Climbing up the tower, below a cloudscape drenched in pewter…
“Hey! Hey Olivia!” It was a boy’s voice, pressing in the cold. “Whatcha tryna do? Are you climbing to the moon?” The boy sniggered impetuously.
The cold raked at the inside of his throat. It was a fifteen foot drop, but the eight-year-old boy took it with ease. His heckler wore a faded, torn pair of jeans and a tight-fitting red shirt, his fat belly pressed against it like milk in a bag. The sight made him feel uneasy. Tomi shook a sharp breath in, stepping away from him.
“I told you to leave me alone,” the other boy said quietly, not looking Tomi in the eyes.
“Wh-wh… how did you do that?!” In genuine fear, sprinkles of rain carried on the wind. “That was so high up!”
His thumb was stinging from where it had gotten snagged on a broken piece of metal. West City Elementary’s playground was remarkably decrepit – half the swings were now just hanging pairs of chains, and much of the orange-metal jungle gym was falling into disrepair. Sucking the blood from the cold-burning wound, he felt only impatience.
“Leave me alone.” His eyes once again returned to the sky; he ruffled his hair in anticipation.
The punch had blinded him, his cheek shivering with prickly, warm-rushing pain. Tomi was huffing so hard, his breath was visible. He was no dragon. But his blood red nose, barely more than a bump on his squarish, freckled face, leaked almost as much vapor as his fat, stupid mouth. “How’d you like that, stupid-face?! Are ya gonna cry like a girl?” His was an angry pleasure. “I bet you’re a Hanzo main!”
That was a filthy accusation; he was actually a Zenyatta main. The thought that anyone would believe he was even capable of maining Hanzo induced within him the feeling of furious distress.
His ear ringing, throbbing in the cold, his father’s voice emerged, a memory of a memory of a forgotten memory: “You could really hurt them if you tried. But you should never do that, Olivien. If you get into a fight, you could…”
He punched Tomi square in the nose. The other boy spit-exhaled and stumbled back, raising his hands in a sloppy attempt at defense. He hit Tomi again, this time on the cheek. The rising in his chest was only driving him forward. It was a floating feeling, a burning feeling.
Tomi grunted and fell back further, stumbling through the bark. Rusting, broken chains made mild music of the breeze. He hit the boy a third time, and a fourth, and there was his mother, running from the distance, her high heels clanking on the asphalt. The trees shook as another tearful wind blew through. Tomi was running to her now. “Oh, my baby, oh my baby, Stop!! Stop it now!! Oooooh, my baby…!”
From the distance, he couldn’t tell if Tomi’s nose was bleeding, or if it was just so red because of the cold. The woman’s voice, shrill and urgent, her purse knocking against her hip as she ran, seemed more to enhance the stillness than to break it apart.
Olivien stood on the curb watching the hover cars whoosh by. “Hey, you alright man?”
The colors and the darkness came together. “Yeah, I’m fine. We ready?”
They were five; two girls, three boys. He followed them meekly into the club, his mind running with the sound of the cars, empty and agitated. Higasuki was chatting carelessly about the movie they were going to see afterwards. “Shark Attack IV: Revenge of the Trawler… finally this time the boat attacks back! How insane is that? Don’t you want to see it?!”
“Bedbugs! I wanna see Bedbugs! It’s a sweet family treat for almost the whole neighborhood!” Tia (his girlfriend) said in a high, flutey voice.
“Nah. No way. That’s a kid’s movie. Don’t be lame.”
Their seats were good; the Gotham was a smaller venue, with tables enough for a few dozen people. On each table, a candle burned; the lights had been lowered. A mic stand stood proudly on the empty stage. Olivien took the middle seat; his friends took their seats on either side of him.
He had known beforehand that Higasuki and Taro would be bringing their girlfriends. As everyone waited for the stand-up to come out, they sipped overpriced sodas and talked, but Olivien found that the boys were more interested in their dates than him, so there was hardly any opportunity for him to say anything. His sister would have laughed at how pathetic he was if she had been there.
High-rising cackles permeated the dark air. Happiness like that was fleeting and grating, rousing feelings of dissatisfaction with himself. Olivien’s mind turned to his father. He couldn’t help but think of how he’d let his dad down. Pulling a flask of vodka out of his pocket, he sneakily poured the entire contents into his ice-armored glass of weeping Sprite.
There had been disappointment in his father’s voice after he’d admitted to him how little he actually trained. “Yo, how about we go to Emile’s later? Oli, you got some… y’know…” He mimed drinking from a flask.
Olivien nodded mildly. “Yeah, I got you.”
Taro’s date laughed shrilly. She already looked a little drunk. It was rare for Olivien to go out with people like this. His friends, if they could be called that, were just people he’d met a few years ago and never shaken loose from.
He never knew what to say or how to say it. Thankfully, his friends were more interested in their dates, and he didn’t have to try to be another social animal like them. That got so tiresome, so weary on his brain. Olivien felt the eyes, even the glances, boring into him like starved leeches. They hammered at him like his father’s fists during a training exercise. An echo chamber spun with breathless, scattered thoughts, half-formed in their instinctual desperation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for our first stand-up of the night… Dangeruss!”
