*This is strange, I really don't remember writing
this, in fact, I don't think I could have.* Will looked over his
notebook in confusion. *I can't even read much of it, my knowledge
of kanji isn't good enough.* He ran his finger along the neat lines
of kanji which were so different from his own feeble attempts.
He pushed his hair back and tried to brace himself better against the wall
with his crutches. He glanced around, totally alone, still.
"Where is she? Anna said she'd be back half an hour ago. <sigh>
I wish our parents would quit pushing us together, she doesn't want
anything to do with me. And even here, in a strange country, she
blends right in while I'm still the freak." He shifted again, trying
to ease muscles sore from standing too long. He lifted his notebook
again, "Can I read any of this? Let's see. Seven guardians?
What is this about?" He just managed to reach down and get his dictionary
from his duffel bag. Gradually he pieced together a rough translation,
"The story of the seer called to unite the star guardians of the red sparrow
and the blue dragon, and... What is this? Something about a shadow?
And turning a page, and truth, and, aw, man this is a pain." He sighed
and went back to work.
Gradually he fell into a doze, and and his precious notebook fell to the ground, the pages fluttering in the breeze.
The buildings were strange and the pavement gone, he watched several people hurry by. He had taken several steps from the wall before he realized his crutches were missing. *Dreaming, I'm dreaming again, but where?* He walked carefully after the people he had seen. The street ended in a large square, where two men were preparing to fight. One was dark all about, with a cagey look in his eyes, his clothing a dark orange, decorated with small brown feathers. While his hair was plastered into some sort of Mohawk. His opponent was pale of aspect, wearing mainly white with a blue and red vest. The vest was embroidered with a dragon and phoenix. His hair hung in two white braids down his back. As they circled, a movement among the spectators caught his eye. He watched as another youth moved up to the front, a boy in the robes of an old time scholar, with a strange, gravity defying hair-style. The boy shifted and Will's attention was drawn to a glow at his feet. This view was promptly blocked as a white rabbit moved out of the crowd by the strange boy. It turned to gaze at Will, and as it's tiny, black eyes locked with his he felt himself slip away. For a moment he saw a small old woman in a grand room, darkness all around outside, and he knew the darkness was locking her in. Then the rabbit blinked and he was released from the spell. He staggered back and fell.
He blinked and peered up dazedly at a very irate and altogether unpleasant looking fellow. "Huh?" He tried to sit up, the pain that shot up his back told him he was no longer dreaming.
The man knocked him back, "You're not goin' anywhere. You don't knock ________ over and just walk away, slut."
Will tried to pull himself away, "I'm really very sorry sir, I truly didn't mean to disturb you." Distantly he realized he didn't hear any cars at all now.
Someone kicked him and he winced away, "No one leaves before the boss says they may." A weasely man sneered down at him.
The brute he had knocked into hauled him up by the collar, "Now, how to teach you respect for your betters, slut?"
The weasel bent down and twisted a lock of his hair, "Odd clothes, but fairly pretty boss, she could be fun."
"I'm a guy!" Will tried again to pull away, but the weasel tightened his grip on his hair. He gasped as the brute reached down and grabbed him.
"So you're a guy." The brute grabbed his chin and pulled him close, "You're still a pretty little piece in need of a lesson."
"Shit, boss. Boss!" the weasel was tugging urgently at the brute's sleeve. "Seishi coming!"
Will was dropped back to the ground, he closed his eyes. The brute's voice cut through the haze of pain, "If I see you again, shit, your ass is mine."
He just lay there, the very thought of moving too painful. It was a moment before he realized someone was shaking his shoulder gently. Slowly he opened his eyes. A pair of concerned green eyes looked down at him, "Are you okay?"
Will blinked in confusion, *Scholar's robes, and that crazy ponytail. Chaos.* "Where's the rabbit?" he asked weakly.
The boy stared at him, "Rabbit?" When no answer was forthcoming he changed subjects, "Can you get up?"
