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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11. The Night Before

         Tobias was up with the light as usual, and as usual Akiko and Chihiro were up before he. They were tending to the stove, preparing some eggs from their neighbors. Tobias instantly recognized the smell - Food Plop Lady made them every day for breakfast.
         He swept around the kitchen looking for rodents. He knew Akiko liked when he cleaned out the shrine especially. These days it was getting harder to find them; they were getting less brave by the day. He would often here them chattering in the walls and would whack it with his paw to silence them.
         This would often make him smile, even if it was only mentally. He felt, if only for a moment, that he had the most power any living thing could ever have.
         And then he would raise his leg and walk away.
         Well, the last part he had to revise. Food Plop Lady had caught him in the act once and sent him out in the rain. After that he deigned to rubbing his paws or face on the spot, marking it with his glands in those areas. This proved much more effective anyway.
         Having inspected the shrine, he raced back to wake Hitoshi. It was time for him to go outside and find food there. It was much more of a challenge to get his own food every morning, but he was beginning to like it. Perhaps he would skip breakfast when he finally got home and run about in the yard for whatever he could find.
         The boy was still abed, which was to be expected. It was strange Akiko hadn't woken him yet. Perhaps she was still worried about their talk last night.
         He was about to wake his human up when he heard Chihiro and Akiko talking the next room over. His ears perked up and he peered around the corner from where he has just dashed through, unnoticed.
          "If he wishes to fight for us and Choshu, why can he not?" it was Chihiro, who sounded very uncharacteristically mature. Akiko seemed to notice this, because she looked at Chihiro, then opened her mouth to reply, but closed it again, as if what she was about to say got caught on her tongue.
         After a few seconds of seeming to think over her reply, the older woman finally spoke. "Hito-kun is only sixteen. The other men are much older," she said, chosing her words carefully.
          "Not by much," Chihiro offered. "Most of them are twenty or so."
         Akiko sighed. Maybe she was right. He was sixteen already, but only just.
         A yawn behind him alerted Tobias that his human was waking up. He mewed at Hitoshi and rubbed against his face so that the hair would get in his mouth, both fulfilling the need to get his attention and wake him up faster. It was a technique that he used on Food Plop Lady quite a lot.
         Hitoshi spat up cat hair and grumbled. If Tobias could grin ear to ear, he would have done it right now. Instead, he mewed and purred loudly. Then, when Hitoshi simply rolled over, he climbed on the boy's head and sat meatloaf style.
          "Tobi-kun!" Hitoshi bellowed, pushing the cat off and sitting up. "Sometimes I…!"
          "Oh, you're up," Akiko observed, peering around the corner. "We need some more wood. The cold weather is really killing our wood supply."
         Hitoshi grumbled and stretched. As he began rolling up his futon, Tobias mewed at him.
          "Shut up, bakaneko," he growled.
          "Why are you in such a bad mood today?" Akiko asked from the kitchen. "Tobias has been pacing around for twenty minutes waiting for you!"
          "Sometimes he makes me want to throw him outside," the boy sighed.
          "I think that's what he wants right now anyway," Akiko stated. Chihiro smiled in amusement, to which the older woman smiled in response.
         Hitoshi hid a smile and opened the sliding wooden door to allow his annoying feline friend outside. He followed after the excited cat to collect wood from the pile. Tobias raced off after a mouse, which ended quickly and was in his stomach before Hitoshi could carry the first load inside.
          "That was fast," the boy commented. He slid the door open with a foot and set the wood down next to the stove.
          "I wish we could find out more about those strange samurai at least," he said to Tobias as he walked outside for more wood. "No one seems to know anything about them or where they came from."
         Tobias searched through anything he could remember about the orb, but nothing of use came up. He was annoyed the orb didn't send him more information. Maybe it malfunctioned, or was too far away. He knew that sometimes things had to be close to work, like the television and the black rectangle with all the colored buttons that turned it on.
         Hitoshi and Tobias both entered with the last load of wood at the same time. The boy sat it down next to the stove with a grunt as his mother set some bowls on the table. She filled each one with rice and placed a single egg on top.
          "What's the occassion?" Hitoshi asked. Eggs were not a rare occurrence, but it was usually a special day when they got some for breakfast.
         Akiko looked at her son as if she had accused her of something. "Why do I need a reason to serve my family a nice breakfast?" she asked, mocking offense. She placed the spoon back into the rice pot and sat down at the head of the table.
         Hitoshi raised an eyebrow, but didn't question the treat, eating much slower than the day before. He added a dash of soy sauce to his bowl and ate in silence.
          "Well, there is something," Akiko finally said, setting her chopsticks down. She looked at Hitoshi, who was in mid-bite. He looked up, slowly chewing his breakfast. "I've been thinking about what you said. You want to fight, which I expected. I know you are no longer a child, but you are not yet an adult."
         Hitoshi swallowed his rice and opened his mouth to protest, but Akiko stopped him. "So I must ask you, if you plan to fight, which I know you will, please be careful. I worry enough about you every day as it is."
