Time Cat: An American Feline in Edo

Tobias is just an average black cat. Well, almost black - he has a white sock on his left rear foot and a white patch under his nose. One day while exploring the yard of his Human, he comes across a curious glowing orb. He begins to investigate it and inadvertently activates it, creating a rip in the very fabric of reality. Much to his dismay, he is sucked into the rip and carried through time and space to an era much earlier than his own. Now he must track this orb across time and space in order to activate it and bring him back home. Don't forget my author page: tinyurl.com/anrisarynfb

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17. Setting Off

         Hitoshi was up before the sun. Tobias was awoken by the boy's quick movements and stretched in response.
         The boy leapt up and slipped into a simple pair of trousers and a tunic. His socks at least kept his feet warm as he hopped around getting dressed. He washed his face in the kitchen bowl from well water. It was icy cold. He shivered audibly.
          "Is that you, Hito-kun?" His mother's voice was quiet, but the shimmering light of a candle followed. She peered around the corner and spotted him lighting the stove. "Oh, well you're up early."
         Hitoshi smiled at her and blew on the embers. The wood left in the stove caught instantly.
          "Today is going to be a lucky day," he said. "Even the embers agree."
         Akiko placed the candle on the table and stretched. A spider crawled across the table and she smiled as well.
          "A spider in the morning means good luck," she stated. Hitoshi turned just in time to catch sight of the critter before it dissappeared into a knot hole in the wood.
          "See, Okaa-san? Things are going to be terrific," Hitoshi said with a wide grin.
          "Good, now go fetch some wood," she added, pointing out the door with her thumb.
         The air outside was colder than he expected. Tobias on his heels, he paced over to the wood pile, wishing he had worn something warmer.
          "Today's the day, Tobi-kun," Hitoshi said to the feline. "We get to leave and rescue Otou-san."
          Tobias mewed and scratched at a piece of wood. A small bug crawled out and he swatted at it. Hitoshi picked up the piece of wood, glancing at Tobias.
           "Are you ready?" he asked.
          Tobias looked at the boy and tilted his head. As much as he wanted to get out of this cold place, he was going to miss Hitoshi. He sent a picture of himself rubbing against the boys legs and the feelings that went along with it.
           "I'll miss you, too, you silly cat," Hitoshi grinned, rubbing Tobias' head. Tobias purred loudly and the two went back to the only slightly warmer house.
           "I don't know what I will do when you leave today," Akiko sighed as he entered. She was heating up some rice and three eggs for them.
           "You won't have anyone to carry in the wood for you every morning," Hitoshi said playfully. Akiko looked at him as if she would have given him a good wack for being a smart aleck, but all her hands were busy cooking. Hitoshi chuckled.
           "Chihiro! Breakfast!" Akiko called.
          That was Tobias' signal. He dashed over to the door and carefully slid it open with one of his front paws just enough for himself to escape. It was his own breakfast time.
           "That cat surprises me more and more every day," Akiko said, shaking her head as she served up three bowls of rice and topped each one with an egg.
          Everyone was waking up now. The sun was just peeking over the horizon. Though not many were actually outside, Tobias spotted a few silhouettes on the eastern side of the village. The sound of armor was accompanied by chatter and a few sobs. Some of the women were growing worried over their sons and husbands.
          However, it was not just the men that were getting ready. A group of women gathered near the northern part of the village center. Some were dressed in light armor while others donned full samurai regalia. He sat and watched them as they checked each other's straps and weapons.
          Men began to filter into the square to join these women. Some were confused, other please, and one or two were angry, but they were soon quieted by the need they all had. The more the better, no matter the gender.
          Having not seen anything edible skittering around the village, Tobias decided the small copse of trees he had hidden in when he first came might be a better spot to look. He sniffed around the undergrowth beneath the cypress trees and picked up a strange scent. Well, it wasn't all that strange, just a little different than the mice he was used to smelling. He followed the trail and soon enough, he was on top of the vole.
          Breakfast was served.
