Two days passed since the incident with the turtles. Both Pudgy and Mr. Drew had returned from Beaver town in Pudgy’s steam ship, once he had awoken from his levitating slumber in the center of the aquatic animal’s town. The little hedgehog physically seemed ok, but did not say what happened when he had passed out. The steam ship was fired up, and a quiet return trip was uneventful. As the ship was tied up, and as the boiler cooled, the concerned red panda insisted on a full day of bed rest for the hedgehog. To the former human’s surprise, the rambunctious critter did not argue, and went straight home and stayed put all throughout the next day.
Argente was besides herself with worry, and made sure to keep an eye on the underground home. She politely shooed away any animal who wanted to stop by, and advised Pudgy needed to rest. It helped, because one day of bed rest later, the hedgehog was back to his normal happy self. The doors and windows to his underground home were opened, and the mayor of the town was once again able to receive visitors. Soon, there was a flurry of baking going on once again, in preparation for the big celebration to occur tomorrow. Throughout the day, the various larger animals would stop by and check on him, and all seemed to be back in normal order. The counters, tables, and any free space within the home was soon covered with yummy baked treats.
The center of town had been transformed from a tranquil woodland setting, into a sea of long tables that were low to the ground. Multi colored banners, and streamers were tied around the trees and throughout the branches. The town stage had a wonderful assortment of flowers, arranged in a large clay pot. The turtles, true to their word, had arrived with the first shipment of clay during the day of bed rest for the mayor. A groundhog had fashioned the pot, and baked it carefully with a fire built all around it. There was not enough time to paint it, but the pale white color seemed appropriate, given the bright colors from the flowers. There were also spaces being laid out for where the various foods would be placed around the newly made ceramic planter. However, given the nature of some of their guests, some courses would be served to ensure the safety of smaller animal friends. The smaller animals were to sit closest to the stage, and as their size increased, they would be arranged out accordingly in a rough semi-circle, though no animal friend would be separated by the river.
On the morning of the big day, the skies cleared to reveal a brilliant blue sky. There was a slight chill on the morning breeze, which was a welcome relief from the recent humid days. Mary the arctic fox hoped to see snow soon, though she was just pleased that it was no longer the season for frizzy fur. Shima Moyo and her daughter Argente arrived, and chatted with Mary while giggling at how much the two white foxes looked alike. There were subtle differences between the Japanese and domestic fox, mainly in the face around the eyes. While the female foxes chatted, they watched as Pope and Tess bobcat sat down near them. Their ever-growing kitten, Star playfully bounced behind them, before being positioned by her mother to sit beside her.
The small bobcat desperately wanted to run down to the center, and look at the flower planter. Slowly, carefully, she would start to inch forward when she thought her parents were not looking. However, her watchful father would gently pull her back by the tail, drawing a meow of frustration. Patches the house cat joined the bobcats, and helped Pope keep an eye on Star. Tess was exhausted, and just happy she did not have to figure out a meal for the day. She fell asleep with her head on her front paws, while Pope laughed. One female in his life was full of boundless energy, while the other just wanted to sleep. The house cat grinned, and gently pulled back Star who had got farther away this time.
The Japanese fox could not believe her eyes as she saw flocks of robins, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, goldfinches, crows, thrushes, and even a couple sleepy owls arrived to their designated tables. Angeliki Raven was present, and chatting with some fellow ravens about a human car that had been found somewhere. Inside there were all manner of strange oddities, which the demigoddess had to explain what they were? The birds were noisy, chirping their various tones, but all were happy and full of excitement. A Pudgy party was not to be missed, and was the highlight of the year. There was talk of a Winter Eve affair, but that was more out of a remembrance of the past. Winter had not come for such a long time, there was not much of a need to celebrate the event. Some animals spoke of a magical human in a red suit, but talk quickly turned to the event at hand.
