Splinter strolled along the sidewalk, deep in thought. A sudden breeze came up and he shrugged his oversized trench coat closer. He silently thanked whoever had thrown it away, and also gave a passing thought to the previous owners of his scarf and broad-brimmed hat. Though he had to keep his head down to do it, he could conceal his rat-like features well enough to walk among humans, though it sometimes gave him a little crick in his neck. Muttering to himself also helped keep prying eyes away and since no one ever bothered to look at a crazy old bum, he could pretty much go where he pleased.
Where he pleased to go was another matter altogether. He had already done the day's scavenging and taken his finds back to the lair, where his young sons sat watching TV, reading, or otherwise entertaining themselves. They were five years old now, and though any normal human parent would recoil in horror at the thought of leaving four five year old alone by themselves, Splinter was confident that he had instilled the importance of staying in the lair into his sons sufficiently to leave them for short periods of time. Besides, he had locked all the doors, and American Gladiators was on, so he had at least an hour before any thoughts of mischief would enter the heads of his admittedly mischievous sons.
A whole hour to do whatever he wanted. Such an opportunity was rare, and Splinter, used to doing nothing but taking care of his sons, didn't quite know what to do with himself.
But as he walked along the crowded New York street, a thought came to him, one that that had been occupying his mind for several weeks now.
When the turtles fifth birthday had begun to loom on the horizon, he had decided that his sons were ready to begin their ninjitsu training. To do this, they needed weapons of their very own, weapons that reflected their individual personalities, and so he had begun watching them carefully, and evaluating what he saw in his spare moments of meditation. He already knew his sons quite well, but his increased attention provided extra insight into their respective natures.
Leonardo, he had decided, was a born leader, always taking charge in the games the boys played, organizing projects, and generally being bossy. The bossiness, Splinter knew, would fade with age, leaving behind a mature and responsible individual.
Splinter had already decided that Leonardo would do well with the twin katanas, deadly weapons, best utilized in the hands of someone who did not wish to use their sharp edges for bloodshed, but for nobler reasons.
Like avenging my master Yoshi, Splinter thought bitterly. He dwelled on this for a few moments, then turned his thoughts to the matter at hand.
Donatello was something of a genius. Even at his young age he displayed and unusual amount of intelligence. Even Splinter sometimes had trouble following his train of thought. He could already read, and Splinter had to take him to the library every week or so to satisfy his voracious appetite for books. He was already reading chapter books, some of which had content a bit advanced for his age, even if the words weren't. The books contained nothing wildly inappropriate, though, since Splinter had made it a habit to check through every stack of books Donatello brought home, just in case they contained anything that was simply too advanced for his age group, intelligent though he was.
Splinter had chosen the bo staff for his smartest son. Though not as deadly at first glance as the katana, it could be just as dangerous in the hands of a skilled fighter. He felt confident that Donatello would do justice to the bo staff's potential as a weapon.
His third son, Raphael, was an angry child who got easily frustrated and spent a lot of time confined in his room. He often snapped at his brothers and at Splinter, and was the child Splinter identified with the least. He simply could not understand the grudge Raphael seemed to hold against the world. He suspected that it had something to do with the fact that he was different from everyone else on the planet, and had to hide in the sewers of New York City because of it. But whenever Splinter tried to talk to the child about it, he either wouldn't say a word, or claimed ignorance on the whole matter. Sometimes, when Splinter let his mind wander to its own devices, he wondered if the child had somehow made it to the surface on his own and had a bad experience with humans. But Splinter never asked. In some ways he was as perceptive as Donatello. He knew full well why Splinter kept the five of them down in the sewers and out of sight. He understood better than any of his brothers about cruelty and violence and the darker sides of humanity.
For this troubled child Splinter had chosen the sais, weapons that took a great deal of talent and skill to use. He was certain that Raphael would rise to the challenge, though Splinter feared that he would take a darker path in his training and become violent, destructive, and, ultimately, destroy himself.
Splinter shuddered at the thought and chided himself for letting his mind wander like that. It was still too early to tell what path Raphael would take, and Splinter knew that he would do everything in his power to help him, and that he would still be his son, whatever path he took.
