By Andy Searls
(Also, a Blatant Self-Insertion No-Duh!)
It was late enough into the night that it had become early morning, and the Mountain Dew had worn off. Andy was sleeping soundly at his computer, an unfinished story waiting patiently with a blinking cursor. His modem screeched as his e-mail program checked for late entries from the mailing list. Strangely enough, the last message was not from an address he was familiar with. Had he been awake to notice, he would have puzzled over the alias "Trinity@outside.da.net". Instead, he merely mumbled something and stirred from the images the pepperoni pizza was conjuring in his dream state.
The message display changed. The window maximized itself. Only the blinking cursor showed. The cursor moved, trailing words behind it, "Yo, homeboy. Wakey, wakey." As soon as the cursor was done, the same words drifted over a pair of $5 speakers.
Andy mumbled again, but slept on.
The cursor appeared to wait patiently for a few seconds. Then, it wrote and spoke again. "Hey, you in the Ghost in the Shell T-shirt! Wake up, dude!"
Andy sighed, and slapped the snooze button, only it was the mouse.
The cursor, finished with itís patience, found a suitable sound clip. The T-Rex roar from Jurassic Park should wake up the dead. Unfortunately, coming through the cheap speakers, it sounded more like a hungry cat.
Coincidentally, Andy was used to having cats around. He knew, even subconsciously, that a hungry cat was not a good thing to ignore. He woke up instantly, and stared at the screen. His confused look was quickly replaced with annoyance. "Aw, man. I forgot to save again. I hate viruses!"
The cursor noticed that it had Andyís attention. "Reality is not what you think."
Andy read the message and typed, "Reality is for people who canít handle science fiction."
The cursor apparently ignored him. "The bokei is not what you think."
"Bokei, bokei..." Andy tried to minimize the window so he could get to the "Start" button. If he could get his Japanese - English dictionary program, he might have a chance to figure out what the word meant.
"You can see the bokei, sometimes called the 'Matrix'. The web page that describes it is an incantation. By clicking on this link, the story will become the truth and begin."
Andy stopped shaking the lint out of his mouse and stared at the screen. "What kind of crap is this?"
The mouse pointer, in the shape of a green, friendly hand with a single finger extended, pointed to the underlined text. Andy noticed which finger was extended, shrugged, and clicked the button.
"Now, hold on to your tukus, because Tokyo is going bye-bye!"
Andy frowned. "Tokyo, but Iím not in...."
His voice trailed off as the room dissolved into a video-green light. The light was blinding. Andy shielded his eyes as he floated. His senses were overwhelmed for a moment. Then, as suddenly as the light had come, it disappeared.
Andy pulled his hands from his face to find himself in an open desert. For a computer programmer whoís only tan came from the overhead fluorescents, the concept of such a barren place was, um, strange. Andy looked around, noticing a single, dead tree, several rocks, but no keyboard. "Um, whereís the ĎBackí key? Whereís the ĎUndoí button?! Whereís ANY key!?!"
"You donít have to yell."
Andy spun around to see a thin, dark figure. The glare of the sun prevented him from seeing any detail. "Uh, sorry. Do you know what just happened?"
The figure waved itís arms. "Welcome to the real world, away from the illusion."
Andy frowned and looked again at the sprawling desert. "Um, somehow, I imagined more."
"Like huge, towering columns of people plugged into this totally awesome computer system that feeds a virtual reality directly into their brains so it can suck electrical power and heat from them."
The figure was silent for several seconds. "A what?"
"A huge, tow-"
"I heard what you said."
"Oh, sorry." The two stood for a few uncomfortable moments. Andy squirmed under the apparent scrutiny. "So, what the heck is going on here?"
The figure stepped closer. Andy could see that the person was a woman. A shapely woman in a dark, tight-fitting, black leather outfit. Andy stared. The woman ignored his obvious gaping. "You have been selected."
"Oh, I get it. I may have already won 12 million dollars, right?" After several seconds of uncomfortable silence, Andy squirmed again. "Um, sorry."
The woman sighed and continued. "I am Trinity. I sent you the message that allowed us to bring you here."
"The ĎReal Worldí (tm). Yeah, I got that much. Can I ask you a question?"
"Why me and what am I supposed to do now?"
"Thatís two questions."
"Well, could you answer them anyway?"
"The answers you seek," Trinity said as she pointed in an arbitrary direction, "are in the city."