A loud sound could be heard, of what sounded like brush being moved about. Soon many animals in attendance could see the source of the noise, as they watched a herd of elk walked slowly down the hill where the human houses once stood many years ago. The large animals positioned themselves, and stood at the rear of the furthest most table. The stag’s coat of fur has started to grown long, and had tinges of gray at the ends. The females, or cows, were also starting to thicken as they grew older. Silly stories had been spreading throughout the forest about their father. The proud father held a near constant watch over his daughters. As his daughters grew older, they had discovered the various male deer, or bucks as they were called. A swish of a white tail, and a crack of the antlers would cause a swoon in their hearts. Words of woo spoken, and the cow would start to wander off with their new suitor. Within seconds, a charging stag crashed through the forest, and then would hind kick the suitor away forcibly.
Drew red panda arrived with Blood Honey tiger, and sat nearby to the foxes. They waved their paws happily, as they waited for the others to arrive. It was not long until all animals watched as the newly arrived bears Snortapoopus, Ivan, Bo and Bill arrived at sat near the elk. Mr. Bear and Grandpas bear arrived with wagons full of yummy pies, and clay jars full of bear strength drinks. Cobalt and Mr. Dave arrived carrying two large silver northern pike fish in their talons, and dropped it nearby to where the bears were. As Stone Loki Elk started a conversation with Snortapoopus, the crowd started to cheer as Pudgy and the field mice started scampering around, and putting the food out.
All manner of seeds, nuts, gathered vegetables and fruits were laid out. Some dishes were steaming hot, wile others were cold. While the food was being put out in various serving vessels, the beavers and otters started to emerge out of the water along the river bank. The aquatic animals waved carefully, so they did not get any nearby land-based animals wet. As the recent arrivals took their spots, the turtles arriving and slowly emerged from the water. Zeke motioned with his head, and the snapping turtle led his brother to sit next to the otters. They did not look at the beavers, and remained silent. Perhaps it was just as well, quiet between the two species was progress. The bunnies bounced excitedly, as some were chosen to help pass out food. It took a while, but not too long for the various empty bellies in attendance, to be served a wonderful meal. It was a time of fun, food, merriment, and a chance for all to gather in friendship.
Soon the forest was noisy, with every animal friend talking at the same time. Food was quickly being devoured, and many trays were now empty and being stacked nearly on the sage. Mr. Bear was serving pies, as a line had formed leading up to him. However, it was not too long until Cobalt eagle noticed that Pudgy was nowhere to be seen. The other bears were happily devouring the huge pile of gathered fish nearby. While Dave Sea eagle pecked at a fish, he pulled a large chunk out to eat. As he chewed, he noticed his fellow eagle’s eyes looking around. After swallowing, “What is it, Cobalt?” The bald eagle was scanning the crowd, “I do not see Pudgy. I am going to go check on him. Tell the bears they can have my fish,” the male bird said as he started to walk off. The sea eagle nodded, and started to peck away again as he ate. It was not long until Snortapoopus snatched up the fish that Cobalt had been pecking at, and happily munched away.
The bald eagle slowly strode through the myriad of tables, and happily chatted with the various animal friends assembled around the stage. It was not a far trip as he headed towards where his critter friend’s underground home was located. The doors and windows were open, and the chimney pipe was still puffing with a faint white wood smoke. The eagle could not fit his body inside the home, since he was too big, but it was easy to stick his head inside through the main doorway to look around. As the eagle poked his head inside, he found Pudgy curled up into a ball whimpering beside his kitchen table. His eyes were glowing white, and his quills were starting to crackle slightly from electricity.
