Wandering the world, with the money from his grandparents' estate, has allowed Hikaru a sense of freedom and an ability to do good even while spending his days the way he wants to. In the last few months, Hikaru has had the opportunity to see America, making his way up from San Diego, visiting various Japanese and non-Japanese communities along the way. Breaking the power of a human trafficking ring, covertly, in San Francisco, is but one of many recent ventures that have peppered his travels.
Two nights ago, his travels brought him to Portland, Oregon. A lovely city, this, with mountains that might evoke those of home, and lush forests that definitely do. Hikaru has learned that the city has extensive Japanese style gardens, too, reputed to be amongst the most authentic outside of his homeland.
Strangely, though, before Hikaru could get around to managing a visit, he has received a letter today, from the Friends of the Japanese Garden. How they knew he was staying at the hotel he is residing at isnít even the biggest mystery.
Apparently, an unknown benefactor to the Gardens would like to have a tea ceremony at the tea house on the garden grounds, in three days' time. The one and only person on the guest list?
Why, Hikaru of course.
"Joy," Hikaru says aloud while studying the letter and envelope.
The actual invitation is from the garden society itself, and so it is in English, and postmarked from Portland. There is no indication of who the benefactor that wants to meet Hikaru actually is. The date of the postmark is three days ago - it was mailed to the hotel before he arrived in Portland, and before he chose the hotel to stay in.
"Interesting," he says to no one in particular. He resolves to try to be even less predictable in his actions, and hotel choices, in the future.
'The problem with tea ceremonies,' he thinks 'is all that protocol and, well, ceremony.'
He studies the letter for a moment more, then sighs. "Still, it's bad form to turn an invitation down." There is an RSVP requested for Hikaru's attendance, by letter or by telephone.
Hikaru RSVPs using the hotel room's phone. The number on the invitation turns out to be an answering machine for the Garden.
Three days later, Hikaru has memorized and rememorized the exacting and minute details of a tea ceremony. It is, unfortunately, as he remembered, all protocol and ceremony, and a lot of it at that.
The hotel's pool is an indoor one, which is a good thing given the cool spring days and evenings here in Portland. Oh, spring has come, but the warm weather of Southern California has given way to a more balanced season.
As far as the waterfront, Portland is a city straddling the river, with numerous bridges crossing it. Although the east bank has an esplanade, the west bank has a beautiful park that runs through a fair amount of riverfront real estate. Beyond this park, to the north and south, there is a marina, restaurants and other things to occupy Hikaru's interest and time.
Thusly, Hikaru finds himself on the morning of the tea ceremony receiving a phone call.
"Good morning, Mr. Saganami," comes a female voice, Japanese. "I was just calling to confirm your attendance today at the tea ceremony at Noon."
"Good morning," he replies. "Yes, I will be attending, Miss?" Hikaru asks politely.
"Miss Sato," the voice responds. "We understand, Mr. Saganami, that you may have questions about the unusual nature of this invitation, and I am prepared to answer any questions you might have prior to your attendance today."
Hikaru considers this for a moment or two. There are questions to be asked and then there are questions answerable only in person. "Very well," he says. "Who, may I ask, has invited me to tea?"
Hikaru can practically hear the smile from the other end of the phone.
"Mr. Saito expected that you would be curious," the voice responds. "Mr. Saito prefers his privacy but understands that you wish to know about him. He has told me, Mr. Saganami, that you have mutual acquaintances. A Mr. Christopher Nolan and a Mrs. Mal Cobb."
In person, the names mean nothing. He has never met any such people in real life. As the moments pass and he thinks about it, however, the names come to Hikaru's memory.
There was a movie last year, with a character named Saito, a character named Cobb, and even one named Mal. The movie was directed by Christopher Nolan. Yes, it was a big enough movie that even Hikaru found time to go see it. A movie about dreams and the nature of reality itself. Inception.
Hikaru considers this for a few moments. The manufactured name and references are reason for a healthy dose of concern with this whole affair. Still, the invitation to tea has intrigued him.
He says something to the effect of "Yes, of course, that Mr. Saito," in colloquial Japanese in an apparent offhand manner to see if 'Ms. Sato' actually speaks Japanese.
"Yes, that Mr. Saito," Miss Sato replies, hesitantly. "Forgive me, Mr. Saganami, I am second-generation Japanese, and my language skills are terribly inelegant," she continues, picking her words with the care one might take to walk through a minefield. It does sound to Hikaru's ear that she is not a native speaker, but clearly heard some Japanese growing up, since she does have an accent of sorts. Okinawan, in fact.
"No apologies are necessary, Miss Sato," Hikaru replies in formal Japanese after a moment. His own upbringing in a mixture of cultures was not an easy thing, so he has some sympathy for the girl. Then he frowns thoughtfully, wondering if this was all part of some grand scheme or plan.
