Xavien

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Chapter 13.Participant

Xavien exited the garage and headed to his car and saw Karl had decided to lean against it with a half-cocked smile.

“Nice work, man. Somehow, you’ve managed to get the Inari all tufted-up and excited. That’s good and bad for the city; just like it is good and bad for your cause.

Xavien merely growled; “Get in the car and explain what the hell you just said.”

Karl tittered nervously; “Oh boy, says the bird to the wolf! What big teeth and ill temper you have! Let me just hop right into this confined space with you!” Regardless of his protest, Karl complied.

Xavien liked Jonah, Mi Lei and company; save for Giles. He was annoyed by Karl, but, he had to get this information from somewhere.

As he got in the car and pulled back into traffic, Karl explained; “Well, you’ve got twenty-some Inari roaming the city, watching everything. The Inari have some interesting tricks and so you may as well have a couple hundred extra eyes. But, this particular group of Inari is well known for their tightly-knit independent society, not to mention their supposedly-honorable nature. Independents are not received well in this place. When you align yourself with an independent organization, you alienate yourself from more official ones. Werewolves almost depend on alliances with others of their kind. Lone wolves survive best when they actually stay alone. Your breed is highly-political and, well… mostly corrupt beyond redemption. See where I’m going with this? You will likely bring heat on the Inari and yourself. The balance has been thrown off for the whole city, not to mention the added difficulties you now face. We’ll see soon if that is the case. Either way, you’ve served noticed that you are neither a reindeer nor do you intend on playing reindeer games. That unsettles the masses of wolves because they need their young to follow their example. These rules are good and are necessary, I’ll admit. It is a good thing for the whole world that folks like you and Giles are the exception to the rule.” Karl explained with emphatic hand gestures.

Xavien nodded; “The amusing thing is that I dislike Giles and he has no intention of working with me. Coincidentally, he is likely the best resource for me to learn how to stand on my own two feet.”

“Nope.” Karl shook his head.

“Huh?”

“You’re actually way off. To offset your losses in the werewolf community, you almost have to strengthen your alliances with the other shifters. Your breed is a pariah amongst werewolves and shifters alike. Basically; if you play by the rules you gain respect of your kind and grudging compliance from other breeds of werewolves. Meanwhile, they will attempt to challenge you at every juncture; up to and including death. However, in the other shifter communities… you are viewed almost like a trophy. This puts you in diametric opposition from almost all werewolf clans, save for… well, we’ll get to them later. If you play it right and have some good luck along the way? You could build yourself a safer and more connected life. The only problem is that the drama and politics will complicate you much more. You also have to live with the stain of your breed and kind, which will make it difficult for you to build trust with the other shifters.” Karl reasoned.

“So far, it seems that I am actually in a better position; from what you’ve said.”

Karl shook his head; “Not so fast. That whole thing where I said diametric opposition? The other shifters know just what that means. That pretty much means… death if given the chance. You’re a trophy to other shifters, and a bounty to other werewolves; first because of your breed, second because of your disrespect and third because of your disregard of convention. Werewolves don’t normally do three-strikes-you’re-out, if you get my drift.”

Xavien wasn’t convinced; “Then how has Giles made it so far?”

“Different breed. He also doesn’t give a shit about anyone except himself. He has made it very clear that he holds no allegiances and has no intention of interfering with any political machinations whatsoever. He’s a true lone wolf, a Rogue. These are rare and typically have shorter life-spans. The ones that live the longest have a bit of a nomadic life. You? Not completely unheard of for your breed… but one of your high-profile family? Pssht… fucked. You were likely very well fucked before you began. Mercifully, I guess, you have a benefactor that believes you will survive long enough to meet him.” Karl sighed and shrugged as he shook his head.

“You inspire me. What next, professor?” Xavien deadpanned.

“Werewolf-stuff; you know, claws, teeth and shit like that. Are you up for it, or are you gunna fart in their faces and poke them with sticks until they bleed to death?” Karl asked, with irritation in his voice.

“If you manage to give me a real challenge that requires that level of attention, I will comply.” Xavien asserted.

“Dude! Seriously? Cut me a fucken… dammit… fine. Fine! I’ll see what I can do.” Karl fumed as he folded his arms and stared out the window angrily; “Head to Carpe Noctem. There’s a barkeep there, a vampire, at least I think he is. One of the few non-shifter resources I use. He asks nothing in return, and is a good resource for target practice. He loves causing the death of his kind. So, his helps you as a way to help himself. No obligations so far, from what I can see. He doesn’t really do much except tend bar. Fella named Vic McDonnell.” Karl spoke quietly, as if ashamed to admit that he works with a vampire.

“You can’t trust vampires, though, right?” Xavien asked.

