B3 — 26. The Stripped Fox

Sora finished showering with Mary, Ashley, and Wendy; the liquid in the bottles smelled like raspberries, peppers, vanilla, oranges, amber, and the only thing Sora could think of was hot musk.  The four of them sniffed it several times, and only Sora could distinguish between all the different scents.

“Really?”  Ashley asked, sniffing the bottle they’d already used on their hair and bodies.  “It smells mostly like raspberries and amber to me.”

“I can smell a little orange,” Wendy said, sniffing her wrist.

Mary hummed thoughtfully.   “There’s definitely some kind of musky scent though.  It’s interesting that they’ve developed their own type of product.  I’m sure this would be popular in human society.”

Sora frowned as she looked around the clean space, water dripping down the walls, and hot steam pressing against her skin.  “Umm, did we forget towels?”

The three others looked around in shock.

“I—huh,” Mary muttered.

“I was so thrilled about cleaning up that I completely forgot,” Ashley whispered.

Pulling back her wet hair, Sora brought both her tails around.  “Well, I guess I can just evaporate it off us, but it’s still super humid.  Should we crack open the door?”

“That could work,” Mary said, moving to the door.  She hesitated, hand on the door handle. Turning back, she asked, “Is Nathan out there?”

Sora shook her head.  “No, I hear him upstairs.  He found another shower room … he found out it was cold, but he’s not freaking out.  I think he likes cold showers.”

“Weirdo,” Wendy huffed.  “I hate cold showers…”

Mary smiled before cracking the door; a cool breeze shot through the room, causing the humans to shiver.  “You’d—be surprised,” Mary’s jaw locked for a moment as the cold air mixed with the hot atmosphere. “Some people really like cold showers, and there’s some medical research that points to it being healthier for you.”

“Don’t care,” Wendy shivered, hugging her shoulders.  “I’ll take hot showers over cold any day.”

Sora and Ashley giggled.

Turning to Sora, Ashley hummed with interest.  “Sora, are you affected by temperature changes?”

She shook her head.  “Not normally, now that I’m a Vulpes … maybe it’s a Founder thing though.  Eyia’s cold energy can make me shiver though, but that’s because it’s charged to attack, biting into the Spiritual Network.”

“She’s kind of intimidating,” Wendy whispered, feet shifting slightly against the slick floor.

Mary pulled back the curtain to view their dirty clothes with a grimace.  “Yes, Eyia has an imposing atmosphere, but she’s very caring. She’s stood guard for us the entire time; I wonder how she grew up … even how old she actually is.”

Sora pursed her lips.  I shouldn’t reveal Eyia’s past unless she wants to do it herself.

Changing the subject, Sora walked beside Mary.  “What about our clothes? Wendy and I have normal clothes, but you two just have lab coats; not even underwear … you must feel really uncomfortable.”

Ashley’s cheeks darkened.  “Well—I wasn’t concerned about it until you brought it up … I guess I had other things on my mind.”

Humming thoughtfully, Sora held out her hand and closed her eyes; calling on her magic; she fed her desires for their clothes to be clean.  It didn’t cost as much energy as she imagined. Opening her eyes, she found the dust and spots gone; it was as if Wendy and her clothes were brand new.

“Well—who needs a washing machine,” Mary chuckled.

Ashley shook her head.  “Right? Now if only you could provide us clothes.”

“I mean, I don’t see why I couldn’t,” Sora whispered, studying the lab coats.

“Oh,” Wendy rushed forward.  “I have an idea; what about that one anime, where you could change one thing to another?  It was like Alchemy or something.”

Sora glanced at her with a furrowed brow.  “Like, change the lab coat into different clothes?”

“Yeah, but you’d still have the same material.  You could make the coat into like, ankle pants with a string or something looped around the waist to tie off, then a shirt or something … probably pad the chest or something … like a sports bra; I don’t know…”

“No,” Ashley moved next to them.  “It’s a good idea. Could you give it a shot, Sora?”

Taking a deep breath, Sora folded her left arm across her stomach before cupping her chin with her right hand.  “Maybe … it might be easier than doing it all from scratch. Inari said I’m more powerful than I realize; being able to do things with just desire and the required energy is cool, but if I try something that’s too difficult it could be dangerous since I don’t have the magic required.  Clothes should be no problem though … the problem is size.”

