B4 — 41. A Happy Conclusion

POV

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

Recap

Yay!  Sora met with her mother, but this time she’ll remember!  We learned our big Vulpes Mama and Aunt are gonna go on a journey with … Wait, who … Pandora?!  Yup!  The Herald of Sakura is Pandora!  Now, it’s time to meet the Vulpes Council … that probably have their hair on fire, screaming the world is ending.  Wooh, okay … here we go!

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A weave of magic cycled around Sora and the rest of the party as Loral teleported them back to the Tower.

Ever since unlocking her father’s side, her environment felt different—unnatural, in a way.  The flow of matter and energy—the fabric of space itself—everything seemed to bend around her, yet at the same time, her mother’s side allowed a portion of that force to seep in, binding her to the plane.  She was scared to think that, without that, she’d be ejected like a virus.

Scenery changing, Sora’s focus darted to Tola, anxiously waiting in her chair around the dead and broken City Core.  Githa was on the table, curled up and fast asleep—really asleep.

A lump dropped down Tola’s throat as she slipped through space to appear before her.  “Sora—I … the powers ripping at the Realm…”

Holding up a hand, Sora floated back a little, taking to the air with a small smile.  “It’s fine, Tola!  My Aunt Inari is currently fighting the Fenris Brothers with some Primordial—it doesn’t matter.  What does…”

She directed their focus to her two sleeping aunts, Emilia holding Nari with a look that dared anyone to separate her from the cute, single-tailed fox girl.  “My aunts have returned from the dead, including my grandmother.”

A short clap sounded in the ensuing silence, and a smile brightened Sora’s lips upon seeing Mofupsi’s lush figure lazily sitting in her large throne—yet again, she had a pipe in hand and puffing on some kind of herb.  It was held at an angle while the woman tapped her palm.  “Congratulations, Master!”

I guess it isn’t a habit easily kicked, Sora mused to herself.

Phebe, the red-furred council member turned gray from the breakdown of her artifact, was the second one to rise from her chair.  “What of our lives?!  We will die within the week!”

She flinched as Niomie’s snide voice cut past her plea.  “I’m already dying, Phebe—join me in the sorrow of the end,” she grunted with a baleful leer, holding up a discolored bottle of some liquid; half a dozen more were already empty on the table before her.  “It’s what we deserve—hicc … Isn’t that—that right, Sora?”  she mumbled, releasing a form of spiritual drunkenness that made Sora want to throw up.

Mofupsi smirked, directing the edge of her pipe to the depressed woman.  “As you can see, our former Loral hasn’t taken to the news that well.  Hallaway has disappeared entirely—I couldn’t tell you where the frantic Vulpes has gone.”

“Hmm…”  Ella brought around her long tails while examining her tiny body; the violet colors had drained away to black.  “I can’t say I’m entirely thrilled at the prospect of my death … There are so many avenues of knowledge that have opened up before me.”

Ella’s head tilted to the left as the rest of Sora’s group watched or pondered their own thoughts.  “You seem to be taking the news quite well, Bethel.”

The former Orange Seat had her feet on the liquid-like table, orange furred tails swaying above her.  “I didn’t have much to live for to begin with … I’m not all that interested in books or power.  Maybe it’s a bit sad, but I actually enjoyed our little meetings.  I loved to listen to the soft undertone of the incessant bickering you all took part in.  I had my fun while it lasted.”

Niomie snorted.  “Of course you’d be like that—you never had any ambition, yet you had the raw talent to make it to the top of your District.  Disgusting…”

The negative energy she put off seemed to stir something in Fen—there was a repugnance in her face Sora didn’t quite grasp.  Niomie and Fen were similar in many ways, yet she appeared to be reflecting on something—memories and experiences the real Loral had given her.

Mofupsi snickered, putting the pipe back between her lips to inhale and release a soft puff of sparkling, magical smoke.  “I wonder how things would have turned out if Bethel had been the one to live over five-hundred thousand years.”

“Don’t put that evil on me!”  she giggled in return.  “I’m more than happy having so many stimulating conversations among the Vulpes in my own district.  What are your thoughts, Tola?”

Tola’s vision drifted down to her gray fur, tails sagging a little.  “I wish … No, I will spend the rest of my time trying to fix what Niomie has ruined.”  The bitter Vulpes gave a sharp laugh at the comment, but everyone ignored her.  Her focus darted to Sora, followed by Loral’s serene presence.  “What about you?”

