B3 — 33. Breaking The Yoke

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Sora eyed the two stunned Vulpes, Emilia still by her side, but she could see her vision sliding back to the aisles of clothes.

“Emilia,” her daughter’s head snapped toward her.  “Go on, have fun,” Sora urged.

“Umm,” her eyes darted back to the racks of clothes, following Wendy’s enthusiastic rhythm as she flipped through items.

Before she could finish, Sora giggled, “Yes, go!  Pick out whatever you like.”

She took one last glance at her before getting up and rushing to her own cart, eight tails weaving with excitement.

“I—I didn’t expect anything…” Liz trailed off.

Alice’s focus was still on her aunt.  “This is—is the aunt—the one you’ve been talking about?”  Her tone was a squeek.

“Yes,” Sora smiled at Inari; she wore the same compassionate expression that she’d come to enjoy about her.

Is this a good time to help heal them?

“As good as any.”

Two of Inari’s tails flipped positions on her lap so she could pet the one underneath.  “Alice, Liz, you both have accepted the reality that there must be something wrong with you; whether it is from The Council or naturally occurring, you know not, and frankly, both of you would rather not delve into the possibilities.  Correct?”

Both women nodded, large lumps falling down their throats.

“Very well, then, which one of you would like to go first?”

Liz took a quick look at Alice before hesitantly raising her hand.  “I—I’ll go—what—what are we going to be doing?”

“Sitting there and looking adorable,” Inari giggled.  “I’m sure we will all be in tears once this is over. On another note; your pink fur is beautiful, something that even I have never seen before; it is quite stunning, and personally, I would enjoy keeping that particular hue mutation.  When my niece repairs the damage inside of your Cores, it will revert to a more natural color; however, if you wish, I will instruct her on how to keep your current fur color.”

“P-please,” Alice stammered, stroking her pink tails as her ears twitched uncertainly.

Sora took a deep breath.  “Right. You don’t need to do anything, and once we’re done, you can go pick out your own clothes.”

“Our…”

“Own?”  Alice finished with surprise as they looked over at the mass of colorful designer clothes.

“Mhm, you’ll be the talk of the town!”  Sora giggled.

“Thank you,” Alice mumbled, eyes dropping to the floor.  “You’ve been—so kind to us.”

Liz nodded, vision centered on her pink tails across her lap.

“To me, it’s you two that have been kind to us,” Sora said, pulling a loose lock of hair behind her shoulder.

So, where do we begin?

“Let’s talk them through it, that way they aren’t just sitting there uncomfortably while we stare at them.”

“Okay … where to start?”

Her aunt’s smile lifted a little as she tilted her head, long white hair drooping to the side.  “Examine their Spiritual Networks. What do you see?”

“Hmm—they’re frail, worn, and many of the pathways to their Cores are broken.”

“Good, but the problem doesn’t start with their Spiritual Network.  The damage extending out to the edges is a fatal sign of the damage done to the Core.  You’ve been able to find the Core in many beings, something that is actually much harder than you imagine, but you haven’t identified the workings within the Core.  You touched on it, ever so slightly, with Fen.”

“Um—excuse me,” Alice cleared her throat, squirming a little in her seat.

“Yes, dear?”  Inari asked patiently.

“What do,” she paused, ears twitching uncomfortably, “why are we all—damaged,” she choked, but her attention seemed to be pulled back to the aisles of clothes.

Sora’s lips bunched to the side as she glanced at her aunt; Inari was silent for several seconds, lips becoming a line.  Her response held a hint of disdain that touched her soft features. “No, Alice, you are not to blame for the damage to your Core; all of your questions will fade soon enough.”

Sora’s brow creased at her aunt’s answer.

I haven’t seen you get angry very often, and it usually doesn’t show unless it’s something you really don’t like.

“Answers will come, Sora.  Look further into Liz’s Core, and examine it thoroughly.  Your Spiritual Perception has advanced to this stage, but it will take some concentration.”