Her eyes widened as a thought came to her.  “What if I use the Outer Body Technique … I have people’s spirits memorized.  I could just go back and look at one of the clothes I remember Mary in and just copy that.”

“That sounds interesting,” Mary said, leaning against a wall as she stared down at the floor.  “Don’t overdo it though.”

Closing her eyes, Sora entered the Outer Body Technique; she opened them to the bright circle, blackness surrounding her.  She hoped to see her aunt, but she was alone. I guess you’re letting me handle all this other stuff.

She brought up her memory of Mary the last time she’d seen her, in a blue speckled dress.  This could work, but I wonder if I can copy the other parts of the dress and not just the shape?  Wait, physics class; would the mass matter? I guess the lab coat is a lot bigger and probably thicker than the dress Mary wore, but would my magic just fill in the rest?  It wouldn’t convert the remains into raw magic, would it?

Humming, she conjured up a representation of the lab coat and tried to experiment; it was harder than she thought.  She could get the shape mostly down, but adding everything else required some thought as she examined the dress.

“Wait, this is Mary’s Intelligent Imprint … Mary,” the image looked at her blankly.  “Could you tell me your measurements?”

She smiled as she recounted the numbers.  I’m sure Mary would be kind of embarrassed or wouldn’t even remember all the numbers herself.

Using the information, she reformed the dress with ease and moved on to Ashley for the same information; she used the same dress Mary had as a standard, changing the measurements to the size Ashley’s Intelligent Imprint gave her.

Exiting the Outer Body Technique, Sora smiled triumphantly.  “It will work!”

“You already figured it out?”  Ashley asked. At her nod, she hummed.  “That took less than five seconds.”

“The Outer Body Technique functions a bit differently than normal time … I don’t know exactly why, but that’s how it was when my aunt taught me.  Anyways, here!”

She reformed the two coats into the sparkling navy blue dress that she’d mapped out, and a pair of blue underwear; a light red glow surrounded the fabric as they seemed to turn into liquid, reforming to her desire.

“That’s unreal … and underwear, thank you,” Mary muttered.

Wendy moved closer, watching the fabric shift.  “Crazy.”

When the light faded, Mary’s breath caught.  “This is … it’s one of my favorite dresses.”

“It’s nice,” Ashley said, picking up the slightly taller version.  “It looks like it was tailored for me…”

Sora nodded.  “Well—it kind of is.”

Noticing the four of them were still wet from the shower, Sora called upon her Foxfire; desiring it to dry them off, she whipped it into a circle with her tails.  The four humans gasped as the flames shot into a small cyclone around them before vanishing.

Mary swallowed, throat dry as she spoke.  “You—you should warn us.”

“I saw my life flash before my eyes,” Ashley mumbled, muscles locked.

“Sorry,” Sora chuckled softly.  “I don’t think about it sometimes…”

Wendy’s rigid fingers rubbed the back of her left hand.  “Yeah, please … I’m going to have gray hairs before we leave this realm … if we leave this realm.”

“On the plus side,” Ashley pulled around her long golden hair, “our hair is untangled.  Magic is awesome.”

Mary followed suit, running her fingers through curled, shoulder-length brown hair.  “I second that.”

Putting their clothes on, Sora eyed Ashley and Mary.  “I really got your sizes perfectly; you both look stunning.”

“Right, could you do something about these love-handles though?”  Ashley mumbled, pinching her left side.

Sora laughed nervously.  “Well, umm—I’d rather not mess with your anatomy if I can help it.”

“Ah,” Ashley scratched her right shoulder blade.  “Good call—good call.”

Mary nudged Ashley with her elbow.  “You can always do morning exercises with me.”

Wendy took a big breath before puffing it out.  “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem … I have a feeling Eyia’s got some plans for us.  She told Sora we needed to be prepared…”

Both Mary and Ashley winced.

“Asgardian training…”  Mary muttered.

Ashley nodded, running a hand through her hair.  “Great … can’t wait.”

Sora quickly changed the subject.  “Alright! Now that you have clothes let’s go meet Eyia.”  She glanced at Wendy to her left with concern.

“Don’t worry about me,” she huffed.  “I’ll just go see if I can help Alice and Liz with the food.”  Sighing, Sora hugged her; returning the grip, Sora felt Wendy squeeze with all her might, but it didn’t phase her in the least.