“I didn’t say I trusted him. He is just the go-to for vampire target practice. He’s indiscriminate about various vampire families and has no apparent stake in his own political gain. He can even give a more challenging target, if you request.”

Xavien didn’t like this, but had to understand the world. If this were true, then perhaps he would get a real challenge. He sighed and nodded; “Carpe Noctem? Sounds horribly obvious and cliché.”

“Yeh? You think so? Have you been living under a rock? Kids these days love death and nightlife. Most of them even have a penchant for rebellion. I should add, it’s a bit of a neutral zone for all supernatural beings. I think that Vic helps keep it that way. Oh yes; do not ever attack anyone in there. He’s got some sort of obsession with shotguns” Karl added with a grave tone. “Seen him stop a fight and drop a dozen bodies in under a minute.”

“How many people know he gives out information on vampires to kill?” Xavien asked

“Well, that’s the thing… as far as I can tell; he doesn’t really communicate with his own kind. I’m sure his kind know… but I think he’s got a bit of power or hidden benefactor of his own; or both. He’s just… there… every night.”

Xavien had been to this club before, several years ago. A young girl was found murdered in the alleyway behind it. Gunshot wound, with nothing unusual. The murderer was her jilted teen aged boyfriend. He had only been inside the club during the day, so he didn’t recognize the bartender’s name.

“What about vampires and daylight?” Xavien asked.

“Not impossible, but it hurts them fiercely. Before I go any further… Silver hurts you the same way. Not like instant death, but it’s like the worst damn thing you’ve ever felt in your life. Not mine, but I’m not all that eager to tell you how to kill me or my kind.” Karl nodded with a half-smile.

Xavien pulled into the adjacent parking lot and fed the meter for an hour. As he took the printed receipt, he winced internally at the outrageous cost of parking. Ten bucks for an hour was ridiculous; “Why the hell is it so damn expensive?”
“It’s free to get in the club, with that receipt.” Karl reasoned.

“Ah. Lucky us.”

Xavien looked over the exterior of the club. It was not overly auspicious. The sign was white with painted black lettering and a spotlight directed. The exterior was a dark brown and black brick. This had, at one point, been a convenience store. The platen glass had been removed and replaced with plywood that had been painted black.

The doors were propped open and, just inside the door, there was an attractive young lady that stood behind a small podium. They approached and Xavien sized her up; shoulder-length black hair, skimpy black sleeveless dress and a pretty face with an overabundance of white makeup.

She smiled as they approached; “Praise the night!”

Xavien chuckled; “Amen?” He then handed her his receipt. She wrote her initials on the receipt and stamped it with ultraviolet-reactive ink.

“Embrace the darkness, gentlemen!” She smiled. Her demeanor was unsettlingly chipper.

“Thanks, you too.” Xavien responded with an uncertain furrow to his brow as he walked past.

Karl chuckled from behind him as they entered, then he spoke up; “Slightly off to the left, there he is— the big bald dude.”

There were only a few patrons in the club, as it was still early; only eight in the evening. There was a pretentious-looking male dancing to the barely-existent rhythm while two pleather-clad male onlookers disaffectedly sipped at their cocktails. An older blonde female, perhaps in her late forties, was crestfallen as she nursed her amber-colored drink.

The interior was unassuming. The floor was black and white checkered linoleum, and heavy I-beams supported the black corrugated-steel roof. Dim fluorescent shop lights hung amongst the duct work and support beams. The air was humid but cool, intermittent gusts from the climate control system made the temperature pleasant enough. The building was larger than a convenience store, but small for a club.

Xavien sniffed the air and noted the smell of alcohol, body odor and greasy food. He also sensed a hint of decay, but it did not seem to be coming from the direction of the bartender. As Xavien and Karl approached, the bartender looked up and smiled warmly at them.

Karl took the lead; “My good man… I’d like a stronger drink than usual for my friend; he claims he has a high tolerance. What can you recommend?”

Vic smiled broadly as he sized up Xavien. After a few moments, he reached under the counter and pulled out a bottle of clear liquid in a bottle that was labeled ‘vodka’. He set out two shot glasses and filled them.

Karl smiled and grabbed his shot glass; “X? Bottoms up!”

Xavien was caught off-guard. He didn’t expect that he should accept anything from a vampire, much less a drink. He also did not completely trust Karl. He shook his head. He would follow instruction, but not blindly. He mouthed the word ‘sorry’, and pushed the drink back toward the bartender.

Unfazed, the bartender took the shot glass and dumped it into the sink. Karl sighed and shot back the liquid as if he trusted it to be vodka. Xavien, however, maintained focus on the bartender.

The bartender seemed to be kind and patient; not the vibe he would have expected. If this were to be vampire, it would likely be the most vile and corrupt one yet; at least that was the guess Xavien had based on his limited knowledge.

