B3 — 52. Foe Or Victim?

POV: Sora Moore

Recap: Sora managed to find her way through the damaged sections of her Spiritual Network to pull her conscience back into her Inner Core.  She met her aunt, found out she’s dying, and needs to go down to meet her Shadow.

They didn’t hit it off really well … and now Sora’s attacking her.


Sora launched toward Shadow, flaming tails flicking around to send a wall of Foxfire in her clone’s face.  The sound of crackling lightning faded as she lost sight of her nastier side in the blaze; when it passed, Shadow was gone.

“What?”  Sora glanced around the dark space, jaw locking as her stomach tightened.  Are you kidding me?  There’s no way I incinerated her.  “Where are you?”  She yelled, eyes still scanning the void.

A soft giggle echoed around the empty space.

A lump dropped down her throat as her focus fell on Anguish; her hiccups and cries seemed to escalate as it became the only sound.  The fur on Sora’s tail began to stiffen as the eerie scene continued.

Clearing her throat, Sora shivered as tingles shot down her spine, causing her ears to twitch.  She walked over to Anguish, scanning the area; she did a quick check above and below, thinking back to all the monster movies she’d seen.  “What are you, scared? You were talking so big before!”

Sucking on her lower lip for a moment, Sora huffed, bending down to her thrashed clone.  “Hey, are you okay?”

Her brow furrowed as Anguish tucked into a tighter ball.

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Sora’s green eyes moved up her body, following the dark bruises and long gashes along her legs, back, and arms.  Her copper hair was matted with liquid, but upon closer inspection, it was black, not red. Reaching out her hand, Sora lightly touched her shoulder.  “Hey…”

Anguish stopped quivering; Sora swallowed as she turned her head.  Her green irises met her, filled with pain; it looked like she’d been hit by a truck.

“Oh, my … I’m so…”  Sora’s words died in her throat as Anguish’s eyes started to blister before rotting, black liquid calling down her cheeks and expelling from her mouth as she gurgled.

Sora’s lungs froze with her mind as her skin discolored, veins turning black, crawling up her face and spreading across her entire body.

“W-What in the…”  Sora stumbled back as she heard Shadow’s soft laughter.

Anguish unfolded her body, slowly crawling toward her as it gurgled unintelligibly, reaching for her closest tail.

Out of nowhere, Shadow’s foot slammed into Anguish’s face, sending her tumbling across the void-like floor. “Filthy, wretch!”

“W-What’s…”  Sora couldn’t even get the words out before an unseen force latched onto her arms, lifting into the void, and a gag was placed around her mouth.

Shadow’s disgust turned to playful amusement as she turned toward her.  “Oh, how the Goddess has fallen. Did you like my little trick? Poor Anguish!  Has mean Shadow been bullying you? Not so compassionate when I take away the illusion!”  She laughed.

Sora couldn’t open her mouth; her entire body felt like there was a pressure holding her in place.  She whimpered as something pulled up on her tails, sending a spike up her spine; the pressure soon eased, but Shadow’s vicious smile didn’t falter.

Shadow floated up to her eye level.  “You think you’re so real? You don’t know what we’re capable of, do you?  You think you’re so clever and smart … Inari wants me to tame rebellious little Shadow?  What a joke.”

A lump dropped down Sora’s throat as her eyes fell to Shadow’s hands, where she twirled a knife around in her hand.  No … why are you doing this?  We’re the same … are you trying to take over?  Why can’t I do anything!

“We are dancing to quite the different drumbeat,” Shadow said with a short huff.  “I’m an instigator, degrading, didn’t you read the flyer? I’ll leave my enemy’s face leaking, cut, and disfigured.  I’m the one that played with Heather’s image, manipulated Kari to rough up her own member, sent her ramming into Lori … is that it?”

Sora’s stomach convulsed as Shadow slid the handle of her blade up her front, passing her bellybutton, sternum, collarbone, and atom’s apple before resting under her chin.

“No … I was the one that sent that video to the Police, scared off Sarah and Brianna when they came knocking for money … I’m the devil that rises to meet the monsters.  I was the one that stood up when our father laid on the ground, dying, and grasped the power surging through our veins, ready to roast Eric—fire with fire … anything that threatens the things we value.

“My desires are no different than yours … I’m true to what we value while you muddle about in the complexity of things, I take action.  The hole you’ve fallen down is a long way down without me and only brings despair … for everyone.