"Sit up? Yeah, probably." Will started to pull himself up, wincing as he jarred his back and side. "Stand up? Not likely."
"You are hurt?" the boy knelt beside him.
Will grimaced, "A little battered, but I can never get up from the ground." He looked around. "Oh, bloody chaos!" His bag and crutches lay to the side, his notebook was flopped open in the mud, and it looked like some pages were torn. He tried to drag himself over to it.
"Is that your stuff?" The boy retrieved the items, wiping the notebook on his robes as he gathered it up. At Will's astonished look he responded simply, "A book is far more valuable than these robes."
Will laughed bitterly. "I know plenty of people who would tell you that book isn't worth the paper it's written on," he grimaced, "my 'fiancee' especially." He rummaged through his bag. "By the way, do you ever get stared at walking around dressed like that?"
"You mean because I'm so young?"
"More like because it's a couple centuries out of date." He finally found the bottle and pulled it out.
The boy gazed at him oddly as he tipped a pill out. "Have you looked around? Your attire is far more unusual than mine. Are you from another world?" Then he pointed to the bottle, "And what is that?"
"Painkillers," Will responded automatically, "prescription, for what little they're worth." Then the earlier questions registered, "Another world?!?" He peered around, "What happened to the city? Where am I? Oh dear, this has never happened before, please tell me I'm still dreaming. Chaos, Anna'll kill me if I'm not there when she comes back!"
The boy set his hand on Will's shoulder, "Please, don't get upset. Maybe Miaka-san can help you, it's possible you're from her world."
Will stared at him, then sighed, "Of course, I'm stuck in some strange land where they totally accept travel between worlds. Why is my life such a mess?" he pleaded with the sky.
"Not everyone here accepts people from other worlds, and you are the first to come that is neither a miko nor accompanying a miko. Um, can you walk?"
Will nodded slightly, "I think so, the pain's fading some."
The boy stood and reached a hand out, "May I help you up?"
"Uh, yeah, just a minute," he propped his crutches against the wall and zipped up his bag. The boy pulled him up carefully and he quickly had himself balanced on his crutches again. "So, now what?"
"Now we go to the palace." The boy smiled at Will's stunned expression, "Yes, I said the palace, that's where I live when I'm here in the capital. Come on." He grabbed Will's bag and led off down the street.
Will stared, then started hobbling painfully after him, "Wait, please, I can't go that fast! And who are you? And where is here?"
The boy stopped and turned, "Did I forget to introduce myself? I'm sorry, I guess I'm just used to being recognized because I'm a Suzaku no sichiseishi."
"A Suza..." the boy looked at Will critically, "let's get you to the palace where you can sit down, I'll explain then. My name is Ou Doukun, but I'm better known as Chiriko. What's your name?"
"Will, uh, William McCready III."
The boy, Chiriko, turned to look at him again, "A very unusual name, Wiliumu MaCuledi, umm." He paused as Will started to giggle. "What?"
"I..I'm sorry," he managed to choke out between giggles, "I really am, but that has got to be the most unique way of saying my name I've ever heard."
Chiriko sniffed, "Well, at least you've quit looking like you expect to be struck dead any moment."
Will smiled, "Call me Will, everybody else does, and it'll be easier."
The guards barely spared them a glance as they entered
the palace. Will gaped at his surroundings as Chiriko led him through
the halls, sending a servant off with a quick message as they went.
As they entered a large room, Will noticed a couple of people waiting for
The brown haired woman bounced up to him, "You look like you could be from my world. Are you?"
"Baka, how's he supposed to know that?" a taller man with dark teal hair joined them.
She stuck her tongue out at him, then turned back to Will, "How'd you get here? What's your name? Why're you on crutches?..."
"Miaka," a rich voice interrupted her from the far side of the room, "look at the boy, the first thing he needs is to sit down." Will gawked slightly at the purple haired lady. She gestured around, "Get him over here before he falls down."
