A black-clothed ninja passed a long, heavy bundle to the Abbot. It was an oddly-shaped object, longer than either man was tall; wide at both ends but narrow in the middle. It was wrapped and bound securely in cloth bandages.
"Take care of this for us," said the ninja softly. "Keep it from falling into the wrong hands. It's no longer safe to keep such objects in the village... take care of it until its rightful master reappears."
The Abbot nodded. "It will be safe here, Ohka-sama," he said softly, holding the object tightly. "Like the others... we will safeguard them for you, no matter what, until one comes to claim them."
"I have no need to remind you it is of the utmost importance," Ohka said, and the Abbot could tell he was smiling grimly, even though a black cloth covered the bottom half of his face. "If any of these fall into the hands of the Oni... everything we've worked for will be for nothing."
The Abbot nodded. "The rumors we've heard of uprisings are true, then?"
Ohka nodded. "He's intimidated by us," he said sternly. "He's intimidated by the superiority of our minds, and the superiority of our weapons. He has convinced himself to exterminate us. We shall sacrifice ourselves, if needs be, for the benefit of the world. But he must not take a single one of our weapons in the process."
"Hopefully, he will not desecrate our peaceful monastery," answered the Abbot softly. "But I assure you, I and my descendants shall safeguard your property against harm."
The tall young man moved slowly through the exhibits, carefully examining the printed program he clutched in one hand. Every so often, he'd stop completely, staring at a particular artifact ensconced in its case, reading the label over several times. He was paying extraordinarily good attention to every minute detail, noticed Ryusaki Nanami, and it made her curious.
"You seem very interested," she remarked, in a casual conversational tone. The young man looked startled, and grinned a fanged grin.
"Oi, you startled me," he said apologetically, and Nanami noticed he had a distinct Kansai accent. "But yes, it's quite captivating." He stared intently at a broken cooking pot, dating back 500 years to the Muromachi period.
"I'm glad you like it," smiled Nanami. "I helped create this exhibit, and I researched and dated many of these artifacts."
The young man seemed to take more interest in her now. "Did you?" he inquired kindly. "Well, it's a job well-done. How do you know, for instance, that this pot is 500 years old?"
"Pottery manufacturing technology, like other technologies, evolves through time. By looking at the finished product, we're able to tell something about its creators. This is a particularly fine example, and the tools and techniques used were remarkably advanced for its time. There was much care and skill put forth into this vessel, even though it was only common cookingware." Nanami broke off abruptly. "Ah, but I don't mean to bore you with the little details," she amended. "I can get a little carried away on my subject."
"Can you?" inquired the young man. "Well, it's good that you're enthused about something. You always need to have a passion in life to pursue." He had a strange faraway look in his eyes as he gazed off into a corner of the ceiling. At least, Nanami had the impression he did-- it was impossible to tell, as his eyes were obscured by long, girlish bangs and a baseball cap he was wearing. "Now, say, what can you tell me about this fine object?" He moved on and indicated a small stautette.
"That slightly pre-dates the cooking pot," said Nanami. "It seems to be some sort of Buddhist deity... from the same general area as the cooking pot before. You can tell by examining the particles and seeing how similar the makeup of the clay in the pot and the clay in the statuette are. These were all unearthed in the ruins of a Buddhist temple. I'd say by the end of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, the temple had been systematically destroyed. However, these objects were buried in some underground passages. They were saved from looting because they had been hidden in these secret chambers. It's difficult to guess how long they had existed within the temple itself, but our rough guess would be most of these objects range in age from 600 to 400 years old."
"How very knowledgeable!" praised the young man. "And, if I may ask, what is your name?"
Nanami giggled. "I was just about to ask you the same thing. I'm Ryusaki Nanami."
"What a lovely name, Ryusaki-han. My name is Odokemono Hiroji," and he grinned fangedly. "Now, if you could tell me... this fabulously entertaining object lying in this case... what is it?"
"That seems to have been some kind of ceremonial staff," said Nanami, surveying the large, twisted, oddly-shaped object. "It's inscribed Taishaku Kaiten."
