Jefferson Society, Georgetown, DC, 20XX
Sheila thrust her Bo staff forward in the final strike and finished her Kata. Bowing, took her final position, facing west. Her posture erect, she trembled slightly; the black Gi clung to her skin and the red dragons on her sleeves were dark with sweat. Right hand holding the staff upright, her left formed an open blade hand extended forward in challenge. The toes of her black leather shoes were aligned with a red stripe that marked the position of the beginning and the end of the Kata. Master Yamashima sat silent in a lotus position on the edge of the tatami mat opposite her. The blue, cushioned floor stretched away behind her across the dojo to the wood-framed walls. He had watched Sheila perform the violent yet fluid attacks and defenses, whirling, spinning, striking, and blocking. “Guard the Mountain Staff” training form had been arduous, but she had completed all fifty-four movements flawlessly. The surrounding dojo still rang with the sound of Sheila’s final Kia; it reverberated off the high walls and ceiling above them and no doubt echoed through all the floors above in the Jefferson Society building.
Sheila watched as Yamashima rose to his feet in one smooth motion, his black and red silk Gi shimmering with his movement, reflecting the sunlight from the skylights high above the dojo as he approached her. At five-eleven, Sheila towered over the small man. His accent unmistakably Japanese, Yamashima’s voice was commanding, but somehow kind as well. “Good, Sheila. I found your Kata most acceptable. We will move next to the Katana for your sword forms.”
Sheila placed her staff on the long wall rack that held staffs, swords and smaller hand weapons and retrieved her Katana. She paused briefly to regard the white cranes on the long scroll that hung above the rack, then walked smoothly back to the floor mat, striving to make her motion graceful, confident. She slid the long sword into the black belt of her Gi and took an open, resting stance. Breathing slowed, she stood, every muscle taut, body charged with energy from the Kata. Holding her body and mind in a balance of outer tension, inner calm, she waited, unmoving, for a long moment, then spoke. “Master, may I ask a question?”
“Of course you may, Sheila.”
“Proteus said there were five warriors, but two were presumed dead. Darake has answered the call so that ought to make four living warriors, counting Jack and Masato. But one is still unnamed. I asked Proteus to identify the fourth, but he told me that I should speak to you first.”
Yamashima smiled at her. “That is as it should be since the fourth warrior is my student and friend.”
Sheila sensed movement behind her. Turning her head she saw a very large man moving across the other side of the dojo floor. His gait seemed effortless, fluid but somehow strange; he walked with his heels raised and his weight forward on his toes as if in the midst of a Kata or training form. His arms, held stiffly downward, were unmoving. His large, powerful-looking hands were held close at his sides. He looked neither left nor right, holding his body rigid as he crossed the shining wooden floor beyond the mat. His walk reminded Sheila of her sister Joan’s autistic son. When he reached a set of double doors at the other end of the dojo, he turned and gazed at her for a moment. As his eyes found hers, Sheila felt her pulse leap and a slight tremor shake her shoulders. He looked Chinese or Tibetan, she thought. Long, straight black hair hung to his shoulders, and bangs brushed a jagged red scar that seared his forehead. She thought he wore his black Gi, trimmed in white, like a second skin. Barefoot, he stepped through the doors and disappeared.
Sheila turned back to see Yamashima smiling and nodding. “Yes, it is time you met him. In the midst of all that has happened I thought it best to wait for a quiet moment. You have just seen Páihuái—the fourth warrior.”
Sheila broke her stance and stepped forward. “Who is Páihuái? Where did he come from? Why haven’t I seen or spoken to him before?”
Yamashima just smiled and nodded. “Patience, Sheila, all your questions will be answered in a few moments. Return your Katana to the rack. We will visit him now and you must carry no weapons. Come with me.”
Yamashima led Sheila across the dojo and through the double doors. Beyond lay a long wood-framed hall with a series of intersecting hallways and doors. At the end of the hall they passed through a set of large glass doors and out into an enclosed, sky-lighted garden. Proceeding in silence, they walked along a winding path of limestone pavers and gravel surrounded by bamboo, lush green plants, and the sounds of trickling water. The scent of lemon and gardenias filled the air. After a sharp turn through the bamboo, they reached a small Japanese house with a tall, arched roof and deep eaves. The little building stood on wooden columns atop flat stones. A Shoji-screened door framed with dark wooden posts and beams stood open.
A tiny brass bell sat on a low copper table by the door and Yamashima picked it up and rang it. Waiting until the low chime died away, he stepped through the door, motioning Sheila to follow. He spoke softly over his shoulder. “This is the home of Páihuái.”