"Okaaaay." Andy peered off to the horizon, not noticing anything distinctive about it. "What city? Is there a bus or something, or do I have to hitch it there?"
Trinity turned her back. "Your path is your own to find."
"What?" Andy watched as Trinity walked away. "At least you could aí given me a cell phone!" Andy stared as the image of the woman shimmered and disappeared. "Well, thatís just peachy." He looked around, including the direction he had been directed to take. "No phone, no lights, no motor-car, not a single luxury." He slapped himself to get rid of the jingle. "Well, lessee. Travelling in the desert should be done at night, so I should camp out until it cools off...."
He looked around. A twig on the dead tree succumbed to gravity. He wiped his brow, realizing that he was already sweating. "Yeah, Iíll just get up in that air conditioned trailer over there and wait out the heat...." He turned around, disappointed that his vision of relief from the elements hadnít magically appeared. "Eh, never know Ďtill you try." He shrugged, and began to walk.
After trudging on for a frighteningly long time with no sign of civilization, Andy found a road. Not a normal, paved, painted, multi-lane road. A dirt road. Really, a pair of ruts that had been used quite often. At least it was another sign that he was not the only person on the planet, and it was something for him to follow. It also gave him assurance that he wasnít walking in circles. Unless the ruts went around in... No, he didnít want to think about that.
It was early afternoon when the city came into view. Except, it wasnít what Andy was hoping for. It looked like a huge renaissance fair, only the buildings had pointy tops. Hmm, no sky scrapers, but densely packed, um, huts. How quaint.
The city, ah, town people all wore strange clothes as well. If Andy didnít know better, heíd say he was in some oriental city out in B.F.E. Actually, he didnít know better, and B.F.E. certainly fit the description of this place. He approached one of the townspeople, and man who was jogging out of the city. "Excuse me, but Iím kinda lost. Could you tell me-"
Okay, maybe B.F.Japan. "Huh?" Andy watched as the man hurried off. "Well, sousítu to you too, bub! Whatever he said." As he walked further into the city, he overheard the people talking to each other. It sounded like Japanese. "At least I know a sprinkling of Japanese from my varied anime watchings. I might be able to get some basic stuff through to someone who doesnít seem to be completely busy." He turned the corner and noticed a man leaning casually in the doorway. Andy walked up and said in his best Japanese. "Sumimasen, watashi wa um, lost desu."
The man smiled warmly, showing a large number of misshapen and missing teeth. Andy cringed. The man bowed and motioned to invite Andy inside. "Daijyobu, gaijin-san. Ore wa gaijin wo mirimasu."
"Um, yeah, gaijin." Andy didnít know what the verb mirimasu meant, and the placating daijyobu didnít make him feel any easier. Maybe it was the condescending tone, maybe it was the predatory smile, maybe it was the shadowy interior of the room with the sounds of drunken fighting, but Andy didnít feel comfortable following the man. "You know what, Iíll just look for the AAA myself, thanks." He turned around and walked back to the nicer looking street. He found a nice-looking woman who was carrying a load of rice on her back. "Sumimasen."
She stopped and smiled at him pleasantly. "Dou shitan desuka?"
Andy made a gesture, a fist with a thumb against his ear and his little finger pointing to his mouth. "Telephone wa?"
The woman looked confused. "Nani?"
"You know, telephono? NTT? Moshi moshi?"
The woman made a disgusted face. "Mushi? Gerogero!" The woman hurried off.
Andy watched the woman run away. "What? Whaaat?!" He kicked at a curb, or actually just the far side of the rut. "Mother pus-bucket! How am I supposed to find out where I am if I canít understand anyone?"
Andy turned around. The man from the doorway was standing behind him. He showed another overly-friendly smile. Andy waved him off. "Yamero. Sousítu."
"Naruhoto. Gaijin-san wa sousotu desu ne?"
"Um, yeah. Sousotu desu, assuming that means Iím busy."
"Dewa, kotonisuruto, ore wa yakunitatimasu."
Andy frowned. "Yakuna-what?"
The manís smile never wavered. He put his hand on Andyís shoulder and pointed back to the room he came from. "Ikoo."
Andy pulled away casually. "Iie. I donít wanna go there."
The manís smile disappeared. "Kure...."
Andy shook his head. "Iie. I donít want to come with you."
The man smiled yet again. He looked behind Andy, who turned around to see three other men.
