B4 — 39. Tense Reunion

POV

1. Sora Moore (Our Null-Void Vulpes Founder!)

Recap

Let’s cut the chit-chat!  It’s finally happening!  Sora’s in the middle of getting everything she wants—her family is being revived—but misfortune is never far…

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Sora breathed in deeply, staring around at the large circle of people her aunt had gathered to conclude a major point in their lives.  It felt unreal, like one of those TV shows that seemingly no time had passed at all, yet the characters feel like they’ve known each other for years.

She’d been through so much with the people around this circle.  They’d learned things about each other that would have never happened had so many minor things not changed all of their courses in life—all prompted by the Son of Homa standing midair across from her.

Her attention moved to each, recalling everything that she’d experienced with the cast, and the time between her transformation into a Vulpes Founder to now became a blur; it was then she realized what timeless really meant.

Time had passed, but the amount was insignificant and almost meaningless given the events they’d shared.  It made her understand what it must feel like for her aunt and mother; they weren’t counting the seconds or days or centuries but gauging things by momentous events that defined a point in their lives, and this was one of those moments.

Inari’s soft smile lingered on her as the group waited in serenity, promoted by the natural aura she was enhancing within Sora’s suppressed Vulpes half.  “You will each recall many acts in your lives as I weave our Cores into a unifying circle—think of it as a sphere—a helix that loops around and connects in one eternal round.”

She created a visual representation, giving them a frame of reference to keep their merging purposes in alignment.

“This ritual is not needed to return my mother but is meant for my sisters,” her aunt explained, showing the two lovely women she remembered beside the globe and pushing the gathered essence Mia and her were able to collect for the task.

“Having a key of reference is important when conducting such magic—this is Nari, the third daughter of my mother.”

The brilliant golden blonde Vulpes took on more refined features, but Sora noticed she only had a single long, puffy tail that curved around her legs.  She could have been in her mid-teens or early twenties, depending on Sora’s own shifting mind while studying her aunt.

Nari’s image continued to fluctuate, showing what appeared to be various stages in her life, yet much of the gathered spiritual force seemed to have been when she looked like a teenager.  It looked somewhat like Nari was in her rebellious state, which was likely why Inari was able to go to old haunts of the girl and collect long forgotten traces of her spiritual essence.

Her figure changed dramatically over the course of the various stages that Inari showed them while translating the mixed source.

To Sora, she had an almost pink aura that could tint various shades of her hair; 

Nari’s angry, teenage blue eyes shifted to an annoyed purplish, followed by a seductive purplish pink, and then an innocent, happy pink before reverting to previous states.  Her mischievous purplish-pink irises shifted left and right, a playful look on her soft, seductive face that soon showed innocent delight at being in the limelight.

A small smirk lifted a corner of Inari’s lips, and the white-furred Vulpes giggled as she spoke about her second youngest sibling.  “My two younger sisters will return at a very … interesting stage in their life, seeing as they were most careless about leaving a spiritual imprint on Existence when at these fractious phases in their lives, and my mother’s nightmare mostly coincides with their youth.”

She stepped forward, continuing to prepare the ritual.  “Honestly, they’ll be a bit of a handful to us, Sora,” she whispered, cupping her sister’s now glaring and moody cheeks.  “Although … he-he-he.  I believe you will find them more fun than your mother and I.”

“Me, too?”  Emilia asked, eyes sparkling.

Inari’s smile became forced as the spiritual remnants of her sister slapped her hands away and folded her arms in agitation, ears twitching while looking off.  “Nari … likely more of your mother’s subtle style of fun.  Eh-heh, she will have a hint of a more cute side that she lacked when rebelling against our mother, but she’ll still have the sass I detested, I’m sure.”

Ashley laughed at the girl’s mannerisms.  “I’m guessing she wasn’t fond of authority.”

Jin grinned.  “I do have memories of a few events between Gong-Gong and her—I can respect her bold attitude, and she had a unique way of insulting him that no one else dared to emulate.”

“I’m liking her already,” Kari muttered, drawing Eyia’s scowl.

Sora guessed Eyia had never experienced a rebellious bone in her body; she was loyalty, and duty incarnate—the Valkyrie’s pure power of will was unnerving.

“Yes,” Inari sighed, “Gong-Gong’s fascination with my sister came from those rebellious streaks of hers.  She was by far the most vocal … Mia took the most action, though.”

Her focus moved to the demure representation of her black-furred aunt.  “On the other hand, Seiōbo was the quiet one of our family … that didn’t mean she was the most obedient, though,” she whispered, shaking her head in exasperation.

