Juneau didn't waste time explaining to her sisters what she knew or how she knew it. She focused on bending time and, finding the perfect bending trance, she sailed into the past. The sun sprang up out of the west, casting long shadows that swung from one end of the room to the other. The seasons ran backward, from summer to spring to winter to fall, on and on, until she was whizzing past them too fast to notice, too fast to care. All around her, the Shokadō School was changing. The beds were cleared out, as were the rest of the furniture. The plumbing was torn out, the paint stripped from the walls on the brushes of painters. But the building remained. She soon saw that many generations of Shokadō agents had passed countless nights dreaming in their very same quarters.
As she sailed back in time, Juneau remembered the strange communion between all of Shokadō's Time-Benders. Why hadn't she thought of it before? Hideyoshi had undoubtedly known, but had to let her come to it on her own. But if Mameha hadn't told her, would she have?
Juneau wanted to kick herself, but decided instead that if she could set to right Rikka's wrongs, she would forgive herself. Now, applying herself to her bending, Juneau remembered Claire's tempora. If she focused, she could find her target, way back in the recesses of time, at the beginning of Shokadō's long, secret history, at the very root of her clandestine family tree: her oldest ancestor, Ieyasu Tarō.
Hide had said that any of the teachers through all time were at her disposal. Furthermore, not since Mitsurigi Ayumi were Time-Benders capable of splitting realities. Tarō would undoubtedly be the one to teach her how to split realities. As she reached out her psychic feelers, she divined his smell, too--pine cones and rainwater--though how she knew this was beyond her.
Finally, the scent was so strong, it made her eyes water and her ears ring. She sneezed and came crashing into the past. The room was hardly changed, which was a big surprise to her. She had come five hundred years into the past; some things might have changed. But not this room, at least not by much. It was sparsely furnished: a low table, a hard bed, a stool.
On it sat a girl of no more than eighteen, twisting her sleek jet hair in knots that wouldn't hold--not like the knot of consternation on her brow, which would not come undone. She looked up and started at seeing Juneau, though she quickly put back on her fretting face.
"I'm sorry," Juneau apologized, bowing her head. Something about this girl was so familiar to her. "I shouldn't have barged in here unannounced."
The girl with jet black hair stood to bow. "You must be here for the reunion. My name is Kanako."
"Auntie Kanako!" Juneau cried, recognizing her aunt immediately.
"Do we know each other?" young Kanako asked, somewhat miffed.
"You don't know me, but I know you. Very well."
Kanako's face was a mask of emotion. Juneau couldn't decide if this pleased or displeased Kanako. It made Juneau want to cry in recollection. For this, too, was something that a young Juneau had had to figure out early on about her tough-as-nails aunt Kanako.
Tentatively, Kanako asked, "What is your name, then?"
"Juneau," she answered simply. But she corrected herself quickly, "Actually, it's Ieyasu Junō."
Kanako was taken aback by this and bowed again, more deeply. "Very well, Ieyasu Junō. I've been waiting for you. Tarō-san instructed me to wait for the last Time-Bender to arrive, and it can be none other than you." Juneau nodded. The girl continued, "It was Tarō-san's estimation that all of us Time-Benders would seek him out when the time came for us to split realities."
"That's why you're so upset," Juneau commented, seeing that this remark only deepened the fret lines in Kanako's forehead and around her mouth. Quickly, she added, "It's true, though; I need to split realities to--"
"You don't need to tell me," Kanako said rather stuffily. "In fact, it's best that you tell no one." Without another word or so much as a glance in Juneau's direction, she walked out the door.
"There are twelve Time-Benders here," Kanako was saying when Juneau raced to catch up. "And you are the twelfth, so we can get started." She pointed at a clearing where a dozen people, mostly women, were waiting.
Juneau had a thought, and asked, "If all of the Time-Benders throughout history are here, and I am the last, does that mean I am the last Time-Bender?"
Young Kanako put on a thinking face and after a moment nodded. "I suppose that would be the case. That means..." But the girl didn't finish her statement.
She didn't need to; Juneau knew that if there were no Time-Benders after her to continue stopping Rikka, then it would be the twelfth and final Time-Bender, Juneau herself, who would finally do what none before her could. And it was true; Juneau and her sisters, with Kitsune's help, had finally rid the world of Tachibana Rikka.
They continued to the clearing in uncomfortable silence. Looking ahead, Juneau made out nine young women, one young man, and two other males of indeterminate age. None of the girls' faces looked over twenty, and Juneau suddenly felt like she was at a university function with women's issues as the theme. They were too far to see clearly, but Juneau recognized Kitsune's fox-hood. As she drew nearer, he caught sight of her and nodded. She smiled demurely to acknowledge him.
The other man was quite attractive, in the way that Kato was: dark hair, dark eyes, and bright, white teeth that blazed in the midst of his tanned face when he smiled. He was shorter than she expected, but he held himself with such pride and conviction that she couldn't help but be impressed by him. He straightened up his back now and fixed her and Kanako with a gaze.
"All right, then. Everyone gather round. Time for introductions."
But he needn't have introduced himself; everyone in the circle recognized Ieyasu Tarō, as well as the beauty at his side with the silken black mane. Juneau was astounded by Mitsurigi Ayumi's beauty, amazed at how dark her skin was and that she was ever so slightly taller than Tarō. She sensed a sort of embarrassment about this in Ayumi, but Juneau couldn't fathom why.