Loral’s crossed arms shifted a little under her bust, glancing toward the wall to Sora’s back.  “I suspect many of you would be shocked … I’m dying, but not in the same way you are.  This form I’ve taken could only last a short time.  Although, I believe Lady Inari has other plans for me.”

“Of course she does,” Niomie grunted, taking a sour gulp of a new bottle she brought to her side.  Sora realized she was wasting the spiritual life force she had left using such complicated magic.  “Always an opportunity for the talented.”

Wendy glowered at the woman who made herself god over the Vulpes Realm.  “More like an opportunity for the loyal … You only serve yourself.”

A tremor ran down Jian and Fen’s frames as they watched the human and nine-tailed Vulpes glare at each other.  There was an unusual realization and change happening in the tart Húli-Jīng.

Sora’s gaze drifted to her daughter, tucking her lip under as the Vulpes bounced off each other; she wasn’t interested enough to search deeper into Fen’s emotional state—there were better ways to spend her brain power.

I can turn them into a follower of me, but how will that translate to everything else?  I definitely want to make Mofupsi one of my Myōbu … I need a cooler name, though.  Wait, didn’t … Right, Tenko … Celestial Fox.  Emilia was kind of that as she was developing into my daughter, but I’m pretty sure she’s moved past that stage—she’s basically a Founder herself now.

Her focus went to Tola as she listened to the various former Council Members.  Mofupsi and Tola, definitely.  Although, I don’t want to stretch myself too thin.  I’m new to this stuff and what it might do … Mofupsi first.

Sora grimaced while fixating on the orange-furred Vulpes’s slender neck, tracing the Null-Void collar she’d placed around her delicate skin.  In a way, it was pretty much indestructible; for anything from this world to destroy it, there would need to be a collision of force strong enough to overpower the powerful substance within.

I have a fox slave … A willing fox slave … wouldn’t want people to get the wrong idea.  Still, I can totally tell Kari’s going to tease me about it.  Who else?  Jin, definitely…

Her thoughts were pulled away as her glowing silver irises shifted to the Dragon; her muscles were tight, and the unease leaking out of her spiritual network was worse than she’d ever sensed it.  What did Mom say to her?

Clearing her throat to gain everyone’s attention, Sora floated forward, keeping the red dress appropriately placed to remain decent.  “Alright, let’s get everyone to focus—everyone take a seat … Loral,” she prompted, sitting on one of the fallen rings that used to float around the City Core as the gathering complied.

Loral slipped through space to float in front of her, a small smirk on her cunning lips.  “As you suspect, your aunt has given me some guidelines and instructions as to how we are to proceed.  It is really quite open, to be honest, but certain things need to be addressed.”

Niomie rolled her eyes, leaning back to sneer up at them.  “Well, aren’t you Ruler of the Universe now … Heh, how does it feel to be back in control?”

“Me?”  Loral chuckled, giving Niomie a pitiful leer.  “My darling little fool, how could you have ever built such a tall tower of hubris without seeing the folly?  A conundrum.  In any case,” she mused, directing her hand to the wall, “you haven’t noticed while drowning in your bottle, there is a purifying force blanketing the planet.”

Tola blinked, looking up at the ceiling.  “Now … that to mention it.  Yes … Lady Inari’s battle stole my attention.”

Ella leaned forward, gray irises sparkling.  “Ho—how fascinating.  I have never felt something so … wholesome and pure.”

Mary wore a reminiscent smile.  “Qebhet, I assume.”

“Indeed,” Loral replied, snapping her fingers to display a three-dimensional image of the small snake girl.

Sora wanted to laugh at how adorable the colossal serpent’s transformation was—you could never guess how terrifying she could actually look as a little eight-year-old girl with long, light-blue hair done up in a Japanese-style bun.  Her bright ocean green reptilian eyes and a soft complexion had the look of tranquility itself, and the white streak running through a single lock showed her connection to Inari.

The girl’s elegantly designed blue dress was as radiant as ever, flowing around her petite figure while she flew through the heavens.  She grinned, giving them a wave, “I will be there shortly, Loral.”

“I look forward to it,” Loral said, and the image turned to water upon snapping her finger again, sinking into the table.

Sora didn’t miss her daughter’s jaw drop open upon seeing the lovable little girl and knew the deceptively young Vulpes wanted to add her to the cute little collection of friends and family members she was gathering in her embrace.  “So, Qebhet is going to rebuild this Realm?”