Seiōbo was far less curved than even her teenage sister, but her cool expression slowly started to crack as Inari stared at her.  The girl’s ears slowly falling back until a cutely awkward toothy grin split her lips.

She grew a little older as Sora watched, expression falling into a more ruffled glare that made it look like she wanted to jump her sister.  “Nari would pull her into little plots, and Seiōbo always saw me as the golden child that everyone loved because of my talent and proper mannerisms.”

Sighing, Inari folded her hands in front of her.  “She tried to be stoic in public, but she was rowdy when alone and could take training a bit too seriously whenever we practiced together.  At one time, she even went through a white-fur phase, trying to copy me—knowing it would annoy me,” she muttered as the fox’s hair lightened and one of her deep blue eyes turned pink to likely copy her younger sister.

“Crying for attention,” Mary smiled.  “It’s a healthy phase for a child to go through.  She’s trying to discover herself by imitating things she admired.  Heh, although, I doubt you saw it like that at the time.”

Inari shook her head, ears twitching while probably remembering her experiences with her sisters.  “Each of them had their own problems with me as the eldest, and they expressed it in different ways that I understand now, but can’t help the way I felt toward them at the time—and unfortunately, many of those adolescent traits will likely hold sway over them when they return.  I can only hope they’ll be on the tail end of such mannerisms.”

Sora’s lips tightened upon watching her aunts shift between the various essences that had been gathered.  “Mmh … Their tails are shifting between one and four.”

“Indeed,” Inari puffed out a depressed stream of air, “the strongest chance of their revival hinges on how potent of a spiritual force is gathered inside and these early representations of my sisters, left in the first small Realm my mother crafted, are the prime candidates … At least I might be able to see her sillier side again,” she chuckled.

Her longing gaze lifted to the chaotic nightmare outside of their protected sphere.  “Then … there’s my mother—for namesake, you may call my mother by the name of Amaterasu…”

Sora’s eyes widened as she generated an image of a gorgeous, motherly pink-haired woman in what appeared to be a leaf-like bandeaukini and semi-skirtini bottom.  Colorful designs of what she assumed were some form of advanced magic were tattooed down the side of her legs and arms.

Her thick, multi-hued tails shifted in an almost ethereal manner, similar to Gloria, and she wore beautiful flowers in her hair and as what appeared to be a side belt buckle.  Wrist guards enclosed her forearms and ankles.

As she watched, Amaterasu’s hair, attire, and the symbols on her smooth skin changed, turning a more whitish hue before mixing with more colors.  Her grandmother’s shifting appearance resembled Gloria in a way that made it challenging to separate the two without thinking about the other; she was a combination of concept and physical reality that had fused into the mythical figure she represented.

Jin huffed.  “That statue of hers doesn’t do her justice … I couldn’t actually see her like this until you laid it bare … annoying.”

Everyone else was too stunned to even speak—this was the progenitor of all Vulpes magic.  Without Amaterasu, Vulpes, as everyone knew them, wouldn’t exist.

Fen’s heart practically stopped upon seeing the Founder of her race.  “How … Why don’t you look like that?”

It may have seemed like a bold and insulting comment, but at that moment, Sora agreed; it was a natural question and one she’d likely ask if meeting Gloria’s children.

Inari expunged the image to bring their attention back to her; her vision was focused on the hidden nightmare close by.  “What most of the 2nd Generation Founders have agreed is a tragedy; our parents made a solemn pact before we were born to not share the information that would elevate us to their supremacy … We are to discover that path ourselves.”

Fen’s nose twisted with anger at the thought, but she didn’t press the subject—Sora could guess her thoughts, though.  The first Founder of the Vulpes had given the knowledge to Fen’s ancestors on how to tap into the magic of Existence and build their own Cores, yet never shared anything that could even hope to put them on the same playing field as her daughters.  A monopoly on power that they refused to share.

Sora had to wonder if everything would even be standing for any of them to exist at all had they done so, seeing the infighting that went between the Founder’s children.  It didn’t appear that they were above such squabbles themselves, and the Primordials certainly threw another wrench into the program.

Eyia spoke in the ensuing silence, asking a question Sora wasn’t expecting out of her.  “Has any of the following generations discovered such a secret?”

Inari’s orange irises settled on her for a time, lips tilting a little.  “No.  Gong-Gong seemed to be the closest to discovering the method that I am aware of.”

Hot air rushed through Jin’s nostrils.  “Yeah, before you killed him like a coward—taking his essence to enact your warpath against the Tanuki and his part in Nari’s death.”

