Mameha changed the subject. "Yuki says your ikebana are stunning."
"I just learned from a book," was Juneau's unconscious response. Offhandedly, she mentioned the author of the book.
"She was once a student at Shokadō," Mameha said.
"You knew her?"
"I trained her." As if perceiving Juneau's question before she could answer it, First Mother said, "This was before any of you were born. She is not an Ieyasu. She learned the modern ways, of course."
Mameha smoothed a wrinkle in her kimono, and the sunlight caught it so its glamour almost blinded Juneau. She almost missed the invitation to sit on the bench beside First Mother. She quickly complied. Seated beside the tiny woman (were all the women in Japan so frail as a geisha doll? she wondered), Juneau felt the strictures of a foreign society begin to wind about her, strapping her limbs to her torso and clamping her dry throat shut. But she fought against the silence, and finally couldn't keep one question from flying out. "Why am I here?"
Mameha stood up then and walked over to the armoire. She might have been smiling, or frowning, or impassive, Juneau couldn't tell. Her voice changed in no qualifiable way. "Only recently did we realize how important it is that the blood of Ieyasu Tarō run through the agents of the Triad. It was Hideyoshi who realized what everyone before had missed." Mameha gazed out the window at the woods beyond the garden. "Of course, this alone would accomplish only so much. Rikka has been growing and changing in her art, modulating forms and bending rules more easily than Yuki bends matter. Meanwhile, Shokadō had become set in its ways. The agents of the Shokadō Triad haven't been able to defeat her for hundreds of years, because they couldn't match her advancements with their own. She danced circles around us all. It was pitiful!"
Mameha's inner light seemed to dull as she spoke, but here again it rekindled. She may have been hardly five-foot-four, but Juneau felt her strength and power flowing in the room even from far away. She said, "This Triad will be different. Already is. We have experienced Yuki and Claire's powers first hand. None of the preceding agents have ever been so strong. Or so innovative, thinking of new avenues down which to take their powers."
As she spoke now, Mameha opened the low, black armoire. The doors swung out, revealing an open cavity on the left and a stack of drawers on the right with handles in matching brass-red trim. From the recess on the left--which was full of vases and trays--Mameha brought out a shallow, lacquer dish in plain black. From the drawers on the right, she produced necessities for flower arranging.
Juneau came to stand beside her and picked up a blade of steel grass. She ran her fingers along the length of it. It felt heavier than it looked. The leaf weighed nothing in her hands, but psychologically, metaphysically, she couldn't imagine a heavier load. She thought about the few ways she had bent time recently. The easiest thing to do now would be to go back and forget that any of this had ever happened. Maybe Claire could help her forget by using mind-bending...
Sensing her daughter's unease without addressing it, Mameha said, "You are different from your sisters, but no less amazing. In fact, you are possibly more incredible than either of them. Not necessarily for your powers--they have powers to match--but for your strength of character. A person is only as strong as her strongest trait."
Juneau was tempted to say that a chain was only as strong as its weakest link, but she kept her trap shut.
"Work with it, I say," Mameha was saying now, "and you can work wonders." Then, with a deep breath, she pronounced words that terrified and galvanized Juneau all at once. "This is why you three will succeed where none before you have."
"How do you know?" she asked, fearful of the answer.
"I cannot say for sure that I know. Only, I have faith. It isn't so because I say it's so. It is so because I believe it is. But things will not fall into place simply because we will them to. It will take much time, practice. Blood, sweat, and tears. Your sisters have learned, and now you will, too."
Juneau nodded slowly. She hardly noticed when Mameha moved away from the armoire to give her room or when she left altogether. Juneau looked at the materials before her, unconsciously measuring the angles and the distances, and considering the outcome, too. Mameha returned with a jumble of flowers and filler plants in all manner of shapes and colors, which she set down without a word. Juneau went to work. She put down the blade of steel grass and moved the shallow lacquer dish closer to her. She cut and cajoled, measured and estimated. The steel grass was too long; she bent it back on itself. The accents weren't the right color or shape; she tossed them aside in favor of others. The sight of the hateful baby's breath made her think of her mother and how this must look like procrastinating. But toward a greater good, right? Juneau shrugged the thought off and let her hands work in complete silence. She fell into a trance. She knew what she was doing only as she was doing it but, as the piece came together, she felt an energy surge in her. This element fell slightly askew, but rather than change it, Juneau worked with it. Sometimes, a mistake--a missed stroke on a perfect parchment, an awkward angle on a line or accent--made the result that much more real.
Finally, Juneau stepped back and took in the ikebana in reserved tranquility. A lotus flower rested on a bed of folded and twisted aspidistra leaves, beneath which lines of steel grass sprouted like two-dimensional petals. The whole sat off-center in a shallow pool of water, black pebbles shining just beneath the surface.
