B3 — 20. Tearful Reunion Pt. 2

Sora found herself on an open street, her aunt and Mary beside her.  She slowly began cutting off the sustaining energy, keeping Mary stable.  It was dusk, the street lamps along the sidewalk showing their soft glow. Large gnarled trees lined both sides of the road, shadowing the pavement.

“Where are we?”  Sora asked.

“My house,” Mary muttered, “on Coral Way.  It’s in the Coral Gables area…”

In front of them was a white house; there were neatly trimmed bushes, lining both sides of a railed fence and white chest height pillars.  The driveway gates were open, showing two cars under a patio that lead to the garage. The trees and flowers were well kept. It seemed someone was home by the lights shining through the window blinds.

“It’s beautiful.”

Mary swallowed nervously, taking a deep breath.  “Well, we have caretakers.”

Inari stood on Mary’s right, silently waiting as she examined the surroundings with casual interest; her long tails were bunched together, making them almost appear like they were one.

The silence stretched.  Mary rubbed her left shoulder, brow furrowed as she stared at the wooden front door, stained dark burgundy.

Sora shifted a little, tail’s wrapping around each other as she waited for something to happen, trying to distract herself by studying the scenery.  There were cars parked along the sides of the road, and the houses seemed to be for the high middle class.

Taking a deep breath, Mary turned to Inari.  “Could we walk for a bit?”

Inari smiled patiently.  “Of course, you may ask of me what you will.”

“Right,” Mary began walking down the street, glancing at a woman in her mid-thirties that was jogging down the sidewalk.  “They can’t see us, right?”

“No,” Inari stated softly.  “Cars and other such vehicles cannot harm us either.  We’ll just pass through them like ghosts.”

Mary nodded.  “I see…”

Sora walked beside her as they began walking down the road.  She stiffened as a car turned, heading straight for them. Even with the knowledge, she tensed as the vehicle passed through them; Mary seemed utterly unaffected as she looked down at the road, her mind racing with complicated questions.

“Can you tell me … how will everything end?”

Inari chuckled softly.  “Mary, we both know you’re stalling.”

“Heh,” Mary rubbed the back of her neck.  “Still, can you indulge my silly questions?”

“I will answer honestly then,” her aunt smiled, looking up at the trees as she began to speak, Mary’s emotions spiking as she continued.

“Imagine a child that had never seen the ocean before; this star-struck girl looks out at the open sea and the sand that runs along its beaches in wonder.  She can’t wait for the car to stop and bolts out just as her parents park the vehicle.

“Her mother calls after her in exasperation, as any mother would in such a circumstance; after all, the child does not know the dangers that the ocean or a beach can hold, but her father just chuckles at his daughter’s energy.

“After being reprimanded, the mother caringly adds sunblock to the girl’s skin while she bounces on her toes, trying to get another glimpse at the crashing waves.  After several painful minutes, the girl is finally given leave to go at least five feet away from her mother’s side. She runs along the sand, tripping and falling several times, but laughing all the while.

“Finally, they make it beyond the dunes, and she sees the ocean up close; stunned, she stares at the powerful waves crashing down, bubbling along the shore.  She’s captivated; what could possibly be beneath the water? What mysteries? Was it cold? The tub water back home was cold sometimes, but it was so big. What if it was hot?

“She sees a seagull, and suddenly, all those thoughts wash away as something new and exciting lands not twenty feet away.  Her attention is pulled away again, something moved by a washed up log.”

Sora’s lips creased as she noticed tears falling down Mary’s cheeks.  She sniffed softly, “Emily … the first time we took her to the beach. We lived in Oregon at the time; she … she passed away from a rare heart disease four years ago.”

“Yes,” Inari’s voice was soft.  “A curious Intelligence; she was always bubbling with questions.  Is there life after death? Yes, but it’s complicated. It is not some paradise where all your worries are forever gone, and there are many instances where a spirit and Intelligence can be consumed, destroyed, but for ordinary humans like your daughter, she is fine.

“Just like the ocean and all its mysteries that your small daughter couldn’t understand, so too are the Planes of Existence impossible for you to comprehend at this time.  It is the same with time and space. There are so many things, and they are all explainable, but a toddler cannot understand Calculus. There are steps taken to learn it, but it takes many years of patient study and dedication.