He shakes his head, then continues in English once more. "Well, if there is nothing else, Miss Sato, I will see you shortly. Please inform Mr. Saito that I look forward to our tea."
"Domo arigato," Miss Sato replies.
Hikaru hangs up and prepares for the upcoming tea ceremony. Part of his preparations will include carrying a Tanto style dagger at the small of his back and a pair of smaller daggers, Kaiken. If searched, the Tanto will be easily found. The Kaiken, carefully concealed, will not be so easy to find. Dressed in a nice, tailored suit, Hikaru arranges for a taxi to take him to the Gardens with plenty of time to spare.
So armed and ready for trouble, Hikaru finds no difficulty in reaching the gardens with lots of time to spare. To its credit, to Hikaru's eye, the gardens look like a piece of Japan transported to Portland. The tea ceremony itself is set to take place in a small tea house in the southeast corner of the gardens, called Kashintei. Even as Hikaru casually strolls by it, he can see that it has been roped off and marked private. More than a few tourists also exploring the gardens are unhappily turned away.
As he strolls through the gardens, Hikaru keeps an eye out for people and things that don't fit in with the surroundings, and for those trying hard to blend in as well. For his part, he tags along behind a tour group or two by way of cover.
There are a few somewhat overly awkward-looking tourists. It's not clear if Hikaru notices their quirks because they are quirks or if they are truly odd. A fair number of physically disabled visitors in wheelchairs, more in one place than Hikaru might expect, for example. A few odd combinations, like a small group that is a mixture of Hispanics and South Asians.
He also spends a few moments planning an escape route or two, should they prove necessary.
Hikaru can and does map out a few routes, including the fastest ones out of the garden, and out of the area entirely.
Hikaru's observations do not go unrewarded. He has a couple of opportunities to get side glimpses inside of the tea house before the appointed hour. There are three figures inside that he can see. Two tall men, obviously standing guard, and a very old man, sitting on a cushion. All of them are dressed in, to put it mildly, an old-fashioned mode, looking like scions from an early 19th-century Japanese family.
Those in wheelchairs are predominantly male. Hikaru strolls by the entrance to get a glimpse of the parking lot. Perhaps there is a disabled veterans group here visiting the gardens; if so, there should be one or more distinctive vans or buses in the parking lot. And as it so happens, there are a few large vans in the disabled spaces in the parking lot.
Hikaru, momentarily, feels under dressed for the occasion. 'Still,' he thinks. 'No mention was made of wearing a kamishimo. Not that I would normally bring such on my travels anyway. Hmm, I suspect that a 'guest suit' will be provided should the old man want to do this completely in the old ways.'
Hikaru approaches the tea house at the appointed time. Time for tea.
A young Japanese woman dressed in a kimono greets him at the entrance and bows deeply.
"Greetings, Mr. Saganami," she says. The voice is very familiar; it sounds much like the woman he spoke to on the phone, Miss Sato. "Mr. Saito is eager to meet you."
"Konnichi wa, Miss Sato," Hikaru says. "As am I, him."
Miss Sato smiles.
She gestures for Hikaru to follow her into the tea house, to remove his shoes and enter into the main chamber. Hikaru follows as requested and removes his shoes at the appropriate place before entering the tea house.
Saito rises smoothly as Hikaru does so, as if already knowing he was there. He bows deeply. Hikaru bows in return. Not sure of the old man's exact social station, Hikaru's bow is one to show respect to an honored elder and probable higher class.
This seems to please Saito. "Thank you for coming to see me, Mr. Saganami," he says. "Shall we begin?"
"It is my honor, Mr. Saito," Hikaru replies. "As you wish, sir."
The tea ceremony turns out to be, perhaps to Hikaru's relief, a somewhat informal Chakai type ceremony. In the midst of the ceremony, Mr. Saito, who has been following the way of tea perfectly, regards Hikaru.
"It is an honor to share tea with someone of your noble line, Hikaru," he says, sipping the tea prepared from the macha. "It is possible that you yourself are modest or are unaware of the true nobility of your descent?"
Hikaru regards Mr. Saito over the rim of his cup for a few moments. "If you are referring to my mother's family, then their nobility would indeed be news to them," he says calmly. "Grandfather never spoke of such a thing, and would not have let me forget if he had."
"If you refer to my father and his family," he continues after another moment, "I wouldn't know. Never met him. Or them. If they live." His tone and body language are carefully schooled and controlled. He'd long ago figured out the odds of his meeting his father or his father's family were all but non-existent.
"I speak not of your birth father, but he who has watched you for many years past now," Saito says, sipping more of the tea. "And has seen that you were taught properly."
