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But when the time came for learning about alchemy, Leo got really frustrated. He's highly observant and has a well-trained eye, but he remembers the moves of forms and katas better than the tiny differentiators in alchemical symbols.


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One swoosh to the left can change the entire purpose of a symbol. How he memorized enough characters to master artful calligraphy I'll never know — I suspect he gave up on alchemy because he realized I would handle it, but as the proper oldest son he had to be able to do the fancy writing stuff. Anyway, for years I've tried to get even one of my other brothers interested in alchemy the way I am, just as a backup. One winter I got really sick and they had to go on a mission without me, and they sure missed my little tricks for making fire hotter and wood drier and blankets warmer!

But they came home and learned just those basics and then left me to the rest of it. If they hadn't, if they all bent themselves to be alchemists, there might be less I could do to serve the Clan, and then where would I be? Not out, not with this family, certainly. But I'd have to get good at something else. I'm also a fair blacksmith, and I've been taught to make weapons, but I've not had a lot of chances to practice yet.

Besides, the weapon that breaks the most often around here is mine, and a wooden bo doesn't take a forge to recreate. I am superb at finding the proper sort of tree to fashion a new bo for myself — I can locate a good branch and sand it down within the hour if I'm really motivated. And once or twice, when I didn't have that hour, I just fought with a barked branch and bound up my poor fingers later. It has everything from some basic alchemical ingredients to some tools for emergency repairs or breaking in , to a few critical medical supplies. That's me, the do-it-all turtle, Donnie the Versatile.

Don't try that on me. It hasn't worked since we were tiny. You mean besides everything? Now that I'm looking at him, it couldn't be clearer if he was waving his arms and shouting. Which is usually how Mikey gets our attention, actually. I set down my ink and brush and face him, crossing my arms across my plastron.

He reads the look in my eyes and sighs. I've got enough to worry about without either of them getting paranoid. You know how they are? You never tell me. He squeezes tightly and I can see the worry in every taut line and sinew of his body. I just…I thought someone else should know. After that so very cheerful statement, Leo makes an exit that is equal parts drama and dismissal. If he wore a cape, it would swirl around him like the wind itself was dancing in his wake. I know he does it deliberately — Leo is not just preoccupied with the actual strength of the Clan, but also the perceived strength of the Clan.

If he looks like an intimidating force to be reckoned with, which he absolutely is, by the way, he wins the mental battle before he even draws his swords. But I know him too well. There's a hitch in his step, a tension in his shoulders. That cape wouldn't quite swirl right if he were wearing it now.

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Leonardo is really worried this time. Not that I can really blame him. Tomorrow we face perhaps the most dangerous and important battle of our lives even before the warning of Leo's meditations. Master Yoshi has a neighbor to the south with whom we have always had an alliance, and that neighbor called upon us in the spirit of friendship to help him defend his own borders.

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There is a Lord who has been taking conquest to a new extreme, sweeping through the land, and at last he has turned his eye this way. Master Yoshi will be leading us and many of the soldiers into battle to help support and defend our ally, because if this Lord burns through the lands to the south, we will be next.

Something about Leo's paranoia must be contagious, because I find myself turning back to my workbench in contemplation. There's truly nothing more I can do for Master Yoshi's new set of armor — it has been the labor of the last year, not to mention the months spent planning it. Every ikada was hand-crafted, every kawa odoshi specifically cured and cut for its purpose, the suneate measured twice thanks to our Master's patience and tested extensively for perfect freedom of movement. And at every stage of the process I worked alchemy into the very metals and leathers, the coals to heat and temper, the hammers and delicate tools that wrought every piece.

It is my finest work and a true masterpiece. I have turned myself inside out in its creation and there is literally nothing more I can do for it now. But the lessons of this past year are strong with me, too, and just because I cannot better protect Master Yoshi does not mean I am idle. So, after I call a body-servant to carefully deliver the armor to our Master's chambers, I have a few hours yet before moonrise, and I intend to use them.

As part of our pre-battle ritual, my brothers have left me with their primary weapons for inspection and, if possible, improvement. A few years ago, one of Mikey's nunchaku broke in combat when he had thoughtlessly wrenched a bent piece back into its approximate shape without considering the weakness inherent in the metal after such treatment. Since then, if we know we will be fighting, they all give me their weapons the day before so I can ensure they never break in their hands again.

By the time Leo returns to collect me, Raph and Mikey at his heels, I have done everything I could think of twice over on their weapons.