Andy put his hands up. "Now, look, guys. I donít know what you want with me, but I really wanna figure out where I am and how I can get back. Understand? Wakarimasu?"
The four men chuckled. "Hai, wakarimasu, gaijin-kun."
Andy bent his knees a little bit. "I should warn you guys I took some martial arts classes in junior high school, and that was only..." He counted on his fingers. "Fifteen years ago."
The men merely chuckled and began to circle around Andy. Andy tried his best not to look nervous. He wasnít doing a very good job. The four men dropped into ready stances.
The four men turned to face the new voice. "Nani?"
Andy turned as well. "Huh?"
Standing in the rut-way was Trinity. "Hottoke."
The men looked at Trinity for a moment. They turned and walked back into the building, muttering to themselves. "Feh." "Kuso." "Chie."
Andy walked up to Trinity. "Thanks."
Trinity shook her head. "Donít thank me yet. Men like that are startled easily, but theyíll be back, and in larger numbers. We should get going."
Andy followed Trinity down the street, uh... ruts, and into an alley. She led him into a back door and up a ladder. Andy could hear the sound of a large crowd come from the front of the building. "Whatís going on?"
Trinity continued to climb the ladder. "Procession. Weíll have to go over."
Andy stopped short. "Over?"
Trinity reached the top and held out her hand. "Trust me."
Andy was sure they had climbed at least two stories. Of the views he had seen of the city, he was sure he hadnít seen a bridge. Something like that would have stuck out. He would have remembered it. Trinity smiled reassuringly. Andy shrugged. "I guess weíll cross that bridge when we get there."
Sure enough, there was a balcony and a bridge leading to a similar balcony on the other side. A number of people were looking over the railing on one side, apparently watching this procession thing. The other side was clear for people to cross.
Trinity looked back down the ladder while Andy started across the bridge. As they crossed, one of the people at the rail turned and casually said, "Migi ni arukimasu."
"What did he say?" Andy asked over his shoulder.
"He said," Trinity started.
A few boards broke, and Andy fell through.
"Walk on the right side," Trinity finished, looking down the new hole. "Baka!"
Andy could see by the way the ground was rushing up to him that he was no longer on the bridge. If he was lucky, he might land on that tent-thing that was being carried in the middle of the street. It looked like the softest landing around.
The tent thing was not a soft landing.
Trinity watched as the guards converged on the palanquin. "Kuso!"
Andy was too busy trying to remember how to breathe to notice the person watching him inside the palanquin. Andy got to his hands and knees and concentrated on remaining conscious. The person watched his struggle. "Daijyobu ka?"
"Hai," Andy croaked. "Iím, uh, Watashi wa, um, okay...." His voice trailed off as he looked at the only other passenger in the palanquin. "Hmm, nice dress, long hair, makeup, but the chest looks flat, the shoulders are wide, and that chin is too big. You look like a girl, but Iíll bet youíre a guy. In fact, youíre the closest thing to a fellow Californian Iíve seen all day!"
The man continued to stare at him. "Chinki kotoba wo desu."
Andy sighed. "I donít suppose you understand a word I say. Watashi wo wakarimasu ka?"
"Watashi wa wakarimasen."
"Maybe if Trinity catches up with me, then. My name is Andy. Ah, watashi wa Andei desu."
"Hajimemashite, Andei-san. Watashi wa Morphotori desu."
"Youíre Morphotori," Andy thought aloud. "...donut-shape?" Andy listened to the increasing commotion just outside. He moved away from Morphotori. "I suppose if I move away and hold my hands up in a non-threatening manner that I might not be immediately killed for appearing to attack you. Watashi wa um, harm-masen."
Morphotori stared quizzically at Andy. He waved off the guards that opened the curtain. "Andei-san wa kurimasu ne?"
Andy relaxed once the guards decided he cold live for the moment. He turned back to Morphotori. "I guess I donít have much choice but to go with you, if thatís what you mean." He pointed back towards the bridge. "Thereís another person who should come with me... um, onnanohito wa kurimasu."
Morphotori called out to his men. "Yamero! Andei no onnonohito wo turekome!" The procession stopped. Andy waited to see if he was understood. Hopefully, Trinity was trying to catch up with him, and the guards could figure the rest out. Meanwhile, Morphotori seemed quite interested in everything Andy did. Andy sat under the uncomfortable scrutiny, hoping that Trinity would be there soon to help as an interpreter.
