True to First Mother's words, training proved to be physically and magically exhausting. Juneau spent more time training than she ever had studying for tests, researching and grading papers, and snacking between classes as a student. Sometimes the trio trained alone whether in the dōjō sparring, or in the garden meditating. Other times, they were joined by some of the servant monks, mostly boys of about twelve whose sole interest lay in knocking each other on their butts.
First Mother was incorrigibly strict in the dōjō. She detested Juneau's lack of focus. Beside that, the girl needed discipline. Left to her own devices, Juneau probably would've woken up late, gone to bed late, ate at odd hours, and failed to practice any of her techniques, which led to unnecessary aches and pains, both physical and familial. Fortunately, Mameha had little faith in Juneau's devices and watched her like a hawk.
She emphasized how clarity of mind wasn't something that occurred on a whim. "You have to work at it. You have to invite it in for tea, and make sure it stays for dinner."
Juneau thought this sounded an awful lot like a koan, but offhand comments usually only invited further criticism. She kept quiet and tried to focus on focusing.
She soon fell into the habit of waking up at six every morning and, after splashing cold water on her face, creeping off to the sitting room to meditate over her tanden. Unlike her other ikebana, the tanden seemed capable of living long after it should have died. Juneau would pull on a leaf here, or adjust the accent there, but otherwise she was left to her thoughts (which were purer now that Kato was back in his element and largely out of her orbit; Mameha wouldn't suffer him gumming up the works).
At first, meditation proved too harrowing and distracting. Her thoughts would begin a wide loop around her mind, like a train on a one-way track, stopping at the usual destinations. First up was always Kuni: worrying about her, wondering if she was safe--or at the very least warm and fed. How could Juneau have taken her eyes off her for even a second? She should have listened to Kato about Rikka! Which was a natural progression toward thoughts about Kato. Initially, she'd been smitten with his good looks, then thrown by his cockiness. Now, she was back to yearning for him at night. Her loins were constantly on fire whenever he was around. It didn't help matters at all that the heat of Kamakura--so much more cloying that that of Seattle--had impinged upon his fashion sense, reducing him to jeans and tight-fitting T-shirts. If there had been any question about the shape of his body, they were gone now. Juneau couldn't remember wanting Matthew as much. And then she started thinking about him. Matthew, and breaking up through the door--and what must he have thought of Kato when he'd given him the letter with Juneau's name and picture in it? Did he open the letter? Then, Kato's letter made her think about Hideyoshi--her father. She had certainly formed an opinion in recent days--and not a good one. He may be a decent warrior and a focused martial arts instructor, but--she was fairly certain--he would never live up to her expectations of what a father should be. She had set up an impossible obstacle for him to prove his viability as parent, for the only way she would call him Father was if he went back in time and made up for all the lost days, months, and years of her life that Kuni had been a single parent. The only people capable of doing that was Rikka (and she never would) and Juneau herself. She wouldn't ever stoop so low.
Of course, she also thought about Chase and Rikka (Was the former safe? Was the latter scheming?), but not necessarily daily.
Understandably, when it came to meditation, Juneau was filled with a mortal dread--at first.
However, with practice, she was able to move beyond that. Her mind's cogs stopped clicking into the same ruts, the gears came to a halt, and for one blissful hour, she managed to fill her mind with a plain tableau whose sole purpose was to remain unblemished and white. Perfect.
In all truth, it took her an hour to get to that blessed place, but she enjoyed it for scant moments before her stomach prodded her toward breakfast.
On a particular morning some weeks after she had arrived in Kamakura, after the morning meditation and breakfast, Mameha chased the other girls off and took Juneau to the training hall for a private session.
"It's time for you to become better acquainted with your magic," First Mother explained.
"Finally," Juneau breathed, gratefully. She had spent many hours already watching her sisters practice hanate, which she found to be little different from karate in her layman's opinion, save that hanate incorporated the ikebana elements of time, space, and mind. It was rather frustrating for Juneau, who knew little about karate and even less about her powers. Hideyoshi was going through the painstakingly slow movements--punches, kicks, blocks, etc.--but intoned more than once, "You cannot learn hanate until you have learned to harness time."
No small feat.
First Mother asked Juneau to sit, then disappeared for a moment. When she reappeared, she was holding Juneau's newest tanden. She had been missing Chase when she made this arrangement, so it closely resembled the one she purportedly gifted him what seemed like forever ago. Wide, green ribbons of aspidistra drew a bed for the purple orchids over a pool of water. It even had thin bamboo sticks jutting out from it.
"Look at this piece," First Mother said, placing the ikebana between them on the floor. "You see the lines, the volume, the accents?" Juneau nodded. "Tell me which you like best. Which one best describes you?"
Juneau thought about the question for a while. When she had first looked at it, she was drawn to the bright, lavender orchids--the accents. But, gazing harder at it now, she felt a change. When she closed her eyes, her mind kept pulling her back to the lines. Her focus immediately went to the tan bamboo, her eyes following the lines they threw into the air.
"You see it, don't you?"
"I see the lines," Juneau answered.