Chiriko and Miaka were abruptly apologetic, helping Will over to a seat. Just as he was seated a man with long, brown hair and a regal bearing, and one with pale blue hair that stood up and a blue cloak entered.
"Chiriko," the brown haired man said, "would you be so good as to perform the introductions."
"Hai, heika-sama. Everyone, this is Wiliumu MaCuledi. Will, the girl is Miaka-san, Suzaku no Miko, this is Emperor Saihitei," he indicated the brown haired man, "Suzaku sichiseishi Hotohori, this is Chichiri, the purple haired man is Nuriko and the man with Miaka is Tamahome. There are two other Suzaku sichiseishi, Tasuki and Mitsukake, but they aren't here in the capital."
"A pleasure to meet you, Will-san," the emperor intoned, sitting down,
"So how did you get here?" Miaka piped up again.
"I don't know," Will sighed, "I don't even know where here is."
"This is Konan..." Chiriko began.
"It's some other world's ancient China," Miaka cut in, "that probably makes more sense. What were you doing before you found yourself here?"
"Um, I was waiting for Anna to pick me up, and I fell asleep, then I fell over and crashed into a local thug." Will sighed, "Anna's gonna kill me if I'm not there when she comes."
"Were you doing anything before you fell asleep, no da?" Chichiri queried. "Anything unusual?"
"Well, I was trying to read my dream notebook, I keep a notebook in which I record some of my dreams," Will explained, "only it was hard because the last entry was all in kanji, and I really can't read Japanese very well. And before you ask, no, I don't remember writing it, and it was far neater than my best attempts."
"Did it come with you, no da? Perhaps Miaka can read it."
He pointed to the bag still slung over Chiriko's shoulder, "It's in there, the one that fell in the mud." Chiriko pulled the notebook out and handed it to him. Will flipped through until he came to some torn pages. "It's gone, the pages are torn out." He groaned, "So is the previous entry which I had made, dash it all."
"Do you remember any of it, no da?"
Miaka chimed in, "I first came here through an old book I found in the library. It talked about a girl who gathered the Suzaku sichiseishi, and I came and did that."
"Well," Will answered cautiously, "there was something about a seer, and star guardians, and a red sparrow and a blue dragon, and a shadow, and turning a page, and that was all I could make out."
"Are you sure it was a red sparrow?" Chiriko asked. "Suzaku's animal form is that of a phoenix, and the blue dragon could be Seiryuu, the god of the East. And the sichiseishi are, in a sense, star guardians."
"Fine, so you and the blue guys get together, find your seer, do whatever, and get this cripple home," Will summarized.
Tamahome stared at him, "Did you say to work WITH the Seiryuu trash?"
An orange haired man barged in, "What the ^$$%^@ did you say about the Seiryuu &*$#!@?"
"Will," Chiriko cut in, "this is Tasuki, Tasuki, this is..."
"William McCready III," Will finished, "just so you can hear it right once."
"Well excuse me," Chiriko returned acidly.
The others stared at him. "I didn't know the kid could talk like that," Tasuki whispered to Chichiri, who suffered a brief choking fit. "Any of you shits gonna fill me in on what's happening?" he continued louder.
"That kid crashed into town, probably from Miaka's world, with some story that we need to work with those Kutou shits," Tamahome summarized.
Miaka had been eyeing Will with a thoughtful expression since he said his name, "Are you part of that wealthy Scottish family that's visiting Tokyo right now with a display of the family jewels?"
He sighed, "Unfortunately, yes."
Tamahome's eyes lit up, "O-ka-ne?"
Miaka slapped him, "Grow up."
"That would seem to confirm that Will-san comes from Miaka-san's world, no da."
"Now that that's settled," Will sighed, "can you get me home?"
"Well, Miaka-san has the power to travel between the worlds, and she can take one person with her per trip, no da. So she should be able to get you home, no da."