Sure enough, Trinity climbed up inside. A few grunts were heard from the palanquin bearers. She and Morphotori immediately started a conversation, most of which was way too fast and complicated for Andy to understand. Finally, Trinity turned to Andy. "Weíre in luck. Heís also been looking for a foreigner like you. Strange clothes, strange language. Itís all in the prophecy."
Andy frowned. "Prophecy? What prophecy? And if my language is strange, why can you speak it? You donít even have an accent. Did you study English in America or something?"
Trinity nodded. "Or something. I think we should wait for Taiitsukun before I explain too much."
The palanquin began moving once again. Andy jerked a thumb in the direction they were headed. "So, weíre going to see this Taiitsíkun, then?"
Trinity conferred with Morphotori before answering. "We can go there tomorrow. Tonight, we are to be guests for dinner."
Andy gave Trinity a weary look. "You mean guests AT dinner."
"Yeah. Thatís what I meant."
Dinner was a major, formal event. Andy was washed, dressed, and made up as a proper Chinese man, much to his discomfort. He was seated at one end of the gigantic table, as the guest of honor. Trinity sat beside him on one side. Morphotori sat at the opposite end. The remaining seats were taken up with counselors, visiting diplomats, and a cat named "Tamaneko". After a small serving ceremony, everyone (except Tamaneko) picked up their cups and looked at Andy.
Andy blinked and leaned towards Trinity. "Whatís going on?"
"As the guest of honor, you are given the favor of the first toast."
"Ah." Andy stood up, cup in hand. "Well, no matter what I say, none of you can understand me anyway, so I might as well use the French that I learned in high school." He held the cup out. The others held their cups expectantly. Trinity swayed her cup and brought it to her mouth to drink. Andy smiled, and said, "A votre sante!"
Trinity spit out her wine, showering the counselor on the opposite side of the table. Andy looked around at the shocked expressions. Trinity recovered enough to speak. "What the hell did you try to say?!"
He leaned over to Trinity. "Um, that was French for ĎTo your healthí. Why, what did it sound like?"
Trinity shook her head. "Iím not going to repeat that here. Try something more tasteful."
Andy nodded and turned back to the rest of the table. "Gomen na sai. Kanpai!"
"Kanpai!" Everyone cheered, relieved that the embarrassing moment was over. Everyone except Tamaneko, who was already working on his fish. He looked up and purred to Morphotori, who nervously reached out and petted him. Tonight was going to be a long night. Maybe turning in early would be a wise choice.
After some of the dinner, Andy walked the length of the table an began scratching behind Tamanekoís ears. "Ah, Morphotori-sama."
Morphotori smiled. "Hai, Andei no Miko. Andei no Miko wa ogoriamasune?"
Andy smiled back. "Whatever. What is the, um, nani wa, um prophecy desu ka... oh bloody hell!" He craned his neck to see the far end of the table. "Trinity?" Not hearing a response, Andy walked back down the length of the table. "Trinity?!"
Trinity looked up. "Yes?"
"Could you translate for me? Iíd like to ask donut- I mean Morphotori some questions."
Trinity nodded and followed, but when they reached the other end of the table, Morphotori was not there. Trinity talked to the closest diplomat before explaining. "Heís retired for the day. I think you should wait until we see Taiitsukun. She can answer your questions."
"Bloody lot of help yíall are," Andy muttered.
Tamaneko "nyao"-ed and rubbed his forehead on Andyís hand.
Andy looked down at the cat. "I know, I stopped petting you. Sorry."
The next morning, Trinity walked into the bedroom where Andy slept. She stood beside the bed, watching him. "You know, if weíre going to see Taiitsukun, we should leave before noon."
Andy mumbled and rolled over.
Trinity reached out and pushed his shoulder. "Hey, wakey, wakey."
"Mmphrgl," Andy said.
Trinity sighed. "You didnít have a drop of wine last night, so I know you donít have a hang over."
"M nah uh manin persa," Andy mumbled.
"I see." Trinity walked out of the bedroom. She returned a few moments later with a bucket of cold water from the nearby pond.
Andy heard the clank of the bucket and the sloshing sound of water. He rolled over and sat up. "Donít you dare."
Trinity held the bucket ready. "We need to get ready for our journey."
"Journey? How long does it take to drive there?"
"Yeah, drive. Or are we gonna fly there? Train?"
