Marcus had been watching Xander and Neroon spar for the last hour. He had yet to see any sign of the military knowledge or experience Xander had shown when startled on the White Star upon his awakening.
Xander parried the blow Neroon threw at his head but was unable to avoid the counter blow to his torso. “Ow! Are you trying to hurt me on purpose?”
Neroon chuckled, “No, but it is my reminder for you to focus. Your attention seems to be waning.”
“He also doesn’t seem to be committed to the fight. Xander we need to truly judge what you are capable of. So we need you to truly give this your all,” Marcus added.
Xander let out a heavy sigh, “I don’t want to hurt you guys. I’ve never been tested to see what my limits are. What if I’m not that good?”
Marcus smiled, “We know you can and are that good because you’ve kept up with Neroon into the equivalent of middle intermediate levels. He and I both sense you’re holding back and that is what we need to break through.”
“We need a true telling Xander. Only if you put your full effort behind it will we be able to tell what to help you with. Only then can the true warrior be known.” Marcus nodded his agreement to Neroon’s words.
“I’m no warrior just someone who has done what he felt needed doing and was right.”
“That is the truest definition of the spirit of a warrior. Many in my caste would benefit greatly if they could only learn and take that lesson as their calling instead of the lure of battle and glory.”
“Again,” Neroon called out and took a ready position.
Xander followed and the two resumed their sparring. A few minutes later Xander landed flat on his back on the mat.
Xander just stayed there looking up at the ceiling breathing heavily. “You know, I get the distinct impression that you two are enjoying this way too much.”
Neroon smiled, “I can not deny that it’s been a long time since I’ve had the honor or pleasure of training someone. But in this case it is that sense of you holding back that has me pushing you.”
“I'm not holding back. Well, not really. I just have to keep reminding myself you’re not a demon and reach for a killing blow. My instincts when fighting is to strike hard and as quickly as I can.”
“If you are to be successful and survive in what’s to come you must use every bit of your skills. I trust you to not hurt me fatally. If I am hurt it will be a lesson I take to heart and learn to defend against. Now, let’s begin again.”
“I really don’t want to hurt you Neroon. I’ve read that Minbari are stronger than humans but still you’re not stronger than a vampire and vampires are what I’ve fought against. They’re really fast, too. I'm used to staking them in the heart when I’ve got an opening.”
“Perhaps, Neroon, we should move him to speed drills. That will give us an idea on how fast he is and what he’s used to. From there we can then judge the best way to assess the rest of his skills.”
“Excellent idea, Marcus, we can show him the moves and then see where he’s at. This is less sparring and more how the body’s trained to move, Xander and from there we can move on.”
Xander nodded and got up off the mat. “Okay, so what do I do?”
Neroon showed Xander the basic speed drill moves and once he was assured that he had them committed to memory, Neroon began the drill.
Marcus observed in confusion as during the slower sets Xander had troubles with the moves. But they weren’t enough to stop the drill. He gave Neroon a look and discrete nod to increase the speed and difficulty and there was a noticeable difference in young man’s movements, his whole stance seemed to change and his focus became sharper. Marcus could almost see the boy’s mind working to counter and keep up with the blows coming at him.
Finally they were seeing what Marcus had noticed on the Whitestar, the soldier mind of Xander was coming through in an almost unconscious way. The young man seemed to channel it well but on an instinctual level to the increase speed and difficulty of the drill. This was a good thing but it would need to be something the young man would need to be able to access even at the lesser levels.
Neroon noticed the change in his impromptu student and without being prompted, increased to the next level of drills. When the young human kept up, he started to introduce moves and patterns that he had not shown. The change was almost instantaneous as the Xander they had come to know became someone else entirely.
Marcus was taken by surprise when all of a sudden Xander went from half-trained soldier to fully-trained in almost a blink of an eye. He watched as the young man that had been sparring half-heartedly earlier went into total neutralize threat mode. His familiarity with the Military Intelligence Division gave Marcus a good grasp of what this current mindset of their friend could do.
Neroon was finding himself hard pressed to counter and block the attack he soon found himself under. He had to step up his own speed as the young human’s increased even more. He knew they needed to slow down but try as he might any move to retreat was seen as a chance for the human to press his attack. So instead he decided to reason with the young man. “Hold Xander!”