Sighing, the former human knew what this meant, and watched quietly. Several minutes passed, with the din of the party noise floating and echoing inside of the underground home. Eventually, the electric charge began to dissipate, and the strange glow stopped. The eagle said nothing, watching with pale yellow eyes as the hedgehog blinked several times. While he sat up, Pudgy wiggled his nose and looked at his friend. “Cobalt, when did you arrive?” The eagle’s pale-yellow eyes locked onto his, “several minutes ago.” There was an uncomfortable pause as the hedgehog caught the stern look coming from the eagle’s eyes. Slowly, and with a firm tone, Cobalt began to speak again. “What is it Pudgy? You floated in Beaver town, and worried Dave to no end. You disappear from the party, and when I come to check up on you … I find you curled glowing.”
The little hedgehog shook his head, “Pudgy do not want to ruin Thanksoween. Every animal friend is having fun, Pudgy do not want to make anyone worry.” The eagle nodded as best as he could, “all right. But you will tell me what is happening later today when the party is over. We will act as nothing happened, you needed to check on the wood stove … agreed?” The hedgehog nodded, wiped the tears from his eyes and watched Cobalt pull his head out of the doorway. The actions of the eagle had caused much talk within the party, and the various guests in attendance were wondering hat their hedgehog friend was up to? When the eagle withdrew his head and waved a wing at the guests, their concerns seemed to be misplaced, and the festivities renewed once more.
The kitten Star had finally broken free of her parents, and was being chased by Patches. The bobcat kitten tugged gently at one his brown feathers along his side. Looking up with concern in her eyes, “Is Pudgy ok Mister Cobalt?” The eagle chirped and nodded, “yes … Star. He forgot the wood stove, and needed to check on it. Pudgy got some soot in his eyes, and had to wash it out. See … here’s Pudgy.” The little critter exited, and wiggled his nose. “Pudgy stove good,” the critter said as he soon was being hugged by the kitten. An exasperated Patches giggled, “Star … your parents are going to be cross if you don’t come back this instant.” As the kitten was coaxed back to her parents, Pudgy joined the field mice and bunnies, as they were munching away and giggling. The eagle took a few strides towards an empty spot, and took flight to perch up in a nearby tree.
Over time the remaining food was eaten, and the tables were cleaned up. The stage was cleared, and soon the bunnies were doing a stand-up routine. The jokes were hit or miss, but everyone was having a good time. As the last crumbs of the pies were eaten, the bears got out the clay jars, and started drinking. Even Stone Loki Elk got a drink, which started to curl his fur. Stories were told, and games were played well into the early evening hours. The animals thanked Pudgy for another wonderful celebration, and then started to head home. The decision was made that the tables could be put away tomorrow during the day. The bears staggered back to Mr. Bear’s cabin with empty wagons, and empty clay pots. There would be no after party, until the world stopped spinning. In the trees above as the skies darkened, the owls hooted softly. Fett Owl was putting the moves on a female, who was giggling as she fluttered her feathers. Heather owl rolled her eyes, as his pick-up lines were corny. The two former humans turned owls noticed, Cobalt fly down to Pudgy’s house and stick his head inside the doorway once again. The eagle’s expression looked stern, which seemed odd given the festivities of the day.
Pudgy was washing dishes in his sink, when he saw Cobalt’s white feathered head pop inside of his home. The eagle’s expression was stern as before when he had found him in his electrical charged state. The little critter knew what that meant, and as the hedgehog dried his paws, he turned to his friend. Sighing, “Pudgy is having terrible visions again … of Japan.” The former human nodded, “I suspected another adventure was soon upon us. Pudgy … go on …” The critter started to speak quickly, and became more visibly upset with each word spoken. “Pudgy did not know what it meant, but it keeps happening over and over. Pudgy hears sirens, and a tall mushroom shaped white thing is steaming. Animals are fleeing, and their skin blisters. Oh Cobalt, it is terrible … blood …everywhere. The animals gasping … the sirens … oh the sirens and the ground melts … and the sea turns black … and the tentacles emerge …. The magenta eye …it is all seeing … all knowing … it knows of the forest … it knows of Pudgy.” The hedgehog was wailing between his words, and tears pouring out of his eyes.