A regular-looking man in regular-looking clothes with brown hair walked out onto the stage to scattered applause. “So how about that East City? That was pretty sad, wasn’t it? Damn furries.”
It was a joke that came out of nowhere. Some people laughed. Heat coursed through Olivien’s veins. He sighed in deep pleasure. It wasn’t a feeling of happiness inherently, this feeling, but one that could easily be transformed into that with a just a little care and thought. His eyes turned to the table next to him. In his peripheral vision, he felt Higasuki embrace his date, the action producing a flash of blinding embarrassment in the Saiyan’s chest.
He perceived himself glancing at a young man sitting at the table next to him, admiring the beauty in his face, the soft curve of his chin, his round and smooth nose. Olivien’s chest heaved itself forward in a sudden jerk. He slid out of his seat and teleported to the far door. Using the room’s near darkness to his advantage, Oli was able to escape without anyone, save for perhaps the people sitting behind him, noticing.
The man who had been sitting behind Olivien was a chubby middle-aged man with a red beard and a soon-to-be-bald mountainous scalp. “What a bunch of fucking shit, man!” the man complained from his chair, raising an ice-rattling cup of gin at the comedian standing on the stage. “Not cool, man. Too soon, man. I had a cousin who was a furry… he got blown up in all that shit! Is that funny? Huh?”
“Yeah, a little,” the man on stage said. Olivien lingered at the door. Dangeruss did not give a shit; in his next breath, he moved onto a joke about dolphins and waterproof peanut butter. The admiration Olivien felt towards him in that moment stemmed from his own cowardice in social situations. But that was nothing new – he was fleeing again right now.
Rain had drenched the midnight city, and a light mist was still hanging over them. He decided to take the train back home, as if to convince himself that he was normal. If he hadn’t been drunk, he might not have done this, but he was feeling foolish.
These streets were his. A fox-faced policeman was reaching to place a soggy ticket on an illegally-parked hovercar’s windshield. Up ahead, a crowd had formed under some tents leading into a club. The club’s name flashed with violet neon colors, the letters arranged in a cute, disheveled way, almost childish in presentation: ‘Great Saiyaman 2’.
The bouncer at the door was almost seven feet tall, his muscles like water balloons about to burst. As he opened the door to let in two twenty-something women, Olivien kicked off the ground, teleporting past them and into the club. He was greeted by perfume and alcohol and a beat running through his ears down to his toes and back like shocks of ecstasy. He caught himself breathing hard. A server passed him, glancing disapprovingly.
His speed meant he could get whatever he wanted. He never felt like his mind slowed down when he became drunk like this – only the world around him started to move slower. He liked to drink to forget, to lessen the burden of being so conscious all the time. It’s hard to be a human being, he remembered – a line from some song his sister liked to play all the time in her room.
His eyes glazed over and the beat took him. He felt himself dropping a shot glass he’d snatched from someone whose face he’d never looked upon. They were dancing ahead of him, the bass tickling his bones. He joined them half-drunkenly, half-hopefully, and it wasn’t long before he felt himself grinding up against someone – a girl – no, a woman. She wasn’t more than twenty, her hair blond with electric blue highlights. He felt her heat against him.
Life flashed before his eyes in eternal slow motion yet beyond his comprehension for all its speed. “Kiss me.” In the dark, he jerked away. Her number was in his phone. He was on the sidewalk. This breeze had about it a mischievous cruelty. DROGO LIVES was painted on the brick-crumbling wall just above the single black brick in the ranks.
He felt the need to throw up; and the panic that came with it, that he was in public, that someone could see, was more than he could bear, and he felt his aura forming around his body.
A homeless man walked over to Olivien. The boy was hunched over, spittle dripping from his open mouth, fighting the urge to vomit. The man said something, patting his shoulder. He didn’t understand. The man tried again. Garbled nonsense sputtered out in a dry near-whisper.
“I-I… can’t understand… you…”
The dark, wet look in his eyes held sadness. The old man smiled weakly, patted him again, and sidled off into the shadows. His mind hung with flashes of the night, two or three seconds of a song morphing into another even as his mind’s eye remained fixed on her – her thin, drawn lips, deeply red, her eyes black as death.
“Take me too,” she’d whispered, her teeth brushing against his earlobe. She was shorter than him, but older – twenty or twenty-two, he couldn’t tell. There was a constricting feeling in his pants. He fell to his knees and spit blood red poison into the gutter.
The soft pavement was at once a familiar sensation against his cheek and one that reminded him that time was still passing. He vomited again as he lay there, the rain falling lightly into his eyes. He shook violently and whimpered out another tide of foul-smelling alcohol. He couldn’t remember how much he’d had. That was good. There was no value in remembering.