         With a massive grin on his face, Hitoshi leaped up and gave his mother a hug. "Thank you, Okaa-san!" He bowed low and thanked her again. Chihiro giggled in excitement.
          "Now before you race off, I have something Otou-san would have wanted you to have." A lump rose in her throat, but she ignored it. Hideki was alive. She wasn't going to think otherwise.
         She went to the closet that stood near the far wall in the main room. The two children followed, Hitoshi with an eager expression, and Chihiro with a gleeful one. In the closet stood a large case that Hitoshi had seen hundreds of times before, but never opened.
          "Otou-san always had a secret he made me promise to never tell you," she said, slowly opening the case. The doors swung outward, creaking loudly with disuse. "But it turned out, no matter what we did to discourage it, you still wanted to be a samurai."
         Hitoshi looked at his mother, confused. "What does that have to do with anything?" he asked quietly.
          "The secret he made me keep was," she said, slowly opening the case. What was inside took the siblings' breath away, "that he had once been a samurai himself."
         The case revealed this to be true, to say the least. Hanging inside was a round chest piece the color of new tree bark, a set of full arm guards of the same color, two blakc shoulder guard, an armored and sturdy hakama, two knee and shin guards, and a helmet that reminded Hitoshi of a roaring lion. On the top of the helment sat a small golden-color demon head with a set of intimidating horns and a set of small ears.
         Hitoshi gasped and took a step back. "Otou-san was a samurai?"
          "Where to you think he got that katana and wakizashi, silly boy?" she asked, tapping his cheek with her palm.
          "I-I don't know," he stammered.
         Akiko grinned. She reached into the case and pulled out the shoulder guards, the arm guards, and the shin guards.
          "Make sure you use these," she explained. "I think these are all that you could wear right now. I'll make sure you can wear the other pieces when you get a bit taller."
         Tobias had been watching the entire time, not wholly sure what was going on. He did know what exactly was happening, but he wasn't sure what this display of emotion was for. It appeared that Akiko was giving Hitoshi something to protect him from battle, which was good, but Hitoshi's excitement was rather unwarranted, at least in his feline mind.
         Perhaps it was just his lack of perspective.
         He approached the armor as Hitoshi began putting it on. He had set the leg guards on the floor, so Tobias began to sniff it. It smelled of old sweat and leather. There was a layer of metal on the outside, which smelled a little like the mechanical samurai, but much less sinister. They also didn't smell like a car. He rubbed his facial glands on them to show that he approved.
          "Tobi-kun seems to like them," Chihiro giggled, rubbing the cat's head. Tobias looked up at her and purred. He sent a picture of the armor to Hitoshi and a question mark, hoping the boy would understand.
         He did. "Tobias, this is armor. It will keep me from being hurt in battle," he explained, looking down at the cat.
          "Do you think he understands?" Akiko asked, slightly amused.
          "I know he does!" Hitoshi exclaimed, fitting on the rest of the armor. He put the wakizashi into his belt, which he had taken to carrying around ever since his father had given it to him.
          "Now, I won't give you the katana," Akiko explained, enduring the look of dissappointment on his face, "yet." She raised an eyebrow at him. "But I will give you this," she finsihed, handing him a bow that matched the armor's color. A small quiver with a few arrows accompanied it, which she gave to him, too. "I don't think you can handle a katana well enough just yet, but a bow and quiver should do nicely." She appeared to pause in thought, and then extraced a black chest guard made of a quilted material. "It's not a full guard, but it should at least protect you a little," she said, handing him the piece. "If I gave you the full chest piece, I'm afraid you wouldn't be able to move."
         She sighed, lookign rather worried. Tobias rubbed agaisnt her legs, which surprised her. It was almost as if he sensed she was not feeling well. She looked back at her son, her brow once again furrowed with worry. "Remember, I'm only doing this because Hideki would have if he was here," she admitted. "I do not wish to see my only son put in harm's way."
          "Don't worry, Okaa-san," she assured her, slipping the chest guard on. "I'll stay near the back away from the action."
          "That makes me feel a whole lot better," she said with a hint of sarcasm. She stood and watched her son finish up the straps and smile like a boy on his birthday. "Well, what are you waiting for, silly boy?" she asked, rapping him on the shoulder. "Get out there and do what you have always wanted to!"
         He nodded, slipping on the boots that matched the guards. They were just tall enough so the knee covers ended right in the perfect spot. With that, he was gone, Tobias right on his tail.
          "He's coming back right?" Chihiro asked, looking at her mother.
          "He better. They don't leave for another two days!" Akiko chuckled. "Just let him have his fun for now." They both chuckled, watching from the window as he leapt about like a giddy school boy.
         The next few days went quickly for Hitoshi. He kept busy, doing his chores and tasks his mother asked him to, as well as cooking, cleaning, and helping the men in the village prepare bows and make sure everyone had decent armor. It kepts his busy enough that he was asleep as soon as the sun set in the evening.
