Aiden sighed as he watched Kari leave; Eyia let her by without incident before returning to her post. Leaning back, he ran a hand through his golden hair, closing his eyes. The only sound came from the kitchen as Liz and Alice prepared their meal.
Should I go after Kari? I don’t know; maybe she needs her space? Some human shows talked about girls needing their space when upset, but Kari’s a Founder … although, she did really connect to humans.
He opened his eyes as he heard Jin shift positions on a couch; she sat on her side, smiling at him. His eyes darted down to her spandex covering before he forced his eyes away, blushing. “Not going after her?”
Clearing his throat, he sucked in a long breath. “I don’t know if I should. She’s in a lot of pain right now; maybe she needs some space.”
“That is wise,” Eyia stated. “It would be best for you to identify the feelings inside your own heart. It is clear that you have much to think about and are conflicted. I suggest a walk.”
Frowning, he glanced over at her passive expression. Wasn’t she worried about enemies? Well … it’s not like she’d honestly care what happens to me; her primary concern is Sora and Jin. It’s nice; Sora was able to find some reliable friends.
“You know,” he scratched at his temple. “I think you’re right. You must be able to sense something about me; you both are a lot more powerful than I imagined.”
Jin chuckled before leaning back, eyes closing while Eyia’s expression didn’t change as she said, “Observation is a vital skill one must obtain in order to survive. Being able to reflect on one’s directions in life is also a vital step in order to advance toward happiness.”
Picking between his teeth with his tongue, Aiden stared down at the wooden floor. Advance toward happiness… He nodded. “Thank you, Eyia.” Rising to his feet, he walked toward the door. “I’ll be back in a bit; don’t wait up for me to eat.”
“Never planned on it,” Jin said with a grin. “When you come back, don’t be so glum. Your aura is depressing.”
“Heh,” Aiden hesitated as Eyia shifted to let him by. “My aura is depressing … thanks for the heads up.”
Walking out, he stared around at the crowd. There were many different colored Vulpes, but most of them seemed to be closer to two-tailed. Several groups were formed, talking amongst themselves as they glanced down the cobblestone road.
I guess Kari made a scene.
Rubbing his tight left shoulder, he walked the opposite way the Vulpes were staring. Eric’s probably dead; I’m sure that’s one of the issues running through Kari’s mind. What’s she going to do now? She’s hated him just about half her life and struggled to get away from him … now, he’s dead.
Staring up at the sky, he noticed the yellow sun was falling, and the number of clouds had increased. Turning down a side alley, he kept walking straight between buildings, searching for a suitable place to rest; several Vulpes and a few humans gave him questioning stares. He hadn’t seen too many blonde humans, so he assumed it was because of his hair color or scent.
Eric set me free, but what does that mean? Obviously, I don’t have to follow his orders anymore. What do I do then? For humans, they’d probably go out on their own, find some job or something they like doing, find a girl, and settle down. That’s what seemed to happen in some of the movies, but what do I want?
He stopped beside an open window, hearing the loud voices of Vulpes inside. The women were talking about things that had happened in the field that day, jokes, blessings received at the hands of the Council, and talking about stories each of them had heard from other towns and the wonders of the Capital.
Is this what life is supposed to be like; sitting around, talking about things and laughing? What’s a normal life like? Life was so predictable in Alva’s Realm. We’d get up, listen to stories, eat, Kari and Tiri would hunt … she would likely scare off the prey, and Kari would get mad; Eric teaching them how to prowl and use their natural gifts. That felt right, natural, but it’s all broken.
Scratching his left eyebrow, he sighed. Pushing himself away from the side of the building, he continued his walk, examining the clean environment. The cobblestone ground was well maintained and showed great care in its craftsmanship. The housing was reasonably straightforward compared to the Human Realm, but well crafted. The town seemed to be laid out with a purpose in mind as he moved between blocks, and he began to recognize a difference in demographics between Vulpes tails, colors, and humans.
This realm is so structured; I don’t know everything that … what were their names again? Mary, Wendy, Nathan, and … Astric? No, that’s not right, Ash … something. They seemed to be really cautious about the realm and used words that I’m not familiar with, but Sora knew what they meant.
They made it seem like this realm is terrible and oppressive. Sure, the Vulpes seem to be suffering spiritually, but we don’t know how that happened.