Githa released a soft purr while stretching out, soon reverting back to her teenage form to plop onto the table, staring up at Sora.  “Hmm?  Oh, Sora!  Is that how it all went, huh?  Cool.”  A slight smirk lifted the left corner of her mouth, showing feline fangs.  “As to Qebhet, naa—the girl can’t rebuild somethin’ like this—cleanse, though, absolutely!”

Jin grunted, sounding somewhat agitated.  “Shouldn’t you scamper along before she shows up?”

The cat’s two long puffy tails stiffened, ears going on alert.  “Oh!  Uh … Yeah, I don’t do well around purifying beings.  Later!”

Sora sighed as the snickering cat waved goodbye, vanishing in green flames; really, she’d moved through space more forcefully than Tola and Loral.  “I feel bad for Nilly, but the Nekomata Faction still kind of gives me the creeps.”

Kari threw her hands behind her head, resting them against the back as she balanced her chair on two legs, feet against the rim of the table.  “Yeah—what’s all this stuff about feeling bad for Nilly, though?”

Deciding it was time to explain everything, Sora straightened, rubbing a small circle around her chakram to ease a bit of tension she was feeling—the tiny pulses the rings released reduced a little on contact.  “Okay—Loral, how long will Qebhet be?”

“Mmh…”  she glanced down at the table, tone ponderous.  “She first needed to perform a preliminary measure to buy time for a more thorough purification.  Likely by the time you explain everything, she will have completed her task.”

Sora nodded, glancing around at the faces staring up at her.  “In that case, Ashley, do you want me to bring Brandon, Cedric, and Josie here to hear the future plans once the heavy stuff is done?”

The blonde gave her a thankful look.  “That would be wonderful—I suppose we will be parting ways soon.  I can’t tell you how much your kindness has meant to me.”

“Really,” Nathan jumped in, turning to face Aiden by his side, “I can say for a fact that you’ve ignited something in me I haven’t felt in a long time … Hope.”

Aiden’s grin became strained while rubbing his left arm.  “You sure, Nathan?  I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all the talks we had.  I … I guess I could say you’ve inspired me to be better—I don’t know, I kind of aspire to be like you.”

“Woah!”  holding up his hands, he laughed with Wendy, Sora, Kari, Ashley, and Mary.  “Bro, seriously, don’t aim so low!  I’m far from perfect, and you’ve got a real gift to give the world—eh, all the dimensional stuff and crap, too, heh … Yeah, just everyone.  I know you’re walking down the right path, and if ya start stumbling off of it, you’ve got friends to help you back on it,” he smiled, looking up at Sora, who gave him a nod.

Mary blew out a long puff of air.  “Yeah, I know we’re not really saying our goodbyes quite yet,” she laughed, “but thank you for taking pity on us, Sora—”

She cut off, throat constricting and face heating up; Sora felt her own emotions flaring.  “You could have just killed us as we rampaged through that base—mindless … cursed … helpless, but—but you saw hope in turning us back—you gave us back our lives.”

Ashley and Nathan coughed, choking up as her words struck their chests.

Ahem—yeah,” Ashley whispered, “you gave me back my f-family—a second chance to be a better mother for my children and wife to my husband.  If all you saw were crazed werewolves, my kids wouldn’t have their mom today—they’d be having a memorial service for me … I can’t thank you enough.”

Kari chuckled, pulling everyone’s gaze as she stared up at her.  “Are we doing the whole emotional thing now?  Okay—Sora, you helped me to see I wasn’t a lost cause.”  Her smug cadence didn’t last long, and Sora could tell she was trying to hold back the quivers in her throat while fighting the tears.

“You gave me time back with my mother—helped me to understand my stupid family, and heh, how totally messed up we all are!  That…”  She swallowed, clearing her throat, “that my life has meaning and that you were willing to forgive me—even when I couldn’t forgive myself.”

Wendy broke in next, giving her a beaming smile.  “I can see the look on your face, Sora—don’t hide it!”

“W-What?”  Sora asked, tucking in her bottom lip to stop it from trembling.

“You don’t want to take credit for all of that, but we’re not gonna let you brush that aside!  I was a coward—probably still am,” she muttered, voice falling a few octaves before strengthening again, and for a moment, Sora worried she’d say something that could set Eyia off, but Wendy kept it vague.

“I let myself be bullied into turning against my best friend—someone who’d stuck up for me all through elementary school and brought me into her life—you let me into your wonderful life.  Yes, I know,” she growled, “my stupid mother, if you could call her that, felt inferior and envious of the lifestyle you had … She let that get between us; it wasn’t you.”