Mameha broke the utter continuity between art and artist when she announced, "It is a perfectly balanced arrangement. It has line, volume, and accent. So, too does each Shokadō Triad have three agents. You have demonstrated your attachment to the line element. Congratulations on your first tanden, Juneau."
"A tanden is an arrangement that draws your energy into focus and concentrates it, much like a magnifying glass. But unlike a magnifying glass, which you must carry with you in order to use it, a tanden you take with you in your heart and mind and soul. Wherever you go, it is there. Your tanden will be pivotal in defeating Tachibana Rikka. As will your training in hanate."
"What's that?" Juneau asked.
"Hanate is the martial arts associated with the Shokadō School. You see," First Mother said, taking on an inculcatory tone, "ikebana is a way of life. Its greatest teaching is balance. Balance in the world, balance in the mind and body... balance in the soul. At Shokadō, we have been taught and continue to foster the concept of harmony in life. Just as each ikebana arrangement is 'balanced' by three elements, so, too, is the Way of Flowers 'balanced' by a three-pronged concept of righteous living: adherence to the Zen teachings, meditation through ikebana arranging, and self-discipline through the practice of hanate."
"That's what Kato said."
"Is hanate what Yuki uses to kick butt?" Juneau's eyes lit up, remembering the pummeling Rikka's cronies got at the goth girl's hands. "I wanna learn that!"
"And you will. In time."
"All this for one girl," Juneau sighed.
First Mother shook her head slowly, almost smiling. "You have no idea who you're dealing with, do you?" Juneau admitted she didn't, opening the way for Mameha to beat it into her. "As long as Shokadō has been around, there have been other schools, practicing other principles--some equally as honorable as ikebana, some not so honorable. There is one such sect that practices the same principles as Shokadō: the Tachibana School, our greatest adversaries."
Juneau nodded. "That must be the school Rikka comes from."
"The Tachibana School of the Ikebana Arts was founded by Tachibana Rikka."
"Same name... What a coin-ki-dink." Juneau rolled her eyes.
"It's no coincidence. Rikka was originally a Time-Bender like you--but she became obsessed with power. She never passed the torch. Technically, Tachibana Rikka died almost five hundred years ago. But shortly before her death, she went back in time and brought a younger version of herself with her to the future. Using mind-bending, she passed all of her memories and experiences to the replacement. She also ensured that she would live on by instilling within that replacement a strong sense of self-preservation, so that when this replacement Rikka was at death's door, she too would bring another copy of herself back from the past."
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" Juneau asked with a slack jaw.
"We Ieyasus have been trying to defeat the same enemy for ten generations..."
"That's bad!" Juneau cried. "How are we supposed to beat this chick?"
First Mother simply said, "Hide and I are convinced that you three can defeat Rikka."
"How's that?" Juneau asked, not at all convinced.
"The reason is two-fold. First of all, Hideyoshi believes that it is a global effort. You three have received a more rounded education--different than what you would have received in Japan. You will have insight into this problem that others before you won't. Secondly, you are all Ieyasus. Preceding agents were weak in their powers, but you three--there can be no doubt that you are more powerful than almost any before you because of your blood."
"So, for ten generations, the Shokadō Triad has been trying to beat Rikka--but she keeps it up somehow. Was the last generation so crappy that they couldn't finish her off?"
Mameha blushed down to her pale hands. "It isn't so simple. We didn't have your powers..."
Mameha nodded. "I was the last Mind-Bender. Your father was the last Matter-Bender."
"Hide is not my father," Juneau said emphatically. First Mother only nodded, and offered no more on the matter, which Juneau was happy to drop. "I suppose we do have to work together, though."
"We do, but not in the way you think."
"What do you mean?"
With more than a little flush in her face, First Mother said, "Once you three came into your powers, our powers were largely transferred to you. We can teach you, but we have essentially passed the mantle on to you three."
"Don't you mean 'passed the buck'?" Juneau said harshly.
Mameha touched her hand tenderly. "Please, Juneau. Even if it doesn't seem like it, your fa--Hideyoshi was acting in everyone's best interest, not the least of which is your own. If Rikka took over the world, you wouldn't want to live in it, I assure you. She has tried in the past."
Finally, Juneau let go of the fight. She realized she was being a shit to the woman who had opened her gorgeous home up to her and who was offering her a way to save her mother. She swallowed her pride and put on a smile. "I'm sorry," she said, and was surprised not only to mean it, but also to feel tears come to her eyes. "I guess I'm just scared that... Rikka... I don't know. I'm just confused."
"We'll work around it," First Mother offered, along with a healthy dose of encouragement. "You're not alone in this. You have your sisters, and Kato. And though Hide and I don't have as much of our powers as before, we haven't lost any of our savvy. We'll train you like nothing before."
"Good, 'cause I've never had training of any sort."
Mameha bowed her head slightly. "I'm quite sorry to hear that. I only hope you won't hate us by the end of it."