I can see from their faces that they are surprised. Leonardo fights with twin katanas, master of not one but two weapons and several different complimentary disciplines. The katanas themselves are a little shorter than those a human would use, and heavier too — a testament to my brother's skill and strength — making them harder for anyone else to wield and much more deadly in his hands. The blades gleam as they always do after my care, but this time I have added something extra. A long series of sigils run the length of each blade, the ink sunk straight into the metal by the power of alchemy.

The scroll-work is aesthetically lovely, but the power imbued is far more important. Knowing Leo as I do, I didn't dare make any modifications to the tsubas or tsukas , as it could throw off his extremely delicate balance. Raphael's sais were much harder, but eventually I found a way to run a spiral of symbols around each of the wicked points, and the tsukagashira bears a powerful sigil at its heavy, rounded end. Raph is a brawler and a close-in fighter, though his weapons are traditionally also the proper counter against a swordmaster.

The real trick to improving the sais lies in what cannot be seen — beneath the leather wraps that soften the grips is a tightly-woven series of symbols that are so strong they have left imprints in the leather itself. But the braidings that cover the tsuka are thick, also covered with symbols in simple ink this time, so I hope he won't mind the difference. Michelangelo fights with a pair of nunchaku, which I know inside and out as he's broken them more than once.

Unlike the traditional style, where a stout cord would connect the two batons, Mikey's are joined by thick kusari chains. Each link in the kusari has had a sigil added to it in at least one place, and where the kusari are clamped onto the jukon-bu there is a tiny, tiny string of them almost too fine to make out. The chukon-bu , like with Raph's sais, has been completely redone, and if Mikey pulled off the single layer of leather that separates the hard wood from the air, he would see reams of sigils covering every bare spot. Wisely, he makes no move to pick them up.

Raph is no alchemist but he's a fair blacksmith himself, and we've worked side-by-side on weapons-crafting before. He knows that sometimes alchemical processes leave metals hot for hours. Mikey says something rude, but he's busy cramming most of one hand into his mouth to soothe the burn so it comes out very muffled.

Mikey's eyes are alight, and I can tell he's mostly faking his pain just to get me to do this. Still…Mikey does really good pleading help-me-I'm-tiny-and-helpless-and-cute eyes. All my primary supplies are in my bag, so I reach to the top shelf for my secondary stash. I pull out a small jar of a white salve and the tiny applicator brush.

The salve itself does most of the work to numb the immediate pain, and by painting it on with the right sigils, the injury will heal before the numbness wears off. But the part Mikey likes is the instant of charging the sigils.

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I breathe a single word over the neat line of marks on his fingertips and the white flashes gold for a moment before fading completely. I'll admit, it does feel neat, like a sudden trickle of ice. Leo understands and his face relaxes a little. Still, there are mountains under less pressure than my brother. Patience is distinctly not one of Raph's virtues.

I run my hand expertly over the air a finger's width above the blade of the katanas, which I had finished first. I hum as I consider and then, feeling three sets of eyes on me, decide they're just going to stand here staring at me until they can have them back. I crack my knuckles once before I push the palm of my right hand down onto the blade of the nearest katana. There's the momentary searing pain as the heat hits me, but almost as quickly it vanishes as I whisper out a long string of words.

At my command, the heat moves up my arm, along my shoulders, and down to my left hand, which I have put on the pot in which I hold my ink. It's a really useful technique, being able to transfer the energy of the fire's heat into the ink that I will use next time, even if it does cause that momentary hurt but no actual damage.

It only takes me a few moments to cool each of the weapons enough for the others to touch. They practically leap on their weapons when I step back, each handling them with care. My workshop is just big enough that all three can spread out a bit and take a few practice swings and jabs. I see Leo nodding to himself and I'm glad I didn't mess with anything but the flat of the blade.

Raph raises an eyebrow in my direction — he did notice the weight differential — but it's slight and he smirks as he looks at the sigil that he will probably be stamping onto some foreheads when he reverses the sai to use it in a punch. It means "strength and endurance" and, in Raph's hands, will probably mean a lot more hurt in the blow.

Mikey swings the nunchaku cheerfully, and if he's aware that they move faster and more smoothly and silently, but the chains are ten times stronger, he doesn't say anything. This is a little awkward. I take the bo from its place strapped to my shell and hold it out laterally. Let's see if I can explain this without getting yelled at.

Luck and prosperity and honor just to name a few. Insurance that the weapon will protect you even at the cost of itself. Alchemy works better on metals and other tempered or treated materials if you aren't using it on something alive like a person.

