To Be A Ninja
Oedo Town. This beautiful settlement in the country of Japan is a peaceful and pleasant place to live… that is, when the castle isn't being overrun by demons… or being invaded by a western general obsessed with rabbits… or being transformed into the stage for an intergalactic musical… or burnt to a crisp… or – Okay! So maybe 'peaceful' isn't the right word. But there's always something interesting going on.
Take today, for example. At Akindo's Teahouse, something extraordinary is about to take place.
"Come on, Ebisu! You can do it!"
Many people had gathered round the centre table. Their focus was on a "well-built" man, dressed in a blue ghi shirt and pants, with a hat of the same colour covering the top of his head and held in place by a cord that went under his rather large nose. He was currently digging into a plate of dangos.
'What's so extraordinary about this?' You may ask. Only the fact that this was his 195th plate in a row! Ebisumaru was the current holder of the record for most dango consumption at Akindo's Teahouse. The record stood at a whopping 200 plates! Today, he was planning to raise the bar even higher to 210.
Seated around the said table (if you could make them out amongst the towering stacks of plates) were Ebisu's friends, who had come to cheer him on.
The one who was cheering him on the loudest was his former housemate and best friend, Ishikawa Goemon. The blue-haired young man was finding it hard to stay in his seat. The prospect of a challenge (no matter how bizarre) always excited him.
Another of the table's occupants was staring in silent awe at the feat being performed in front of him. Sasuke, the little mechanical ninja, had seen many extraordinary things since his first meeting with Mr. Goemon and the others. But still, he never ceased to be amazed by them. His spiky pony-tail was practically standing vertical as he watched Ebisu pick up his next plate.
"This is incredible." He uttered, when he'd finally found his voice. "Everything I know about the human body states that it cannot absorb this much. Yet Mr. Ebisu is showing no signs of discomfort, whatsoever!"
Seated next to Sasuke, was a young woman with long green hair that reached down the back of her chair and was tied at the end with a white band. She gave a small laugh at the look of sheer astonishment on Sasuke's face.
"Well, that's all part of being a ninja." She said. "Pushing your limits and achieving things others would think impossible."
"Oh, I see now. Mr. Ebisu must've gone through some special training regime to condition his body to take on such a task. Thank you, Miss Yae. I have, once again, learned something new." The mechanical ninja gave a little bow to his friend, causing Yae to chuckle again.
"Your welcome, Sasuke." 'Though I think,' She added to herself privately, 'what you would call a strict training regime, I would call years of practiced gluttony.'
"I gotta admit, the boy's got stamina." The last voice came from an old man, who was seated on Sasuke's other side. "Nearly as much as me!" He added with a cheeky grin.
Yae rolled her eyes, but the innuendo flew right over Sasuke's head.
"Do you think, perhaps, Mr. Ebisu would be willing to share his training secrets with me, Wiseman?"
"You can ask him afterwards. If he's still able to talk." The inventor answered.
The suspense around the table was increasing. Ebisu was halfway through plate No.209. Suddenly, he stopped. Everyone gasped as he put down the skewer he was holding. Even Goemon didn't utter a word.
Ebisu looked thoughtful for a moment, then reached down and untied his belt. Letting out a comfortable sigh, he dug straight back in. The crowd let out a relieved cheer. Goemon then started off a chant, as Ebisu started on the last plate.
"Go! Go! Go! Go!" The assembled crowd quickly joined in. Sasuke and Wiseman went along heartily. Yae shook her head at the silliness of it all, but still lent her support as well.
Finally, Ebisu put down the last skewer, licked the last of the An paste from his fingers and lay back on his chair, triumphant.
An almighty roar filled the teahouse. Goemon grabbed his friend's arm and held it up victoriously. Several people tried to lift Ebisu onto their shoulders, but gave up and settled for patting him on the back.
When the commotion had died down and people started to leave, Yae stood up and stretched. They'd all been there for several hours. So long that they'd each eaten a meal of their own, while watching Ebisu. Except for Goemon. He'd been so busy cheering on Ebisu that his Won Ton soup was still in front of him, only half eaten.