“I will not deny it,” she replied in such a casual way that it brought Jin’s teeth together.  “You agree that he was dumb, Jin, but can you honestly judge him by your own lifestyle?”

Confused, Sora saw the Dragon girl’s eyes fall, and nose twitch at the rebuttal.  Still, she wasn’t going to push it in the current setting; her aunt seemed to know exactly what needed to happen for the ritual to succeed—Nari and Seiōbo’s essence was already flowing through each of them.

Sora could feel many of those around her were more focused on their own thoughts than what Inari was saying at this point, such as Wendy, and it wasn’t hard to imagine why once Inari started to proceed with the ritual.  Fen, Jian, and Eyia were in a similar mind state after the Vulpes’s responses.

Her aunt’s voice held a neutral tone as she went on to the next stage.  “You will begin to better understand one another on a deeper level as Nari and Seiōbo use various parts of your spirits to complete themselves.”

She paused, vision darting to Sora as a shiver ran through her chakram—her aunt connected the magical weave to the nightmare, funneling the corrupting power into reforming her sisters and mother—no one else seemed to feel the toxic elements within except for Eyia by her uncomfortable shifting shoulders.

The magic moved between her chakram and everyone else in the circle—simultaneously, the nightmarish energy sustaining the beyond-imaginable power required to enact the ritual passed through Sora.  A tranquil hymn immediately soothed her grandmother’s fears, purifying the corruption that threatened her reviving aunts’ sanity.

“How is it possible, Sister?”  Eyia asked, looking at Sora in dismay.  “Eir, Hlín, Forseti, Bragi, and Nanna Nepsdóttir united would be challenged to cleanse such potent horror.”

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A peaceful sigh eased her aunt’s muscles before she ran her fingernails through her long white locks; eyes closed, she released a short chuckle, opening them to look at Sora.  “Unbelievable … I recognize this serene song from my youth … You accomplished the impossible … You forced Gloria to directly involve herself in something she swore she would not.”

“I did what?”  Sora muttered, but in that instant, a wave of emotions filled her mind.

It was the bond she shared with Emilia, her daughter’s longing and inadequacy filling her Core as she desperately tried to change herself, desperate to discover what was keeping them apart.  She was convinced that most of the fault was with herself, and she could hear the girl’s internal doubts.

Why am I not worth staying with?  Mom has so many people that want to be with her, but only a few of them get the chance … What does Kari have that I don’t?  Why am I not as important as her?

I want time with you, Mom … What’s wrong with me?  Is it because I wasn’t born the right way?  Am I really your daughter?  Am I too weak?  Kari and Eyia are strong … Am I really a Founder if they’re supposed to be strong, and I’m not?  Who am I?  What am I if I’m not a Founder?  Is that why Mom hates spending time with me?

Biting her lower lip, Sora broke the skin, but only the Null-Void she suppressed exited, her aunt shifting the magic in a way to not be disrupted by her raw energy.

These weren’t active thoughts her daughter had but emotions her aunts were following and brushing up against because they shared them.  Their mother was phenomenally powerful, yet they weren’t the strongest of the 2nd Generation and knew it by the competitions.  They also had to compete with Inari, who stood head and shoulders above them in the contests, showing their disparity.

Worse was to come; the moment she realized she’d foolishly fell into Loral’s claws and brought her mother into harm’s way.

No … No, I just wanted to do the right thing … She’ll hate me!  I just wanted to help!  Why can’t I do anything, right?!  I’m such a failure … I hurt Mom.  How can I ever be forgiven?  She hates me … She should hate me … I hate me…

Tears fell down Sora’s cheeks, artificially created by the emotional hum resonating in her chakram.  How could I make my daughter feel this way … As if it were better that she was never born?  I’m the worst mother … I’m as bad as Wendy’s mom…

Wendy vehemently disagreed as the link continued to cycle through them, mirrored by everyone else, including Emilia’s horror.  Her daughter felt Sora’s own frustrations about never having enough time to spend with her and the stress of having everyone look to her for answers and leadership the moment her authority in the Realm became known.

The others experienced the weight that had been heaped upon her over the past week, which resonated with her aunts as their mother brought in the first Vulpes disciples.  Tens of thousands of foxes were rejected because they simply didn’t have the gift.  In addition, the pressure put on her aunts to tell the majority of males that it just wasn’t possible for them to succeed like the females was devastating in their youth.