Grinning slyly, Sora tightened her arms slightly, causing Wendy to wheeze, “I give—I give … uncle…”  Mary and Ashley smiled as they separated.

They followed Sora through the hall and down the stairs to the first level; she heard Nathan mumbling about girl scents as he sniffed the bottles in the third-floor shower.  She could still hear Githa’s soft, serene purrs and another person’s shallow breaths that she didn’t recognize until she started getting closer.

Who’s this new fox?  I can’t tell anything about her; is she sleeping?  She’s almost as silent as Eyia.

She turned her attention to Nathan as he began to dry off.  Wait, when did he find towels?  He took the cold water pretty well though; he really doesn’t like the smell of the shampoo or conditioner, but I guess beggars can’t be choosers.  She giggled.

“What’s up?”  Wendy questioned.

“The bottles upstairs smell too girly for Nathan.”

The four of them chuckled as they descended the stairs; Jin and Eyia rose to their feet, stretching.  Sora’s vision instantly shot to a Vulpes in the chair across from Jin. She was pretty, but her fur color was unusual.

The woman was at least an inch shorter than her, and she had thick long purple hair that was held in a complicated Upon style bun, and eight tails were loosely draped across her lap and limply fell down her legs to brush the floor.

Her clothes were something Sora would place in a Japanese movie; a noble woman’s apparel.  It was red, and she had golden earrings and a necklace with multicolored gems that shone in the red light cast by the cold fires surrounding the room.

“Who—an eight-tails?”  Sora’s eyes slid back to Eyia as the three humans seemed locked in mid-step on the few last steps.

“Yes, Sister, we must discuss the circumstances.”

Jin cracked her neck with a light moan, her long black hair shifting at her back.  “Wait … when did those two get dresses, and what’s up with your clothes? Do they have one of those washing things here; one of those machines at your place?”

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Sora looked back at the Vulpes with a frown but shook her head.  “No, I used my magic to reform their coats into the dresses.”

“Huh,” Jin’s eyebrows lifted as her yellow eyes studied Mary and Ashley’s dresses.  “Transmutation magic isn’t easy; you need a clear picture of what you wish to change it to, and weaving the magic can be tricky if you get the materials wrong.”

“It’s a good thing I know so much about clothes—so,” she turned toward Jin, “Eyia said you were going to make a barrier so people couldn’t listen?”

“Yeah,” she folded her arms.  “It’s not that hard, but apparently I’m the only one that knows how to do it.”  She grinned at Eyia and Githa still napping on the couch with soft purrs.

Eyia’s emotionless face seemed to crease slightly as she glared at Jin from the corner of her eyes.  “I was not taught such arts by my father; there was no need for me to make a quiet space for others as I was already silent.”

Sora caught the implication with a small smile.  So, Jin’s pretty loud about projecting her presence, but I guess I can sense that at first glance.  Eyia’s like a freaking ghost; I have to try really hard to catch her movements or even her breath, but Jin’s like a blow horn.

Jin’s grin didn’t falter as she tilted her head at Sora.  “Let’s go to that corner; I don’t think Githa’s going to join in, and I can sense Nathan coming down.”

The three humans took deep breaths as they followed Jin’s motion; Wendy gave Sora a quick reassuring smile as she broke away from them, heading to the kitchen.

“Right,” Mary muttered.  “Let’s get the bad news over with.”

They all walked to the corner and took a seat; Jin and Eyia took the armchairs that faced the room while Sora, Mary, and Ashley took the couch opposite them.  Wendy knocked on the door to the kitchen before entering, greeting Liz and Alice.

Ashley took the initiative.  “Eyia, Jin, after this, you should go up and take a shower to relax.  You’ve been on guard this whole time; you should let down your hair. By the way, the middle showers, Sora made them have hot water; it’s really nice.”  She said with a cheery tone.

Eyia glanced to her left at Jin.  “We will cleanse ourselves once we have discussed the situation.”

“I see,” Mary hummed, leaning back and puffing her left cheek out for a second.  “I guess—this is pretty important.”

Sora followed Nathan’s descent as he walked down the stairs.  He wore the same lab coat from the underground base. Reaching the bottom, he took a quick glance around the room before settling on them in the corner, but his eyes shot back to the sleeping Vulpes for a few seconds before returning to them.