“Thanks Vic. I guess my friend chickened out. He’s a pussy anyway.” Karl chuckled, and dropped ten dollars on the bar; “Come on, man… Shit, I can’t take you anywhere.”

“I’m just not the type to follow someone over a cliff simply because they tell me I will find enlightenment.” Xavien said over the pulsing and uninteresting ambient rhythm in the club.

Karl; “Man, you are a fucking handful. I bet you refused to tie your shoes when you were five because you were convinced that your motherfucking shoes could be monsters.”
“They were monsters. They still follow me around sometimes and speak to me in my dreams. I still can’t go into the shoe section of a department store. Had these shoes blessed by a priest, but still keep my distance from them at night.” Xavien nodded, ruefully.

“You’re a weird fucking dude.” Karl said with a chuckle.

Within the recesses of Xavien’s mind, he could hear Karl’s voice speak to him telepathically; “Okay, well, I expected that you would be a pussy. Vic gave me the information as well. We will hang out here and chat up some jailbait, and then we’ll book it. We’ve got to get across town. Apparently, there are a bigger fish to fry, but we’re going to have to get through some underlings first. I don’t want to put you at too much risk, so I’ve called in some help. Agony is going to provide some cover and help out in case you get in over your head. I have my taser, so even I can help in a pinch.”

“Taser? Seriously?” Xavien tilted his head; “I’d expect you to at least have a gun.” He did not like the fact that he could only respond to Karl when they discussed things telepathically. He wished to be able to initiate the conversations as well. He disliked that Karl refused to teach him and this only served to inspire Xavien’s insatiable curiosity.

“Yeh, small caliber guns are all I can handle. Big ones hurt and if I am careless, I could get a fracture. The taser will at least stun them, and has almost no recoil. I also have a way with fire. These bitches hate fire.” Karl grinned.

“You weren’t kidding about this bone disease thing. Okay. What if something goes wrong and Agony gets taken out?” Xavien asked as he sensed the tension from Karl.

“Yeh… well one of two things; you better be confident as hell that you can cover yourself… by yourself… or you get the fuck out of there. She gets taken out? I’m gone, man. I’d rather be diseased and disgraced than just dead, or worse.” Karl replied quite definitively.

“Dare I ask what to expect?” Xavien asked as he paid attention to Karl’s body language and focus. He thought he saw a pattern as Karl communicated with him, but couldn’t quite place it. Further observation should yield reward, he thought to himself, if he just kept close watch.

“These are essentially a vampire family that prizes enhanced physical attributes and are essentially thugs. They’re not exactly bone-heads, but they’re definitely the jocks of the vampire world. Think of them as the frat boy brawlers with PHDs. They’re fast, sharp-witted and perceptive as all hell. Also? They’re gunna take one look at you and know what you are. So, your best defense is the fact that they shouldn’t detect us.” Karl explained, tentatively.

“Why shouldn’t they detect you?”

“Because we’re fucking magic, that’s why! Oh, forget it… Look… this should be a cakewalk for you, if it goes right. You should be able to take a couple out, a few will play the GTFO game, and you should get a nice workout. But do not fuck around with these guys; show them your dick right away and don’t let them surround you. Your target is their boss but, he’s got bodyguards, so you go through them first.” Karl seemed to be less than confident in Xavien’s compliance with the plan.

“So that I know for future reference... Outside of fire and sunlight… is there anything physiologically that I need to know about them? Movies mention stakes and I saw that Agony had a crossbow with wooden bolts.” Xavien asked, as he finally figured out the pattern he’d missed. It was a specific way he moved his eyes every time he spoke to Xavien. Then he noticed the way he shut his eyes when he finished a sentence, as if it were punctuation. He was then able to recollect how the Inari looked, and there were similar twitches amongst them as well.

Xavien would keep this knowledge to himself for now. For the moment, he would see what other tricks he could learn by simple observation.

“Hearts and heads. Wood that is long enough to penetrate the heart all the way through will disable them. Heads removed will kill all but the oldest vampires. They hate fire, claws and teeth. Should be all you really need to know.

The two of them walked around for about five more minutes, and then left.

Karl and Xavien entered the car and began their journey to the Northeast of Hyde City, nearest to the landfill. Xavien began to get somewhat nervous. He felt that he was inexperienced as a werewolf, and had no confidence in Karl’s ability to protect him. He had no prior knowledge about Agony, beyond her pretense. This was tough for him to accept, and did not wish to leave any room for error. He had his gun with him and would use that if need be.

Karl noticed Xavien as he fumbled over his gun holster; “Come on, man… let’s go at this with the tools you’ve got already attached to you!”

