Normally, with meditation, we were accompanied by the constant echoing throb of sewer pipes, of the roar of traffic above our heads. Normally, Splinter would have laid our mats, and we'd sit in quiet ring around him, and wait for the collective stillness and peace to quietly envelop our thoughts. I know that such stillness and awareness was difficult for Raph and Mikey, especially. He hated sitting still for any amount of time, and he was often quite vocal about Master Splinter's expectations for us to meditate regularly.
But now, in Raph's improvised sick room, there was no mats, and most of all, no Splinter. April had very generously scrounged up some more quilts that we had all folded into cushions.
The room was quiet, except for the continual howl of the night wind, the scrape of tree branches against the bricks, and the collective sound of four brothers huddled together and attempting what seemed to be both ludicrous and impossible to boot.
Mikey was fidgeting, drumming his fingers against his knees, as Donny silently handed me the box of matches.
"Is this supposed to be some sort of mind-melding, like off of Star Trek or something?"
Mikey's snicker was only answered by Don's gentle nudge of reprove, and my withering glare. From his pallet, Raphael shifted and grunted in annoyance, "You have to have a mind to mind-meld, genius."
Donny sighed, and giving me a resigned shrug, turned to Mikey.
"We're not mind-melding, Mikey. We're meditating in the hopes that we can somehow find more information about Splinter." Donny patiently explained as he helped Raphael to move.
"And exactly how is this supposed to work?" Mikey raised an eye arch and turned to stare at me and Donny.
"If you are asking for a scientific explanation, the best I can offer is based on pure speculation. Biologically speaking, we're still animals, and on some visceral level, we may retain some basic, residual awareness or ability to sense things that humans don't. You know, like how geese fly in formation, or how herd animals collectively migrate? Nobody teaches them how to do that, it's just something that they know. Maybe this is something akin to it, but I honestly don't know."
Raphael winced as he forced himself forward a few inches. Turning to Mikey, he snapped, "Does it matter? Hell, Mikey, we don't know if it will work or not. All we know is that Donny and Leo had the same vision or dream or whatever it was. We can't exactly call Master Splinter for information, and this may be nothin', but it's all we have right now. Now, shut up, and let's get started already, eh?"
Mikey huffed, and turned to query Don. "Is there any chance in hell of this working? I mean, we're not mind-readers, or anything."
Donny sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose in an effort to control his emotions. He always did that when he was either warding off a headache, or dealing with frustration.
" We don't need to be mind-readers. Leo and I saw Splinter, Mikey. I know it's hard for you to believe. I get that, Mikey. I truly do. But, you're going to have to decide if Leo and I are insane, or if you can trust us enough to at least try, please."
Mikey shrugged with a sigh, but at last folded his legs and settled himself on the mat. Closing his eyes, he muttered, "Let me know when you're ready. Poke me if I fall asleep."
So far, our attempt at group meditation was an abysmal failure. I was miserably embarrassed and uncertain as I ignored Mikey's impatience, Raph's glare, and Donny's rapidly fleeing tolerance.
Kneeling down, I sat the large white candle in the middle of the floor between the four of us. Striking the match, I lit the wick, and let the small flame linger long enough to arch high into the glow. Donny flipped off the light switch, and suddenly, the room was awash with darkness, except for the faint flicker of the candlelight.
"Leo, if you dragged us here for nothing…" Raph muttered, but let the words mercifully die unspoken.
"Now what, Fearless?"
"Everybody, close your eyes and concentrate. Concentrate really hard."
The encouragement sounded frail at best, and idiotic at worst. I closed my eyes, rested my elbows against my thighs, and tried to relax. Soon, the only noise in the room was the dull hiss of wind against the window, and the quiet sounds of our collective breaths.
A slither of thought, a fragment, then sensations that solidified and rippled through my mind like the movement of water when something rises from the depths. I struggled against the urge to force my focus into sharpening, and exhaled deeply for calm. It took every scrap of self-restraint to not attempt control. Master Splinter always taught us that inner peace only happened after accepting the emotions and thoughts as they were, and not attempting to wrestle them into submission. It took everything I had not to picture Splinter, but to allow the images to simply come.
I let my thoughts light like falling leaves, gently colliding, one upon the other, gradually growing stronger. At my side, I heard Mikey shift and then go still in concentration as the wan candle light flickered against the darkness of the room.
I heard Raphael grunt, either in frustration, or pain. His injuries were still capable of hurting him. Though he was seated on the floor like the rest of us, his injured limbs were cocooned by a small pile of pillows. I ignored his winces as he pulled himself upright and forced his bruised arms to curl against his thighs in the reflexive pose we all used for meditation.
Donny was silent, with his head bowed, and eyes closed. Like me, he was perfectly still, and even his breathing was calm and controlled.
The small flame danced on its wick, fading down to a last spark. The darkness was overwhelming, as Mikey twitched, and the flame dulled to only a small bit of light. I had no way of knowing if it were minutes or hours that passed in that room, as we sat in the hopeless dark. I heard the hitching breath and the wet snort of a sob from one of my brothers, and Raphael's disappointed snarl of "Now, what do we do?"
"We wait." Donny whispered back.
The wick had burned down to one vanishing point, a sad little glow in the darkness.
And then, the minute fire flickered from the smear of orange to an eerie, unnatural shade of blue, and flared upward.
I heard Raphael inhale sharply, and Mikey suddenly jabbed me. "Leo…look!"He breathed out in astonishment.
The small flame curled inward, and soared higher, dissolving into a vapid film as frail as starlight.
What happened next is still hard for me to describe, but it was a miracle, and divine intervention, and the grace of something much deeper, higher, and better than anything that any of us could accomplish on our own.
I felt Master Splinter's presence fall over me, warm, and familiar and steadying as an embrace, as the thin, waning light solidified into a thin, shadowy veneer of Master Splinter's form.
He was transparent, dreamlike, vapid as mist, but Master Splinter was real, and here.
At my side, I heard Raph's quiet sob of Splinter's name, but Donny was too astonished to wipe away the tears that trickled down his face.
Splinter raised his arms, as if to enfold us, as his mouth curled into that warm, long-missed smile. He wasn't beaten, bloodied, chained, or wounded, as he gazed down on us with love.
"I am proud of you, my sons. Tonight, you have learned the final and greatest truth of the ninja. That ultimate mastery comes not from the body, but of the mind."
He paused to meet each of our eyes, as he continued, silencing our questions with a gentle, sad shake of his head.
" Together, there is nothing that you four cannot accomplish. Help each other. Draw on one remember the true force that binds you….the same that has brought me here tonight. That, which I gladly return with my final words. ."
He shut his eyes, trembling, and even though he was transparent, I could see the tears rising in his eyes.
"I love you all, my sons."
The flame suddenly died, and the room was once again engulfed in darkness. Master Splinter was gone.