He glanced around at the content faces around him as they moved between different buildings.
They seem happy, but … is that really happiness or just innocence? They certainly do seem infatuated with the Vulpes Council; much of their conversations seem to be about them, but it’s love, reverence, thankfulness for what they have. What would it be like to live here?
He looked west as a breeze started blowing and he noticed soft gray clouds coming from that direction; hoving over the massive snow-capped mountains in the distance, they rolled across the heavens.
Looks like it’s going to rain a bit once they reach us. That should be good for the crops, right? A light rain overnight. I wouldn’t mind helping them with their harvest; I always thought human gardening looked fun.
He rubbed his shoulder as he reached the edge of town. There was a path leading toward a field of fruit trees before him and several large rocks for sitting beside the road. Looking around, he found the area empty. Sitting and lying back, he closed his eyes.
Kari’s feeling empty, but so am I. Everything was about his goals; now to find out he really just wanted to protect Kari from her uncles. His reasoning was solid, but his means were twisted, but … that’s in the past now. So, what’s in the future?
I’m with Sora; I’m grateful for that. We couldn’t have gotten this far without her, and she’s got such an honest heart. What have I done besides wallow in my misery? Nothing. I tried to speak out against Eric and save Sora, but that didn’t help. I followed Sora and lead her straight into a trap with Eric and his pack all around her. Wow, I’ve been a weight around her neck … what use do I have?
Well, if Eric’s right, then I’ve caused everything, so there’s that. Great … I got Jenny and Lori killed then, right? That’s what that means. I ruined Sora’s life and so many others. I caused all of this because of some wish curse. I wanted to save Eric, that was my wish, and to do that, it took beings that broke Eric into pieces, bending him to their will.
Now, we have demons, Founders, and who knows what else after us. We made it to this realm, which seems nice … safe…
Opening his eyes, he looked up at the orange-tinted heavens above, reflecting off some low hanging clouds. The breeze was cool, and the smell of rain carried with the wind, making him breathe in deeply.
I wish I had my guitar … humans made such amazing things. I wonder if they have instruments here? I only learned a few songs, but it was fun to make up my own tunes; to make something of my own. Why is my mind just floating? There’s just so much to think about.
He hummed a relaxing melody he’d learned, vision closing again. After several minutes of shifting between songs, he heard the soft sound of footsteps.
Opening his eyes, he looked right; a large muscular man in his early thirties approached him with a bottle in hand. He wore white shin-high pants and a fitted white shirt. The man ran a hand through brown hair as he smiled. He was handsome; his beard was well-groomed, face blemishless, and features chiseled.
“How are you, friend? I haven’t seen you around town. Are you new? It’s rare to get Transplanters this late into the harvest season.”
Smiling, Aiden sat up. “No, I’m new to the realm. Have you heard about the monsters coming through the Red Gate yet?”
His eyes widened. “Oh, yeah, there’s been some talk. I heard there was a massive black beast with sharp fangs running through town a little bit ago. Apparently, that’s one of the monsters from beyond the Red Gate.”
Shifting on the rock so they could face one another, Aiden nodded with a sigh. “Yeah, sorry if she scared the town. Kari’s going through a rough time right now.”
“Wait, so, are you a monster? You look like a human though? Blonde hair is rare, but it’s around.”
Chuckling, Aiden scratched the back of his head. “Yeah, but I’m not a Vulpes, as you can tell. I’m a Firebird … well, I guess that’s kind of wrong.”
The man’s brow furrowed as he drank from the bottle; swallowing, he asked, “What do you mean, that’s wrong, and how should I treat you then? I’ve never met a monster.”
“Eh, just treat me like any other human. I don’t know your customs here, but you don’t have to treat me special or anything.”
“That so? Glad to hear,” he smiled. “Some strange rumors have been circling some groups. One of my buddies said we should treat you monsters like The Council themselves.”
Remembering back to how reverent the Vulpes had been talking about The Council, he shook his head. “Na, just call me Aiden.” He held out his hand.
The man’s brown eyes observed his hand questioningly, brow furrowed. “Do you want a drink?”
