The Adventure of the Nakunaru

Ch. 2

By Bottou-chan

The head scientist was a thin, bespectacled man with a perpetually-rumpled appearance, a cheerful demeanor, and a penchant for mixing brightly colored ties with white lab coats. Dr. Aizawa was expecting them and arrived to greet them as soon as their car rolled to a stop in the grass next to the dig's other vehicles.

"Welcome, welcome!" he said, rubbing his hands together as though washing them, watching them squeeze out of the car and stretch cramped limbs. "I hope your trip was uneventful?"

"Quite," said Neon, popping the trunk. She slung Mikoto's suitcase carelessly into the dust, but set Raiha's down more gently.

"We're always pleased for the chance to show our progress to the Kokom Corporation," Dr. Aizawa said cheerfully.

"The welcoming committee's rather on the small side," remarked Mikoto, not looking at him as she was busy glaring daggers at Neon while retrieving her suitcase and brushing it off.

"You'll be able to meet the rest of the staff this evening," said the doctor, unperturbed. "But I do want to get you oriented to the site, so you don't get lost, and I do want you to feel free to begin conducting your independent research as soon as you're settled. Nothing like some good, honest work to get your appetite going! You'll be quite pleased with our cook!"

Jisho quirked an eyebrow at the "good, honest work" comment, but declined to draw attention to it. Instead, he hoisted a large, heavy trunk over his shoulder and balanced it precariously. "Where does our stuff go?" he grunted.

Dr. Aizawa goggled at him slightly, impressed by his show of strength, but recovered and quickly led the group into the Field House to their two rooms.

The Field House was no vacation resort, but it was comfortable and functional enough. The ground floor was given over to laboratories, the kitchen, the library, and other such useful common rooms. The second floor was primarily designated for sleep. For the duration of the Uruha visit, the scientists had compressed their sleeping quarters enough to allow Raiha, Jisho, and Joker a room for the three of them, and Neon and Mikoto their own bedroom to share.

They were sitting in the library with refreshments, chit-chatting comfortably, when the Doctor turned the conversation towards the Hokage.

"They're such a fascinating subject. I'm sure there's plenty about them that we still are unaware of," Dr. Aizawa gushed. "We're always discovering new finds--- we found an excellently-preserved sandal the other day! We were rather surprised, you know, as organic fibers rarely tend to last very long, especially with all the moisture in this area--- rice paddies and all--- but the conditions were just right, by a total fluke of fate! We're busy stabilizing it so it will be safe to transport, but it's a real find."

"How interesting!" murmured Neon, feigning interest. She sipped her tea delicately, and Dr. Aizawa beamed at her, pleased that he had found a kindred spirit.

"What about madougu?" asked Mikoto, with a directness that caused her teammates to inwardly flinch, though they outwardly showed no signs that this was anything but natural progression of the conversation.

"They're quite unique to the Hokage," replied Dr. Aizawa promptly. "Haven't seen anything like them at all. Many are obviously weapons--- ceremonial weapons, perhaps, though many show signs of use. Others it can be difficult to judge, as they have the distinctive orb inscribed with a character of some sort, but it can be difficult to determine their original purpose. I must say, I rather wish the Hokage had been more literate, and had left a greater written record. But ninja are naturally given over to secrecy, and you can't expect them to write down everything they knew. It would go against their nature and I'd have to admit, I'd be quite suspicious. Still, it's an irretrievable loss to history. I rather think that if we found the clue to the madougu's original purpose, they would have quite an interesting story to tell. But I suppose we still have ten, twenty, thirty more years' worth of research before the Hokage ever become anywhere near mainstream."

"Oh? How long has the Field House been operational? As in, how long have you been working on the Hokage site?" inquired Neon, glaring at Mikoto and steering the conversation back into more roundabout topics. It wouldn't do to stress the importance of madougu so early on in the conversation. It might be suspicious.

"We started about ten seasons ago, I'd say," Dr. Aizawa replied, staring thoughtfully at a corner in the ceiling. Mikoto took this opportunity to make a rude gesture at Neon; Neon returned it with equal zest, but quickly resumed her demure demeanor as the Doctor returned his attention to her. "My predecessor was here for about six years; I've been here for the last four. I do have reason to believe that we have quite a number of additional seasons to go before we find everything there is to be found. It's a large site, and very fruitful. Plus, it concludes so abruptly--- it was burned, you understand, and the site was never reinhabited. So pretty much everything has lain in situ for centuries, and now we're here, and seeing what story the artifacts have to tell us."

