After about ten minutes of revelry, Xavien looked up to see the amused face of Andrew as he observed the scene. Xavien remembered his focus and gave the gentle nod to let the Inari know that he was done. They respectfully allowed him up and he walked over to Andrew.
“I hate to be blunt, but I’ve got a few questions for you that are burning brightly. Is there somewhere that we can speak privately?” Xavien asked, quietly.
“I’ve nothing to hide. Please speak freely.” Andrew smiled.
Xavien pursed his lips and shook his head quickly; “I’m not sure about that.”
“Please.” Andrew gestured with his right palm up to welcome the questions aloud.
Xavien sighed, but wasn’t about to resist the wish of his former partner; “Very well. I need to know why no one knows about your mother and you’ve been intentionally ambiguous. It doesn’t make any sense as to how you are nearly the same age as I… yet your supposed father is mere months older.”
Andrew sighed, not out of surprise or awkwardness, but because he expected Xavien to dislike his response; “I have intentionally dodged the situation because of your inherent mistrust of me. This is also something of a difficult admission because I’ve also been skating by in the public eye because no one has any official record of my father’s birth. But we’re sort of the same person. Yet, not in the way you might think. You could say that my father had a bit of a terrible nervous break. Now, my kind typically have a ‘first-change’ in a similar manner to yours… except that particularly traumatic events can cause... additional… changes. However, these additional changes are usually more severe and have a dramatic, usually negative, effect on the one it occurs to. As far as I can predict, there is no real limit on these things.”
Andrew paused and smiled; “I appreciate you so much right now, I will say that. Your calm observation is a rare thing among your kind. Anyway… I won’t go into details because that could take a long time. The first change was during a point where I was about to be sexually assaulted in the juvenile detention ward of a prison in Wales. I’d been beaten and subjected to cruel torture at the hands of the guards and fellow inmates due to the fact that I had come from a rich family. There was a guard there who had a liking for young boys and had already abused several boys in the detention center. Long story short, he passed out before he could enter me. This was my first taste of power. I learned to use this power at will. Not only was I able to prevent myself from injury, but I was able to save other boys as well. I felt fantastic, like a protector.”
Xavien paused him with his hand up; “So far this sounds wonderful. I don’t mean interrupt but I must focus you further. Please get to the part where you are somehow separate from this heinous creature named Irving. My patience is not indefinite.”
Andrew nodded; “Very well, no more back story. My second change occurred and I literally became two separate people with a shared consciousness. Hopefully I can ally your concern when I tell you that I eventually learned to separate myself from that consciousness. I was weaker and needed to become stronger in hopes to destroy it someday.”
Xavien frowned; “Let me guess… I’ve no way to corroborate this, yet I’m supposed to trust that this is truth because… you’re such a good guy?”
“I can’t give you anything beyond the truth as I know it; your ability to discern is all and you have. This is what I have. If you have more questions, I will answer them.” Andrew grimaced, as if he knew this was not going to be good enough.
“I’m going to suspend my disbelief for this line of questioning. How are you to be certain that this connection has been severed? It does not seem plausible. Also, it appears that, if he was stronger, then he is the original and you are a physical offshoot… so any severance would seem unlikely. So, even if I were to trust you… I couldn’t trust your assessment of him or your supposed situation.” Xavien shook his head and shrugged.
Andrew nodded; “I am not going to try too hard to convince you. But I will propose that the split was not unwelcome. Think on one possible scenario. He may know that I am weaker… but weaker people can often gain trust and support from others; strength in numbers. He wouldn’t want his movements, thoughts or other intentions tracked any more than I would if I were trying to catch him. It’s a hard pill to swallow, conceptually… but when I was born… and through most of my life since then… I had always known the right thing to do; did the best I could to make things right in the world around me. The second split… was enough to drive me mad, considering the circumstances. The over abundance of the hurt and pain… changed me in a way I can’t describe; especially given the duration.”
Xavien sighed; “Perhaps some background on that?”
