B5 — 37. Week 9; From Dream To Nightmare

PoV:

1. Sora Moore (Our Null-Void MC Foxy Birthday Girl!)

2. Kari (Our Fenris Wolf!)

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A low hum rumbled in Sora’s throat as she sat back and crossed her legs in the simple chair she’d created just to taunt Rosa, who sat on her extravagant throne; she had to admit, it was nice being in charge.

Kari had a beaming grin, but Sora couldn’t sense an ounce of boasting or smugness from the Fenris Wolf as she released a long breath and shook her Shadow’s fuming hand.

Sora lazily stretched out her arms and smiled expectantly as Kari and Rika sat; the Shadows kept a decent distance from one another after the loss.

Alva repositioned between them, listening with a content expression and looking between them as Sora started the post-game conversation.

“I had a surprising amount of fun, so… Rika,” Kari expectantly chimed.

The monochromic reflection sighed, nibbling on her lower lip before seeming to accept her loss while looking at her original’s tapping, energetic knee.  “You want our father’s powers, right?”

Kari’s head bobbed up and down.  “Mhm!  By the way, I had a blast; we’ll have to play more sometime—straight contest, no powers—I’d like to get to know my darker half more.”

“Really?”  Rika sat back with a huff.  “Well, if you want to chill more, I could do that… I guess.”

Rosa rolled her eyes.  “What are you, a tsundere?”

“Shut up.”

“Not a no!  Hehe.”

Sora snapped her fingers, attracting the tight-lipped mirror’s gaze.  “I kind of liked drawing from more of you, too; I forgot how fun and inventive my Vulpes side could be.”

“Mmh…”  A sly smirk lifted the left corner of her lips as Rosa shrugged and looked away.  “I mean, I won’t say it didn’t feel good to be tugged on—meh, for a moment.”

“Aww,” Sora cooed, giving her a toothy grin.  “You just want to be hugged, huh?”

Her Shadow opened her arms with a feigned desperate, big-eyed plea, playing into it.  “Hug me and stroke my tail; we’d love a good head pat, wouldn’t we?  Maybe hold my hand, so I don’t feel so lonely in the dark?”

“Hehe.  Funny!  I think I may stroke your tail, or give it a good tug, more often, seeing as I’ll be trying to balance myself out more—well, heh, as our Balance.”

Rosa snickered.  “Finally taking your job seriously, rather than just winging it?  I’d love more of a say.”

“See… you say that, but… we both know the more layers I strip, the closer to total chaos you become.”

“Wonderful!”  she chirped.  “The more layers you take in, the more that isn’t being stomped down by your boot—which includes the majority of who I currently am—will be free from the other chaotic messes inside us.”

Kari lifted an eyebrow as her Shadow relinquished her hold over her new abilities, darkness frothing off her frame while playing with the gooey substance.  “Huh.  I never thought of it like that… I guess it’s like being put on the team.  Cool.”

Sora hadn’t put it in that light either; ultimately, they—as their Balance—were the coach, picking who would be drafted into this season’s lineup and who’d be able to take center court.

There was the structured existence to their Persona and the ever-molding enigma they hid under layers of masks.  Calling on her Shadow gave those aspects of herself a shape and name, providing it form.

When looked at in that perspective, her Shadow wasn’t so scary, other than the deep, deep down, self-destructive parts that may have already been given form; it suddenly struck Sora what Kari had done in releasing her Shadow.

“Our… Persona is the Shadows we’ve given names and purpose… that we’ve hired on to build the city.”

“Ding-ding-ding!”  Rosa giggled.  “Took you long enough to get that; I’m just an amalgamation and mask you’ve given temporary form to identify the majority within darkness!  The rare parts of you that are allowed guests in the city—able to look around before being kicked to the chaotic abyss again!”

Kari hummed, glancing up at Rika as the girl silently examined the upper level of their actionable plane of Existence, a place of rulership—their Core—the workshop where they subconsciously gave masks to the nameless shapes they’d provided a mold.

“There are those that sneak into the city, though, right?”

“Heh, really?”  Rika chuckled.  “No.  We are totally chained—mmh, well, there is some leniency I was given when you released us since I’m the majority left after the rampage sent all those destroyed layers back into the shadows.”

It made sense; she was capable of all the same things as before, but their forms were shattered to be remolded into something else, which was how Kari had become who she was now.

Sora got up and stretched left and right, snickering a little.  “I’ve learned a lot from this…  I don’t even really need your permission to do anything.”

Rosa shot a forced, sarcastic grin at her.  “Ever the humble one, Balance; I can see that wicked mask from here.”

“Mhm,” Sora mused, “and I kicked out my self-sacrificing, timid Persona, casting her back into you to be reformed into something else.  Huh…  This has really been interesting.  You’re everything I’ve rejected but also my greatest source of ingenuity and unpredictability.  Fun!”