         Akiko had never seen her son so passionate about anything. She was both proud and scared at the same time. He was growing up more and more every day, but that also meant he was going off to war.
         At moments, she would find herself crying without meaning to. She would often catch herself and wipe her face before Chihiro or Hitoshi could see. At these moments, her mind filled with angry thoughts. Why can't someone else rescue Hideki-kun? Why does it have to be our son? But, deep down, she always knew it would come to this, from the moment her husband had been taken.
         In the end, she clenched her jaw against her pain and bore it like a woman should - silent and stoic. She couldn't help but flash images of Hideki in her mind: his death, dying in a fight, having to bury him…sometimes it was all too much.
         She continued to read and tell stories to the both of them, as she always did when they were worried, when they would listen. Often it was Chihiro that requested a story before bed and Hitoshi that would complain.
         But this evening, Hitoshi was the one that asked.
         It was the last night before he was to go fight and they were all wrapped in their blankets, sitting atop their futons. A small sat candle burning on a holder, the only light in the room right now..
          "Tell the story about the dragon and the prince," Hitoshi requested, his eyes full of excitement, but shaded with doubt. Akiko could see the shadows in his eyes and patted her futon so he would come and sit next to her, something she usually asked Akiko to do. But tonight, it was his turn. Chihiro smiled and held her blankets close, appearing much like a cocoon.
         Hitoshi, his blankets around his shoulders, moved slowly to his mother's side. She wrapped her arm around his shoulders and he smiled a little.
          "Alright, I will tell of the the arrogant Prince and his hunt for the dragon jewel," she said as if she were an announcer or reading right from a book. She had told them the story hundreds of times before, but it never got old to any of them.
          "There once was a prince named Prince Lofty. He was very rich, but very coward. Whenever he wanted something, especially if it was far away or in a place full of danger, he would ask one of his men to get it. Sometimes they did get it and bring it to Prince Lofty, but other times they simply did not return.
          "One day, Prince Lofty heard stories of a jewel held by a dragon. The jewel was the most beautiful jewel in the world and he wanted to give it to the princess who was to be his wife. To prepare for the jewel, he ordered a palace be built for the princess for her to live and keep the jewel safe. Then he called his men forward and spoke to them.
          "'There is a jewel called the dragon jewel,' he explained. 'I wish to have it for the princess. Here, take this gold and go forth to buy supplies. Then set out and find me the jewel. If you come back with it, you shall have rewards beyond your wildest dreams.'
          "Some of the men just took the money and never left the city. Some of them men said they would go, but never did. Still others ran away with the money. But, none of them went to seek the dragon, for they knew the dragon would destroy them. Prince Lofty waited and waited. He waited for a whole year, but none of his men returned. He began to grow very angry.
          "'Why have none of my men returned?' Prince Lofty bellowed. 'This will not do! I must go and find the jewel myself!' He called to the men that were left and said to them 'The men I sent out to find the jewel have no returned! I must go myself to find it for the princess. Who will come with me?'
          "But no men volunteered, for they, too, were scared the dragon would destroy them. Prince Lofty was very angry and commanded them to go. The men knew better than to defy their prince, but they were all very scared to go anyway."
Hitoshi looked up at his mother, the same fear she was speaking about mirrored in his eyes.
          "But instead of being scared, they knew they had to do this, so they all gathered on the prince's boat, hope and fear in their hearts," she reassured him. He seemed to brighten up a little, so she continued.
          "At first, Prince Lofty was brave. He commanded the ship like a good prince, even when the sky got dark. But soon a storm began to brew, with rains and lighting and thunder, and Prince Lofty's courage began to fail him. He run into the cabin and hid in his bed, wrapping in many blankets.
          "His men began to laugh at him. How was he to kill the dragon and get the jewel in its neck if he was too scared to face a storm? He shouted at them angrily.'Be silent or I shall shoot an arrow through your heads!' he commanded. But they did not stop laughing, for they knew coward Prince Lofty could not even lift a bow, let alone shoot any of them.
          "The days passed and the storm did not subside. Three days later, Prince Lofty had had enough. 'Let me set on any land you come to!' he begged the captain. 'I will stay there and never leave again!'
          "The captain did not argue. As soon as they came to land, he beached the ship and let the prince off. The prince kissed the ground and stayed, just like he promised. This island was Japan. As for the palace Prince Lofty had built, it remained back in his kingdom. It never recieved the jewel or the princess he promised, and became the home to birds, bats, and other animals alike."
          "The end!" Chihiro said in stereo with her mother.
          "Now we must all get to sleep. Tomorrow is an important day," Akiko said, ruffling her sons' hair. Tobias mewed. He had been listening as well, and found it rather interesting. AKiko ruffled his hair as well. "Now go," she shooed her son. "You must rest!"
          "Oyasumi, Okaa-san," he said, rolling over in his futon.
          "Oyasumi, Hito-kun. Oyasumi," she replied.

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