“Bluntly? My mother went insane and became institutionalized, so I stayed with my aunt and uncle. My cousin and I were subject to many abuses that haunt me to this day. My uncle was a bishop and heralded as a spiritual leader in the community. Eventually, my aunt found out and instead of stopping it, she called me Satan spawn and threatened to throw me on the street if I told anyone. So eventually I would stay out all hours to avoid my uncle. I then got picked up by a police officer that believed I was up to no good, and then my aunt refused to come and get me. I was angered by this and struck the officer that informed me of this. I was arrested and did my time. Then when I was released, I found out that my nine-year-old cousin had also been subjected to the same tortures. How did I find out? When she turned ten, my cousin was forced to have an abortion in private, and the doctor did such a hack job that it ruined her ability to have children later in life. I was angered beyond anything I’d ever felt in my life. I went into a rage and stormed into my uncle’s bedroom and confronted my uncle in front of my aunt. I threatened to go public and explain the tortures and abuse. They both just said that no one would believe me, and to get the hell out of their house before worse happened to me.”
Xavien tilted his head; “And that is when the split happened?”
“No. I was able to render them unconscious through this newfound ability… but had no idea how to fix the situation. So, I maintained it while I figured out what to do. The pressure festered and built up within me for several days. I wanted to save my cousin from this, but she was only ten and still on bed rest from the surgery. Plus, I had no idea of where I’d go. My uncle was the patriarch of the family and so well revered by the community that I truly felt hopeless. This is when I found out how hollow she’d become… she began to beg for me to… sexually abuse her… screaming and crying at one point. I couldn’t… it was too horrible… the pressure and helplessness just kept building until I merely rendered her unconscious. As the anger seethed through me… I just felt myself wishing she would sleep longer so that she never woke up; she was destroyed and I didn’t want her to be subjected to further tortures. I also felt my own tortured soul yearn for physical comfort… the darker part of me wished to indulge her request. But I couldn’t live with myself if I did that… so I just remember everything going dark… I could not stop myself from screaming as I fell to my knees, with my hands clutching at my head… then at some point I just began to see double. I stopped screaming just as I felt hands around my throat. I do not mean to inject levity when I say that I was truly beside myself.” Andrew sobbed as tears streamed from his flushed face.
“Sorry if I seem insensitive… but on point… are you going to tell me that you went gray from the experience? You became ripped in two; one for each of your natures?” Xavien said, as disbelief pushed his eyebrows up.
“You aren’t interested in the full story, I understand. Look… I’m not going to try to convince you… I’ve told you that much. I just hope that somehow that monster gets stopped… even if you kill me, for some reason or another.” Andrew said, as he composed himself.
The Inari in the garage stood there in stunned silence as they listened to this tale. It was almost comical as their eyes all riveted between Xavien and Andrew. Some seemed upset by the tale, others seemed angered and the rest were confused and worried. Xavien wasn’t even sure what to believe.
“How is it that you managed to stay close to him all this time, even living under the same roof?” Xavien questioned further.
“Because he lets me, welcomes it; it’s a cruel measure of taunting. I’ve tried to catch him in the act, predict his movements… even attempted to attack him. The only problem is that we can’t hurt each other… I just end up exhausted and he ends up bored. So, I try my best to stay close and monitor… and try to protect Nick as best as I can… In hopes that I can find some way of killing him.” Andrew sighed.
“He needs to be put in jail. Death would be a reward.” Xavien shook his head.
“Normally, I’d agree with you, but unfortunately… I don’t think any jail cell will be secure enough. He will either escape or someone will release him. He needs to die so that he plagues this world no more. There is one more thing you need to be aware of…” Andrew sighed and swallowed; “He pretends to have a conscience, and will give a sob story about how he knows how bad he is. He’s pure evil and will only get better at pretending; all the while becoming stronger and more depraved. I see this escalating to things even worse in the future.” Andrew shook his head.
“If you go at this with the intent to kill… you are a criminal. Death should never be the first option.” Xavien rebuked sternly. He felt intense guilt over those who had died by his hand most recently, and silently vowed to avoid killing in the future.
“He raped my cousin to death. After all she had been through. There are no words to describe the depths of his depravity. You will find that this life mandates death as a matter of course, for the safety of millions of innocents.” Andrew shook his head.
“Which reminds me… what ever happened to your aunt and uncle?” Xavien asked.
“He raped them to death as well, then violated their remains.” Andrew sighed.
“I do not know if I can continue to associate with you. There are too many questions, conflicts, ambiguities and uncertainties for me to reconcile. I want to believe you… But even if I were to believe you, I cannot endorse your intentions.” Xavien sighed, then wondered about how the Inari had handled this new information.
“I respect you and your decision. I’m taking some leave, and going overseas to do some digging on my own. If we run into each other, I promise to keep my distance. If you change your mind… call me. Farewell and Godspeed, Xavien Van de Leur.” Andrew nodded, then hopped on his bike and rode away.