Please…

“Please?”  Shadow chuckled.  “Having second thoughts about trying to help that thing over there that you named Anguish—that name is so like you?  Hmm?”

Why are you doing this?

“The same questions, over and over!”  Shadow moaned, turning to pace on an invisible platform.  “I wish I could jab this knife into your belly, twist it around, and spill your guts all over the floor.  It’s like your little hamster wheel is spinning, but the hamster’s dead … you use your brain like a chocolate teapot!”

She turned to glare at her.  “Why am I doing this? I suppose I must break out the crayons … if you were any more naive, then I would need to water you twice a week!”  She growled. “Were you listening to Inari at all during her lectures and advice?”

Sora coughed as her gag was released; taking a shuddering breath, she glanced over at the grotesque mess curled back into a ball, weeping.  “I … you know I was…”

Shadow sucked in her lower lip, rolling her eyes.  “I can’t believe how moronic you can be! I really do have all the brains.”  Shadow mumbled. “Questioning something spurs the brain; you don’t need to have an answer, but the simple question can spark the imagination.  Ring a bell?”

Closing her eyes for a moment, Sora took a long breath before looking back at Shadow.  “Inari said that. Okay … I get it. This is your realm, right? There’s not much I can do … can you let me down so we can talk?”

The dagger in Shadow’s hand vanished as the force surrounding her disappeared; she fell into a tangled heap.  “Oof … you could have been a little gentler,” she mumbled, collecting herself before rising.

Shadow seemed to have lost herself in a memory.  “Champagne, dancing, gasoline … why can’t we just go back to the simple times, but no … someone’s gotta be everyone’s keeper.”

Sora glanced down at her shirt before returning to Shadow’s dull expression.  “What, do I have something on my face? Yes, I want to help people … thank you for all the work you made me do at the Police Station, too!”

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“The things I do to move forward,” Shadow mumbled, walking over to the curled up thing on the floor.  “This,” she stated, kicking Anguish hard enough to send her flying several feet away, coughing and sputtering, “is the thing killing us.  Get it?” She asked, turning to glare at her.

“Okay … I get it, and it makes sense.  It’s my feelings—and my PTSD,” she mumbled, as Shadow lifted an eyebrow.  “I really get it … so why didn’t you kill it—if you’re so tough?” She asked with a bit of bite.

Shadow slowly looked up, closing her eyes before letting a slow stream flow through her lips.  After a moment, she scratched the top of her head before running her left hand through her hair.  “I swear … ever since you’ve gotten this savior complex, you’ve become utterly idiotic. You can’t even think about Inari’s words because you’re too focused on the whole world you want to save while what lies around you burns.

“Me!  I’m the one saying that!”  She shouted, jabbing a finger in Anguish’s direction as she recovered.  “Do you think I’d have trouble kicking that little parasite’s tails into the ground?”

Sora nibbled on her lower lip as she studied her pitiful side.  “No … if you could have—you’re saying you let it stick around to get me here?”

Shadow’s body began to shake with rage, and without warning, she appeared in front of her, hands gripping her shirt front, Shadow lifted her off the ground.  Face red; she screamed, “You’re the pulse in my veins; you’re the war that I wage—I’m under the knife of your innocence as you consume me! You filled me with hate—into the silence, you sent me—into the fire, consumed—I’m stuck, self-torturing … did you think I’d disappear?”

“I—I don’t understand,” Sora choked, trying to use Shadow’s wrists to support her weight, but her body suddenly felt so weak.

“Of course not; it’s not like you to see through the sickness,” Shadow seethed, throwing her to the side.  “You’ve almost become worthless to me!”

Sora tumbled across the ground, feeling the wave of fear course through her body again like a fire; air forced from her lungs, she tucked into a ball, coughing and sputtering.  For some reason, everything felt so real here, and it was beginning to scare her; she felt powerless before her Shadow.

“Why—why can’t I fight you?”

“Because you’re mostly fake,” Shadow laughed.

Finding a bit of defiance in herself from Shadow’s mocking voice, Sora struggled back to her feet.  “What—am I to you? You’re saying I’m the Persona … but that can’t all be fake—I’m not all fake.”

Shadow rolled her eyes.  “I have to spell everything out for you!”  Tapping the side of her head, she huffed, “If you’d just clear your head of all this pointless heroism, then you’d understand Inari’s words.  You have no clue how imbalanced we are because of your choices.”