“Could you see your daughter again?  Yes, but you must live a certain way to achieve that; everything comes with a sacrifice, but you can choose to make that sacrifice.  That includes the sacrifices required to obtain that knowledge.”

Mary swallowed, brushing away her tears.  “Thanks, Inari … thank you for indulging my heart.”

“Think nothing of it,” Inari smiled at Sora.  “You have taken care of my niece, even at the expense of your own livelihood, quite literally.  You have made the sacrifices needed to obtain my aid; I am merely paying back what you have put forward.”

“Just having that knowledge,” Mary trailed off.  “Thank you, Inari … I’m sure it is complicated. Intelligences, spirits, there are so many strange things.  I mean, just saying the word doesn’t help me understand it. Just like a young child trying to understand the vast ocean in front of them.”

She laughed softly.  “Meeting you … I feel like a child again; no, more, an amoeba.  You make me question everything I know … using my own knowledge.”

“I think now would be a good time to see your husband.  He hasn’t been sleeping well lately, but his lack of sleep has forced him into a state of delirium as he awaits your return.”

“That … that sounds like him…”  Mary muttered.

The pain and guilt eating at her Core escalated, causing Sora to frown.  You want her to feel this way?  I mean, that was a pretty pointed thing to say.

“The truth, no matter how harsh, can set you free.  Addressing the issue instead of skirting it, will lead to healing, but pain.”

Sora hummed as Mary took a deep breath, determination set.  “Okay, take me to my husband.”

The scenery shifted as Inari moved them to the location.  The front room was a mess; wrappers were everywhere, pizza boxes, empty water bottles, half-eaten takeout.  The disheveled form of a man slumped against the side of a white couch. It was clear he hadn’t showered in a day or two, and he held a phone in his hand.

“Oh, Rick…”  Mary whispered as she knelt beside him.  She tried pulling back his hair, but her hand passed right through his head.

Inari sat in the highback armchair across from the couch.  “He’s a dedicated man. He came back the first night and thought you were just working late at the office; however, when you weren’t in bed the following morning and hadn’t answered his calls, he began to worry.  He called your office, and they told him you disappeared the day before. After a few more phone calls to your parents and brother, he filed a missing person report. He thinks you’ve been kidnapped, possibly dead, and without any calls for a ransom, he’s growing quite desperate.”

“Yeah, that … that sounds like him.  Me disappearing … he still hasn’t quite gotten past Emily’s passing.”  Sorrowful lines creased her features. “Sora, is it possible to talk to him?  Bring him to the Dream Plane or Astral Plane … whatever this is?”

She turned to her aunt for help.  “Yes, Sora. This is within your capabilities.  Penetrate his spiritual network, enter his Core, and feed your desire into his Intelligence.  Don’t pull his Core out, like you did before, simply beckon him to follow you; he will accept.  It would be a different matter entirely for someone like Fen, but as a Founder, you have real influence over the magic.  What you did with the others was by force, you stripped them of their Core, but with him, you’re prompting his Intelligence to follow you; his Core will still be in place, Oltera Nexus still sustaining the body.”

Intaking a deep breath, Sora puffed it out.  “Okay … man, I stripped … I still can’t believe how dangerous all this is.”

Injecting her magic into Rick, she penetrated his Core and searched for his Intelligence.  Finding it, she sent a welcoming pulse, transmitting through his spiritual network. To her surprise, she felt it twitch before following the magical trail she left, guiding him out of his Core and into open space.

She watched in fascination as Rick seemed to peel away from his own body, legs sticking through his torso.

He stared down in shock at his own body.  “Aw, crap … am I dead?” His gaze shifted to Mary, eyes opening further.  “Mary?”

Mary jumped up and hugged him before kissing his lips.  Rick went stiff for a moment before he seemed to melt in her arms.  Squeezing as he picked her up off the ground. “Mary!” He cried. “I was … I was so scared.  Then I saw this—this flaming fox goddess … she had blazing eyes and an aura … she was so bright.  I knew, I just knew if I followed her then—I’d find you!” His voice cracked.

Shaking in his arms, Mary squeezed him back.  “I know—I know.” She sniffed. “Thank you—thank you, Sora.”

