Eyia let Aiden past without a word. The moment the door shut, she turned to Jin, releasing microbursts of energy as taught by her father to let Jin and Githa know she was ready.
Her luminescent armor, Gram, and Svalinn appeared as she called them; her necklace appeared as ice instantly covered the room, sealing off the area into Svalinn’s spatial lock. Her armor’s rainbow hews, and Gram’s bright golden radiance caused light to refract off the crystals, illuminating the space.
Jin chuckled as she stretched atop the couch, frost creeping up the legs. “Bringing out Gram? I can’t blame you; we don’t know what we’re dealing with. I can’t believe we nearly missed this spy.”
“Indeed,” Eyia stretched her muscles for a moment. “The spy is a pressing matter, but I am concerned about Sora; she should not know how to communicate in this manner.”
Their vision shifted to Githa as she stretched, back in human form. “Hmm, I am curious about this hidden being; I knew the spy was there, but I didn’t know what it was.”
A short purr vibrated from her throat as she scratched her left ear. “Although, yes, I am more interested in Sora; there’s something inside her. If I were to guess, I’d say Inari placed an Intelligent Construct in her Core; as you stated, Eyia, she should not know the Asgardian spiritual language and showed no indication of knowing we had a tail.”
Eyia frowned as her glowing irises shifted to the room’s right frozen corner. “You may reveal yourself. Your escape has been sealed, and your fate lies in our hands.”
The light seemed to refract in the area before a small violet-colored fox appeared; it had eight tails and large crude symbols written across its fur that glowed with a red light. Its ears were pulled back defensively as its light yellow eyes darted between them.
Eyia’s skin began to prickle with warning, causing her to ready her shield as it spoke. “How? My cloak was perfect.” Her voice was soft, yet had an odd rasp to the end of each phrase.
Githa’s toothy smile grew as her ears twitched with excitement, puffy tails weaving together, a low hum reverberating in her throat. “Oh—look at you! How strange.”
The couch creaked as Jin got to her feet, cracking her knuckles as her defensive aura skyrocketed. “Githa, correct me if I’m wrong; she doesn’t seem all that powerful, but I have an ominous feeling that’s making my skin crawl. What kind of energy is that? I can’t see into her Spiritual Network … there’s some form of magical lense obscuring it.”
Licking her lips, Githa snickered. “Oh, she’s not strong at all; although, maybe she could harm both of you. Her Oltera Nexus is in shambles, though, an absolute disaster. That being said, she has external magical defenses that look positively divine!”
“External magical defenses,” Eyia traced the symbols with her eyes. “Then there is a being powerful enough to conduct such mighty magic in this realm? If we approach, then we will trigger them?” She stated warily, moving to shield Jin if needed.
Everyone’s attention shot to Githa as she hopped off the couch; getting on all fours, she stretched as her clothes melded into her body, snow-white fur sprouting out of her skin. She transformed into a five-foot-tall snow leopard, two long tails brushing the ground.
The fox began to tremble as she pressed her body into the corner; Githa moved forward, deep feminine purr vibrating the air as she settled into a predatory pounce, green, orange, and blue speckled eyes fixated on the trembling creature.
“That magic looks so … tasty.” Githa hummed as she flexed her claws, nails biting into the ice. Her long puffy white tails burst into green flames; Eyia winced as the fire licked her ice, and she released a burst of energy to tell the cat she couldn’t handle her heat for long.
“I was—I don’t—want to hurt anyone…” The purple fox quivered as Githa’s overwhelming presence radiated outward.
The cat’s purrs escalated as her paws pulled close together under her chest. “Don’t cry … this will only take a moment.” Her tone held lustrous anticipation; Eyia braced herself as Githa sped up, becoming a blur.
The fox didn’t have time to blink as the symbols around her exploded with light, but Githa’s fangs sank into the eight-tailed fox’s back; green fire engulfed the fox as the red glowing symbols increased in color before they started to fade, cracks of emerald energy spreading across them. The flames around Githa’s tails grew as she absorbed the spell; the explosive fire along her tails flared, making Eyia grit her teeth, concentration faltering.
After a few minutes, the fire died down, and Githa’s jaws released the fox; she licked her lips as she returned to a normal speed. The crude markings around the fox’s body were gone.
Githa released a sigh of relief as she pulled back from the stunned fox. “Such a good meal!”
There were no wounds on the fox as she stood rigid. Githa devoured the magic before it had a chance to activate. I suppose the caster didn’t expect a being to be as fast as her, or that a foe would have the skill to target the magical core of the spell, absorbing the energy. It’s to be expected from such a weak society.