Splinter risked looking up for a moment (his neck was starting to complain) and saw a pizzeria. He smiled. Ah, Michelangelo. He liked to think of him as his youngest son, though of course there was no way of knowing their true ages.
Michelangelo was a trickster, the joker of the family. He was always laughing or smiling about something, usually his latest practical joke. Even the revered Master Splinter was not immune, though all he was usually subjected to mere whoopie cushions and buzzer handshakes. Though for now most of Michelangelo's humor was childish and easily avoided, Splinter had a feeling that as he got older the pranks would become more elaborate and, perhaps, more dangerous.
This was why Splinter had decided to give his youngest son the nun-chaku, weapons that required a great deal of practice and patience, which, he hoped, would help keep Michelangelo out of too much trouble. But he would never give his son a weapon if he did not think he could utilize its full capacity. Michelangelo had a lot of enthusiasm, even if he was not quite as mature as his brothers, and Splinter felt that if he put his mind to it, he could be just as good as them.
The problem would be getting him to put his mind to it. Michelangelo was just as curious as Donatello, but mere book learning was not enough for him. It seemed that the little turtle wanted to experience everything about the world he could, and because of this his attentions span was fairly limited. One might almost think his intelligence diminished, but Splinter knew better. Michelangelo was at least as smart as Donatello, if not more so; he was simply gifted in a different area. He loved to draw, and Splinter felt that his art was especially good for a five year old. (Though whether this was actually the case, or if Splinter was merely biased was anyone's guess.)
Splinter had already gathered the staff, the sais, and the nun-chaku, exhausting as it had been to do so (who knew there were so many dojos in New York City?) but he had yet to find a suitable pair of katanas for the ninja who would someday go head-to-head with Oroku Saki himself.
Splinter raised his head again (he was going to have to find a better disguise; his neck was killing him.) and saw a small dojo to his right. Through the glass window he could see a class of young students practicing. He stopped to watch, smiling. Pretty soon his sons would be doing these same exercises, training to become the ninja who would someday avenge his Master Yoshi.
And then his gaze lifted to the far wall of the dojo, and he felt the fur on the back of his neck stand up.
There they were, the two most perfect-looking katanas Splinter had ever seen. They were perfectly shaped, the two long, curved blades completely identical, right down to their blue handles. Of course, looks could be deceiving. Mere beauty did not mean the blades were quality. But they were unsheathed, and Splinter could see their naked perfection laid bare before the world. It was almost sacrilegious to have such beautiful blades out where unholy eyes could see them. Splinter shivered, and not from the cold. He entered the dojo.
There were a few plastic chairs along the wall, with the bored-looking moms of the students occupying most of them. Splinter settled his weary bones into a chair that offered a good view of the swords and gazed at them reverently. Though he tried to block them out, he could not help but hear the scandalized mutterings of the mothers at his ragged appearance.
"What's a bum doing in here?"
"He's looking at those swords."
"Maybe he wants to buy them."
"Steal them, more like."
"Oooh, it makes me afraid to go out of my apartment, thinking about a crazy old man like that, waving around those . . . those . . . "
"Katanas," supplied a voice Splinter had not yet heard.
"Well, anyway, it makes me want to move to the country, seeing people like that allowed to walk around the streets with normal people, honestly."
"You know, maybe he just wanted to get out of the cold," said the voice that had known the true names of the blades that seemed to Splinter to be forged out of pure beauty. "And I think he can hear you."
Splinter looked sideways at the group of women. A large blond woman was looking embarrassedly at Splinter; she looked away when she caught him looking back. A rather pretty woman with red hair and blue eyes smiled at him. He nodded, feeling, of all things, a blush creep up under his fur.
After a few minutes the children came running off the met to their respective parents. A girl of about fifteen years or so ran up to the red-haired woman and immediately began complaining that she didn't like karate and that her teacher was creepy and that she wanted to be a scientist, not the next Bruce Lee.
"April O'neil," said her mother sharply, "we have been through this before. You need to know how to protect yourself. This is New York City. What if someone tried to attack you?"
"Oh, mom, that's not going to happen to me."