Drawing in a shuddering breath, she shook her head, turning to glare at Niomie, who looked like she’d contracted an illness.  “After everything—everything I did to push you away, you let me back in—and even took me in—asked me to be your sister.  I can’t think of a better person—really!”

Sora forced a laugh; she’d expected to use this time explaining everything that had happened and get everyone on the same page, but it seemed people had a weight to get off their chest.

Pulling around her low ponytail, Sora fiddled with the end.  “I’m not a saint, guys—I’ve got my dark side, too.”

Kari gripped her stomach as laughter echoed around the room.  “Are you kidding me, Sora?  Dark side … I mean, sure, we all know you do, but what’s the darkest thing you’ve done—go through the Yellow District Trial while forcing yourself to only save most of the Vulpes?”

A short huff blew through Jin’s nose.  “For real—for a Vulpes, you’re not very evil, and … gah, why aren’t you all evil.  It’s annoying … Life should be simpler.  Eyia—what’s up with you?”

Eyia flinched, eyes zoned out across the conversation.  “Hmm?  No, I—I do not understand your reasoning, Jin … Is it not you that speaks in gray?”

Sora realized some of the translation abilities of the Realm had been damaged, causing some slight distinction to how things used to be.

Jin leaned against the side of her chair, shaking her head.  “I was wrong—you were right.  We should just burn Existence down because nothing makes sense anymore.  Just bury me in a grave and forget about me…”

“I … cannot,” Eyia whispered, eyes welling up with emotion Sora didn’t understand.  “Jin, you are—I have so few friends—people I can rely on.  I cannot lose you as I feel I have lost my sister…”

“Hey,” Wendy whispered, getting up to walk over and hold the shivering Valkyrie.  “Eyia, what’s going on?  Jin’s joking—she’s just mad.”

Vision swimming with confusion, Eyia hiccuped, hugging herself; a small flurry of arctic wind forced Wendy to stop.  “Oh—I see … I am just out of touch.  I shall remove myself to rebuild my—”

Before Sora could go down to comfort her, a raven feathered cloak surrounded Eyia, and she vanished—there wasn’t a slipstream of shifted space, but a complete disappearance.  “Eyia?!”

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Loral released a soft hum as everyone looked around.  “She has locked herself in a 5th Dimensional seal … I was unaware that she had such power.”

Jin popped her tongue against the roof of her mouth.  “Perfect.  Well, I’ve seen things I never thought I would.  Geez, Sora—heh, aren’t we kind of a mess.  I’ll go talk with her—at least I can pound on it like a window and see if she wants to talk.”

Relief touched Sora’s heart.  “That—would make me feel a lot better … I don’t know why she’s so obsessed about, well—whatever she did to break the City Core.  It’s like she’s literally stabbed me in the heart or something.”

“To her,” Jin grumbled, “I can see why she thinks she did.  Eyia’s obsessed with perfection, and the fact the girl couldn’t see this coming, nor sense it in ‘the strings of fate,’” she rolled her eyes, doing air quotes, “means she’s basically failed.”

Jin vanished the same way, but to Sora, it didn’t seem like that was entirely Eyia’s problem.  It wasn’t about her failing but the damage she’d seemingly done to her, and still, she didn’t know why she felt that way.

Glancing to Kari, the Fenris Wolf returned a shrug.

Wendy’s shoulders slumped.  “Man, how can we help her?”

“Why don’t you break her City Core and kill her,” Niomie murmured.

Sora sent a chakram to evaporate her bottles beyond repair; the woman cried out, holding one close to her breast while ducking under the table as the Null-Void laser zeroed in on its target.  “You can shut up now, Niomie.”

“Thank you!”  Kari grunted, several others mirroring the sentiment.

A small squeak of a voice brought Sora’s furrowed eyebrows to Phebe.  “Eh—excuse me, Lady Founder Sora, umm—might there be a way I can live on?”

Mofupsi giggled, staring at her fluffy tails as they played with one another.  “Why—to make up for the hundreds of thousands of years you’ve already wasted?”

Wendy pointed at her.  “What she said!”

“Mmh,” Nathan gave a reasonable nod, mirroring Ashley and Mary.  “Not wrong.  I can’t imagine how you spent that time … the things you did to little boys, men, and the torture you heaped on women.  To be honest, I think you three should follow Eric’s example and get the Hell treatment.”