Cobalt’s expression did not change, while he listened intently. When the hedgehog had stopped talking, and was just crying, the eagle waited before he started to speak again. Once the sobbing had quieted down, the eagle spoke again. “Pudgy, when you saw these visions … where did they take you?” The hedgehog sniffed his nose hard as he wiped his eyes with his paws, “Pudgy saw the portal in Japan, then flew to the north and north east. Along a huge lake, and over a camp of cats that looked like Genghis. Then straight north over a tall set of mountains, and to the ocean coastline. It was a bay, and a town …. Then to the west, as the sun was setting, along the coastline. The white mushroom thing was at the end of peninsula of rock, surrounded by chain link fences, topped with that spiky wire. Oh, and Pudgy saw a strange symbol, it was circle, with yellow, and three black triangles, with another black circle in the middle.”
The eagle blinked as he recognized the symbol his friend had seen, “Pudgy that is a nuclear symbol. That must be a power plant you saw in your visions. If the plant is indeed melting down, this is an extraordinarily dangerous occurrence. The radioactive fallout would destroy the area, and untold numbers of animals would perish both immediately … and over time. The blisters, were radiation burns. That is the outward manifestation of a deeper poisoning. It is silent … insidious … and can last thousands of years.” The hedgehog nodded and wiggled his nose as he listened. Cobalt blinked and spoke again, “how many days have you been having this vision?” The hedgehog wiped his eyes again with his paws, “since Beaver town.”
Cobalt nodded again, “Pudgy … this is extraordinarily dangerous. There was a similar issue with a place called three-mile island here in Pennsylvania. The humans were able to stop it in time, but if they had not, it would have destroyed a large section of the state. Although from what you are describing, it sounds like Chernobyl. That was a full on melt down, and it wiped most likely from the land. The humans had to build a special dome around the plant to try and contain the radiation, but there are limits to what can be done. All life would die, and the land would be emptied. If the reactor explodes, the poison would be spread on the wind. It would take time, but could eventually reach here. Sickness …death from above …floating on the wind …” The hedgehog nodded as he started to cry again, “Pudgy want to help, but the emperor won’t listen, he thinks Pudgy and friends are enemy.”
The bald eagle closed his eyes, and started to think. “Pudgy go back to your dishes,” the former human said softly. The little hedgehog nodded, and started washing a long metal tray. The words spoken were hanging in the air, and a tense silence had filled the underground home. Much to the critter’s relief, he heard his eagle friend hesitantly speaking again. “The crane emperor … and his forces are of no use. We cannot trust them to help in this situation. This threat is too important to ignore, we must act. If the plant does not explode, it could sink into the ground. Even with all the time, money, and centuries of study … we do not know how this planet truly works. Are their caves underneath the plant? If there are, where do they lead to? If the nuclear waste and fuel enter the ocean, what happens? Is there water underneath the land, and does that water lead here? Would it poison the water? Would it poison the land? Yes, but how far? So many questions, so many possibilities for death to spread on this world.”
The hedgehog started to whimper, but the eagle continued. “But … what is of concern as well … are the tentacles. You spoke of the King of the Ocean before Pudgy. If this is his plan, to render the surface world lifeless … how long would it be until he chooses to focus his attention here? We could choose to ignore this threat, and fortify our home. However, isolationism does not work forever … evil if allowed to fester will spread.” Pudgy turned as he dried a long metal tray, “Pudgy do not know what to do? Pudgy does not want to put friends in danger again. But Pudgy worry, and Pudgy sad animals are in danger.” The eagle nodded, “agreed, we do not want to endanger our friends. Pudgy, was Mrs. Field Mouse able to help you with your replacement backpack?”