“Oh,” Aiden chuckled. “I forgot you guys don’t have this custom. It’s a human custom from the other side of the Red Gate. You shake hands and tell each other your names; it’s a friendly way of greeting.”
He smiled. “Ah, I get it.” Holding out his other hand, he took Aiden’s hand; his palms were rough with callouses and his grip firm. “My name’s Besur. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Aiden.”
“Likewise,” releasing his hand, he pointed at his bottle. “What kind of drinks do you have here?”
“This,” he held up the bottle. “We call it apple juice.”
Chuckling, Aiden nodded. “Well, we have that beyond the Red Gate too.”
“Oh?” He handed him the bottle. “Does it taste the same?”
Taking it, he took a swig, sliding it around his tongue before swallowing. “Huh,” he smacked his lips. “It’s fresh, and a bit sweeter than I’m used to … it’s almost like there’s some orange juice mixed into it.”
“Really?” Besur asked, taking the bottle back and drinking a bit. “It tastes like normal apple juice to me.”
Aiden shrugged, eyes moved to a black-haired man in his mid-thirties that just exited the alley; he did a quick scan before locking onto Besur and him. He waved, walking over. “Hey, Besur. Went to meet this guy, eh?”
Besur frowned, shifting to view the newcomer. “Ah, Corobus. Yeah, wanted to see if he was a Transplanter, but turns out he’s one of those monsters we’ve heard about.”
Corobus stiffened before doing a curt bow. “Oh … so, eh, how…”
“Don’t bow,” Aiden sighed. “Just treat me like any other human.”
Corobus rose, forehead creased. “So, you’re like … what?”
“Come now, don’t be rude,” Besur muttered.
Aiden shook his head with a light chuckle. “No, I get it; it’s totally fine. I’m a Fire…”
“Fire?” Both men questioned, Corobus sitting on a rock in-between them.
I’m … I guess I am still a Firebird, but I’m a Founder of the Firebirds … like Sora’s a Founder of the Vulpes, but still a Vulpes, and Kari’s a Founder of the wolves.
“I’m a Firebird. So, how is it around town?”
“What do you mean?” Corobus scratched at his hairline.
“Like, what do you guys do for fun? Where do you work and stuff like that?”
“Fun,” Besur hummed. “We wake up, prepare for the day, meet for assignments at our local district management building, complete our scheduled tasks, clean up, and report for more things that need accomplishing. Once the sun begins to set, then we gather to thank The Council for our labors and talk to one another about the things that happened throughout the day. After that, we go to sleep.”
“Eh, that’s it?” Aiden questioned. “Do you play any games or sing or dance? What do you do for fun?”
Corobus pursed his lips for a moment, thinking about his question. “We—don’t dance or sing unless it’s a festival. There are seven festivals throughout the year, the biggest one being The Harvest Festival which takes place on Red next week.”
“Red … what’s the color of today?”
Yellow … let’s see. That means tomorrow is Green, then Blue, Indigo, Violet, and then the Harvest Festival. So, five days from now; according to the human calendar, today is Tuesday, and the Harvest Festival will be held on Sunday.
“Will someone from The Council show up?”
Besur nodded, wide smile beaming. “Yes, it’s always random; we don’t know which one will come, but they will come and spend several minutes with us before going to another town.”
“Only several minutes?” Aiden moved to a more comfortable position. “I guess if they’re going to every town in the Realm, then it would require only spending a little bit of time in each one, but that seems way too short.”
“Really?” Corobus frowned. “How long to gods stay with you beyond the Red Gate?”
Aiden fell silent, staring up at the burning sky. “How long do gods stay with us…” Alva was near the pinnacle of gods as a Second-Generation Founder. She may have been a bit younger than her brothers, but who knows how young in Founder years. She was more of a mystery than I realized.
Besur broke his contemplation. “Do you have gods on the other side?”
“Yeah,” Aiden muttered. “We do … it’s complicated though. Technically, I’m a god—I guess.”
“You’re a…” Besur mumbled.
Aiden scratched the back of his head, lips creasing. “I don’t know how to explain it … I’m apparently a Founder; a Son of Homā. There are tiers when it comes to gods on the other side of the Red Gate. I’m … I don’t even know what generation I am … that’s pretty important, but I’m useless.”