Furthermore, the realization that they couldn’t teach everyone equally because everyone wasn’t equal—equity could never come about, and to many, such a reality was too much to face, which was crushing for Fen and Wendy’s own fears.  If her aunts tried giving those that struggled special attention, they’d waste time and effort while hampering the progression of those that excelled at the magical arts.

In the end, all three of her daughters gave up their mother’s dream of helping the foxes advance because of the strain it left on their hearts, including her own mother—only Inari continued the practice—the golden child, further dividing the sisters.

The reality of their situation weighed heavily on Mary since she was considered the shining example in her own family.  She’d been the successful psychiatrist that carried on her mother’s legacy, driving a wedge between her younger siblings.

More emotion followed, counterbalancing the flow.  Emilia’s thrill at Sora finally teaching her about the Outer Body Technique, yet even that was filled with some bitter inadequacy.

I’m trying so hard … Why can’t I get it?  Mom was able to learn this so fast, but I’m such a failure.  I’m wasting her time … I want to be good … I want to be strong, but I’m so weak!  Wait, I think I did it … Is this it … I’m close … I’m so close!  Just a little more!  Please, just give me more time, Mom!  I’ll make you proud!  I promise I’m not a failure!  I’ll try harder!

It was a dagger in Wendy, Eyia, Fen, Aiden, and Kari’s chest.  Each of them could relate in some fashion to Emilia’s desperate feelings of inadequacy.

Eyia’s trembling fingers and teary eyes shocked her—if anyone should be proud about the way they lived, Sora thought it would be the ever stalwart Valkyrie, but she hated herself in ways Sora couldn’t begin to explain, stunning everyone else in the circle.

Her aunts drew closest to Eyia, Wendy, and Emilia as the magic deepened, connecting to their hardships and emotional baggage before moving to Fen to cycle around her crave for power and desperate need to be self-reliant.

The insecurity within Fen, the feelings of never stacking up to those around her.  She hated her own looks, the way other Vulpes looked at her as inferior to the others resonated with her aunts when matched against their mother or big sister.

Fen had a complicated relationship with her own sisters, two of whom had discovered methods to achieve precisely what Fen wanted.  She loved Jian, trying desperately to deny it, and despised herself for using him as a means to extend her life.  At the same time, she knew Jian would never feel the same way toward her.

Jian’s self-sacrifice and service to Fen were without question, but she was a child in need of his protection.  She abhorred the way he saw her, and a part of herself that terrified her was the piece that wanted to keep him as a pet for refusing to reciprocate her feelings.  The devastating part was that he’d suffer through anything she did to him because he loved her mother.

Seiōbo could relate to Fen on quite a few points, yet also with Jian, having been the subject of quite a few heartaches and the reason for many more heart breaks.  Her link to Aiden was somewhat unclear at first, but Sora got the impression she went through an identity crisis that resonated with Eyia, Mary, Jian, Emilia, Wendy, Fen, and both Kari and Sora’s pasts.

Her aunt desperately wanted to protect Inari for once, hating her own weakness after time and again, her big sister would beat down anyone who picked on them.  She wanted to be bold like the rest of her sisters, but it was so difficult to put herself out there to be the pincushion for others to stab.

She was cunning, reserved, unsure of what she wanted to do in her life, felt inadequate when matching up to her siblings, scared she hurt those closest to her, so she pushed them away, and was a quagmire of self-doubt.

On the other hand, Nari found a kinship with Sora and Kari’s present selves, Jin, Loral,  Ashley, and Nathan.  She was fearless, pushing the limits and causing trouble to be seen as her own person.

The blonde was a fire starter and could always find a way out of the heat by playing her little games and using her looks to her advantage.  Even if the 2nd Generation could all change their appearance, no one could hide from each other what they actually looked like, which made most of them self-conscious, but Nari knew she was drop-dead gorgeous.

However, one thing rang true to every one of Sora’s aunts that she was sure was present with even her mother—their mother was an impassable wall that stood above all—the reality caused them to rebel in different ways, including Inari.  They put her on a pedestal.

Given how Emilia saw her, it made Sora acutely aware of how Amaterasu must have felt at times.  Given what she knew about the woman and from Inari’s own connection that stabilized the ritual, it was clear that their mother felt like a failure.  It took Inari many years to come to that realization, yet without being blinded by her grandmother’s glorious presence, it was all too evident to Sora.

Her eldest and youngest daughters were sterile, and she couldn’t help them.  Her middle children felt guilty they didn’t have the same issue, so they refrained from giving birth.  It was a complicated family dichotomy mixed with an unbreakable love—many of her aunts couldn’t stand being around one another but would be the first to jump on anyone who disrespected their family.

