Picture of Usagi Miyamoto
Source: Front cover USAGI YOJIMBO Volume 2, Issue 14 - Runaways Part 2
Lord Hikiji with his adviser Lord Hebi (the snake in the foreground)
Source: Usagi Yojimbo Buch Eins - Der Ronin, page 39
Usagi is a ronin, a masterless samurai. Once, Usagi served under Lord Mifune, who fell in the Battle of Adachigahara Plain. The opposition of Mifune was the infamous Lord Hikiji. Lord Mifune fell in that battle because he was betrayed by his ally General Toda. Toda was convinced to betray his lord by Hikiji. In return for his services, Toda was defrocked by Hikiji, tortured and outcasted.
Retainer Tomoe Ame, Lord Noriyuki and Usagi
Source: Usagi Yojimbo Buch Eins - Der Ronin, page 50
Lord Hikiji is Usagis death enemy. Hikiji is responsible for many deaths and a lot of sorrow in Usagis life, not only for the death of his master, Lord Mifuné. Hikiji likes to use deceit, black mail and betrayal. Many ninja in Usagis world work for him.
Since the death of his lord Mifune, Usagi travels the land honing his skills. He makes a living by selling his services as a yojimbo(3).
Usagi peered carefully through the leaves of the thicket under which he was hiding. With his injured eye, he could not see anything and even his good eye showed him only shadows. His pursuers were very talented to merge with the lights and sounds of the forest.
'Is it the wind who ruffles the leaves on the left or one of the ninja I try to escape from?' he worried.
Thinking about the torture in the last days, he involuntarily clenched his aching muscles. He almost had to force himself to relax.
'Move,' he forced himself on.
Almost soundlessly, he rose and hurried to the next cover, his senses most alert.
A shadow to the left. Quickly, he cowered in the safety of a tree. Forced himself to breathe flatly. To ignore the pain in his broken arm. 'Has the ninja seen me?' He came in a straight line towards his cover.
Usagi concealed his wa(4).
Became one with the shadow.
When the ninja finally tried to hide in the same spot, he died without a sound. Quickly, Usagi cleaned the black dagger lest a trail of blood would give away his whereabouts.
He toyed a short moment with swapping clothing with the ninja but when he had tried last time, the pain in his broken arm had almost thrown him into unconsciousness. Making a choice, he pulled the black mask of the ninja over his head, so his white fur would not give him away that easily.
'Not that it matters much, the dirt and the blood that hang on me probably already serve the same effect.'
'Move. I have to get through their lines and soon.' His escape had begun in the morning and every time when he had hoped that they had lost his tracks, one of those cursed ninja had appeared out of nowhere. So he sneaked on, desperately trying to avoid any noises that would bring the attention of his haunters on him. The darkness, the treacherous grounds, the life preserving silence and his exhaustion slowed him down.
And they lowered his attention. When he noticed the next ninja, he was almost standing on him. Much too fast, he drove the dagger into the throat of the man and his features were crumbled by the pain radiating out of his broken arm. Red spots danced before his eyes. Exhausted, he sank to the ground and took a moment to recover. He realized that his time was running out - quickly.
The sounds told him of the abyss before he saw it. Far below he saw flickering lights. The ninja castle from which he had fled this morning. An eternity ago. A coldness from within filled him and it would not have needed that dreaded voice behind him to show him the hopelessness of his situation.
"It's getting late. We would like to begin the journey back. The ground is most treacherous and it will need the better part of the night to get down. Are you coming?" Always friendly. But Usagi had recognized the cold hardness below that nice surface when he had met the master sensei(5) of the Taja ninja for the first time.
With a quick movement, he threw the dagger in the direction of the voice and himself into the abyss. His last thought was about Tomoe, whom he would never see again.
When they reached the yard of the castle, he just collapsed when the ninja finally let the ropes sag with which they had pulled him all the way down the mountain. The very ropes with which they had caught him during his futile attempt to throw himself off the cliff.
'Next time,' he promised himself, 'I won't waste the dagger but kill myself with it!'
The head sensei had actually been concerned about his health because Usagi would have had missed him had he not done a quick step and caught the dagger.
The pain in his arm had become a constant martyrdom and over long parts of the way back, he had been dragged more than walked by himself. Usagi did not belie himself, he was completely exhausted. Physically and mentally.
Several ninja held him while the healer attended to his wounds. Adjusted his arm and splinted it. He was almost too weak to breathe. They forced him to drink. He wished he still had his tongue so he could at least suffocate himself. Unconsciousness took him before they tied him back to the walls of his cell.
They let him sleep the next morning. Forced him to eat and to drink several times. With regret, he felt his life return. Soon, he would have recovered enough to continue his life as victim of the training of the ninja. The master sensei had said that "nothing can replace a living enemy in training".
The pain when they took his daisho(6).
His tongue, so he could not take his own life.
To sleep with outstretched, bound arms, so he could not harm himself.
The torture to convince him to be part of the ninja's training.
His repeated attempts to resist.
The agony that followed.
On the third day, he had recovered enough to stay awake for almost the whole day. Without movement, he lay on the hard futon on his cell and awaited his fate. As soon as he would see a new possibility to flee, he would. Until then, he had to recover. And lull his sentries into becoming inattentive.
On the forth day, they came to take him outside. His arm was still a constant source of pain but he would manage. His injured eye had been cleaned and bandaged but the healer had not much hope that it could be saved. The sensei had beheaded the ninja himself who had hit him with the bokken(7) on the head, almost killing him. Such a grave mistake was intolerable for a Taja ninja. Usagi did not cherish an illusion: 'They are good, these ninja. On my best day, I could have beaten three or four of them.'
'And now? Two? One?'
On his face was no movement when he calculated his chances.
Tomoe was staring intensively at the dark forest but there was really no point in continuing their search today. The men were exhausted and despite their thorough search, they had not found a single trace of the whereabouts of Usagi. All they knew for sure was that Usagi had passed this region. But the search in the jagged, mountainous part of the land was long winded and exhausting.
Every day that passed without a hint about Usagi put a burden on her and despite the fact that her men did not mutter, she was fully aware that she would have to give up soon. And so she hoped every day for a hint, a trace, anything that could relieve the fear in her heart.
The very though that Usagi was laying in one of the many ravines, fallen from a steep mountain path or murdered by brigands, was almost more than she could take. She sighed and gave herself a time limit of three days once again. If they had not found anything until then, she would finally give up.
While she had sat in her depressing thoughts, the men had pitched their camp and passed out some of their meager provisions.
Another reason to leave this bare region: They had to refill their supplies. Furthermore, Lord Noriyuki would be sick of worry by now. Her last message was two weeks old. But she was also very proud of her men. They turned every stone, searched on their own, asked other travelers they had met and the hermits, who lived here.
She was fully aware that she never could have scanned so much of the complex area if she had to monitor their actions. Nevertheless, it was frustrating when they returned at nightfall and shook their heads silently. Her hopes disappointed once more. That the men would continue their search the next day with all their might could not completely protect her against the frustration that every evening had in store for her.
When the fire was set up and the guards for the night had been arranged, Tomoe set herself a short way off and brooded. The men did respect this but Tomoe knew that this dull brooding would not help. But there was this enormous pressure within her; she felt being torn between the will to do something and the knowledge that there simply was nothing reasonable to do.
All the same, she had felt a big gratitude when Lord Noriyuki had given her 10 men plus horses without hesitating a moment when Usagi had not arrived. And so, another frustrating day went by and everyone prepared for the night.
Suddenly, a stranger appeared at the edge of the clearing and the guard yelled: "Stop! Who goes there?"
Tomoe could see that the guard had been taken completely by surprise when the stranger showed up but she attributed it to the frustration that held all of them in its cold grip and not to an intentional fault. For a moment, the stranger just stood there and then spoke with a rough voice. "My name is Pau Tai. I'm a bonze(8) of the Goddess Ookaa'h. I saw the glow of your fire. Do you share its light with me?"
Brother Pau was a tall dog with brown fur. His fur had large spots in black and white. From the first moment, Tomoe knew that he was something special and especially therefore, the decision was a hard one for her. To buy her some time, she asked: "I see you travel unarmed. Isn't it dangerous in times like these to travel alone?"
For some reason, Brother Pau found this hilarious and he laughed out loud. "This world holds no dangers for me," he smiled finally.
He seemed harmless enough and Tomoe really couldn't put her finger on what irritated her about him. Finally, she just couldn't bring herself to turn the stranger away. 'And what could one man achieve against elven seasoned warriors?' So she asked him to come over. Maybe he could do something to put their hearts at ease. The men moved and produced a gap on the opposite side of her for the visitor. Still, they cared for her and Tomoe had to smile.
"My name is Tomoe Ame and I'm in the service of Lord Noriyuki. We are looking for a friend. And what brings you here?" she asked.
"My kami(9) made me come to this area of the land," Pau answered evasively. "You already had dinner?"
Tomoe nodded and Brother Pau excused himself. He took a rice dumpling, a bit of cheese and an apple out of his clothings and began to eat meticulously. Tomoe felt her mouth water. For several days, all they had had was dried fish. Pau must have noticed her look because he asked: "Would you like an apple?"
She would have loved to reply yes but it would have been most unfair to her men. To know that they would have accepted it without a second thought, didn't make it easier for her. So she refused politely. But Pau seemed to have not heard her. He asked one of the man for a knife and received a dagger. He cut the apple in two halves and offered her one.
She wanted to turn down the offer once more but Pau held his arm outstretched over the fire and the heat must have been most uncomfortable for him. So she reluctantly but quickly took the apple from him and then turned it around in her hands unhappily. To cut it into ten more pieces would not help much and when she regretfully decided to bite into it, she heard that another apple was cut.
Pau produced five more apples and in the end, everyone had his share.
"I'm sorry, I was not prepared for that many guests," apologized Pau. Tomoe thanked him heartfully and the mood of the men had become much better. Now, she worried that they might eat the monks tomorrow meals but Pau waved her concerns away. "What is an apple compared to the thankfulness in the face of another human?"
To this, Tomoe could not add anything. With delight, she did bite into the unexpected present and found it delicious. The apple must have been very fresh and ripe because it was juicy and sweet. When she had finished it, she felt a lot better and Pau smiled satisfied.
While Pau ate his meal, the other men began to tell stories and for the first time in days, their laughter lightened the camp. Tomoe felt a great thankfulness towards the stranger.
"You're the Kuro Neko(10) from my dream," said Pau suddenly. Tomoe looked surprised at him. "You're looking for something that you connect to the symbol of the Shiroi Usagi(11)."
"Usagi!" exclaimed Tomoe and a turmoil of feelings raged in her heart. "What do you know? Where is he? Is he well?"
Pau returned her look open and answered carefully. "I have no answers for you, Tomoe Ame. But I will tell you my dream. Maybe it contains the answers you seek."
"I saw the white rabbit whom you call Usagi on his way to a certain place and time. He was in haste but all his haste did not help him to succeed. He fell into a deep pit made of hands. When he fell, they caught him gently."
"When he stood at the bottom, they did beat him. When he tried to climb the walls, they would support him. When he approached the rim, they threw him back. All I can say for sure is that he is still alive."
Usagi had been on his way to White Heron castle of Lord Noriyuki when he had disappeared. He had promised to celebrate Midsummer Night with them but he hadn't shown up. Tomoe asked herself what this strange pit was but Pau could not tell her anything else. "The dreams that I receive from my Goddess are always true but never easy to understand. I'm sure that we'll understand what it means when we find Usagi."
"But the dream goes on," he continued. "A black cat runs in circles around the place and time which Usagi tries to reach. When the time goes away, she leaves the place along with ten shadows and starts to run in circles around the pit. She cannot see it and she cannot hear the hopeless cries of Usagi until the pit comes to her. The shadows leave her forever."
"Then the cat and the rabbit sit in the bottom of the pit but they are still separated because when one tries to leave the pit, the other is sound asleep."
Pau remained silent for a moment. "Then the hands of the pit tear the cat apart and swallow her. Shortly afterwards, the rabbit also dies."
With her eyes full of horror, Tomoe looked at Pau. "All I can tell you with certainty is that you will meet him alive and you will both die together."
There was nothing Tomoe could do. "If this is my karma, then I'll accept it," she answered quietly but determined.
Pau nodded as if he had expected this. "In my dream, the cat and the rabbit are like the two sides of a coin. Is he your husband?"
That did hurt. Tomoe herself was surprised how much that question did hurt her. How much she missed Usagi despite that there was no chance for them to be together, living a life together. And yet, there was nothing she wanted more desperately, she realized. A lone tear ran down her face.
The men looked embarrassed into the fire and Pau apologized. "I beg your pardon," he said, "I didn't meant to intrude into your privacy."
Tomoe swallowed her pain. Pau could not have known. "Where is he?" she asked courageously.
"Somewhere nearby but I'll tell you the details tomorrow."
Tomoe rose in anger. "You tell me right now!" she demanded.
Suddenly, the menace of violence was in the air. Pau returned her angry look calmly. Neither that the faces of her men had become grim nor that she had closed her hand around the hilt of her sword seemed to have any impact on him.
