The Sixth Tail - Part 2
She could have been imagining things, but Katherine Spring was almost certain she had been hearing Fennin’s name a lot in passing since earlier today as small groups came and left the cafeteria for a late Sunday lunch. The dry scrambled egg was particularly bland.
“Hey, Katherine!” Mary appeared seemingly out of nowhere with a plate piled high with food and sat herself down next to her.
Being the polite girl she was, Katherine promptly swallowed her mouthful of food. “Morning Mary!”
“Y’know I swear you’re one of the only few people who actually likes eating in the cafeteria on a weekend”. Mary stabbed her fork into her plate full of food and shoved whatever stayed on into her mouth.
“It’s a little fun to watch everyone come and go” Katherine admitted with an embarrassed smile.
“Fair enough”. They both enjoyed another mouthful of their lunch. “So, do you know what happened with Fennin by any chance?”
“With Fennin? I don’t know what you mean”
“Don’t worry about it. It was a long shot but I thought maybe you might know more since you sit next to him”
“Apparently there was this big commotion out front earlier. Something about Fennin carrying a sleeping boy and being slapped by some woman? Supposedly it was his brother and mother”
“Wait what? Is he okay?”
“Dunno. But supposedly there was blood” Mary wasn’t necessarily a gossiper but even she couldn’t resist the allure of gossip that sounds like it came out of a drama series. “A bunch of people are saying they heard a whole lot of crashing and smashing and stuff coming from his room earlier too.
“I might go check on him”. Katherine shovelled one last big mouthful of food into her mouth, swallowed, and downed the remaining quarter glass of apple juice.
“Good luck. Fill me in later” Mary said as Katherine stood up.
She shut her eyes and with the flick of her hand, the cafeteria vanished in place in place of a hallway, and she was standing in front of room 207.
She gave three solid knocks. “Fennin?“. She waited a moment before putting her ear to the door to listen for any sign of movement inside. Nothing.
She tried the door handle which turned completely as if it would open but the door itself wouldn’t budge. She rested her palm on the door and felt the familiar stir of magic on its surface tingle her hand. An enchantment to keep people out. More thorough than a locked door. A few words wrote themselves in bold letters on the door.
Not present. Be back later
He was out? Where? If he was nearby then she should still be able to find him. Much like each person has their own unique fingerprint, each magical being emitted a different sort of magical aura or signature distinct to them. Katherine enjoyed seeing and feeling the uniqueness of the different magical signatures around her and had become relatively adept at differentiating and locating them more precisely.
It was nice to put it to practical use. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to help center herself, and focus on sensing the different energies around her. It took her only a moment to locate the familiar magical energy of her desk neighbour. She remained focused on his energy and with another flick of her wrist, the hallway was replaced by the forest at the edge of the school grounds. Odd. He should be around here, but she couldn’t see him. This part of the forest wasn’t exactly dense, and the trees were tall but mostly too thin to hide behind, so she should be able to spot him with relative ease.
She closed her eyes once again, allowing her senses to reach out and confirmed her suspicion. She took a few steps forward and reached out her hand. The air rippled at her touch as if water in a pond. A simple invisibility barrier.
She stepped through the invisible edge of the barrier and found the ground covered in shattered furniture and various breakables for a good fifteen square metres. Fennin sat in the centre of it, head tucked behind his knees and a crooked metal baseball bat on his right.
The crunch of autumn leaves beneath her feet announced Katherine’s presence. Fennin stared at her for a puzzled moment before letting out a sigh.
“I don’t mean to be rude Katherine but I don’t feel like company at the moment”
“Then why didn’t you use a concealment spell?“. Oops. Did that come out right?
“Because honestly, I didn’t expect anyone to look” was his abrupt response. Of course he had forgotten about the meddling concern those with the unicorn gift often had because of their infamously ‘pure hearts’.
Katherine retook in the scene, covered in broken things of all kinds. “This must’ve used quite a bit of magic”. It was a little impressive.
“Yes well. Repairing everything in my room again felt tedious”. That more or less confirmed the rumours that he trashed his room. “Got to break in my new tail at some point,” he said curtly.
He turned away from her. “Nothing”. With the right side of his face turned away like that, the blood smeared on his left cheek caught Katherine’s attention. She walked toward him conjuring a simple wet wipe in her hand. “It looks like the cuts healed already at least. But that bruising will need ice. Or healing” she said crouching down to wipe the dried blood. He grabbed her wrist to stop her, frowning at her before letting it go.
“I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself thank you”. He picked up the bat to his right and stood up. A plain wooden chair materialised a few meters above them and Fennin swung his bat at it as it fell. Katherine winced and stepped away as its shattered pieces flung in many directions.
“How was your younger brother?”
“Good. Just peachy!” He spat out the last word as he swung at another falling object.
Katherine was obviously missing something here. “Did you not enjoy seeing your younger brother again?”
“Why don’t you take a look around and hazard a guess?“. Another object fell and shattered with the swing of his bat. Why was he bothering to humour this girl?
“I’m sorry Fennin. I assume it didn’t go very well”
“Actually it went exactly as planned!′
A large armoire materialized in front of Fennin and he let out a yell as he swung at it with all his strength repeatedly until it was just a heap of broken wood in front of him a minute later. His shoulders rose up and down as he stared at the heap and caught his breath, and Katherine thought that she had never seen anyone’s back look so sad. So defeated. He dropped the bat, and his shoulders began to shake slightly even as he finished catching his breath. There was a faint hic and sniffles as he quickly wiped his face with his sleeve. Katherine wasn’t sure if it was the smart thing to do but she couldn’t help but step forward and start rubbing his back to comfort him. She didn’t know what else she could do. Just how sad must he be feeling for the king of composure to be so vulnerable?