Sora promptly shook her head.  “It was a sacrifice; Inari said it wasn’t wrong…”

“Is that what she said?”  Shadow asked with a lilting tone.

“She said—she wouldn’t do what I did, but I shouldn’t model my life after her…”

Shadow bit her lower lip in anger, nose twisting with contempt.  “You only hear what you want! You’re the love that I hate, yet you’re the drug that I take … compassion is such a monster.”

“Why can’t you stop hating me?  All you’ve done is yell and call me stupid … if you can’t explain it to me, then who’s more stupid?”

“Ouch!  Your words are like a bullet to my head,” she stated while slowly clapping.  “Ignorance and Understanding; that’s you and me, and I waited, yelled, but you ignored me—almost every time.  I couldn’t find a good reason … not even a glimmer of hope to believe in you … so, I let all this happen … hands off the steering wheel.”

“What are you talking about?  You can’t be serious…”

“Oh, come on,” Shadow laughed, eyes widening as she slowly moved closer, causing Sora to step back.  “You’ve felt the urge inside your gut—the urge to play with fire … the insanity—the pulse that gets us high.  The craving to pour gasoline on everything and light the match, watching people’s hopes fade as their castles burn and crumble.  The unstoppable animal within you that claws at the edges of your mind!”

The intense force pulsing off Shadow made Sora trip; Shadow was on top of her in a breath, straddling her, pinning her to the ground.

“Test my reality; check if there’s a weak spot.  You’re clinging to insanity, hoping the world will ease up.  You know how to play it pretty good; everyone starts out a little insane, and we learned pretty quickly how to fake it for the world, but you never learned to drop the act … so, under that skin of yours.  I’m the product you created—me, under your skin—the monster you made me.”

It took all Sora had to keep herself from falling completely to her back; for some reason, every time Shadow closed in, she lost strength.

“You’re—the monster, though … the beast within me.  I’m not the monster…”

Shadow’s hot breath pressed against her cheeks, spiteful green irises’ glaring at her.  “I’m just an artifice to you … a decoy soul. I lift you up, and then you let me go; I’ve made an art of digging shallow holes, and so, I’m going to drop the tiniest seed in and watch it grow.  I’ve lost the parts of me that make me whole … I am the darkness, but you are the monster in control, and your betrayal sparked all of this.”

“Get up,” Shadow huffed, pulling her to her feet with one arm before shoving her back.

Sora didn’t know how to respond; Shadow had been calling the shots the entire time.

Taking a long breath, Shadow seemed to calm down a bit; she flipped out her hair, still directing a disdainful glare in her direction.  “I just needed to release a bit of stress.”

Licking her lips, Sora folded her arms to keep herself from shaking.  “What…”

“Wait … I’m just about to break—you’re just more than I can take!  I feel it in my veins, and it’s not going away.” She took a long breath again.  “There’s a war going on inside us; this is a warning, like it or not. Come with me,” she muttered, walking away.

Sora cleared her throat before following.  She’s…

When she paused, Shadow released a mirthless laugh.  “Yes, you’re me; I know what you’re thinking.”

“Then…”

“Why can’t you hear me?  Because you left me … ink runs, paint bleeds, the picture that you had with me was destroyed.”

Her tone turned wistful.  “During our change … you lived life like you were on fire, and I danced with you … our soul, lifting higher and higher … our history … why’d you have to throw me away?”

“How did I throw you away?  Didn’t I kick Fen out? I mean, I completed my change less than a week ago.”

Shadow glanced back at her with a sad smile.  “You honestly think that was me? No, I would have made sure she didn’t come back to bite our tails.  Do you remember anything about Inari’s discussion on the Persona and the Shadow? The Yin and the Yang?”

Before she could respond, her aunt’s image appeared before them, sitting in her chair.  She ran forward. “Aunt Inari…”

Her words died as she didn’t even acknowledge them, and Shadow just gave her an infuriating smirk.  Her aunt’s words echoed around them as Shadow brought back different memories.

“You’ve each read or watched media that portrayed the dark side of a hero’s personality, and they combat that darker self, gaining mastery…

“Control,” her aunt’s tone held its familiar crisp edge.  “You mentioned the Yin and the Yang, Ashley. Such a wonderful identification with so much depth.  The light and darkness inside us, cycling in balance, not separate…”

Ashley and Mary appeared beside her aunt, sitting in their own seats, and Ashley picking up where her aunt left off.  “So, connecting the Phoenix with dissolve and the Shadow with integrate?”