"For example, I understand that in addition to martial arts, you have been taught the Way of the Sword, Hikaru," Saito continues. "Not that common, especially for someone who has been truly stood between worlds."
Hikaru bows in acknowledgement of his skills.
"Who taught you the Way of the Sword?" Saito asks.
"My Sensei went by the name of 'Old Man Hachi,'" Hikaru says after a moment. "It was the only name I, or anyone else, ever called him. I lived and trained in an ancient estate of the Minamoto family." Hikaru's gaze grows slightly unfocused as recalls some information from his memory. "An ancient line of Samurai, if they were allowed to claim that title today. History and legend say the Minamoto clan claims the Emperor Ojin as an ancestor."
"I see that your Sensei has taught you the history of Japan as well as the Way of the Sword," Saito says, sipping his tea. "It is well that he did this, and well that you have retained your knowledge.
Hikaru sets his cup down on the table.
"I never did like the name Ojin, however," Saito adds. "I prefer to be addressed as Hachiman."
"History, while not my strong suit," Hikaru says before Saito-san's last statement fully registers, "is a minor interest of mine. One can learn much from the past."
Hikaru stops; fortunately with his tea cup already on the table, he can neither drop it nor spit-take into it as Saito-san's statement finally reaches his brain.
"Pardon," he says with a mixture of confusion and wariness, "did you say you are Hachiman? As in the god Hachiman? And if so, why are you having tea with me?"
Saito looks at Hikaru placidly.
"We are having tea with you for several reasons, Hikaru," Saito replies.
"First, we have consumed meals together many times before. At the Minamoto Castle, most notably, when I was your Sensei. Why should we not continue that practice?
"Second, although I am not responsible for your paternity in the active sense of the word, your paternity has been given unto me by my brother God. For all intents and purposes, you are my son.
"And it is most excellent tea. There are few places on this continent that understand the Way of Tea."
"Gaijin," Hikaru agrees while attempting to process recent revelations. "They know little about any of the Ways ..."
Hikaru glances at the two 'bodyguards' to note their reactions, if any.
"You were ... are my Sensei?" he asks numbly. "And, not that I'm sure I believe you," he adds, watching Saito once again. "But if not you, then who ... what brother ... God ..." He then rolls his shoulders, loosening tension. "And I am expected to believe you, all of this," he gestures vaguely with a hand. "How? Why?"
Saito takes another calm sip of tea.
"Especially in this modern age, these sorts of interactions are often met with disbelief or skepticism, or outright mockery." He sips his tea again, quietly, calmly.
"The why is that Susano-o fell for a mortal woman, and, as sometimes happens, a child resulted from the union," Saito explains. "This has happened throughout history, across the world. The children of Gods usually show some of the potential of their divine sire. Have you never considered why your skills are so much better than nearly anyone you have met?"
"Perhaps because I had the benefit of a good teacher?" Hikaru asks while gazing at Saito, trying see any resemblance to his old teacher.
It's not a matter of him wearing different makeup. But the more Hikaru looks at him, the more it looks like this is indeed his old teacher, in a different skin, so to speak. Some of the very subtle movements and body postures are identical.
"This happens a lot then?" Hikaru asks while trying to recall what he knows of both Hachiman and Susano-o.
"Gods are not excessively ..." Saito pauses a moment. "Fecund. And such potential does not always follow the blood of the God."
Saito replenishes his cup of tea.
"When such potential blooms, if the God is aware of their progeny, they are brought into the fold, told of their nature, and given the knowledge and tools to aid their parents against what would threaten both them and world.
"A darkness is starting to cast its shadow over the world again, Hikaru," Saito says. "You are needed."
Ah, here it comes, Hikaru thinks to himself. "Am I?" he asks. "To do what?"
Saito sips his tea again. "In the general, to see if your potential does mature enough that you are worthy of being a Scion. Our conversation, here, now, and my presence here acts as a catalyst for what skill and abilities you have, Hikaru.
"In the general, still ..." Saito continues "You are going to help us to save the world from those who would claim it as their own. These beings are known by many names. They created the universe, but were long ago overthrown. Now, they seek to return to their former glory. The Dodekatheon calls them the Titans, and the other Pantheons have followed suit, even if all of our histories have different names for them."
Saito takes another sip of tea.
"In the specific," he finishes. "A number of the Gods of the various pantheons have decided to form a coalition, and harness some of their scions against the plans of the Titans. I have chosen you."
Hikaru considers this over a couple sips of tea. "This is all a bit much to take in all at once;" he says slowly. The addendum silently floats in his mind: And much more to be believed.
"In ages past, such revelations as this would be the work of decades. We do not have the luxury of such a leisurely pace," Saito responds.
