CHAPTER

10

The Arashikage was truly an amazing place. Ian had never seen anything like it in his entire life. Not only was it massive, but the recourses they had for advanced training were also amazing. Almost every inch of the land was used in one fashion or another to achieve advanced, everything from the rafters in the buildings to the wild, untamed country of Mount Arashikage. There were many students there, and as Ian observed while walking through the training grounds with Thomas, they had wills of iron, and spirits to fight, but...there was something different. To the blond's suspicion, he noted that in several calls, some were missed that he had been taught, and as he stood observing, he noted that several moves he had been taught in the very same sessions back in New York were not done. He asked Thomas about this, who dismissed the matter, but Ian detected quickly that his brother was hiding something, although he did not question the subject further. The hours wore on, and still the two were walking about. They had already gone through numerous gardens, and had strayed off into the woods for a while. It was much cooler in the shady trees, and the trickling of a creek only added to the serenity. Thomas sat down beside the gurgling stream, slipping off his shoes and letting his feet dangle. Ian did the same, laying back in the grass. Thomas looked over at him, sticking a twig in his mouth.

"So...how do you like it so far?"

Ian sighed contentedly, gazing up at the canopy of leafy green above his head.

"I love it. I never could have imagined the Arashikage this way."

Thomas laid back as well, folding his hands behind his head.

"To tell you the truth, it has changed a lot since I last saw it. It is indeed larger."

The blond looked over at his friend, smiling.

"It must have been wonderful to have grown up here."

Thomas took in a deep breath, inhaling the heavily scented air.

"I could not enjoy it as much then. But...now that a friend who is like a brother is with me...I may be able to."

Ian lay quiet for a minute, and then rolled over, glancing at his Asian friend.

"Thomas, I will always be your friend and brother, but do not always look up to me for everything. There is Another who is better than I."

Thomas frowned in confusion, rolling over as well.

"What are you talking about?"

The blond sat up, splashing the water with his feet.

"...you'll know when the time comes, Thomas."

He splashed some water upward, purposefully making sure it landed on his friends jeans.

"Hey! That is cold!"

The Asian suddenly froze, glancing sideways slyly. Ian knew what was coming. Before he could jump up with a yelp, he was doused in a wave of cold water, and in return, wrestled his brother into the grass. Thomas cried out in fits of laughter as he was rolled nearer the stream, struggling to keep from falling in.

"Get off, you lug!"

"Not on your life!"

He was rolled into the stream, but not before he took Ian with him. They both sat up, coughing, spluttering, and soaking wet. They sat in the flowing waters together, laughing almost uncontrollably. Both had splatters of mud on their clothes and in their hair, making for an interesting sight.

"Cousin! You look ridiculous!"

Thomas spun around in the water to find Kimiko standing on the bank, hands folded into the kimono that she was now wearing. He laughed, standing as he helped the blond up.

"Do we not, brother?"

Ian laughed, shaking his head and flinging water droplets everywhere.

"Yes, we do."

Kimiko smiled, taking a step back to avoid the water.

"Cousin, Uncle has sent for you. He requests that you dress for this evening's event. But, I would suggest that you wash up first."

Thomas stepped out of the stream, taking up his shoes.

"Ah, yes. Brother, we were to hold a dinner in your honor."

Ian stepped out as well, and couldn't help but look surprised.

"My honor?"

Kimiko handed him his shoes, which she had taken up from the bank.

"Yes. You are the first American student to set foot in the Arashikage Clan."

The blond stared for a minute, turning to Thomas.

"Really?"

The Asian smiled.

"Yes...I, uh...sorta forget to tell you."

Kimiko turned to walk away, calling back as she did so.

"The clothes you are to wear lay on your beds. See you this evening!"

Ian tugged his shoes back on, but left them untied.

"Why didn't you tell me? I'm hardly ready for this..."

The Asian smiled, brushing his hair from his eyes.

"I am sorry, brother. But, do not worry, it will all go well, I am sure."

The blond sat for a moment in thought, and then turned, raising an eyebrow.

"Do you mean to tell me that I and my family are the only Americans here?"

Thomas scratched his head.

"...did you expect more? Us Asians are very particular about who we let in...Americans and Koreans being the last choice."

Ian laughed, standing.

"Sometimes too particular! Koreans aren't that bad, and neither are we."

Thomas paused, laying a hand on his brother's shoulder.

"If all men were like you, then I would have nothing against a one of them."

Ian remained silent, but managed to smile slightly as he wrapped an arm around Thomas' shoulders.

"Come on, let's go."

The two walked on off down the gravel path, heading for their rooms.

Once they had gotten their clothes, Thomas led Ian to a bathhouse not far from where they were staying. As soon as they walked in, the blond froze, immediately a look of hesitance coming over his face, if not fear. When Thomas realized he hadn't come through the door, and stopped, turning to look at him quizzically.

"What? It is a bathhouse."

Ian swallowed.

"I...know. That's what I'm afraid of."

Thomas looked around, hardly taking the hint, and then it hit him. He laughed, taking Ian by the arm.

"Oh do not be shy. It is only boys anyway."