Xavien looked Karl in the eyes; “I’m bringing it in case your friend dies. I’m not going to run away, and I’m not going to die because you listened to your vampire friend one time too many.”

“That’s fair. But you should know that a gunshot is less effective than your claws.” Karl advised.

“Unless I can fire my claws from across the room, I highly doubt that.” Xavien responded in a cheeky tone.

The trip took fifteen minutes, and they parked about four blocks away from their intended destination: a battery recycling plant.

The rusted, tan steel building smelled of all sorts of noxious fumes and… rotten flesh. Xavien looked at Karl, who seemed to have braced himself for a bit of a fight. He grinned at his birdy-friend; something told him that this would be his first up-close supernatural challenge.

He strode firmly toward the front door, to which Karl hissed; “what the fuck do you think you are doing? Front door? What the fuck? Get your simple ass over here, wolfie or we’re all fucked! Correction! You are!”

Xavien shook his head. His intuition told him that their defenses would be up if they attempted to sneak. He often relied on them; as if the environment spoke in a language that he understood more distinctly than the spoken word.

He put his index finger up to his smiling lips and Karl sighed worriedly and then nodded reluctantly. Xavien grinned wider, he felt exhilarated.

He tried the door, which was locked. He made a show to blow on both his hands, rub them both together and performed that fun ritual that opened locked doors. It worked this time, as Karl’s amusement crackled through the exasperated exterior of his face.

The door popped open gently, and Xavien swung it wide. There was a foul smelling, heavy-set man dressed in a security guard outfit that brandished a can of mace as he waddled toward the door. Xavien drew his badge and tilted his head. The man stopped short, as he withdrew his finger from the spray-nozzle of the mace and heaved, out of breath.

“Something… I can… help you with… officer?” The security guard said. He smelled… familiar. Xavien drew in the scents from the world around him again and focused. It was faint, but it smelled of both corruption and death… urine and feces as well. This was equal parts grotesque and confusing.

“Before I get to the good part, when was the last time you showered, sir?” Xavien asked, to Karl’s amusement.

The man seemed appalled; “I… I… yesterday? I think? Umm…”

Xavien nodded; “I’m guessing that you’re not the one in charge. Would you please be so kind as to let me know who else is here, so that I may communicate with them, instead?”

“Iyauh… huh? There’s… no one here… but me.”

“… no one here but us chickens, eh? I’ve been doing this awhile; I’ve heard that before… never works, shitheel.” Xavien snarled, with a dark playfulness. He felt ‘it’… the predator in him knew a fight was to brew. He wanted to know if Karl could see it, perhaps if he were to be frightened as well.

“Wow, dude… Now that’s what I like.” Karl volunteered as he clearly noticed the shift in Xavien’s demeanor.

Gratified, he continued; “Any chance I’m going to have to end your life, you putrescent blob?” Xavien turned back to the man, who now seemed less frightened than he would have preferred.

“I’m not so sure you have that option.” The large man said, as what looked like a nictating membrane flicked across his eyes.

“Yeah, that’s really not work for me...” Xavien shook his head, drew his gun and pulled the trigger without further thought as to direction or expression.

The man, now faceless and dead, fell backward as powdered remains shot out the back of his skull and pinkish ooze bubbled out of the neck area.

Xavien squinted, tilted his head; “Karl… what…”

“Ah… Yeh… those who have given themselves over in contract for something or other… they agree to live of servitude in exchange for something that they want. Typically get experimented on or merely ghouled. This guy was an experiment.” Karl explained quickly; “Heads up! You bought the farm, now you gotta deal with the flies.”

“Scared, crow?” Xavien chirped.

Karl laughed and then shifted quickly down into his crow form and flew off.

Xavien’s body filled with adrenaline and he sensed additional presences in the room. They hurried toward him as he quickly assessed the situation.

Three females, two males. The males had spiked bats and the females… appeared human but had fangs and claws… vampires. They closed in quickly and Xavien squeezed off a couple rounds from his gun. The two males dropped, as the slug found each of them in the skull.

The females leapt out of the way and behind a few of the large machines that were in this building.

Xavien sighed with disappointment. He holstered his gun and folded his arms as Karl cried out telepathically; “Come on… you promised!

Xavien had promised no such thing.

“Come on, ladies. Let’s just talk this out. I don’t really think you want to mess with me. I’m a werewolf and you are well past your expiration date…” Xavien hollered out in a disaffected tone.

Snip… snip… trim down the startled response

One of the females grabbed him from behind and sunk her teeth into his neck. Her arm had snaked underneath his right side and yanked him backward, as her hand cupped his jaw and tilted it upward. He flexed and sensed that she weighed about a hundred pounds less than he, but was stronger than her frame would allow. He did not struggle, but rather grabbed her elbow and wrist and flipped her over his shoulder.