Sheila found herself in a large room with a high-peaked ceiling supported by unfinished wood timbers. The walls were rice paper shoji screens. On a large hanging scroll Sheila saw white cranes on backgrounds of grey surrounded by the striking colors of pink blossoms and brilliant green leaves. Tatami mats covered the floor and a low mahogany table sat along one wall. It held a simple white ceramic vase with one single stalk of flowering hibiscus. Páihuái stood in the middle of the tranquil room with his back to Sheila and Yamashima, and large though the room was, he dwarfed it, making it feel small around her.
Yamashima spoke in a kind voice. “Páihuái, I have brought someone to meet you.”
Slowly Páihuái turned around. He stood silent, arms held tightly at his sides. He gazed into the distance over Yamashima’s right shoulder, his face expressionless.
Taking the cue, Sheila spoke quietly also. “Hello, Páihuái, I am Sheila Cartwright. I am pleased to meet you.” She held out her hand to him.
At the first sound of her voice he stiffened. Then she saw him shiver, as if a chill had run through him. He slowly raised both his hands and took hers and held it between his two great palms. Then he looked down at her. His lustrous dark brown eyes found hers and the startling depth of his gaze swept her away. She felt a great surge of warm energy wash over her and through her, a surge of compassion and caring unlike any she had ever known. As she stood there transfixed, Sheila felt engulfed and bathed in continuing waves of love and acceptance.
After long moments, Páihuái withdrew his gaze, focusing again over her head, and released her hand, his arms dropping once more to his sides. Sheila felt faint and stumbled, but Yamashima caught her arm.
Yamashima’s voice was hushed. “He has never done that before with anyone. He has recognized something in you. I am very surprised. We will leave him for now.” Yamashima bowed slightly, extending his hands forward, the left palm covering his right fist. “Goodbye, Páihuái, we will come back soon.”
Páihuái sat down on the tatami mat, half-lotus, his eyes straight ahead, as if to wait.
Yamashima led Sheila back through the lush garden. He stopped amidst the green stalks of bamboo that lined the path and turned to face her. “Are you all right, Sheila?”
“Yes, but I don’t have any idea what just happened.” She turned to look back at Páihuái’s open door. “I’ve never felt such pure unmitigated love from any other person. Not even my parents. No, wait, cancel that. I should have said especially not my parents. Who is he? Where did he come from?”
Yamashima led her further along the path. He stopped beside a small pool and stood watching the Koi gather, hoping for food, their mouths cresting the water. “I found him ten years ago in a remote mountain village in China near the Tibetan border where I had gone to study White Crane Kung Fu with a reclusive Shaolin monk.” Yamashima told her that Páihuái meant wanderer; he had been found wandering among mountain villages. The people of the villages had fed him and cared for him since they discovered him wandering alone in the mountains. They had come to revere him as a kind of silent saint. When Yamashima finished his studies with the monk and started back on the mountain path, Páihuái had followed him.
“I led him back when I discovered him; I thought the old man must have need of him. However, the old monk had sent him after me, believing it to be Páihuái’s destiny.” Yamashima told Sheila he had seen several similarities to Masato in him, like Páihuái’s great size, of course. So he brought him here to Proteus. Later Páihuái’s tests revealed that he was indeed one of those whose DNA had been altered by the Acherons, even though there had been no previous report of alien mines in China or Tibet. But Páihuái’s existence raised the question of alien presence, and the area in question was vast.
Yamashima reached out and touched her arm affectionately. His low voice carried an unusual urgency. “I want you to understand that something extraordinary just happened. Until just now, only the old monk and I have received that full, open sharing of love and oneness with Páihuái. He has taken you to be his friend, a rare and infinitely valuable thing. Please visit him again this evening, and talk to him as you would to me. He will be silent for he has never, to my knowledge, uttered a sound, but do not think for a moment that he is mentally slow, he is not. He will not reply, so simply sit and talk to him or just sit.”
“But what do I talk about?”
“Calm your mind. The right words will come. I think you will find that he is with you now, and always.”
Sheila stood quite still and mentally pictured Páihuái sitting as she had left him. Then she felt a sudden clarity of thought, as if a veil inside of her mind had been pulled aside. She sensed that Páihuái was there just below the surface of her conscious thought. At the same time she began to hear a low musical tone, like a quiet, wooden flute holding a sustained note, and then the tone faded and grew quieter, but did not entirely disappear.
Sheila answered Yamashima. “I have never had an experience like this, Master. I feel his presence in my mind. I hear him, not thoughts, but a quiet sound, like music. It feels strange, but comforting somehow. What’s happened? Am I imagining this? Is this real?”
“Yes, Sheila, it is real. Páihuái is capable of a powerful empathy, a kind of psychic harmony. I don’t know why, but he has chosen you, joined with you as he did with his old master and with me.”