“Don’t be a stranger!”  Rosa waved.  “You’ve given me a complete Persona for when we meet; careful of pricking your fingers when pulling me up!”

Sora laughed and formed an elevator around the monochromatic reflection to carry her back into the abyss; she now understood what her mother meant by weeding her Shadow.

What she really meant was for her to grasp the duality of the two halves and how they operated—the advanced stage of becoming self-aware—what her aunt was preparing all of them for in their first discussion on the topic.

Next, they needed to patrol the city metropolis framework of their Persona—the countless masks and workmen that maintained or disrupted the structure—the negative parts, habits, or addictions they’d given a face to be killers and disruptors.

Sora giggled as Kari saw off Rika, performing some kind of complex hand gesture; somehow, the wolf Shadow had totally dropped her haughty attitude to enter the abyss.

“Later, fool!”

“Humph-hehe… experimenting by throwing back some chill into the void?”  Rika asked, smirking at Kari.

Kari gave her a half-smile and mocking salute.  “Fun time in hell!”

As she lowered into the abyss, Kari’s cocky smirk fell while flexing her fingers. “Interesting.  I didn’t think it could be this easy.”

Sora smirked and summoned a basketball, tossing it to her to take turns shooting as they talked; the night was long, even longer in their resonating Cores, giving them plenty of time to spend time with each other, and she threw on a relaxing song to play softly in the background.

“Want to shoot and talk?”

“You do need to practice,” Kari laughed, bouncing the ball back to her.

“Ouch!  Hehe.  True.  I’m, heh, not the best at judging my strength to make an accurate throw.”

Directing a chakram to return the ball when needed, she absently gave the copy instructions to intercept the ball once it went through the hoop or missed and positioned another to shoot it back into their hands—passive training.

Kari folded her arms, watching her take a few shots with her mother acting as mothers do and internalizing the memory.  “Feeling better about my Shadow now?”

“Mmh… yes and no.  One shot—shoot—it doesn’t help my physical strength always fluctuates as a Null-Void construct.”

“Excuses,” Kari waved, holding out a hand to intercept the returned ball; she spun to the side and did a blind jump shot.  “Beautiful!”  she grinned as it kissed the net.

Chakram returning it, Sora snatched it out of the air and dribbled.  “Show off.  I think the really intense part of you that you let off the leash is still a threat; she’s just being dog-piled by all your other layers that were returned to the aether.”

“I can see that,” Kari mumbled, nudging her head to the side.  “I have a… what was that wooden horse thing in history class?”

“Trojan horse?”

“Yeah, that—I have a trojan horse that could cause a lot of damage if I give it a permit into the city—heh, if we’re using the city example?”

“Mmh… I think that’s a good comparison,” Sora snickered.  “Isn’t it you who had the city example?”

Kari accepted the ball to land it in the hoop again.  “Okay, Ms. Farmer.”

“At least I can sell mine for hard cash—what are you gonna do with a city?”

“Real estate?”

Sora caught the ball, pausing at the rebuttal.  “You know… that’s a good comeback.  Nice.”

Laughing as she missed yet another shot, Sora felt the weight against her heart lifting; understanding how she worked was helping to ease the pressure.

Mom knows best, she internally mused.

Shadows formed around Kari’s body as she began experimenting with the half-smoky liquid substance.

“How does it feel?”

Kari’s mouth tightened while twisting her arm to see it dripping off her elbow.  “Uh… a little weird.  I know how my Shadow used it—she basically blackmailed me into absorbing that part of me to naturally grasp how she formed it, but… I don’t know if I want to use it like—”

“Spiderman?”

“Probably not the right hero to compare it to,” Kari laughed, surprising Sora that she knew about the fictional character.  “I don’t know; I’ll figure something out.  So, glad to have your mom back?”

Tossing her the sphere to throw a few shots, Sora glanced back at Alva as the woman waved.  “Hehe.  Loved every minute of it.  I did a lot of reflecting…”

“Shocking!”

Lifting an eyebrow at her friend’s twisted lips, Sora huffed.  “I know, I kind of do a lot of that sometimes.  Self-reflection is good!  Still, I learned a lot…”

“Cool.  Cool,” Kari muttered, turning to point at a beach-side track she recreated from Miami.  “Want to jog?  I feel like jogging now.”

“Haha!  Athlete junky…  Don’t kill me; I’m not even working out this body, by the way.”

Swapping to gym clothes with a thought, Sora got into the slow rhythm of the soft background music she created as they jogged down the private pathway that only they shared; Kari probably wanted to sprint or run more than anything, which made Sora smile that she’d slow her pace for her.

Kari’s ponytail bobbed up and down at their gradual, smooth pace.  “Do you think you’ll get your real body back when you balance the insect in you?”