"I apologize again," he said, "Do you have an item that belonged to Usagi? Something personal?"
She realized that there was nothing she would have left if she would not see Usagi again but her memory. Nothing would remind her of him. His smile. His laughs. Numb, she shook her head.
"In that case, there is no faster way than letting me communicate with my Goddess and beg her for the requested knowledge. I'm very sorry."
Exhausted, Tomoe sat down again. "I have to apologize," she said into the silence. "For a moment, I thought that you did know it already and just wouldn't tell me. Of course, I'll wait until you can answer my questions."
She changed the issue. "Do you have any idea what this strange pit might be?"
Pau thought about this. "My guess is that he is being held captive by someone but why they would keep him safe and at the same time would beat him is beyond me."
After that, the conversation went on for a while until Pau asked to retire. "It is ... complicated for me to communicate with my Goddess and I must prepare myself."
"Of course," agreed Tomoe quickly. Pau stood up and Tomoe called once more after him: "I would like you to know one thing."
Pau turned and looked at her. "No matter if your attempt will be successful or not, I'm very thankful that you try to help us," she said honestly.
His strange smile appeared again. "What are a few hours of sleep compared to the happiness in the heart of a person?" He bowed. "I thank you that you accept my help." Then, he went to a place a bit offside and began to meditate.
'What a strange person,' thought Tomoe. Then her anguish returned: 'What will I do if he doesn't succeed? What if he is just a charlatan who exploits my fears? Maybe he holds Usagi captive? Or he has killed him?' She had to force her away from these desperate thoughts. She was very exhausted and lay down to sleep. With her thoughts on Usagi, she finally slipped into sleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night, a guard woke her. "Brother Pau wants to speak to you," he said uneasily. "He'd take no refusal."
Tomoe nodded and rose stiffly and forworn. Pau stood a bit away of the sleeping men. Tomoe waved him over.
"Armed men are approaching us. They are twenty and will be here in about 10 minutes," Pau began. Tomoe needed a moment to understand what that meant.
'Can I trust Pau? Are they his men? How can he know how many there are and when they will be here?' she wondered distrustingly.
"How do you know?" she inquired.
Pau moved a tiny bit away from her and drew a square on the ground. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Tomoe could see that the ground inside of the square turned into a sick greenish color. Surprised, she backed away, then tried to examine the strange thing before her eyes. It had a strange ... structure, like something she knew but unrecognizable at the same time. There were red dots. About a dozen in the center and two dozen near one of the sides who were moving towards the center.
'Forest,' she realized, 'the color is most strange but it looks like the forest from above! And the dots in the middle ...'
"Suzo, go ten steps to the left," she commanded. Suzo followed the order surprised but without hesitation. She could see one of the dots in the center move. Then Suzo exclaimed. Tomoe looked up and saw that he was now in a position where he could see the glowing thing on the ground. She waved his concerns away and had made a decision.
"Wake everyone! We're under attack," she commanded. Sleeping bodies sprang into action.
Pau looked at her seriously. "If you fight, then you will loose and my prophecy will be fulfilled."
Without fear, Tomoe held his look. "So be it."
Pau rose. "If you want to live, then follow me," he promised and left.
Tomoe was torn apart between her feelings. In the end, she realized that the clearing was hard to defend. Maybe Pau knew a better place. She ordered to put their belongings onto the horses and then they followed Pau as quietly as they could.
A few steps ahead, Pau waited patiently. "Do you trust me?" he asked openly.
It was hard for her but Tomoe stood with the truth: "No."
"Then go back and fight," demanded Pau.
Tomoe was in conflict with herself: 'What should I do? Can I put the lives of my men into his hands? Can I afford not to trust him?'
Finally, the quiet charisma of Pau made the decision. Tomoe thought herself as being able to judge others and someone who was leading them into a trap would probably not be as calm and sound. And when she was wrong, they would sell their lives dearly.
"What shall we do?" decided she finally.
"Whatever happens, you must not move farther than ten steps away from me," Pau requested.
That sounded good enough for Tomoe. They would not spread anyway because that would allow them to cover each other. She nodded.
"Then come," said Pau and went on. Silently they followed him and for a while, only the soft rapping of the hooves of the horses on the forest ground was being heard. Then, that also stopped and a strange silence set in. Tomoe asked herself what that meant but in the light of the stars, she could see the concentration on the face of Pau and she swallowed her questions.
Finally, Pau stopped. He turned and pointed into the direction out of which they had come. "They will attack from there."
"Don't we hide?"
"It's impossible to avoid them. A flight would only retard the inevitable. At this place, I'm controlling all possible paths of fate. If you follow my instructions, then I guarantee that all of you will see the light of the morning unharmed," Pau promised.
"If you want, you can draw your swords and move into your positions," he added and then fell into silence once more.
Tomoe frowned but decided to play along for a while in this game. 'A short while.' The men looked around for a place where they could fasten the horses. They passed the reins to one man who started for a couple of trees a short distance away. Then he stopped, uncertain.
"Can I fasten the horses over there?" he asked.
"No," refused Pau, "it's too far away. But you can give me the reins."
The guard looked at Tomoe who nodded her agreement. Two men moved inconspicuously next to Pau to be able to intervene should he try to flee with the horses. If he noticed, he didn't show it. He took the reins in one hand and waited motionlessly.
'Like a statue,' Tomoe thought. 'He didn't even seem to breathe.'
The others drew their swords quietly and waited calmly. A short time later, their pursuers had caught up with them. Shadows moved in other shadows.
Tomoe prayed for a little bit more light so they would be able to see more but Pau spoke as if he had read her thoughts: "No light." So they went on waiting in darkness for the enemy to make the first move.
When all had arrived, a moment of silence followed. Suddenly, Pau shouted into the night: "Go and you will see tomorrow. Attack and you will die."
An ugly laughter answered. "We are the Taja ninja. We take what we want. You cannot deny us anything."
Then their battle cry filled the air and the forest sprang to life ... and death. Tomoe readied herself when Pau spoke again, sad this time: "Then die."
A very bad feeling filled Tomoe suddenly. Despite the imminent danger, she tried to remember which way they had taken. 'Where are we now?' The camp had been on the top of a small mountain close to a cliff. From the top of the cliff, one had a spectacular view into the valley below. She swallowed hard. And while the realization came over her, the battle cry of the Ninja turned into a cry of horror.
She could see how the ninja were swallowed by the ground. Slowly at first but then ever faster. She heard their cries running away with them. While her men were perplexed, she worried if she should look down.
"Lets go back. Stay close," did Paus sad voice cut through her thoughts. She looked at him and saw the mourning in his face. She was confused. 'They have just been ninja?'
Slowly, they went back to the clearing. The men still stood under the impression of what had happened and spoke no word. Tomoe memorized the way as good as she could. Tomorrow, she would trace it back and test her suspicion.
On the clearing, Pau sank to the ground. "I will pray for their souls."
"I thank you," thanked Tomoe earnest.
"I refuse thanks for the death of others," he retorted almost upset.
"Then I thank you for taking this upon you to protect us."
With clouded eyes, Pau looked at her. "My Goddess sometimes asks great sacrifices from me," he lamented depleted.
Tomoe felt a great admiration for this monk. He did not tell others to love their enemy but he just did it himself. "I will make a sacrifice to your Goddess as soon as I can," she promised.
Oddly, this did not move him. "Yes," he said with a strange voice, "you will."
Then he closed his eyes and continued his meditation.
Tomoe asked herself what she had heard in his voice. 'Bitterness? Sorrow? Why would he react this way?' she wondered. Uneasy, she laid down again to sleep.
When she awoke the next morning, the sun was already quite high on the sky. A guard explained a bit nervous that Pau had left a while ago. He had promised to return shortly. Tomoe nodded and the guard was visibly relieved. She mused that probably no one of them would have been able to hold back Pau. The guard showed her in which direction Pau had gone and she followed him.
Pau had gone to the same place where he had lead them in the night. Tomoe followed the steps she had memorized and soon, she stood at the abyss. From the edge of the wood, it was roughly 13 steps to the point where the ground suddenly disappeared. Yesterday, she had counted 250 steps to the place where they had awaited the ninja. Thoughtfully, she stared at the empty air, to the spot where they must have been.
Pau was here. A ninja sat motionless on the ground and Paus reassuring words were not necessary to tell her that he was harmless. The soulless expression in the face of the unmasked ninja still made her shiver. She asked herself how powerful Pau really was. What he could do and if she was able to protect her men against him if necessary.
Pau stood next to the edge of the cliff. She went to him and toyed a short moment with the thought to try to push him off the cliff. But when he was able to make 12 men and 11 horses float, he would have no problems with himself alone.
'What would he do if I would try to throw myself into the void?' she wondered and shook her head to get a grip on herself.
Pau passed her a small black box made from a strange, smooth material. Round glasses were cast into the side which she could see and soft parings were around them. In each glass, she could see a light spot about the size of her smallest fingernail. "Look through it. Follow the arrow," Pau told her.
Tomoe held the box against her eyes. The parings adjusted themselves to the form of her head and no light disturbed her from the side. The small spots of light turned out to be the floor of the valley. 'Field glasses,' realized Tomoe, 'and what quality! I can almost see every blade of grass down there!'
In the upper left corner of the picture, she saw a small arrow. It pointed up and to the right. When she raised her head a bit, it began to turn. She followed the hint to it's aim. Down there was some kind of castle or a reinforced building. A large overhang protected it from above. Black clad figures could be seen. More ninja like the ones that had attacked them yesterday. The castle was well adapted to its surroundings and Tomoe was positive that it was very easy to overlook from the ground. From up here, it was easy to spot but only if you had field glasses. With naked eyes, it would have been invisible.
A while, she watched the ninja. Some had assembled in something which looked like a training area. A prisoner was being dragged in by five ninja. It was a rabbit with a light, dirty gray fur. A bad foreboding came over Tomoe. "Turn the small wheel to change the zoom," Pau told her.
With the middle finger of her right hand, she found the small wheel. She began to turn it and the image got smaller. She turned it the other way and soon, the body of the prisoner filled her vision. He had a bandage around his head that covered one eye. An arm had been put in a splint. His face was made of stone. It was Usagi.
Tomoe closed her eyes a moment, to get a hold on herself again. 'How can I get him out of there? In that fortress live at least 100 ninja, possibly more. I'd have to go and return with reinforcements but how long can Usagi carry on? Will I have the willpower to do the right thing? To leave him behind until the reinforcements arrive?'
She opened her eyes again, lowered the field glasses and turned to Pau. But Pau was gone. Baffled, she looked around but he was nowhere to be seen. The ninja had also disappeared.
Following her intuition, she took the field glasses again and began to scan the castle but he wasn't there, either. So she reduced the zoom and eventually, she noticed a movement near the castle. Pau and a masked ninja walked towards the entrance. 'How has he got down there so quickly? Even if he had jumped off the edge, how could he have reached the valley floor so fast? What is he up to? If he betrayed us, what could I do?'
Pau and his companion entered the castle as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Immediately, they were surrounded by ninja. Paus companion talked to one of them and another left the group. The other remained, ready to fight, around Pau who looked about him with calm interest. Tomoe prayed he was down there to help Usagi.
After some time, a ninja returned. Tomoe could not say if he was the one who had left earlier. The whole group began to move into the direction of the training area. When they got there, the ninja who had escorted Pau, placed themselves amongst those who already were there. Usagi had been lead by some ninja to the border of the field. The ninja, who had entered the castle with Pau bowed before one of the ninja. He was probably reporting.
For a moment, Tomoe wished she could hear what was being talked down there. For her, it was a spooky, soundless story in pictures.
In the Heart of the Enemy
"Instructor Tse," the ninja who had come with Pau greeted a sitting figure with a round, smiling face. "this stranger asks to talk to you."
Instructor Tse looked at the ninja with an unmoved, smiling face. "Where is the rest of your group?" he inquired with a calm, friendly voice.
The ninja hesitated. "I don't know exactly. They ..."
Pau broke in on him. "I killed them, because they were without use for me. I created an illusion of save ground and they fell to their deaths as you already know, since you found them," he asserted.
Instructor Tse still maintained his nice smile. It was impossible to tell what he thought. "Ah, I already wondered how this sad accident could have happened. An illusion, you say?"
For a moment, silence filled the air. "And you, are you an illusion, too?" he asked with his friendly voice and without a trace of any feelings. "Kill him," he ordered. Without hesitation, several ninja lunged at Pau.
An impossible scene developed. Despite their efforts, the ninja could not even touch Pau. Like water, he flew around their attacks. The ninja attacked with quickness but he moved slowly, unhurried. Eventually, the ninja were too exhausted to continue their attacks. On the other side, Pau showed no signs of fatigue.
'And why should he? He had scarcely moved, always evaded the attacks with slow and smooth movements. Most of the attacks had missed him completely,' Usagi thought impressed. 'Whoever that stranger is, he is a master in the art of fighting without weapons. Nonetheless, he stands no chance against the several hundreds of ninja, who live here. Surely, it is possible to exhaust him, too.' But Pau spoke again.