Xavien shook his head and rubbed his hands over his face. It was par for the course that Andrew was a complicated pile of question marks… He’d just hoped that Andrew purported himself to be a bit farther removed… then actually Irving at one point in his life.
Mei Li placed her hand on Xavien’s shoulder; “You walk a separate path, but to the same end.”
Xavien looked at Mei Li and sniffed a puff of laughter; “You think? Just when I thought my job was going to be easy… Anyway, I’m going to get out of here. I have somewhere I need to be.”
Mei Li nodded; “Before you go… We have some things for you. Hopefully you will find them… satisfactory.” She beckoned for him to follow.
Xavien nodded and followed her to the back of his own car. The trunk was open and there was a black three-piece suit hanging from the latch. The sport coat had a silver-satin lining and the vest had silver metal buttons.
There was something behind the suit, so Xavien unhooked the hanger from the latch and saw that there was a sheathed katana with silver metal Japanese lettering that ran the length. He was not unappreciative, but he’d hoped for a firearm. He’d never trained with swords and certainly did not feel worthy of such a possession.
“I… don’t know what to say…” Xavien spoke, truthfully. He recalled a movie where someone said that these weapons were sacred and that outsiders were unworthy to possess, much less wield the sword. Did reality match fiction?
Mi Lei’s ethereal voice echoed in his mind; “It is to be your life. To dine on the unexpected, and learn more than you could possibly know.”
Mei Li smiled sweetly, as if she’d heard this as well; “To learn, you must find comfort in the unknown. Change from the skin of the corrupt and wear the uniform of your honor.”
He smiled at her and restrained the urge to kiss her.
She spoke telepathically to him; “I am not for life, but for a moment I would delight in your embrace…”
Xavien smiled bashfully. It was unlike him to be quite so transparent, but he felt so free around the Inari that it was hard to contain himself.
He excused himself to the restroom to change into his new suit. He spent the requisite time that he needed to perform the ritual that would bind these newer, more appropriate clothes to his form. Before he left the restroom, he slung the katana sheath over his shoulder and was dismayed to see that it disappeared the moment he did so. The supernatural nature of this katana seemed evident, which he was almost prepared for; but he feared that he’d done something disrespectful. His heart pulsed as he contemplated this, and then walked out of the restroom, nervously.
Jonah Tan greeted him; “You look dope as shit, dawg! You are the mothafucken man!”
Xavien whispered; “I think I lost the katana… put it on and it disappeared?”
Jonah Tan smiled; “It be hiding, yo! Cool out! It’s alllll good.” He then handed him a .50 caliber handgun with a matte-black finish, complete with holster; “We gots the hook-up.”
Xavien removed his belt and slipped on this holster and hoped that this did not disappear as well; it did not. He smiled and nodded; “Thank you, all of you… but I am still curious about the blade’s… absence.”
Mei Li walked over and interjected; “It will only reveal when you choose to draw it. A rat spirit possesses the sheath just as a cobra possesses the blade. The rat hides the sheath and its contents much like a rat hides its prizes. The cobra’s fast strike and venom will assist you, even as you learn; when you become experienced, it will become even more deadly.
“Why do I deserve a katana? I thought that these were sacred, and only given after years of training?” Xavien asked as he drew upon the knowledge he’d gained from movies.
“It belonged to Ron Taxer’s mother. He may be unaware that it still exists, but she was a long-time ally who helped to smuggle some of our kits to the states many years ago. The spirit determined that Ron was not worthy to bear it, but called out to me shortly after the Oath of Kinship.”
Xavien tilted his head; “I wasn’t really expecting all of this. Thank you.” He nodded his head in a slight bow.
“We love you, brother wolf. Though you have just joined us, you are still family.” Jonah Tan spoke, momentarily free of his seemingly-contrived urban dialect.
Xavien took a couple steps back and reached back, to try and pull the blade. To his surprise, the handle of the katana fell into his grasp and he pulled it with ease. He held it in both of his hands and marveled at the speed at which it slid out of the sheath and into his hands, as well as how light the blade felt. He gingerly attempted to re-sheathe it and was surprised as it went in with ease as well.
He spoke quietly as he scanned Mei Li’s face; “I don’t wish to take up any of your time, as I’m sure you are all busy… but I would like to learn and practice.”
“I will make time; learn now and leave later.” Mei Li smiled then bowed congenially.
Xavien bowed in appreciation.
