He had found comfort in this level of unknown, for the first time since his world had shifted. He was enough of an unknown that he could keep others guessing. The understanding of the measures that had been taken to guarantee his safety through the years helped him understand that it actually had worked in his favor to have this level of assistance. There was a lot to be desired, but that was always to be the case. He was not going to become omnipotent nor omniscient, nor should he expect himself to be.
His success would always depend on the delicate balance of actual deeds and suspension of disbelief. This was not going to be difficult for him to maintain until he gained his footing. The world around him would teach him a lot if he were to keep his eyes open. He couldn’t compromise himself or his principles on any level; in spite of the fact that he could not consider any cause he championed to be righteous. It wasn’t about impressing anyone; it was about what was fair and just. There was too much of an imbalance, and he felt that he could unsettle the unjust enough to make a difference.
Xavien drove his new car to the Inari garage, which had “Car and Motorcycle Repair” painted in big white block lettering on the outside of the garage. He parked outside of the bay door and waited as the middle bay door opened and Mei Li, Mi Lei’s daughter motioned him in. She was dressed in black yoga pants and a black sports bra, her midriff revealed a portion of what appeared to be extensive black tribal tattoo-work. Her hair was bound into a tight braid behind her, and her hands were covered in grease as she continued to motion him in.
He pulled the car in until she motioned for him to stop and smacked the ‘close’ button on the bay door.
“What do you want, Mister Interpol?” She asked, in a nasty tone.
Xavien was confused, for a moment, but then realized who (and what) he was speaking with; “To investigate you for wrongdoing, naturally.”
She pursed her lips and twitched her mouth slightly to the left as a playful glint shown in her eyes; “Very funny, secret agent man. I am as innocent as driven snow in heaven.”
Xavien thought she was adorable.
“I’ll bet. A virgin too, no doubt.” Xavien smirked.
“You want to investigate that… big money.” She chirped.
Xavien wrinkled his nose and shook his head with a small smile; “I’ll allow Giles to be chief inspector of that area. Thanks for the offer, I’m quite flattered.”
She broke out in laughter; “You are alright, secret agent Brady-man.”
Xavien pondered for a moment. He couldn’t very well evoke as much of a reaction under the moniker of Brady. He respected his mother and didn’t want to expressly honor his father, he just wanted to defiantly serve notice to those who would see him fall.
“You seem confused?” Mei Li asked, as her brow furrowed.
“I think it is time for a name change, that’s all” He said as he got out of the car, closed the door and leaned on it with his arms crossed.
“We already know you are ‘The Man’… what more could you want?” She asked, playfully.
“I am thinking more of an official, real-world name change. There are a lot of people that would take notice of me as Xavien Van de Leur. I don’t have a middle name, I could just maintain Brady as my middle name.” Xavien nodded.
“A lot of scared, angry and powerful people. You might be ‘The Man’, but you could be ’The dead Man’ if you do that now.” She cautioned.
“I’ve already come close a few times, and I’m sure I’ll come close again sometime real soon… But I’m hoping it will serve notice to everyone, not just those who wish to do me harm.” Xavien explained.
“By the way, I’ve not introduce myself officially. I am Mei Li. And you are?”
“Xavien B. Van de Leur, independent contractor for Interpol. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He smiled.
“The pleasure is all mine, Mister Van de Leur. Remember to take this life step by step, so that you do not miss a thing.” She smiled genuinely, then reached up and patted him on the head; this was quite a reach because she stood only about four-foot-nine. Her hair was wavier than her mother’s, but the mischievous smile was clearly genetic.
He grinned; “So, your dear mother… Is she in the office?”
“Not so fast, Mister Van de Leur… we don’t let strangers in to see her. I must introduce you. You seem nice, so I’ll do this. Come!” She gestured and trotted ahead of him.
He played along and saw that Andrew and Giles were in the middle of a poker game, with a greater amount of poker chips on Giles’ side than Andrew’s.
Mi Lei sat by herself, amongst several origami animals, as she folded more. She turned and smiled toward Xavien.
Mei Li cleared her throat; “Madame Mi Lei, I introduce to you Xavien B. Van de Leur, independent contractor for Interpol. He wishes to speak with you about a private business matter.” She then bowed as she spilled giggles into the air.
Mi Lei nodded slowly as Andrew jerked his head toward Xavien in surprise.