Tarō introduced the others in attendance, each come to tarry with Tarō for what was likely their most important lesson. There was Mika, Harumi, Shizuka, Hikari, Hirata, Tetsuko, Emiko, and Yuki. The young man's name was Katsuhiko. Auntie Kanako and Juneau made twelve.
The introductions done, Tarō began to walk, launching into a story about the Buddha that Juneau missed much of. She was so distracted by everything. She saw an impressive weeping willow, its boughs slinking down to the surface of a small stream--Narcissis to his watery grave. Kanako kept in step with her, her proximity reassuring to Juneau. She tried once or twice to instigate a conversation, but Kanako's stern disposition was something she had apparently carried all through life, even in youth. She shushed Juneau more than once.
Juneau eventually settled on watching Kitsune's amusing reactions to Tarō's spiel. The story of the Buddha wound on and on, interspersed with sutras and the occasional koan, mention of schools and houses. She tried to listen for some tidbit of useful information, anything that would help her split realities then travel between them, but to no avail. The others looked as bored as she felt. It was enough to make Juneau yawn.
Tarō caught her in the act. For the first time, it seemed, he registered their bored expressions and sighed. Finally, he coughed and said, "I have been expecting you for some time now. Ayumi instructed me of your arrival en masse and, though we knew not why you would all make the journey, we soon found that we are all, of necessity, in the same predicament."
His audience, who had come back to hang on his words, nodded now.
Juneau felt apprehensive. Tarō's dark eyes fell on her, the eyebrows drawn back into the creases of his brown forehead. He nodded slowly, as if cluing in to her disquiet.
"I assure you you will not go home ill-prepared."
Everyone looked relieved, except for Kitsune, whose bemused expression never left his face. Juneau saw Ayumi nod and wondered what her reasons were. A spark and a glance transpired between Tarō and Ayumi, and it did not go unnoticed by the others. Each of the others eyed Kitsune nervously, save for Juneau who looked on him with filial respect. To him alone, she mouthed, "Thank you."
His grin broke wider, stretching off his mouth and practically falling off the corner of his face. This appeared to strike the rest of them as a grimace, and more than half of them gasped or coughed in discomfort. Ayumi saved the darkest of glares for Kitsune. It all made Juneau wonder why he was even there. For her part, she was glad to see that he was fine, and that there were no hard feelings.
Now that Tarō had their attention, he spoke to them about the principles of the line element in ikebana. He said, "There are others manifestations of the line element in every arrangement: life, death, emotion, direction, aim, goals, astrology and the stars--any number of possibilities. But for the purposes of the Shokadō School, the line element represents time. If you split the line element--the element of time--you break off another reality, another dimension, another world. Keep the end intact, and the realities inevitably converge in the future. Split the line completely, and the realities remain severed, never to reunite."
He led them along a dusty pathway beyond a copse of trees, away from the school. Ayumi never strayed far from him, always keeping one eye on Kitsune.
"Time travel, as we practice it," Tarō began again, "knows no paradox. You can interact with yourself at any age, and nothing bad will come of it. If it does, in another reality the converse occurs. If you die in this realm, you live on in another. If you do not achieve your plans in this realm, you do in another. If something you love is destroyed in this realm," his eye fell on his black-haired beauty Ayumi, "your love lives on in another. You all have the power to create that reality on a whim, and step into it, should the need arise."
"But how?" The question came from the one named Yuki. She seemed tomboyish, her eyes at a different slant than the rest, hinting at Chinese heritage. So, Juneau thought, this was Yuki's namesake.
The one named Hikari seconded the question. Her skin was paler than the rest, and she shone like a gem in the midst of rougher stones. Claire's namesake.
"It is all an analogy, on a grand scale," Tarō said. "Ayumi?"
The first Time-Bender stepped forward. "At first, you will need a physical material to split, something to ground your powers, something to bend with your hands until you are comfortable enough to bend it with your mind. But consider a typical line material, like steel grass or a bamboo shoot, and it's hard to imagine splitting it. You can't easily cut already thin steel grass or too-tough bamboo. But if you work with aspidistra, say, or pandanus, you could easily split the line element into additional lines. Each split, another reality. As Tarō said, if you split the material all the way to the end, the resultant realities never reconverge. But if you leave part of it attached, the very end, say--then the realities merge in the future... As Time-Benders of Shokadō, all of you can split realities as easily as you would a leaf."
"But splitting the desired reality is but a step," Tarō continued. "In order to reach your desired destination, what must you do?"
"Time-bend," Juneau said with certainty.
Ayumi nodded, "Exactly. You time-bend your way to the optimal outcome, and there you are: in the split-off reality, all your sorrows corrected for."
There were more questions, largely concerning process and possible failures, which Tarō seemed to brush, saying, "You don't need me to teach you how to do it. You simply needed the principles. That is what you cannot learn on your own. Remember, too, that realities split off on their own. What you need to master is how to pass from one to another, how to traverse the length of the desired reality to reach the desired outcome.
"I bid you go now. Succeed. But I leave you with two things to consider. First, time travel is more straight-forward than splitting realities. Indeed, often, you cannot do the latter without first performing the former. And finally, remember your tanden. Though you take them in your hearts wherever and whenever you go, sometimes they simplify the process..."