Mi Lei then called them all into the break room for food, and Xavien followed the others into the break room. There were twenty pizzas stacked up in piles of four, along with ten two-liter bottles of cola. Next to these was placed a tray that contained eight large steaks that sat beside four two-liter bottles of water. Giles was nowhere to be seen, which Xavien found curious. Both he and Mei Li opted for steak and water as the rest consumed pizza and cola.
After the food, he worked with Mei Li as she trained him on the basics of their hand-to-hand martial arts; they were to work on this before they trained with his blade. He was impressed with her skill as well as her patience. She seemed, on the surface, to be a rebel. However, the more time he spent near her, Xavien noted that she was truly cut from the same cloth as her mother.
Hours dripped from the clock as they trained through the day, night and most of the next morning before he was forced to stop from exhaustion. She seemed disappointed, but allowed him to bow out. He shifted down, went to the breakroom and curled up in a corner. Xavien slept for several hours, awakened and was amused to find that Mei Li was impatiently waiting to continue his training.
She trained him throughout the next several days in this manner, periodically accompanied by other younger foxes.
It wasn’t until the end of the week that he was prompted to train with a weapon of any sort. Even then, he sparred with a weighted wooden stick.
As tireless of an individual as Xavien had been throughout his training, he had never seen such energy and enthusiasm from any other being; they outpaced him by great lengths. This was something that fascinated him, even as they exhausted every drop of his endurance.
Additionally, he’d always been a quick learner, but Mei Li challenged even this side of him. Her much smaller and lighter frame repeatedly upended him into a prone position. His progress was frustratingly slow, but he channeled this into his hunger for improvement.
Xavien was not afraid to leave the garage, but knew the proven threat that awaited him, should he decide to venture out. He had intended to endure Mei Li until she exhausted herself, but was stunned and impressed at her tireless dedication and attention to his education.
After two full weeks, she increased the challenge and Jonah Tan joined in the training activities. They ruthlessly defeated him, often leaving wounds and angry bruises in their wake. He grunted with frustration as he stubbornly refused to back down, but recognized that Mei Li refused to give him the smallest victory, he would simply have to get better.
For the next several weeks beyond that, his only pauses were for food and rest. This unsustainable level of intensity was clearly meant to break his spirit so that he would back down. There was a solemn air to the whole garage as they trained, and the gaiety that he’d seen on the surface had vanished completely; replaced by the deadly focus on, what appeared to be, his humiliation. Eventually Xavien would be humbled and appreciative of the fact that Mei Li had spent six full weeks completely dedicated to his training, but his wearied mind had begun to regard her as an adversary.
One evening, Jonah Tan had left to participate in a major nationally-televised race. Mei Li’s attitude seemed to turn from that of the patient and solemn teacher to that of a dark assailant. They trained with the weighted wooden sticks and she further surprised him as she drew upon a previously unseen well of ferocity. With a single, vicious strike, she shattered his wooden katana-length stick with her own. Splinters flew everywhere as she then drew her actual blade and proceeded to whip it through the air. The whole garage disappeared and thousands of thorny vines sprung from all directions and whipped through the air. Some wrapped around her body like armor, still more reached to subdue him.
With frightening precision, she struck at him in several flurries that left him with a dozen paper-thin cuts all over his body. Xavien drew his own blade in defense but she thrust her empty hand at him and a vine yanked the weapon from his grasp. She then lacerated him another half dozen times before she did a handspring, leapt at him, locked her thighs around his head and flipped Xavien onto his back, crushing several vertebrae.
As he twisted and moaned in excruciating pain, near paralysis, Mei Li rolled him over and straddled him as if she were to drive her katana through his chest. She brought down the blade quickly, but stopped just as the tip pierced his flesh. The ferocity left her eyes and the calm returned as she sheathed her weapon and collapsed on top of him, fully spent.
Xavien, still in horrible pain, was relieved that she had stopped precisely when she did. He had retained control of his beast throughout this training, because he had never been told otherwise. Both Mei Li and Jonah Tan had trained fully shifted, but he did not wish to upset them. Their sessions were completely devoid of casual conversation, beyond directions and rebuke for failure. His body and spirit had been completely exhausted from the constant exertion and his mind felt weakened by the intensity of focus that they seemed to demand from him.
He watched her as his chest heaved and body screamed from the pain and exhaustion. The experience over the last six weeks had been surreal, but he never felt trapped. In fact, when he’d been tired, they knew before he mentioned it and stopped in anticipation. Xavien turned his head and viewed the deep cuts in his suit. He then narrowed his eyes and watched in awe as the slices began to vanish; the suit was…healing itself!