"I'm a bonze(13) of the Goddess Ookaa'h. My mistress has sent me to find Miyamoto Usagi and to punish you for what you did to him," he announced calmly, when Tse had ordered the ninja to return to their places. Usagi couldn't believe his ears. 'A Goddess should have sent someone to rescue him?' He snorted. Too many flights had turned out to be another trick of the ninja.
'Now, we'll train once more how to recover a refugee,' he thought bitterly. 'Do they really believe I would swallow such an absurd story?'
"Really," retorted the instructor as friendly as ever. "And how exactly do you plan to turn your mistresses will into reality?"
"Fetch the others," commanded Pau and immediately, all of the ninja rose and spread. Only the instructor, Pau and Usagi remained. Usagi didn't move. 'If they want me to try another escape, they must come up with something more convincing.' Moments later, they were alone. The instructor still smiled though it had flickered when the ninja had instantly followed Paus order. 'I won't be tricked that easily,' Usagi swore to himself.
In groups, the ninja returned. Even the guards on the walls far off had vanished. They gathered loose around the training area, a sea of black, disguised figures. For the first time since Usagi knew the instructor, he did not smile. No expression showed on his face. Then his smile returned.
"An illusion?" he asked. "Incredible. I almost believed it."
"Of course, it's an illusion," confirmed Pau, "like anything we can notice."
Then Pau ordered: "Beat him." Several ninja lunged at the instructor who evaded the first attacks skillfully. But then, fifty ninja simply moved in and stood that thick around him that he simply could not move anymore.
For a short time, Usagi could see nothing but only hear the battle cries of the teacher. Then the crowd separated and Usagi saw that a couple of ninja secured the struggling man.
Another began to hit the wriggling body.
The instructor resisted as good as he could. He tensed to reduce the impact of every hit and this way, he withstood for a while. But after the fifth or sixth ninja, he was depleted. Soon after, a small trickle of blood left his mouth and Usagi could hear bones crack.
Tse tried to suppress a moan and the next ninja continued the beating. He shattered the body and the mental plating of the instructor. Then the ninja withdrew and Pau replaced him. Tse had sagged and was only held upright by the ninja. The priest took his head, almost carefully, in both hands.
Unbelieving, Usagi stared at the scene. 'What is happening here?'
Then the instructor screamed!
It was the most horrible sound, Usagi had ever heard.
He pressed his hands on his ears, started to scream himself just avoid the sound.
To not have to endure it anymore.
And the ninja remained quiet.
A black sea of silence.
Eventually, it ended. Cold terror held Usagi in his grip. His body shook and panic raged in his mind. Just to get away from here, no matter what.
Staggering, he rose but suddenly there were ninja everywhere.
Holding him back.
Desperately, he lashed out and something broke under his fist. He struggled but he simply could not move.
Muted shapes banned him to this place of his torturing.
An unmeasurable amount of time later, they released him again and he collapsed. He would have hit the ground hard if someone hadn't caught him.
Slowly, he was laid down on the pounded earth. Breathing heavily, he just sat there a moment with closed eyes, recovering. Eventually, the time came when he had to decide whether to open his eyes again.
He had to fight with himself.
Right before him, he saw the face of the stranger, Pau. They were all alone. Usagi looked around but no one was to be seen.
"They are not ... here ... anymore," Pau answered the unspoken question. "My deepest apologies. I had not taken your weak state into account when I ... broke ... instructor."
He smiled excusingly. "That had bowled over others who where in a better shape," he tried a small joke to ease the tension. Usagi remained silent. Pau waited patiently.
Finally, Usagi began to draw on the ground. "Kill me also," he wrote.
"They are not dead. Just not here anymore," Pau told him gently. He was looking intently at Usagi, then carefully took his chin. "May I?"
'What does it matter now?' thought Usagi depressed. With resignation, he opened his mouth. Pau could see that a couple of teeth were missing and the tongue. Usagi remained silent because he could not speak anymore. Refused to prattle.
Pau closed the mouth carefully and then began to examine Usagis body with proficient movements. Usagi let it happen. He was so tired. There were more bruises on him than hair.
Ultimately, Pau sat behind Usagi and laid his hands on Usagis shoulders. "Just breathe deep and evenly," he asked. "And sitting upright would also help," he meant with a lighthearted undertone. Clumsily, Usagi tried his best.
After a while, the hands grew enormously hot. With every heartbeat, Usagi could feel a wave of warmth came from them and spread through his body. He could feel his life return to him, his pains ease and his will to live return. He had no idea what Pau did but he savored the feeling, gave himself up to it. Finally, something nice after all this torment.
With slight regret, he noticed that Pau took his hands from his shoulders and moved them lightly down his back. Then he sat alone and enjoyed the warmth which filled him, now.
At last, he opened his eyes again and with new vitality, he looked around. Still, no ninja were to be seen. Of course, this was a new trick of them but it was a much more pleasing one than anything he had experienced before. Therefore, he decided to play along for a while. Pau was still sitting behind him. Usagi rose and was surprised how easy it was, now. His pains were almost gone, even when he moved. He tried a few steps and then stood, waiting.
Pau also rose and then walked towards the buildings of the castle. He waved Usagi to follow and Usagi did, almost curious, now. Determined, Pau approached a certain building.
He laid his flat hand on the door and opened it. With a loud crash, the bolt was ripped out of the frame. Pau entered the building that Usagi had never seen before from the inside. It was the armory. In long rows, swords, shuriken and other means of death waited. Usagi stopped at the door while Pau moved around in the inside.
Usagi examined the frame of the door. It really looked as if Pau had actually ripped it out of the wall. Of course, that was also a trick of some kind. Usagi mused what would happen if he tried to touch one of the many weapons. Meanwhile, Pau was examining them. Some he laid back but not all. Usagi could not tell what happened to those he did not put back except that Pau had his hands free when he moved around.
"Would you please come over here?" called Pau. Usagi moved in. He could still see no ninja. Before a frame with swords, Pau waited and Usagi stopped next to him.
"Which ones are yours?" Pau asked. Untrusting, Usagi looked at him but then examined the various swords more closely. Quickly, he found his daisho(14) and pointed at it. Amused, Pau took the set respectfully out of the frame and offered it to Usagi.
Uncertain, Usagi hesitated, then took it.
Pau went on and Usagi stood a moment perplexed. Then he shrugged and tied the swords to his belt. Pau continued to examine some weapons, laying some back. Eventually, he left and Usagi was alone with all the weapons. 'Should I try to take something else?'
He decided against it and followed Pau. The priest was already a good distance ahead and Usagi looked at the gate of the castle, his symbol of freedom. 'Should I try to flee?' But he had to admit, that he had become really curious. Moreover, every flight had turned out to be planned by the ninja. So he went on to follow the monk. In the meantime, Pau had reached the main building. Usagi hurried to close the gap so he would not loose him inside. The building was also empty. Pau went through a room where writers had worked. Letters could be seen that stopped in the middle of the text, sometimes in the middle of a kanji(15)
Pau forced another door open. This time, Usagi got a closer look. No strain showed on his face, he stood erect and just laid his flat hand on the door. He seemed to open it with as much force as Usagi would use on an open door. Only the loud crash of the bolt and the groaning of the frame gave away that much greater forces were at work.
The room was empty except for a chest on the floor which Pau ripped open. Money. Pau closed the chest again and it vanished. Usagi gaped. Only the lines on the floor and on the wall gave a hint that something had ever been there. When Pau saw his expression, he laughed friendly.
"Anything else? Another thing they took from you?" he asked. Usagi shook his head. "Then let us be gone."
Of course, they did not leave the castle. Instead, Pau lead him to another building which was set directly against the back of the naked rock which produced the massive overhang over their heads. This door was not locked and Pau went inside. Inside, it was pitch dark and Usagi could not spot a think. A quiet, clicking noise could be heard. The hand of Pau began to glow and Usagi could see that he shook it.
Slowly, the light got brighter. Pau offered Usagi his hand and Usagi could see that it was not his hand, that was glowing but a tiny rod that he held. It radiated a greenish-blue light.
"Take the light rod," Pau told him. Cautiously, Usagi touched it. To his surprise, it was cold and not at all hot as he had expected.
"After you." Pau motioned him up a ladder that lead to a hole in the ceiling. Usagi took the light rod in the left, injured hand whose arm had been broken and which still gave him slight pain. A bit clumsy, he climbed the ladder.
Reaching the top, he could see a cave had been driven into the mountain. Pau followed him and then waited until Usagi had entered the cave. Steep steps had been cut into the floor. Usagi could hear Pau following him.
A while, it went up until Usagi saw the light. Daylight. He stepped outside and stood on top of a small plateau. Below it, the castle must lie. Behind him, he could see an inviting forest. He stepped aside when Pau left the tunnel. 'Should I try to escape, now?'
Ignoring him, Pau went down the plateau. Then he walked around on it. All the time, his gaze was fixed on the ground. At last, he seemed to have found something. For Usagi, the spot looked no different than any other.
With his back to Usagi, Pau knelt down. He breathed deeply and laid his flat hand on the ground. For a moment, he froze. Then Usagi could hear an ear-piercing grating. A thin line ran from Paus Hand in both directions. It went as far as Usagi could see, parallel to the horizon.
A sound like a big floe breaking apart resounded but somehow lighter and much, much louder! The line got broader quickly and then the plateau fell from Usagis view. He could not believe his eyes. Pau had just snapped off the overhang under which the castle had been built! The ground shook. An incredible noise filled the air and Usagi covered his ears for a second time today. But the sound seemed to avoid his ears and to go directly into his head.
Unhurried, Pau came back and stopped before him. He showed a weird grin. Suddenly, he brought up his arms and from the depth of the new abyss, a giant cloud of dust shot up as if he had called it and engulfed everything. Usagi closed his eyes and held his breath when the silence returned.
Surprised, Usagi blinked cautiously. The dust wrapped them but he could not smell it. It did not bite his eyes. Only the ground was still shaking.
He could hear Paus laughing: "What a spectacle!"
When he noticed Usagis astounded expression, he explained: "A shield. It holds the dust at bay. See?" He pointed at the ground.
Usagi could see that the dust piled against an invisible barrier. A rash wind blew at it but in the middle of a ball of nothing, whose center Pau seemed to be, nothing could be felt. Outside, bushes and small trees were ripped apart and in the midst of the chaos was an island of quietude.
'A dream,' Usagi thought dazedly. 'Or I must have gone insane.' It was unreal. 'Has this really happened?' Usagi was torn between hope and fear. Fear, that this could be a complicated trick of the ninja or simply a dream. Hope, that it could be real, that he had really escaped. Fear, that he might have fallen into the hands of a greater evil.
The dust-storm raged for a long time. Eventually, Usagi got bored to watch the fumes outside and he approached the invisible hull that went around them. It was impossible to see. Only the dust could notice it.
"You can touch the shield, if you want," offered Pau. Carefully, Usagi stretched out a hand. He could feel ... something. The barrier was completely smooth and slippery. Without resistance, his hand moved on it. He could press against it until he slipped to a side. It would not yield.
"I should have sat down," Pau sighed, "this will go on for a while."
Usagi looked at him questioningly.
Pau pointed to the place where the shield touched the ground. "It goes through the rock," he explained. "Since I'm always in the center and the shield passes through the rock ..." He lifted both feet and hang in the air, swaying gently.
He put both feet back unto the ground and jumped. Usagi could see him turning over. Pau grinned wryly: "Looks nice but is completely useless."
'Quite impractical,' Usagi thought for himself, 'one cannot fight while using it because one can't move anymore. And even if no one can force his way through the shield, they just have to wait until the one inside starves.'
And he realized something else: 'Or suffocates. Can air pass the shield? We are two. What happens if Pau passes out?'
As if he could read his mind, Pau spoke again: "I guess," he began, "we have enough air in here for four hours. Until then, the worst should be over and I can drop the shield."
He shrugged. "And if not, we're going to swallow a bit of dust."
Usagi sat down and began to examine his swords. Pau did not intervene. 'How should he? He can't leave the center of the ball.' For a moment, Usagi mused what would happen if he would try to kill Pau. 'Surely, this is just a dream. No one can simply break off an overhang 200 steps wide. Or make 300 ninja vanish within the blink of an eye. Or force a door open like that.'
But he would be true to himself and only defend his life when he was attacked. The only thing he regretted was that he could not talk to Pau. It was a long time since he had had someone to talk to. Even if he was just an imagination.
He looked about but there was only naked rock. He could have drawn in the dust but the dust was outside. If he could have talked to Pau, he could have asked him to drop the shield for a moment. Only that he would not have needed this in that case. He sighed.
"I'm curious why my Goddess has sent me for you," Pau continued. "Tell me something about yourself," he asked.
Usagi only looked at him sourly.
Pau produced a small rectangle out of his clothes as well as a small rod and offered both to Usagi. Usagi came over and had a closer look. It was a pen and a gray rectangle with a broad, thick black border. On one side was a slot over the whole length and on one side of the slot was a knob.