"I have many questions," Hikaru says while looking at Saito-Hachiman. "But I will ask those as and when needed. If I am to believe in and go along with this, you mentioned potential and worthiness. How shall this be resolved? What abilities will be unlocked? I would also know more about these Titans, if you would please." He pauses then, a thoughtful expression upon his face. "And shall I call you 'father' then?"
"Yes, you may call me father. It is the correct term," Hachiman says. Violating ceremony slightly, he replenishes Hikaru's tea without asking, and then his own.
Hikaru bows slightly. "In time," he says.
"You have the blood of Susano-o within you, and a spark of my divine presence," Hachiman says. "That is as much as any born of the Gods has. Many are born and die without anything more.
"Being in the presence of me, as you have done today, will allow some of your heritage to fully flower. I imagine it will be your reflexes, or perhaps your strength, that will grow as a result in the next few days, perhaps a week. If your abilities should fully flourish and you employ them with honor, courage and devotion, your worthiness is guaranteed."
Hikaru frowns thoughtfully. "So your presence will cause the spark of my ... more than mortal self, shall we say, to ignite? Interesting." He considers Hachiman's words for a time. "And who will be the judge of my honor and worthiness?" There is a faint, underlying tone indicating that Hikaru considers his honor to be his own to judge.
"As far as the elevation of you in rank and privilege?" Hachiman says. "Decisions on those matters are made by the entirety of the major deities of the pantheon of the God sponsoring their progeny for such honors. In our case, the Amatsukami. Myself, Susano-o, Amaterasu, Izanagi, Izanami, Raiden, and Tsuki-Yomi.
"I have no doubt, that should you survive the trials and tribulations, Hikaru, that you will one day wear the name of Demigod, and perhaps one day further still, join your father as a brother God."
He takes a sip of tea.
"I suspect you have more questions. Since our contact is necessarily limited, now is an excellent time to ask them."
Hikaru nods slowly. "The pantheon is a democracy then? I thought Amaterasu ruled."
"She does rule," Hachiman says. "However, we've learned the lesson that Pantheons that do not cooperate with each other suffer under the blows of our enemies. There is still tension and conflict, of course."
"So then, you have no idea what specific powers or abilities I may manifest, is that correct?" he asks after a moment. "How does one go about ... unlocking them, for lack of a better phrase?"
"Tell me more about these enemies you wish me to combat, if you would. What are their strengths, weaknesses? How intelligent are they?" Hikaru sips his tea. "Tell me what you know of them so that I might better combat them."
"Am I fighting them solo or with others?" he asks.
"You will be facing the Titanspawn with the other Scions my allies are contributing," Hachiman says. "Even now, they are meeting their scions, or arranging proxies to do so if they dislike coming to Earth.
"The Titans come in many guises and forms, most of them monstrous. They, however can unleash lesser terrors and even have children as the Gods do. It is these latter that are the most dangerous. They do evil in ways you can do good, to the Children of Men. They are your dark mirrors.
"One thing, Hikaru. Your very nature and presence will draw the attention of the Titans. The fabric of the cosmos demands that you attract trouble in your direction, be it from the Titans or other sources. You may have already noticed this in your life. It is one reason why those such as I do not linger on Earth long. The effect is more pronounced for those more divinely invested."
Hikaru smiles faintly before bowing his head. "I had often wondered why I seemed to be a 'trouble' magnet." He shrugs his shoulders. "Now I know. Let them come if combat they seek.
"How will I recognize these Titans or their spawn then if their forms seem human or are otherwise concealed?" he asks.
"There is no simple answer to that," Hachiman says. "Some of them are extremely skilled at the arts of deception and subterfuge. There are no foolproof ways to determine if trouble comes from a mortal source, or from one of the titanspawn. There are titanspawn that are far more bestial and easily recognized. Minotaurs. Medusae. Oni. But the human titanspawn are the most dangerous of all."
Hikaru considers this for a few moments. "I suspected as much," he says. "Well then, they will be dealt with in an appropriate manner, as time and the situation permit.
"What else can you tell me about this?" he asks.
"Much, and little," Hachiman says. "As is the way of these things.
"You should seek out your counterparts, first," he goes on. "One of them will be gifted an item of power to direct your Fellowship in the plan we have decided upon. You should journey to the state of Connecticut, first, to the realm of Epona. She holds territory there, and has summoned her daughter to meet with her.
"And you are to be gifted as well," he adds. "Consider this an ongoing puzzle and test, as well as a weapon against the Titanspawn." He produces, from somewhere, what appears to be the hilt of an ornately made switchblade knife.
"Made by Ama-Tsu-Mara and Raiden, as per my request. It would honor me for you to bear this, my son, in battle against the Titanspawn."
Hikaru bows. "Forgive me, but I am unfamiliar with Ama-Tsu-Mara," he says.
"He is the smith amongst our pantheon," Hachiman says. "He owed me a debt, which is repaid through this gift to you."