Nodding, she turned her attention back to the distracted Vulpes.  She followed Liz’s frayed, broken, and stripped Spiritual Network back to her Core, and peered inside.  At first, all she felt or saw was the mildly disquieted emotions swirling inside, traces of doubt about The Council, and her way of life eating at her mind, but it was slowly fading away, replaced by a touch of curiosity about the clothes.  After a moment’s study, something caught her eye.

There were several bodies of what she could only describe as spiritual organs that produced a flow of energy, running through each other, refining and drawing in other forms of energy from the meager stream fed to it by her Spiritual Network.

The only element trying to gain entry was air and a tiny amount of her raw magic that permeated the area.  By all accounts, there should have been dozens of different sources of energy that helped sustain Liz’s spiritual body, but it seemed like her Spiritual Network rejected them, only focusing on the force being released from within the planet.

“I don’t understand,” Sora mumbled.  “Her body’s rejecting all other forms of sustenance.  It’s not like her Spiritual Network couldn’t handle more, but it’s rejecting it, and only focusing on gathering the force that’s being produced inside the planet.”

Both Vulpes looked at each other before looking back at her, but they kept their silence as their confusion faded; they didn’t know how to respond.

“Yes, Sora,” her aunt stated, “now follow that energy through their spiritual organs, and pay close attention to the effect that force has on their Spiritual Networks and organs.”

Complying with Inari’s instructions, she tried to catch anything wrong with what she was seeing; the energy flowing through Liz’s Spiritual Network slowed as her perception sharpened, and she noticed a reflux that shocked her.

Liz’s Spiritual Network was trying to reject the force, working tirelessly to push against it, but it pressed on regardless.  Tracing the current back to her spiritual organs, Sora’s eyes widened.

“Her spiritual organs—are actually fairly strong, but … they’re torn, battered … poisoned.  They’re working extremely hard, trying to convert the force into usable energy, and it’s flowing to … is that the—why does it look like that?  Am I…”

She looked down at herself, fear touching her mind.  However, she was shielding her Core against the force leaking up through the ground.  The two Vulpes were dragging the energy into their Cores through the spiritual link to their bodies.  It wasn’t spilling out into her Core, but seeing the process their spiritual organs were going through put pause in her.

Is this force hurting us too?

“No, Sora,” Inari said with a short sigh.  “You are not being exposed to this force in the same way as Liz and Alice.  In any case, this force cannot harm you; you could absorb its energy as easily as any other.  Unfortunately, normal Vulpes are not as spiritually equipped as Founders. What you saw was the outer layer of their Oltera Nexus, which has many layers and is extremely deep and complex.”

“Okay,” Sora said with a relieved sigh.  Her vision shot back to the group cheerfully searching the many racks of clothes.  “What about them?”

“With their Awakening, none of the humans will be harmed by it, I’ve made sure of that, and Kari, Aiden, Eyia, and Jin are much more durable and subconsciously capable of dealing with the poisonous aspect to the force.  Fen is another story, but she’s healthy enough to live here her whole life without seeing many negative effects.” Her sad eyes returned to the stiff Vulpes. “The Vulpes of this realm were also capable of that at one time, but it is what you discovered that ruined that.”

“Those symbols?”  Sora cleared her throat.  “I’ve seen—they look kind of like,” she paused, glancing back at her aunt.

“Similar to the symbols you saw leading up to my sanctuary,” she stated in a cold tone.  “Yes, these may be similar, dismally weak and near criminally executed by my standard, but you could compare them to the younger days of Asgardian Runic Smiths; powerful by the standards of many beings.”

“What about Githa?  Wouldn’t she have known about this?”

Both Alice and Liz were fighting back their fear, and Sora couldn’t help but feel bad for them, but at the same time confused; their panic was spiking and then fading.  They’re taking this a lot better than I thought.  It’s like we’re discussing how bad their cancer is, right in front of them, and they are scared, but not that scared.  They don’t know half of what we’re talking about, but know our tone is bad.

Scratching her left fox ear irritably, Sora glanced at Liz before her vision returned to her aunt.  “Githa stopped that one spell from going off that could have taken out the whole town.”