"Here," Pau explained and moved the pen over the gray part. Where it touched the surface it left traces. "And you can erase it like this." He moved the knob along the slot and the lines disappeared as if by magic.
Pau gave it to Usagi who began to write onto it. He was unused to use a sharp pen, usually he wrote with a brush. After a while, he was satisfied with the result and showed it to Pau: "Who are you?" stood on the pad.
"Well, I have already introduced myself down there," Pau began. "My Goddess had sent me a dream. I saw a white rabbit who had fallen into a pit. So I set off to get him ... you out."
Usagi cleared the writing plate and wrote: "Why?"
Laughing, Pau answered: "I hereby grant you the right to ask my mistress if you should ever meet her." He became solemn again. "My Goddess speaks in riddles and pictures. Most of the time, their meaning is not obvious to me. Maybe it's a good image if you think that we speak different languages and a few bits of the language of the other. We try to communicate with that but it's very delicate to explain something complex."
He smiled lost in thought. "Once I had got lost in a desert. So I prayed for the whereabouts of water." Laughing, he continued. "She let it pour down for three days! I almost drowned!"
Even Usagi had to smile at the picture. Pau went on. "At last, I found an oasis and met some other travelers. I was quite depleted and maybe even angry. After the fourth mug of wine, I complained bitterly how unfair my fate was."
He snorted. "It turned out that these people had a legend that someday, someone would let it rain for three days and nights and this someone would lead them into paradise, where milk and honey are readily available. Now make a guess what happened next." In mock desperation, Pau hung his head and Usagi had to laugh.
It sounded strange, without tongue, but what should he do? He would have to get used to it. In no event, he would give up to laugh, he promised himself.
Pau continued with his story and in the end, Usagi was lying on the ground, exhausted. Never before, he had laughed that much. It was a good dream and he hoped that it would never end.
Still, the dust was engulfing them and produced a strange, reddish light. Pau looked around and said sourly, "I'm bored. While you amuse yourself, I'm just hanging around here."
He waved Usagi over and lifted him without effort. "Close your eyes and hold your breath," came the order. Usagi complied and had a short sensation of movement.
"Are you afraid of heights?" Pau asked. 'Does he have to ask that now?' Usagi thought and shook his head. He still held his breath and eyes closed.
"Then you can open your eyes now."
Carefully, Usagi opened his eyes. He saw blue sky. Far below was a gray-red cloud. Like a slow river, it filled the valley. Despite the long time that had gone, the dust still had not settled. And then Usagi realized: Pau flew.
The ground was far below. Tiny trees could be seen and the neighboring valley. Like a carpet, it lay below them, totally quiet. Only the whispering of the wind could be heard.
Full of marvel, Usagi looked around. "Do you want to give it a try?" Pau offered. Of course, it was just a dream. Cautiously, Usagi let go until Pau only held his hand in his. Usagi stretched out all fours and lay in the air like on a big lake, looking down. Then he glided out of Paus grip.
He floated! Light as a feather and the ground rotated slowly below him. He somersaulted and the world rotated around him. Like a hawk, he dove into the depth and shot up again. His face radiated happiness and tears of joy ran down his cheeks! It was wonderful. He gave himself over to the feeling and forgot about the world around him. The sky was the limit.
Satisfied, Pau nodded. When Usagi had lost himself to the new sensation, he flew back to Tomoe. Near the edge stood a few of Tomoes men but she wasn't there. When Pau approached, one of the men ran into the forest and when Pau landed smoothly, he came back with Tomoe.
The men held a respectful distance to Pau. To them, the priest was a bit fishy. Too many strange things had happened today.
"Where is Usagi?" Tomoe immediately wanted to know.
"He's still recovering," Pau soothed her worries. "A very hard time, which puts a great burden on him, lies behind him."
"How is he? He didn't look well!"
Pau hesitated a moment and Tomoe thought of the worst. "He will live," Pau answered honestly in the end. "But he will need some time to recover. There are spots on him where he has no bruises but few. He has no injuries that I couldn't get a grip on."
"What is with his eye?"
Pau shrugged. "That is not a big problem for him. His missing tongue is much worse and he's also missing a lot of teeth." He sighed. "It will take a long time to heal."
Scared, Tomoe went pale but Pau didn't see it or chose to ignore it. "Something else is more important right now," he went on, "when you see him for the first time, you must not show your scare. He looks very bad but his physical wounds I can mend if he lives long enough."
"You are as important for him as he is for you. If you should think that you're seeing a monster in him, then this will kill him more surely than chopping his head off."
Tomoe picked up courage and promised bravely that she would take care. Pau smiled encouragingly. "Thank you. I'll plunge him into a lake so we won't have an awkward scene later. 'Hello Tomoe,'" he spoke with a slightly altered voice and then: "'Should I know you?'" with a perfect imitation of Tomoes reserved voice.
Despite her sad mood, Tomoe had to laugh. "We'll wait here," she promised.
"Very well. We'll be back for lunch," Pau finished and lifted off.
"Only with Usagi," Tomoe shouted after him.
"With Usagi!" Pau replied. Then he shot away and Tomoe stayed behind with her thoughts. She ordered her men to continue their watch and walked back to their small camp. 'Maybe I should meditate a bit to strengthen my spirit for the meeting with Usagi,' she thought.
Meanwhile, Usagi had discovered the lake in the neighboring valley himself and landed easily on the shore. The water was like ice but he felt so much dirt on him and decided to ignore the cold bite. He dropped his dirty, torn clothing on a stone and laid his swords accurately next to them. Carefully, his hands looked for the knot that held the bandage around his eye together and he took it off.
He opened his injured eye but could not see anything. A moment, the frustration loomed over him but he got a grip on himself. He wasn't completely blind, yet, and he would learn to live with the lost eye like with his lost tongue. His missing teeth. To eat mush was still better than death.
Slowly he waded into the clear, cold mountain lake. The coldness made him shiver but he could stand it. Hastily but thoroughly, he cleaned himself. Shaking from the cold but clean, he made his way back to the shore, where he could see Pau. Pau had his back to Usagi and looked into the forest.
Suddenly, armored men appeared between the bushes and trees. Usagi cursed inwardly and waded faster. Despite his efforts, he realized that he would not make it.
The armored men surrounded Pau spaciously. Then riders and crest carriers arrived. Usagi could make out the crest of the Shogun and was more at ease. At least, they were no bandits. Pau expected them calmly.
When the riders had reached Pau, Usagi at last reached the shallow part of the shore and could take up speed. He ran for the spot on the shore where his old clothes were lying. A few samurai had noticed him and came towards him, cutting him off. Usagi got slower and was still thinking what he should do when the order arrived to let him pass.
The samurai made a passage for him and let him pass but their gaze never faltered. Usagi could see the leader speaking to Pau but he was too far away to hear. With slight disgust, he faced the fact that he had to put on his old, dirty clothing unwashed.
To his surprise, on the rock, he found fresh, clean clothing of excellent quality and a large, soft, white towel. He dried himself off quickly and put on the new clothes. The fabric was very soft and pleasing.
After having dressed, he had to decide if he should try to pick up his weapons. He was still surrounded by armed men. "You can pick them up, but slowly."
Relived, Usagi followed the request. Carefully, he fastened his daisho on his belt. When he had finished, Pau called for him. The soldiers formed another passage for him and he walked calmly but not slowly to Pau and the waiting riders.
Next to Pau, he stopped and bowed. Pau spoke. "Major Xan, this is Miyamoto Usagi. He had been prisoner of the ninja you are seeking for several weeks."
"Really," Major Xan answered with an even voice. His face stayed unmoved. "Well, I'm sure you can tell us something about them, then."
"That won't be necessary," refused Pau, "the castle of the ninja was below a rock slide whose dust cloud you can see over there," he pointed to the cloud that was still pouring out of the valley.
Major Xan did not turn but continued to look directly at Usagi. Usagi returned the gaze. "And you are not going to say anything?"
Usagi shook his head regretfully and reached into his sleeve to pull out the writing plate but Pau went on: "The ninja have taken all means away from him with which he might have been able to escape."
Usagi frowned and Major Xan still showed no expression on his face. "And how did he, then?"
"I persuaded the ninja to ... vanish," Pau answered dryly.
"Really." No muscle moved in Major Xans face. Usagi could not tell if he believed them or not. He thought for a moment. "You both will come with us. As soon as the dust has settled, we will all have a look at what we have there."
"I'm sorry," Pau regretted, "but we both already have an appointment which we must not miss. But we will meet again in a few weeks in Edo and then, we'll gladly answer all your questions." He smiled apologetic. Then they left the ground slowly and Usagi could hear the surprised yells of the samurai.
Suddenly, there were archers but Major Xan held them back with a movement of his hand. "Your wisdom speaks for you," Pau praised him. He tilted his head and continued: "Even if the left way looks more demanding, it is more safe."
Pau bowed once again and then, they shot into the sky. A few moments later, the men were as small as ants. Major Xan followed them with his gaze and lost in thought. Then he gave orders to make camp.
High above them, Usagi wrote on his plate. "Who is waiting?"
"The black cat that looks for the white rabbit," came the oracular answer.
Usagi lifted an eyebrow questioningly. "Tomoe," Pau explained.
Usagis heart leaped from joy and froze to ice at the same time. 'He will see her again! But how could I make her suffer my destroyed body? Burden her with my injuries?' Doubt ate at him and he was afraid. 'What should I do? Send Pau alone? Ask him to tell her that I'm dead so she could remember me as I have been?'
"She was all the time on the cliff opposite of the castle and has seen everything," Pau wrecked his hopes casually. His desperation grew. "She knows already," Pau added.
Usagi just hang there, unable to decide. Even more so since only one possible decision was left. He could retard it a bit but Pau had closed all loopholes through which he could have escaped his fate. Finally, he hung his head and nodded hopelessly.
Slowly, they started again and Usagi pulled himself together a bit. He must not make it any worse for Tomoe than it already was. Soon the cliff became visible and Usagi could see a couple of men with the crest of Lord Noriyuki who expected them.
Respectfully, the men gave way as they landed. "Pau-bonze(16), Usagi-san(17)," one of them greeted them and offered them to follow him. Then the time had come.
Tomoe saw him and leaped on her feet immediately. "Usagi!" she called and ran to him, hugged him. "Usagi," she repeated over and over and Usagi could hear that she was almost unable to hold back the tears. Unthinkable if she would break into tears before her men! So Usagi held her and endured the pain her clutch meant for him.
They stood long and undisturbed. When they finally let go of each other, everyone around them was concentrated on something else. No one looked at them and Usagi felt a great gratitude for the honorable way, in which they had respected their privacy.
Pau and one of the men were busy with some kind of soup. When Tomoe and Usagi approached the fire place, Pau called everyone together and together, they ate.
Then, suddenly, Pau froze, did put the spoon back into the soup and began to swear and curse! Scared, Usagi thought what might be wrong and from the expressions in the faces of the others, he could see that they were thinking along the same lines.
Some time later, Pau calmed down and grimly went on with his meal. All stared at him until he looked up and noticed their looks. "What?" he began and sighed.
"Usagi, you remember when we went about the caste, collecting your weapons and the money?" Usagi nodded. "And what did we forget?" Pau asked intently.
Usagi strained his memory but neither him nor one of the others could think of anything. "The supplies!" Pau cursed, "we're sitting here with soup made of dried fish and we could have had a lot better! Such a stupid mistake!"
They all had to laugh. The men patted Pau soothingly on the shoulders, who sat there like a picture of misery.
After lunch, Tomoe proposed to ride back to White Heron Castle immediately and offered Pau to come with them.
"For a meeting with Lord Noriyuki, the time has not yet come," he refused, "but," he turned to Usagi, "I can offer you to heal your wounds."
Usagi tilted his head. "Yes," answered Pau with a sure instinct of Usagis thoughts, "I'm not referring to you bruises or the broken arm."
"When I returned home last time, I was missing an arm," he went on and stretched his right arm, turned the hand and moved the fingers. For a moment, Usagi was unable to move, to think.
"I could speak again?" he scribbled finally. Pau simply nodded. "It is your decision. Some reject the very idea."
Usagi hesitated and thought about this. "Will I get the tongue of a corpse?" he inquired carefully.
Pau laughed out loud. "No, I can make the body grow lost parts again."
Usagi nodded, then bowed deeply. "I thank you, that you accept my help," Pau proclaimed. "In this case, we'll meet again in the White Heron Castle of Lord Noriyuki in three to four weeks."
Tomoe looked at Usagi and then demanded to accompany them. "I will not let Usagi go alone with you," she decided. She gave her men the order to return to the castle of Lord Noriyuki without her.
Unexpectedly, they refused to go. "Lord Noriyuki has given us explicit orders not to return without Lady Tomoe and to never leave her under whatever circumstances," on of them admitted. "We will also come with you."
Pau rejected this demand. "I can accept Lady Tomoe and Usagi but no one else."
He turned to the men. "I guarantee for the safety of them both. I promise on my honor that you will see them again and unharmed. And believe me," he said with a diabolic undertone, "I'm the worst that one can meet under this sun."