Giles merely cocked an eyebrow; “Thaaaaat’s gunna piss somebody off…” he muttered as he barely hid his amusement.
Andrew shook his head; “You can’t be serious… you haven’t made this official yet, have you? It’s not on any paperwork, right?”
“No, not yet. But soon will be.” Xavien nodded.
“You have but to say the words; and it become official.” Mi Lei smiled; “Everyone already knows he Van de Leur… now he just wiggling his finger to them, is all.”
Giles chuckled; “I’ll bet I know which finger that is…”
Andrew was positively frightened for Xavien; “You cannot possibly be serious…”
Xavien nodded; “I may not be ready to personally face down and slay every villain I could have in one-on-one combat… but that time won’t ever come, I fear. It’s going to take a lot of confidence, a little guesswork, a few well-placed friends, more than a few mirrors and a ton of smoke… at least until I really get going.”
“Gunna kill the bad guys with bullshit, eh?” Giles asked, without looking toward him.
“Only the bullshit they feed themselves. Between the uncertainty that they feel and the unknown they can’t quantify… That buys me a few moments pause. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves, and have been watching as people I’ve met recently tend to underestimate my capacity. I could give fuck all about what anyone knows about me; it’s the unknown that gives me the edge. That will always be the case.” Xavien paused, intentionally for dramatic effect.
The room remained silent as Andrew watched in horror, Giles seemed interested, Mi Lei beamed and Mei Li practically vibrated with excitement.
“The thing about this world is that… no matter how big you are, there is always someone motivated and able to make you fall. But if you inspire their imagination and allow it to control their perception of you… you’ve got them. Beyond that, it becomes maintenance.”
Giles nodded; “That’s great and all… until someone doesn’t buy the bullshit and pulls all the stops to take you down at any cost. I’d guess that is why Baskerville wants you dead now, before you get any tougher to kill.”
“That’s the thing… This is working for now. I’m self-aware enough to know that this will only get me so far. It does, however, buy me time to get my footing and prepare for bigger challenges. Time isn’t on my side, so I need to buy as much as possible.” Xavien asserted calmly.
“Which brings you to Mi.” Mi Lei nodded.
“I’ve brought you some money, Mi Lei.” Xavien smiled.
“I’ve got a great interest in this.” Mi Lei’s eyes lit up with playfulness.
“I would like to give you some of it for some assistance. Consider it a no-strings business arrangement, in parallel to the friendship that I hope to cultivate long-term.” Xavien explained.
Andrew sighed and shook his head; “My father is going to see right through this, and you know it…”
Xavien shook his head; “I’m not worried about your… father’s thoughts right now. I know something he doesn’t.”
Andrew shrugged; “Of course you do, but this won’t stop him from killing you…”
Mei Li left the room, and Giles stood up to make his way out of the room as well; “We’ll finish this game later, Andrew.”
Andrew nodded, then cast his cards down in the table in frustration; “Xavien… after you finish with Mi Lei… can we talk?”
Xavien nodded; “I look forward to it.”
Andrew nodded at Xavien, bowed slightly to Mi Lei, and then exited the room.
“Come, sit, Xavien… tell Mi Lei what is on your mind.” Mi Lei gestured toward the chair beside her.
“Thank you.” Xavien bowed slightly, then sat where she indicated; “I was hoping to discuss a potentially delicate topic that I hope doesn’t offend you.”
“Am I the head of a criminal organization, can I get you weapons and armor, provide you training alongside my kits, take you in as a paid student; all the while maintaining a cordial friendship that will not suffer if our business arrangement needs to terminate for any reason?” Mi Lei asked calmly, as her words were accompanied by a soft, ethereal resonance.
The corners of Xavien’s mouth dipped downward; “Can you read my mind?”
“No, but you are not the only genius in the room. You’re in a tough spot, and We are the most logical source of assistance. You have taken comfort in this place, but it is also clear that you perceive other benefits. You are a transactional being and will not approach someone and ask for favors that you cannot repay, so you do your best to impress with a large offering. I am not merely a wise woman, I have eyes and a logical brain is good for more than making sandwiches and giving blowjobs on birthdays.” She said with a serious expression and tone, as her eyes twinkled.
“I’ll admit that it seems pretty transparent when you explain it like that. I’m sure my enemies have me figured out, also.” Xavien said, ruefully.