“No,” Phebe whispered, tears gathering in her eyes.  “No, I just—I did what I was told.  I didn’t know any better…”

Loral clicked her tongue.  “Not so fast, Phebe … You had plenty of time to ponder the decisions Niomie made and decided to live as number two was preferable to upsetting the order.  You enabled her actions, which halted Hallaway’s ability to take action.  Although, I can’t say she was any better—perhaps worse.”

“No … Please, I want to live,” the desperate Vulpes begged.

Releasing a short puff of air, Sora motioned to Loral.  “Can you send my aunts and daughter to the beds we used?  I’m sure she’d like to get away from all this talk and just snuggle next to Nari and Seiōbo.”

“Thanks, Mom!”  Emilia chimed, rubbing her cheek against Nari’s golden ears.  “She’s so warm and cuddly; I can’t wait until we can be friends!  Can I be friends with my aunts?”  she suddenly questioned in wonder, “or is that called something—”

Loral whisked her away to sleep; Sora needed her at peak mental fortitude if she was going to perform the tasks she wanted.

“Right,” Sora growled, shifting to stare at the vulnerable Vulpes.  “Look, Phebe, I don’t know you, and to be honest, I don’t really care for you.  What reason have you given me to give a damn?”

She blanched.  “No—No, I can be useful!  Just—ask me—no, tell me what you want!  Please!”

Everyone’s attention was taken by the small snake girl that popped into existence in front of Sora, wearing a serene smile.  “I have a solution, Sora.”

A happy note chimed in Mary’s voice as she whispered, “Qebhet, as cute as ever!”

“Thank you, Mary!”  she returned.  “Lady Inari has answered your prayers.  Rick is currently adjusting to his time spent in one of the sanctuaries I oversee on my Lady’s behalf.  Once we have concluded our business here, you and Zeri will join him.”

Hands covering her mouth and nose, Mary breathed out a sound between laughter and tears.  “My husband?!  Thank you, Inari—I … I can’t wait to feel his touch again.  And—heh, allowing us to raise Zeri—to guide him about this new world with Inari’s aids … I couldn’t have asked for more!”

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Sora gave her a compassionate smile, happy to see the woman finally reap the reward her aunt had promised her former psychiatrist; if it wasn’t for Mary, she wouldn’t be who she was today.

“That’s not everything,” Qebhet giggled.  “My Lady knows you both enjoy science, so in addition, she has assigned a Kitsune to begin your education and Core release training in order to understand this universe in a more personal way than you can imagine.”

“Congratulations,” Ashley chuckled, getting up to hug the woman, and Nathan did the same.

Sora wasn’t satisfied there, though; she had to learn about the others; Phebe’s tight shoulders soon fell into depression as they moved on.  “What about Nathan and Ashley?”

Nathan held up his hands, forcing a grin.  “Eh, well—to be honest, I’ve kind of gotten closer to Alice recently.  You know, the woman that took care of the house we used?”

“Of course I know her,” Sora mused, lips curving into a cat-like smile upon remembering her aunt’s promise to his adopted mother.  “The hard-working and diligent girl that wanted to travel a bit, huh?”

He gave a short shrug.  “Eh, yeah, umm, heh, you see, she wanted to learn a bit more about what it’s like beyond this Realm, and I kind of offered to show her around Earth a bit.  Inari promised to hook me up with some Core training, too—you know, in case I need to protect myself—or others…”

“Oh?”  Ashley smirked, nudging his side.  “Isn’t she like over a hundred years old?”

“H-Hey, it’s—it’s not like that,” Nathan mumbled, glancing away as his blush deepened.  “She asked me, so … ya know, I couldn’t turn her down.  I was planning on just living here, but … yeah.”

“A damsel came tugging on your shirt, looking up at you with her big pink eyes, huh?  I see you!”  Wendy cooed.

They laughed at Nathan’s shy blustering as he tried to brush their teasing remarks off.

“I’m happy for you,” Sora grinned, catching Aiden’s soft smile, but Nathan’s next comment put everyone’s eyes on the shocked Firebird.

“Eh—I mean, c’mon, Liz wants to go with Aiden; I’m not alone here on the tour business!”

Aiden’s amber eyes widened in shock.  “Huh?  N-No, she was just joking—we were all just having a good time.”

“Ah, I don’t think so, dude,” Nathan muttered, giving him a thumbs up.  “I’m pretty sure she’s into you—she wouldn’t take her eyes off you, and I saw that tail wag.”