Trinity stared at Andy, shaking her head in disbelief. "I donít know what youíre talking about. Weíre going on horseback."
Andy sighed. "Ah. How... um... quaint."
Trinity raised the bucket threateningly. "Are you getting up or not?"
Andy rolled out of bed. "Iím up! Iím up!"
Trinity waited by the door while Andy changed in one of the adjoining rooms. He came out, fidgeting over his robe. "I donít know how you guys stay comfortable in these things."
Trinity held the bucket out. "Well, I might as well take this out with us if youíre not going to use it."
The door flew open, knocking the bucket out of Trinityís hand. Morphotori stood in the doorway. "Ikimasu kudasai!" The bucket emptied itís contents on the nearest gaijin.
Trinity turned to Andy. "You ready?"
Andy pulled the bucket off his head. "Not yet, I gotta change out of these wet clothes."
Morphotori frowned. "Nani?"
Andy smiled sarcastically. "Just some slapstick humor, thank you very little."
The ride out of Konen country was uneventful. Everyone was dressed in middle class clothing, which Andy found even more uncomfortable than the robes he tried on earlier that morning. Trinity insisted that sticking out would be a bad idea.
After the first few hours of riding, Andy was complaining about saddle sores.
Trinity looked over her shoulder. "How do you get anywhere in your land if youíre not used to riding horses?"
Andy stared back. "Youíre kidding, right? Havenít you guys ever seen a car before?"
Trinity shook her head.
Andy sighed. "I must REALLY be out in BFE. I mean BFJ."
As they cleared the gates to one of the border cities, they spied a rider coming towards them in a big hurry. He slowed as he neared the three. Morphotori raised a hand in greeting. He and the rider spoke, but Andy couldnít understand any of it. He leaned over to Trinity. "Whatís up?"
"His name is Switchiri. He is on his way to the palace."
Andy looked at Switchiri as the conversation continued. Another androgynous person. He almost felt at home again. Almost. His hair was a very light blond, almost white, and he seemed to have a silly grin pasted to his face, even when his voice sounded fearful.
Trinity sighed. "He says he just came from Taiitsukun."
Andy frowned. "Why does that sound like bad news?"
"Because he is escaping from her bad mood."
"Why is she in a..." Andyís voice trailed off as he noticed Trinityís expression. "Okay, Iíll wait until we get there."
Trinity nodded at Morphotori and Switchiri. The two men began riding away. "Sheís in a really bad mood. Theyíre headed back to the palace."
"Youíre coming with me, arenít you?"
Trinity looked down at the ground. "Well, I really should get back and... um... wash my hair."
Andy grabbed the reins from Trinityís hands. "Uh, NOT! Youíre the one who brought me into this mess, and youíre the only one who can understand me. I think that you should stay with me. You never leave your wingman."
"What is a wingman?"
Trinity looked at Andy quizzically for a moment before sighing. "I guess we should get this over with."
They had ridden out of the valley and over the foothills. When they reached a mountain trail, Trinity stopped.
"Wassup?" Andy asked.
Trinity pointed ahead. "Itís just strange. I can see Taiitsukunís castle from here."
Andy looked at the structure in the distance and raised his eyebrows. "And this is strange because...?"
Trinity shrugged. "I had just heard that only after someone has been tested to be true of heart can they see the home of Taiitsukun."
Andy nodded. "Ok. We can see the place, so we must have already passed whatever it was, right?"
Trinity nodded absently. "I guess so."
They rode up to the castle and left the horses tied up in the outer courtyard. A little girl ran, or rather floated through the inner gate. "Irrashimasu! Watashi wa Nyan Nyan desu. Kurimasu kudasai."
Trinity turned to Andy. "Thatís Nyan Nyan. Sheís welcoming us and asks us to follow her."
Andy nodded. "íK."
They followed Nyan Nyan inside and down the main hallway. They turned and walked into a large library. Andy whistled as he saw the vast numbers of books stacked from floor to ceiling.
Trinity nodded. "This is better than any library in Konen."
"Konan?" Andy asked.
Nyan Nyan giggled and said something.
Trinity pointed. "The land we came from is called ĎKonení. She says that Konan is over there."
Andy looked in the direction Trinity pointed. A very large, muscular man was sorting through books at a proportionately large desk. A sign on the desk had writing in several languages. The English text on the sign said, "Turn in overdue books here."
Andy nodded. "I see, Konan is the librarian."