Moonlight shone through a castle-garrison of clouds. It was not yet full; his tail coiled and squeezed softly around his waist. A flashlight lit his eyesight up yellow. “Hey, you awake?” The officer’s tone was deep and raspy – the kind one puts on when one is trying to be more than one actually is. “Sir?”
Olivien’s head was swirling. He sat up and noticed the officer for the first time. “Hello,” he said. “Nice night tonight, man…” The Saiyan hiccuped and wobbled in place, nearly falling over again.
“Sir, have you been drinking tonight?”
The officer glanced at the ruby-raw puddle Olivien had made. “Public intoxication is a crime. Did you know that?” Olivien swayed in place, his cheeks flushing. He was beginning to comprehend what was going on. “I’m going to have to take you in.”
Olivien meant to run away, but by the time he’d thought to do it, the policeman, an older man with tiny, emerald eyes and a wrinkled face, had thrown him into the back of the squad car, his wrists already bound. His stomach roiled; he would throw up again if he had to blow his way out of this car. He wasn’t going to jail – that much was certain. Nevertheless, as the numbing stage of deep drunkenness overcame him, Olivien leaned back and let the car whisk him along down the road, unwilling to confront his stomach just yet.
“Wake up.” His tone was once again stern. The hoarseness in it was probably from the man’s advanced age. Olivien was surprised he wasn’t already retired.
“Well, the parking lot outside the station. I can take you in there, kid, or you can talk to me.”
“Talk to you about what?” He was breathing hard again, not looking the man in the eyes.
“Be honest with me, or we’re going inside.”
Those words meant nothing. “Why do you even care?”
“Listen kid…” The man got out of the driver’s seat, walked around to the back seats, and opened the door on the other side from where Olivien sat handcuffed, taking a seat. He smelled like smoke. “I’ve seen this happen more times than you could think. Kids like you always think they can just keep going, keep chugging, keep mixing drinks, that you’ll never overdo it–”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” He could taste bile on the back of his tongue.
His head turned. Olivien had lost him; his eyes found the moon hanging in the sky, cloudless and unafraid. Its light tickled something behind his eyes, and his fingers began to tingle. “Were you trying to kill yourself?”
“No.” He only knew it was guilt because he thought of his father then. The feeling was otherwise the same as anxiety – a boring feeling, a feeling without meaning.
“Really?” The man’s tone shifted. “Then why did you get yourself so drunk?”
The urge to be truthful suddenly made itself known to him, and it wasn’t anything he could ignore. Olivien had read once that you never change, not from the moment you’re born, no matter what happens, no matter who you meet, who your parents are, who you want to be. That statement seemed to get truer every day. To be truthful was not an exertion of effort. Rather, it was the removal of layer after layer of public masks, simulacra of real emotions, carefully constructed and maintained, the feelings compartmentalized and tossed away to the bleakest corners of the mind. To be truthful was to not think. He didn’t want to think anymore. He’d had enough of his thoughts – those unavoidable daggers that cut him to ribbons every single day, gnawing away at his being, his perception of self, from behind his eyes.
“I wanted to forget.”
“How stupid I was.”
The officer’s eyebrows raised. “Why would you talk about yourself like that, kid?”
“I never trust my feelings,” Olivien said plainly. He was feeling more and more sober by the second. A grey-feeling pain was making itself known in the shell of his skull cavity.
“What happened? You’re going to have to be more specific if you want me to help you.” His eyes were serious and green and small. “I really do want to help you, kid, okay? I could take you in right this moment, get you put behind bars, and nothing would change. I know that. I’d rather see you get the help you need than make you feel even worse. But you’re going to have to open up a little bit if you want to get real help, alright? Let’s start with our names. I’m Officer Carrow. Nice to meet you.”
Sullenly, he replied, “I’m Olivien.”
Trying to raise his hand, he realized he was still handcuffed. It hurt, how his hands were being pulled. He broke the metal easily; the officer saw, his eyes widening slightly, but when Olivien didn’t move, the man didn’t do anything except wait for the boy to speak again. They shook hands impotently. Olivien let it become awkward.
“You can say whatever you want to me, Olivien, and I’ll listen. So long as you haven’t killed or raped anybody–”
“No, I’m not like that.”
“Alright, Olivien.” The man’s voice was slowly starting to comfort the Saiyan. “So what’s on your mind?”
The window was fogging up. “There’s nothing really. It’s just how I am. I don’t want to be like this.”
“What do you mean?” The officer had closed the door behind him at some point, and he was now not all that far away from Olivien.
“I…” His knees were scraped from when he had lost his balance and fallen. “I wish I liked girls more. I wish I knew what it felt like to love them.”
The man shifted uncomfortably. “I see.”
“I don’t want to be like this,” Olivien said glumly. “It makes my social anxiety a hundred times worse.”
“You know, you can get help for that,” the policeman said. “There are people you can see… some I know personally, I can–”
“I’m not interested.”
“Then how are you going to get better, Olivien? You’re just gonna end up treading back down this same road again in the future.” There was a silver-shining bottlecap in the policeman’s hand. He was fingering it like a poker chip. It reflected the unearthly splendor of the moon quite well.