“Ooh, the tail wag,” Wendy nodded matter of factly.  “Dead give away for fox girls; Sora can confirm.”

“I can what, Wendy?”  Sora asked, cheeks darkening.

Wendy lifted an eyebrow.  “Am I wrong?”

Kari shrugged.  “Not wrong as far as I know—kind of par for the course when it comes to tail-based Founders.”

“Don’t encourage her,” Aiden mumbled, sinking lower in his seat.  “She’s nice—well, kind of blunt and can make some … unusual jokes that can be a bit awkward, but if I’m going with Sora, then—I mean…”

Wendy shot an encouraging fist into the air.  “It’s perfect!  You gotta get stronger to protect the girl!  Isn’t it romantic?”

“Yeah, c’mon, Aiden,” Sora said, jumping on the bandwagon and glad they weren’t forcing her into tail-wagging love talk that centered on herself.  “Didn’t you say you wanted to get stronger?”

“I didn’t say I wanted a girlfriend!”  Aiden muttered.

Nathan hissed out a long sigh, giving him a fatherly nod.  “Aiden, my man—sometimes, ya just don’t get a choice in the matter.  If ya could change your fate, am I right?”  He clapped his hands, looking around at the others as they chuckled at the joke.

Aiden’s hand came up to his face.  “Ugh—that hurt, man.  For real, let’s get serious here.”

Qebhet giggled.  “Indeed, though this has been enjoyable after such a global catastrophe.”

Turning back to the small snake girl and pointing at Fen, Sora said, “Right—but I’d rather start with this devilish vixen than what you have to say about these two losers.”

 Everyone’s grimace followed Niomie’s drunken movements across the room as she hissed and snarled, trying to use her own body to block Sora’s pursuing chakram from zapping the bottle from existence—she was clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place since using her magic would further sap her life force.  Sora wondered if she’d eventually break down and consider the last few sips worth dying faster.

Fen and Jian’s focus seemed to snap back as they were mentioned, glancing up at her; in a strange twist of fate, Sora could see vulnerability she’d never seen in the woman.  “Huh?  Oh, umm—yeah, I’m … I’m sorry, Sora.  I’ve had some time to ponder the actions I took, and … I know I’m not the best person.”

“What’s up with her?”  Kari asked, examining her creased eyes and trembling hands against her breast.

Wendy hummed, eyebrows coming together.  “It looks like she’s seen a ghost or something.”

Loral floated down to stand before Fen.  “What have you learned from exploring your own soul, Fen—to meet yourself?”

A tremor ran through her bones, and Jian gave her a hurt look.  “I thought—I saw Bathin in the mirror—Niomie reflect back at me … something ugly and pitiful…”

Her frightened eyes moved to the former leader of the Vuples Council, snarling and gnashing her teeth at the ring continued to pester her.  “There was a warning—a path to see myself clearer.”

Regret was frozen in her gaze.  “I started a fire—I’ve made you bleed, and I’m sorry—but this blood on my hands,” she muttered, looking down at her quaking fingers, “it scares me to death … the lives I’ve ruined.”

Coughing, her throat constricted.  “I’ll be good—I promise … I’ll be good.”

“Fen…”  Jian whispered, reaching out a hand, but she pulled away.

“No—Jian … I’m sorry, Sora…”

Vision falling to the jittery woman, Sora’s expression turned somber while lowering to the table before her, standing beside Loral.  “What’s brought this on, Fen?”  It felt sincere.

Fen’s fingers slid to her tight shoulders, refusing to make eye contact while staring at Jian’s feet underneath the table.  “My past was bitter—so bitter—so many decades … hunted, used, and discarded by other Húli-Jīng … My sisters.  I see them when I close my eyes—the iron fists they wielded over me … used Jian because I was too weak to stand up to them.”

A hollow smile lifted her traumatized face.  “Grace is just weakness—or so my sisters told me … I’ve been cold … merciless because if I faltered even a little—I’d be weak again … Under their thumb again—the least talented and ugliest sister…”

“Mmh,” Qebhet joined them, “Vulpes litters within a hostile environment can often be very competitive and negative if a child gets a taste for the flavor, spoiling her sisters in the process.”

Fen tongue slid out while tucking her lips under.  “Loral and Inari have helped me to—to see what I could have become … It terrifies me.”

“What are you going to do?”  Wendy asked, hugging herself as the atmosphere chilled.