Corobus sucked in his lower lip, moving it between his teeth for a moment. “I—you told us to treat you like a human, but if you’re that strong, then shouldn’t you go to the Capital?”
Besur nodded. “He’s right—should we even be giving advice to him though?”
“Heh,” Aiden breathed a long breath. “Don’t worry about what you can or can’t do with me. I’m just a useless bird that causes trouble for everyone around me … no amazing god.”
“I’ve never heard anyone talk like you before,” Besur muttered. “How would you describe it, Corobus?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know … it’s like when you’re hurt, but—but different.”
“Do you know what regret is; sadness, guilt, worthlessness?”
Both men shook their heads. “No, I haven’t heard those words before.”
Aiden rubbed his forehead with a soft chuckle. “What that would be like … so, you two wake up, get orders, follow them, talk about the happenings around town, go to bed, and do it all over again. You know … maybe that isn’t such a bad life. You don’t have to worry about anything but following—wait…” His smile fell. “That’s—all I’ve done.”
“I don’t follow,” Corobus said, shifting at Aiden’s tone.
“My whole life … I was basically a slave, but I never—no; I felt peace, happiness, until the outside world came in to disrupt that harmony … Hati. That moment changed everything.”
He stared at the two confused men in front of him. Are we … could we just bring misery to these people? I may have been a slave to my promise, but it wasn’t a terrible life. I was more like a son to Alva than a servant, but then again, how far did that extend? I don’t know.
The two men looked up at the sky as the sun continued to drop. “Ah, Aiden,” Besur said, smile returning. “We need to head back and prepare for the night, but we should talk again tomorrow. How about we meet here after the daily tasks are finished? I’d like to hear more; you say some interesting things.”
Aiden forced himself to return the smile. “Thanks, Besur, Corobus. I’d like that. I can’t promise anything since I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but if I can, then I will.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Corobus said as he rose, stretching.
Besur held out his hand. “Do you do this when you leave too?”
Taking it; Aiden’s smile turned more genuine. “Yeah, you can. Thanks for talking with me, guys.”
“Same,” Corobus said, moving to shake his hand as well. He fumbled with his fingers for a moment before squeezing. “You’ll have to tell us more about the ways beyond the Red Gate. You have words we’ve never heard before.”
Aiden nodded, and they left back toward the town. Lying back against the rock, he looked up at the dark sky; several different colored shimmering orbs began to move across space as the sun continued to dip below the horizon.
When did those show up? This realm is so strange.
His mind turned back to the conversation they’d had with Mimi. The humans are worried about the political aspect of this realm, and what that could mean for us. It’s true, from what I’ve heard about Inari; she’d absolutely annihilate this place if they hurt Sora. I’m shocked she hasn’t already arrived or taken out Bathin … old Founders are so confusing. Inari’s probably older than Alva, but what would I know?
Nilly’s involved with us … the First-Generation Founding Cat that died multiple times and is now a Nekomata … that’s so strange. Not only that, but she’s holding off Sköll since he’s a danger to Sora. Eric’s right, I caused all of this, but is that good or bad? I don’t know … what I do know is that got Jenny, Lori, and a lot of good people killed, but is it my fault or … I don’t know.
A tear slid down his cheek as he sighed. “I … I don’t even know if I wanted it to happen like this. I’m a plague that causes misfortune. I wanted a change, but what sacrifice was required? I don’t even know what will happen in the future because of my powers … am I even in control anymore or a puppet of my own design? Do my desires in the past trump my current desire? It’s so complicated. How do my powers work?”
The image of Githa shot into memory. She’s really old … she seems to be frivolous and kind of an airhead, but how she reacted to Bathin … it has to be more of a personality trait while she’s much more cunning underneath. Would she know more about me? Could she give me answers?
Sitting up, he looked toward the towering spiked mountains to the west, snow lining to top cliffs; the rainstorm was slowly closing in on the town.
My mind’s been so flustered; there’s been just … so much to think about. He pressed his palms against his face, running his hands down to sit atop his chest with a low groan. Kari’s looking for something to live for; she’s broken … she’s been near the breaking point for a long time, but now there’s nothing to fuel her. Eric left a hole in both of us.