"Connecticut," Hikaru says while first accepting the knife hilt with a bow and then studying it. "I have never been there before but I know of some dojos in the area. Where in Connecticut and who is the person I am to contact?"
"Her name is Rosemary Allegra Zelioni. She is the daughter of Epona. She will be traveling to Epona's land, a place called New Deptford. As is the wont of many of our kind, her realm is and is not of this Earth. It is difficult to find but I will give you instructions to unlock the secret."
As Hikaru speaks, he studies the hilt given him. Finding a button where one would expect to find the release mechanism on a switchblade, Hikaru first glances at Hachiman, then points the hilt away from everyone. He then pushes the button.
Over the next few seconds, what emerges from the hilt is no switchblade. Sections of a blade appear and lock themselves together in order. It is fortunate that Hikaru held it away from everyone, for a fully fledged katana sword, amazingly light and balanced, is now in his hand.
"Kami-No-Raiu-No-Ken," Hachiman says with satisfaction.
"The Sword of Divine Thunderstorms," Hikaru says with awe and reverence in his voice. With his right hand, he maneuvers the blade with care so that the flat of the blade lies across his left forearm. He studies both faces of the blade for some time. He vows to spend some time later on, to become familiar with the feel of the sword, the time it takes to unfold and fold, and the way it wants to be used in battle. The hilt already feels right in his hands. With reluctance, he hits the button and watches the blade fold itself up into the hilt.
"I am honored, father," Hikaru says. "Thank you."
"The honor will be repaid, my son, if you bear it into combat honorably against the Titanspawn and their works," Hachiman says. "Walk in my steps, and with the blade, become a true Scion of my line."
"I will do my best," Hikaru says.
"We shall meet again, even if it is infrequent. While you bear the fight in the mortal world, our remaining here is dangerous. And there are battlefields that I must attend to that you are not yet ready to stand upon. Perhaps, one day, I will be honored to have you stand beside me on the Plains of Iyx. Together."
He rises and bows to Hikaru.
Hikaru quickly rises and bows as well.
"You spoke of directions to Epona's daughter in Connecticut, sir?" he asks.
"Oh, ah, yes. You will find the, what do they call it here..." he looks thoughtful. "Brochure. The brochure was posted to your hotel. I am certain it will be there when you return. I am equally certain, given how scions find each other, that you will find her there by the time you arrive at Epona's realm.
"It is a different world you are walking into, Hikaru," Hachiman says, bowing again. "Step wisely."
Hikaru bows once more as well. "And carry concealed weapons," he replies.
After Hachiman/Saito leaves, Hikaru turns to depart as well, stopping to wish a good day to Miss Sato.
He returns to his hotel and looks for the brochure, and then makes arrangements to leave for Connecticut in the morning.
Then, he packs a kit bag with his martial arts training gear and heads out to check out several of the Aikido dojos in the area. He is searching for one that will allow him the time and space to practice in private. Hikaru is quite willing to trade his services as a guest instructor for the space. Or spar with the dojo's Sensei for the opportunity to practice with his sword.
Politeness is Hikaru's best friend in this regard, as he gets a hold of a Dojo on the other side of the river from his hotel who agrees to allow him the time to practice, in exchange for the guest instructor slot. That latter requires a proof of his skill, and the Sensei is suitably impressed with Hikaru's skill in short order.
By the end of the day, Hikaru has taught a class for a dozen students of varying rank, and gotten time to practice with Kami-No-Raiu-No-Ken. It is not only an exquisite-looking weapon, and one with at least one unusual ability, but it is balanced, and seemingly made for Hikaru alone. The Sensei, Kazuhiro, is not impressed when he asks, politely to handle the unfolded weapon. His clumsiness with the blade and dismissiveness of the weapon is evident as he studies the blade. This attitude ends abruptly, of course, once he actually faces Hikaru wielding the blade.
"Your blade is more than it seems," Kazuhiro says at the end of the sparring. "Perhaps more than even you know. It reminds me of, in that way, a Hattori Hanzō sword. But he has not made a blade in decades and the style is different."
Hikaru nods his head. "Yes, it is," he says. "I know who made this blade," he says after a moment. "But not all that went into its creation. Yet. And it was made for me."
"Indeed, it seems that only your hand will allow it to be wielded," says Kazuhiro. "A rare gift, from whoever gave this to you."
"Indeed," Hikaru echoes Kazuhiro.
He bows in respect to Kazuhiro. "I thank you for the honor and opportunity to instruct your students and to practice with my blade." Hikaru offers a business card with his contact information. "This may seem strange, but perhaps not." He pauses and glances at his sword. "But I have heard that dark and dangerous times will soon be upon us. Should you or yours find yourself in need of an ally or assistance, contact me and I will return as soon as I can."