Kari shifted her posture, adjusting her skirt a bit.  “She’s going to return home and confront her sisters … She’s going to try to start over.”

A slight rise curved the edges of Fen’s mouth.  “I’ll be good, Sora … for all of this light you’ve shed upon me, and I’ve shut out … the innocent things around me I question … for all the things that I’ve done throughout my life, and the perfect things I doubt.”

The hurt in Fen’s eyes as they rose to meet Sora’s was familiar.  “I swear, Sora.  I’ll be better … I’ll be good.  If I want to be worthy of what I want, I need to reignite the sparks I’ve stomped out.  So…”

Fen shakily got to her feet, and to everyone’s surprise, bowed, Jian following her actions.  “Thank you, Sora … Thank you for being an example I can look to.”

“Fen…”  Sora whispered.  “I’m not perfect.”

A short giggle slid through her throat as Fen pulled back her hair to look at her, and there was a new strength in her eyes—small but building.  “That’s the thing I admire about you.  You aren’t perfect, and you don’t pretend to be.  Still, you strive to bring people together to give you the strength to push on … Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure…”  Sora muttered, feeling a shiver run through her chakram.

“If I can do it—walk this path and become a better person … When—no, if we meet again, can I join your group—like Inari’s Kitsune?”

A soft sigh pushed out of Sora’s lungs, and the ensuing silence pressed in around them, only broken by Niomie’s mumbles, hugging the bottle while curling into a ball in a corner.  Returning to the woman’s sad smile, Sora slowly shook her head.  “I can’t promise you that, Fen.  We’ll cross that road when we meet again.”

“Heh-he, I see,” Fen chuckled, a tear falling down her cheek, but there was a brightening star in her gaze.  “Thank you, Sora.”

Turning to Loral, she took a deep breath and let it out in a slow stream.  “Can you send Jian and me outside of the city, please?”

“Not outside the Red Gate?”  Wendy asked, glancing between them.

The unusual torment and hope for redemption in Fen’s eyes drew Sora in.  “No … No, we have a lot to think about and good things we can do on our way back to Earth.”

Sora studied the woman before nodding.  “Hmm … Good luck, Fen.  I hope you find what you’re looking for by the time we meet again.”

“Me, too,” Fen whispered, departing with a smile, and in a shimmering of light, Loral sent them away.

No one spoke as they pondered the departure, and Sora couldn’t help but find her heart yearning for Fen’s success.

“Humph…”  Everyone focused on her as she looked up at her grandmother’s statue.  “It’s a little surreal how much your emotions can change toward a person … Hmm.”

Shifting to stare at Phebe, Sora’s expression pacified as the woman gave her a crazed smile.  “Y-Yeah!  I’ll be good, too, Sora!  Give me a second chance!  I’ll show you I can make up for … for all the stuff I did!”

“Like?”  Kari asked, her tone ice.  “Go on, tell us.”

She opened her mouth, yet no words came out, vision shifting between the various Council Members.  “I … Uh … What?”

Sora crossed her arms, glaring at Phebe; her request and performance were practically spitting on Fen’s determination to better herself and heal from her past.

A hint of anger touched Mary’s voice.  “What wrongs have you done … Who have you hurt, and how are you going to make that right?”

“I … I don’t know—No, it … it really was Niomie!  I don’t know … What do you want me to say?!”  She dropped to her knees, prostrating herself on the table.  “Please, tell me what to say!”

Disgust rolled around Sora’s gut, the tiny liquid-like inner-state of her Null-Void chakram body quivering with indignation.  “What were you going to suggest, Qebhet … because I want to leave them to rot in their own waste.”

“Understandable,” Qebhet sighed, watching Phebe almost faint at her response.  “I was thinking about servitude—the number of years they took to be repaid.  I will oversee it.”

Kari smirked.  “And at the end of the—oh, what would it be … seven-hundred thousand year sentence?”

“The release of entering the life cycle once again,” Qebhet chimed, displaying a bright smile.

Wendy nodded, dropping back into her seat.  “So, death, huh.  Seems reasonable.”

“W-What?”  Niomie and Phebe gasped, sinking to the floor in shock.

Qebhet floated a little higher, hands held at her front.  “Mhm!  I won’t allow the two of you to pass on until you’ve paid the debt demanded by the souls you have tarnished.  All will be brought back into the life cycle within the Realm under my stewardship, and you will have the opportunity to correct the harms done to them.”

A hint of sadness touched her delicate features.  “Unfortunately, not all of them survived.  Recompense must be made.  What do you think, Sora?”