“Ah… but they may be slower than you think; you have kept them guessing, this is true. Not for long, so you certainly should find these things you seek.” She nodded; “If you wish to quantify my organization, then there are certain activities that do not qualify as legal within the confines of human laws. However, these actions are our own way of law. We are not officially licensed law enforcement, but if someone attacks one of my kits and they do not fall into the hands of the court system because they are already dead? I don’t think this is a bad thing. It is a self-policing environment. I protect my kind and we attempt to have a home, since we are no longer welcome in our home country.”
Xavien nodded; “I am making a fairly large leap of faith here, I realize this.”
Mi Lei pondered; “I am still considering your proposal. What do you offer me?”
“This.” Xavien held up his garbage bag.
“Smells like considerable amount. Your attitude indicates that it is heavier than its weight. What are your terms?” Mi Lei asked, quietly.
“The terms of this arrangement are… I hand this bag of money to you because it is the only tangible thing I can give you. I then request that you help equip and protect me, and though the offer to train alongside your kits was not one I had anticipated, I would be greatly honored to. If this does not work out, either one of us can end the partnership, and you keep the money.” Xavien explained.
“How much is in the bag?” She asked.
“Almost six-hundred and forty-two thousand dollars.”
Her eyes popped open; “I question the wisdom of anyone seeking to give their life savings to strangers. Some would say that this is not some leap of faith, but that it is completely foolish.” She admonished, sharply.
“So, I am wrong to trust you?” Xavien asked, with his eyebrows up.
She clamped her mouth with a ‘pop’ and sighed through her nose; “You are certainly taking a risk and foolhardy… but no… not wrong. You are special, which is not something I say often. I am tempted to tell you no.”
Xavien held back a smile as he queried. “Why is that?”
“Because if I invest in your advancement and security; I may fear for your safety and revel in your accomplishments. Occasionally, a true champion comes along… and you love that champion. You love that champion like he was your life-mate, son, father, brother and dearest friend… even if you’ve never met him. I don’t want you to become that champion… Because that only means you will die while I still care for you. I will outlive you, as I have outlived so many others… that is inevitable… but some deaths hurt more than others.” Mi Lei said, sadly, as if he had already died.
“You seemed to take to me readily. Why is that?” Xavien asked, as if he anticipated the answer.
“I state this because you wish me to, but because I saw this about you. Jonah Tan saw it, Mei Li sees it… We don’t see your success, only your potential; which is almost as heartbreaking.” She nodded, consolingly, as if he had already failed.
He instantly thought about his first impression of Tommy; “You know… I almost know what you mean. I met someone recently that struck me in that way…”
She smiled wistfully; “There are so few of you. It’s hard to pretend like I do not know of whom you speak.”
“Let’s leave it unspoken.” Xavien nodded.
“Very well. You wish my help, I reluctantly say yes. On one condition.” She finished sharply in a tone that surprised him.
“Do not step on the bones of my brethren to further your cause.” She spoke succinctly, and then continued her definition; “This means no willful harm to a fox, or disregard of an injured fox in the wild, no alliances or alignment to Emperor Chen’s interests, no willful congress with a member of the Chen family, be it sexual or political. I assure you that not only is the Emperor, the highest-ranked Inari, corrupt, he is vile and malevolent and has completely fallen into the clutches corruption. This ban also includes abuse of females under my care; you are not to abuse their trust and bodies for pleasure or personal gain. I trust that you understand the spirit of the ban and that I need not speak aloud every action that would break the covenant.” Mi Lei said, almost mournfully.
“Of course, Mi Lei; many of these things are not things I would do in the first place. I will make sure that I pay close attention to the rest of the definition. I will not break the covenant.”
“Physical currency has no place in a spiritual covenant. You may choose to use your money as you see fit.” She smiled. “Although I am sure that there are members of our community who would appreciate a benefactor, though this is your choice.”
Xavien opened his mouth to speak, but then stopped short as he felt foolish for the thought that money would purchase an alliance with the Inari.
“You cannot keep separate the fates that were already written as entwined. Just as my heartbreak was made so before I met you; I cannot set aside the intertwined nature of the help and the friendship. Is it no secret that you found instant fondness for me and my kin? Jonah Tan knew, it excited him to know. Some things are simply predestined. You cannot pay money for things that you already have. You pay back by fulfilling your destiny. Just as I cannot tell you to live forever, nor can I demand that you not fail… I already know your willpower to succeed is strong.”