Inari shook her head, and a tad bit of exasperation swayed her tone.  “Githa is very fickle; such is the plight of Nekomata … from what I recall of Nilly in my younger days, she was just the same.  It’s tied to their very nature.” her aunt said with a sad smile, directed at the darkness.  

Her focus returned to her.  “Would Githa have noticed something odd about the Vulpes’ Oltera Nexus?  Yes. Would she give it a second thought? No, Githa wouldn’t have taken an interest in something so abstract.  It isn’t a threat to her or you, but a threat to the Vulpes around us, and a very long term threat at that. Why should she care?”

“You said that it’s on the level of Asgardian Runic Smiths, though?  That’s got to be seen as a level of threat, right?”

“Yes, it would,” her aunt nodded.  “However, it’s clear to those with a sharper eye that this magic was performed many ages ago.  This is an inherited magical seal that is branded upon their offspring.”

Sora’s eyes widened.  “What? Who could—why?  It’s literally killing them … this means,” she glanced back at Liz and Alice.  Their lips were creased as they clasped their arms, hearts conflicted. Just being in her aunt’s presence made them aware of how true the conversation was; they couldn’t deny anything that was being spoken with her aunt’s radiance in front of them.

“Look at the seal,” Inari prompted.  “You’ve seen similar language at the Red Gate.”

“So—I was right,” Sora whispered, turning back to study Liz’s Oltera Nexus.  “It’s Fox Magic in its written form, but … who could do that? I thought only Founders or your Kitsune would know how to use Fox Magic like this.”

“There’s a shortlist of others that are acquainted with the art,” her aunt replied, tone neutral.  “However, I doubt any of the ones I know of would be involved; this is much too lowkey for their tastes, and too drawn out.  No, I suspect a different source that might link back to your mother.”

A chill ran down Sora’s spine at the revelation as she studied the seal.  “How—is my mother involved?”

“It’s a likely connection,” Inari shrugged, “but there are other options.  That can come later, though; for now, try to decipher the seal’s purpose.”

“Later … saying something about my mom, and then just skipping right past it,” Sora mumbled irritably.  “Alright,” she took a deep breath, “how do I do that?”

 “Um—so,” Liz whipped away a tear that fell down her cheek with a hint of confusion, “it could be your mom—not The Council?”

Sora’s lips pursed, mouth becoming a line.  “Ehrm—I guess, but—I don’t know,” she turned to her aunt for answers.

Inari was silent for several seconds.

I know you pause like this on purpose!  Dramatic effect? What’s up with the pauses?  You’re killing me!

“Patience.  This is a delicate situation that strikes at their heart, and there will be more to come.”

Her aunt folded her fingers atop her tails, Liz and Alice shifting nervously, and a spark of hope flickering in their eyes.

“No,” Inari stated bluntly, “I guarantee that this seal was not done by my sister, nor anyone that she taught.”

Both women sagged in their chairs, ears low, and tails listless as they stared down at their thighs, distress building.  The doubt in their Cores began to twist and turn their spiritual organs, and Sora began to notice something strange; the seal released an influx of energy that calmed them.

What’s happening?  It’s calming them down.  Is that why their emotions keep spiking and dropping?

“Good observation, but not exactly right.  Look closer.”

It’s … it’s targeting their Intelligence … smoothing over the memory of what you said.  It’s removing doubt … I don’t … it’s making them easier to manipulate. That’s counterproductive in this situation, though, because we’re the ones instilling doubt, which means that it’s helping us convince them that The Council could be behind it.  Why?

Her aunt’s tone held an amused smirk that didn’t reflect on her features.  “Because it’s poorly constructed.”

You knew how to exploit it?  That’s why … you could tell me your plans!  I seriously thought my mom was involved.

“This doesn’t mean she isn’t.”  Inari said mysteriously.

Then … but you said she—nevermind.  I’m sure it’ll all make sense as we go on.  Sora grumbled in her mind.

“This is faster,” her aunt giggled.  “And it is more authentic.  You still haven’t figured out the seal’s function, and it has a few.”

Sora frowned as she watched Liz and Alice’s panic and confusion being forcefully quelled, focus moving to Wendy moving to a new rack, pulling along an excited Emilia with her.