          The village was beginning to awaken more now. The square was filling with more and more people, all clad in various pieces and style of armor. He raced back to the house, somewhat curious if Hitoshi was ready. The sooner they could get moving, the sooner Tobias could find his orb. He was saddened by the thought again that he would have to leave this boy, but this was not his time, nor his place.
          He had to go home. He missed his Food Plop Lady.
           "Just these left, then," he heard Akiko say as he slid the door back again. "Oh, Chihiro, can you close the door behind Tobi-kun? I don't think he's figured out how to do that yet," she added.
          Chihiro went to close it and scracthed Tobias' head in greeting. The cat purred and raised his tail, then raced over to Hitoshi.
           "Not yet, Tobi-kun," Hitoshi said, glancing at him. "We leave as soon as the final call is sounded."
           "Not yet, what?" Chihiro asked, tilting her head.
           "Oh, Tobias wants to know when we are leaving," Hitoshi replied, ajudsting his chest strap.
           "Does he want you gone that bad?" she giggled.
           "No, he's coming with me."
"He is?" Akiko asked, looking up from adjusting his leg armor.
           "Of course. He needs to find the orb and go home." Hitoshi spoke matter-of-factly, as if there was clearly no other answer.
           "What are you talking about?" Akiko blinked.
           "Too complicated to explain," the boy said simply, picking up his bow and quiver. He kissed his mother on the cheek and hugged her. "Wish me luck," he added.
          Chihiro raced over and hugged her older brother. "I'll pray to the ancestors for you every day," she said excitedly.
           "And to the protector kami," Akiko added, also hugging him.
           "Don't worry, we'll look out for each other," Hitoshi nodded.
           "You and the cat?" Akiko said, raising her eyebrows.
           "That's right!" Hitoshi said, finally buckling the wakizashi to his hip. Akiko opened her mouth to protest, but Hitoshi was already gone.
           "Amaterasu save us," she breathed. "That boy will make fools of us all."
           "Oh no, he forgot the mochi!" Chihiro gasped. "Hito-kun!" she cried, racing to the porch and waving furiously. He hadn't gotten far. Within a few seconds, he was back on the porch in less than a minute.
           "You forgot this!" she exclaimed, handing him a small cloth tied into the shape of a bag.
           "And this," Akiko added, handing him another bag that was much larger than the first. When Hideki looked at her confused, she explained. "Ayumaki from me, and mochi from Chi-chan."
          He bowed low in thanks and hugged them again.
           "Watch yourself," Akiko warned him. "Come back in one piece, okay?"
           "I promise I will!" he said as he raced off, Tobias running right on behind him.

           "Hey, it's the kid and his cat!"
          Hitoshi entered the square. It was packed with armored men and women. A few familiar faces were visible, but the rest were covered in masks.
           "Hey, Hitoshi-san," a man smiled at him. "Good to see you here."
          -san, Hitoshi thought. He called me Hitoshi-san. He grinned widely, so much so that Tobias felt a wave of happiness. He looked up at the boy and mewed.
           "Watanabe's here!" another called. It was a boy about his own age. He had smiling eyes and was dressed in only light armor, but it was all dyed red in spirit of the battle and was their daimyo's color.
           "Fujioka? Fujioka Taijo?" Hitoshi blinked. 
           "That's me," the other boy nodded. He put an arm around Hitoshi's shoulder. "Come and join the best samurai."
           "The best?" huffed an older man. "You kids are bareley old enough to hold a katana!"
           "Hey, we're on the same side here, Ojii-san," Fujioka frowned.
           "Back in my day…" the older man started, but then stopped and grinned at the pair of boys.
           "Oh, shush now, Ojii-san!" Hitoshi said playfully and raced off after Fujioka.
          Tobias had never seen so many armored people before. In fact, he had never seen any armor humans before, except on the moving picture box that Food Plop Lady turned on sometimes. There, they had been men in big silver helmets and shining suits on horses. But these men and women were not like that at all. In fact, a lot of the armor they word was homemade.
           "You brought your cat?" Fujioka asked, rather put off.
