Wendy was out of breath. The humidity of the morning rivaled the worse days in New York and as she turned, she peered downward into the haze of the mountain. Below her were dozens of concrete steps, which she had recently took the past five minutes to climb. If she hadn't been so winded, Wendy would have taken notice of the green scenery surrounding her. Now that her legs didn't have to support herself – she sat down on the top step – she took one more deep breath and relented to observe what she saw around her. Behind her laid the shrine – silent, except for chimes that hung somewhere further within – an homage to the past of the island that was extended into the care of the Izumiōtsu dojo. Beyond the dojo, whose red roof could be seen through the leaves of the trees, Wendy could see the progression of a modernized Okinawa, until the blue hue of the ocean met the white horizon in the far distance.
Tawk's voice carried up the mountain in a muffle, as though the air was replaced with cotton, and looking down the steps she could see their figures standing under the tori gate. She took out the stop watch from her shorts pocket and held it high above her head.
"On three!" Tawk called back to her, and she took the watch in her hand to reset it. "One…two…three!"
Wendy started the timer. As the seconds flew, she saw the five figures start their run up the steps to the shrine. Watching them made her think humbly back to her jogging sessions. Walking up the steps had managed to make her forget she ever took a step before then and did not know how they were able to.
She pulled on her sunglasses and monitored their progress. It was difficult to see who was leading because of the distance away, but what Wendy did notice was that Tawk was going slowly – falling behind of the others' pace. As they went, it was clear that Jack and Josie were competiting for the lead – Diego, and then Niranjani, behind them.
Wendy had woken up that morning with them, having breakfast and listening as they each talked about how they would train that day. It was Tawk's idea to take a run before they seperated – it would be an opportunity to monitor their progress. She had volunteered to help, not looking forward to staying with Maddox.
Now Jack and Josie were slowing down. Their fast pace from before only carried them halfway up before they had been reduced to light jog. Now Niranjani and Diego were ahead – but at not much of a fast pace. It seemed to Wendy their O2 was low – and like her legs from before, running had spent the use of her muscles.
By the time all five had made it to the top of the steps, Tawk was the only one not gasping for breath.
"Bugger," Jack panted, throwing off his tshirt in one motion before bending over with his hands on his knees. "Should've…paced…myself…"
Josie was in no better shape, and she looked at Tawk as she wiped her brow. "What was your time?"
"Six forty-eight," he replied casually as he took in the view from the top of the steps. "Look, you can see Izumiōtsu from here."
Niranjani was at his side, trying to regain her breathing. "Yes…and downtown in the distance. It's clearer at night."
Wendy saw Tawk look at her oddly, and then felt a large hand slap down on her shoulder. It was Diego. "What did you say my time was, irmazinha? Eight oh-seven?"
She nodded, and he grinned. "Not bad eh? Beat you, Jack."
Niranjani started to walk off toward a gated path and waved at them. "Come on, time to see the dojo. Everyone follow me."
The way down to Izumiōtsu was an easier one – not surprisingly. Wendy was the last in their group as they decended, taking a more rural, broken down set of stairs that Niranjani constantly told everyone to watched as they stepped down them. It was a narrow cut through the trees, one that could not be seen from the road, and before she knew it, they came into the garden of the dojo.
With a hop onto the edge of the patio, Niranjani removed her sneakers and stood up. "This is it. All of you are welcomed to use the dojo as often as you want, whenever you want. However. There are only a couple of things to do if you do use it." She motioned them to join her, indicating that their shoes were to join hers on the designated mat. Wendy was used to this by now, and even thought about continuing the habit back home, and stood with the group at the entrance. Niranjani looked back at them.
"Where we're standing is the shimoza, the back. Before you enter you giving a standing bow – " she took a step inside and bowed at her hips. Straightening out she walked deeper within and looked back at them. "And before leaving you do the same thing. Also, at the end of each day, we clean the dojo top to bottom." She looked at them and smiled, and Wendy understood. There wasn't any question to that – they would all be here, everyday, cleaning the dojo.
"That sounds perfectly fine by me," Tawk said, as it to the group. "For letting us state here – that is the least we can do."
Wendy agreed, but could see Diego and Jack looking uncomfortable at the chore. For once, however, she didn't have to look over at her twin nervously. Josie's own background in the martial arts dictated this show of reverence for the dojo.
"Well sure," muttered Jack. "But I don't train in a dojo."
"That explains a lot," Josie said under her breath. He left abruptly when he heard her, sputtering curses as he clumsily put his sneakers back on.
Diego broke the awkward silence. "Does Izu have any weights?"