He wasn’t wrong, but Olivien didn’t have the energy to argue any more, so he simply nodded his head. “What are you so scared about, anyways?”
“I dunno.” He sank further into his seat. “I guess I just don’t want to disappoint my father, and…”
“He doesn’t approve?”
“Well… I don’t know, but I didn’t mean–” Olivien’s ears were simmering hot, and his vision was blurring. “I didn’t mean it like that…” His words trailed off uselessly as the pangs of shame clutched his throat. The look in his father’s eyes, the sound in his voice: disappointment looming over all. “I’m sorry,” the boy said in a strained tone, swallowing, “but I have to go.”
He didn’t wait for Officer Carrow to reply; he was gone in the blink of an eye, quiet as a breath.
Olivien flew above the clouds until he sensed the familiar energy signature of Jia, his family’s caretaker. Breaking through the cloudscape, Olivien landed on the sidewalk just in front of his father’s house. A mansion it truly was, three stories high with a new-blooming cherry tree in the front yard and walls of ivy and jasmine surrounding it.
His head was killing him. Jia, Chari, and his father were all in the house, he could sense. Some part of him didn’t want to face them like he was. He wasn’t exactly drunk anymore, but he wasn’t sober, and in this vulnerable state, he knew he had the capacity to make a lot of foolish choices and blurt out a lot of painfully revealing things. His sister liked to get him drunk just so he’d spill his secrets to her, and she had an excellent sense of detecting when he was already drunk. He didn’t want to deal with that shit tonight.
There was a man in a thick overcoat and khaki shorts making his way down the street, and he was struggling mightily with that. Spotting Olivien, he made a half-feral cry and made his way over to the boy. “Aw, nice! My drink’s still here!”
A plastic coffee cup with a pink straw and blue liquid within had been left on the bench at the bus stop in front of Olivien’s house. The man picked up the drink and without hesitation took a long drink. He moaned deeply, drinking down half the cup in a single gulp. Olivien only stayed out of curiosity; he had to remind himself sometimes that he was not human, that he was not one of these creatures, that his differences from them should be explainable by that fact alone. It didn’t make living any easier.
“What’re youuu doin’ outso layyyy-ttte?” the man slurred, nearly falling over. Sucking at the straw again, he turned to the curb and began pissing loudly.
“You shouldn’t do that,” Olivien said with a wince. “Come on, man, that’s not cool.”
The plastic cup now drained, the man hurled it into the street where it bounced a few times before rolling out of sight. The nearest light post flickered. There was a huge barn owl perched atop it, watching them. “Shouldn’do whaaaaa?” The man stumbled over to Olivien, putting his arm out. The boy caught him easily, preventing the man from falling. Evidently he was too drunk to realize that he’d even been saved. The human regained his feet, patting Olivien on the shoulder, his hand lingering for a moment and then sliding to his breast. When the man rubbed him, Olivien jumped away.
“Aueaahhah!” The man laughed in a way that made it seem like he was never more than a breath or two away from vomiting his guts out.
Oli disappeared into the wind, leaving the drunken man flummoxed and alone. The smell of jasmine tickled his nose, reminding him of his childhood. Olivien grasped the doorknob and eased it open as slowly as he could. In the distant, otherwise still midnight air, he could hear the drunkard kicking the cup down the barren road.
Of course, she was waiting for him just inside. Those were the perks of having a sister who could sense energy. “Where have you been?” Chari asked him, a hint of malice in her pink eyes. “It’s past two…”
He pulled off his shoes as he entered. “Why do you care?”
“You’re my brother, Olivien.”
“Damn, that’s a shame.” He yawned and walked off to his room down the hallway. The polished cherrywood floor was one of his favorite things about this house. He loved sliding down these halls in his socks, so he did… only this time he was drunk, and in that drunkenness, he had overestimated his sense of balance. Thus did Olivien go sliding into the wall, causing a photo of his family (including his mother) to fall from its cozy place, its glass cover shattering with obnoxious sound.
He was on the ground, his eyes closed, the blood pounding behind them. Short of breath, light-hearted, the boy didn’t want to move. He was so tired, so very tired. He just wanted to forget. Nothing would be better than going to sleep and never waking up again.
“Quiet. You’ll wake one of them up,” he said wearily.
“What are you doing?” Her concern was only growing more urgent by the second. “Are you drunk again?”
He sighed as she helped him up and led him to her room, closing the door softly behind her. “What?”
“You know what. I’m concerned about you. You haven’t been acting normal recently.”
“I haven’t?” He was too tired for this. He fell back-first onto his sister’s bed, rubbing his scalp vigorously.
“Well, even by your standards. What’s going on?”
“I dunno.” Clicking on his phone, Olivien recoiled from the bright flash of light. He should have anticipated that. Her name was Akina. He’d written her whole name in lowercase letters. Grinning, Olivien began writing a reply to her previous message of ‘That was fun :D see u tmrw nite??’ with ‘Sounds like…
“You’re hopeless, Oli, do you know that?” his sister was saying. “What are you doing?”