A timid voice whispered out from behind the round door that led into the storehouse. The female field mouse looked sad as she twitched the whiskers at the end of her nose. “Yes, Cobalt … I was able to. It is in your closet Pudgy. Are you going away?” The eagle looked at the timid rodent, “yes, once again we find ourselves on a hedgehog adventure. I will be taking him back to Japan.” Both the hedgehog and mouse looked at him, and listened intently as they wiggled their noses. “Pudgy, this is too important to ignore. We must go back to Japan. It is safe to assume that the emperor’s forces are the enemy. We will go in stealth, just us two, and no other town friends. Japan is about twelve hours ahead of us, so it is going to be morning now. We will leave at daybreak, since it will be just turning night there. Speed will be of the essence, as we need to get to and back without the emperor noticing.” The hedgehog watched as the eagle pulled his head out through the doorway to his home. The last words spoken by the eagle were, “I am going to tell Argente. Pudgy … start packing.”
The critter nodded, and scampered over to where his closet was located. Pushing the wood panel, the door popped open. A new canvas pale green backpack was inside, along with the perch bar attachments. The emperor had seized his original equipment, so upon return to the forest, the little critter’s friends had started making him replacements. The canteen was decorated with hopping bunnies, so it was clear who worked on that project. The field mouse was sniffling as she cried softly, “just when I thought we were done with adventures. I heard your vision, it sounds terrible.” The hedgehog nodded, and started to pack supplies. The mining helmet was not able to be produced, given the current skill of the town craft animals. However, Pudgy had a small hammer and an axe now, which he clipped onto the pack. The hedgehog soon was scampering to and fro within his home. Opening cupboards, and adding various survival foods inside the main compartment of the pack. Having gone on so many trips, there was always an abundance of hardtack stashed away in his various cupboards.
Mr. Drew peeked inside of the round kitchen window about an hour later, “Pudgy are you ready?” The little critter was just tying up the straps of his backpack, and wiggled his nose as he responded. “Pudgy ready, how did you know?” The red panda sighed, “well when Cobalt arrived at Argente’s cottage and she started screaming at him … everyone was woken up. I had my suspicions. It had been too long since we had another Pudgy adventure.” Mrs. Field Mouse hugged the hedgehog, “you come back, promise?” The critter nodded, and hugged back, “Pudgy promise.” The little hedgehog put the straps over his shoulders, and noticed there was a new string with a little handle to pull. “Mr. Field Mouse added that Pudgy, it will let you fold the perch bars back. He thought it was a good idea incase you needed to be dropped by a bird and hide somewhere.” The perch bars were indeed folded, making it much easier for him to navigate tight spaces. The hedgehog could not wait to try it out!
Pudgy scampered outside and climbed up onto his red panda friend’s back. His home no longer required to be made secure prior to a trip, as it served as the town’s main hub. He knew it would be safe during his trip, and the hedgehog waved to the field mouse standing in the doorway. Drew stood up, and quickly started to walk. Past the round door to the store house, around the bend, behind the dragon cove pier and buildings, and past Argente’s darkened cottage. Drew chuckled as he noticed, “Argente and her mother will be up at the ley line I expect.” As the red panda quickened his pace as they ascended the hill. Mary the arctic fox waved her paw from the doorway to her underground home, and looked sad in the faint moonlight.
Higher and higher up the hill, through the tall weeds, until they reached the concentric circles of rocks that surrounded the ley line node the red panda travelled. The two animals could just barely see in the faint moonlight that Angeliki Raven had arrived. The black bird was busy talking to Cobalt, with the silver and white foxes behind him, looking upset. All eyes turned towards Drew and Pudgy as they approached. Argente’s brown eyes were burning bright, and the little hedgehog could feel her anger even at this distance. There was a tension in the air, and Pudgy felt uneasy as he watched the raven start to speak clearly to the assembled group of animals. Angeliki nodded, “ok … let us go over the plan once again. Ahh Drew, I see you fetched Pudgy, good.”