The blond almost refuged to budge, and then hesitantly let his brother lead him on in. It was very steamy inside, and some loud talking came from behind a row of shoji screens, followed by laughing. The place was fairly busy, with students going in and out, some having robes, and others, not. Thomas led his friend to a rack where a bunch of shoes were lined up, most of them sandals.

"Just take your shoes off here, and then your clothes."

Ian froze again.

"My...clothes?"

Thomas laughed.

"Well yes! Do you expect to shower with them on?"

The blond groaned, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Thomas, I've never been in a bathhouse before...is there no other way?"

The boy shook his head.

"No. Listen, it will be easy. Everyone in there has done this hundreds of times, including me. You will get used to it."

Ian sighed, reluctantly pulling off his shirt.

"Oh alright."

Thomas had already removed most of his clothes, handing Ian a robe.

"There. Put that on when you are done, and just do what I do and you will be fine."

Eventually, after about three minutes of bashful resistance and heavy persuasion, the blond got his clothes off, but clutched the robe around him as though it were all he had.

"This is ridiculous."

Thomas rolled his eyes, handing him two towels.

"You will get over it. Take these. One is for washing and the other for drying."

He turned to walk into the open room, taking Ian's arm.

"Now come on. It will not be so bad."

The blond gathered up courage, but almost as soon as they had walked past the shoji screens and into the communal bath, he faltered.

"Oh gosh Thomas...I can't do this."

The Asian tugged him along.

"Yes, you can. Come on."

There were several quite naked students in the tubs, laughing and having a good time, while others showered off, and others just sat on the tiled floors, feet dangling in the water. There were rows of shower heads along the walls, but no privacy barriers to separate them, and most of the students were older. One in the tub hailed them, smiling widely.

"Konnichiha, Tomassu!"

Thomas smiled, bowing.

"Konnichiha, Dasan! Ogenki desu ka?"

The student laughed, waiving a hand airily.

"Genki desu. Mata aete ureshii, tokoro de."

Thomas smiled politely, bowing again.

"Anata mo, Dasan. Kore desu watashi no tomadachi, Iian Massu Makiel."

The student smiled, dipping his head in a brief bow towards Ian.

"Hajimemeshita, Iian-kun."

The blond figured it for a greeting, and simply bowed in return, smiling, although he didn't have the faintest idea what he was saying. After another few moments, Thomas apparently dismissed himself politely, gesturing towards the showers. The student said something else, and then went back to talking with his friends.

"What was that all about?"

Thomas laid the towels aside.

"Ah, that was one of my friends. We trained some together."

Ian glanced back at the student.

"He's older than you, for sure."

Thomas nodded, slipping off his robe.

"I know. He is sixteen, actually, but he helped often during sparing. Take off your robe."

Ian froze. Again.

"But...but Thomas..."

The Asian eyed him.

"Oh come on, Ian. It is not that bad."

The blond sniffed indignantly.

"Well it is to me."

Thomas took a bar of soap, thrusting it at him.

"Here. Use that. We must wash off first before showering."

He knelt on the tile floor, dragging a wooden bucket of hot water in front of him and wetting the soap. Seeing that Ian hadn't followed his example, he glanced up, gave him a meaningful look, and gestured towards the bucket. Ian sighed heavily, and then took off the robe, although grudgingly and awkwardly. Kneeling down, he drug over his own bucket, and lathered the soap, mumbling something about killing Thomas. The Asian laughed, patting his arm.

"See, no one noticed. You are fine. I told you, they are used to it."

The blond mumbled again.

"Yeah, well I'm not. I'm perfectly fine with you, but with so many others around? And you can stop your snickering, too."

Thomas stifled a laugh, and put on a serious face.

"Sure, sure. Alright. Fine. I will not say anything else..."

He paused, and then grinned, looking over at him.

"You are just going to have to do this every day."

Ian almost yelped in horror, spinning his head around to look at his brother.

"You're joking!?"

Thomas went into fits of laughter, trying to lather his hair with soap without getting it in his eyes.

"No, brother, I am not!"

The blond moaned, hiding his head in the bucket.

"Oh I'm dead...this will be the death of me!"

Thomas laughed, taking his own bucket of water and tossing it on his brother, rinsing him of all the soap. The blond gasped at the cascade, totally unexpecting it.

"Thomas! Don't do that!"

The Asian smirked, turning his back to him.

"Your turn. Payback."

Ian gazed at him for a minute, and then couldn't help but smile, taking up his bucket and tossing its content onto the Asian. Thomas shook his head vigorously to rid his eyes of the water, scrubbing a hand across them.

"Whew. Alright...to the showers. Then we will get dressed and head back to the room."

He got to his feet, careful not to slip on the tile floor. Helping Ian up, he handed him a washcloth and fresh bar of soap. Going to one of the showers, he turned the spicket, a stream of hot water coming from the shower head.

"They are all set to the same temperature, so you do not have to worry about that."