He made his way over to them, pulling up another armchair.  “So, Eyia told me that we were going to have,” he paused as he noticed Mary and Ashley.  “Where—did you get the dresses?”

“Aren’t they nice?”  Ashley asked. “Sora made them for us with her magic.”

“That right,” Nathan muttered; eyes quickly diverting to Sora, he sat down.  She could sense that he didn’t want to make them uncomfortable by staring too long, but by his scent, it was clear he was attracted.

Clearing her throat, she said, “Yeah, their husbands are lucky men.”

“Oh,” he said with a slight smile.  “I must have forgotten that detail; I hope you two can return to your husbands after all this is over.”

Ashley and Mary smiled thankfully.  They’re completely unaware, but I guess my natural senses help me pick up on that kind of thing easier.  Poor guy, maybe he’s gone through a lousy divorce or something with his family comments before … gah! Don’t speculate, Sora!  Back on topic!

Her attention moved back to Jin as she folded her bare legs, shifting to the right side of the chair.  She was forming some kind of magical force, and within two seconds, a small pulse shot around them. The energy slid through Sora, making her fur bristle for a moment.

Ashley frowned as her second tail brushed against her arm.  “Something wrong, Sora? Your fur got really stiff … wow, never thought I’d say that to a person.”

“It is fine,” Eyia stated calmly.  “Sora was reacting to the separation field Jin just created.  We are now free to discuss without fear of prying ears.”

“Really,” Nathan shifted uncomfortably.  “I didn’t sense anything … I really hope this thing with Inari helps us catch this magic stuff.”

“I hope so too,” Mary whispered, shifting her legs to the side as she straightened.  “So, why so much secrecy?”

Eyia nodded.  “I require your opinion of the current situation; I am not well versed in some of the intricacies of the political sphere and recognize that you have knowledge that I do not from your human history…”

“You don’t have to be so formal,” Jin huffed, cutting Eyia off.  “Look, we were followed by that fox,” she pointed at the eight-tailed Vulpes.  “She was hidden by some pretty powerful magic since Eyia, and I couldn’t sense her at all until Sora pointed her out.”

“Huh?”  Sora’s brow creased.  “I—what do you mean, I pointed her out?  I had no clue we were being followed.”

“We figured as much,” Jin muttered.

Eyia’s lips pursed for a moment; the expression was odd for Sora.  “Yes, Githa mentioned the possibility of Inari having an Imprint within you.  You communicated to us through the Asgardian Spiritual Language, which is not interpreted by this force around us, yet known by Jin, Githa, and I.”

“Asgardian Spiritual Language?”  Nathan leaned back. “Is it like, a secret language?”

“Kind of,” Jin sighed.  “It’s usually used in battles to communicate orders.  It was developed by Odin and expanded upon over ages of combat by the Asgardian gods.  I learned it from my dragon heritage, Eyia was taught it by Odin himself, and Githa used to live in Asgard.

“It’s crazy to think that Sora would actually know that language; honestly, very few creatures would, and for good reason.  If it was used, then it was during a time of war, and not many beings survived a war with Asgard long enough to understand their tactics.”

“Well,” Sora leaned back against the couch’s left armrest, folding her legs.  “To make it short, yes, my aunt did leave an Intelligent Construct within me. She has no real power, but all her knowledge.  She’s been helping me unlock Mary, Wendy, Nathan, and Ashley’s Cores. I copied our Intelligences and sent them out to help them…”  Eyia and Jin straightened, expressions solemn.

“That is very dangerous,” Eyia stated.

“Very,” Jin agreed.  “You could rip your Intelligence apart, create split personalities, and an endless list of horrible outcomes!”

“To be fair,” Mary’s hands knotted, “Inari was the one that did it.  She warned Sora never to do it without her guidance.”

Sora puffed out a breath.  “Yup, my aunt warned me. She guided the magic; I was just the supply.”

Everyone shifted a little uncomfortably at the tense atmosphere.

Eyia nodded, sitting back.  “I understand; if it is Inari, then it is impossible to imagine that it would go wrong.”

Jin’s cheeks bunched to the side before she scratched the back of her neck.  “Did you do this in that one state you used before? The Outer Body Technique, right?”  She nodded. “I really need to learn that,” she muttered, glaring at the wall. “It seems like it would be a powerful tool; it sounds similar to the human inner sanctuary state, but leagues more advanced.”