The men knew that they could not do anything against Paus will but on the other hand, they also would not defy a direct order from their lord.
"How about this," offered Pau, "Down in the valley, you will meet Major Xan. Tell him that brother Pau Tai has sent you and report all you have seen from here. Major Xan will return to Edo eventually and you can travel with him. That will take some time. Then, all you have to do is to wait a couple of days near White Heron Castle until we catch up with you."
That sounded reasonable. Tomoe asked Pau if she would need anything but he reassured her that everything she might need would be available. She just should tell one of the men her version of the story so they could pass it on to Major Xan. She did as Pau had asked, gave her deputy her money and a letter for Noriyuki, should they meet him before they were back. Then they were ready to leave.
Pau offered his hands and Tomoe and Usagi took them. They just vanished without a trace. The men stared frightened at the empty spot and then packed their things.
When they reached the bottom of the valley the next morning, they met Major Xan as Pau had told them. As they had been ordered, each of them reported what they had seen. Major Xan accepted the reports without comment, just asked a question about a detail now and then. A scribe wrote everything down.
Major Xan spent a few days to examine the large pile of rubble when the dust had finally settled. When he was sure that they would not get any more answers from the strange grave, they began their long trip back to Edo. Near White Heron Castle, the men of Lord Noriyuki split from Major Xan and made camp in a small forest.
A few days later, Noriyuki met them on a hunting excursion. They threw themselves on the ground before him. The lord looked around then yelled at them: "Where is Tomoe Ame?"
"During our quest to find Usagi, we met a stranger, a powerful mahotsukai(18) who freed Usagi from the power of a group of ninja. Usagi was severely injured and the mahotsukai offered to heal him and bring him here afterwards. Lady Tomoe refused to leave Usagi and accompanied them. She told us to deliver this letter to you," Suzo answered humbly.
He produced the letter and gave it to one of the soldiers of the lords bodyguard who passed it on to the lord on his horse. Noriyuki opened the letter and read:
"I'm asking for your apologies but I cannot leave Usagi now that I went through so many pains to find him. I ask most humbly to not punish the men who served me better than I could ever have wished for for not fulfilling your orders. When I return, I will accept any punishment on their behalf that you will choose to inflict on me."
"Your servant, Tomoe Ame"
Lord Noriyuki sighed. The unhappy love between Tomoe and Usagi was a more heavy burden for him than he would have liked. The fact that both Tomoe and Usagi had turned out to be most trustworthy friends made it only worse.
He understood that Tomoe could not have left Usagi and even if he had wanted to, he could not be mad at her. Carefully, he folded the letter and asked the deputy of Tomoe to report.
Just like for Major Xan, Suzo reported on the events for his lord. Lord Noriyuki shivered under the impression of the immense power of the stranger and it only reassured him that the men had no choice but to accept the wish of the priest. Like them, he could only hope that the priest would keep his word.
He excused the men, who had done what they could. He told them that he was pleased with what they had achieved and they breathed a sigh of relief. The lord ordered them to join his retinue and they returned to White Heron Castle with him.
There, he let them report in greater detail but he learned nothing else. Worried, he asked himself what the stranger might want from Usagi. Surely, his meeting with Tomoe and Usagi had been no coincidence. Instead, he suspected that Pau Tai had much or maybe all of this arranged in advance.
Pau Tais Home
The forest was replaced by a strange, curved room. None of the pastel colored walls were straight but curved and organic. This was a stark contrast to the angular rooms Tomoe and Usagi were used to.
The ground was of a light green and separated by a wide, white line from the corridor. No door was to be seen.
Pau let go of their hands and in the opening to the corridor, two statues with stylized faces appeared. Their movements were oddly soft and unreal. Each carried a long, black box. In the opening, they stopped and waited without any visible movement.
'Robots,' thought Usagi. He had seen something like that when one of his descendants had pulled him through space and time into the future(19). Tomoe looked at them with discomfort in her face.
Pau waved them to come closed and they moved in. Before Tomoe and Usagi, they stopped. Synchronously, they held their boxes before them and opened them. Inside, the boxes were laid out with cloth and there were mounts for swords.
"Please put your swords into the boxes. Carrying any kind of weapon inside the station is strictly prohibited. You will get your weapons back untouched when you leave the station again."
Unhappy, Usagi looked at the box. He took out the writing pad and began to write. "There will be no exceptions," Pau interrupted him. "Even I cannot bring a weapon inside," he explained.
Usagi cleared the text and began anew. "You can do magic."
"Except for us three, there is no one here. There is nothing, you will have to defend against. But I will not force you."
"If you decide against this, then I'll bring you back. Of course, I will not be able to do much except for your arm. You will have to live without your voice," he said with regret in his voice.
'Great options,' Usagi thought miserable. With a frown on his face, he untied the daisho and put it in the box. The robot closed it nifty and sealed it. Then he turned and walked away. Tomoes robot followed shortly after his twin.
They entered the station itself. All corridors were round and curved like the room, in which they had arrived. In each of them, at least one piece of art was displayed. There were sculptures made from metal and stone and other, unknown materials. They saw picture frames with strange images inside of them, some even changing while they watched.
Marveling, Tomoe and Usagi looked about. The light was bright and there were no shadows, so it was hard to tell where it came from. They walked for some time until Pau reached a door which opened itself when he approached it as if by magic.
The room beyond contained something which looked like bath tubs at the walls. Strange, glowing pictures and images were on the walls and along the rims of the tubs.
Pau went directly to a big, round pedestal, which could be reached comfortably over some steps around it. He asked Usagi to stand on the pedestal and stopped at a console which sprouted from the ground nearby.
When Usagi stood, Pau began to touch the console at various places and the socket began to glow in a warm, white light. A ring of light formed itself around Usagis feet and then parted itself from the ground. Slowly, it moved upwards. There was nothing to feel, Usagi just saw the light moving, swallowing him.
For some reason, it did not glare in his eyes, when it reached them. A bit over his head, it dissolved. Pau asked him down again and muttered to himself: "Let's see what we have."
He touched the console again and a twin of Usagi stood on the socket. Usagi on the ground looked surprised at himself. Pau continued to work on the console and the Usagi on the socket moved until he stood erect and balanced. His clothing vanished and red spots began to sprout in the naked, furry body. The socket began to turn and one could see the second Usagi from all sides.
"84 lesser injuries and 2 severe ones," Pau explained. A red line on the head of Usagi began to blink and a spot on the back. "The ninja were not nice to you."
Usagi just snorted.
"The eye and the tongue are not severe?" Tomoe asked astonished.
Pau shook his head. "It's quite difficult to connect all the nerves correctly so his taste will be right again but they are not severe in the sense that his life is in danger."
He pointed at the blinking line on the side of the head: "Skull broken by a blunt object. Probably the reason for the lost eyesight. A bit harder and the ninja would have had to bury you."
"And a crushed kidney which leads to a slow self-poisoning of the body," Pau explained casually. "Nothing which couldn't be mended," he promised.
"You can experience the healing awake," Pau offered, "but I don't recommend it." He smiled subtle: "It is quite boring."
Looking for a moment at Tomoe, Usagi shook his head. Pau asked him to undress and to lay down in one of the tubs. Usagi passed his clothes to a waiting robot and made himself comfortable in a tub. One last look at Tomoe and he looked expectantly at Pau.
Pau looked up from the console which was set into the wall next to the tub. "See you in two days," he said and touched the console one last time. Walls came out of the rim of the tub and moved up until they touched the ceiling. Usagi looked a bit uncomfortable, now.
Then he got really tired and the lights dissolved before his eyes. After three breaths, he had passed into sleep. Quiet, he lay there. Hidden lids opened and a clear liquid began to fill the tub. Usagi floated slowly on the surface.
When he had reached a certain height, his body stopped but the liquid quickly moved on. More lids opened in the ceiling and it poured down into the tank.
"He's drowning!" Tomoe shouted in panic.
Taken by surprise, Pau looked at her. "One can breathe the liquid. When someone has very severe injuries, it is used as a replacement for blood." He smiled apologetic: "When someone tries something futile, we say he tries to drown in a heal tank."
The liquid filled the tank completely, now. "I'm very sorry," Pau tried to calm Tomoe, who was very upset, "this is quite normal for me, so I simply forgot to tell you what would happen."
Usagis floating body was now upright. Big air bubbles came out of his open mouth. Tomoe saw it with horror in her eyes. A coughing fit shook her friend until he relaxed again. Pau pointed to a couple of lines in one of the strange images on the wall. The lines were very regular except one what was disrupted and now regular again.
"Breathing, heartbeat, body temperature," he explained. When Tomoe looked closely, she could see that the floating body breathed slowly and calmly.
"Any further surprises?" she inquired unwillingly.
"The heal tank works automatically," Pau went on. "I just set the priority in which it will heal the injuries. Since his injuries are mostly light, there was not much to do. I just made sure that the healings which take a long time are started now so he will be completely restored in two days."
Thin pipes crawled out of the floor and swam to Usagi. "These will pump away his excrements so he won't have to swim in them."
"Force fields break the arm carefully once more and set it again. Healing bones takes the longest, so that happens first."
Tomoe could see that the arm got longer for a moment and then looked much more straight than before.
"A tissue sample is taken. From that, the missing parts will be grown." A metal snake approached Usagi and touched it slightly.
Then it moved about in the tank and stopped at various places. "Massages and medication reduce the bruises."
A couple of fist sized, metallic bubbles floated from the ground and made contact with Usagi and seemed to melt away. "Artificial micro-organisms heal inner wounds."
Pau led Tomoe to the picture of Usagi which still rotated on the socket. Next to many of the red spots, little black bars had appeared. "They will fill with green. When they are full, the healing has been completed."
Looking friendly at Tomoe, Pau said: "You love him more than your own life," he stated.
Tomoe felt a big wash of sorrow and pain come up from the depths of her soul. With all her might, she fought for the control over her emotions.
She succeeded but the victory felt stale.
Pau had moved to the console again and apparently had not noticed how close she had been to break into tears. He touched it and Usagi vanished.
He looked at her again: "Would you like me to have a look at you?" he offered.
She had regained her control once more. "Will you drown me also?" she asked suspiciously.
"Nothing would give me more fun than to have you naked and helplessly floating in one of my tanks," he retorted.
Unsure, she thought about the offer. She would not get a second chance. 'I feel good but what if I'm sick?' She sighed and stepped on the pedestal.
No comment came from Pau. The circle of light appeared again and moved up on Tomoe.
When it was over, she stepped down and turned. Again, a copy of herself appeared on the empty socket, without clothes and with a different posture. Just one large red spot appeared in her lower abdomen.
"An old injury," Pau commented. "It has since healed and is no threat to your life." Tomoe remembered. She had been hit there by a sword a long time ago.
"Do you want to know?" Pau asked.
"What the injury means." After a moment, he added: "So you can decide if you want to have it healed."
"You said, it doesn't endanger my life?"
Pau shook his head. "It's more ... personal," he avoided a direct answer.
Tomoe frowned. She didn't like such games. "Do you like children?" came the unexpected question from Pau.
She nodded: "Of course."
"And you plan to have some yourself?"
Tomoe did not understand what's that got to do with Paus, but she nodded absent minded and tried to think why Pau was beating about the bush.
Then came the answer: "In this case, you have to let me heal you."
For a moment, she just looked at him unseeing, unable to make the connection between what he had just said and before. But then it came over her like a hit over the head. She closed her eyes, withdraw from the world when the shock washed over her.
This time, the tears won but someone embraced her, gave her the support she needed so badly right now.
After a while, she calmed down. Pau still held her softly in his arms. She should have thanked him but she could not. Her thoughts were strangely empty and clumsy. Having lost control in front of a total stranger was painfully awkward.
So she withdrew from him and went to an empty tub. Unheeding, she let her clothes drop on the ground. The tub felt warm and comfortable, when she laid down, but she almost did not feel it. Everything seemed to have been wrapped in cotton.
Pau helped her to lay down and she wished, it had been Usagi.
"Do you want ..." Pau began but she just shook her head. He smiled encouragingly and said goodbye: "See you in two days."
The walls moved up and a heavy sleepiness came over her. She closed her eyes and sank into a dreamless sleep.
Before the tanks, Pau stood and looked at them for a moment without any expression on his face. Then he activated the alarms and left the room. Darkness wrapped the two slightly moving bodies. Technology, perfectioned over milleniae, did its duty.
Two days later, Pau and the light returned. He went to the console next to the socket and called the image of Usagi up. All his injuries had been healed or at least prepared so that the body could do the rest by itself. Soon, the teeth and fingers would have been replaced by the bodies own tissues.
Carefully, Pau checked the additional changes, that he had made and found everything to his liking.
Next, the image of Tomoe sprang to life. Her injury had been completely healed as well and the extra modification had been made. He gave orders to empty the tanks and walked over.
Slowly, the bodies turned until they hung head down in the tanks. The lids in the ceiling pressed air into the tanks and the liquid quickly drained. A force field pressed the first splash of liquid from the lungs and helped the body to do the first breath of air.