“Texting the girl I met at the club,” he yawned.
“Girl?” She scoffed cruelly.
“Are you joking with me?”
She raised an eyebrow as she read the text. He sat up and looked around. His sister’s room was sparsely-adorned. A few posters of women wearing the exotic-looking latest spring fashion trends were spread about the walls, as were some photos of him and her as kids, smiling toothlessly up at the cameras. A picture of their mother had been placed on the back of Chari’s door. Her walls were a light blue, and her carpet white. The room was spacious – more spacious than his, but also more horizontally-oriented. He could smell artificially-sweetened mango in the air.
Coming up to Chari’s dresser, he pulled open the drawers until he found her underwear. “Hey, get out of there!” she snapped.
The teenager’s hand was already in the drawer, feeling around. When he found what he was looking for, he pulled out the silicone dildo and flopped it in his sister’s face. “Aha, see, I know!”
Her face went dark red and she threw his phone back at him. Catching it with ease, Olivien laughed and tossed her dildo onto the bed. “What did you write back to her?” he asked as he went to look, but his sister was having none of that.
“How dare you, Olivien?! You can’t just go through my private things like that? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me?” His cheeks flashed with heat. “What’s wrong with you?! Look what you wrote…” He felt like throwing up, reading what his sister had texted back to that Akina girl. “You made me sound so lame… don’t you know words matter, Chari?! Oh my god, she’s going to think I’m a total idiot!”
It was rare for him to yell at her, as much as they liked to tease one another. His sister didn’t notice, however. She was still fuming about that dildo. In hindsight, that probably hadn’t been his best idea. Sometimes he felt the urge just to go with something like that, just to see what would happen, with no bearing on how she would think of him for trying it. The same thing had happened three years ago when he’d asked her, after they’d had a lengthy discussion on whether male or female oral sex was better, if he ever went down on her, would her pussy taste like bubblegum? That was the kind of alien humor only a virgin mind could come up with.
Ever since then, she’d had it out for Olivien.
He supposed it wasn’t so much that he’d touched her dildo, but more the fact that the dildo she owned, as brightly-colored and floppily silicone as it was, was not a human dildo, but in fact some strangely-shaped phallic-shaped thing that must have been some artist’s rendition of a mythical animal’s (perhaps, in this case, a night dragon’s) genitalia. He laughed deviously. The anger in the corners of her lips made his fingers tingle with delight.
“Chill out,” he told her. “It’s a nice one. Mind if I borrow it sometime?”
Chari bit her lip to prevent herself from bursting out into laughter. He pocketed the phone. The damage had already been done. He moved to the door. “You’re unreal, Olivien.”
“Hey, I’m right here!” he said angrily. “And that was a serious question.”
She scoffed again. “Of course not, dude.”
“Saving it for the princess, eh, sister?” He smirked, quickly opening the door and closing it behind him before she could get in another word.
There was a bunk bed in Olivien’s room. He didn’t bother getting undressed or turning on the light. His feet knew where to take him. He jumped up onto the top bunk and rolled onto his back, sighing heavily. Old Balerion, his father’s Nebelung, had been sleeping on his pillow, and upon Olivien jumping into bed, had jumped up himself. Now he wandered over to the boy who was lying on his back, breathing hard, and began pawing gently on the boy’s chest. Olivien loved the tuft of grey fur around Balerion’s neck. He looked like a little lion, his noble mane shimmering blue-grey in the near darkness.
After Balerion had fallen asleep at his side, Olivien rolled over and tried to sleep. As he closed his eyes, the form of that young man sitting at the table next to him with the blond hair and the flushed cheeks leapt out from the darkness and ensnared him. He felt his body react to his thoughts, felt the hot blood flowing, the stiffening, the shortness of breath. It was not unlike hunger. A feeling he could not control, a feeling he did not want. He didn’t ask for this. He didn’t ask to be different.
But in the darkness, his body screamed with desire, and he had not the heart to deny his lizard brain. That was a different part of him, his lizard brain. It begged for food, for water, for other boys. Nothing else mattered to that primal, biologically-locked part of him. It was never roused until it was, and once it was, he couldn’t begin to control it. It was the part of him that, like raw energy, flowed unchecked, and should he dare to stand against it, as he had tried countless times before, he would be defeated instantaneously. There was no point in wasting time.
As Olivien unzipped his pants, he heard his cell phone rumble on the dresser next to his pillow. He didn’t bother to look at what she’d typed back.
“Sleep well?” Jia asked as he took a seat on the bamboo stool at the island in the kitchen. Pressing his hands to the cool marble, he yawned as if on cue.
“What time is it?”
“Just past three.”
A CLEAN-BOT 6000 patrolled silently by, gliding over to the refrigerator. “Anyone else around?”
“Chari’s at Capsule Corp.–”
“Your father’s out too. He didn’t tell me where he went, but I expect he’ll be back soon.”
“I’m going out,” he said in a bored tone. “I won’t be back til late.”