They continued through the library. As they left the library, they were greeted by another small girl who looked remarkably like Nyan Nyan. Andy turned to their guide. "Twins?"
Nyan Nyan giggled again. Both the girls spoke, and Trinity translated. "They are both Nyan Nyan. She is Ďthe one that is many.í"
Andy grimaced. "íThe one that is manyí? Sheís the friggin chibi/kawai-Borg!"
Trinity pointed to Nyan Nyan and Nyan Nyan. "I think I understand. Sheís an assistant to Taiitsukun. She fixes things."
"Great," Andy said. "Think she could fix me back to Calif-" Andy stopped when he noticed Trinityís expression. "Alright! Iíll just go and see Taiitsukun for the answers! Sheesh."
The voice of an ancient woman drifted through the room. "Are you two going to tour my castle or are you going to come see me anytime soon? Nevermind, Iíll take care of it."
Andy stepped closer to Trinity. "I donít like the sound of that."
The library sitting room that they were in dissolved and was replaced with a large throne room. At least Andy guessed that it was a throne room from the polished floor, marble columns, huge tapestries, and, well, a throne at one end. On the throne sat an incredibly aged woman. Either the ages had not been too kind to her, or she was in a bad mood. Andy figured both.
The woman stared down at the two visitors. "I am Taiitsukun. I do not expect that you have gathered the seishi already, Andy."
Andy frowned. "I might be able to answer that if you tell me what seishi are."
Taiitsukun frowned. "You donít know what the seishi are?" She leaned forward in her seat. "Have you even identified Taniko?"
Taiitsukun sighed. "Come on! She was a gimme! How are you supposed to get anything done if you canít get your seishi together?"
Andy put his hands on his hips. "Well, it would help if someone would tell me what the heck Iím supposed to be doing in the first place! Just because Iím your ĎGolden Boyí (tm) doesnít mean I automatically know what I gotta do!"
"Has any of this been explained to you?"
Andy shrugged. "I tried to ask Morphotori last night, but I donít understand what he says. Trinity will translate some stuff for me, but she refuses to answer questions."
"Translate?" Taiitsukun waved her hand. A slate and chalk appeared in mid air in front of Andy. "Write down the word for Ďcatí."
Andy stared at Taiitsukun for a second. "What?"
"Write down your word for Ďcatí in your native tongue."
Andy shrugged, wrote C-A-T on the slate, and showed it to Taiitsukun.
She stared at the slate for a moment. "You are using an alphabet, and you only used three letters. You must be using English."
Taiitsukun looked around the room. "Switchiri?" She quickly gave up and shrugged. "Anyway, the problem is obvious. The magic of translation is set for Japanese."
"So everyoneís been speaking Japanese because of some Ďmagicí thing that translates whatever people say into Japanese?"
"Yes. I have fixed it now so that English is used."
"So what is it translating from?"
"Chinese, of course."
"Of course. So, that would mean that Iím in China, right?"
"Gotcha." Andy frowned. "I think."
Taiitsukun sighed. "The Mikos before you all came from the Japan of another world." She shook her head. "They were idiots, all of them. They fought amongst themselves, they couldnít keep their seishi together, they were always getting distracted by food or some romantic fling."
"Boneheads," Andy suggested.
Taiitsukun nodded. "That is why I no longer bother with the tests of character and virtue. Iíve lowered my standards. I created the Matrix to try to foster a world that could develop more competent Mikos."
"And I came from this Matrix thing to become a Miko for you?"
"You are the medium that will call Suzaku, the god of the south."
"So, what are these seishi for, then?"
"They are the seven delegates. They are representatives of the constellations. They are your source of power, your protectors as a Miko." Taiitsukun looked at Andy. "I mean Mahoutukai."
Andy thought for a second. "Ok, so thereís 28 seishi, seven for each of the four quadrant gods, and Iím supposed to call the southern dude, right?"
"The four gods of sky and earth are called when there is a danger to the land."
"So, whatís the danger this time?"
"The danger will become apparent as you become more able to call Suzaku."
"Erm, so what am I supposed to do, besides get these seishi together?"
"Act without thinking."
Andy sighed. "No wait just a friggin minute. If you set up the world where I came from, then you know that Iím a computer programmer and you know what that means. You know that Iím a nerd and I ALWAYS think. I mean, who do you think I am, Han Solo? If you canít be more specific about what this danger is or what I need to do to get ready, then I canít do squat. I mean, if you want my help, the least you could do is tell me what you know instead of this cryptic crap."