“Nice, heh—that’s me—insect fox hula hoop.  Umm, I don’t know.  I guess I could remake my body out of magic, so… possibly.”

“Huh.  Do you want to?”

Mouth drawing in, she stared up at the cloudy sky as the cool ocean breeze sent a salty flavor their way.  “I don’t know.  Null-Void has its pluses, and I can probably make my chakram and Vulpes body a part of me…  I just don’t know if that would make me more vulnerable.”

Kari hit her arm, making Sora chuckle and rub the area; it didn’t actually hurt.  “Too used to having a disposable body decoy?”

“Kind of, to be honest.  Hehe.  It’s fun to just slip through Existence and trick people with it; it’s saved me more than once.”

“Fair.  Hmm.  I could make my body out of this stuff from my dad’s side, but, real talk… I’m a little scared.”

“You?!”

“Right?  Heh, huu-haaa.  It’s weird… I can feel it squirming and wanting to spread… touch everything… understand it.”

“Creepy,” Sora commented, remembering the feelings she’d had during the match.  “I think it’s kind of like Null-Void, but it really isn’t Existence.  I could have a taste to see what I can learn?”

“Sure.”

Kari created a small, skittle-sized piece and tossed the shadowy substance for her to hop forward to snatch it out of the air in her mouth.  “Mmh…”

She choked, slowing to a stop while holding her throat and wincing as if she’d eaten a hot pepper.  “Ack—oof…  That’s… ack.”

Alva appeared by their side.  “Sora… you’re having a bad reaction—”

Kari’s looked around, but Sora’s eyes were blurring, including her chakram vision, as electricity quivered through its vibrating, microscopic rings of liquid-like Null-Void; she’d linked her mouth to her chakram, causing the transfer to spread through her actual body.

“It’s… so hot—blah… my tongue’s numbing,” she choked, and a pulse from her Core shattered her connection to Kari, tearing their unified world apart as her sight swam with shapeless colors.

* * *

Kari jolted out of their resonating Outer Body Technique in shock as Sora spontaneously broke away, her mother talking within her Core.

“Sora?”

“Sora’s Oltera Nexus appeared to be entering a defensive state as your new force spread through her system, bypassing whatever obstructions her Null-Void body possesses.”

“I don’t care about that!”  Kari cried, reorienting herself in the billowing thunderstorm around them to dart after her friend as she spotted her human form breaking away with her copy chakram, leaving her main chakram.  “Did I poison her—what do I do?!”

Reaching Sora in moments, she snatched the ring to be met with searing pain; the typically red or white flames of her Null-Void had turned violet, and her fingers began to slip inside the metal as if it were dense liquid, gradually giving way.

“Sora!”

She blinked as the whole world shifted, and she was sitting in a cushioned chair; glancing around in a panic, she saw Wendy, seemingly just as confused as her, while locking eyes.

“What—where…”

Kari’s frantic vision centered on the Vulpes Founder’s flaming hand, seeing Sora’s rippling chakram inside of it; Mia’s mouth and eyes were tight as she examined her daughter’s violet flames and unstable rings.

“I didn’t mean—she just wanted to taste my new—no, no, is she okay?”  Kari cried, jumping to her feet to halt in a panic a few meters away as Mia’s tails stopped her from coming too close.

“There is a residual resilience it is drawing from you if you get too close…  It’s trying to reconnect to you, slipping through Sora’s system in a disrupting current, and her system is treating it as a virus.  Whatever this is, it’s highly resistant to Null-Void, but…”

Kari swiftly retreated upon hearing proximity worsened her condition.  “Can I do anything—take it back—extract the poison… do something?!”

“Poison?!”  Wendy asked, bushy brown tail freezing in place as her fur bristled.  “You poisoned her?”

“I didn’t mean to!  I—what’s happening…”

Her mother’s voice entered her mind.  “Keep your distance from Wendy.”

Kari’s stomach twisted as shadows began swirling around her body, involuntarily leaking out to spiral in random patterns.  “No… I don’t want it to—I can’t stop it from coming out!”

A film-like bubble enclosed her as Mia used one of her tails to gently guide Wendy behind her, and Kari backed away to the opposite side of the glimmering sphere once seeing the liquidy-smoke pawing at the barrier, following the brown-haired girl.

“What’s happening—how can I stop it?”

“Relax a little,” Mia soothed, fingers caressing her daughter’s quaking rings, and Kari bit her bottom lip, drawing blood at seeing the veiny, lilac cracks in her friend’s disk-like body.  “Sora is breaking it down, but it’s a slow, exhausting process for her…  I don’t know if Wendy would survive a dose to this degree.”

“It was only a tiny ball,” Kari whispered, feeling useless as she watched her own power act against her will, attempting to find a way past Mia’s shield to reach Wendy.  “It was… only a tiny ball… she wanted to know what it tasted like…”

“Don’t blame yourself, dear,” Mia said, giving her an understanding smile that only made Kari guiltier.  “There is always a risk when dealing with the unknown, and it appears Sora is building up a resistance to it through exposure.”