Rick coughed before clearing his throat.  He turned, jumping as he caught sight of her.  “What? You’re—you’re that fox goddess! Am I dreaming?”

Mary grabbed his head, pulling him back, she kissed him again.  “No, dear—no, this is real.” She took a shuddering breath. “I’ll explain—I just … give me a minute … it—it’s been a rough…”  She couldn’t finish the sentence, collapsing in his arms as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Hey,” Rick hummed, holding her against his chest.  “Hey, it’s alright. I’m here … I’m here…”

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Sora felt soft tears falling down her own cheeks as their emotions encircled her.  It took several minutes, but eventually, Mary pulled away. Smiling up at him, she breathed a few times before saying, “Dear, could you—I think you should sit down before I … it’s a complicated mess.”  She swallowed, hands trembling.

Rick nodded, before taking a deep breath; he took her hands and guided her to the couch, sitting.  He turned to Sora, but quickly shifted his gaze to Inari, mouth dropping open.

Her aunt smiled innocently.  “Hello, yes, I have that effect on humans.  Take your time.”

Mary squeezed his hands before releasing her left hand and guiding his face toward her.  “Yes—you are basically in the presence of goddesses.”

“Um, hi,” Sora said, tails twisting into a nervous knot as she waved.  “My name’s Sora.” The following silence stretched as he looked at her, making her ears twitch self-consciously.

After a minute, he licked his lips, looking down at the floor; his eyes shifted to his body, another questioning expression passing over his features.

“No,” Mary said soothingly.  “You’re not dead, and neither am I.”

“Okay…”  He fell silent, clearly deep in thought.  “So … hmm. I’m not dead; Mary, you aren’t dead?”  He pursed his lips as she nodded. “Alright … this isn’t a dream?”

Inari chuckled as she wove some form of magical shield around Rick.  “No,” everyone’s focus centered on her. “Rick, my name is Inari; yes, I am the same Inari from those Japanese mythologies.  This girl is my niece, Sora. Now that introductions have been made, I would like to offer you an option to make this easier.  Would you like me to gift you all of the events your wife experienced while away?”

He instantly nodded.  “Yeah, if that’s possible; I want to know everything.”

“Not like he can say no,” Mary sighed.  “Your aura is quite scary, Inari.”

“On the contrary,” her aunt’s smile turned mischievous.  “I shielded him with Sora’s magic to give a sincere response.”

“Oh…”  Mary’s arms intertwined around Rick’s chest as she squeezed.  “You—didn’t even hesitate … without Inari’s influence.” Her voice cracked.

Rick ran a hand through her brown hair.  “Of course not … I mean, why are you even wearing a lab coat?  I want to know everything.”

Inari lifted her hand, and faint lights began to appear above it until they condensed into a single speck of white light.  “This is everything; her emotions, her memories, her entire raw experience. Mary, I know you wish to share it, and he wishes to receive it.”

Sora could feel her hesitation but nodded.  “What you told us before though … won’t it be a little overwhelming?  Like the Intelligence merge?”

“Yes, it will; however, Rick wouldn’t have it any other way.  I am merely shortening the exchange.”

Mary bit back her trembling lip as she buried her head in Rick’s chest; Sora struggled to keep her own feelings in check as she absorbed the radial emotion.

One arm holding Mary, he accepted the light as it floated toward him, hand closing around it.  He tensed as his chest began to convulse, tears leaking from his eyes. He sucked in sharply. “Oh, my little Mary…”  His voice was thick as he held her head against his shoulder, kissing her forehead. “I—I couldn’t—I didn’t even know … I couldn’t protect you.”

They cried in each others’ arms as Rick shared in Mary’s emotional dilemma.  After several minutes, Rick looked up at Inari and her, scruffy face puffy and red.  “Thank you, Inari, Sora. I can’t—thank you for being there for my wife.” He sniffed.

“Rick…”  Mary’s voice was heavy with emotion, but he squeezed her shoulders firmly.