He felt a searing pain as her fangs tore a chunk out of his neck as he slammed her onto her back. Adrenaline coursed through his body and the fight response urged him to shift up. He would suppress the urge, for the moment.

He landed on top of her and used his momentum to slam her small form onto the concrete ground by her neck. He then proceeded to slam her head into the concrete several times until she stopped squirming. She smiled at him and cast her eyes up, which was a direction in front of him. He refused to be distracted, drew his gun and pistol whipped her until her face caved in.

Her face did not cave in like a human’s face should. At first, it felt meaty and filled with blood… but after he’d done enough damage, it crumbled and crushed like a flimsy mannequin.

Xavien then looked up and saw that there was a young man in tight black jeans, spiked black leather belt, spiked leather jacket and no shirt to cover his well-muscled torso. He sported a thick metal Mohawk with 8 inch spikes and piercings through every visible part of his face. He had that neo-punk sneer of defiant disdain. Beside him, there were the other two females and eight other individuals; presumably vampires as well.

“Oy! What are you ’ere for?” The male shouted, unconcerned about the fate of the corpse underneath Xavien.

“You, I’d guess. I have a business proposition for you.” Xavien smiled, coolly.

“We’re listening.”

Snip… Snip… away went the compulsion to use a one-liner.

Xavien put his left hand up to his neck and felt the gash. The vampire had gotten him pretty good, and it bled profusely. He thought about the self-defense training he’d taken outside of the standard training. He’d gone in this completely raw and without the necessary mindset and preparation for battle. He silently chided himself.

“First off, I have to know something.” Xavien asked, pensively.

“Out wiff it…” The leader rolled his eyes, as if he expected some sort of flippant one-liner.

“What did that guy…” Xavien gestured toward the now-dead security guard, “trade for?”

“Heh… He was a randy bugger. Wanted a go at some school girls, without all the nasty jail-time…” The leader chuckled.

“And you gave this to him?” Xavien asked, disgusted.

“Just once. Don’t worry. It wasn’t a real school girl. I’ve got a girl on me staff that handles guys like that. Acts real convincing, gets ’em every time.” The punk shook his head, ruefully; “Truthfully, they disgust me. I don’t like those fat slobs goin aftah kids”

Xavien nodded as he slowly closed the distance between them; “I’m new to a lot of this. So, you’ll have to excuse my ignorance. I’ve got a lot of questions, so I guess that’s my business proposition. I need information and I’ve only got a stupid bird to get that information to me. I’d rather someone who has lived longer; more experience, ya know?”

“Oh, I get it. So why didn’t you just say that to ol’ Petey, there?” The leader nodded over at the corpse.

“I was frightened and felt a bit threatened.” Xavien smiled.

“Bullshit, but alright. Well, what will you do for us?” The leader responded.

Xavien’s heart throbbed with the sudden mental and spiritual exertion. The leader’s eyes showed panic as he suddenly realized what was about to happen.

All too late, Xavien shifted up into the horrible and majestic werewolf form. The leader barely got out the words ‘fuck me’ before Xavien had latched his own jaws on the leader’s head and crunched down. At the same time, Xavien jammed a giant, clawed paw up through the abdomen and reached under the rib cage as he shredded the heart.

Before their leader could fall to the ground, the other vampires began to scatter in a terrified frenzy. Xavien leapt toward one of the males that had begun to flee. Mid-flight he howled out in excitement. He landed his clawed feet on the creature’s back and rode the creature down like a meaty surfboard. He then grabbed the back of its head and pulled upward with all his might, surprised at the fact that he had torn the creature’s head off.

He emitted a sinister chuckle as he launched the head at a female vampire. The disembodied head smacked her in the back of the skull and threw her balance off. He scrambled after her and seized her right arm and leg as she fell to her left, then used his own momentum to swing her body toward another vampire. As he released her, he sprang upward onto the roof of a forklift, and then bounded to the top shelf of a yellow steel-framed storage rack. With frightening efficiency, he pounced on the two vampires as they collided. He clamped his jaws around the throat of one, snapped its neck with the immense pressure of his powerful jaws and tore the head from the body as he growled and snarled at the hissing beast that was pinned underneath. The vampire dug a clawed hand into Xavien’s skin on his right side, so then Xavien seized that arm with both of his clawed paws and tore the appendage off as if it were a twig.

The arm shriveled up and turned to ash in his hands, so he raked his claws into the vampire’s chest and tore out its heart. This action finally silenced this vampire, which had been a little more resilient than the rest, even if it could not overpower him.

All was quiet in the warehouse, except for the sound of his own heaving breaths.

That was fun; just plain fun.