Githa completely vanished from Eyia’s vision, but inside her dimensional space, she was able to follow her presence back to the sofa. Her shape had altered back to a small cat. By the time her vision settled on the couch, Githa was already curled up, purring as she stared at the stiff creature.
“Such dangerous magic; you should be glad I absorbed it.” She giggled.
Realizing the danger had passed, Eyia released Gram and her armor but kept Svalinn’s attunement active.
Githa regained a substantial amount of energy; I cannot hope to match her at this point. If she was one of my mother’s cats, then she already knows many of my weaknesses. We must not make her our enemy.
Jin folded her arms, dropping back to the couch. “Well, that was anticlimactic; I was expecting to actually do something,” she warily glanced at Githa.
Githa’s head tilted toward them, and her lips almost seemed to twist into a smile as her eyes narrowed. “No need to feel threatened; I did you a favor.”
The fox dropped to the ground, physically spent. “What—all my—my strength … The Council’s blessing … you stole it.” She cried, tears falling from her yellow eyes.
Snickering, Githa’s vision returned to the fox. “Stole? I saved your fragile, tiny life. That spell was about to engulf this entire area in an Elemental Fusion of Spiritual Energy; it would have destroyed a third of this town, along with you, annihilating every spiritual entity in the vicinity, leaving behind empty shells.”
Jin whistled, scratching her temple. “Now that’s a complex bit of magic. You absorbed all of it too?”
“Of course, it was a wonderful meal,” Githa stated cheerily. “It’ll take me a few hours to fully dissolve it; it’s a rather curious form of energy. I haven’t tasted anything like it for quite some time. It has the rough texture of human magic, power of lesser Founder magic, and taste of … strong fox magic. Hmm, it’s similar to … which time was it? I think it was Anselm’s seal; the sixth time we fought … that was so long ago.”
Eyia lowered her shield as she addressed the fox. “What name are you known by?”
She swallowed as she looked at her. “I—my name is Miyabe. What are you … I don’t know what you are.”
“We have much to discuss, sit,” Eyia gestured to the armchair in front of the chair Jin sat on.
Miyabe inched forward, hesitating as Githa took a deep breath before rolling over, back toward them as she nuzzled into the back cushion, soft purrs continuing.
Taking a few breaths to calm herself Miyabe’s fur receded into her body as she transformed into a short, thin woman. Her thick, long purple hair was held up in a complicated Upon style bun, and her skin had a reddish tint to it. She wore decorative red robes, gold jewelry with multicolored gems, and was barefoot.
Eyia recalled the information the twins had given them. “Miyabe, do you follow the red Vulpes council member?”
A lump fell down the Vulpes’ throat as she sat, eight purple tails lying across her lap. “Yes … how did you know?”
Jin folded her legs with a broad smirk. “It’s not hard to make the connection.” Her smile fell. “Now that the protective lens is gone, you’re actually hiding quite a bit of power. What do you think, Eyia?”
Eyia responded in the spiritual language. “Indeed, she could pose a threat to you or me, as Githa observed, depending on her skill at utilizing magic, especially given our current state. However, I do not sense the experience of combat with her, nor the resolve.”
Miyabe’s head turned to Githa, body trembling, before returning to them. “If I may—why has the Monster God withdrawn from the conversation? Does she require rest?”
She flinched at Eyia’s cold eyes as she released an offensive aura. Githa intimidates her on the level of her interpretation of a god? Githa is yet at full strength but even given her feats against Bathin; I cannot see her having the capability of maintaining a realm such as this. There are so many mysteries this realm holds. “Why do you call her a Monster God?”
“Well—only a god could absorb another god’s energy.” Her breath came out as fog, and she shivered. “I have never experienced this kind of—cutting magic. What is it?”
Ignoring her question, Eyia continued to glare at her. Githa is correct; her Spiritual Network is in disarray; perhaps even more damaged than the Vulpes of this town. Her defense is rather primitive and left with many openings; if this is the level of an eight-tailed Vulpes, then it is sad indeed. Sora might be able to claim victory against such an opponent; despite the power difference, Sora is much more versatile.
Jin pursed her lips as she studied the woman. “You were at the Red Gate when we arrived. What were you doing there?”
She seemed to be getting better control over her nerves as she answered more fluidly. “I followed the orders I was given. As a—a Rejected, I was given specific assignments to fulfill throughout the realm. My current task is to watch the Red Gate, to make reports on any intruding Vulpes; I was not told what to do if non-Vulpes entered, so I followed you to gain more information to bring to The Council.”
Eyia stared down at the light fog frothing off her icy shield. She is not hiding information … a Rejected; Rejected from what? The humans were right to be wary of this government; I have seen the signs of oppression, but what is the overarching goal? There must be a drive behind this society’s movement.
Her eyes returned to Miyabe. “You have lived in the Capital of this realm for some time, correct?”