“Look at this red dress!  It would look so good with your tails and hair—we just have to get Sora to make an opening for your tails … man, they’re a lot bigger than her’s, but she can totally do that.”

“Are you sure?  I mean, it’s pretty, but—doesn’t it have too much red?  Isn’t that bad? Something like—like clashing or something?”

“How can you clash red against red?”  Wendy asked with a confused smile.

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“Eh—I don’t know … you really think I’d look good in it?”  She asked, vision darting back, she jumped, noticing Sora’s attention.  A slight blush colored her cheeks. “O-okay, I—I guess we can try it.” She mumbled, turning away.

Sora’s lips turned into a soft smile.  Her first time going shopping … wait, shouldn’t I be there with her?  Bah, where is my mind flipping to? Priorities!

Turning back to Liz, she took a deep breath.  “Okay, tell me how to read it.”

“Feels like your missing out on something important?”

Sora glared at the barely concealed twinkle in her aunt’s eyes.  Oh, shut-up, and tell me what I  need to do!

Her aunt’s giggle echoed in her mind, but she spoke in an instructive tone.  “Study the symbol and follow the threads inside. Every weave of magic has a pattern and purpose written into the very fabric of its creation.  Once you can pick apart the larger image as a whole, the individual desires flowing inside will become clear.”

A light groan rumbled in Sora’s throat as her left eye creased; the seal seemed very complicated, and trying to look at the individual threads of magic written within seemed impossible.  Nothing stood out to her.

“It all looks the same to me.”

Inari folded her legs to the opposite side, Kimono and tails shifting with the movement.  “You’re distracted; this seal is not that complicated with your understanding of base Vulpes magic.  It only seems hard to decipher because you’re overthinking it.”

“Overthinking it … I’m not thinking of anything in particular.”  She mumbled, leaning forward a bit.

Examining the seal for a few more seconds, it started to make sense.  The stream of information pulsing from the seal, across her spiritual organs, was compulsory magic.  Following it back to its source, she saw the finer threads linked to that function, and the purpose revealed itself as she related it to the magic she’d used in the past.

“It’s—a domination seal, isn’t it?”

Her aunt smiled, chuckling while softly clapping.  “Indeed, my little niece. You’ve learned an important skill in analyzing magic.”  She stated in a proud tone. “Given more time, I’m sure you could work out the other functions of this seal, but this is satisfactory.”

Sora sat back in her chair, lips pursed.  “That’s all you wanted me to do?”

“Well,” Inari giggled.  “We’d be here all night if you were going to decode even a portion of the seal’s functions.  You have a basic understanding of how to study foreign magic, which is much better than simply knowing how a single seal functions.  It may be a long process to master compared to simply learning the written procedures of Fox Magic, but this skill will help you understand all types of magic in the future.”

Sora ran a hand through her hair; smile turned soft.  “Okay, your big-picture plans, as always—what about helping Liz and Alice break past this seal?”

“Break past it?  Oh, that is quite impossible for them,” Inari said, shaking her head.  “No, they can do nothing in their situation, and they’d never know anything was wrong.”

Inari lifted her hand, and Sora felt her attention being drawn to specific parts of Liz’s spiritual organs as Inari explained; Liz and Alice’s disquieted heart began to rise again with her aunt’s analysis.

“You’ll notice that the seal is manipulating the direction their Intelligence is walking; consider it like a parent walking beside their child, holding their hand, and this child has never had candy before.  She wishes to go into a candy store because it’s colorful and looks inviting, but the parent doesn’t want that; so, the parent tugs her in another direction, directing their focus to the vibrant appearance of a food stall further down the street.

“This magic is written on Liz and Alice’s spiritual DNA, the source of their Intelligent Core, deep inside the Oltera Nexus.  It is far too soon for you to penetrate that far or to understand what is happening within. This form of domination is very advanced for your current progression, and subdues base instincts.”

“Subdues base instincts,” Sora repeated, moving to the left side of her chair to prop her elbow on the armrest, supporting her head with her knuckles.  Her hair draping to the side as she hummed. “So—is that why they don’t understand what love is?”