"Well guys, I gotta get going." Yae picked her katana up off the table and slung it through her belt. "My jōnin wants to debrief me on my last mission."
Goemon, Sasuke and Ebisu's heads all turned at this.
"You did a mission without us?" Said Sasuke.
The 'hurt puppy dog' looks on the boys' faces was almost too much for Yae. But she managed to fight back the urge to laugh and answered with a grin,
"This might be hard to believe, but I do have missions where I don't end up running into you guys. 'Till next time." She raised her hand in a wave and left.
Wiseman chuckled and nudged Sasuke.
"Did ya see that? How she pretended to completely ignore me? I'll tell ya, my boy. Some of us are simply born with it."
Sasuke blinked a couple of times, not quite sure what his creator was talking about. Goemon just shook his head and picked up his bowl, intending to down the rest of his soup. But then a voice spoke up that made him freeze mid-gulp.
"Congratulations, Ebisu. I knew you could do it."
Goemon's body didn't move an inch, but his eyes roamed to the side to look at the voice's owner. Omitsu. She was the best waitress and delivery girl of Akindo's Teahouse and, according to many, the most beautiful girl in Oedo town. Dressed modestly in a red kimono dress, her shining brown eyes and beaming smile were enough to make Goemon's knees shake. So it was a good thing they were under the table.
Goemon and Omitsu had actually known each other for three years. All of his friends knew how he felt about her. Ebisu knew. Yae knew. Even Sasuke wasn't so naïve as to not notice the signs. In fact, they were all pretty sure that Omitsu knew as well, but she was a very old-fashioned girl and would wait until Goemon made his move. (Although, at the rate he was going, that wouldn't be until they both lived in the Oedo retirement home!)
Anyway, back to the present. Omitsu was talking to Ebisu, while picking up plates from the table.
"We always get such good business when you come to break your own record. People order food while they stay and watch you, and afterwards we always get a lot of hopefuls trying to best you. My father's going to be making dangos for the next few weeks." She hefted a pile of plates in her arms, making a small grunt of effort as she did so.
Goemon saw this as a perfect chance to open up conversation, so he gulped down the rest of his soup in one go and started to get up, to offer to help with the plates. Unfortunately, it was at that moment that he discovered why you should never gulp down a bowlful of Won Ton soup in one go. Any number of food items could get lodged in your throat. Take, for instance, the half of an un-chewed egg that was currently blocking Goemon's air passage.
Unaware of his friend's dilemma, Sasuke hoped down from his chair and began stacking plates.
"Please allow me to assist you, Miss Omitsu."
"Why thank you, Sasuke. That's very kind of you." Omitsu smiled down at the little robot.
"Well, Wiseman always taught me how important it is to help others." He nodded over his shoulder to his creator, who grinned modestly.
Anyone had yet to notice that Goemon's face was gradually becoming the same colour as his hair. Ebisu watched Omitsu and Sasuke walk off while addressing his best friend.
"Gee, Goemon. I'm surprised you didn't offer to help. It would've been the perfect chance to be alone with Omitsu."
"He probably got cold feet again." Said Wiseman. "Y'know son, if you need advice with how to attract the womenfolk, I'm always willing to pass on my knowledge."
"Nah!" Ebisu waved his hand, cheerfully. "That's what he's got me for. Right, Goemon?"
Ebisu slapped Goemon heartily on the back. This caused the egg piece to fly out of his mouth at such a speed that it tore through the overhanging curtains covering the entrance and knocked out a man dressed in pink, just as he was about to pick a pocket.
Goemon took several deep breaths and then turned his attention back to Omitsu. But she and Sasuke had already disappeared.
'Oh, darn it!' He hit the table with his fist, and then looked at Wiseman.
"Hey Wiseman, I thought you designed Sasuke to be a ninja, not a boy scout!"
Outside, two figures walked towards the teahouse. They stopped by the pickpocket's unconscious form, but paid him no heed. One of them held up a small stone that dangled on a chain. It glowed brightly in the evening light.
"We have done it." A deep voice spoke out. "We have found the Chosen One. He or she is in that teahouse."
Without another word, the pair continued walking towards the teahouse.