Immediately, both started to cough and spit. A thin runnel of the healing fluid came out of their mouths and then ran dry. The bodies were turned upside again and cleaned from the rests of the healing fluid. Hot air finished the process.
Both were still sound asleep. Robots took them and brought them in the prepared room and put them into bed. Now, all Pau could do was to wait until they would awake.
Pau spent the idle time by completing his reports and to plan ahead. He added a lot of the information his spies collected for him into the whole picture. Furthermore, inquiries of the council had to be answered. Time passed until the station notified Pau that Tomoe and Usagi were on their way to the breakfast.
Suddenly, Usagi was awake. His first reaction was to ready himself for the wave of pain that was about to surge through him as it had for countless weeks. But nothing happened. No pain. Surprised, he held his hand before his eyes. It was intact. No fingers missing. He moved it carefully but still no pain. His arm, straight. A tongue. His lost eye. The felt about his mouth. Teeth. He stood up and examined his body. Unbroken, lean fur and no trace of any injuries. He could not believe it. Carefully, he moved every muscle and bone and everything seemed to be alright. Then his gaze fell on the bed in which he had awoken. On Tomoe.
'Was this no dream? Could it be that Pau Tai really exists?' he wondered. As if any fast movement could shatter the reality, he slowly stretched out a hand to touch the sleeping Tomoe, to find out if she was real. Softly, he touched her shoulder and Tomoe turned.
"Looking for something?" she asked with a teasing smile on her face.
Usagi went all red. Embarrassed, he looked away just to notice that he was completely naked. But before he could do anything, Tomoe had already wrapped her arms around him. The accumulated pain of weeks forced its way through her self control and she cried weakly and Usagi with her.
Later, when they had both calmed down again, they began to explore their surroundings. The room in which they had awoken was quite common. There was one of the usual sliding doors and four, windowless walls. The furniture consisted of a low table, the bed and two statues that were placed to the left and the right of the door.
They were unlike anything Tomoe had seen before. They resembled a sitting human but their skin was made of a material which looked a bit like shaved fur but despite feeling warm under the touch, it was too rigid to be real skin. It might have been some kind of wood. While she was genuinely curious, Usagi didn't pay them much attention.
Bright light shone through the thin paper walls but no sounds could be heard. Elegant clothing had been prepared on the table. While Tomoe dressed, Usagi hesitated.
"These clothes belong to a lord but not to a poor ronin(20) like me," he said unsure.
"Well, it would be more indecorous to approach our hosts naked than to put on something so wonderful," she teased him.
Usagi made a face but accepted his fate. The clothes were exquisite. Never before in his life, he had seen something as beautiful. The fabric was decorated opulently. But something was missing ...
"My daisho!" he complained wistfully.
"That's typical for you," Tomoe laughed, "barely escaped death and already, you start complaining. No wonder, only Gen can stand you."
Even Usagi had to join in and it felt so good to be well again.
After he had dressed, he had to endure a discerning inspection by Tomoe. "We want to show our best side," she muted his futile attempts to prevent her adjustments to the fit of his clothes.
"Now, you look presentable. Let's go and find out what happened," she said when she was finished and turned towards the door. She flinched when one of the statues suddenly rose without a sound with one smooth movement.
Usagi didn't laugh. He, too, felt uneasy about the eerie movement of the machine despite having seen robots before. But the torture of the last weeks still lay heavy on his heart.
The lips in his stylized face did not move when it spoke in a calm voice: "Pau Tai is already expecting you with breakfast. Please follow me."
He waited patiently for them to follow, opened the door and stepped through it.
They were led through wide corridors. Again, they saw many strange works of art, whose intentions were inscrutable for them. At last, they arrived in a large room which had the same curved walls as the corridors. In the middle was a large table with high legs. All kinds of foods and drinks stood on it. On one end, Pau was already seated on a chair with a high back. When they entered the room, he rose and came over to them.
"Welcome, Tomoe Ame. Welcome Miyamoto Usagi. Please, have a seat," he greeted them and beckoned them to two empty places next to him. "All I need to know is if you prefer a chair or sitting on the ground?"
"Uh, usually, I sit on the flat ground and on a cushion but, ..." Usagi answered a bit taken by surprise. A robot next to the wall came over and secured some kind of platform before he could finish the sentence. Another brought a cushion. Baffled, Usagi stopped.
Pau smiled. "And the lady?"
"Just the same," she smiled back. She had almost not finished the sentence, when a second platform was installed.
Before Usagi tried to sit on it, he pulled one of the corners scrutinizingly. The long, thin shaft in the middle of the platform did not look very reliable but the platform did not yield. Carefully, he climbed on it but it did not tilt. If he had not known what was below him, he would have guessed steady ground.
"Enjoy your meal," Pau wished, "eat as much as you like, there is plenty."
None of them needed further encouragement. The biggest problem was to select the delicious thing to eat first. But of course, they were not only starved for food but also for knowledge.
"Why did you rescue me from the ninja?" Usagi began.
Solemn, Pau looked at him. "I apologize that I intervened that late. In fact, I should have heard about your capture hours after it had happened but for some reason that I'm still investigating, the message did not reach me. I apologize formally for my failure," he bowed deeply.
That was not what Usagi had expected. He had expected to have to thank Pau Tai. Instead, he had got an excuse. He tried to say something but because of his surprise, he was at a loss of words.
"Your confusion is understandable. Please let me explain. Do you collect something?"
Usagi wished that Tomoe would take part of this unsettling conversation but she seemed to be completely absorbed by her meal.
"Err, ... no, not really."
"How about wisdom and experience?"
"Oh, well, yes, one could say so," Usagi agreed.
"You see, Usagi-San, I'm collecting persons. Not like someone who collects nice butterflies or rare birds. I don't lock up my collectibles or exhibit them. Maybe one could say that I collect rare fates. People, who will make a difference, who are able to move something. Maybe an artist, whose works will be enjoyed by a lot of people for hundreds of years. Or a philosopher, whose thoughts advance mankind."
"Well, arts are part of my training but I cannot imagine that they are so extraordinary," Usagi replied, who was really unsure where this all would lead to.
"Or a warrior, who can prevent a danger where others would fail."
'Ah, here we go,' Usagi thought. Aloud, he answered, "Well, I think that I have achieved some mastership in my field but there must be a lot of other shugyosha(21) who exceed my abilities by far. Warriors, to which I'm not fit to hold a candle."
Pau smiled friendly. "I did not say that you are the best. Tell me, why is the shogun(22) the shogun?"
Usagi hesitated with an answer. This began to smell like treason.
Pau laughed as if there was a joke only he could understand. "Let me ask in a different way. Why is Lord Noriyuki Lord?"
Usagi could see that Tomoe went rigid. For him also, the conversation became more eerie with every minute. Cautious, he answered: "Well, his father was lord of the Geishu province and when he died, his son followed as legitimate heir. That is why he is Lord Noriyuki, now."
"So he is just ruling, because he happens to be the son of the last ruler?" Pau substantiated.
"Well, ..." Usagi wriggled.
"If I remember correctly, it was you, who escorted Lord Noriyuki safely to the capital city of Edo after you had to leave Tomoe behind because of her severe injuries(23)? But that is also not the reason, why Lord Noriyuki is ruling. The real reason is that he is suitable to be a lord."
"Of course," Pau went on, "also an ill-suited person can become lord but usually only for a short time. Soon, a corrupt adviser will bring him under his control or pull his strings from the shadows. Lord Noriyuki has surrounded himself with a large body of advisers. A group which he can trust but also one, which he controls in the end. You, Usagi, would not have been able to do this. You would have been able to take Lord Noriyuki's life but you would not have been able to take his place."
"I would never have thought something like this," Usagi defended himself.
"No," Pau objected, "you cannot. Even if you had wanted. It is impossible for you to raise your weapon against an defenseless opponent. These are the outstanding qualities that make you up. These qualities turn you into something special and these allow you to do things, others simply cannot do. That is why I'm interested in you and ultimately, why you are here."
Silently, they continued their meals, everyone with his own thoughts. When they had finished, Pau rose and excused himself.
"There are still a lot of things that I must attend to and I regret that I already have to leave you again. Usagi, I would propose to spend the day with training your agility to get accustomed with your new digits. Usually, it takes some time until you can use your new fingers like your old ones. If you should ever need something, the robots will be available." He bowed before them and left.
The Backside of the Moon
"That at least explains why I almost dropped an egg. Some of my fingers feel weak and numb. Are you still hungry?"
Tomoe just shook her beautiful head.
"Well," Usagi said and made a face, "then we should have a look around. If I want to have a good grip on a sword ever again, I have to start training."
He turned to one of the robots. "Is there a place here where I can make exercises?"
"Yes," the robot replied politely, "Please follow me."
The silent robot lead them through more strange rooms and corridors. The building must be immense and still, they had not passed a window, not seen something outside or the sky. They met no other soul which was a pity. On route, Usagi admired the various sculptures and other works of art and the strangely soothing architecture. Wherever possible, edges and cuts had been avoided. The halls and corridors were created by stretched, curved surfaces and arches. He could not tell what kind of material they were but all glowed in calm, soft colors and none was like the other. Some were unicolor, others covered with complex ornaments and pictures.
They crossed a filigree bridge under which a rambling parkland could be seen. Finally, they arrived in an empty hall with a complex grid of black plates on the walls. The robot stopped at the entrance while Usagi gave the walls a closer look. Before a glowing, blue background, six sided black plates were attached to a rhomboid grid. Usagi could not make any sense from it.
Carefully, Tomoe touched one of the plates, felt about it. It felt warm and rigid. She shrugged. "It's probably not meant to catch one softly when one falls against them."
Leaving the puzzle behind, Usagi asked the robot for some kind of trainings weapon.
"There are twenty-seven weapons which match your description. Please name more details."
"Uh, something like a bokken(24), please," Usagi replied while he wondered how there could be so many different types of trainings weapons but he cut his curiosity short because he didn't feel as if he could stand much more surprise today.
The robot went to an opening in the wall and took five bokken out of it. Usagi weighted one after the other until he found one that had the right weight, reach and feeling. While Tomoe chose her bokken, Usagi moved a way into the hall and sat to prepare himself mentally for the training.
His left hand held bokken where his katana(25) normally would be. When he was ready, he rose in a flowing movement, drew the bokken at the same time and when both movements ended, he had reached the basic stance.
Observant, he noted all mistakes he had made. After that, he began to move through the first form. Breathing and movement synchronized. Flowing with the movement of the sword. Form followed form, slowly and steady. Diligently, he began to repeat those parts of the form with which he had trouble with.
A few steps away, Tomoe did the same. 'How beautiful she is,' he thought a bid sad. Immediately, he called himself to order and continued his training even more concentrated as before.
Tomoe did notice when Usagi suspended his exercises for a short moment to watch her. How he had torn his eyes from her almost forcefully and sullenly continued through his form. Her heart sank a bit. Sad, she went through her own routines.
After a while, Usagi paused to get some rest and to plan which form would be most effective to help him restore his dexterity. Still, the hand of the broken arm could not achieve a secure grip. He had to take care that he neither trained a sloppy stance nor that he got lost in a detail and the other important parts got corrupted. He chose three forms and began to repeat them endlessly, always slow and steady, correcting mistakes instantly. And so time passed.
The robot brought something to eat and drink which they consumed silently. Usagi felt an even heaviness spread in himself. Slowly, he found back into his old form, some things even were easier than they had ever been before. He guessed, he could go on one or two hours until he was too exhausted for continuing. Tomoe on the other hand felt still fresh. She watched Usagi from the side of the hall. From there, she could see that Usagi still had some training ahead of him. Some movements still lacked their old harmony.
"How long?" she asked softly.
Usagi knew instantly what she meant. He sagged a bit. "I don't know. Eventually, I lost my sense of time," he murmured, almost too quiet for Tomoe to hear.
"How did it happen?"
"They knew my whereabouts. Caught me in a net and carried me away. It was carefully planned. You should have seen the head instructor. He knows what he's doing ... did know."
With shiver, Usagi remembered the head instructor of the Taja ninja. His politeness could not cover his total lack of emotions. His smile had never reached his eyes. He had always looked at someone like some kind of rare insect and the only quality that had been important to him had been the usefulness of his opposite.
"What do you think, why he has saved you?" she asked.
Usagi made a face. "Well, I'm thankful that I've escaped this hell. I can't say I trust him. Who knows what so much power can do to someone. Usually, I can estimate others quite well, but him ..."
"It's as if he wasn't there."
"Yes," Usagi agreed with her. "My sixth sense also doesn't respond to him." He shrugged. "In the end, it doesn't matter. He will do whatever he pleases and we can only pray that we won't go to the dogs."
Usagi continued his training while Tomoe mused over this. Suddenly, she had an idea.
"What do you know about Pau Tai?" she asked the robot that was still standing motionless next to the door.
"Pau Tai is the military commander-in-chief of this galaxy, maybe comparable to the Shogun. If there are natural catastrophes or armed conflicts, he and his staff are responsible for the necessary planing and the realization to protect the affected lifeforms."