Round and round, Seiōbo and Nari’s spiritual essence traveled, gaining strength from the sphere Inari crafted between them.  It wasn’t as if all secrets of those involved were shared; only the sections needed for her aunts’ Core, spirit, body, and Intelligence to be united and reformed were used with pieces filled in by her mother, Aunt Inari, and Amaterasu’s essence within the nightmare.

Light shone as the tiniest fragments of Existence pulled together, shaping to the weave and drawing upon their mother’s source to complete the impossible.  In the end, it was only thanks to the spiritual lifeblood of her grandmother’s pregnant, nightmare-induced mass of energy that still housed the elemental blueprint of her aunts that allowed the miracle to take place.

There was no beginning and no end to the ceremony, which bewildered Sora, yet at the same time, it felt familiar—the space they were in had no limit on speed, unlike a normal universe, which meant there was no frame of reference, everything happened in a single point because it all functioned in a different sphere of physics than she could grasp.

When she entered this area, the entirety of what took place was concluded before it had begun—the nightmare was gone, and the distorted location returned to normal, yet the effects it had on the humans’ Cores seemed permanent from what she could sense within them.  In its place stood two figures—Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi.

Her grandmother was far beyond what Inari had shown them, and Tsukuyomi was the image of compassionate male beauty, yet in the next second, both the legendary figures’ appearance turned sinister, glowing orange irises shifting to look behind them as Nephesh emerged out of the shadows, wearing a dark smile.

The Tanuki looked no different than how he appeared in Niomie’s past; his presence, however, was far more potent than both his ancestor and Sora’s grandmother, which didn’t make sense to Sora.

Amaterasu looked nothing like the sun and brilliance she was claimed to represent, her simmering fur turning purplish-black, and her locks dyed the color of night and dulled gold; her outfit became more of a short metallic dress, and once again, the symbols on her skin were replaced.

Tsukuyomi’s blue charm turned mischievous as his hair shaded the opposite of his Vulpes counterpart while turning to leer at his grandson.  “An … unexpected return, Nephesh, and quite bold for the snot-nosed brat I remember.”

“Hmm…”  Sora’s grandmother’s flaming yellow irises creased as her dark cherry lips curled into an unusually brilliant smile that didn’t reflect her tone.  “The pain you’ve caused my family is something I never expected of you, Tsuku.  What turmoil have you started, my baby brother?”

A shiver ran around Sora’s rings at the look in both of their eyes, and Inari appeared between their groups.  “Mother!  We are … What?”

In a shock to everyone, black tears fell down Tsukuyomi’s cheeks as he turned and bowed before the Founder of the Vulpes.  “The right to call you Amy has long been forfeited by my folly and the feud I have set forth.  Forgiveness is a word long since forgotten from my mind—I have not the strength to utter the supercilious chatter of my youth, and a plea is but arrogance upon my lips.”

“Grandfather?”  Nephesh’s mouth parted in disbelief.  “No!  No!  Stand up!  Show these animalistic harlots what—”

His words were cut off as Tsukuyomi’s clawed hand closed around his neck, anger in his shifting yellow to red eyes.  “I will not hear a tongue disrespect my greater, boy!  The shame I feel for the vile plans your siblings set in motion based upon my mistake is enough to slay me thrice over!”

A new picture was forming in Sora’s mind upon watching the scene unfold—her aunt didn’t murder Tsukuyomi as much as he allowed himself to be killed—he let her aunt believe she’d taken his life since he was unable to reconcile with the actions he’d taken.  By his words, it was likely his children that killed her aunts, not the father.

At that second, she could see why the Founding Mother of the Dragons might hate her aunt after taking her son’s essence, which, as Sora saw, could be used to restore one to life.  It also became clear that she could have enacted punishment on her Aunt Inari at any time—a gut feeling that turned her stomach.

There was so much more happening behind the scenes than any of them knew.

Nephesh closed his fingers around his grandfather’s wrist and forced it away, and a cage became visible around the three figures that her aunt revealed, still focused on reviving her aunts.  “What … is this, Mother?  Can you not free yourself?”  Inari asked; there was uncertainty and fear Sora had never heard in the Vulpes Goddess’s voice.

Her grandmother’s expression saddened, vision shifting to her daughter as Nephesh coughed, wrestling with his grandfather.  “Oh, my darling little talented firstborn—regrettably, I must tell you that both Tsukuyomi and my strength have been severely affected by this revival.  It will take time to rebuild it, and Nephesh has bound us to his unique space.  He will imprison us to resolve the holes this revelation has brought to his machinations.”