"Ancient religion has always been a fascinating subject," interrupted Mikoto, brushing a cookie crumb from her black T-shirt emblazoned with a gory death's head. She looked anything but like a religious fanatic. "What did the ancient Hokage worship? The literature has always been rather vague on that."

"It's hard to find a subject upon which the literature isn't vague," replied Dr. Aizawa with a cheery laugh. "I wish I could submit articles to the scholarly journals, but the higher-ups are very firm that I not. I suppose they want us to write a definitive book after we've made more progress."

"But religion," prompted Mikoto. "Were they good Shintoists, or had Buddhism made any inroads in the area yet, or did they practice their own homebrew?"

"We have uncovered the remnants of the Hokage village's shrine," said Dr. Aizawa. "It was co-dedicated to Amaterasu and her brother, Tsuki-Yumi. If you remember your legends correctly, Amaterasu was the sun-goddess, while Tsuki-Yumi was the moon-god. Their father was Izanagi, an early sky god. However, that shrine was destroyed along with the village."

"Pity," said Mikoto languidly, not sounding too sorry at all.

Jisho had leaned forward. "Was there anything of interest in the village shrine?" he queried, unable to leave this tangent so soon.

"Oh, no, it was quite empty. You know that shrines and such would be the first place looted in case of invasion. The Hokage were quite decimated, and their shrine was quite empty by the time we found it."

Jisho seemed to deflate a little bit.

"The reason we ask," said Raiha, raising his voice a little, as Dr. Aizawa seemed rather surprised at Jisho's obvious disappointment, "Is because one of the points we wish to target in our independent study is Amaterasu worship in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries."

"Oh! I'm assuming you've read Kaizen, Tsubasa, et al? They published one of the most authoritative texts on the subject. It's rather old, but still highly relevant."

"Of course!" replied Neon, looking shocked that anyone would think she hadn't already looked into such an obvious source.

"But Amaterasu shrines, temples, whatnot, in the area," pressed Mikoto. "Any others? Not necessarily Hokage, mind you. Just in the area, dating back to somewhere during those times. Surely they're something you'd know about, as you've been here for the last four years."

Dr. Aizawa's gaze returned to the ceiling corner. "There are a few rural villages with shrines. Amaterasu was a very popular goddess. I can think of one roadside shrine that was abandoned over a hundred years ago... there are one or two other small ones in the area, too. One moderately-sized temple still in use. I can show you the best way to get there... the roads are a mess, though. They got washed out with the last rain. But, yeah. There are four others that I can think of that fit your qualifications… though I don't know how much information you can glean from them. Like I said, only one's still in use, and has anyone you can talk to about them."

"It doesn't matter," replied Neon offhandedly. She quickly added, noticing his confused expression, "I mean, every little bit helps, and we'd love all the information you can give us."

Dr. Aizawa beamed and poured himself more tea.

Joker leaned forward and held out his cup for a refill, too. He had been quite on his best behavior, partly because Neon had threatened him with a punch in the mouth if he messed up their job. Oi, how unfair! He was always business, wasn't he? But Neon hadn't been particularly convinced.

"It's rather late in the day to go out investigating much today," Joker remarked. That much was true; the roads had been bad in these rural areas and the going had been quite slow for much of their trip. "However, I know you turn over bits of scrolls and pottery inscriptions to Mori-han… do you keep records of what was written? We might be able to look at those for any references to local religion."

Dr. Aizawa nodded. "Of course! We keep meticulous transcriptions, often accompanied by drawings to show exactly how the scrap or shard originally looked, along with notations of place-of-discovery and other relevant information, before an item leaves our possession. However, they're currently on categorized by date-of-discovery. We need to make copies, eventually, and create a redundant file organized by subject, and perhaps another one organized by timeline, when it's possible to attribute an artifact to a specific point or range in history. That hasn't happened yet, so it might not be too useful for you."

"Oh, every little bit helps," said Raiha. "We appreciate your support."

-------------

"Joker, could you possibly have come up with a more boring idea?" asked Mikoto scathingly. It wasn't quite the way she had asked it--- there had been a number of colorful expletives added in an adjectival sort of way ---but it was the general gist of what she meant to convey.