“What is it?”  Wendy asked, peeking around Mia’s fluffy tails to see Sora.  “What kind of poison?”

Mia shook her head, left ear pulling back a little as she continued to do whatever magic or operation she was performing; the darkness in the bubble began to be pulled through into a separate sphere, likely to be examined more thoroughly.

“It isn’t exactly poison… but Sora’s body is treating it as a foreign body that needs to be rejected, but her immune system lacks the proper tools to rid itself of the substance.  In essence, Sora is killing herself trying to kill it, and… there’s a unity effect that I’ve had to block.”

Kari cursed herself for not being more cautious; they were having a good time, and then everything went south so suddenly.  “Is it because we were in a Soul Resonance—it had direct access to her Oltera Nexus from our Core?”

“That probably had a contributing factor,” Mia hummed.  “Right now, I’m more interested in seeing the root extracted; I can siphon off pieces of it since there’s a communication bridge that bypasses Existence between you and it…

“It’s seeking to understand the unique form of Null-Void Wendy and my daughter possess—as if there’s a hive data bank it is trying to return information to, which is likely why you are not in control at the moment; I can block its passage, not the signal, but… I can also use that to accelerate the extraction.”

One of her tails directed them to the small crimson sparkles appearing around Sora’s chakram.  “Tiny beads of your energy—as small as Existence itself, yet distinctly different—are leaving Sora to find their way to Wendy since I’ve isolated you, and the main body can’t fulfill its charge.”

Mind frantic for answers, Kari stammered, “C-Can you knock me out—throw me out of the Realm, or—or I don’t know… will it stop if—”

“As I said,” Mia interjected as Kari felt her mother’s comforting hand rubbing her back, “everything will be fine, Kari.  You didn’t kill my daughter, and it was better I was near to sense its unusual activity around Sora than when I was not around to provide her a smoother recovery.”

Suddenly not feeling so optimistic about her father’s side, Kari glared at the writhing mist, searching for a means to escape the Founder’s shell.  “What… even is it if it’s not Null-Void or from Existence?”

Mia tucked under her bottom lip before shaking her head.  “I do have some ideas… but I’d rather keep those thoughts to myself until I have more to go on.  I’ll return to my sister and the Herald of Sakura with the samples I’ve collected and will consult with them on the subject.”

She looked up, expression softening.  “You needn’t worry, sweetie, and it’s reassuring to see how much you care for my daughter.  It was a scare, but it’s over…  See?”

Kari breathed a relieved sigh as the intense violet flames died down and Sora’s rings stabilized, yet the vein-like marks remained, glowing softly.

Ears pulled back, Wendy’s teal-blue eyes shifted between the smoke and Sora.  “She’ll be okay—what about Kari—the smoke’s not stopping?”

“Let’s give it time,” Mia whispered; I’ll keep you separated with my magic until you can control it, Kari.

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“Far away, so I won’t hurt her?”

“Hehe.  No, dear.  Have faith in the fact I am confident in keeping it contained so you can have the comfort of seeing Sora recover along with Wendy.”

“What about Emi?”  Wendy asked, swallowing nervously as she looked at Sora.  “Shouldn’t we get her, and Aunt Nari, and… and everyone?”

Mia shook her head.  “We will wait to see what Sora wishes to do since things have stabilized.  Hehe.  She may not wish to startle them or to explain it herself to her daughter with a smile on her face, so Emi doesn’t instantly have a breakdown.”

A chair formed inside the barrier as she created a comfortable bed and places to sit before taking one.  “While we wait, why don’t we see what we can do about your new power, Kari?  Sound like a plan?”

Kari’s throat constricted as emotion touched it; she hadn’t realized her legs were trembling until she collapsed in the chair.  Exhausted, she felt like crying and punching herself in the face, but the compassion and calm serenity Mia sent helped more than she liked to admit, easing her guilt; yet, what she really wanted was her own mother.

For the first time since her internal struggle, she felt pain in her heart that couldn’t be fixed as easily as letting it slide and realized what her fake mother had been trying to tell her—she wasn’t really her mother—as much her touch was helpful, the Intelligent Construct wasn’t the real thing, and would never be a replacement for the stalwart mother she remembered.

Still, she couldn’t break down—she had to be tough—yet tears still came to her eyes as her chest shook, unable to pull her watery gaze away from the liquid-like, sentient fog that continued to act against her will as if it tasted blood and wouldn’t be satisfied until exploring every piece of it.

“I’ll…  Ack—I’ll do my best.  Thank you…  I just… I want to turn it off—just… turn it off,” she whimpered, trying not to look at Sora’s sickly chakram on the bed; her dreams and fantasies had turned into a nightmare.


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