Sora’s strong though … how does she do it? She knows I was the cause of all this, but still doesn’t shun me. Kari treated her like dirt for years, but she’s at least tolerating her. Eric almost killed her and her dad, but she was able to talk to him … under some strange circumstances; again, that I likely had a hand in making. She saved what humans she could, tries to keep everyone level headed, and has so much weight on her shoulders, yet keeps pushing forward.
The image of the cute fox-girl flashed in his mind; her bumping into him as he passed some random hotel. She’s changed so much. Sora was so different at that point, but I guess she was going through a massive change, literally turning into a Vulpes.
It’s not like that cute part of her went away either; she was charming when she broke me out of that cell. I thought it was just her Vulpes nature, manipulating those around her, but no … she’s a hundred percent genuine. So much different than Fen; well, maybe not that different. They’re both fairly straightforward, but their natures couldn’t be more opposite; yet, so are all these Vulpes around here. Nothing makes sense.
He scratched his brow, taking a deep breath before closing his eyes. A smile curved his lips as he recalled the conversation he’d had with Sora in that cell. “Because I’m witty and I’m pretty.” Definitely a Vulpes line, but a cute line.
Is it because of her aura that she has that strange effect? An ability to bring people together? Founders aren’t normally affected by that, well, Founders like Kari. I’m sure Jin and Eyia would be immune to such things, but me? I haven’t learned really anything about my powers.
Fen and Jian … yeah, I could even see Sora’s aura helping to make Fen manageable. A lot more manageable than without it. Jian’s just like a puppet to Fen though. I have the feeling she’s going to cause trouble for us, but that’s basically a given. The real question is, what are we going to do now? What am I going to do now?
I don’t have anywhere to go. Alva’s gone, Eric’s gone, even Devin’s gone … I have no clue what happened to him. He was probably killed, but he could still be trapped in that base … there’s nothing I can do to get him out though. Demons at our back and an unknown Council of godly Vulpes ahead, but I’m sure Sora can manage. Inari and her mother almost guarantee she won’t be touched; I mean, they’re Vulpes, there’s no way The Council wouldn’t know about Mia or Inari, especially if their Cores are unlocked.
It all circles around though … what do I do? Sora’s going to help the humans, Eyia and Jin will follow Sora, I mean, they were just roped into all this, but I doubt they mind. They’re just along for the ride with Sora. Githa will stick with Sora, and she’s the only counter we’ve got against Bathin; she also said that Nilly would probably show up at some point.
Fen and Jian … I have no clue what motivates them; they could stay in this Realm. Kari … no clue. I mean, she may decide to stick with me since I’m the only person she knows, but she has every reason to turn all her hatred of Eric onto me. She can’t leave this Realm since it’s the safest place she can be from her uncles right now and Githa said they couldn’t easily break-in. That also puts this whole Realm in their path though. I mean, eventually, they could probably break-in; I don’t know how high tier Wolf Founder powers work; I guess Githa would know more about that than me.
We’re disrupting this town’s peace though. We can’t stay here forever, right? I guess that’s what we’re all going to talk about when we sit down to eat; what we’re going to discuss with Mimi tomorrow. Again … I’m useless. I have nothing to offer or contribute. I’m stumped. We can’t go back, or we die … probably something worse with Bathin. We can’t continue disrupting the peace here. I guess … is the only option to go to the Capital and meet with The Council?
I suppose … maybe we can wait for The Council to come here? Well, it would only be one member, but perhaps that’ll be best. We could have that one member go back and talk to the others and prepare the way or even take us to The Capital to speak with them. It might be scary; I mean, if they do turn against us, would Githa be able to defend us? I get the feeling she’d prioritize Sora and just run with her if they’re more powerful. She’s weakened right now … so, I don’t know.
Scratching behind his ear, he shifted his neck to relieve tension; closing his eyes, he listened to the soft sounds of nature and the quiet sounds of the town as they settled in for the night. Once a raindrop hit his arm, he shivered, sitting up. “Welp, I’m not getting anything solved here, but at least I’ve sorted everything out.” He muttered. “I should probably head back and see if everyone’s sitting down to eat.”
Getting up, he stretched before walking back; the rain increased, making his hair damp. He took two wrong turns before finding the right building. Standing outside the door, he took a deep breath before entering.
Next chapter is Eyia’s POV and then back to primarily Sora.
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