           "Well, I promised to take him," Hitoshi explained.
           "Promised who?
           "Him," Hitoshi answered, nodding toward Tobias.
           "You promised a cat you would take him to war?" Fujioka frowned. "Are you all there in the head?"
           "Yes I am," Hitoshi smiled and punched his friend in the shoulder jokingly.
           "I was just checking, seeing as you talk to cats now," he whispered the last words so only they could hear.
           "He's a lot smarter than you think!" Hitoshi protested.
           "If you say so!"
          The other boys in the group were all about the same age. Hitoshi recognized them from their classes. There was Fukuda Arata, the one with long hair tied in a small half-bun behind his head; the rest of the hair just flowed like a dark cloak until his shoulder blades. His face was tough, but friendly as he greeted Hitoshi.
          Serizawa Daisuke was taller than the rest of them and very muscular. His hair was trimmed to his shoulders, but flowed freely in the breeze. He bowed very low, grinning plafully at his classmate, then thumped Hitoshi on the back with a smile. He was rather strong, as Hitoshi remember, but deathly honest and down to earth.
         Fujita Taro was the shortest both in height and in hair. But his eyes betrayed his real might. He had been trained with his siblings his whole life. His father owned a dojo right on the other side of town, and they lived there as well, training those in the village that could pay in a small string of copper coins or produce. Hitoshi had always felt that Choshu was better off for the Fujita's dojo and wish he had spent more time there.
         Shirakawa Hachiro was last. He was about Hitoshi's height, but probably the smartest student in lessons. He was always quick on the uptake, be it in battle or in school. He bowed slightly in greeting and grinned. He had a twinkle in his eye that Hitoshi knew meant he was studying him. It made him feel a bit uneasy, but he was still happy to have a familiar face around.
         If this fight was not going on, they would be back in lessons by now. Not that Hitoshi was protesting. He didn't much like lessons, but they were necessary. Mori-sama himself made them mandatory.
          "Is everyone prepared?" A samurai wearing the daimyo's color's stood in front of all the people. A cheer rose; everyone was in good spirits. After a few moments, he quieted them down. "Is Mori-sama ready?" he asked, peering toward the daimyo's house. 
         Takachika appeared, wearing a complete armor set, complete with warlord mask, and flanked by two samurai. He lifted the mask and looked over the gathered.
          "I dare say we are ready!" he shouted, raising a fist in the air.
          "Mori-sama is coming?" Hitoshi whispered to Taijo.
          "Of course! He wouldn't miss this for all the oban in Edo," Taijo whsipered back.
"And I'm sure Edo has a lot of oban," Hitoshi added with a chuckle.

         The pace was slow at first. The men and women of the village had to pull carts if supplies, which Tobias found a very nice way to travel. Hitoshi had placed his own food in one of the carts by kind permission of the heavy-set men pulling them. Takachika explained they would march to the sea and set up camp to wait for the Satsuma forces who were already on their way.
         The weather was still chilly and a small dusting of snow littered the ground. The path was worn hard from people traveling it. It was ironic that it had been mostly used by the bakufu for the last few years. Now their downfall would be using the same road.
         Hitoshi walked at an easy pace. He was surprised he was able to keep up so well. Perhaps all the chopping wood had paid off. He watched as Tobias bounded in and out of the people, curious about the new surroundings. There were so many new smells, new sounds, and new everything to keep him entranced for quite some time. Hitoshi chuckled at the image before him.
         In fact, Tobias was exploring everything, but more importantly, he was sniffing the people. He wanted to learn the Choshu scent well enough so he could recognize them if things got hairy. He realized he had made a pun and chuckled mentally at himself. Hairy…he could be a cat comedian.
         Most of the people shared similar scents - smoke, fish, embers. It was the same as the Satsuma. He wondered what the people in Edo smelled like. Were they all like the samurai - metallic and cold? What a strange place Edo might be if that were true.
         He raced along the shore, his paws making small prints in the sand. He didn't like sand much. It made him think he was in a giant litter box. He raced back to the cat and leapt in, allowing the sound of the wheels to distract him. He wondered how long they would travel. Perhaps a day? Three days? A week? Perhaps more?