Taiitsukun smiled. "I think you will do just fine."
Andy put a hand to his face. "Ok, Iíll bite. Why?"
"Because you march to the beat of a different drummer. You donít follow people blindly, like some sheep."
Taiitsukun closed her eyes. "I will tell you what I know. The four lands as we know them are no longer. They have been united by Qin Shihuang, who has declared himself emperor of all of China. Weights and measures, language, local governments, all have been standardized. He has also started construction on a wall that protects China from the Mongols."
Andy shrugged. "So, heís done some good stuff for China it sounds like."
Taiitsukun nodded. "He has, but he is also burning old law books and Confucian texts. His power is maintained by might. The construction of the wall is also taking many lives. He is a cruel tyrant who is more of a danger to China than the Mongols he is building a great wall against."
Andy frowned. "Waitaminute. Did you say he began construction on the Great Wall that borders China and Mongolia?"
"Um, just what year is this?"
"It is 2463, by the Chinese calendar."
"What about the American standard, um Gregorian?"
"It is about 211 BC."
Andy sank to his knees. "Um, and when can I get back to my time and place?"
"When the danger is no longer."
"You mean, when this emperor dude is no longer."
Taiitsukun shook her head. "You cannot just remove him from power. If you do, the four lands will collapse back in a bloody civil war, and all that he has done to improve China will be lost."
"So, what you want are the good stuff, the Great Wall and all, without the tyranny and bloodshed?"
"And Iím supposed to call this god and ask him how to fix this up?"
"Suzaku will not decide how to deal with this. He will merely grant you wishes. Itís up to you to figure out what will be the best for all of China."
Andy sighed. "Donít ask for much, do you?"
Trinity looked at Andy as they rode into the Konen capitol. "Youíve been sulking the whole way home. Arenít you honored to be a priest for Suzaku?"
"Shyah! As if! Iím taken to this way-wacked place and told that I have to fix their troubles before I go back! What kind of crummy deal is that? I never asked for this!"
"Arenít you excited about some adventure and excitement?"
"Adventure, heh. Excitement. A nerd craves not these things."
"Taiitsukun said that you would have wishes granted once you gathered enough seishi."
"Yeah, she wasnít kidding when she said she lowered her standards. If this Taniko is really on the palace grounds, then I already got three of the seven. But, I havenít exactly won the lottery, yet, so I ainít counting any eggs."
Trinity stared at Andy for a moment, confused. "She said that three or four seishi would be enough. Other Mikos have gotten by with just two, um, alive anyway."
Andy frowned. "Do you know anything about the previous Mikos?"
Trinity nodded. "I heard that one of the Mikos for Suzaku got her seishi together, but only after she burnt the scroll to call Suzaku with. She had real troubles getting everything straightened out then."
"Thereís some legend about a great battle between the Mikos of Suzaku and Seriyuu in their own world. Suzaku and Seriyuu themselves battled there, causing much damage, and all but two of the seishi were killed."
"Sounds like Taiitsukun hired the Dirty Pair that time."
Andy dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "Nevermind."
They slowed as they approached a man who was writhing and moaning on the road. They stopped short of him and got off their horses. Andy kneeled next to the man. "Hey, you ok?"
The man rolled over to face them and smiled. It was the same man that had "invited" Andy to the bar a few days before. "Iím just fine."
Andy stood up. "Look, I dunno what you want, but weíre on official palace business."
The man stood up and smiled another crooked grin. "Iím so scared." His smile disappeared. "I see that you can speak my language now. I donít like being made a fool of." He whistled, and ten men came out of a nearby building. "We slave traders also donít like being kept waiting from our products."
Andy looked at the group and reached back for his horse. He and Trinity turned to see their horses being pulled back by yet another slaver.
The leader stepped closer. "The woman will fetch a decent price, but look at this strangerís clothes. They will fetch a better price by themselves."
Andy put his hands out. "Waitaminute. I am the Suzaku no Mahoutukai. Konen is in danger. You must let us get to the palace so that we can save your country."
"Of course," the leader bowed as he said. "I had no idea you were a priest." The other men chuckled. The leader showed no signs of moving.
Andy frowned. "We are on official business. You should let us by."
Trinity glared. "You will not harm the Mahoutukai."