Hiroji gazed solemnly at it. The enormous eye at the top end seemed to bore into his very being. Something tugged at the edges of his memory....
"Did it do anything?" he asked, almost hesitantly. He pressed his hands down against the plexiglass barrier between him and it.
"Fingerprints," Nanami reminded him gently, and he hastily removed his hands. "Do anything? I don't know. It was found, like many of the other objects here, in the ruins of an old Buddhist temple. Perhaps it was an obscure minor sub-cult? We really don't know."
Hiroji gazed into the eye of the Taishaku Kaiten. Suddenly, he found himself no longer gazing into the object, but rather, looking at himself, as though through a stranger's eyes. At the same time, he was still gazing earnestly into the eye of the Taishaku Kaiten, listening to Nanami prattling on about what good condition it was in for having endured what the object must have gone through.
Nanami was completely oblivious to this second Hiroji standing next to her. It was as though his second self was invisible... invisible...
And suddenly, this second self was no longer staring at his first self. His second self was suddenly... somewhere else. Someone else. He stood on a porch, in front of an old-fashioned house, in an old-fashioned rural village. A balding man with long, straggly greasy hair held the strange-looking staff lovingly in his hands, turning it, admiring the feel.
"Look here! My latest creation," the man said. He looked up into Hiroji's face, beaming proudly like a new father. However, Hiroji felt vaguely apprehensive as he watched him. There was a wild look in his eye, and he showed too many teeth while smiling.
"What does it do?" Hiroji found himself inquiring in a voice not his own.
"Tawakeru-san, surely you jest!" laughed the wild-eyed man. "I've slaved night and day for weeks on end... hardly eating... hardly sleeping... not until this seed from my imagination took root and sprouted into reality. This is the Taishaku Kaiten, an Elemental Weapon which can manipulate mass and matter within a certain range. And I have made it specially with you in mind. It is yours."
"Kaima-san! I couldn't possibly... this is too special," objected Hiroji. He longed to ask, How do I know your name? How do you know me? Why do you call me Tawakeru? But somehow, he was passively present, invading someone else's mind and body, watching a moment in someone else's life.
Kaima shook his head firmly. "No, I insist," he said, drawing himself up to his full height and striking the Taishaku Kaiten firmly on the ground. "This weapon is yours. It was created for you. Long before I had fully made this exquisite object a reality, I knew that it was destined for your hands. It cries out for you. Long after you and I are dead in our present forms, it shall return to your safekeeping."
Hiroji felt his body shaking as Tawakeru laughed heartily. "What a pleasant fairy-tale!" he laughed. Kaima handed the staff over to him, and Tawakeru raised it up for a closer inspection. This allowed Hiroji a better view of it. It looked about the same as it had in the museum, only shinier and not as tarnished-looking. A result of the age, Hiroji found himself thinking. Perhaps there's a way to restore it to its original condition? I wonder what the Museum would say...
Tawakeru ran his fingers lightly over the top of it, and Hiroji could feel the gnarled, twisted metal at the top. It was pointed, like a trident shape, with a disturbingly wide-open eye staring from the base of the three prongs. Beneath the eye, the metal changed from being gnarled to being two smoothly entwined components making up the handle. The base had a blade, cerrated towards the end, and a stabbing point.
"It looks quite deadly," grinned Tawakeru, running his hands carefully over its surface. "And it feels sooooo right."
It does, agreed Hiroji wholeheartedly. Touching the metal almost seemed to bring back memories... his memories? Or someone else's? They were very hazy....
"Give it a try," suggested Kaima, smiling in wolfish anticipation.
Tawakeru hefted the trident into the air, swinging it around experimentally.
You handle it so awkwardly! Hiroji found himself thinking impatiently. I could do a much better job... It took him a moment to wonder why he felt that way.
"See that heavy black kettle over there?" suggested Kaima, indicating with a lazy finger. "Catch the handle with one prong of the trident. Focus your energy on it as you do so."