Marcus noticed that Neroon’s voice was not registering with Xander and had to take action as Neroon was starting to take more blows than he deflected. “Stand down, soldier!” Marcus yelled in his best drill sergeant voice. Immediately the young man stopped stepped back and assumed a parade rest stance while warily watching Neroon.
Neroon stared at Marcus wondering what they should do now. The young human was not speaking. He looked questioningly toward the Anla’shok. When he got a subtle nod in return he stepped back toward Marcus’ side.
“Xander are you with us?” Marcus inquired.
The young man turned his head and focused Marcus with an intense gaze before answering, “Somewhat, sir.”
“What do you mean by that, explain yourself,” Marcus ordered.
“I am Xander but Xander is also here.”
“Is it like a completely different person or just another aspect of our friend?” Marcus asked.
“I am what Xander could and can be if he was trained, the fullness of his potential. Before that Halloween he was well on his way to being a soldier. He had been their voice of reason, reality and even saw the flaws in plans and strategies, though at the time he was never really listened. After Halloween, let’s just say, he had a wider knowledge base to pull from.”
Neroon looked perplexed, “But do you influence him or does he influence you? Which one of you is the real Xander?”
The soldier gave a wry smile, “The simple answer is yes, yes and both.”
Marcus’ eyes grew wide as he thought he finally understood. “You mean to say that, you are not quite a different personality but more of an enhanced version of what if?” The soldier’s head tilted as if he were listening to something only he could hear which if they thought about it was probably true.
“I think that is closest to what we are.”
“So you came out to the forefront because of the need for the higher skillset needed to counter and defeat Neroon. From what I observed you got stuck in battle mode.”
“Not exactly, the higher skillset did bring me forward but I wasn’t truly stuck. I simply got tunnel vision on the fact that I needed to prove myself, he needed to prove himself.” He shrugged, “It’s something that I try to work on him about but it’s too ingrained from his past.”
“Is he aware of our current discussion? Will he remember it when you recede once again?”
Closing his eyes, there was an instant change in the young man’s posture. “Yes, Neroon, I know and do remember. I let him stay out to answer any questions you may have had. Normally, as soon as the fight is over he goes back to standby mode so to speak.” Xander was a bit embarrassed but he held his ground waiting to see if they’d turn on him, after knowing more of the truth.
“You know, the Rangers will train you to the point that you and your soldier side will be more like one person than two separate minds,” Marcus said smiling broadly.
“Indeed young Xander. I believe the Anla’shok will gain a valuable warrior and member in you,” Neroon praised.
Xander rubbed the back of his neck while looking at the floor, “Geez, thanks guys. You have no idea how much that means to me.”***
As had become their custom the three had dinner together. Marcus and Neroon discussed with Xander what skills he’d need for the Anla’shok, who would probably be best to train Xander’s gift and who really needed to know about them. The longer the conversation went on the more Xander grew silent with very little input until he finally excused himself saying he was exhausted from all the sparring earlier.
Marcus watched a quiet Xander leave after their dinner with Neroon, his concern for the young man growing. “Neroon, how do we help him? He’s got so much strength and a great many skills, how could no one have taught him?”
“I do not know Marcus but from what he has recently revealed and what we have seen during his testing he will be a great boon to the Anla’shok. I do not know how I know this but I just know he will be our future.”
Marcus stared at Neroon in disbelief, “You know if I didn’t know any better I’d think you were a member of the Religious Caste instead of Warrior. ‘Cause for a moment there you sounded quite like Delenn.” He finished with a smirk at his companion.
“There is no need to be insulting Ranger. Besides should you not too be seeking rest? You did tax yourself today helping and overseeing Xander’s testing.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know I need to rest in order to heal fully. You know it’s your fault that I’m like this so there should be some sympathy coming from you if not some guilt.”
“Warriors are taught guilt can hesitate and still a blade when it is needed most. Though regret for harm done on a worthy opponent is no dishonor either.”
Marcus gaped at Neroon, “I swear that was a backhanded apology and compliment. All I can say is…thank you.”
“Come I will escort you back to your room for the evening,” Neroon said as he gently guided Marcus down the corridors with a hand at the small of his back.