Takegawa Iga hovered in perfect stillness. The biting insects covered nearly every part of him. Master watched closely. Iga’s chi was pulled tight and focused. Without twitching a muscle, he exploded his energy outward, sending all the insects into the air around him. He twisted his neck quickly, causing his body to rotate to face his master. The two crab-eating macaques held each other’s gazes a moment.
Master Ashikaga raised his chin.
“I saw your tail twitch.”
“Surely you witnessed the work of the wind.”
“Hmmmmm. You have surpassed expectations. The daimyos will perhaps find a use for you. I would test you further.”
Iga bowed his head.
“You honor me with your consideration, and temper me with your challenges. I remain ever yours to command.”
“As it is. You know of these interlopers in our wild? They reside in the great magnolia in sector k-3.”
“I have heard the brothers speaking of them. They are hunters all. Noisy, but effective if the tales are true.”
“Yes. I tire of tales. I wish you to scout their camp and bring back real information on their offenses and defenses. Find out what you are able of their political structure as well. Go without tools. If you fail, they must think you but a simple monkey. If they kill you, you must die wordless.”
“Of course Master. I would not betray our secrecy.”
“Go then with care.”
Takegawa Iga stripped off his robes and belt, stuffing them into the crook of a dogwood in bloom. He bowed low to Master and shot out of the meticulously manicured glen into the dojo proper. The Grove of Eternal Blossoms was filled with scores of ninja monkeys in training. They all wore matching red and black robes, and their movements were precise and in perfect unison. They formed a tight cube in the grove. Moving fluidly from one deadly pose to the next in complete silence. At an invisible cue, the cube of monkeys exploded outward in seeming chaos, but the cube reformed seconds later, as precise as ever.
Iga was beyond these precision training drills. The new group was sloppy now. They would learn. The precision must first come in the mind and heart, only then could the body follow.
He passed through the grove and through a Shinto gate. He bowed to the pool tenders on his way past. They were a dozen monkeys hovering around a house sized sphere of water. Water gatherers daily brought condensation sacks to the pool to add to the water, the pool tenders floated around the perimeter with paddles to keep the pool from dispersing. They were a skilled group today; the sphere was perfectly still and flawless within, not undulating and waving as was usual. He noticed two green robed seers peering into it’s pristine depths trying to glimpse the fates. He picked a small bit of fur from hit shoulder and wet it in his mouth. He stuck it to the base of the Monkey Buddha statue on his way out into the wild.
He passed the shrine to absent birds, and as was traditional, he tried to imagine a time bound by gravity, when birds filled the skies. He did not know if he was picturing the historic state of his people correctly, as was the point. The practice of imagining the unimaginable led to better control of the mind.
The soft chirping behind his left ear brought him short. Taniko.
“You were not going to leave surely without speaking to me.”
Iga turned and faced her. She was tawny and slight. She held a plum in each hand.
“Taniko. You know we are forbidden. I am in training. I am only going to gather information… I did not think you would be out of the cloister this early.”
“They think that I am tired from my mornings exertions. I am so very frail after all.”
She held a plum out to him. When he took it, their smallest fingers linked, as if by accident, drawing them face to face, separated by a centimeter.
He breathed deep of her scents and leaned is forehead into hers. They held the pose for long moments, breathing with their eyes closed.
Finally, Iga pulled back, “Enough. We have our duites.”
Taniko’s eyes were moist as she brought her plum to her lips.
Iga struggled with his mastery of desire as he brought his plum to his own lips.
Their eyes were locked as they simultaneously bit into the fruits. Each of them savoring the taste and smell of the plums, linking them to the gaze of the others eyes. Juices from the plums locked into the fur on their faces and hands. By this way, the lingering smells would remind them of each other and keep them linked through all barriers and tribulations.
Taniko tucked the plum pit into her robe. Iga tried to do the same, but found he was wearing nothing. He pressed the pit gently into her hand, closing her fingers over it. Then he turned abruptly and shot away into the wild. Taniko stowed the pit away and found her way back to the cloister.