The leader stepped forward. "Oh, Iím so scared." He swung at Andy.
Andy dodged the punch, but not the backhand that the leader followed up with. He stumbled and fell to Trinityís feet.
A symbol on Trinityís forehead appeared, glowing a bright red. A loud sproing sounded as the symbol burned brightly. Trinity kicked the leader, who went flying.
Andy turned to watch Trinity, rubbing his cheek. "Sproing?" He stared in amazement.
Trinity moved with such practiced skill that she appeared to be moving in slow motion. She dispatched the men with apparent ease. As the last man fell, Trinity turned to Andy. "Are you alright?"
Andy nodded. "Yeah, just a slap in the face." He stood up and stared at Trinity. "What did you have for breakfast, anyway?"
Trinity turned to the horses, who had backed a safe distance away. "You were in danger, I am a seishi."
"Ah, yes, I see. That explains everything. Youíre my protector, so you get the power-of-much-butt-whuppage."
"That is right." Trinity smiled. "You should see me in your world."
"Why would my world be different?"
"It is the Matrix. The laws of motion are only as strong as your mind makes them there."
"Oh, so youíre even smarter there?"
"No, quicker, easier, more seductive- I mean powerful."
"So, what do I get to protect myself with?"
"That is the job of a seishi, to protect you."
"But what if we get separated or something?"
"Then I would have already failed."
Trinity swung onto her horse and smiled. "Relax, Suzaku no Mahoutukai. We are nearly home." She began riding towards the palace.
Andy got up on his horse and followed. "You mean YOU are nearly home."
The morning air had been burnt away by the sun. No one had seen the Mahoutukai since last night. Trinity was worried that he had run off. Now, most of the palace was out looking in the buildings, on the grounds, and even in nearby cities.
Morphotori searched along the garden path. Trinity had told him that Andy hadnít taken the news of his responsibility very well. He checked the pond, and was thankful not to find the priest floating face-down in it. He looked along the shore, spotting someone standing in the gazebo. He walked that way.
Andy stood in the gazebo, staring out over the pond. Morphotori stepped up to the railing beside him and watched as a number of waterfowl landed. "The pond is a beautiful place this time of year." He looked back to Andy, who said nothing. "Iím glad that Taiitsukun changed things so that you can speak our language, Mahoutukai."
Andy sighed. "Yeah, thatís nice."
"This must not seem fair to you. You probably didnít ask for this Ďgreat honorí that everyone looks up to you for."
"Actually, I donít mind playing the part of some sort of Ďgolden boyí. The adventure thing isnít too bad."
"Then, what is troubling you, Andy?"
Andy turned to Morphotori. "Do you have any family? Wife? Kids?"
Morphotori sighed. "My position is more of appearance now than one of power. I have no harem. Being a figurehead also means that I am above most common women, yet I have no influence over royalty. My position has been a lonely one."
Andy looked back out over the water. "I have a family."
Morphotori nodded. "You must miss them very much."
"Exactly. Taking on the emperor of China isnít the best way to live long enough to see them again, either."
"Your seishi will protect you."
"I think you underestimate politics."
Morphotori stood tall. "I may be just a figurehead now, but I understand politics very well."
Andy nodded. "Youíre right, Iím sorry I said that."
Morphotori looked out to the birds. "When the Qin took over the other three lands, I had a choice. I could fight the combined power of the other three countries, or I could accept my own shame and spare the lives of my people." He looked at Andy. "I didnít see it as a choice. My people were too important. I was forced to step down in all but name."
"That mustíve sucked."
"I was ready to take my own life."
"You obviously didnít."
"I told him that he was still important to his people," Switchiri said as he stepped up into the gazebo.
Morphotori nodded. "You see, I had to adapt. I took the cards that were dealt to me and made the best of them."
Andy sighed. "So, youíre saying that instead of wallowing in a pit of loneliness and self pity, I should get my act together and concentrate on getting the job done."
Switchiri smiled. "I knew you were going to make a great Mahoutukai no-da!"
Andy looked at Switchiri and his staff. "What about you? Arenít you a priest?"
Switchiri bowed, jingling the rings on his staff. "A priest of Suzaku, at your service. I am also a seishi. Your third, as I understand."
Morphotori nodded. "Trinity said that Taiitsukun said that you could make do with three. You can call Suzaku now."
Andy sighed. "Iíd feel more comfortable if we could find at least one more."