"Though not to the spot you left," Miaka pointed out, "I travel between one point in this world and one point in ours."
"Okay, I'll just call my parents from the nearest phone, then. How soon can you get me back?"
Chiriko stared at him, "But, don't you want to find out what the writing in your notebook was about?"
"I don't have it, so how could I?"
"Well it'd be an adventure to find out!"
"Kid missed the 'adventure' last time, didn't he?" Tasuki whispered to Chichiri.
"Oh great, adventure," Will stated sourly, "it's hard to be interested in adventure when merely walking hurts."
Miaka sighed, "If you'll come with me to the temple we can go now, Will."
"Now you're talking," Will started to pull himself up onto his crutches, his face twisted in pain.
Chiriko hurried to help him, "Are you completely certain you want to leave immediately? Where's your curiosity?"
"I've got plenty of curiosity, provided satisfying it doesn't include any movement from the waist down on my part." As they all headed off down the hall Will continued, "I'm a hair away from being stuck in a wheelchair, and thank you, that is not something I could tolerate in the least. So I don't push things. Okay?"
Chiriko sighed, "I could never walk away from a puzzle."
"I don't walk, I limp."
"You spend a couple weeks in agony that can barely be dulled by even the strongest medicines, and then tell me it's the same thing."
Nuriko waved his hand in front of them, "Can you two stop arguing long enough to notice we're here?"
They both turned to grin at him, "Sorry."
Miaka gestured to an X on the floor, "That's the spot. Step over there, Will-san, and we can go."
Will moved over to the X and Chiriko handed him his bag. Then Miaka took his hand and closed her eyes. A couple minutes later Will shifted slightly, "Um, how long does this take?"
"What do you mean?" Miaka opened her eyes, "We should be there by now. Why aren't we gone?"
Will sighed and rolled his eyes, "Typical, doesn't work."
"Miaka-san, why don't you try alone, no da?" Chichiri suggested.
"Hai!" She released Will's hand and he moved a little away. Again she closed her eyes and everyone waited. And waited.
Will snorted, "I don't think it's working."
"I can't still be here," Miaka whined.
"Well you are. And so am I. And this is getting a little stupid," Will responded.
"Chichiri-san, maybe you should ask Taiitsukun about this," Chiriko suggested. "In fact, maybe you could try asking about Will's presence, too."
"I can try, no da," Chichiri answered, "but Taiitsukun's not very forthcoming, no da." He spread his cloak out on the air, then focused on it. The cloak started to glow and he jumped on it, and landed on the floor. He stood up and dusted himself and his cloak off, "Um, excuse me a moment." He left the room, only to return shortly carrying a kasa in one hand and a mask in the other. "It seems that I can't magically reach Taiitsukun." His perpetual smile had been removed with the mask and Will noted a jagged scar across his face where one of his eyes had been with some surprise.
Will looked around, "Why's everyone suddenly so serious?"
"Taiitsukun is a power beyond our god Suzaku," Chiriko explained. "Chichiri was a student of Taiitsukun briefly, and has always been able to easily contact Taiitsukun. For him to be unable to do so leads to the conclusion that either Taiitsukun is deliberately having nothing to do with us any more, or some power is blocking us from communicating. Taken with Miaka's inability to use her Suzaku granted power of travel, the second option looks quite possible."
"Chiriko, "Tamahome interjected before he could continue, "the rest of us just knew it wasn't good. Did you have to drop just how bad it could be on us so quickly?"
"Ah, gomen, Tamahome-san," Chiriko looked slightly abashed, and slightly smug. "But if there is a problem of the possible magnitude I indicated, then we really ought to do something about it quickly."
Chichiri set his hat on his head, "I shall try to reach Taiitsukun by conventional means. Hotohori-san, may I borrow a horse to travel faster?"
"Hai, whichever you chose," Hotohori nodded regally. "perhaps a group should go in case there is some danger to be faced."