Cobalt nodded, “We will wait till just before daybreak here, and have Pudgy activate the ley line. Then He and I will travel to Kiyomizu-Dera.” Shima nodded, “the emperor may have added additional guards there. But, if you are quick enough, you should be able to take flight with Pudgy.” Argente barked with a bit of an angry tone, “I want to go, we need to guard the ley line.” The older fox shook her head as she placed a paw on her daughter’s paw, “and you may be captured again. While, I do not think ill of the emperor. I believe his motivations are that of protection of the Japanese animals and their territory. However, Japanese thinking is … foreign to western thinking. Perhaps in time, and with evidence the emperor can choose to change his understanding.” Angeliki nodded, “time we do not have. I concur with Cobalt, the least number of animals involved in this, is to the benefit of the mission.”
The little hedgehog was asked to repeat his vision. The words were terrible, and all in attendance immediately felt uneasy. Many follow up questions by Shima, primarily to describe the land and water in the visions. After a series of clarifications were completed, the Japanese fox nodded while Argente looked at her mother. The silver fox spoke, “do you know where Pudgy is talking about?” The white fox nodded, “It sounds like Mihama … or perhaps Tsuruga? I am not sure, since our hedgehog friend can not read Japanese, the signs he might have seen are just scribbles. Both are coastal towns, that reside on the northern coast of Japan. What is also of concern to me is Lake Biwa, and that encampment of those angry cats in the vision. Why are they there?” Pudgy wiggled his nose, and shrugged his shoulders. “Genghis was being held by the emperor, perhaps they were there to rescue him?” Shima nodded, “perhaps. Stay focused on your plan, and fly as quickly as Cobalt can Mihama. Find the nuclear power plant, and see what is going on?”
Drew raised a paw, “if something bad is happening, what will you do?” Pudgy looked a tad bit hopeful as he raised his paw, “maybe some animals used to be humans?” Cobalt nodded, “that is a possibility, perhaps they were a plant worker. In any case, we will need to find a local who can read Japanese, who can come with us to go inside the plant to try and shut it down.” Argente closed her eyes and she stifled a yawn, “there is too much that can go wrong with this plan. I do not like it.” The eagle nodded, “I am not keen on this either. But we must find out if the plant is indeed in melt down? It could harm not only Japan, but threaten our forest too.” Angeliki nodded, “nuclear power was something the gods never envisioned. Only humans could create a power source that could render the land lifeless for a millennium or more?”
Shima nodded, “or fashion them into a weapon.” The rebuke was noted by Cobalt and Drew, but not responded to as the Japanese fox spoke again. “The emperor is stubborn, but he is not dumb. If you present this threat to him, he will be forced to act. Perhaps the best course of action would be to go to the plant. Survey the area, see what is going on, and then report back to him?” Drew shook his head, “given what Pudgy explained to us when he returned, I do not think he will listen.” Argente nodded, “I agree, we must keep him out of this.” Shima nodded as Angeliki spoke again, “go … and come back. In and out, do not linger.” The eagle nodded at the red panda, “agreed. Pudgy, stealth means quiet. We only speak when necessary. Teleport to Japan, close the portal, and fly like heck to get to Mihama.” Pudgy nodded, and watched as his eagle friend motioned with his wing towards the ley line node. The red panda nodded, as he started to ease down, and felt as the hedgehog slipped from his red fur covered back. The critter hugged Drew, then Angeliki, then Argente, then Shima, and finally Cobalt.
As the first traces of light appeared in the sky, Pudgy scampered out to the center of the ley line node. The group watched, soon the stone began to glow with the faint blue light and the hedgehog started to float off the stone. Turning towards the pile of stones marked Japan, the light beam went strong, and a dull thump could be felt as the gateway opened. The hedgehog called out, “Cobalt! Ley Line open!” The eagle looked at the various animals in attendance, nodded, and then strode out through the rock field. Taking a few hesitating steps at first, the former human entered the beam of light, and soon found himself floating upwards. The light soon became blinding, and everything faded away in a void of white. There was no sound, nor any sense of movement, until suddenly an image of a Buddhist temple started to slowly materialize.