He shifted down and brought his hand up to the right side of his neck. The wound had healed already. Xavien smiled, broadly.

Karl’s tinny voice echoed from the yellow steel storage shelves above him; “Well, holy shit.” He stated as if he had already wearied from Xavien’s run of beginner’s luck.

“I got 4 of them. Karl? You got none. ‘The Man’ got a count of 8.” Agony’s voice came from behind Xavien. Agony was dressed in a short black-leather mini-skirt, black leather bra and her black hair wrapped up in a tight bun. She was in large black-leather platform boots and had a series of seven barbells that ran down the length of her abdomen, centered over her belly button. Her subtle black and gray make-up fit her ghastly pale complexion in an oddly flattering way.

“Did you get all dolled up for me?” Xavien looked back at her.

She winked; “When you typically have guys like Karl to choose from, a girl rarely has the need or desire to dress up. You’re a special treat; who cares if I’m a bit forward. If I don’t make myself seem easy, you may never consider me.”

Xavien frowned; “That’s not a nice thing to say about yourself. I’d figure that someone of your combat prowess and supernatural experience could have almost anyone you went for.”

Agony flushed red; “Why, thank you, Xavien… Let’s just say that I know I’m not an angel-face… but I still want angel-bait. Plus, as I told you, I don’t like to be subtle when I want to fuck someone. My life is too complicated.”

Karl flapped down, landed and shifted up; “Psssh! Bitch, you can’t just dismiss me! I am very experienced in bed and I’ve had lots of sex with lots of hot women.”

Xavien rolled his eyes; “Shut up, Karl. Agony, I appreciate the interest but I’m not currently in the market. I will inform you personally if I should wish to engage with you in this matter.”

“Damn. A form letter rejection given to me verbally. Sweet!” Agony chuckled bitterly; “It’s okay, I figured it was worth a shot. You’ll keep my resume on file, then?”

Xavien smiled warmly. She was more attractive to him now than when he’d first met her. Now was not the time, however. “Anyhow… Karl… are you pleased that I got some practice?”

Karl shook his head; “You’re a freak.”

Xavien tilted his head and raised his right eyebrow.

“Seriously. You can’t be good at everything. It isn’t possible. Unless you have been fucking with me, or everyone has been fucking with me… I just can’t say it…” Karl shook his head, in awe.

Agony nodded; “You came into the warehouse and started out like a cocky-child… but then it seemed like your mind recalculated and straightened out. Once you locked in, it was all over for them. You’re a natural, no wonder everyone’s pissed that you’ve been playing hard-to-get.” She worked her mouth around the last phrase to add emphasis to the double-entendre.

“It was scary to watch… like liquid violence, smooth… effortless… it just looked like you… I can’t describe it. No one does that shit unless they are playing around… just brutal.” Karl gushed, as if the flood of stimuli had been too much.

Agony sighed; “I’ll say it… but I think the fuss about you… is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong… you may pretend at humility… All the while you obviously have this confidence and blind faith that you can do anything you put your mind to… It’s just not enough. I think you need to stop pretending you are better than everyone else… and actually prove it…”

Xavien shook his head; “Pretend at humility?”

Agony smiled; “You’ve always held yourself back. As if you’ve known that you were above every situation. Then the times where you didn’t know for sure, you just expected you were going to succeed. I think you’ve really gotta stress every part of yourself out and completely exhaust your strength… You can’t half-ass it anymore.”

Xavien nodded. He didn’t like the fact that she had called him out, but it wasn’t wholly inaccurate. He didn’t always do it to pander to his prey; “To be completely accurate, I also did not wish to show my hand, so that I did not attract stronger focus from stronger foes.”

Agony nodded; “Cowardice. It’s a mistake of inexperience and ignorance in someone like yourself. You’ve been hiding like a bitch this whole time… meanwhile, you’ve been like a pro-sports prospect that everyone has been watching since that fateful car wreck when you were twelve.”

Xavien squinted and winced; “I’ve been watched that long, eh?”

Karl rolled his eyes; “Yeah. As she said… the only real secrets you had were what you were going to do next. Everything that could be found out about you? Everybody knew. Well, amongst us, anyhow.”

Xavien did not like this, but wasn’t surprised.

Agony tossed something shiny toward Xavien; “Here, catch!”

Xavien caught the object: silver dentures, complete with vampire fangs. His quizzical look brought some amused chuckles from the other two.

Agony said; “Trophies from the leader. He was a known werewolf-slayer, his claim to fame, actually. You got lucky and caught him flat-footed.” She shook her head.

Karl chuckled; “Yeah, you got your practice and made your point. Agony is right. You need to try to out-do yourself, regardless of the target.”