Niranjani smiled gratefully at him. "In the shed, on the side," she replied, gesturing with her hand. "You are also welcomed to them anytime."
"Obrigado – " And he disappeared from the shimoza wall.
She supposed she should have been thankful for Dr. Maddox's ability to talk. Afterall, it had given her the ability to use his computer. An internet connection was one she had to fight for up in the secluded mountains of the dojo, and to give herself a chance at successfully writing her mother an email, would write if first then paste quickly before the connection was lost again. While Wendy battled the internet gods, she had to listen to Maddox speaking to the owner of Izumiotsu, Mr. Fumitake, in the next room while they smoke cigars. The scent of the smoke in the humid air was putrid to her, and was counting the seconds until she could escape outside. The screen that seperated the two rooms was thin.
"…I don't think you want to go to Xiao City, Thomas."
"The traffic isn't that horrendous. Don't exaggerate."
Wendy tried to concentrate on what to write – but it was hard to resist the impulse to gag from all the smoke. She shot daggers at the figures beyond the screen.
"You know what I mean. Now we have days where one has to have a written reason to cross into those borders."
"Reasons, I have, Ken."
"Reasons that cannot be less than Iotou himself asking for your presence."
A window opened, and Wendy was able to copy, paste, and send in one quick pregression. As she passed the open door to their sitting room, she stopped to address Maddox. "Thank you," coughed Wendy. "For the computer. You wouldn't happen to know where Josie is, would you?"
Maddox tapped the loose ashes from his cigar and placed a card down on the table between him and Fumitake. He kept his eyes on his remaining hand. "Miss Underwood, unless your sister is the queen of hearts that Mr. Fumitake is holding, I have not the faintest idea where she is."
The Izumiotsu's owner gaped at his playing partner in protest, and Wendy took the opportunity to leave. When she left the dojo to go inside, it was only Nira and Tawk practicing. Now, however, she came to the garden and saw that it was Josie and Jack inside. From where she stood beyond the porch of the shimoza wall, Wendy saw that Jack was wearing some sort of training glove on his right arm, into which her twin was striking with her hand. Neither took notice of her.
"I think – it's safe to say – that you – owe me – Underwood," said Jack in a bored tone, inbetween strikes. He sighed and brought his arm down. "You're barely making me brace for it."
Josie brought down her hands, brushing her hair out of her face. "Put it up again." She sighed when he didn't and placed her own hands back up. "Do it."
Jack hung his head in exasperation, and then presented the glove again. "I really don't see the point – you've already proven that you can't even – "
He was cut off when the kick Josie landed sent him backwards and finally lose his balance – falling onto the mats under him.
"Oh," said a new voice, and looking to the side of the dojo, Wendy saw that Nira had returned – this time with what looked like a portable radio. "Well done, Josie."
"Yeah, well done – for a bloody cheap shot!" Jack spat, getting back on his feet. "I hope you're not expecting to win that way."
Josie frowned at him. "You better believe I am – you owe me a drink."
He stalked over to his gym bag and threw the training glove down ontop. "You want a drink – here, take my water."
"Now who's being cheap?" She shot back. "The deal was – I get you down, you buy me a drink – "
"Yeah, with a punch – "
"That's impossible, your center of gravity is too low!"
"It is not impossible!"
Wendy had taken the opportunity to enter the dojo at the shimoza, and Nira looked up from where she was plugging the radio into the wall to smile at her. "Wendy. How did it go? Were you able to email your mother?"
"Eventually," she nodded, looking at Josie to emphasize what Nira said. "It's just to tell her we got here alright." Her twin gave a quick neutral shake of her shoulder and then continued to scowl at Jack. She was about to say something else to him, when she was cut off just as she opened her mouth.
"Not sure if you were used to training in complete silence," Nira announced to them, and motioned to the radio.
"Oh, well, anything would be better than listening to this open grate," muttered Josie, earning a scowl from Jack.
Nira had already plugged the player in, and was tuning the radio. "Well I hope we can find something you like – " she said as she ran through the static. Only a few stations were clear, mostly with people speaking Japanese quickly, until a floaty string of music came into focus.
"There, that'll do," Jack said immediately when the station was loud.
Josie scoffed at him, running her stud along her top row of teeth. It made Wendy shiver uncomfortably. "Classical music?"
He didn't look at her as he fumbled through his gym bag. "Brandenburg's Concerto. Is there a problem, gnome? Too cultered for you?"
"No," she laughed. "I'm just waiting for you to go in for afternoon tea. After, of course, you recite a bit of Shakespeare for us."