It was now nine at night, and they were sitting on the floor in one of the libraries, with great stacks of manilla folders and binders scattered around in a wide circle.

"Most Jyushinshuu aren't afraid of papercuts," replied Joker, smirking. It was fun in a much different sort of way to get Mikoto riled than it was to get Neon riled. Truth be told, he had thought it was a pretty poor idea of how to spend an afternoon and evening, too, once Dr. Aizawa had proudly showed them the massive stacks of neatly-organized records. He hadn't thought there would have been so much of a written record, especially after Aizawa had anguished over the lack of Hokage writings. He was beginning to understand why Aizawa had said such a thing; what writings that had survived were clearly unworthy of withstanding the odds of time, and were achingly boring more often than not. However, he would bite off his tongue before admitting the mistake to Mikoto, and took his pleasure from her irritation.

"Makes you wish that junk like this had an 'automatic decay' default, and only the important stuff survived," remarked Jisho. Out of all of them, he was probably the least suited to such a task, but he set aside one folder and picked up a new one, dutifully flipping through the neatly-typed and illustrated pages and skimming their contents.

"Makes you wish madougu would beep if you lost them, like a phone or a remote," corrected Neon. "If we just knew where it was--- or what this Nakunaru looked like--- or really, anything about it… it would be so much easier."

"Well, hopefully, there's something hidden in here that will make sense to us, that they might have missed," said Raiha resolutely, stuffing a number of flipped-through folders into a binder and tying it shut with a string before reaching for a fresh box of binders.

"Hey, catch this--- I found a haiku!" said Joker. He scrutinized it, then added, "It's not very good haiku, though. Very amateurish."

"Hmph. I have a shopping list," grumbled Mikoto.

"I think I have half a letter requesting something from someone else," said Neon. "I think someone owed rice in back taxes or something." She didn't seem too thrilled.

Raiha let out a low whistle. "I think I found something!" he said excitedly.

"A grocery receipt? Dry cleaning bill?" inquired Joker.

"No, no, look at this," he said, and they crowded around to get a good look at the paper he held. "It says that these were part of a scroll, scraps of which survived." His eyes scanned over it as he read, "'...It was eyed covetously by the members of the Touzouku Clan...' and then a bit later it says '...jealous, they fell upon him to rob him of his...' and then '...su was struck dead...' and then '...appeared as they laid their unclean hands upon...'"

"And?" prompted Mikoto.

"That's it. That's all that survived."

"That could refer to anything," she said skeptically. "Someone had something that someone else wanted, and so they tried to kill him for it, and someone died--- either the owner, or one of the thieves, you can't tell."

Joker, however, made an impatient noise. "Flip the sheet over," he grumbled. "There's writing on the back."

"Oh! So there is!" said Raiha, blushing. His eyes widened, and embarrassment was forgotten. "There's one more scrap. It says, '...for none but the chosen one may touch the madougu over time and space without consequence...'"

His voice trailed off.

"The Nakunaru still isn't specifically named," said Mikoto, though she sounded rather begrudging to admit that the last few hours of tedious boredom hadn't been a total waste of time.

"But it fits with what we know," interrupted Neon. "Wasn't the madougu so dangerous that it had to be kept away from ordinary use?"

"And how many madougu were created that had power over space and time? If they were common, there would be no need to use the time travel technique," added Jisho, who seemed pleased with himself for offering such a solid theory.

"So what if it does refer to the Nakunaru? It still doesn't tell us anything we didn't know before we started this stupid mess," said Mikoto, again, freely interspersing expletives to color her otherwise-drab dialogue. "So some guy owned it, someone from another clan wanted it, someone died, and the madougu wasn't happy about being touched by unclean hands."

"It's an excellent warning and an excellent reminder," said Raiha stiffly. "Are your hands clean? Are any of our hands clean? How does the madougu define clean? How does the madougu define chosen or worthy? Even if we do find it, it's going to be downright dangerous to try and take it from wherever it's been sleeping all these years. What if it might not want to be found?"

"That's stupid. Look at all the madougu we've managed to successfully gather. You don't see any of them forming opinions," said Mikoto scathingly.

"Well, then, Mikoto, I'm sure you'll be our number one volunteer to carry it home," said Joker, looking quite pleased, and even more so when she looked discomfited by the thought.

~ to be continued ~