         The sun was high in the sky now. They had been marching for quite some time. Strangely, though, it seemed not many of them were tired. An older man had stopped walking and was hitching a ride on one of the carts that were pulled by the strong men. He looked at the sky wistfully as if thinking back on days long gone. He looked down at his wrinkled hands. Tobias wondered if he would fight well in the battle to come.
         Hitoshi's mind, however, was in a different place. He looked over at his peers, all silently walking next to him. There was other chatter about, but the boys of his group were silent. His mind wandered to his mother and sister, wondering what they were doing right now. His mother would be on the loom now, the cooking and cleaning of the morning done. 
         Perhaps she would have chopped wood herself. It was an odd sight, but not an uncommon one, to see a woman doing the task. Especially if she was in her kimono. Every time she would swing the ax upward, her robe would flutter like a butterfly on the breeze. Maybe she had taught Chihiro to do it so she could get back to her loom or novel, or even her paintings, which she did so rarely these days, Hitoshi had forgotten about them.
         His mind wandered back to the new year celebration, just a week and a half ago. What had he wished for? He couldn't even recall. It seemed years ago having felt just like a child, and now he was a man marching off to war. That wasn't to say he was sad to have left that feeling. He was glad he was able to do something instead of just sitting around and waiting.
         He wondered how his mother thought of this. She had always commented on how he was growing up too fast. He could see the worry in her eyes as he dashed away from the house this morning, nearly forgetting his sister's gift.
         Mochi, he thought, picturing the round and delicious dumplings in his mind. Tobias must have caught wind of this thought, because the feline poked his head out of the cart. Hitoshi smiled. If if hadn't been for that silly cat, he didn't think he would have had to nerve to set out on this trek.
         The day went on slowly, and chatter was rampant throughout the group. Hitoshi was more a listener, which wasn't a bad thing, at least not to him. He was well informed on much more than people supposed simply because he was a good listener.
         Picking up the lose end of conversations, he learned that someone had brought along some steamed buns. He made a mental note to ask for a trade. Perhaps a bun for a couple mochi. He also learned that many people were actually father, son, and even daughter pairs or groups. This shouldn't have surprised him, but it did simply because he didn't think it wise to have the family line compromised like that.
         Why was he even thinking that? Of course all the men would come….
         He shook his head, trying to overcome his wandering mind.
          "Are you alright over there, Watanabe?" Taijo asked looked over at his friend.
          "Yeah, sorry," Hitoshi nodded. "A little tired I suppose."
          "We're only halfway there," the other boy chuckled. "You can't be tired already."
         Hitoshi rubbed the back of his neck as the other boys chuckled. 
          "Don't worry, we'll be there by nightfall," Taijo said, thumping him on the back.
         And, in fact, they were. As the sun set, Takachika had them all stop. He held up his hangs and spoke in a booming voice, telling them that they would rest here for the night. Hitoshi was not one to protest. Fires popped up around the camp and tents were erected to protect the troops from the cold night.
         Chatter circled the fire rings. Hitoshi and his peers joined one amid the talking and joined in rather quickly.
          "It's good to see young men like yourself here," one woman said with a smile. She was thin as a rake, but her eyes were full of fire. A man next to her, who was only a bit larger than her, and which was presumably her husband, gave her a nudge. She looked at him and stuck out her tongue.
          "Don't mind Natsuko here," the man said. "She's a little strange."
          "You aren't any better," she said grinning at him.
          "There are many women here," Hitoshi said, spotting his boxes nearby. He stood up to retrieve them as Natsuko answered.
          "My brother here may be an idiot, but at least he knows we women can fight just as good as the men," she said with a nod.
          "She's got that right," the man replied. "I've never beaten her in a sparring match." Hitoshi looked at him as if trying to recignoze where he had seen him before.
          "Oh, she's your sister, okay," one of the boys said. He got a violent nudge from another of them.
          "Shush, Shirakawa!"