“No,” Inari’s tone quivered, focus darting between her and the struggling Tanuki.  “I’ll stop him if you cannot!  He is weak—just give me a bit longer!  Fight for us to be a family once more, Mother!”  she pleaded.

It ripped at Sora’s heart watching her aunt beg; no one else could utter a word at the unbelievable struggle taking place in the hollowed-out core of the planet.  She couldn’t help but connect Tsukuyomi’s nickname for her grandmother—she had a name for her grandmother now, but she was going to be taken because none of them could act.

Her mother was busy protecting her from something that could destroy everything she knew—she must have been crying and clawing to defend her mother—Emilia would have been the same way.

Who else could face a 3rd Generation Founder at the height of their power?

Loral’s panicked gaze slid from the fight to the mythical figure she’d looked up to her entire life.  “Is there nothing the Realm Core can do for you?”

Amy’s melancholy smile softened her features.  “I’m afraid not.  This will be much worse if I resist.”  Her orange irises turned to gold while appraising her eldest.  “I have a grandchild now, Inari … Heh, a great-grandchild at that.  Congratulations, Mia … but know, this is not the end, my daughters, but the beginning.”

A single tear fell down her cheek as she looked past them at the shimmering figures of her aunts, taking shape in Inari’s ritual.  “I know you feel as if you’ve failed your sisters—failed me, Inari, but look at how much you and Mia have grown.”

Her eyes lifted to peer past the veil at Sora’s mother.  “Do not cry, my little ones; a reckoning is coming, and I will exact my price in full—I assure you.”

A bloodlust unlike any Sora had experienced eased out of her grandmother in a slow, calculated wave.  A semi-beaten Nilly came tumbling out of a rip in space, falling below to strike the shell below with a grunt—Sora knew something was wrong with the cat, she should have transformed to the level of whoever she fought, yet the little girl wasn’t growing older as she struggled to her feet.

A muscular, dark-skinned man with three black eyes on both sides of his forehead stepped through the rip with a smug smile.  “Hmm-hmm-hmm,” his chest shook with deep laughter, “oh, how the mighty have fallen.”

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Never had Sora seen a look so murderous that it could kill as her grandmother glowed at the dark-skinned man, space warping around her that distorted the magical prison they were in.  “Anansi … Leave Nilly out of this web you’ve crafted.”

A low growl rumbled from below as Nilly pounced back up, slipping through the prison as if it weren’t there.  “Don’t you touch my Amy, you nasty spid—”

 She winced and choked as the man’s large hands completely closed around the girl’s throat, stopping her progress.  “It’s hard to contemplate how pathetic you’ve become, Nilly.”

Two more hands grew out of his giant back to stop massive clubs that appeared from thin air, followed by a colossal red and blue oni, radiating power far beyond anything she’d felt from the likes of Bathin, Mofupsi, or Loral.

“The Oni Gods of the North and West … Such loyalty to your master, but you won’t be able to save her at this point,” Anansi mused, flexing his free left hand.  “I’ve gained far more power than what you can access at this time, given Nilly’s seal.”

The enormous monsters’ roars shook the space as more rips appeared for black webs to shoot out and drag the beasts inside.  Drool was leaking out of Nilly’s mouth as she scratched at his arms and tried to kick his gut, but the force enveloping her kept the cat from doing much else.

More thread wove around Amaterasu while she leveled an indignant glare at the human spider, and Sora could feel the colossal self-restraint it took for her to stay her hand—for whatever reason, her grandmother couldn’t support them at the moment, and that was all Sora needed to know.

“Hey!  Let Nilly go!”  Sora yelled, catching everyone off-guard; unlike the others, she had a method of attack that didn’t require her to use spirit, which was needed for the ritual.

“Sora…”  Inari turned in astonishment as the chakram representing her actual body expanded, staying in place to keep the ritual going.

Hair slipping free, three copies of her weapon flared into being as she shot forward, sending one between the two to accelerate its spin, speed, and devouring mass as it ate through Existence.

Nephesh balked upon subduing his grandfather in black binds of energy, complete with a gag.  “What kind of power is that?!  It’s madness!”

Her chakram collided with the man’s magical barrier, growing seven times its size while channeling it into an offensive force.

“Wait, Sora!”  Inari cried.

In seconds, strings of fathomless depth snatched all three of her rings and closed around every inch of her flaming Null-Void body; she didn’t even see a single detail of it from inside the circle.