Tasuki snorted, "I was heading north anyway, so I might as well join ya. Besides, I haven't met that $%@%^ yet."
"Perhaps Will should go," Miaka added, "then when you get there Taiitsukun can send him home."
"I'll go too," Chiriko stuck in. He turned to Will, "I'm curious to know what's going on."
"Well, I'll just call you Mr. Curiosity from now on," Will muttered.
Chiriko turned to glare at him, "Excuse me?"
Will turned to the others, pointedly ignoring him, "And how am I supposed to join this expedition? Given the fact that it's such a big deal to travel there I assume it's a fair distance."
"We're riding, best ^*%!@ way to go," Tasuki looked at him, confused. "Didn't ya hear Chichiri ask for a (*%&%# horse?"
"I figured that was the deal, but I wanted to check," Will replied with a bitter laugh. "I can't ride. I don't have the muscular strength or control to hold my seat. And there is no way I'm being tied to the saddle, so that idea can be killed before it's born."
"Are your arms as pathetic as your legs?" Nuriko asked. When Will cautiously shook his head he continued with a grin, "Then you ride double, probably with Chiriko since he's the smallest."
The two boys exchanged looks of disgust. "There is no way I'm getting stuck with Mr. Curiosity," Will objected.
"I'm sure you'd be real pleasant to be stuck with, too," Chiriko shot back.
"Wow," Tasuki murmured, "I didn't think anyone could stop the kid being pleasant. This Will has him really pissed without trying."
"Actually, Tasuki-san," Chichiri replied, not quite as softly, "I think he is trying, no da. Though not consciously, no da." Everyone stared at him.
Will snorted, "Hellooo, I've been suddenly stranded in some crazy world, I am in a lot, emphasis lot, of pain, and someone damaged my notebook. Do you really expect me to be happy about it all?"
"Put that way," Miaka looked at him sadly, "it does seem unreasonable."
"And now you're trying to stick me on a horse!" there was a tinge of fear in his voice as he named the beast.
Hotohori stepped in then, before anyone could start another argument, "However things go, it's too late to start tonight. Perhaps a night's rest will help sort things out." With that he left the room. Miaka and most of the other seishi followed after him.
Will was almost to the door when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to find Chiriko behind him, looking solemn. "We're going to need you to come along, Wilu-san, and Nuriko-san is right, it is most sensible to have you ride with me." Chiriko held out his hand, "So can we try to get along?"
Will looked at Chiriko and down at his hand, it certainly seemed like he might be here a while, and it was always easier to get along than to be at odds with people who were trying to help him. He'd learnt that from all the doctors he'd seen. Finally, he extended his own hand and held Chiriko's in a firm clasp, "Yeah, we can try." He gave a brittle laugh, "Who knows, I might even be pleasant after a night's rest, it's been a kind of rough day." Chiriko smiled at him and he sighed inwardly, no body ever smiled at him at home.
"Well then, we'll have to make sure you get a good night's rest," Chiriko said catching hold of Will's bag again. "May I help you to whatever room you've been assigned?"
"Yeah, sure, whatever," Will sighed audibly. "I'm totally zonked."
Chiriko led him into the hall and caught a servant to show them which room Will had been given. Will followed in silence.
Chiriko paused before leaving Will, "Um, if you'd
like I could explain some things about this world now. I did promise
you an explanation when we got to the palace, and it'll probably be easier
without the others around to interrupt."
Will sat on the bed with a sigh, "Well, if it's simple, I don't think I can handle anything complicated anymore tonight."
"It doesn't require any physical activity on your part."
"The I suppose I can try to listen." Will flopped back on the bed, "How does pops-out-of-nowhere get such a sweet room in the palace though?"
"Actually, this is just a standard guest room."
Will half sat up again, "Corr."
Chiriko laughed at his expression, "It is the Emperor's palace after all. And you're staying here because you've nowhere else to go, you were lucky enough to run into a seishi, and Hotohori-sama's a really nice person. Do you need me to make up any more excuses?" Will fell back laughing after Chiriko's deadpan delivery.