“Where’re you headed?”
“Very well, Olivien.”
Jia made him some breakfast, which he ate in silence. After the scrawl of lame pseudo-romantic babble Chari had written, Akina had responded: ‘u ever been 2 Jupiter on the water??’ He let her know that would be fine. Old Balerion had jumped onto the counter and was sunbathing on the window sill behind the sink. He looked like a furry crescent moon, his greyness blackened in silhouette.
“Thanks,” he said mildly after he was finished, putting his plate in the sink. “Can you tell them I’m staying over a friend’s house?”
“Of course, Oli.” He was walking back down the hall when he heard her call again, “Oh, oh, Oli… I almost forgot! One of your father’s old friends came back with him. He wanted to see you – to talk to you, I mean.”
“Where is he?”
“I haven’t seen him since last night. I think he went out. I-I don’t know where…”
“Alright, I’ll find him.” Olivien shut his eyes, concentrating on non-human power levels. There were usually no more than a few on the planet. It didn’t take long for him to focus in on the new one. “Oh, it’s Okinaro.”
“That’s the one,” Jia said warmly. “The fox man.”
“Yeah, I got him. Thanks, Jia.”
Okinaro the Inari was hovering two feet off the ground when Olivien found him. The ocean stretched on in the distance, a darkening purple color as the sun was drifting down towards the horizon’s edge beyond him. Waves foamed against the sea rocks; the man’s grey-white coat of fur swayed back and forth in the breeze. His four tails were poised outwards like a peacock’s feathers. One wild green eye spread open when Olivien touched down.
“Hey Okinaro. Long time no see.”
“You’ve grown, Saiyan.” He found his feet and folded his arms. The Inari was wearing a simple white gi with black bordering. “You know, I wasn’t certain we would ever meet again.”
“What brought you back here?” Olivien tried to remember the last time he’d seen Okinaro and the others… it must have been nearly a decade. Back then, he’d been just a boy, and the memories of those times were run over with a blurriness akin to water, preventing any sense of absolute truth from emerging.
“Your father asked me to come. We can talk about that later. But I plan on staying until at least the princess’ birthday.”
“Yes,” he replied sternly.
Her birthday was in ten days. “Why did you come all the way here for that?”
“Show me your strength, Olivien.”
Okinaro’s form fractured into pure air as he teleported over to the Saiyan, hitting him hard on the chin with an open palm. The boy tasted blood. There was sand in his hair, brightness exploding before his eyes.
“What the hell?!”
“Get up. Show me.”
“Hey, you need to calm down, man. I haven’t been training.” The blood he wiped away from his split lip was bubbling bright. “I don’t want to fight you.”
“That’s not what your sister said,” Okinaro growled. “Chari observed you training in the storm that hit a few days ago.”
“Oh…” Flashes of memory, of his sister and Bulla, their drunkenness, his sister’s impotency, the pain in his forehead… Didn’t drink enough water. The blood and Bulla screaming and Chari on the floor looking up at him as if he could save her. In the end, despite the massive blood loss, a single senzu bean had saved Chari, quenching that day’s drama with cold efficiency. He wished there was a senzu bean for his brain. He wondered if his sister and Bulla had tried sparring again. Probably not. The princess was much stronger than Chari, much more adept in combat. Olivien understood that his own prospects against Okinaro were not much better. “Well, I’m not nearly as strong as I look, I can promise you that much.”
“You look weaker than I was as a pup. Show me your Saiyan spirit, kid! Have you unlocked your species’ transformations?” Oli shook his head, his tail twisting upon itself in irritation. “You have a long way to go then. Your father is worried about you.”
“I know…” Olivien breathed. “I don’t want to disappoint him.” Heat cried from behind his eyes, and he struggled to blink it away. Why was it always that shame that hurt him the most? “I-I should be training more…”
“You will be. I will see to that.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide. “Oh. So that’s why you’re here.”
“Not quite.” Okinaro grunted, falling into a defensive pose. “But for now, I want you to show me your ultimate attack. Hit me with all you’ve got.”
“Okay… I won’t hold back.” The Inari nodded approvingly.
Olivien felt a flush coming on, not unlike hunger or sexual desire. This was his alien emotion, he knew, the one his father told him about all those years ago. Saiyans are different. We like to fight. We’re stronger than humans. If you hit them, you could really hurt them. Don’t ever let your anger get the better of you. His fists raised and he let out a war cry as he charged the indomitable, long-faced warrior.
There was no one else around. That was for the best. “Kyorra Flash!” he shouted, jumping into the air, the sun at his neck, and unleashing the cyan-tinged energy blast upon his foe. Okinaro didn’t attempt to block it. A semi-translucent, whitish aura formed a protective sphere around his body, and the energy attack did nothing.
“Aurora Bomb!” the boy shouted again, this time using his agility to move behind Okinaro before releasing his attack. The ball of ki, roiling with greenish-red ki, flung from his hand like a baseball. It too exploded uselessly against Okinaro’s aura.
