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(Story 5 Page 1) Lotus Pond Dojo

(What makes a dojo? Most would say that a true "dojo" comes from the lands of the Orient, a place where, nestled between the stands of bamboo and fields of rice, students of this region sought in days of old to undertake an inward journey, a quest to find their potential through the martial arts.

In the days of old, the dojo was a place of strength, a community of fighters all learning every day, from the youngest white belt to the masters who taught them.

(But as the world grew older, the race of men grew more intelligent, building upon the teachings of their past and with the materials of their lands. Crude rafts made of sticks became barnacle-crusted vessels of wood and pitch and sail, and then powerful slicing ships of metal and smoke. The concept of a man taking to the air began as a dreamer's whimsy, became sketches of propellers and wings under the hands of a wise inventor, then turned into a rickety craft powered by the love of two brothers, finally taking flight as a biplane, and then huge commercial aircraft. With bits of plastic and wires, men became able to use the air to keep in contact with each other, and with their tools finally connected all the world together, for better or worse.

(In this age, nothing has to be stationary, or confined to one country. Connected, mankind can enjoy each others' culture, no matter where they may live. People are coming and going as regularly as the coming and going of the seasons... and, it turns out, some take their buildings with them.)

Colorado, the present, somewhere high in the Rocky Mountains. The Lotus Pond Dojo, a building the size of a Super Wal Mart. An equally large basement extends below, although no one has ever catalogued all the hidden passages...

(Tobuo Kakoemetsu is regarded by his students as the greatest teacher of ninjitsu to ever have lived, even though they usually can't name any others who hold that title.

Decades ago this old, humble master decided to leave his homelands and bring his gift to America... the gift of teaching ninjitsu. His reasons are yet unclear, although it's clear he loves to teach. His teaching manages to be both gentle yet unyielding, demanding utter obedience yet letting the spirit flourish. He is a master of his craft, and in training the most lethal assassins he instills in them the desire to preserve and protect life unless all else fails. A tall, old man, lithe and frail-looking, his eyes appear forever closed with age, but they crinkle kindly, and his gnarled hands never fail to offer whatever is needed, be it a spanking or a warm cup of saki.

(This man is your teacher. For reasons you've kept secret in your heart, you've sought his training when you were just a very young adult. For many years you have studied the arts of ninjitsu, and you don't regret a single day spent doing so.

Your belt has changed color many times, and we join you now a few days before you'll take your test to achieve the second highest rank at the dojo: the Red Belt, the Fledgling Ninja. In addition to your formal test, you must perform an act of ninjitsu.

Usually, students will go to the modern cities at the base of the mountains and perform acts of silent espionage, or a token theft from a heavily guarded safehouse (the goods are, of course, returned after you've shown them to Sensei Tobuo). You, however, have chosen a different tactic: you will sneak into the
Sensei's own storage room, nestled here within the school. Rumors among the students say your master keeps wondrous things in there: unbreakable swords that bond themselves to their masters, herbs that somehow allow a person to breathe underwater, and even nameless tools that true ninja masters used in the old days to perform nigh undetectable spy work. They say the things in there could let a man scale walls like a squirrel, slip through cracks like a snake, or even fly through castle windows. Even more the students don't know about could lie there as well. Your mission is to steal one of these tools and display it to your master the next morning.

You're not worried about his reaction; if you fail, he'll praise your initiative. If you succeed... well, you value your master's pride in you more than anything, and the vision of his proud smile fills you with hope. So, stretch your muscles and prepare, Orange Belt, and let us join you in your chambers as you prepare, on the night of your raid...)

Lotus Pond Dojo

Written by Mr.Peaches and the community of catprog.tfcentral.com

You finish tightening your black clothes down, making sure there's nothing that could get caught on anything. You're in your quarters--a small room lined with Japanese style. Your tatami mat is rolled up in the corner.

The light of a stand of candles you made yourself gives everything a warm yellow glow. Your heart is pounding; this is bold, what you're doing--very bold. Even though you tell yourself you won't get in real trouble if you're (probably) caught, you're anxious. I mean... this stuff is *bold.*

You shake your head and clear your mind of your fear, only to have the candle light catch your gaze. You're reminded of your recent dreams, off the subject of your raid but still important to you nonetheless. You were performing amazing ninjitsu feats in those dreams, but your body was... different, a little different every time you dreamt. The dreams always ended with a jet of fire streaming out of darkness and consuming you. As the dream repeated night after night, the fire went from feeling agonizing, then painful, then uncomfortable, then pleasant, then invigorating. A few of your closest friends have reported similar experiences. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? You've been meaning to discuss them with Sensei Tobuo, but you've been so focused on your studies that by the time you remember you wanted to talk with him, it's very late in the evening and he's retired to his chamber for sleep, although you half-suspect that he doesn't even need to sleep anymore. What a mysterious dream, though...

From the candlelight your eyes are drawn out the window to a tiny, tiny speck of brilliance on a hill far down the mountainside, on a totally different ridge. For days now, you and your fellow students have been secretly spying on a group of college-age people snowboarding in the mountains--six males and three females. You've gathered that one of them won some great sponsorship for something, and now they could afford to take their friends on the boarding trip of their lives. So that's what they were doing, and growing closer to the dojo by the day. Although you know they don't know it's there, vigilance is needed. The school is cunningly hidden against the boarders, although at the end of the day, people coming across the dojo aren't much of a big deal. If someone actually finds Lotus Pond,Tobuo usually treats the guest like a king and tries to recruit them to the school. More than one of your fellow students came that way.

But these players, the dream and the boarders, are distractions from your task at hand. Maybe Fate will bring them into your circle, and maybe not. You clear your mind and put out the candles. Standing in the cool night air just on the other side of your room's sliding paper door, you visualize your dojo. Both the upper and lower levels are the size of a Super Wal-Mart, filled with tight, twisting paths and rooms of all kinds.

The rooms are roughly arranged in a sort of bull's eye pattern: student rooms line the outside, a hallway runs between, another layer of rooms comes next, another hallway lies beyond those, etc. The stairs to the lower level lie in the center of the upper floor. You must make it to those stairs, down to the basement, and then search around for the room you've never seen.

Patrolling every hallway is one of your fellow students, training their senses to detect an intruder's approach. If you are seen, alarms will be raised and your task will fail. You can't, of course, use lethal force.

Most students will be trying to conceal themselves, as well. Every one that sees you will tell Tobuo that they did when you present the artifact from the Master's Room, lowering your "grade" and honor.

Thinking over the massive obstacles between you and your goal, you can't help feeling overwhelmed. But, on you will go.

[Now,] you think to yourself, [how to start...]

Written by Mr.Peaches on 18-07-2006 and edited by catprog


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