“I understand … there’s a powerful organization with a demon at its head.  They’re probably watching me right now.” Taking another deep breath, he looked over at his body.  “I know,” he glanced back toward Inari. “I know I’m nothing … thank you for that knowledge. I know I don’t have the right to ask—that you already know my desire…”

Inari rose to her feet, causing a shiver to run down Sora’s body.  Wait?  What desire?  Oh…

“Yes,” her aunt smiled warmly.  “Both Mary and you have passed my initial requirements.  Mary’s involvement with my niece has all but guaranteed her request, while your steadfast display and love has earned my respect.  I will send one of my Kitsune to initiate your advancement, and in time, you and Mary will join me in one of my realms where you will grow in union together.”

Both Rick and Mary bowed their heads, crying, but this time, tears of joy.  “Thank you, Inari.”

Sora was a little confused at the exchange, but slowly it began to dawn on her.  Wait … they’re going to … she’s taking them into her realm.  That basically means … she’s taking them in as her own. That’s what the Kitsune means to her … oh, wow.

Inari moved to peer through the window; Sora watched her aunt uncertainly, waiting for Rick and Mary to compose themselves.

After a time, Inari hummed impishly.  “Now, I know there’s another question that’s gnawing at you both.  You’re both avid Science Fiction fans. Go ahead,” she turned, expression reflecting her tone.

Mary cleared her throat.  “Right, well,” she squeezed Rick’s hand.  “I mean, it makes me wonder … I know there are whole other worlds and realms out there, but—are there aliens?  I mean, there’s Founders and Vulpes, and Demons. So…”

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Rick nodded.  “Yeah … I mean, demons … so, aliens aren’t that far fetched, right?”

“Are there aliens?”  Her aunt chuckled, vision sliding to her.

Sora stiffened, feeling a shiver run up her tails.  “Umm, yeah—I mean, umm, I don’t know … why are you looking at me?”

“Because, my dear Sora,” Her aunt giggled.  “You’re so easy to tease.”

Her cheeks reddened, “Hey … you’re supposed to be a super composed goddess.”  She huffed, folding her arms.

“I am but a simple aunt,” she snickered.  “Now, why don’t we have a little fun?”

Sora felt her aunt weaving her magic into another sophisticated design; her eyes widened in shock as everything changed.  She looked down on a blazing blue sun. “Wha—where are me?”

“Me?”  Inari giggled.  “Did you forget how to speak?”

Mary and Rick’s face grew ashen as they gazed upon the massive star; columns of fire blazing in arcs across its surface.  “We’re in space? Is this an illusion you created?”

Sora shook her head, arms beginning to tremble.  “No … this is real. We’re really in space…”

“Not in body,” Inari mused, “but as Intelligence.  Creating a sun is an effortless task; after all, I’ve created entire universes of my own.  Not quite as vast as the Human Realm’s, after all, it was the first project of the First Generation Founders.  However, even if it was the first that they created, vast it is. According to the human’s stellar map, we are just outside of the Boötes void; of course, it is much further spread than the images your satellites can detect.”

Rick and Mary’s excitement started to spike.  Rick licked his lips nervously. “Wait, are—are you saying that you can instantly travel hundreds of millions of light-years in … in an instant?”

Mary cut in, “No, not even that … this means Sora can travel that far with her own power.”

“I can?”

Her aunt nodded.  “Of course, this is basic.  However, what looms behind us isn’t a void.”

Sort turned, and her eyes widened.  A massive dark spot was swallowing up the light of suns behind them; her fur bristled.  “Aliens?”

Mary’s mouth dropped open, Sora sensed the nervous jitters shooting up her spine.  “B—but they can’t—can’t see us, right? I mean—can they?” Rick and her hands were locked in a death grip.

Inari chuckled.  “No, of course not.  To be frank, there is a limit to what technology can do.  Damaging or even sensing an Intelligence is something very few species have been able to accomplish through technology.”  She turned back to the black object. “These aliens aren’t even that advanced in the grand scheme of Realms.”

A massive gray spherical object seemed to emerge from the dark spot as Inari used Sora’s magic; it was smooth, without any indication of line.  Seriously?  She just revealed a crazy advanced alien spaceship like it was nothing!

Rick rotated his shoulders, suddenly realizing that he was standing in the vacuum of space.  “Wha—what do they look like?”

Inari sighed.  “Nothing like you three are imagining.  There isn’t a space inside this ship where you could fit an average human body.  Why don’t we go to the builder’s home planet?”

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