“Fascinating,” the man muttered, peering at her while rubbing his chin with his second left hand.  “You appear to be something … foreign.”

“Foreign, how?”  Nephesh roared.  “How is Inari accomplishing the resurrection—what happened to—to my grandfather, Anansi?!”  he asked, brandishing his calm, leering forefather.

Even while bound, everyone present had a quake run through them at her grandmother’s threatening tone.  “Anansi, I won’t stand by if you continue to gloat in this fashion.”

Why can’t I chew through his thread … It’s like I’m gnawing on a stone!

The others could feel her frustration through their bond, but it was soon over as her Null-Void projection was thrust outside of the broken cage, and Nephesh repaired the barrier, taking precautions that Sora knew would make it far more difficult to bypass.

Sora could feel each of her friends’ eyes like daggers on the two antagonists—Eyia was again screaming at herself for being unprepared for such an outcome.  If anything, the last thirty minutes had turned Eyia’s sound life into a nightmare, and Sora didn’t understand why.

“Heh, a family has always been your weakness, Founders,” Anansi chuckled, tossing a rabid Nilly through another rip in space before it closed.  His nose twitched with agitation as Nilly appeared out of thin air again, claws reaching.  “Nilly!  You are by far the most annoying Founder in this fracturing Existence!”

His thread seemed to slip through her a few times before finally catching her leg and swinging her to slam against the side of the cage, causing the air to pump out of her lungs.  The cat wheezed, and Sora caught her grandmother’s tight gaze.

“It isn’t my fault,” Anansi grunted.  “The cat’s too agile for her own good—even in this state, she’s beyond reason and comprehension—it should be impossible for her to evade me!”

They vanished; Sora didn’t even have time to say goodbye—it was jarring.  She stood in stunned silence, her head turning to her disturbed aunt as she silently pondered what had occurred.

“Where’d they go?”  Emilia asked.

Eyia opened her bloody lips, clearing her throat.  “What—can be done, Inari?  When do we mount a rescue once this ritual is completed?”

“That … shouldn’t have happened,” Jin muttered.

“I’m still wrapping my head around it,” Loral hummed.  “I’ve never experienced such a foul … I hesitate to even call it magic.”

Kari’s focus was entirely on Sora.  “Stupid question, but are you okay?”

Sora’s hands curled into fists as she slammed one against one of her copied chakrams, shattering it.  “No!  That is a stupid question—why couldn’t we do anything?  I know Grandma thought it was the best option … but why?!”

She caught her aunt’s quaking hands, rage and fear almost palpable.  “Because … she knew if she did get involved, she’d be forced to watch Nari and Seiōbo die.”

A frustrated puff of air shot through Inari’s clamped teeth.  “Something has changed that I was unaware of—drastically … Anansi should have died ages ago, and he was never close to Nephesh in strength, yet now he’s at the level where I fear I might struggle without using Gong-Gong’s bead.”

“That strong?”  Jin asked in dismay.  “No, heh, you’re joking!  Anansi is a glorified, bumbling fool of a proto-human-made god.  Lunch for any Founder … I’d say Sora could eat him at this point, but you’re saying he’s equal to you?  That’s an insult to my race!”

Eyia vision fell as she muttered, “He is something different—a combination of some entity, I believe … It is a form of Dimension Reaver.”

Inari’s eyes creased upon settling on the Valkyrie.  “Hmm … It is somewhere to start my investigation.”

Jin gave her a calculated look.  “Hot take, Eyia … How would you know what a Dimension Reaver is?  That’s way out of both our understanding without my blood heritage explaining it to me.”

“My father told me stories,” she whispered, guilt flooding her connection while refusing to meet the Dragon’s gaze.

Mary cleared her throat, drawing everyone’s attention; her voice was shaky but reinforced.  “Just—to be sure, Inari … We aren’t harming the ritual, right?”

Nathan nodded, a low tone resonating in his chest.  “Yeah, we don’t want your mother’s sacrifice going to waste.”

“I’m worried, too,” Ashley swallowed, looking at Sora.  “Your grandma seems like she can take care of herself, but don’t we need to focus on bringing back her daughters—I can only imagine the hope of seeing them again is what’s keeping her strong.”

Sora puffed out along a stream of air as her aunt looked at the two glowing images of iridescent light as she channeled the rest of the nightmare through the endless cycle they’d linked to form, spinning between them.  “You’re right—still, I want to know what we can do after this … Aunt Inari?”