“Naturally,” Eyia said.  “If Inari is the instructor, then it would be at a much higher state.”

Sora forced a smile.  “Yeah, my aunt said she was teaching me the beginning stage … not really surprising, to be honest.  So, at some point soon, the Intelligent copies will return and bring back all those memories, and they’ll trigger some kind of awakening in the others.”

“It is a great gift,” Eyia said, looking at each human.  “The beginning stages of awakening your Core takes many years beyond the human lifespan; however, Inari is no normal instructor.  Being able to accomplish such a feat in others within an hour is something I have never heard of, but do not doubt.”

Each human looked down at the floor, deep in thought.  Sora could sense them pondering different points of the lecture.

“Right,” Jin moaned, stretching out across her chair.  “Well, back to the subject … this fox was following us to gain more information to send back to the Council.  She follows the red council member; so, likely she was going to report to her.

“She’s got a lot of hidden potential, but likely doesn’t have a clue how to utilize it properly.  She has enough energy to make Eyia and I cautious about attacking her … that’s not the issue though.”

She turned to look at the slumbering woman.  “She had powerful defensive magic written to her Spiritual Network that would activate if she perceived a threat that came near her.  It was like one of those bombs I’ve seen on your human shows, but it attacked the spirit, not body. It would have killed most the town if Githa hadn’t blocked its power source and absorbed it.”

“A suicide bomber,” Nathan growled, “and it activated only if she felt threatened and the threat was close?”

“That’s horrible,” Ashley whispered.

Eyia studied the Vulpes.  “That is not the end; the moment I began to question her about the Capital, a hidden spell was triggered inside the depths of her Intelligence.  Even though Githa had returned to a more capable form after devouring the magic, she was too slow to deal with the energy on her own. This spell had enough energy to make Githa serious; she said it was enough to completely kill either Bathin or herself if utilized properly.”

The three humans mirrored a curse as they looked down at the floor.

Mary sucked on her lower lip, hand pressed against her chin.  “If—the first spell was activated when she felt threatened, and the second spell activated when she was being questioned about information regarding the Capital … that’s a grim picture.”

“What would the second spell do?”  Nathan asked.

Jin took a deep breath before puffing it out.  “Create a triple barrier that acts like a prison and send a signal to the Capital, likely to a member of the Council.”

Ashley ran a hand through her hair.  “That’s crazy.”

“It was also impossible for either Jin, I, or Githa to detect before activation.  The spell had massive amounts of energy, yet was completely hidden from our senses until activation.”  Eyia stated gravely. “Whatever beings we are dealing with, they are powerful and knowledgeable; enough to make Githa pause and question.  However, Githa seemed to understand something that put her at ease, but was not willing to elaborate.”

Forcing a smile, Sora sighed.  “Well, at least that’s a little comforting.  Didn’t she say Nilly was going to be joining us at some point?  I can’t imagine many beings capable of handling a First Generation Founder, even if she might be weakened due to becoming a Nekomata.”

“That is one possibility,” Jin mumbled.  “I’d rather not take my chances on luck though; she may show up, she may not.  Who knows with the Nekomata Faction; they’re known to be temperamental, fickle, and lazy.”

“Cats … am I right?”  Nathan groaned, running both hands through his damp hair.  “So, we have a demon that wants us dead on the outside and suicide bombers on the inside … and we have no idea who might be carrying the bomb.  Mimi could have one planted in her Intelligence.”

Eyia’s cold eyes narrowed.  “Correct, and only Githa can handle this energy.  She will be full for a few days digesting just these two spells.  We cannot rely on her to easily prevent another case; I suggest we avoid questions about the Capital until we can prepare for the possible consequences.”

Everyone nodded their agreement.

“There’s more though, isn’t there,” Mary whispered, and everyone turned toward her.  “Was that Vulpes aware of the consequences of speaking about the Capital? Since the spells have been disarmed, couldn’t we just ask her about the Capital without fear, or are you concerned about more potential landmines?”

“Yeah, about that,” Jin mumbled.  “Sora, could you examine that Vulpes’ Spiritual Network?”