"If there is no crisis," the robot went on, "he usually spends his time with educating pupils, monitoring the state of primitive cultures throughout the galaxy or being on secret missions."
"Endless legends sprout about his person. Allegedly, he did exist long before the official calculation of times started. It is said that he is a reliable ally and a horrible enemy. His qualities as strategist are unpeckable. He did achieve a lot of merits during the constitution of the galaxy and is commonly seen as a good role model."
"Do you need more detailed information?"
'Now, I'm reassured,' Usagi thought sarcastic and asked himself if such a robot could lie. He pondered if he should continue with his forms or if he should help Tomoe to question the robot. In the end, he would listen with half an ear anyway and that would mean that he could not do his exercises properly and would get only half of what the robot told. So he decided for Tomoe and the stories.
"Why don't we move into the park we have passed and continue to talk there?" he proposed.
"That's a lovely idea!" Tomoe agreed happily. Both gave their bokken back to the robot and it let them vanish inside of the opening of the wall. After that, it lead them to the park.
The parkland had been so large, that they had not seen all of it from the bridge when they had crossed it. Some known plants grew there but also many, neither Tomoe nor Usagi had ever seen before. A wonderful stone garden in Japanese style was there and also an area where plants had been cut into elaborate forms. Small birds chirped in the twigs and fishes swam in the small lakes who were connected by a long, meandering stream, that murmured quietly. At several places, robots could be seen, tending the park and it's plants. Tomoe and Usagi chose a nice spot under a tree near the shore of one of the larger seas and made themselves comfortable.
"How old is he exactly?" Usagi asked curiously.
"An exact figure is not available to me. The oldest reports about Pau Tai in the galaxy spanning information network are older than 80'000 of your years," the robot replied.
Usagi almost didn't trust his ears.
"What is he doing, when he "overviews the state of primitive cultures"?" Tomoe inquired a bit indignant.
"The laws of the Federation of Civilizations in this galaxy are very strict when it comes to cultures that have not yet achieved the maturity to survive a contact with the Federation. For this reason, any intervention in the affairs of these cultures is strictly forbidden."
"I see. And what does this mean?" Usagi asked.
"It means he has committed a major crime," Tomoe explained.
"What?" Usagi asked surprised.
"He has kidnapped a couple of hundreds of ninja, killed some of them, crushed their castle below a lot of rock. That is not what I would understand under "any intervention is strictly forbidden."," Tomoe explained.
"And we are witnesses," Usagi continued her train of thought.
"Do you need more detailed information?" asked the robot whose presence had suddenly achieved a completely new dimension. Discomforted, Usagi asked himself what would happen if he attacked the robot.
"I'm asking myself if that alleged role mode Pau Tai is only such a good role model because there have never been any survivors," Tomoe continued.
"Uh," Usagi, who became more uncomfortable with the minute, intervened, "maybe we should not discuss this here and now."
"Why?" Tomoe asked bitterly. "Do you really believe he would not get wind of it just because we talk about it somewhere else?"
The robots were everywhere. Usagi asked himself if one could send them away. And if that would be any help. Maybe even the walls had ears here. Or worse.
"Is there a problem?" the robot asked with his quiet, melodic voice.
"No!" Usagi almost shouted. "Everything is fine!"
"I notice a strong tension in you both. I would propose that I inform Pau Tai, so he can talk to you."
'Anything but that,' Usagi thought and tried to come up with something to change the topic without making the robot suspicious.
"No," Tomoe said with an even voice.
"Are you sure?" the robot asked.
"As you wish. Do you wish more detailed information?" the robot said.
Usagi looked at Tomoe who shrugged. 'I wonder what the robot will report to Pau Tau, later. And how he will take it.', Usagi thought for himself.
"Are there any other persons living here at the moment?" Usagi asked to change the topic.
"At this time, only three persons are inside the station," the robot answered immediately. It was hard to tell if it had already forgotten the previous incident or if it just wanted to make them believe that he did.
"And where is this "station" located?"
"The station had been erected underground on the backside of the Moon," came the simple reply.
'Maybe I should just stop wondering,' Usagi thought after he had recovered, 'I'm just wondering how long I'll have to walk home.'
"And what is on the surface?" Tomoe inquired.
"But something has to be there," she argumented, "you can see all those patterns when you look at it."
"The pattern you are referring to are craters, that have been created by meteorites. Since the Moon has, unlike Earth, no atmosphere, they impact with full force and the craters never vanish because there is no wind or water."
"No air?" she asked unbelieving. "Why can we breathe, then?"
"The station is sealed. The plants you can see here and those in the hydroponic gardens regenerate the air."
"How can one reach the surface?"
"There are several air locks and transmitters," the robot replied.
"What's that?" she wondered.
"An air lock is a room which connects two room with different environments. In the air lock, both environments can be created, so one can pass from one to the other. A transmitter is a device to transport an object or a person from the position of the transmitter to the chosen destination," the robot explained.
"Uh, something like a sedan?" Usagi, whose head began to stir, asked.
"No," the robot replied, "in contrast to a sedan, the transmitter doesn't move. Only the object which is to transferred is moved."
"But how can it move if the transmitter doesn't?" Usagi complained.
"The object which is to be transported," the robot explained with his calm voice, "will be transferred along with the space it occupies to the designated destination, where the target transmitter is located. For the person, that is using the transmitter, it is like they would enter a sedan at the starting place and leave it at the destination. The main difference for the traveler, and the big advantage of a transmitter over a sedan, is that distance doesn't matter. One enters the transmitter and reaches his destination in an instant. For someone who watches the transport and also for the person who is transferred, no time passes."
Usagi gave up. Something else was of much more interest to him. "Err," he began, "if I wanted to go to a certain place, say Edo, what would I have to do?"
"According to my information, there is no target transmitter located in Edo. You would have to use a space ship."
A ship. That sounded much better. "And do we have such a space ship here?" he asked carefully.
"Yes," the robot nourished Usagis hopes.
'Now carefully.' "Could I travel with such a space ship to Kyoto?"
"No," the robot refused his request.
"Oh. Any why not?"
"To land on Earth with a space ship would breach the laws against technology smuggling. No technology must ever be brought to a civilization which has not yet developed an equal or comparable technology itself."
'Well,' Usagi reasoned, 'that probably means, I have to steal it. I'm not completely low-brow when it comes to boats. Nonetheless,' he asked himself uneasy, 'if he spoke the truth and there are no winds, a sail will not work well ...'
"How far is it from here to Kyoto?" he asked to distract the robot.
Usagi really hoped that it was lying. No matter how fast the ship was, it would take years to travel that distance. On the other hand, no one would build a ship that took so long when he could travel by transmitter.
He tried a different approach. "Are there any transmitters on earth?"
"How long would it take for such a space ship to travel to Earth?" Tomoe asked lost in thought.
"About a quarter of an hour."
'No sails!' Usagi concluded, 'and probably nothing else I would recognize.' He let his head sag. They were at the mercy of a being that could level a mountain.
A Living God?
The conversation with the robot had come to an end soon after this. He had led Tomoe and Usagi back to their room and they had eaten their supper there. In a small room next to the big one, they had found a pipe which came out of the wall and which produced water so they could wash themselves. A strange seat was installed in the room about which one robot told them that it was a toilet.
A robot brought them soap and something to tend to their fur. While Usagi had removed his sweat of the day with the pipe they had found, Tomoe had the better idea to ask the robot that showed her another pipe which was set very high in the wall so that she could stand under it comfortably like under an artificial waterfall. Usagi did not begrudge her for her triumphant smile. His thoughts were on the bed.
"There is only one bed for us both," he mentioned.
"And?" came the jollyful answer from the other room.
From the small bathroom, Tomoe came in with nothing on except a large towel. "Are you afraid that I could descend upon you tonight?" she asked with a diabolic smile. Usagi had his gaze locked on the ground.
"No, I ... it's just ..." He trailed off.
"My brave Usagi," she smiled and touched his face gently. "Don't worry, we're both so exhausted that we'll both sleep sound as soon as we lie down."
That said, she let the towel drop and went into the bed. The thin blanket showed more of her than Usagi would have liked at this time. Hastily, he went to his side and crawled into the bed.
"I see you're going to sleep in your clothes, tonight," Tomoe teased him.
This, actually, wasn't what he had had in mind. He was just a tad confused and no wonder after all these new, strange things they had seen and learned today. So he took of all his clothes except for the loincloth, folded them neatly and went back into the bed. Tomoe smiled over her shoulder and wished him a good night. Without moving, one of the robots turned off the invisible lights.
Despite the day, Usagi lay awake for a long time. The long training still rang inside his head and also the many irritating impressions he had collected during the day, just didn't let him come to the necessary calmness to sleep. Also, he never really noticed the smell of Tomoe. It caused strange, new feelings in him and that also didn't help.
When he awoke the next morning, to his utter terror, he found Tomoe lying in his arms. Unlike him, she was still asleep. Unthinkable, if she would awake in this position! Carefully not to disturb her, Usagi moved away but she lay on his left arm. Softly, he lay down again and prayed that she would move in her sleep so he could pull away. While he waited, he sank into sleep again and when he awoke alarmed for the second time, he was alone. The sound of flowing water gave her whereabouts away to him.
Shortly after, she came back. "Good morning," she smiled.
"Good morning," he replied.
"Err ... no, I could not calm myself."
Tomoe nodded understandingly: "Yesterday was very unsettling."
He laughed sarcastically. "I've learned to accept death of others and myself. To work on my own fears and to be always calm and at peace with myself. But this ..."
"Well, whatever Pau will do, we can only accept it and hope, that we can live with it," she said firmly.
'Or die,' he thought.
"Will you wash yourself now?" Tomoe asked him, "It would not be to our advantage to let our host wait."
Usagi called himself to order and went into the small bathroom. Under the high pipe, he alternated between hot and cold water. When he had come somewhat to his senses, he washed quickly and dried himself with one of the thick, white towels.
"How do you know, he's already waiting?" he asked while still drying off.
"I asked one of the robots," she replied.
"So they at least still talk to us. Did it mention anything else?"
She just shook her head.
Usagi took his clothes and dressed. The clothing felt new and fresh. Either, it had been cleaned over night or he had got a new set. Again, he could only marvel at the masterful work. Never before, he had seen anything like it or even owned.
'Let's get over with it,' he thought and followed Tomoe and the robot. Unlike yesterday, the robot led them into a different direction. Before he could think about it, the robot had stepped into a small cave set into a wall. A wide, white line separated it from the corridor. They looked at each other, before they stepped over the line into the niche. The next thing was the robot asking to step outside again. Confused, they complied.
The robot also left and went the way back they had come. They went trough a door and were in the breakfast room of yesterday. Usagi turned and looked at the wall opposite of the door where the door to their room should have been but there was only a wall.
"Is something wrong?" he heard Pau ask.
Usagi tried to bring order to his thoughts. Usually, he could depend on his sense of orientation. To loose his way on the short distance they had gone, was hard to believe. They had just stepped into the corridor, had gone to the left, stepped into the niche and then traced their steps back. Tomoe had the right idea.
"These niches at the crossings ... are those transmitters?" she asked Pau.
If Pau was surprised, he did not show it. "That is correct."
"I did not notice anything!" Usagi spoke baffled.
"Well, that is the idea. The highest degree in comfort and safety," Pau smiled. "In most cases, they have replaced space ships because they are so incredibly convenient. In a space ship, there can always be accidents, one can strand in the void between the planets, the technology can break down. And to make things even worse, it takes a small eternity to cross some distance. This is a pity, since space has so many wonderful sights to offer and when one just hops from only vantage point to the next, one quickly looses the respect before the majestic size and quietness of the depths of space. Please, have a seat."
As yesterday, platforms had been installed for Tomoe and Usagi. In addition, small steps were there, so they could reach them without effort. They sat down.
"I have to apologize for leaving you all alone yesterday, but there was still an awful lot of paperwork to attend to. This station had been unused for a long time and I had to order material for necessary maintenance, the upgrades and things like that. Also, I had to report in detail why I did lay waste to the castle of the ninja and what had happened to them and you and so on. I guess, some of this sounds familiar to you."
"You told them?" Usagi probed carefully.
"Told what to whom?" Pau asked.
"That you destroyed the castle."
"Of course. I'm fully responsible for my deeds to my government. But there is another question behind the one you asked. Why don't you ask me what you really want to know?"
It was Tomoe, who did: "We talked to one of the robots yesterday," she began slowly. "It told us something about you and it also said that it was strictly forbidden to have contact with primitive cultures."
"Ah, I begin to understand, why you are so tense today. You are afraid that you have been witnesses of something which no one must ever know."
They just looked at him openly.
"A wise man once said, "You shall measure me against my deeds because unlike my words, they are without false". Surely, the robot has repeated the official sermon what a great role model I am for everyone. And my guess would be that this didn't ease your fears at all."
"What will you do with the ninja?" Usagi asked worriedly. He also had a high respect for the lives of others and this side of him was glad that Pau had not butchered hundreds coldheartedly. On the other hand, he had to face the possibility that he could fall into their hands once again. Or someone else.
Pau Tai smiled. "Unworthy life, Usagi," he said.
