. Our mother knew what she had done and punished your mother quite severely for it. That is but one story about your mother … even now she can still be quite stubborn and reckless,” she said with disapproval. “I know there will be moments where you must bet your life, but that was an unnecessary thing for your mother to do. Judge a situation wisely, Sora; learn from your mother’s mistakes.”
“I get that, but…” Sora glared at the sky.
“Yes, this is why I’m explaining this to you,” her aunt sighed. “I know you’re becoming more and more bold with your development. Your Vulpes nature is becoming more evident, and I sense your mother’s proclivity for reckless behavior starting to take bloom. I want to nip some of that in the bud; not all of it, but give you an image to contrast it with. Your mother’s pride was hurt, and so she risked her future on a shortsighted victory; that was not a wise decision. She should have perfected the previous technique and beaten him in the next competition … tempered her emotion.” A sad grin touched her cheeks as her head dropped back against the headrest. “Your mother has a hard time with tempering her emotion though … she’s always been passionate.”
A smile grew on Sora’s lips as she looked down at her tails. “Thanks for showing me that … now I know my mom’s voice.”
“Of course, now,” she turned to Wendy, “it’s time for you to face your mother.”