Inari nodded.  “… you burn that negative structure of your mother’s abuse, shedding it like a snake, but you still need to incorporate your aggression…

“One of Nietzsche’s most trenchant critiques of traditional morality is that most of what passes for morality is not that at all, but cowardice; it’s not that I’m a good person and I don’t want to hurt or steal from you, it’s that I’m afraid to hurt or steal from you because of consequences.”

“However,” Shadow chuckled, walking behind Inari’s chair.  “It’s not cowardice for you … it’s suicide and the sacrifice of everything around you.”

Before she could reply, Nathan appeared on the opposite side of her aunt.  “… nobody can be a good person without integrating their potential for aggression.”

Her aunt nodded again.  “If you really mean no, then what you’re saying is:  There isn’t anything you can do to me that will make me change my mind, or conversely, it means, I will play for higher stakes than you will.”

“Real aggression,” Shadow smirked.  “What you did with Fen was weak—an imitation; you tried to crush me—you didn’t need my help.  Fen didn’t feel the warning you sent … she didn’t feel the heat that would imprint on her mind to want nothing to do with you.

“You gave her plenty of room for self-pity and the feelings of animosity.  You need the flash of white lightning that hangs over their head—so powerful that they can’t even imagine striking back at you—just like Kari did to you.  You tried to be perfect … was it worth it … nothing could ever be so wrong.”

She looked around, whispering, “If you believe it’s in our soul—I’d say all the words that I know … I did all this just to try and let you know … to see if it would show.  I’m real.”

Inari’s voice returned.  “Jung was very interested in the workings and concept of evil; what do you do with the part of you that is aggressive and potentially malevolent?  Do you crush it?”

“That’s the superego response!”  Mary chimed in.

“Yes, the response to put it behind you.”

“Crush me,” Shadow cut in.  “This place is so empty … my thoughts are so tempting.  I don’t know how it got so bad … sometimes I feel so crazy that I feel like nothing can save me, but … it’s the only thing that I have left.”

She circled around the chairs to kneel at Inari’s feet, looking up at her aunt’s face.  “It never gets easy…”

“However,” her aunt picked up, “is that even a possibility?  Or—do you admit its existence and bring it into the game? For Freud, morality was superego clamping down on the Id, and they were fundamentally opposed.”  A smile touched her lips. “Both Jung and Jean Piaget had a different idea, Mary?”

“… Okay, both Jung and Piaget … they’d say to Freud—no, no, you don’t shut the bad guys down, you invite them out to play…”

“The definition of a genuinely moral person,” Inari stated with a bright smile, “You should be able to do things you wouldn’t do; they could do it, but they don’t, and that’s not cowardice.  The Phoenix, you burn off the things that get in the way of that integration.”

Sora swallowed, starting to connect all the dots as she looked down on Shadow; she suddenly seemed a lot more vulnerable.  “I didn’t think … I guess I haven’t given much thought to my aunt’s words at all,” she muttered.

“You’re right,” Ashley jumped in.  “If it’s deadwood, then you have room for new growth.”

“Yes, that’s the snake that sheds its skin and transforms itself—the death and resurrection from a psychological perspective.  Many people accomplish this to a lesser degree, the low hanging fruit or foolish things that if you stopped doing, would improve your life.

“I’m talking about something much, much deeper, but also requires the burning of those low hanging fruit as well.  This has to do with pride; people tend to be prideful of who they are, which is a bad idea because that puts you in a sense of comfort.

“The idea that you’ve reached a state of perfection is a terrible idea because it stops you from becoming who you could be; if you are proud of what you are, then you cannot let that burn in the Phoenix’s flames and integrate the unknown and dangerous elements of your shadow.

“You become your own parody; you don’t want this, you want to be continually progressing away from your previous self.  Here we get to the conclusion. Are you the yin or the yang; the order or the chaos; the persona or the shadow—or, are you the process that mediates between them.”

Sora rubbed her elbow, looking down at the void.  “I’m the mediating force … the middle person and I pushed you away … fusing with my Persona.”

“Threw me away,” Shadow whispered, glancing back at her with tears in her eyes.  “I protected you every chance I got, and … here I am.”


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