"I beg your pardon?" came the confused reply.
"Unworthy life. The old question. Is there unworthy life? Has my biggest enemy forfeited his right to live? He, who has killed countless? Who will still kill countless? Who has the right to decide over life and death? And who judges the judge?" Pau explained.
Usagi lowered his head. These thoughts were all to familiar for him. With great despair, he had noticed the changes the torture of the ninja had caused in him. The burning hate. The happiness when he could hear bones of a ninja crack. To kill one of them.
"No one is ever safe against temptation. Only those, who think they are, are already lost," Pau said softly. He smiled his warm smile.
"If you want," Pau offered, "I can help you to find yourself again."
Usagi could only nod. There was a large lump of mourning in his throat. A tear run down his cheek and Tomoe wrapped him in her arms. Like a tsunami(27), feelings washed over him.
He screamed and cried when the memories came back.
The pain. The humiliation. The hopelessness. The desperation.
Carefully nourished by an appalling enemy.
The fear and the hate.
How he had felt an important part of his soul harden forever.
He stammered the terrors of his torture.
What they had done to him to break him.
The torment of his soul.
To be forced to live this life in anguish and unable to do anything.
The rape of his soul.
With the tears, everything poured from the depths of his self.
When it was over, Usagi was utterly spent. He found himself in the soft embrace of Tomoe and Pau in the park. Weakly, he tried to free himself but it felt so good to be hugged.
To be held.
With a faint voice, he tried to apologize for his outbreak.
"Hate and fear mutilate the soul," Pau said softly in his ear. "As long as you cannot cry, you cannot wash them from your soul. They will grow and the festering wound will take more and more of your energies until you become a victim of them. To clean your soul by crying is the most simple way to heal."
Usagis head sank against the wet fabric of Paus clothes. 'Incredible how many tears I had in me,' he thought cumbersomely and the murmur of the stream and the chirps of the birds lulled him into a healing sleep.
When he came to senses again, he was still exhausted but some of his peace had returned. A large weight had left him. For years, he had carried it. Adding to it every now and then.
But now it was gone.
He was still in the park. Someone had undressed him and wrapped into a fluffy, soft cover. Below him was a soft and yielding mass, that swashed like a liquid. Next to him lay Tomoe, who was still sleeping. Her eyes were also red from tears but she also was radiating the peace that Usagi was experiencing himself.
Next to their den, Pau Tai sat in the grass. He watched Usagi silently and with a small smile on his lips. Wordless, he handed Usagi a waterskin. Usagi took it and drank greedily. It tasted strange but delectable. Pau encouraged him with hand signs to drain it. When Usagi gave the empty skin back, he received a gooey bar made of grains and dried fruits. He ate a bit of it. It tasted sweet and a bit sour. Then exhaustion took him again and he sank into a deep, calm sleep.
When he awoke next time, it was dark but Pau was still there. Usagi had a strong urge to go to the toilet but he was by far to weak to stand up let alone to walk. As if he had read his mind, Pau picked him up and carried him to a bush. He supported him while Usagi relieved himself.
Then he carried him back. Usagi saved his breath and did not give a futile protest. He had almost not enough strength left to stand. 'Astounding, how much strength the purification had taken,' he wondered dazed. He drank again, ate the rest of the bar and half of another, lay back and was asleep again.
On the next morning, Usagi already felt much better. Within convenient reach lay a waterskin and more fruit bars. Usagi took one of both and lay back. He savored the feeling of calmness and peace inside of him. He had not felt that balanced for a long time. In a distance, Pau Tai stood on the top of a small hill and made steady-going exercises full of harmony. Usagi lay on his side so he could watch without effort. He drank, nibbled at the bar and watched.
Some elements of the exercises made him think about martial arts but others seemed to have been taken from a dance. One could almost touch the harmony that Pau radiated. Calmly and steady-going, he flowed through the patterns, at rest and still moving.
"Wonderful, isn't it?" Tomoe fancied.
Usagi turned his head about and could get a short glimpse of her. To turn his whole body would have been too much of an effort. So he just nodded.
"I'm watching him since he started. It puts one at peace."
Usagi could only agree wholeheartedly.
Some time later, Pau finished his practice and came down to them. "Good morning," he greeted them, sitting on the edge of their den.
"Thanks," Usagi replied.
And: "Thanks," Tomoe followed.
"Thanks," Pau answered and smiled.
Muted, they enjoyed the silence until a couple of robots arrived with food.
"Well, what would you like?" Pau asked mischievously. "We have fresh buns and bread, rice lumps and tofu, milk and butter. Here I see honey and different jams, and fish and tokage."
"Stop it!" Usagi cried, whose mouth watered, with fake despair. "A bun with fish! And quickly, or I'll be too weak to eat!" he laughed.
"Hey!" came it from behind, "What happened to courtesy in front of a lady?"
"Lady? I can't see one here," Usagi mocked Tomoe what earned him a thump. "See what I mean? To attack a helpless rabbit!" Greedily, he did bite into the bun. Delicious!
Soon, the first hunger was satisfied and Pau could work a bit more slowly. Patiently, he cut the buns and the bread, buttered them and fed the two. The only disadvantage Usagi could find in this were the crumbs in which he was laying after a short time. Every time he moved, he crunched. "I see, the old bones," Pau mocked him what made Tomoe laugh and the whole bed began to swash heavily.
"Hey!" Usagi protested, "I'm getting sea sick, here!"
After the frugal breakfast, the two felt much better. Pau helped them once again to the toilet and when they returned, new sheets lay ready and the den was clean again. With an happy sigh, they lay down again and enjoyed the peace a bit longer.
"Where are the ninja now?" Usagi asked quietly.
Pau pointed on his head and Usagi looked at him questioningly.
"I was under the impression that you have had learned that it can be dangerous to ask me something," Pau smirked.
"And is this a dangerous question?" Tomoe replied.
Pau shrugged. "I own some kind of storage at a place where space exists but not time. That means that I can put something into the storage and take it out anytime later but for the thing that I did store, no time will have passed because there is no time in the storage. In this storage, I can put food, for example. When I take it out again, it's in exactly the same condition as it was when I did put it into the storage. Sometimes, you will find an enemy or people like the ninja in there until I have decided what I will do with them," he answered untroubled.
Usagi was fascinated. But something was odd: "How can you put something inside? You have to move it for that, right? And movement always needs time!" he argumented.
Pau laughed out loud. "A sharp mind. Yes, you are right. The storage and retrieval are complicated. Actually, it works a bit like the transmitters. The real problem is to find something. Since no time exists inside, I cannot run around in it. I have to remember exactly ... "where" ... I did put something or I will loose it forever. Or, even worse, I could take our the wrong thing. Sometimes, I put dangerous things like a fused bomb in there. This way, I can transport it any distance. Without endangering someone, I can take it out somewhere else, where no one can be hurt and run for it."
"Instead of a present, you would accidentally hand over an explosion," Tomoe followed his thought.
"Something like that," Pau agreed.
"And how much do you carry on you?" Usagi continued on whose thirst for knowledge was not yet nursed.
"About one hundred thousand items," Pau answered lightly.
"And you remember where you did put all of them?" Usagi asked perplexed.
"Well," Pau began, "almost," he admitted, "I did already loose two things in there."
"Two out of one hundred thousand?" Usagi laughed, "Oh dear, if I only think about all those things that I did loose and forget!"
"My birthday," it came from behind, "your money, me," Tomoe began and was about to start a long list in spite of Usagis protests. Instead, she kissed his head and he calmed down quickly. "But I do know what I've got," she said mischievously.
After everyone had calmed down again, Usagi asked Pau about his next steps.
"I'm still waiting for the reply from the council. There are still a couple of things which I must rectify on your world that have got in disarray when I destroyed to castle. I made some proposals and these are now analyzed and they will choose one of them. In the mean time, I help you two to regenerate. That will need about one week and until then, the council will have decided."
"Your council is involved with our world?" Usagi questioned impressed.
Pau had to smirk. "The council is involved in anything that happens between worlds, for example, when someone like me makes adjustments. The council consists of a lot of groups and each group is specialized on a certain topic. There are groups, who dispute the ethical and moral ramifications of various advances in science, groups that care for the relationships between the various races and civilizations and so on. Usually, the galaxy is divided into smaller sections so everything can be managed at all."
"But that should not bother you. Something else is of more importance. You will surely want to have your weapons returned when I bring you back."
"Yes?" Usagi asked hoping that there wouldn't be any problems with this.
"Should I put them into maintenance before we return? I can offer that nicks are removed, they are hardened again or something like that?"
Surprised, Usagi noticed that he trusted Pau. When he said, that they would get their weapons back, then that would be so. Until then, he would wait.
"I know that your daisho means a lot to you, that you think of them as a part of your soul. For this reason, I gave orders just to store then and return them unmodified," Pau explained.
Usagi pondered about this.
"You will have to decide," Pau added, "which corrections you can accept. Usually, the weapon is taken apart and replaced almost completely. From our point of view, the metal which makes up the blade is inferior, the handle not durable enough and the scabbard has also seen better days. For these reasons, the robot would give you something back, which is practically a new sword except that it would have the same weight and form as your old one."
Usagi answered that he would think about it.
"Good. What about you, Tomoe?"
"The same. I have to think about this in privacy."
"Would you like to forgive the instructor?" Pau inquired suddenly.
Usagi was taken by surprise. He thought about it. The thought to meet the instructor once again had lost a lot of its terror but still, he was not yet ready. Muted, he shook his head.
"What will you do with them?" Tomoe wanted to know.
"That will depend on which of my proposals is chosen by the council."
"And if they come up with something of their own?" Tomoe tried to tease Pau.
"Then I will do that," he said unmoved.
"Why? Surely, you are powerful enough to do whatever you deem appropriate! Why do you follow the orders of the council?" Tomoe asked curiously.
Pau looked at the horizon. "It's true, I could wipe the floor with the council, force them to accept my every whim. But in this respect, I'm a lot like Usagi. If someone is above me in the hierarchy, then I follow the orders as long as my trust is not abused. If a person turns out to be corrupt, then I, like him, will act as the law says, no matter who it is. I see that my position is important and therefore, I understand that the others are important, too. I see what is and I make proposals what could be done."
"But in the end," he went on, "I concentrate on details and someone else has to see the whole picture. What impacts my deeds will have on those which I don't take into account, someone else has to find out and pass this information on to me. That is something which would be too much for me to do and therefore, it works quite well as it is. A lot of trust is put into me that I see the important details, that I don't omit important information and that I implement the decisions correctly. And I put a lot of trust in the council that my power is not abused."
"Without this mutual trust, a concentration of power such as I do represent, is impossible. That is the reason why something like that does not exist in more simple civilizations. Whenever one side tries to overpower the other, the untrusting other side will do anything possible to withstand. No matter the price," he concluded.
"So," he changed the topic, "again time to do something for our health." That said, he took them and threw them into the nearby lake. Snorting, they broke the surface and immediately began to splash at Pau while he undressed. With a grim face, he waded into the water after them. With fake horror, they swam away. Lightly, their laughter and screams filled the park. It was a relief to wash away the old tears, the snot and the dirt. When they came out again to dry, they felt better than they had for a long, long time. They had sushi for lunch and afterwards, a walk through the park.
Pau showed them some special places in the park and their symbolisms. They marveled at some bonsais, almost little parks in the park. On the shore of a lake of pebbles, they had tea. Wave patterns had been drawn in the stone lake. Every bolder had rings which broke the long, monotonous waves of the lake.
They walked through a small jungle, full of vegetable life. The air was so humid that they had to breathe hard. Magnificent orchids grew on enormous trees. The trees were so high that the ceiling of the park had openings for them. Above, seven railings could be seen that went around the openings.
"This station must be gigantic," Usagi mused, "Why is no one living here?"
"Usually, the stations are only manned if a system has to be monitored because there is evidence for technology smuggling or illegal interventions. Normally, they are used as a base for an armed intervention force, that has to protect the system as long as it cannot do it itself. All stations are more or less the same size and since size doesn't matter, they are bigger then necessary."
"But this has to be very expensive," Tomoe meant. "If it is twice as large, then it costs a lot more, more people have to work until it is finished and it takes longer."
"Well," Pau began and Usagi had a foreboding, "the stations are built by specialized robots and they don't ask for a salary. The robots themselves are also built by other robots, so they, too, don't cost anything and the raw materials to build them ..."
"Again robots," Tomoe finished the sentence.
"Exactly. So all it really needs is to tell the right robot. This station was erected in about five days. Four and a half."
Usagi laughed out loud and Tomoe could only shake her head. It was incredible. In the time a couple of peasants erected a tiny house, they created something the size of a large city, that was so big that one could walk through it for five days and would still not have seen everything.
"And now, we imagine what kind of enemies I must have when I can do this," Pau added dryly.
Their laughter froze in their throats. This was a most unsettling thought.
"Don't worry," Pau smiled, "one part of my enemies are all dead and the others, well, kept safe."
'Incredible,' Usagi thought, 'It must be something like that to be a kami(28) -- a living god.'