“Is that the best you can do?” the four-tailed fox man grunted, not even turning to face his foe. “Your parents’ attacks don’t seem to be working!”
Breathing harder, tasting the salt in the air, Olivien wondered what he was supposed to do. He supposed if his father had gone to all the trouble of dragging Okinaro here just to train him, this would have to go on for weeks, or months, or possibly years. Was his father really that concerned about Olivien’s lack of strength? A dreading, pressing feeling, like iron sunk in rain-soaked dirt, made itself known in the pit of his stomach. He hated that feeling. He hated the power it held over him.
“How about this?!”
His body moved on its own. He was only dimly aware of what it was doing. There was bluish energy in his hand, sizzling with electricity. He found himself closing the distance on the fox man. Okinaro never even twitched. He punched at the man’s face, lunged left, released a flow of reddish ki balls, and spun around again, aiming for a deep gut punch.
Every attack connected, but Okinaro the Unshriven never moved. The wind blew through the rocks. “Jirako!”
A light blue sphere of energy materialized in front of the man, which he grasped with both hands, splitting it apart like chunks of jello. Okinaro’s aura screamed into flame-light. He looked down upon Olivien coldly. All of this happened before Olivien could remove his fist from against Okinaro’s chest.
The Inari disappeared into nothingness. The heat of his fist connected with the back of Olivien’s head, sending him chin-first into the sand.
“We’ll begin tomorrow,” he said. “Not here.”
“Just… you and me?” Olivien gasped, trying to sit up. His scalp felt burnt. His eyes glazed over. Had Okinaro been trying to hurt him there?
“Chari and Bulla as well. I was meant only to train you, but they wished to join.”
“Fuck me,” the teenager muttered to himself.
“You have nothing to worry about, Oli.” Something in the gruffness of Okinaro’s voice was unconvincing. “Your sister is only a marginally more proficient warrior than you. You have the capacity to greatly outclass her within a few weeks.”
His cheeks burned. “Thanks, I guess.”
The waves fell in again. A seagull was waddling across the beach, just out of grasp of those reaching waves. Okinaro was an orange-blue flame, a ball of pure energy. It gave Olivien a headache to even try sensing the depths of his power. His eyes found the sea again just as his phone buzzed in his pocket.
The walls were shaking. Akina was sitting up against one, laughing at the top of her lungs. “I drank the whole bottle of wine!” she was saying again and again. Her voice wasn’t quite in sync with the bass. He laughed; he always liked to laugh. She giggled. “You laugh like a girl!” She was hysterical. “Are you a girl? Do you want me to make you really beautiful for your wedding night, princess?! Ahahahaha!”
“Do it,” he said, not caring about anything. His head was spinning. The feeling of aloofness alone drew pleasure. “I don’t care.”
She had the kit in her hands. Someone entered, moving to a urinal. ‘We are all made of greed’ had been written in marker on the dirty-tile wall. His head was in her lap, jerking, the laughter yet uncontained.
A flush – “Kiss me.” He leaned in; she pulled away. “No, not here.”
“Where? Where?!” he giggled drunkenly.
A couple were moaning in a locked stall, shaking the walls. “Not here. No, stop that! It’s still wet, don’t put your fingers through it!”
Olivien did as he was told. She brought herself to her feet sloppily, so drunk that she could have given a good talking to a wall clock. They were into the darkness together, running like children from the rain, and then she was gone. He was standing at the door, but the arm that had been wrapped around his neck was no longer there. A big fat man with broccoli hair pushed him out the door.
Oli lost his balance, falling to the curb like a sprig of parsley onto pancetta. A hover car roared by, far exceeding the speed limit. Rain dripped from a wax-colored sky as the moon hung yellow and large and nearly full. His breaths quickened and he looked away.
There was something there in the darkness, something watching him. He looked around, sitting up. His center of balance felt like it would never be restored. There was no one – not any pedestrians, not any cars, no bouncer at the door. He couldn’t even hear the music anymore.
“Akina… Akina… I’ve really, really missed you. We should go–”
As the teenage Saiyan attempted to stand up, the darkness became pervasive in his vision, and soon it was all he could see. There was golden, bubbling light, and then blackness again.
“Are you he?” one asked.
The light returned, less gold than grey. They were standing in a rocky, moss-overgrown courtyard. There was daylight shining down through a hole in the ceiling, through which a sparkling waterfall was spilling its guts with moribund care. The stones were dark, shielded in wet luster.
Four cloaked men had surrounded Olivien. Their blackened hoods were pulled up over their heads, and their downcast gazes betrayed nothing about their physical features. “Something is wrong. Perhaps we were mistaken.”
“This boy is the One. I have sensed it. It was seen.”
“It was seen,” murmured another.
“Test him. Prove it’s he.”
Olivien’s head was spinning; he was thankful not to have to think too much. “Who the hell are you guys?” he asked under his breath, almost afraid to say anything to them. He sensed no power coming from any of them, and yet, the stillness in the air, the smell of wet moss… it all gave Olivien a foreboding sense of impending doom. He was sinking and already forgetting.