The elderly hedgehog snapped back to his current situation, when he noticed several wood peckers looking at him then at the statue of the bears. “Pudgy sorry, Pudgy was lost in thoughts, can Pudgy help you?” A young male woodpecker, pointed with his beak towards the statue of the bears. “Pudgy-san, who are the bears?” The hedgehog pointed with his cane, and named each of his deceased friends. “The bear in the middle was Mr. Bear. His fur was brown, his claws black and long, and was the best bear friend Pudgy ever had. The gray bear was Mr. Bear’s father, whom we called Grandpa Bear, and he was kind. The larger bear behind them is Snortapoopus, he was a polar bear. His fur was white as the snow, and so kind. The panda bear was called Bo, and while he spoke slowly, his words were measured with knowledge. Bill was a koala bear from Australia, which sadly no longer exists within this world. It was a land of intense heat, deserts, with a stripe of habitable land along the coasts. He drank … a lot, and was funny. But no bear could hold his liquor like Ivan, a Russian grizzly. Strong and proud, he helped all the bears fight the ocean heroically.”
The woodpeckers nodded, and helped Pudgy stand up. The hedgehog waved at the statues and sighed as the happy memories of the past had lifted a small weight from his shoulders. He began to walk slowly once more, with the rhythmic tap of his cane on the cobble stones. The birds walked alongside him, and it was not long until there was a small crowd that had formed behind the elderly critter. The words spoken by Pudgy had attracted attention, and the various visitors that had come to explore the gardens had heard of stories the hedgehog told tales of his adventures. Around a curved path, past several oak trees, and a garden of lilac planted the procession headed until the hedgehog saw another statue. This one was guarded by two shinobi rabbits in black garb.
Upon noticing the hedgehog, one rabbit hopped up and raised his paw to the crowd of animals. “Everyone, please let Pudgy-san have a moment to himself. Pudgy-san, you may proceed.” The hedgehog nodded, and patted the young rabbit on his shoulder, “thank you shinobi-san.” The other shinobi nodded, and hopped to block the path from the opposite direction. As the hedgehog approached the statue, he could see it was a bald eagle carved from the same granite stone of which the bear’s state was made from. Moving faster than he normally did, the hedgehog ran as fast as he could up to the statue and started wailing. His tears were flowing like falling rain, and placed a paw on the placard written in kanji.
The various animals stood silently along the path, and watched as the Crane Empress and Sichio Touma walked up to the shinobi rabbit who was blocking the opposite side. Bowing deeply, the subordinate backed away, and allowed the two to pass. The Empress walked slowly behind the hedgehog, and looked sad as she stared at the statue. She bent and placed a wing tip on top of the crying hedgehog’s head. “Pudgy, I know this must be so hard on you.” The little hedgehog looked up at the Empress as he turned and nodded. “It has been years, and Pudgy still misses him. Pudgy never could have gone on all the adventures without him. Cobalt was Pudgy’s friend….” Sichio Touma nodded, bowed before the statue. Then the rabbit turned to Pudgy, “once you have a moment to recover. The empress wishes to discuss something with you.” The little hedgehog wiped the tears away with the back of his paws, and looked up at the tall white crane. She smiled as the only way a bird could, and motioned with her wings while speaking. “There are many here who have not heard the tale of the war of the ocean. Would you please tell the tale once again? I would very much like to hear it.” The hedgehog nodded, and watched as the shinobi signaled one another to allow the crowd to form. As the various animals started to gather, they formed a half circle around the hedgehog as he sat on a flat stone in front of the eagle statue. The little hedgehog spoke at first haltingly, but then started to speak normally. He skipped his normal joke of starting at the beginning when he was born. That was not the time for that amusement. “Pudgy … will now tell the terrible tale of the war of the ocean. How the animals of Friendship Town came to help the animals of Japan defeat the evil King of the Ocean.”