          "What?"
         The woman grinned. "That's my youngest brother right there, defending my honor as usual."
         The first boy blushed in embarassment.
          "Sorry, I did not introduce myself!" the man sitting next to Natsuko said. He bowed as best he could whilst sitting down. "Fujita Danno. And you already know my sister's name, but the youngest over there is Taro."
          "I knew I recognized you," Hitoshi said with a grin of recognition. "Taro-kun is in my class."
          "Well, see, we aren't complete strangers," Danno nodded. As he said this, a few men approached the fire, each carrying a small string of shore fish.
          "Dinner?" one said, offering his string. In his other hand he carried a few sticks to heat up the meal.
          "I would be honored!" Danno exclaimed, gratefully taking a fish. He handed another to Hitoshi, who stuck it on a stick just like the older man.
          "Did you hear?" Natsuko asked between bites of fish. "Apparently the shogun is behind all of these kidnappings."
          "You're kidding," Daisuke said disbelievingly. His mouth was full of fish, and it was hanging open, displaying his dinner to everyone. Taro rolled his eyes and reached over to push his jaw closed.
          "It's true! I got word straight from Edo!" Natsuko nodded.
          "And who told you they got it from there? Miyume?" Danno chuckled. "You know she's chock full of gossip!"
          "No, I heard it all around! Everyone is talking about it!"
          "If that's true," Hitoshi piped up, "then what does he plan to do with all the people?"
"I heard he turns them into those invincible samurai," Natsuko said in a whisper.
         The whole group was silent for a moment, everyone leaning in still as if trying to catch anything else she might whisper. Then, quiet suddenly, they all broke into laughter. Natsuko was not pleased.
          "It's true I tell you!" she insisted, raising her fish in the air. "One day you will all be sad you didn't listen to me!"
         The moon finally rose and people retreated into the tents. The group around the fire slowyl grew smaller as Hitoshi watched them all yawn and head to bed. Soon it was just Taijo and Hitoshi left.
         The boy sighed and looked at at the stars. Tomorrow was just the beginning. He felt something warm and furry brush against his hand and started.
         It was only Tobias. THe cat mewed and crawled into the boy's lap.
          "Why did you bring your cat?" Taijo asked, confused, but interested.
          "I told you," Hitoshi explained, stroking the cat's back. "I promised him."
          "I hope he doesn't get in the way of anything," Taijo said, looking at Tobias with a frown.
          "I think he'll be of more use than you think," Hitoshi smiled, nudging Taijo rather forcefully. His friend feigned pain, mouthing an "ow!"
          "Do you think we can do it?" Hitoshi asked, looking at the night sky. The stars sparkled like bits of silver on a black velvet robe.
          "Defeat the samurai and rescue everyone?" Taijo sniffed thoughtfully. "Of course we can. We're going to save everyone."
          "What do you think the shogun is doing kidnapping people?" Hitoshi asked quietly.
          "You believed her?" Taijo looked at him, a grin across his features.
          "It seemed like a plausible explanation," Hitoshi shrugged.
         Tobias looked up at the other boy. He seemed rather sure of himself, but there was doubt behind those eyes. That scent was all about him - the scent of peace. He had picked it out at the delegation easily, but here it was a it trickier with his mind full of new scents. But underneath the smell of fire and smoke, he caught it.
         Hitoshi looked down at the cat, raising an eyebrow curiously. A few stray thoughts had escaped and landed in his mind, but he didn't understand them.
          "You are a strange cat," he said. This recieved a strange expression from Taijo. "Oh, don't mind me."
          "You are a weird person," his freind said. "And I am going to sleep!"
          "Oyasumi," Hitoshi said with a grin.
         Soon Hitoshi, too, followed. He glanced around, spotting the watch fires that glowed sparsley around the emcampment. He noted that tomorrow he would volunteer to watch duty.
          "Let's go, you silly cat," he said standing up. Tobias, more than content to sit guard all night, stood up and raced away instead. "We're leaving tomorrow morning!" the boy hissed after him. "You better not be left behind!"

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