Morie gets too deep into an illusion and has to be pulled out.
Toki kicked her legs. Her cheerful, tender concern had given way to a weariness that shone through despite her attempts to maintain the prior concern. "Ahhhh... I should really go before it gets too late. Sora, would you mind giving me a ride on one of your space portals?"
"Eh? Yeah, sure. I was just gonna head out myself, actually. Got a couple hot dates waiting~!"
Hanko got to her feet. "I'm gonna head to the kitchen and make dinner for everyone here, then. Any of you needs me or whoever, just spirit me a message."
"You three are leaving, when I'm just about to use my amazing powers to solve the case of the sick niece?" Morie's illusionary self sat beside the half-asleep Anshin.
"Is this going to hurt?" Anshin asked, her words partially slurred together from exhaustion.
"No, I'm just going to borrow your senses for a little while," Morie assured her. Her illusion's hand ran her fingers through Anshin's hair - though for both of them, it might as well have been real. "See if I can see something useful for us to tend to. Plus, as a bonus, it'll help you feel a bit better to share the pain with me. So it'll actually be the opposite of hurting. I just need you to hold onto this focus, okay?"
She slipped the focus into Anshin's hands, and Anshin closed her fingers around it. "Got it..."
"We have the utmost faith in you," Sora said to Morie, clapping a hand on the illusionary girl's shoulder.
"Yeah, I'd love to stick around and watch, but I've got places to be, people to see," Toki said cheerfully. "I'm not made of time."
"Dinner's not going to baste herself!" Hanko agreed.
"Well, if you get back and I'm not with her, I'm just going to move my illusion to the other room. It's best if the illusion-me is undisturbed." And it's best if she doesn't see my immediate reaction to whatever's going on with her... she thought to herself.
The other three foxes waved, and Morie nodded to herself, moving into Iriko's empty bedroom. She let her illusionary self simply mimic her real world self, transferring her attention instead to the focus she held in the real world. It was the twin of the one Anshin now held, which Sora had carried to her.
She closed her eyes, opened her mind's eye and pulled the focus over her awareness. Reached into Anshin's senses and pulled a channel over herself.
It was surprisingly dark. Morie mentally smacked her forehead for thinking that. Of course - Anshin's lack of a face meant no eyes, and no eyes meant no vision. Morie's sighted brain could only process that as darkness.
Morie took stock. Anshin was laying on her back, the soft sheets and pillows everywhere. The fever burned in her forehead and ached through her body. To be expected. Her limbs felt weak and heavy as well - also normal.
Time to check out her essence. Morie reached through Anshin's spirit, and...
There was barely anything there. Even setting aside the way it burned, her spirit had barely enough essence to sustain a body.
Morie fell back into her body, suddenly intimately aware of the weakness of its essence. The darkness of the room. The corners of the bed were so far away.
Her heart thundered in her chest, and her breathing got shaky. Her hands curled into themselves.
Someone else was here. She could feel their presence, even if she couldn't see them. And she had a strong suspicion they weren't friendly.
Fear flooded her, making each of her limbs tingle. She was in danger here.
But her body was too weak. And her spirit... She couldn't reach her power, couldn't feel it. She felt numb. The collar around her throat dug its edges in. She didn't know how to remove it herself. But as long as it was on, she wouldn't be able to use any of her magic to protect herself.
The door to the hallway opened, and a figure stood in the doorway, silhouetted by flickering, pale-blue fox firelight.
Panic carried her heart up to her throat. She needed to hide. No, she couldn't hide. The figure had seen her and was stalking toward her. She needed to fight. She needed to do something - anything.
"M... Mom," she whispered. She was trying to scream it, but she was too paralyzed by the fear of it all to find the force to raise her voice. Her breathing was too shallow.
"Your mommy isn't coming," the nue girl whispered. "We'll have the last laugh, won't we? After everything she did to try to protect you from us, to try to kill us, I still got you..." She lifted Morie off the bed, holding her by the collar.
The collar, with this tension on it, squeezed Morie's throat, making it hard for her to breathe. With what breath she could manage, she whimpered, desperately calling out again and again for her mother. Her stubby limbs flailed at the nue girl's arm, but to little avail - she was too short, her legs and arms too short, and they couldn't reach. Again and again she reached for her magic, but it wasn't there.
"And I'm going to return the favor," the nue girl said, malice sparkling in her eyes. "I think I'll start with your sister. You can watch."
A hand took Morie's. No, two hands. They definitely weren't the nue girl's, because she only had two hands and one of them was holding Morie in the air.
And they were warm and comforting and familiar.
Morie looked around frantically for the source of the hands. She couldn't see anything. Her room was still too dark, even with the fox firelight spilling in-
Toki's voice, warm and gentle, poured over her ears. "Morie. Love. Come back to Aiko's place. I'm here. Aiko's here. You're safe."
The words bounced off Morie's confused, terrified brain at first. Come back to-
Realization struck, and the illusion dissipated all at once. In the span of a moment, Morie was sitting cross-legged on her bed, staring at nothing. Toki sat beside her with both hands folded around one of Morie's. Aiko stood peering awkwardly in the doorway.
As Morie drew in a breath, her eyes immediately brimmed over with tears. Words failed her, and she simply buried her face in Toki's chest and sobbed.
"Okay. Okay. You're okay," Toki murmured, curling her arms around Morie in a tight, safe embrace. She looked up at Aiko, raising her voice just slightly. "Maybe keep the door closed so that your daughters and granddaughters don't come running in here?"