Karl yelped as another voice chimed in; “Mad corpses up in here! What it is!”

Xavien closed his eyes and sniffed out some laughter; Jonah Tan had arrived.

“Jonah Tan… nice of you to join us…” Xavien called out in amusement.

“I come as soon as I could to tell you… we got good news and bad news. Since you are man of action, I tell you and not fuck around. The bad news is your homie Irving has bounced… like up outta dis country… the good news is we found a way for you to look good.” Jonah Tan rattled off.

“I’d just as soon let reality check in and have the chips fall as they may… but tell me Jonah… how can I look good?”

“Well, let’s say Crazy Jonah Tan thought of a wicked bad-ass plan to get street cred… This become an international issue now… and this guy is enemy-number-one… Boss lady has contact with Interpol… and guy has interest in making you contractor.” Jonah beamed.

“Contractor? Are you crazy?” Xavien shook his head in disbelief. He was not interested in that concept in the slightest.

“Like a fox mothafuggaaa!” Jonah laughed.

Agony and Karl watched quietly and soaked up every word.

“What interest do I have in that?” Xavien asked, wearily.

“Yo’ nine-to-five ain’t ever be the same… Be ya own boss, get your man, make wicked connections…” Jonah smiled; “Mi Lei likes to help friends.”

“I appreciate it, but I do not like to be beholden for favors unasked. I know that organization has an upstanding reputation, but I may not wish to repay in the direct manner desired… which could put me at odds… this would also not be a good thing.” Xavien explained.

“It would be most unwise not to accept. It ain’t just a dis on Mi Lei, things about to get real up in here…” Jonah nodded, then added; “We get you interview only. You get the job ya damn self, homie.” Jonah seemed rather serious.

Karl and Agony looked from Jonah to Xavien, expectantly.

Xavien had to play catch-up, mentally as his mind processed everything that had been placed before him. This was not a bad idea, as presented; he did not like that it made him feel obligated. His mind clicked everything into place, between his experience, book learning and police training; especially into the insight it gave him on organized crime. He believed that the Inari meant well, but could also be a well-cloaked criminal organization.

He recalled to memory the trick he’d observed from Karl. He was pretty sure that he had it right, and cared less about the etiquette than secrecy in this matter.

He tried to recall the exact movements and focus that it seemed, then attempted focus on Jonah. He was unsuccessful, then he tried again and succeeded the second time.

“Please excuse my lack of decorum, but I request secrecy and do not wish to speak aloud.” Xavien spoke telepathically for the first time.

Jonah smiled and walked away; “See you all later, homies… Hit me up, Super-cop.” He said aloud.

Xavien was frustrated at the lack of response and felt he had established telepathic contact. He’d hoped he didn’t somehow… mis-fire and contact someone else.

Then Jonah Tan responded, also telepathically, with his back turned; “You be full of surprises! Sup, yo?”

“Before I officially accept the help, I wish to pre-emptively repay the favor, even if it is not required or expected. I do not wish there to be any expectations of service from myself to your organization, beyond camaraderie. Bear in mind that I will not embark upon anything illegal or unscrupulous in nature; nor will I compromise common decency or engage in needless political battles.” Xavien expressed, as completely as he could.

“You are ’The Man’ with a mission. Can’t we just be friends that help each other?” Jonah Tan bargained, seemingly hurt.

Xavien did not wish to upset his new ‘friends’, but he also refused to be guilted into acquiescence; “I apologize, but you must understand my hesitance comes at the cost of rapport for a very good reason. I’ve only recently met you… and although the vibe I get is good and I enjoy the company of you and all of the Inari, I’ve got to act with caution on all associations, even ones that could very well be beneficial.”

“You have mad flow and skillz. Much respect. Let’s go see what boss lady says.” Jonah’s amusement was evident, even telepathically.

“Meet you there” Xavien responded.

Karl spoke to Xavien, also telepathically; “Okay… What was that all about? Anyway… It doesn’t matter. I was thinking that we could approach the topic of social and political training. This will be a challenge for you, I suspect.” Karl reasoned.

“It is only a challenge if you buy into it. I understand enough about logic to place it lower on my list of priorities. I have too many demons to catch up to, without adding more demons to my radar.” Xavien retorted, indignantly.

“Fair enough. Okay. I’m supposed to be guiding you, right? I guide you and keep training you… I get what I need. You are making this increasingly difficult. I can’t find your baselines; you’re horrendously resistant to most things that I try. Other things you master without a thought… Admittedly, I’d expected it to be tough… but wasn’t expecting that it would be quite like this. Is there anything you can do to… I dunno… throw me a bone, here?” Karl requested out of exasperation and irritation.