“Very astute,” her aunt praised.  “Yes, this is the reason why every Vulpes here must undergo their harvest ritual to procreate, and there are many other such events used to temporarily bypass this seal.”

“That’s—terrible.”

“I—terrible?”  Liz asked, tone slightly dazed as the seal tried redirecting their dread.

Both Liz and Alice seemed to be falling into a stupor as Inari talked; the magic was dulling their senses and pulling their attention toward the others, laughing and talking about their favorite clothes.

“Follow the pulses back,” her aunt instructed.  “Find a loose thread and reach out, pluck it out, and pull; not physically, mind you, they are already inside your Core.”  She giggled.

“Hmm,” Sora studied the steady stream of gentle, but firm tugs the seal made, and found what her aunt was directing her toward.  There was a loose knot, the end to one of the strings of magic comprising the seal. Desiring to grasp it, she felt her own magic take hold of the piece.  She pulled lightly, but it held firm. Her cheeks bunched to the right as she gave it a harder tug.

Why won’t you…

“Don’t be so rough with it.  If it snaps, then it will be difficult for you to find it again.  You’d have to perform a spiritual surgery of sorts and dive into the Oltera Nexus.  Consider this like stitches, this thread is woven throughout Liz’s spiritual organs, and it can be removed with the proper touch and care, but if broken, then it’ll be stuck further inside the body.  This can even cause spiritual infection if done improperly.”

Infection?  It all really does function like a body.  Sora mumbled inside her mind as she tucked her bottom lip under her teeth.

“More than you know; everything works together into a beautiful work of art; much of it was done by your grandmother, but time has had its deviations.”

It’s crazy how much influence you and grandma had … the more I learn…

Her thought broke as she felt the knot slowly come undone, causing her to smile.  “I did it!”

“Wonderful work,” Inari said.  “I never doubted you. Now, remove it with care.”

Alice’s distracted mind slowly became more aware of the seemingly dangerous events taking place next to her as Liz froze, locked in place as if paralyzed.

“What—what’s happening to her?  Why does—she looks so…”

“Worry not, child,” Inari soothed, feeding a comforting pulse of Sora’s energy through her; artfully maneuvering the energy past the seal’s attempts to reject the foreign power.  After entering her Core it seemed to mix with the seal, causing Alice to smile, worry washing away.

The more Sora pulled, the more concerned she felt; the magical thread seemed endless.  

How deep does this penetrate her Oltera Nexus?

“By your understanding, very deep.  That’s why I warned you to be careful; if this thread were to break, then it would require someone far more skilled than you to recover, even with my guidance.  In short, I’d have to do it myself. I’ve told you before, the Core is like unto a universe in its own right, and you’re only just beginning to explore the single plot of land you stand on.  You have yet to explore the great deep or the wild jungles across the planet, but less the vastness of deep space.”

What a way to put it…

Sora sighed, cracking her neck to ease her stress.

Does stretching and crying and stuff really help here?

“Do you feel better?”

Yes.

“Taking physical actions here is no different than taking them outside in your actual body.  They are biological responses that ripples back to your Intelligence, designed to release tension.”

After a few minutes, Sora watched the seal beginning to fade, and after a few more, she stiffened as it collapsed.

“Did I mess up?”  She cried.

“No, dear.  That thread was an integral part of the seal that kept its structure.  With that one thread removed, the seal lost its ability to function, and the remaining threads crumbled.  The energy was dispersed into Liz’s Oltera Nexus and is not harmful. In fact, we can use the residual energy; it’s best not to let it be thrown out as waste, and utilize it while we can.”

“Okay…”  Sora mumbled, taking a deep breath as she watched Liz blink.  It was as if she were waking from a trance. She swallowed nervously, hand held over her heart.

“Sora,” Liz mumbled, a rush of emotions flooding her consciousness.  “What’s this … this feeling?” Her voice cracked.

Alice shifted in her chair.  “Is it done? Are—are you okay, Liz?”