"I, uh, I guess I'll leave this to you, since you seem to know what you're doing. Feel better, Morie..." The door clicked gently behind Aiko.
The cool air of the room ripped across Morie's throat with every sob. Every time she thought she was finished, another hiccup of tears came along, and then they were pouring down her face.
Toki sat patiently through it all, just holding her until the waterworks ran dry. Every so often, she would retrieve a tissue from nearby and offer it silently to Morie, but no matter how much Morie wiped away, it seemed like there were always more tears pouring down her cheeks, more snot running down her lip.
But as endless as it seemed, it did finally come to a stop. Morie's shoulders stopped their shaking. The sobbing stopped. The tears stopped.
Morie's whole body ached just as badly as the illusion of Anshin's fever had. Her eyes, especially, hurt, and her nose burned.
"I thought you had people to see," Morie managed, her voice thick with the leftovers from her tears. She snuffed back another noseful and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. "What are you doing here?"
"I did," Toki murmured. "I'm seeing her right now."
"... You knew I was going to... get lost?"
Toki nodded. "The last time I tried this, I sat with you in the other room. Anshin started complaining about her body hurting worse than before, and then you just disappeared. I figured something like this might have happened, but Sora had already left for her dates, so I went back to when Sora was going to leave and asked Sora to take me before she left."
"At least I'm not that predictable." Morie leaned her head against Toki's chest wearily. "... Uh. Sorry."
"How are you feeling right now?"
Morie closed her eyes. "Tired. Sore. Still kinda shocked."
Toki rested a hand on Morie's shoulder. "Because you got stuck in an illusion?"
"I don't get it," Morie whispered. "It's been so long. I've thought about it plenty and never had it come back. Why now...?"
"Thinking about it and putting yourself in your younger self's shoes are very different things," Toki murmured. "I realized, on my second go-through, that Anshin's low magic capability must have been familiar to you."
"Yeah... and it was dark, and the bed was too big..."
"Hm. Your bed here's not as big as Anshin's is back at Okano's, huh," Toki said, a faint smile in her voice. "Our baby sister sure loves to spoil her kids."
"Hah, it's almost cute the way she protests motherhood while taking to it like a fish takes to water." Morie's brief smile mirrored Toki's. Then it faded again. "I feel terrible, though. I left her. I left her to her suffering, I learned nothing, and I just got caught up in my own mess."
"... Yeah. Is she angry...?"
Toki leaned her head back against the wall beside the bed. "I can't say. But I doubt it. I let Hanko know what was going on once it happened. Even if she was mad - and she's not the type to get angry that you didn't help her as much as you planned to - she'll understand. You know her. She's pretty grown up for a teenager."
"Guess so." Morie let herself rest against Toki.
The sisters sat in companionable silence for minutes.
Morie was the one to break it. "I... kind of freaked out at first. After you called me back. That... getting stuck like that, it doesn't happen to me very often. It's kind of embarrassing. The Fox of Illusion, caught up in her own stupid daydream fantasy..."
"Trust me. I'm here because I get it." Toki's fingers ran down Morie's arm. "It's not embarrassing. It's natural to feel so strongly."
"She threatened Arisa," Morie mumbled. "She came into my room and she told me she was going to kill my older sister and I was going to watch. And I couldn't stop her. I was so scared. There was nothing I could do. I... I only got lucky. If Kaoko hadn't happened to come out of her room when she did... Arisa would be..."
"That must have been horrible, Morie... No wonder it scared you so badly."
Morie fumbled for her words. "When I was... when my illusion, I got wrapped up in it, I... It felt real. I should have known that it wasn't real? But... yeah. I was just. Going through the motions. Like I did back then. Even though I should have remembered that I already lived this, that it wasn't real. It just. It felt so real. Am I an idiot? Not able to tell my own fantasy from reality?"
Toki curled her arms around Morie again, pulling her older sister against her. "No. You're very good at what you do. And what you do is dream and make those dreams real."
"Mm," Morie mumbled. "I feel so... stupid."
"You're not stupid. If you're stupid, then I'm stupid, because I do the same thing all the time. And I won't let you say that. So you're not stupid."
"You do the same thing all the time...?"
Toki closed her eyes. "Sometimes I see bad things happen in the future, and I go back to prevent them. And once I go back, they go back to not being real yet again, right? If I change something, and I get a different outcome, the old outcomes are definitely not real anymore, right? But still, sometimes... I get scared of things I saw. Because even if they didn't really happen, even if they were just a bad future, one of the many possibilities that I happened to see, they really affected me." She ran a hand over Morie's fox ear. "And what you remembered, there, it really did happen, and it really affected you then."
Morie pressed her ear against Toki's hand. "But... it's not happening now. So why is it affecting me now?"
Toki chewed her lip. "Memories are powerful things. Some of our sisters have said they're envious that I get to relive things. But I don't go back unless there's something I need to change. Just because memories are so powerful. Whether it's for joy or for sadness... I don't want to give those memories control over me. And when a memory comes out on its own like that..." Toki trailed off, shaking her head again and squeezing Morie in close. "I'm sorry, love."
Morie's body quaked with another shaky sigh, but this time her nose was clear. "... Thanks, Toki."
"Hey, what are little sisters for?" Toki said. "That must have been tough. Do you want me to stay with you for a while?"
"Please," Morie whispered.
"Okay. I'm not going anywhere."