Ian turned his on, enjoying the warm water. The two soaped up once again, this time more thoroughly, and washed their hair really good. By the time they were done, Ian was feeling a little bit better, but still couldn't help but blush if someone walked by or happened to look his way. They dried off with the warmed towels, donning their robes and heading to a different room where their clothes were. With help from his brother, Ian got into the interesting outfit. It was a simple one, with loose fitting pants and a haori, a type of jacket with very wide sleeves. This tied at the chest, and then a koshihimo, or wide, thin belt, was used to wrap around the waist several times. Then they put on the split socks and setta sandals, and were ready to go. Although Ian felt a little awkward in his new garb, he soon got used to it, and walked along the long porch feeling like he was truly home, hands folded into his tunic. Thomas had told him that on a male's kimono, the sleeves were so wide at the underarm so that one may put his hands into his tunic, and simply leave the sleeves hanging; most men did this when wearing one. He had also explained that this was how many men hid their weapons, by hiding them in the girth of the koshihimo, and when the weapons were needed, one could simply just slip his hand inside the tunic, and bring them out, whether they were sia or nunchuka, without it getting caught in the folds of the garments. After telling him this, the Asian had bragged about how good he was at doing such things, and told Ian that he would bet the blond couldn't do it. Ian found this very amusing, and when they had gotten to their room, he decided to do a little experiment.

Thomas was at the dresser, putting away their clothes and other items, with Ian standing near the shoji screen, gazing out at the setting sun. Secretly, he slipped his hand inside his tunic, fingering one of the leather bound handles on a nunchuka. He smirked a little, glancing casually at Thomas, who still had his back to him. Tightening his grip around the handle, he turned, keeping his arms inside the tunic.

"Brother, will you come here."

Thomas turned his head, setting a pair of jeans into one of the drawers.

"Yeah, just a minute."

After a few seconds, he walked over, hardly suspecting the blond. Ian tried to contain his smile. He wanted to see if this would work in close quarters.

"Out there, what's that?"

He nodded towards the trees, and Thomas took the bait. Stepping forward, he leaned against the door frame, peering out into the woods.

"I do not see anything,"

He turned, and too late tried ducking the trap. In a blur of speed, Ian snatched the nunchukas from his tunic, bringing it out without a bit of trouble and wrapping the chain over Thomas' neck, jerking him forward.

"Ah, you see! I can do it!"

Thomas gagged at the chain around his throat, gripping the metal rings to try and keep some of the pressure off.

"Ack! Iian! You—you sneaky little—"

The blond yanked the chain tighter, grinning.

"Admit it, Thomas, admit I can do it."

Thomas laughed pitifully, trying to wriggle out of his brother's grasp.

"Alright! Alright I admit it! Cut it out! You are choking me!"

Ian laughed, releasing his brother and tossing the nunchukas onto the bed. Thomas rubbed his throat, shaking his head.

"You are better than I thought, brother...but that does not mean you can still beat me in speed."

The blond ran a hand through his hair, gazing back out at the setting sun.

"No, it doesn't."

The sun was going down behind the trees, splashing a fiery red color into the skied, mingled with deep hues of orange and purple. It was about time for them to go to meet with everyone for dinner. Thomas put a few more things away, and then slid the front shoji screen aside, turning off the lamps in the room.

"Ian, come on. We will be late if we do not hurry."

The blond shut the back door, and followed his brother out onto the porch. By now it was completely dark, and the Japanese lanterns had been lit all along the porch rooftop, casting magnificent colors all around them. The cicadas still continued their song, adding some sort of magical touch to the warm Summer night. After shutting the front shoji screen, the two walked on down the porch, their wooden sandals clacking against the floorboards. The night was absolutely beautiful, with a full moon rising behind the towering pagoda and silhouetting it against the velvet sky. The lanterns were gorgeous, lining every door way and porch post. There were lanterns hung in the gardens, too, illuminating with a soft light the trees, delicate plants and gravel paths. Ian's mind soared. He could barely believe this. His first night in Japan. It was so strange and mystic to him. From past the courtyard drifted the mournful strands of a samisen and kokyu, both the most commonly heard instruments of Japan. Somehow it mingled with the nature around him, blending into one song with the night birds and cicadas, even the rustling of the trees in the Summer breeze. The blond paused briefly, leaning on the rail and gazing out into the lantern-lit night, breathing deeply. This was his new home. At least, for a while. He raised his eyes heavenward, gazing up at the full, whitewashed moon. It seemed so large and perfect, illuminating the dark sky. Somehow, he knew that a path lay before him, one that no one had ever taken. What is was, he did not know, but something inside told him that it would not be an easy road. He sighed deeply, still watching the moon. What was his life's purpose? Why had the Lord guided his feet here, to Japan? He was, after all, only twelve years of age. This had to be part of it. The training had to be part of the road he was to take. By now Thomas had realized his brother was not walking with him, and turned, walking back.

"What are you doing, Ian? Goodgrief. Will you stop leaving me like that? That is the third time today."

The blond looked over at him, smiling.

"Sorry, Thomas. I was just thinking."

Thomas laughed, taking his arm.

"You do that too much, brother. Now, are you coming?"

Ian smiled, grasping his friend's shoulder.

"Yes. Let's go."

The two turned, leaving the rail and walking on down the porch, the music from the samisen and kokyu still lingering in the air.