Kazuhiro takes the card. "Some would say that the breath of such dark and dangerous times already rolls over the land and fills the nostrils."
"Some are wise indeed," Hikaru says. "They should have faith that there will soon arise those who oppose the coming darkness."
"Indeed. Arigato." He bows his head again, and Hikaru can make his exit without any further ado.
As far as the directions, a brochure for some sort of place called "New Deptford" is waiting for Hikaru once he returns to the hotel. There are a set of extremely cryptic instructions, involving touching statues and walking around trees in order to find the correct road to the locale. The locale itself appears to be something like a historical re-creation park. There is no mention of Epona or Rosemary in the brochure, however.
Hikaru Googles New Deptford, CT to see what he can learn and also to arrange his travel plans so as to fly in as close as possible (nearest major airport) and reserve a rental vehicle (motorcycle preferably, but a car will do).
New Deptford is, oddly enough, not found on any Google maps. Googling it and variations on it is just about equally fruitless. There is a Deptford in New Jersey but it's not new and the routes running through it don't match up with the directions. There is a Deptford in England but that's even worse.
Googling Housatonic State Forest, mentioned in the directions, is far more fruitful. The state forest is in the northwest of Connecticut and the directions now make more sense. Judging from the directions, though, Hikaru can find out that the nearest major cities to where the directions say New Deptford, Connecticut is within the forest are New York City, Hartford, and Bridgeport in Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts. He has a plethora of options.
New York will be a longer ride once he lands on the east coast, Hikaru considers, but it's far more likely to have motorcycles for rent or purchase. At least of the type he prefers (Japanese, Kawasaki Ninjas). So, it is to New York he books a flight and a rental bike, if possible.
And he is right, a motorcycle, a 2011 KLR 650 in fact, can be and with the click of a mouse will be waiting for him at Newark International Airport when his flight lands.
He also books a hotel near the Housatonic State Forest. In the event that it's late in the day when he arrives, he'll spend the night at the hotel before heading into the forest and places unknown.
Fortunately, Hilkaru packs light; everything he's brought will fit into a backpack and a small suitcase that will fit in the overhead compartment of most planes. That night he locates and prints out a travel map that will take him from the airport to the forest/hotel. He'll also search for martial arts stores along his route.
Hikaru's not sure where this quest will take him, so stopping to pick up a supply of suitable weapons (shuriken, daggers, etc.) is a must.
Other than that and stopping off at a camping store (one assumes there'd be one near the entrance to the State Forest) for bottled water, freeze dried food, a map of the area and a compass, he's good to go.
Getting a hotel in Connecticut is straightforrward, a decent martial arts store that suits Hikaru's needs necessitates a detour coming out of Newark and into New York City. He leaves a store in Queens with a supply of weapons without much trouble.
The maps, both Google and the map he acquires in the camping store, stubbornly refuse to acknowledge or show the existence of New Deptford. There is a marker on the hiking map close by that there is a statue of Roger Williams, and the names of the roads mentioned in Hachiman's directions are the same, but otherwise, there is no indication that the directions his father gave him are real.
At least the hotel is real, at day's end, the Cornwall Inn in Cornwall, just southeast of the forest. It's a quaint bed and breakfast, but Hikaru can rest his head and begin his search tomorrow. There are plenty of brochures in the lobby of the B&B, and again, there is no indication of New Deptford or anything like it. Plenty of hiking, snowmobiling and other trails, sure, but nothing to indicate his putative destination.
Hikaru spends the night quietly for the most part; meditating with his sword in his lap for a time, then going through his katas, both armed and unarmed, with a slow, deliberate pace, focusing on technique and form.
Hikaru is mostly undisturbed. The proprietor warns Hikaru that riding the motorcycle on hiking and snowmobile trails is prohibited.
The next morning after breakfast, he gears up; blade in retracted form, in his jacket, and a nice assortment of his recently-purchased weapons concealed about his person. He packs up the remainder (weapons and essentials in the backpack) and heads out. He'll take the bike to where the statue is and follow instructions from there. On the bike if possible, otherwise on foot. He's dressed in a dark red shirt, comfortable jeans (suitable for hiking and/or fighting), hiking boots, and a black leather jacket.
It takes a little bit of work for Hikaru to unlock the secret. Oh, he finds the statue easily enough, but the ritual does not seem to work, at first, and the road to New Deptford does not appear. It takes a specific and patient following of the instructions, including the useless U-turn, before things seem to work well.
Is it surprising to Hikaru that, as he completes the circling of the tree, a narrow road has suddenly appeared, running into the forest, starting at the statue? Hikaru is certain the road was not there when he was messing with the statue earlier. But with the ritual complete, there is a road, just as the directions specified.