The cloaked man standing directly in front of Olivien raised his face, revealing twin pools of light, electrified purple and smoky black. A caged animal screamed. Olivien felt something hit him in the chest, felt his ribs crack, and he was thrown back into a wall.
The taste of blood and his breaths, shallower than before, ran through his brain. The energy beam was in his hand, blue and burning brightly in the otherwise low light. The cloaked man was walking towards him steadily. He raised his hand and fired the Kyorra Flash.
The light faded, and Oli was sitting on the edge of the sidewalk again. “A-ki…”
He leaned forward, wincing, holding his chest, hacking up spittle saturated with blood. His ribs were cracked.
No one was around. In the distance, the dark shape of an alley cat jumped on top of a garbage can, clawing at a window.
The door opened and a man stumbled out. Youthful and strong-jawed, his hair was stuck to his rosy cheeks by sweat. It became harder to breathe. His chest fluttered. The taste of blood was yet on his tongue.
Giving Olivien only a passing glance, the man burped loudly and stumbled down the road.
The pain hit him with the precision of suffocating thought. There had only been two things in the entire world that Olivien had ever wanted: to be good, and to be loved. He leaned forward, retching a pile of red gore into the gutters. His fingers were running pink. The rain felt cool on his cheeks.
Breaking from the clouds, West City lay before him, all those assorted blinking lights, some rising higher than others, mocking a starless sky.
Guilt layered upon guilt until all that remained was that old familiar pressing feeling. The moon would be full in another night or two. The urge to look, to let it flow through him, to give into it all, held Olivien there for only another moment. He bit his lip again, tasting blood, and kicked off into the night.
The subtle scent of jasmine lingering in the hallway…
“A girl did that to you?”
He shrugged, putting the jug of mango smoothie back in the fridge.
Oli’s sister could be so stubbornly skeptical sometimes. “Really, Oli? A girl?”
He didn’t like the way she said that. Bulla entered the kitchen, yawning obnoxiously.
“Say hello to our guest, Oli.”
“Helloooooooooo.” Olivien’s voice suddenly went deep and dramatic. Chari’s eyes were so white he wondered if he’d broken her.
“Hey, Oli. Nice hair.”
“Thanks. Akina did it for me.”
“It’s pretty,” Bulla said innocently. “Is Akina your girlfriend?”
He met his sister’s pink eyes. Her look was an old one, a knowing one, a disappointed one. The flush of intoxication that washed through Olivien’s veins then came from being known – better to be a monster out in the daylight than underground.
He’d never wanted to kill himself – rather, he preferred to think that one day he would discover within himself the courage to do it. Today was not that day. “No, forget it. Come on, let’s go. Okinaro’s out back, I can sense him. We don’t want to keep him waiting.” The desperation to escape the guilt was what shocked Olivien the most. He had never wanted to disappoint his father, had never desired to become such a failure as a person, but he was, and he had. When he thought of his past actions, the only thing riled in his brain was the feeling of revulsion.
He thought back to the previous night. Though a senzu bean had healed his ribs, they had been cracked somehow – that hadn’t been an hallucination. Whoever those thugs had been, they had been able to hurt him – perhaps even kill him, if they had wanted to. The shame in knowing that stemmed almost entirely from the fact that he was disgracing his family’s name. There was no way to escape the swallowing feeling that manifested itself as a result.
The sunlight was on his face. “Are you going out with Akina again tonight?” Chari asked him. Bulla ran to Okinaro, who stood calmly in the center of the garden courtyard.
“Oh really? I thought you said you felt something for her.”
When they had kissed, he had felt it within him – a very, very small thing, buried, unformed like a fetal bird of prey, a flame in the dark. “Not enough,” he replied wearily. “Isn’t it the same for you, Chari?”
“No,” she said, wrapping her arm around her brother’s neck. “I’m glad I don’t have it like you, though. That must suck. Isn’t it just cruel?” His sister was grinning, unaware of her power. “You think you can like any girl you want. Your brain feeds you all that false hope, man, and then…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he interrupted her. He wasn’t willing to go there – not yet, not while yet he lived. “Well, at least you’re okay with it. I’m glad you are. It’s better than keeping everything repressed. Does Bulla know?”
Chari smirked and bit her lip, looking away bashfully. He’d never seen her act like that before. Stopping dead in his tracks, his heart sank. “You didn’t…”
The Saiyan boy clicked his tongue. “I didn’t want to tell you this, but I could smell her on your breath.”
He had been waiting a long time to say that. As his sister’s blush morphed into furiosity, Olivien allowed himself to smile as he walked down the path towards Okinaro. Plum blossoms were carried by the wind, fragrancing the sky, and behind him, his sister, for all her embarrassment and anger, was still many, many times happier than Olivien was. They would never know that, though they had perceived the cracks in his public mask. He was a weak and desperate animal.
None of that mattered. Olivien was determined to slay his cowardice by means of Okinaro, and if it took one session or one hundred, that did not matter.
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