She nodded. “I have, but I am forbidden to speak…” She trailed off as Eyia’s chilling aura deepened; Jin effortlessly deflected it, but it didn’t seem like Miyabe had the experience to fight the biting energy.
She hugged her shoulders, as the assaulting aura pricking Miyabe’s Spiritual Network like a million needles. “Pl—please…” She held herself protectively as the gust of wind pressed against her body, folding her dress against her skin and breaking her bun, her hair whipping back. “So—so cold … it hurts … it hurts…” Whimpers escaped her throat.
“Answer the questions,” Eyia’s low voice held a sharp edge.
Eyia increased the attack; her energy dug past Miyabe’s defenses, forcefully entering her Spiritual Network.
Frosted tears stuck to her eyelashes, chest convulsing as she trembled, unable to scream from the constricting chill. “I—I,” her teeth chattered, “I’ll tell…”
The atmosphere returned to a cool temperature as Eyia retracted the attack. “All I wish for is answers, Miyabe; I do not wish to harm you.”
Miyabe was still huddled in the armchair, tails wrapped around her front defensively as she stared at Eyia with terror. Her hair was a tangled mess, draped across her shoulders and frozen across the back of the chair. “I … I lived in the Red District…” Her eyes glazed, posture relaxing.
Eyia felt some form of sophisticated magic burst into existence from deep within Miyabe’s Core, and Githa vanished off the couch, appearing in front of the fox in human form. When Eyia got a clear image of her, Githa’s left hand was inside Miyabe’s head; she’d already penetrated her Spiritual Network and entered her Core.
“Tricky, tricky foxes,” Githa growled as green flames surrounded Miyabe and burst down her tails.
Jin sat straighter. “That was a magical seal being activated, but I didn’t sense anything like it inside her?”
“I too failed to see anything inside her Core,” Eyia lifted to her feet. “Do you understand…”
“Yes,” Githa’s nose was twisted. Eyia felt her interacting with the seal, redirecting much of the colossal energy that was trying to power a spell design. “Tch, I was too slow. Hold up Svalinn and brace yourself; I’ll absorb what energy I can, but some will escape.”
Without hesitation, Eyia reinforced her concentration and lifted her shield; the mist exploded from Svalinn in a reverse cone, flowing behind her.
Githa raised her clawed right hand that burst into red flames; the crimson beam shot out, slamming into her crystal shield. Eyia winced. This is Githa absorbing most of the energy?
“I cannot hold on much longer…” She felt her control over the separated space slipping, the frost around the room melting; Jin’s hands pressed against her back, draconic energy tickling the edges of her Spiritual Network. She accepted her power and the amount of focus required to maintain Svalinn’s construct lightened.
“This is a lot more powerful than before,” Jin muttered. “This Council is more dangerous than we thought.”
The beam of red fire faded as the initial burst decreased and Githa gained more control over the magical core; yet in that short exchange, they were already sweating with effort. Githa flexed her right hand a few times as she finished absorbing the rest of the energy.
Both Jin and Eyia sighed as they dropped to the couch behind them, and Githa retracted her hand from Miyabe’s Core. “What form of spell—was that?” Eyia asked, her shield held across her stomach as she breathed.
Jin groaned, “I don’t know, but,” she swallowed, “if it requires that much energy…”
Githa hopped off the armchair, glaring at the seemingly dead fox.
Eyia ran a hand through her hair. “ It was triggered when she tried releasing information about the Capital. It is no coincidence.”
“No,” Githa growled as she closed Miyabe’s eyes. “It is no coincidence, and she is not dead, but she might as well be.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jin asked, wiping the sweat from her brow.
“Look at her Core; it’s utterly open.” Githa huffed, walking back to her couch to lean against the armrest.
Eyia looked at Miyabe. Her Core is unguarded; it is even less defended than a human’s Core. Her Intelligence … it’s so small. She has no significant memories; basic language and movement skills, but no memories of anything personal. She’s a blank slate.
Jin’s nose twisted. “The Council puts that kind of failsafe in their followers?”
Githa glared up at the ceiling, her frivolous demeanor gone and her tone dark. “Not exactly. That was a failsafe if the majority of the initial spell was not executed. I stole most of the power the trigger spell required; unable to activate its original design, it used the remaining energy to initiate another effect that wiped her Intelligence.”
Shifting to a more comfortable position on the couch, Eyia looked at the sleeping fox, formerly known as Miyabe. “When she awakens, she will know basic skills, such as what cooking is, but not how to cook. She will not even know her name; how disgraceful of this Vulpes Council. If this was the failsafe, what was the primary function of that spell?”