Mameha only smiled. "When I look at this piece, and every piece, I first see the accents. It is hard to ignore them. But when I look away, when I close my eyes, I am continually called back to the volume of the piece. Here, it is the voluminous aspidistra, filling my mind with its green-ness. I even sense a smell about it that it very green. This is because of my connection to the volume element, space. You, however, are connected to the lines."
"I see. But what does it mean?"
"It means that once you know how to identify and control your powers, and how to focus your energies on your tanden, you can control time."
"Control time," she repeated, stupefied. So much power, wielding time! "So I can go back and forth, or speed up and slow down--or what?"
"All of it, at your fingertips."
"What about paradoxes?" Juneau asked suddenly. "A change in the past means a change in the present, doesn't it?"
"Time is a very tricky thing, as is the human mind. Unfortunately, the former is much trickier than the latter. Time moves in all directions at the same time--and yet remains constant and unmoving, too."
"An example: if you step forward, in another reality your double steps backward--or doesn't step at all. There are infinite possibilities to every action, infinite effects for every cause. And still, there will always remain one reality that is preordained. From it, all other realities deviate."
"Now we're talking about alternate realities. Is that necessary to time travel?"
"Not necessarily necessary," Mameha giggled, "but it is a natural byproduct of it. How else could you go back and visit yourself--without suffering the paradoxes that such a visit would imply?"
"I guess that's what I was saying..." Juneau frowned, her face hot with shame. "I'm having a hard time following..."
"It is a very difficult concept, child. Don't worry. Grasping it is possibly the hardest part." Juneau smiled, feeling comforted by this small consolation. Mameha went on, "Think of it this way: imagine that the preordained reality is a line." She produced a small spool of blue thread and a pair of scissors. She cut several lengths and draped them across her knee. Then she took a single thread and, moving the ikebana aside, laid it out for Juneau to see. "Here it is. Now, for every decision anyone has ever made or will ever make or is making now, there is a split." Mameha lined the rest of the lengths of thread alongside the "preordained" line, joining them at one end. "You see how many possibilities there are now."
"Yet the preordained line can operate as if none of the others every occurred. Indeed, all realities operate under the assumption that their reality is the only reality." To demonstrate, Mameha focused--with much difficulty, Juneau would have said--and the "preordained" thread turned black.
"How'd you do that?" Juneau asked.
"It's a mind-bend. Don't interrupt."
"Now, it is also possible to return to the preordained line at any point--for Time and Fate are corrective and long to move along the preordained axis." She drew a couple of threads back toward the black thread so that they intersected. "And so it goes until another decision must be made, until infinity. You see? Infinite possibilities, all working their way back to the preordained line."
"Do they all make it there?"
First Mother shook her head, but smiled all the same. "It is necessary that some never do. Some realities have been irreversibly changed."
Juneau nodded. Her mind had gone blank minutes before, but she tried to pull it together enough to say something bordering cohesive, something indicating a teensy-tiny modicum of comprehension. "So, if what I want doesn't happen in this reality, in theory it does happen in another reality?"
Juneau had to be comforted by Mameha's enthusiasm. "Okay," she said with a curt nod, finally getting it. "But the only reality that matters to me is this one. The other... me's are fending for themselves, too. Right?"
"Right. And so you must use your powers to correct egregious wrongs created by Rikka's meddling."
"All of them?!" Juneau cried, incredulous.
"Not all of them," First Mother said, practically rolling her eyes. "Kidnapping your mother, for example."
"Couldn't we just find where she is and go save her?" Juneau wanted to know.
"That is a possibility," Mameha acceded. "But we have as-yet been unable to locate her hideout. Perhaps you will have more luck here, too." She smiled, and Juneau gleaned the slightest hint of condescension before it was wiped from First Mother's face.
Mameha then said, "Your greatest power, Juneau, lies in divining the optimal reality--out of literally millions!--and traveling through it to the desired goal. In effect, you will learn how to split realities. To leave behind the one you don't want for the one you do..."
Thus began Juneau's first foray into time-bending. Now that she could focus at will, it was easy to fall into a bending trance. Soon she was taking Mameha on little jaunts into the past and the future.
"I find traveling into the past like sailing," Juneau said. "Smooth and flow-y..."
"Interesting," Mameha replied. "I find traveling into the future like flying."
And so they struck a code: sailing into the past, and soaring into the future. Along with this, Juneau also practiced slowing and stopping time, or speeding it up. Mameha was hard on her, sometimes keeping her through lunch, once or twice through dinner. Juneau wondered how the old girl could go without food or water for so long. Juneau ended every day famished and dry as a bone--though often too tired to do anything about it.
All in all, the training was grueling, time-consuming--and no amount of time jumping would help Juneau absorb it any quicker. But she made progress. Mameha ensured her that, with time and practice, she could reach her destination in time with about a quarter hour of error. Moreover, the more Juneau used her powers, the better her focus got, as well as her accuracy and reaction time. Finally, Juneau now knew where to look for inspiration. The elements were everywhere around her: the straight edge of the windowsill, the open expanse of tatami-lined floor, and a glittering object in the periphery of her vision.
She had finally begun to train in the ways of the Way of Flowers.