Hikaru shifts the backpack on his shoulders to settle it more comfortably, and heads out on the road. On the bike if possible, otherwise on foot with suitcase in hand. He carefully observes both the directions given him and his surroundings as he goes.
The road is narrow, but narrow only for a car, rather than a motorcycle. And as Hikaru gets on his bike to follow the road, there are fresh car tracks on the road.
A couple of miles later, the road ends in a parking lot. A single car is parked here, and a covered bridge crosses a river to a community. The community, quite plainly, looks like a historical recreation of the past; from the costumes, to the architecture, to the lack of technology, it looks like something out of the 19th century.
No one seems to pay Hikaru and his motorcycle any mind. Even more so, he notices that no one even seems to think to look across the river and see him.
Hikaru shuts down the bike and steps off. He removes and secures the helmet to the handlebars. After a moment's consideration, he removes the keys from the bike's ignition and places them in the small storage compartment under the seat. He walks over to the car, peers inside for a moment or two, then moves forward to rest a hand on the hood, checking for residual engine heat.
Then he shrugs his shoulders and, suitcase in hand, heads for the bridge and the odd community. Crossing the bridge, he heads into town.
Hikaru, given his sense of space and motion, is keenly aware of his personal space, and reactions around him, and when they occur. Thus, he notes that he is just a step past the halfway point on the bridge that, suddenly, as if a veil was lifted from their eyes, the townspeople see him for the first time. In particular, a pair of young tow-headed girls, maybe age ten, shout with delight.
"Another visitor!" they shout in chorus. "Another visitor!"
Their cries do not bring many people, but a few adults, dressed in keeping with the odd community's old buildings, wander toward the exit point from the bridge.
"Good afternoon," an elderly, balding man says, waving at Hikaru and stepping forward to take charge. "This is a nine days' wonder, to have so many visitors today. Weren't told to expect you, son. Leastways, I haven't, although Missus Wilkes the busybody would say that she of course knows who you are. But she's taking care of our other visitors. M'name's Jacob, Jacob Nome. Welcome to New Deptford."
"Good afternoon," Hikaru says with a bow of respect to the elderly man. "I am Hikaru Saganami. I believe I am expected nonetheless, sir. You have had other visitors today then?"
"Heekaru Saga ..." The man shakes his head. "We don't get many from your lands here," Jacob says. "I do apologize for it. Doubtless the High Reeve could pronounce your name properly.
"We've had Miss Rosemary Zelioni come through here not a half hour past," Jacob continues. "Here for the ball, real friendly with the horses. Her escort seems like the amicable type. There might be others a coming, but she was the one we were to watch out for.
"You here for the Ball, or at the behest of her ladyship?" Jacob says. "Best to tell me so I know how to sort you."
"Perhaps both," Hikaru replies calmly. "Though in truth, I was not told of a ball. Perhaps if you could conduct me to the High Reeve ... Miss Zelioni, or her ladyship, as you put it, this can be all be cleared up."
Jacob regards Hikaru for a moment. "Best take you to the hotel, then, and get you sorted out, son. All of the guests of the ladyship wind up there. Whether or not you're here for the ball or to see the High Reeve, they'll know who you are. Come, follow me."
Hikaru bows briefly. "As you wish," he says.
Jacob starts walking down the street, expecting Hikaru to follow him. The entire town seems to be just like his first impression, as if it had missed the 20th and 21st century entirely. From the lack of technology (not even a cell phone) down to the clothing and the buildings, it feels like Hikaru has stepped back at least a century and a quarter.
Hikaru follows behind Jacob, gaze slowly moving from side to side to take in scenery around him. He resists the urge to check his cell phone, fearing he'll see the dreaded 'No Signal' message on the phone's screen.
"The busybodies in this town seem to like to appear to know everything, but I will just ask you, you seem like you can answer a question without chopping off a man's head or tuning him to stone," Jacob says.
"Whom do you represent? I will not not insult you by mispronouncing any of the names of the pantheon in my guessing."
"I do not turn people to stone," Hikaru says with a neutral tone and expressionless face, perhaps leaving the other possible action open for consideration. "I represent the Nihon, you would say Japanese, pantheon. Hachiman, God of War, is my father," he adds after a moment.
"Aha," Jacob says, with a nod. "Son of the God of War," he repeats. "I am honored you are here."
"It is an honor to be welcomed here," Hikaru replies.
"For the record, Jacob," he continues after taking a few more steps. "Who do you all work for?"
"She doesn't like to use her name when she visits for a variety of reasons," Jacob says. "Outsiders who stumble in here just might not understand. But since you represent one of the Gods, you are probably very familiar with keeping things under wraps. And to name a Goddess, especially in a place of her power, can sometimes bring her attention. But ..." Jacob smiles. "again, I am telling you things you likely know.