“Yeah, it’s just—I’ve never … I feel so different—so light.”

Liz’s head rose, vision centering on Inari, and Sora realized that her spiritual organs were now expelling the strange force that was being forcibly pumped into her Core, and the other magical energies surrounding them, including her own, was being ingested.

“Yes, Liz, your very nature was being blocked, and now that block has been removed.  You would have died if you had not been in my niece’s Core and sustained by her energy during the expulsion process, but now your Oltera Nexus is functioning properly.  You still have significant internal damage, but that is curable, and what Sora will be doing next.”

Liz’s chest convulsed as her hand lifted to her mouth.  “I—how can I feel this good? I—I don’t know how else…” Her head lowered, hair obscuring her face as she cried, hugging her body.

Before Sora could respond, Inari said, “She will be alright, Sora.  This is the first time she’s felt unfiltered emotion, to be able to explore it without a guiding hand.”

“That’s what the seal did?”  Sora asked in horror. “She’s never—none of the Vulpes here have ever experienced raw emotion?”

“You saw how their Spiritual Network was functioning; very little energy besides the source within the earth was given them.  The emotion that you can feel and feed off of from others; they never even knew it existed. Consider eating tasteless food all your life, and suddenly being introduced to sweets.  It would be overwhelming. This is the first time she’s ever felt all of these new energies entering her spirit.”

Sora glanced back at Liz as she curled into a ball on the chair, shaking with emotion.  Her heart went out to Liz as she got up and walked over to her, bending down to hug her trembling frame.  Liz stiffened at her touch, fingers constricting tightly around her sides with the sharp increase in emotions at the stimulation her hands and arms brought, her sharp breathe increasing.

“Does it—does it hurt?”  Alice asked, squirming in her chair.

After a time, Liz shook her head.  “N-no … it’s just—I can’t even—how do I explain it?  I—I can’t…” She cried.

Alice’s brow creased, but her mild concern soon washed away with the seal’s interference.  “It—it doesn’t hurt, though?”

Liz shook her head, taking a deep breath, she reached up fingers brushing against Sora’s arm.  “I feel it … there’s so much … inside me…”

Releasing her, Sora stepped back, smile soft.  “Yes, I bet getting your first real taste of emotion would be pretty intoxicating.”

Really concerning, though … I had no idea it was this bad for the Vulpes here.

“Not just the Vulpes, the humans have this same seal.”

That’s … wrong … really wrong…

“I agree.  Now, when healing her, desire for their fur to keep its pink hue.  Your magic will repair the necessary parts of their spiritual organs to begin its own internal recovery.  You needn’t focus on the Oltera Nexus itself. Search for the residual magic signature of the seal, and collect it, utilize it with your own energy.”

“Alright,” Sora said, kneeling to Liz’s level; her face was red and puffy as she pulled back her long hair.  “I’m going to heal your Spiritual Network.”

Swallowing back her tears, Liz took a deep breath before nodding.  “T-thank you—thank you so much…”

A light blue aura surrounded Sora’s tails as she lifted them toward Liz and fed her desires into the magic.  She watched Liz’s broken and frayed Spiritual Network mend as the residual energy fueled much of her spell, and the extensive damage to her spiritual organs was renewed.

Liz closed her eyes, hands pressed against her chest as her cheeks cleared, Sora cleaning up her features, but a single tear fell from her left eye.  “Thank you…” She whispered.

Sora swallowed, fighting back her own tears with the swirling emotions inside Liz’s Core affecting her.  Clearing her throat, she nodded. “I’m happy for you.” Turning to Alice, she took a deep breath. “Now, for you.”

The process was a bit quicker for Alice, but just as powerful.  Once it was done, Liz moved to her chair and settled in next to her; they both cried as Sora returned to her seat.  She watched the women more than ten times her age sobbing in each other’s arms like children.

Their display brought the others running.

“Mom—is—what’s happening?”  Emilia asked with concern.

“Is everything okay?”  Mary moved beside the two women.

Ashley was right beside her.  “What’s wrong?”

Sora’s nose burned as she sniffed.  “A lot, actually…”


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