Their argument continued as they went out the door. Splinter smiled. Then he turned to the master of the dojo, a balding Japanese man who was facing him expectantly. Splinter bowed to the man, who bowed in return.
"I couldn't help but notice those fine katanas you have," Splinter said.
"They're not for sale, if you want them," said the man. Then, sensing Splinter's disappointment, he added, "Why do you want them?"
"They're for my son. I wish to train him in the art of ninjitsu."
"And why do you wish to do that? Those are fine swords; their worth cannot be counted in dollars."
"Yes, I realize this. Such swords should not be given into the hands of one who would use them improperly. I will treat them with the utmost respect, and when the time comes, I will teach my son to do the same."
"Yes, but are avoiding the question. Why do you wish to train your son in the art of ninjitsu? Do you simply wish to pass on your own knowledge? Or is there some other, greater, purpose to your desire?"
Splinter was amazed at the man's perceptiveness.
"I wish to have revenge on a man named Oroku Saki for the brutal murder of my Master Yoshi. I am too old now to undertake this task myself. But my sons are young, and I plan to give them all the knowledge my Master gave to me."
The old man nodded thoughtfully. He was silent for a long time.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "If you can defeat me in fair combat, I will give you these, my most precious possessions."
"But I should warn you. Though I am blind, I am in no way hindered by it. Indeed, it allows me to perceive the world more clearly than I would otherwise."
Splinter's eyes widened. He looked up from under the rim of his hat and saw that the man was indeed blind. Then he smiled. This would work to his advantage. Oh, he held no illusions about using the man's blindness against him in combat. His Master Yoshi had fought a blind man before, and both he and his pet rat had been amazed at the man's skill. No, Splinter was grateful that he did not have to worry about the man discovering his secret. He could fight without being hindered by the coat and hat, which would allow him to fight with all his skill.
"I accept your challenge. But first, if I may pull down the blinds. I was disfigured in an accident some years ago, and I would not wish to startle any people passing by with my appearance."
"As you wish."
As Splinter pulled down the shades, the man began stretching and warming up. Splinter watched, studying him, trying to get a feel for his style. He began warming up himself, and then he was bowing to the blind man, who was bowing to him, and then they were fighting.
The man was exceptional, Splinter soon found. It was all he could do to hold his own against the master, though hold his own he did. They circled the mat, kicking and punching the slow kicks and punches of two old masters who have no need for the impressive displays of the young, or the wild frenzies of those unsure of their skill. Few blows actually landed, but those that did struck true. The two fighters were both masters, but Splinter was younger than the human man, and he was tiring less quickly. However, the man was far more experienced than Splinter, and knew how to conserve his energy well. They seemed to be equal, but then Splinter started a new flurry of attacks that drove the old man against the wall. The cornered one smiled, and from a case on the wall drew a staff and twirled it expertly. He nodded to Splinter, who chose his own weapon, an old, short cane that felt very comfortable in his hands. They began anew.
It soon became apparent that the old man was going to win. Splinter gritted his teeth and fought harder, feeling his rat's instincts welling up behind his consciousness. Animals fight viciously when cornered, and though the man also had some of this instinct, it was so many generations removed as to be almost nonexistent. Splinter's survival instinct, however, was very much awake and kicking, his own animal nature hiding just behind his sentient mind.
Snarling, Splinter let go of his human consciousness and surrendered to his animal nature. The old man did not seem surprised, but merely fought grimly back, knowing that he would lose.
Splinter came back to himself lying on the floor. He sat up, bones creaking. The old man was sitting quietly on the floor next to him, meditating.
"What happened?" Splinter asked.
"You won," said the man.
The man also stood. He held out the swords.
"Take these, and teach your son to use them well."
"I will," said Splinter. Then he remembered the staff still clutched in his paw. He held it out.
"No, you keep it. You have more than earned it."
"Thank you. I can never repay you for your kindness."
"All you need do is pass on your art to your son. That is all."
Splinter bowed again.
He walked out of the dojo.
The old master chuckled as he left.
"Never again will I underestimate a rat."
Still laughing, he put on his coat and left as well.