"That's more like a cauldron," commented Tawakeru, staring at it dubiously. "It has to weigh at least a hundred pounds. It's cast iron."
"More, actually," corrected Kaima. "But go ahead, give it a try."
Tawakeru stared at the kettle, making up his mind, focussing his energy on this new task at hand. Hiroji found himself holding his breath-- if he had breath to hold. I don't seem to be breathing, he thought, but the realization wasn't particularly frightening. He seemed to be only existing, yet not actually alive. If he had a lip to bite, Hiroji would have been gnawing on it nervously. Waiting... waiting...
Tawakeru snagged the ring at the top of the cauldron, and a brilliant flash of light momentarily surrounded them. They watched in fascination as Tawakeru easily slung it halfway across the courtyard, and it landed with a heavy, dull thump, rolling several more feet before it finally came to a stop.
No way! Hiroji found himself thinking excitedly. Tawakeru just flung that cast-iron pot at least thirty feet, as though it was a mere toy! He gazed in admiration at the Taishaku Kaiten, and suddenly wanted it for himself.
"Amazing," gasped Tawakeru, oblivious to the covetous thoughts of the Other Presence who currently shared his mind. "Truly amazing. Kaima-san, you have outdone yourself this time!"
"I always strive to make bigger and better weapons!" the other man boasted. "Weapons are to kill and massacre. The Hokage will thrive because of my work."
The Hokage, thought Hiroji absently. I wonder what they are... are they Hokage? Maybe it's their clan name? That seemed to make sense.
"Nonsense," said another man, who had been watching the goings-on from a slight distance. He now approached them. "Weapons are to protect and save people."
"Deal with the facts, Koku-san," retorted Kaima, crossing his arms in annoyance. "I haven't seen your latest masterpiece yet. But there can be no sugar-coating of the work we do. We create weapons. Weapons kill. People have weapons to kill. If you do not wish for the devices you create to be used for such purposes, you have no business creating them."
"Ah, Kaima-san, I'm too young to retire!" laughed Koku, who was somewhat smaller and shorter than the other creator. He had thick, beetling eyebrows; wild, spiky hair; and pouty, frowning lips. "Besides, if I was to give up doing what I love, you'd have no one to keep you on your toes."
The two launched into a debate which Hiroji had a sneaking suspicion had been verbally battled out many times before. Even Tawakeru, after a few moments, said very softly, "I think I'll go practice with this thing now," and scurried away into the neighboring woods.
I want a try, thought Hiroji plainatively, but he had no control over this person's body. And just as suddenly, he found himself staring at glass cases through the trees. And there were fewer and fewer trees, and more and more cases. And, with a shudder, he returned to himself, finding the Taishaku Kaiten, looking rather dingy and tarnished, lying in the case in front of him.
"Are you okay?" asked Nanami, looking at him in concern.
"Ah, gomen! I was just admiring that... exquisite... object. Taishaku Kaiten, you called it?"
Nanami nodded. "Yes. Are you sure you're all right?"
"Do you know anything about the Hokage?" he asked suddenly.
"The Hokage?" Nanami scratched her head and thought. "No, not that I can... oh, wait. To the best of my knowledge, that was a relatively minor clan of ninja. Their village has been excavated, a few miles from the ruins of the monastery where these objects were uncovered. Nothing of interest was found there, but the date of the village's destruction roughly corresponds to the date of the temple's destruction."
Hiroji took her hands in his and smiled charmingly, "How about we go off and find a nice place for dinner?" he suggested. "All this museum-going has made me hungry... and you are such a font of information! If my professor had been as brilliant as you, I wouldn't have slept through my history classes at the University."
Nanami laughed. "What the heck," she agreed cheerfully. "Why not? It's kind of weird, everything happening like this, but I'm feeling amazingly agreeable to the thought of having a nice dinner with such a handsome man as yourself." She smiled playfully at him, and he offered his arm. She slid her arm through his, entwining his fingers in her own, and they walked towards the exit.