They were on a boat, which was lazily approaching the dock. Though the dock seemed near, it would obviously be some time before the boat reached it.
Bruce Wayne looked around at the surroundings, but his thoughts were on what was ahead of him.
What had the master meant, when the master said to him that they were going to see the emperor? Where on earth was there an emperor in this day and age?
As the boat approached the dock, the passengers prepared to debark.
Unloading now, the mass of people moved slowly, without shoving. Generations living in crowded conditions had accustomed the people to be patient under such circumstances. Besides that, the heavily armed guards that were strolling about certainly deterred any impatience.
For his part, his occidental appearance gave Bruce Wayne away. Despite his local dress, Wayne was easily recognizable as an American.
The guards were checking ID's and papers at the end of the pier. They looked at Wayne and the master carefully, then waved them on. Stepping forward slowly, Wayne paused. Somewhere in the back of his mind, something wasn't right.
The guards were talking to The Ancient.
One guard motioned, and a supervisor approached. The supervisor -- a sergeant? -- looked carefully at The Ancient, then nodded. Two guards leveled their automatic rifles at The Ancient and his friend.
Wayne stepped back toward the group. "Is anything wrong?"
The sergeant looked at Wayne. The look on the sergeant's face was mean; Wayne tried to imagine what kind of training and experience this man had had, to give him a look like that. Wayne felt uncomfortable.
Two more guards approached, rifles ready. The sergeant motioned for a more senior supervisor, and another man approached -- an officer?
The officer walked up, and began to talk to the sergeant, looking closely at The Ancient and his friend, and glancing at Wayne.
Wayne looked at the master.
The master stepped over toward the officer; the officer kept his eyes on The Ancient and his friend, glancing at Wayne.
"You have no business with the American. He can go," the master said quietly.
The officer looked at Wayne, and said in broken English, "No business with you. You go."
"But what about them? They are friends of mine," Wayne answered, indicating The Ancient and his friend.
"They are not the men you are looking for," the master said quietly. "They can go, too."
The officer talked to the sergeant, and both looked closely at The Ancient.
The sergeant motioned for The Ancient and his friend to proceed, as the guards lowered their rifles.
The officer turned to Wayne. "These not men we looking for. They go. All go."
Collecting their belongings, Wayne, The Ancient and his friend bowed, and walked away slowly. The master, who had not approached too closely, merely turned and moved away as well.
Wayne looked at the master, wondering what had just happened.
Alfred stood up and addressed him authoritatively. "Now, let's focus on the basics, Master Bruce. You're alive and reasonably well...?" A slight questioning tone was noticeable in Alfred's voice.
The figure nodded.
"Did you accomplish your mission?"
The figure nodded again.
"And, here you are. The rest is gravy."
They both smiled.
"So how did this happen, anyway?"
"It's kind of a long story," the figure replied, wiping his face again. "And a little embarrassing," he added.
"I shall get the jacuzzi ready. What would you like for dinner?"
"Burritos and hot sauce."
Alfred winced, but didn't want to say anything; it just didn't seem like the right moment.
"Maybe you could have someone in the kitchen prepare something for me?" Bruce Wayne, now with the blood mostly wiped off his face, looked at Alfred and smiled.
"I will indeed, sir!"
Alfred was already at the door, when Wayne called to him, "Sir Alfred!"
Alfred turned around.
Hearing that, Alfred smiled a gentle smile, and disappeared through the door leading upstairs to Wayne Manor.
Wayne looked down at his boots, ready to take them off, and noticed something shiny that didn't belong.
How, indeed, had this happened?
He put one glove back on, and with his gloved hand carefully pulled the shiny object out of his boot, then held it up to the light to look at it: it was a bo-shuriken, a pointed oriental weapon, often thrown at enemies in close combat.
"Meow!" he said quietly.