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The wood is too raw, too natural, but also dead. The only alchemical sigils that work on something that close to a pure natural state are those sigils that are the most simple and earth-based. If I could do real, wizard magic, or even if I had learned some higher-order alchemy it would be different, but I can't and I haven't. Where on earth did he get a word like "mojo" anyway? I'll never know where he comes up with some of this stuff. I mean, I'm sure there's a way to do it. I've just never taken the time to figure it out. Hoo boy, looks like I've woken the sleepy tiger and he's feeling protective.

But Leo saves me. That pulled the fight right out of him. Raph huffs and scruffs my head again, rumbling something. Mikey looks like he's going to say something, but a soft gong ringing outside interrupts him. It's the signal that the Clan is ready to head out and we need to be with them. Leonardo wastes no time, nodding curtly to the three of us before striding out the door, expecting us to follow. Which, of course, we will. Mikey bounces after him, and I pause just long enough to make sure the forge is cool enough to leave without risking a fire and to grab my newly-charged pot of ink to add to my shoulder-bag.

But when I look up, Raph is leaning on the door-frame. Don't worry about it. I'd do the same if I could. But watch your back. Fearless," he grins at his favorite nickname for Leo, "thinks I don't know, but he's no good at hiding when he's worried. And you gotta know it too if you did all that extra work. So you make sure that bo of yours is strong enough to protect you the way it should or I'll break it over your head. Because we are traveling to defend the land so far to the south, we're starting out on horseback. My brothers and I always meet long journeys with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, turtles are not built to sit on horses. Seriously, even the most carefully-crafted saddle still can't make it a comfortable experience. We're just not shaped or weighted correctly for it.


We each have a custom-made saddle, and the horses that carry us are huge, powerful animals that could carry a fully armed samurai, which is good since that's about what we weigh. But it's still not pleasant. On the other hand, our horses absolutely love us and we're pretty fond of them as well. Horses are intelligent enough to know that we are Animals, and thus closer to them than humans.

Most animals are calmer in the hands of Animals like us — we understand each other differently. Humans teach horses to respond to verbal commands or reins or kicks. We communicate with horses in a language of bodies and eye-contact and subtle movements. Our mounts have been ours for years, and we've grown together more than most horse-rider pairs. Leo's horse is huge and black, and just as proud as his rider. That horse will do anything for Leo as long as it is impressive or skillful, as if the pair of them belong at the head of a parade or an imperial army thousands strong.

He's also the oldest of our horses — he was given to Leo when we were about nine on the occasion where Master Splinter formally made Leo his heir. Unfortunately for Leo, though, in a fit of childhood exuberance he named the poor thing Virtues Of Bushido, which, over the years, has degenerated to Bushy. I think Leo has given him a different name that he uses privately now, but since he doesn't want anybody coming up with a new nickname he just lets us call the horse Bushy.

Raph's horse is a dark brown, and probably the fastest horse in the valley. She's fierce and she hates everybody but Raph whom she adores; she only barely tolerates me and Mikey, and I suspect Raph trained her to bite Leo but I can't prove it. Originally her name was Angel, since she was named before anybody knew what a cranky spitfire she was, but now we mostly call her Hothead.

I can't imagine why. It's not like she can give Raph a run for his money in that department or anything. Hothead's the only girl of our four, and she mostly keeps the other horses in line. Sometimes I think Hothead tries to be the matron of the herd just to spite Bushy, and it works.

Mikey's horse is also brown, but much lighter in color than Hothead. He's unfortunately named Klunk because Mikey got the idea and decided it before any of us could stop him. Klunk isn't clumsy, in spite of the name, though. He's agile and flexible, and very clever. Of the four, I'm pretty sure Klunk is the smartest, with maybe a touch of Animal blood in him. I swear I've seen him and Mikey laughing together after they pull some stunt, usually scaring Leo half to death. Klunk also gets out of every single paddock or stable or any other enclosure and we've never really figured out how.

At this point we just let the guy run free — he always comes to Mikey's whistle. My horse is a medium grey color, and he's named Professor. He's extremely sweet-tempered, and he's the one most likely to wind up with someone other than me on his back. Hothead won't bear any rider but Raph, Klunk doesn't mind being ridden by humans but insists on bouncing around so much they don't really enjoy the experience, and Bushy glares disdainful murder at anyone he deems unworthy climbing on his back.

Professor just doesn't mind that much. Professor is also the largest of the horses, bigger by a hand and a half than Bushy, and it's a good thing too because inevitably he winds up carrying most of my supplies. Professor might be as smart as Klunk but he's content with being a horse, I guess. I think he knows more alchemy than my brothers do, though, just from listening to me babble about it for the last five years.

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