Xavien had made up his mind. Karl was right; he was resistant. This was likely due to the reason that every part of this mentor relationship was unbalanced. He couldn’t trust a social network, like the one that appeared to surround Karl and company. There were too many loopholes in trust, and who knows who else they were talking to. He didn’t even feel completely secure with the Inari, but he had ascertained that they were at least moderately honorable.

He’d not felt good about Karl’s presence from moment one, even if his ‘benefactor’ had contracted Karl to do it. Then again, that could have also been a lie; how would Xavien know?

“Karl… I appreciate your efforts on my behalf thus far. You are right in more ways than you know.” He continued the conversation mentally.

Karl responded quickly; “Dude… seriously? Are you dumping me? The fuck?”

Xavien nodded; “I cannot trust you. It’s not anything you’ve done… but between my own nature and understanding of how networks such as yours could work… I don’t think I can feel completely comfortable. In any student-teacher relationship, trust is important. In this one, it is intrinsic. It’s not specifically anything that you’ve done, but from what I’ve heard about your network and how things have been observed thus far. To have someone so intimately involved in my training and aware of my suite of skills and aptitudes is something of a risk to my safety… especially if that knowledge falls into the wrong hands.”

Karl sighed; “You know… you are right. I hate to admit it. As much as it does not benefit me, that is probably wise. Look, I really wish that I could convince you of my intention. But, perhaps it doesn’t matter. Could you do me a favor, though?”

Xavien shrugged. He was still physically in Karl’s presence, as Agony watched intently; “What?”

Karl hung his head; “If you run into this benefactor… put in a good word for me. This bone disease is real and it is a serious pain in the ass. Don’t do it for any other reason than to be nice. Believe me… I know you don’t have a heart, so I’m not plying your sympathy or indignance… just looking for a way to become a bit less fragile, is all.”

Xavien drew in the left corner of his mouth and nodded; “If this benefactor exists and is not Irving Masterson… then sure.”

“There’s something you should know, also. Irving is your half-brother. Your father’s wife gave him her maiden name, but that’s your father’s son. It doesn’t mean much to you, but I wouldn’t take it as a complete surprise as to why Irving hasn’t completely ended you. Irving has a real fucked up concept of family. Also… we don’t know who Andrew’s mother is, but know for a fact that they are not the same person… if that’s worth anything to you. Those are good-faith freebies.” After he said all that, Karl shifted down to his bird form once again, and flew off.

Agony smiled and narrowed her eyes; “You told him to get lost, huh?”

Xavien looked at Agony; “He meant well… but I just couldn’t have him as a mentor if I didn’t trust his extended family.”

“You’re going to have to trust someone, at some point, Xavien. I get it, don’t worry. Knowledge is absolutely power, and power corrupts absolutely… Just don’t assume that, just because one is not next to you, that you can completely avoid notice.” Agony said, then shifted down and flew off.

Xavien sniffed a chuckle.

He appreciated Karl’s information. It didn’t exactly shock him that Irving was his half-brother. New information had bombarded him regularly from the second that Irving had stepped into his life and stolen it from him.

His heart weighed heavily at the thought that his beautiful son was destroyed by his own half-brother. To think that there was somehow a point behind it all baffled Xavien.

He wished to see if this benefactor existed, but there were so many hurdles to clear. All of this made the potential interview both more and less enticing.

Xavien felt overwhelmed by the ubiquitous nature of the supernatural, and the fact that there were so many individuals and networks of individuals that he had to account for. Agony was right; he would have to find someone to trust. It would take a leap of faith, and faith was in short supply as it pertained to Xavien.

This life wasn’t going to give him a grace period to get on his feet, and his ability to maintain any level of secrecy while he trained would be pivotal to his survival. He needed to purchase time, one way or another.

The calculations processed in his mind as he focused on the potential angles and their level of impact. He could not fully rely on Andrew, regardless of how kind and trustworthy he purported to be. He could not fully discount Karl as a contact, even if he would not be in direct training. He disliked Giles, but hoped that there was something he could learn from him.

He also processed the concept of what spiritual tricks and abilities that existed that he would have to account for. There were so many things that it made it difficult to focus. He’d spent so long focusing purely on the physical and academic that he could almost let that ride for awhile longer. Perhaps the best thing he could do would be to focus on his supernatural capacities and training.

There were a lot of hands out to offer him help, and these hands would not retract unless something was placed in them as payment in return. This meant that he was at a disadvantage, and he would not allow others to treat him as such. He would prefer if they believed him to be weak, but were uncertain enough to act for fear of his potential.

He clutched the silver dentures in his hand. He had no need for trophies. He used the shirt sleeve from a dead vampire to wipe them clean, and then left them at the scene. Xavien headed to the Inari garage.

He owed them conversation for their consideration, but would not commit to anything just yet.

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