Githa was silent for a moment. “It’s clear that The Council doesn’t want anything from the capital to become public knowledge from a spell like this. If for whatever reason, someone from the Capital talked about it to someone not linked with a similar spell or was somehow compelled, then this would activate; this implies that there is someone able to force a Vulpes to speak about it. Thus, this spell was meant to first stop information; second, trap the entire area in a triple lock prison.
“Three barriers would have been created that would lock the immediate area, outside area, and a town-sized shell. A beacon would be sent to the Council, and I imagine they’d show up in force to deal with any form of leak or even a hint of a leak. The energy used in that spell might have been used in any number of offensive ways, and could have even powered a spell strong enough to kill Bathin or me if used properly.”
Both Jin and Eyia’s eyes lowered to the ground. Githa’s found a potentially significant threat here.
Jin flexed her fingers. “Could the spell have been fueled by multiple Vulpes?”
Githa shook her head. “No, it was a single magical signature, and not Founder oriented; similar to the energy of a Kitsune, but different. My stomach is nearly full … not an easy task.”
Eyia felt sharp tingles cascading down her skin. “From what I have observed, Githa, you have lived for many ages and spent significant time with my people. To which god would you compare this potential threat?”
“If I were to compare the amount of energy and skill of the magic weaved…” Githa paused. “I would compare it to Forseti, the Seat of Law.”
Eyia tucked in her lower lip as she remembered her father’s education of the gods and their power structure. “Powerful, but by no means near the warriors of my people. Baldur was much stronger than his son, but I am not near their level of combat as of yet.”
“Not even close,” Githa hummed thoughtfully before she snickered. “It’s fine though, whatever.”
Eyia and Jin’s brows furrowed as they looked at the Githa. She transformed back into her small cat form to curl up on the couch against the back cushion and armrest.
“Is this not concerning?” Eyia questioned.
Jin folded her arms before crossing her legs. “I’m with Eyia; if these threats are on the scale of the old Asgardian Gods, then it is very concerning.”
Githa started to purr softly. “Don’t worry about things you cannot change.” She said sleepily.
Eyia glanced at the fox across from them, then at Githa. “Jin, I believe we should conserve as much energy as possible. Much of what we have regained was used; we must prepare for the worst.”
Jin swallowed, muscles tightening. She sighed, pulling her black hair behind her ears. “I get that, Eyia, but … I don’t know what we can even hope to accomplish against something like that. That’s just one out of seven members of this Council, plus any other unknown threats. It doesn’t look good.”
“No,” Eyia released Svalinn. The frost around the room began to disperse into fog as the two spaces merged. “It does not look good, but we must prepare with what time we have; there is no other option. Retreat is death; the only path is forward.”
“I feel like we should let Sora know what we’ve learned. Perhaps, Inari’s Intelligent Construct will have answers for us.”
“I agree; Sora must be made aware of this development.” She examined the white puffball on the couch across from them, Spiritual Network an unbreakable fortress. If she’s not concerned, then I assume she knows something we do not. I doubt she would stay in a hopeless situation; she has lived far too long to sit so casually without a plan.
Jin took a long breath as she dropped against the opposite side of the couch, hands behind her head. Eyia rose to her feet, moving to stand beside the unconscious fox.
Placing a hand upon her shoulder, Eyia communicated with Miyabe’s broken Core and struggling Intelligence. There is no glory in what has been done to you; no memory of hard battles won and bitter loses fought, the scars that built your life washed away as if meaningless. I will avenge the wrongs done to you, of this, I swear upon my blood.
Gram appeared in her hands, causing Jin’s head to snap toward her. Cutting her left palm with the sword, it vanishing from her right hand in a blaze of light. Lifting Miyabe’s arm, she gripped her hand, linking the pact.
Jin hissed. “Seriously, Eyia; a blood pact with a fox like that?”
“I will honor that which I start,” Eyia whispered. “Though I was not responsible for the wrongs done to Miyabe, I will be the one to satisfy the demands of justice required as a party involved in her dishonor. Be it by my hand or another; I will see it done.”
Clicking her tongue, Jin breathed out a frustrated sigh. “You just made a blood pact to bring a being as powerful as Forseti to justice … how?”
“By any honorable means necessary; I owe it for requiring her to make that sacrifice. Miyabe gave up everything, willing or not, to present us with valuable information. She may not have known the sacrifice required, but she paid it, and that payment requires sacrifice in return.”
“You’re so frustrating…” Jin groaned, turning away from her. “Fine … I’ll think of something to get us out of this mess … freaking Asgardian honor…”
Eyia smiled at her friend. “It would not be a sacrifice if it were not difficult.”
“Pfft, more like impossible,” Jin growled.
We will be returning to Sora’s POV for a while (at least the next few chapters).
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