Pulling her hair to her opposite shoulder, Sora turned toward the fox, extending her senses.  Her eyes widened. “She—there’s nothing, almost nothing at all. Even humans have a defensive layer, but she—she’s completely bare.  I mean, a random burst of any offensive spiritual force might just kill her!”

“Yes,” Eyia’s tone was dark with a sharp edge that told Sora she was angry.  “When Githa diverted the energy required for the spell, it activated a failsafe that completely erased her Intelligence of nearly all substances.  When she awakens, she will remember nothing about life but casual language and fundamental skills. She will not even know how to cook meat, but she has the capability of a weak recovery.”

“Recovery,” Jin sniffed.  “She might be able to regain somewhat of a life, but she knows nothing about her abilities at all; she won’t even know what a Vulpes is, what she is.  You can teach her how to cook and maybe even use her energy, but she’ll never be the same. Even flexing a little bit of her own energy could slash her spiritual organs and kill her … worse, reset her Intelligence all over again.”

Sora felt sick to her stomach.  “How could—how could they do that to their followers?”

“It’s abhorrent,” Mary whispered.

Ashley looked at the woman with pity.  “What could be so important to them? Was she aware of the consequences?”

Jin shook her head.  “I don’t think so; at least, it didn’t seem that way.”

“Freaking fanatics…”  Nathan growled. “No person sets foot in this realm from the outside for as long as these Vulpes can remember; so, this is a precaution against their own people spreading information?”

“Yeah,” Ashley mumbled.  “It’s horrible. Controlling the knowledge your people can get at the price of their entire being.”

Mary’s eyes lowered to her lap as she hummed lowly.  “I don’t know about that—it’s a bit more complicated.  She was hidden for a reason; powerful magic, enough to cause Githa, Eyia, and Jin to bypass her, and it’s not like they’re not always on guard.  If a being was able to force this Vulpes out of hiding and compel her to talk … this must be a precaution for betrayal or against an invasion of powerful beings they had no knowledge of.  It might not be as dark as we are imagining.”

“Still,” Sora said, looking at the spiritually naked Vulpes with compassion.  “To do something so horrible. I don’t know why they did it, but I can’t see myself thinking it’d be alright in any case.  You just asked about the Capital; just the city. It’s not like you were asking about their underground top-secret program or anything, right?”

“I just asked her about the Capital, and she was going to tell me what it was like; she was able to tell me that she lived in the Red District before the spell activated.”

“Just where she lived…”  Ashley said.

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“Districts, eh?”  Nathan mumbled. “So, each member has their own faction district.  We’ve seen that they’re pretty hierarchy oriented; so, that’s probably the case within the council themselves.  I could see certain factions having more power than others.”

“This might just be the case for the Red Faction, as well,” Mary proposed.

Ashley nodded slowly.  “It might be. There could be division in the Capital, but I don’t see any evidence that points that way; no one even talks about the Capital.  Mimi was very vague herself, and now, I don’t think we should ask about it tomorrow.”

Nathan folded his fingers together, leaning forward.  “What about reports?”

“What?”  Sora asked.

“It is a good question,” Eyia said thoughtfully.  “What was Miyabe’s report times; her superiors might be awaiting an update as we speak, and her silence is to be seen as trouble within this town or gate.”

Jin clicked her tongue.  “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.”

“Miyabe…”  Sora mumbled.  “Is that—was that her name?”

“Yes, that is the name she gave us,” Eyia confirmed.

Sora’s attention defocused from the conversation as she looked at the slumbering Vulpes; she looked peaceful at first glance, but now that she looked deeper, she couldn’t help but feel for the woman.

She’s at least seven hundred years old … her spiritual organs are damaged, very damaged, worse than anyone I’ve ever seen.  The Vulpes around town don’t come close; there’s no way she’d survive gaining her ninth tail.

Tucking her lip under, Sora sighed.  By Eyia’s reaction, I know she would have helped her if she could; she’s angry, and rightfully so, but probably for different reasons than me.  I want to be angry, but I just feel … the loss. Over seven hundred years of memories; happiness, sorrow, hate, love … all of that, gone. Her parents, friends … everything gone.  She probably won’t even live that long now that her Core’s been stripped.

She made up her mind.  I want to help her; I don’t know how, but that’s what the Outer Body Technique and my aunt’s guidance is for.  If anyone knows how to help her, Inari will.


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