Mi Lei sighed as tears streamed down her face; “Now we kiss as lovers, as mother to son, as father to daughter, as brother and sister, as friends; we become.”
Xavien was stunned by the powerful nature and dramatic nature of these comments; “I… I’m sorry… I need to know a few things; only because I am not as wise as you are… How can you feel so strongly about someone you just met; were you not admonishing me for foolhardiness?”
She smiled wanly; “You should know that we are a playful sort, but that there are very few signals the stars will give you. You draw upon them for their wisdom. I knew you were coming. I did not know you, but I knew you were to arrive. Jonah Tan told me he’d met someone that struck him, and I had seen your face on television; but when I encountered you, this is when it struck me.”
“So, this is purely a supernatural feeling… I’ll admit that you aren’t wrong… I felt drawn to you, all of you, really; a bit like a home I did not know I had…Not Giles so much…nor Andrew… but all of the Inari.” Xavien added.
“Neither Giles nor Andrew are what you are. Giles is Mei Li’s temporary plaything. Andrew is friendly playmate, and a fascinating creature for me to observe. You aren’t our champion, because a champion belongs to no one. You aren’t even a champion yet… but we smell it on you like a young girl smells love… like a father smells the skin of his newborn child… it is there and refreshing. In this world, you cling to the hope you can, because so much will tear it down. We Inari are susceptible to it more than most.” Mi Lei added.
Then, it dawned on Xavien; “Please forgive me if I am accidentally insensitive or insulting… but this makes sense… Your kind aren’t particularly book-smart or physically strong, but you are centered in the whimsical and supernatural… Your logic is in what is mystical, based not in finite mathematics or science… but, at best, metaphysics…”
“And you are ‘The Man’… Book-smart, physically strong, emotionally infantile, supernaturally stunted and ignorant of anything infinite. You understand that we fit, but perhaps you do not know exactly how well we fit just yet. That is all in your training.” Mi Lei smiled as the tears dried on her cheeks; “And now we kiss. First as lovers.”
Xavien was taken aback, he didn’t expect this to be quite literal, but he was not going to refuse; “Okay.” He nodded.
With a quick motion of her right hand, she flipped the flimsy table into the air. Xavien would have startled, but then the environment shifted, which left him mesmerized. The origami animals became their full-sized ethereal counterparts and landed on their wings, paws, fins and legs as designed. There were a vast array of cranes, spiders, foxes, wolves, koi, tigers and snakes that surrounded them. The ground seemed to disappear from underneath as the table flipped through the air, turned into a green lily pad as it landed and they gently landed on it.
The small, white square pieces of paper, that had previously rested upon table, formed clouds, waves and leaves that blew around them as they stood on the lily pad. The rest of the environment took upon a midnight blue hue, just barely kissed by moonlight.
As Xavien looked about him in awe, he went slack-jawed. He had no idea that magic like this could exist. His attention was drawn by Mi Lei, who placed her arms around him and pulled him down into a sultry kiss.
His pecker throbbed and pulsed as the depth of her kiss pulled every sensual thought into one and it became a sensation that raced through his being. He did not wish a release, as the sensation of complete surrender to the moment was so overwhelming that he did not want to ruin this moment. Her kiss drew him fully into her clutches as he drew her in closer.
In his mind, the whispers continued; “…as a mother to a son”
The kiss ended and he felt small in her arms as her body now became sizably larger; she kissed him on the head and embraced him deeply as echoes of the sweet song she had once sung to him played in his head. He did not forget his own mother, but accepted her maternal and nurturing nature as pure and beautiful. The previous sensuality had left him completely as he relented to her embrace as if he were vulnerable and in need of protection.
The whisper returned; “…as a father to a daughter”
The embrace ended and she melted into his arms, becoming smaller than her normal human form. He held her tight, feeling the most intense of anger toward anything that could harm her; worried he may lose her to some large enemy he could not contain. He did not forget Scott, but he acknowledged that she allowed herself to be vulnerable in his arms, to convince him that it would be okay for him to open his heart this way some day. His tears fell on the top of her head as he kissed her and clutched onto her like might have done to Scott if he’d known he was to lose him.
Again, the whisper echoed; “Like brother to sister…”
The embrace ended and she shifted into her small fox form, which caused Xavien to instinctively shift to his smaller wolf form. They entwined their necks tenderly and then she nipped him on the ear. She quickly bent down and chomped down on his paw. He felt irritated and body-checked her into the ground and then he pinned her beneath his larger form. Her chipper and amused face melted his irritation and they nuzzled. He let her up and her small fox tongue licked his paw.