Seeing the trembles that passed through the two Vulpes’ frames at the terrifying prospect of indentured servitude, Sora gave them a thumbs up.  “Good luck, Phebe, Niomie.  I suppose I’ll check back in from time to time, given I’m immortal and all,” she chuckled.  “I look forward to seeing the kind of work you do to improve the lives you’ve cut short.”

“You can’t do that to…”

Loral snapped her fingers, wearing an entertained expression.  “I applaud your sentence.  As for me, Qebhet?”

The snake girl held up her hand, causing a ball of liquid to form around the thoughtful Vulpes’s form; the pristine water hazed black and purple, washing away the impurities and restoring the missing pieces of Loral’s spiritual organs, resurrecting her to a perfect state.

When it left, the body Loral had taken separated, showing the Intelligentless woman she’d used as a host, and beside it, the woman’s naked, perfect figure.

“My … I do not deserve this treatment,” Loral whispered, shimmering lights surrounding her frame to create a new dress.  “Still, I am thankful to Lady Inari.”

“Work hard!”  Qebhet returned, showing her child-like charm.  “Now, why don’t you all rest a little,” she said, turning to Sora.

Face tightening, Sora’s gaze shifted to Kari.  “What about my aunt and the Fenris Brothers?  They’re still going at it.”

The girl’s bun bobbed up and down with her head.  “Mhm!  Mhm!  They’re very persistent, but no need to worry; Lady Inari will not allow them to harm her mother’s Realm further, and by the time you awake, she will have restored the City Core and defensive measures of the Realm to their original state.”

She turned to Tola, Ella, and Bethel in turn.  “As to the three of you, the functions of steward will be placed on your shoulders again, yet it will be under new management.  Me!”

Bethel shrugged.  “Sure, sounds like it’ll be a blast.  Ella?”

“Mmh!  I cannot wait to sink my teeth into the more advanced literature Niomie hid from me, and a teaching method seemed to be in place before the fall.  Will that resume?”

“Indeed, it shall!”  Qebhet answered.  “Your answer, Tola?”

Tola was already in tears, yet she gracefully bowed her head.  “I cannot wait to set things right and serve those that I failed to protect.  Although … what is to happen to Mofupsi?”

Sora jumped in as the shapely Vulpes crossed her legs the opposite way, having worn an amused smile the entire time while observing and puffing on her pipe.  “I’m going to be taking your troublesome Yellow Seat with me—as my willing slave,” she sighed.

“I am but your humble servant,” the woman happily returned, gently lowering her head for a moment.  “Treat me however you wish—oh, but I wonder how your tastes differ compared to mine,” she giggled, a long sleeve covering her lips.

“Yeah … We’ll see,” Sora grumbled, watching Kari, Ashley, Mary, Nathan, Wendy, and even Aiden give her an interested smile, each with their own deviant thoughts, she was sure.  “All that aside … Eyia and Jin haven’t returned.”

The mood turned somber again, but Qebhet eased her worries.  “You need not worry, Sora; rest, and you may speak to her when you awake.  Allow her time to come to terms with the faults she has found—they will need to be tackled one at a time.  Be patient with her.”

“Right,” Sora breathed, brushing her flaming hair back.  It seems I’ve been told that a lot recently … Seiōbo, Nari, Eyia, Jin … myself … just be patient and take it slow.

Warmth filled Sora’s breast while thinking about all the good that had come to the conclusion of this phase in her life.  She was growing with friends and family that loved her—what more could she ask for?

Loral sent them to various rooms to retain privacy now that safety was assured, and Sora found extreme pleasure in cuddling between her Aunt Seiōbo and daughter, placing a subconscious limiter on her Null-Void to act in a non-lethal form.  Nari was on the opposite side, nestled against Emilia’s bosom as joyful hums rumbled in both of their throats.

Naturally, not Sora’s idea in the least, Mofupsi decided to curl up at the foot of her bed in full fox form, resting at their feet like some guardian deity.  Kari and Wendy took opposite sides of the bed, keeping a moderate distance on their own volition—not that Sora minded having more snuggle buddies.

Sora let herself fall into a hibernation-like state, a small barrier around her chakram to act as a cushy barrier if someone pushed against it.  Almost an afterthought, she released her chakram chasing Niomie, still in pursuit of the woman across the halls of the Tower.

Thank you for all the love you’ve showered upon me, Mom … Aunt Inari.  I love you…


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