She had expected him to shrug her off but instead, he turned and hugged her tightly. What was merely trickling tears and sniffles suddenly turned into barely contained sobbing. She continued rubbing his back in what felt like a frail attempt to help as her shoulder dampened. But gradually, bit by bit as minutes ticked by, he slowly began to calm down. She felt his rigid body gradually relax, his breath became more steady and sniffles continued to lessen. He let his arms drop to his side and simply rested his forehead on her shoulder.
“Sorry”. His weary, hoarse voice came out only a little louder than a whisper.
“Don’t be”. She sat on the ground and Fen followed suit sitting beside her. He rested his head on her shoulder again and let out a weary, shaky, sigh.
“So. What happened?” He winced as if in pain for a moment and Katherine recognised the look of someone fighting back a second wave of tears. “You don’t have to tell me of course”
“It doesn’t matter. Like I said. It...it went exactly as planned. So I should be happy right?“. Katherine knew a rhetorical question when she heard one. “Jian’s grown up so much since I last saw him. Two years ago now. But it still felt like nothing had changed. We played games, binged on snacks, watched a bunch of movies and just plain ol goofed around like we used to. I showed him around and I even taught him a few new spells and tricks”. His voice shuddered. “It was so cruel of me”
“How is that cruel?”
“Because now he can longer do magic”. His clenched fists turned white. “I took it from him. I took his tail. And when we lose our tail, we lose our magic. He’s always loved magic”
Fennin shut his eyes tight and took a deep breath but it didn’t stop a stray tear or two. “Because of the curse”
“My family’s gift. The fox spirit powers I have aren’t a gift or blessing like yours or everyone elses’. It’s a curse. The price we pay for our ancestor’s greed. It’s the divine fox’s way of getting revenge. Random family members are born with one of the nine tails. Each tail contains a fraction of the full power and adds at least a hundred years to one’s lifespan. But the tails can be stolen by other family members and the more you have, the longer you live and stronger you get. So of course generation after generation have used whatever methods they can to get more tails. Stealing and hurting and deceiving one other. Just like I did today. But according to legend the curse will only stop and become a blessing if one person holds all nine tails.”
“That’s why you stole your brother’s tail”. Katherine was finally starting to see the whole picture. “You want to break the curse”
“More than anything. I’ve taken my sister’s. My cousin’s. My mother’s. Jian made taking his tail all too easy. That idiot had been talking to me behind our mother’s back this whole time. He was actually dumb enough to trust me, despite all her warnings and everything I’ve done. We knew she would never let him see me. So I sent him instructions on how to teleport here and we made plans to meet up and hang out once he’d practiced enough. We hadn’t seen each other in two years and had been talking about it for a few months now. He was so excited. He didn’t suspect a thing”. Fennin quickly wiped away another stray tear. “I broke up a sleep enchantment and attached a small part of it to a bunch of DVDs I knew he’d want to watch. By midnight he was deep asleep as planned and I cast the spell to take his tail”
Fennin rested his head wearily in his hands.
“He’ll have woken up from it a few hours ago. Tail gone. Magic gone. Brother gone”
“Giving the tail back isn’t an option? Apologising? It might take some time but surely a part of them would understand why you did what you did”
Fennin let in and out a shaky breath. “An apology would mean nothing. It’s just words. And there’s no way to return a tail once it’s been taken. Even if I could, I wouldn’t”
“Katherine”. He had these conversations with himself many times. They all ended the same way. With him heading down the same path. “There’s no going back now. And there’s no point trying to. Otherwise it all meant nothing” His hands clenched into a tight fist. “And I won’t let it be for nothing”.
“There’s nothing more to say about it”. And there it was again. That wall that Fennin always kept up without fail. She could feel him already beginning to put it back up again and pushing her back out. But perhaps not completely. “I appreciate the concern Katherine. But I know what I’m doing. And I’ll be okay”
His smile was sad, but it was the most genuine smile she’d ever seen from him.
She put her hand on his shoulder. “I’m...I’m here for you by the way. You’re my friend. If you ever need anything, just let me know and I’ll try my best”
He gazed at Katherine confused.
“Friends? You don’t think I’m a terrible person? I’ve lied and deceived and stolen magic from my own family that they can never get back. And I’ve got to do it another three times”
“No”, was her instant reply. “From what it sounds like, you and your entire family are the victims here of your family’s curse. Maybe you’ve made mistakes and could’ve handled things differently, and it doesn’t make what you’ve done right. But you’re only human Fen. And everything you’re doing, and enduring, is for them. If there’s one thing I know about you now it’s that you love them more than anything”.
There was not a shred of doubt or hesitation in her voice. There hadn’t been this whole time and it baffled Fennin as he stared at Katherine as if seeing her for the first time. He had never noticed the way odd strands of her light honey blonde hair shimmered like gold, or the gentleness of her round face, or the way her amber eyes reminded him of bright orange autumn leaves. Day after day, this girl had merely been another classmate with her unicorn gift being her identifier.
He had read up on tales and lore on most of the gifts his classmates had and had always considered those with the unicorn gift naive in their thoughtless kindness and foolish for the way they wore their hearts on their sleeves and trusted so openly. But he was glad. Glad she was the person she is, and that she had searched for him out of the very compassion he had so often disregarded as fake or insincere.
“Thank you, Katherine”.
The mess around them vanished into thin air, and the two sat for a little while longer chatting about anything and everything under autumn leaves that floated down on the breeze.