"She is the Lady of Horses of the Dodekatheon, but we just call her the High Reeve, her political position here," Jacob says.
"Ah, yes," Hikaru says. "Well then, that is what I shall call her also. Jacob, what can you tell me of this place and the people here? It seems a bit out of sync with the rest of the world, if you know what I mean?"
"Is it not that way in the realm of your divine father and his siblings?" Jacob asks. "Do they not have such realms in the Far East?"
He pauses and continues. "New Deptford is a realm that originated on Earth but has now been fenced off, made to manifest and remain in the manner that the High Reeve desires. That is why, of course, it was difficult for you to come here. We have not left the Earth, this is not one of the lands of the Mittlemarch. We have not been erased from the Earth so much as have been obscured, physically and otherwise.
"When the High Reeve bids one of us leave New Deptford on business, we are now considered," the man stops briefly and then speaks carefully, as if unsure of the phrase, "historical re-enactors."
Hikaru stops when Jacob stops. "I am familiar with the phrase," he says. He considers this for a few moments. "And though I have not actually observed any re-enactors, I can see how that would fit.
"As to your questions regarding my father's realm," Hikaru begins walking. "I do not know. My father came to visit me, in the West."
"Ah, my apologies," Jacob replies. "I assumed that you were originally from the East. Not that it matters, of course."
"No, I was born in Hawaii," he says.
In short order, Hikaru and Jacob have arrived in a square flanked by a number of large buildings. The Hotel Palio is a several story structure, and Jacob leads him toward its doorstep. On the other sides of the square are what looks like a courthouse, done in classical revival style. One other building, placed so that it sits higher than the other two buildings, doesn't fit the pattern Hikaru has seen in the town. It looks like it's modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, with a bulging dome.
Hikaru takes it all in with a glance and then a long look at the strange building.
"Well, son of the God of War, this is the hotel," Jacob says. "Whether the High Reeve will see you, or if they'll keep you in good cheer until the ball tonight, this is probably the place you want to be. Not that much more to the town that might interest the likes of you, though if you have time, the people would be happy to see you. Kind of nice to see new faces now and again, and we don't get enough of those. More in recent days, but even so."
"Thank you for the escort, Jacob," Hikaru says with a slight bow. "If time permits, I will get out and walk around a bit." Hikaru then enters the hotel.
"Until then," he agrees amicably. Jacob then touches his hat to Hikaru, and turns away.
The interior of the hotel is similar to the outside, with a lot of spit and polish and clear preparations for some event. The interior continues the theme of the outside, with wood and brass gleaming everywhere.
Hikaru does get a few looks here and there from servants but the man behind the desk raises his hand and waves Hikaru to come over.
"You must be one of the High Reeve's guests from afar!" he pipes up, excited. He looks down at something behind the desk. "Mr. Saganami, I believe?"
"Yes," Hikaru says. "I am expected, then?"
"The High Reeve said that you were invited, sir, but there was no guarantee of your coming in time for the Ball. There are no other guests on her list from your, ah, affiliation," the clerk says. He smiles. "A matter of deduction as to who you were.
"You will be pleased to know the guest of honor is already here, but no other invited guests besides yourself have as yet arrived," he continues.
"Tell me, if you please, about this Ball you mentioned," Hikaru says. "And the guest of honor also."
"Certainly," the clerk says. "The Ball is being held by the Dragoon Society of New Deptford, to honor the Connecticut Horse Guard. The State of Connecticut is, as far as I am aware, the only state to have cavalry in its National Guard. And one of its members is our guest of honor, Miss Rosemary Allegra Zelioni.
"She is, ah, as you are, sir," the clerk adds. "Although between you and me, sir, she is even more subtle and underplaying of it than you are."
Hikaru raises an eyebrow. "Indeed. To each his or her own, I guess." He shrugs his shoulders. "What is the dress code for this Ball, then?" Hikaru asks. "I packed rather light for this trip. I may need to pick something up, if that is possible."
"Formal dress is requested, although we understand that some of our visitors will have differing ideas on formal dress. The Clarkson Mercantile may have what you need, if you do not have clothes fit for the ball," the clerk replies. "You might wish to visit them sooner rather than later."
He turns and produces a key. "Your rooms are on the second floor, the second door on the left."
Hikaru nods his thanks. He asks for directions to Clarkson's, then heads up to his room and drops off his bags before heading out to Clarkson's.
Hikaru's quarters on the second floor are a nice two room suite, with a bathroom. The decor, design and features are definitely out of the nineteenth century. Gas lamps. No electrical sockets. Plumbing but not extremely advanced. A bookcase full of nineteenth-century literature.
"Clarkson's? Oh, that's easy." The clerk rattles off a series of directions; judging from the size of the town they are likely a bit overcomplicated for how far away it really is.
(Continued in Doings in New Deptford)