He howled in pain as Mei Li sat up and rolled him onto his stomach. He couldn’t summon the strength to buck her off as she stripped off his sport coat, vest and white silk shirt. She unfastened his belt and removed his pants deftly, then pressed the heel of her right hand into his spine. At first, it paralyzed him fully. Then he felt a surge of feeling pulse through his body as the vertebrae crunched back into place and healed.
She then rolled his body once more onto his back. The deadly stare returned as she slapped him in the face. He was covered in blood that still oozed from the many paper-thin wounds.
He cringed and flinched as she bent down and… licked one of the wounds shut with the tip of her tongue. She continued to do this on every wound on his body, even the ones on his legs. Xavien’s strength returned slowly and he could have thrown her off… but was aroused and had begun to enjoy the attention. His hormones began to surge and the erection became impossible to avoid.
He watched as she seductively twisted and writhed over his body, as if she dared him to lay a finger on her. Xavien wanted sexual release, but there was part of him that certainly did not wish it like this. Not only was she his trainer, he also did not wish to cause trouble with Giles, or worse, her mother. As the precum oozed from his cock, his breathing became shallow. She made every effort to avoid contact with his genitals, and maintained a disaffected expression that almost gave the impression of apathy.
By the time she had licked the final wound closed on his calf, she had straddled him with her ass facing him; she kept it barely an inch above his hard-on, obviously aware of the effect that this teasing caused, even in her padded leather motorcycle outfit. Mei Li slid around and gave a sultry smile.
“No apologies… I know that I cannot have you; or you would have taken me already.” Mei Li petted the side of his face with the fingers of her right hand. She then kissed him on the cheek and sat back on her heels.
Xavien sat up and began to re-dress. He looked at her and sighed out of exhaustion; “These past few weeks have been… intense, exhaustive… not that I am complaining…”
“I must confess… I have never seen someone learn so quickly. I also have never seen a student so tireless and eager; not to mention the mental stillness you possess is uncommon for your kind. I underestimated you, and I must apologize for that.” Mei Li bowed her head slightly.
Xavien was flattered, but questioned it; “My training cannot be finished… certainly you have many years of experience that I could draw upon. I’d also like to point out that, at no point, did I defeat you or feel that my skill was even close to equal… I mean no disrespect but I feel like I really only learned how to get my ass beat…”
“Indeed, Xavien Van de Leur. You cannot learn all I can teach in a few weeks, I have been training for several decades. But I cannot teach you more until you attend to the world around you. Go. Return when it is time. I know not when that is, but you will train and I will teach when it is right.” Mei Li smiled.
Xavien noticed that there were several flecks of wood around his body. He picked one up and noticed that it was not a fleck of wood, but a thorn. He held it up with a quizzical look; “Thorn? As from a rose?”
She smiled and nodded; “And my kiss is as soft as the petals.”
Xavien smiled; “I have no doubt.”
“You have managed to do something that no Inari kit has ever done in my presence. Endure Kibishii training without shifting and pure human reflex. Jonah Tan joined us to attempt to force you into this, but your hungry mind never lost focus. There will be a time where this is not an option for you and you will need to rely on your wolf kami. I trust you will sense this. Time is now for you to become.” Mei Li smiled; “Do not worry about when you can train more, as you will gain it on your own. Return when it is time.”
Xavien stood, fastened his belt and checked his gun; “Thank you, Mei Li.” He bowed low, out of respect.
She bowed, then hugged him as a sister to a brother; “Take care, brother wolf.”
“Endure until I see you, sister fox.” Xavien said, as the words came without premeditation.
As he released her from his embrace, she guided his face down to her height. She placed a soft kiss on his lips and he felt rejuvenated and reinvigorated. Mei Li then wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him again deeply. She pulled away after a moment and grinned as she patted him gently on the face, pleased with the stolen kiss. He was not about to complain.
With a serene smile, he walked to his car and opened the door. The keys were in the ignition, already, so he started the car and began to back out as the bay door opened.
The windows in the car were open and the heat of the deep-summer day warmed his face.
The sunshine invigorated him and he suddenly had no idea as to where he was to go next, but he did not care. He pulled out into traffic and drove around the streets of Hyde City.
Even though he had no idea where to start to commence his hunt, he finally felt aware of himself in a wholly new way. His thoughts came to him with a clarity that he had never felt before.
He was finally alive.