The woman nodded, her serious gaze flicking from Eya’s nervous twitches to her sisters.  “I’ll explain what I do know after, and in a way, yes, the emotions each of you exhibited during the ritual will affect the outcome.  It’s not as if they’ll be mutated, but the version of my sisters that will take prominence will … Hoh, dear…”

“What’s wrong?”  Emilia and Wendy cried in unison, arms tightening against their breasts.

A forced grin moved Inari’s tight features.  “Eh-heh, of course, the more troublesome side of my sisters would emerge out of this atmosphere.”

Inside the circle now stood her startled aunts as they took shape—unfortunately for her Aunt Inari, Seiōbo had four tails, looked annoyed at being surrounded by people, and wore a sour expression.

The black-furred Vulpes had white tips to her thick tails and a rather odd black outfit that showed intricate stitchwork.  She used her own white fur to decorate her boots and neck sash and gave Inari a distrustful glare.  “Ine, what’s the big idea, makin’ yourself look all high and mighty?  Humph, as if you’d skip five tails over me—you’re lame—such a bad trick.  It’s not even like you…”

Her drawn-in eyebrows furrowed further upon seeing her younger sister next to her.  “Nari?  What the … Mom!  What’s going on!  Mom!  Where are you?!”

“Mmh!”  Nari held her hands behind her back, rocking an adorable kimono-like dress that looked like she should be on a K-Pop music video.  “Well, well, well, if you two wanna play big girls, then I can add some tails, too!”  she giggled, and her single, long puffy blonde tail multiplied into five.  “I’m older than you, big sis!”

The two girls blinked, looking around after the initial hit of the situation closed in around them.

“Where are we?”  Nari asked.  “It smells like Mom’s magic, but it’s … old.  Way old,” she grumbled, spinning in a small circle.  “A lot of new faces, too … Friends of yours, wait…”

Seiōbo glared between them.  “Inari … D-Did we die?  You—how can you be so old?!  Where’s Mom?!”

Nari’s pink eyes became worried.  “Yeah, how come I’m the youngest now … I think—oh, my … Mother!  Mother, is little Mia older than me now?!”  A toothy grin split her lips as she put her fingers to her mouth.  “Am I the youngest?!”

Inari sighed, smiling as she created a platform for them to stand on; immediately, Emilia rushed over to tackle Nari.  “Great Aunt Nari!”

“Huh?  Whaa!”  Nari cried out as Emilia took her to the ground.  “Hey!  Hey!  Wait, I’m an auntie, too?  Cool!  Wait, does that mean Inari has—no … red fur,” she snickered, sliding her fingers through Emilia’s eight puffy tails.  “Mia has a daughter that had a daughter!  Goodness, I missed so much!  Explain, Ine!”

Seiōbo wasn’t taking it nearly as well as her younger sister, tight arms stiff at her side as she slowly turned; Sora could feel her using complex magic she couldn’t hope to decipher, which showed the gap between their years of education.  “No way … Mom was here, but … Why is there so much aggression and fear?  Is Mom okay?  Why do I need to even ask that, Inari?  I might fai—”

To Sora’s surprise, her aunt’s eyes actually rolled back, and she fell to the floor; Inari was quick to catch her fall.  “Oh, my troublesome little sisters,” Inari sighed.  “I know all of this information is overwhelming—rest a little.”

“No—fair,” Nari yawned as the magic pulled her mind into sleep.  “I wanted more … hugs and kisses—no one else in my family are huggers…”  she mumbled, head falling limp while being smothered by Emilia’s excitement.

Lifting Emilia and her sister up with magic, Inari scanned the silent crowd.  “Well … We have a lot to discuss.”

With that, she transported them to a large hall in the tower; Sora’s gut tightened with Kari’s upon feeling the battle between her uncles and the Primordial still raging somewhere beyond the veil.

After everything that happened, looking over at her somewhat agitated daughter, trying to struggle to use her magic to push herself through the air to latch onto Nari’s sleeping form again, put a smile on her face.

Somehow … I still feel at peace after all of that.  Grandma has a plan … Our family is one step closer to coming together, and if there’s another enemy we need to face, then we’ll beat those odds, too!

She caught Aiden’s eyes, realizing he had something to say as everyone drew in to think about the event; Kari, Wendy, and Eyia were swiftly by her side, but it was clear they had other things on their minds.

“Eh, Sora,” Aiden said, vision becoming serious.

“Mhm?”

Everyone turned to him as he took a deep breath, looking her dead in the eyes.  “I promise, I’ll bring your family back together … I owe your family everything.”


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