Once more, the whisper beckoned; “…and as friends”
Exhilaration filled his form as he shifted up to his powerful, imposing werewolf form. Awe struck him as he saw her shift to a gorgeous and ethereal five-tailed red fox that had a tail each of wood, earth, air, fire and water. Her form was merely five-feet tall, but he felt much smaller in her presence. She levitated up to his eye level, gently licked each side of his muzzle and then pulled him into a firm, extended hug.
She released him and gently glided back down to the lily pad as the world around them slowly began to reconstruct into the reality from whence it came. As it did so, she sang to him, once more.
Trust is only a tool
Faith must not exist
Hope is only for the hopeless
Kinship is for eternity
Care not for those which care too much
Draw near to those who are drawn to you
Lose those who seek to stand by you
The Fates will pull you close to those you need
The Art of this life is Love
Without this Love there is no Art
Without this Art, there is no Magic
Life without Magic is Decay.
Decay is the Corruption that will overtake us all one day
The love you create in between those spaces
Will stand for all time as a champion
As a lesson, a lesson for those hurting
Those hurting will need a champion
And they will look to you, even when you are dead
When the time is right, the fates will smile again
And the new champion will follow your blueprint
He smiled at her as they returned to their seated position at the table. Xavien glanced at the table and noted that the origami figures were gone, along with the extra papers; “Where did…?”
“They were but homes for spirits. Not like a trap, but like a car that they could take a joyride in if they wished to. They’ve spread the song of kinship. Very soon, you will receive a visitation in a dream, and that visitation will be the spirit that will be your guide for the rest of your days. But this won’t be just any spirit… it will be one of the most powerful spirits that we Earth-bound can encounter. It may happen tonight, it may happen in forty nights; I know not. You have taken the Inari Oath of Kinship, something that is most sacred. It is honor embodied, something that spirits take notice of. To a point, you will not know its true impact for many years. However, aside from the loyalty of the Inari you can see; your guide will come to you when next you sleep for your night.”
Xavien felt…he just felt.
The feeling within him was indescribable but intense; directionless but fullest that he had ever felt. This was nearly as surreal as the ethereal masterpiece of a living dream that he’d just experienced.
He could not shake the astonishment, and he was humbled in the presence of Mi Lei; the most humility he’d felt in his relatively short life. She’d given something of herself to him, as she was perceptibly drained and he was noticeably livened. He felt insignificant, yet somehow powerful… but most of all…
“What happened? I feel different… but not in a bad way.” Xavien looked into her tired eyes and felt regret that he had questions after all of that.
“More. Merely more, Xavien Van de Leur. More than you are, more than you were, but not more than you will be. How you move forward is up to the winds, but know that your fellow Inari brethren will walk beside you. Dearest child… Mi Lei is tired. You may stay if you wish to rest… but allow the tide of questions to ebb?” Mi Lei asked sweetly.
Xavien stood and bowed deeply; “Mi Lei. Thank you. I will leave you to your rest.”
She smiled nodded as he left and closed the door gently.
Xavien felt euphoric, as if he were walking on air or still floating on that lily pad on an ethereal pond. Everything felt... additionally vibrant. He felt excitement for life in a way that he’d not known possible.
He felt disembodied as he walked into the larger part of the garage. Xavien wept when he saw twenty Inari in their full form, they had all knelt and bowed in his direction. This was too much for him and he’d not been prepared for this. Everything had happened so quickly, but it felt right.
Xavien didn’t know anything about Inari culture; he barely knew anything about Japan or Japanese culture or people. He’d heard of Anime, and the best he knew of their food was teriyaki and sushi… but here he was not only accepted, he was taken in as a member... He’d been a loner for so long, without a home and without a true clan… For them to invite and accept him seemed incongruent. He’d often felt like he could do everything alone; he still figured it was possible. He just didn’t want to any longer.
He shifted into his werewolf form, knelt and bowed to them. Then he heard many voices ‘yip’ loudly and he looked just in time to see all of them as they leapt toward him. He got caught up and entangled in a writing mass of jubilant foxes. It was overwhelming and he found himself pinned under the excited mass of shifted animals. The only thing left that he could do was to laugh, which he did.
He felt… joy.