Further conversation was delayed by a knock on the door which only briefly preceded Nuriko's entrance. The purple haired seishi was followed by a couple of servants with trays. "You were in town through dinner so I expect you forgot to eat again, Chiriko. And I expect Will-san wouldn't mind something either." Nuriko grinned, "I swear you'd starve to death if I didn't keep a watch on you, Chiriko-chan."
Nuuuurikoooo," Chiriko whined as the older seishi ruffled his hair.
Remembering his manners, Will sat up, "Thank you for the meal, ma'am."
Chiriko fell in a chair laughing while Nuriko smiled, "You're welcome. Good evening boys." He turned and left them.
"Will," Chiriko gasped out, "I told you Nuriko's a guy."
"I forgot, honest mistake." He grabbed a pillow and tossed it at Chiriko, "And hey, if he's gonna dress and act like a woman it follows to treat him as one."
The pillow made the return trip, "Would you like me to bring you something to eat?"
"If you could, please, it would be really nice," Will sat up and looked pleadingly at Chiriko. "And then I'll be good and not complain while you explain." He got a puzzled expression on his face, "Hey why didn't complain and explain rhyme?"
Chiriko turned from the table with the food, "Why should they have?"
"Complain, explain, explain, complain," Will muttered. "I don't get it, I think they're rhyming, but it's like the sound doesn't match up."
"Complain and explain don't sound at all alike," was the response.
"Complain, explain, drain, rain, sprain, brain, strain," Will recited with his head cocked to the side, eyes unfocused. "Mouse house, louse. Cat, fat, mat, bat, rat, scat, drat."
Chiriko tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention, handing over a plate and chopsticks, "You know, you sound a little silly reciting random words like that."
Will stared at Chiriko's mouth, "Would you say that again? Or anything else, just talk, please."
"Um," Chiriko blinked in confusion, "what should I say? Why are you staring at me like that?"
"What language are you speaking?"
"Freak out." Will grinned and turned to his food, "Oh, thanks."
"Freak out?" Chiriko's confusion increased, "What does Chinese have to do with freaks?"
"Nothing, it's a figure of speech, at least I suppose it is," Will, restored somewhat by the food, laughed. "See, and I think I have this right," his chopsticks drew small circles in the air, "I think I hear you speaking English, and I think I'm speaking English, however, when I was saying words that rhyme in English they didn't sound like the rhymed. And I'm actually fairly good at lip-reading, so I watched what you were saying along with 'listening' to you, and what I thought I heard didn't match at all with what I saw. So I suppose there's something making me speak Chinese as well, only causing me to interpret everything I hear as English."
"That might explain why Miaka-san's jokes are so bad," Chiriko said thoughtfully. He had filled a plate for himself while Will was talking and now sat at the end of the bed. "So, would you like a summary of the local situation now?"
"Can you do it in twenty words or less?"
"Just being obnoxious." Will grinned and set his plate to the side, leaning back, "Pray enlighten me about this world."
Chiriko scowled at him a moment before switching to lecturer mode. "Well, there's four main countries, Konan is here in the south, Kutou to the east, Hokkan to the north and Sairou to the west. Long ago Taiitsukun gave the emperor of each lad a scroll for the miko to summon their respective god in time of need. The miko, or priestess, was to come from another world and gather her seven seishi, or protectors, so she could summon the god. The god of Konan is Suzaku, the god of love, whose animal form is the phoenix. Kutou's is Seiryuu, the god of war, whose animal aspect is a water dragon."
"So if what I think I translated from my notebook is applicable, you and the, . . . Seiryuu seishi? Is that right?" At Chiriko's nod he continued, "So you and the Seiryuu seishi need to get together against something nasty."
"The problem is that Kutou lives up to having the war god. They have, over the years, attempted to invade every other country, each time the country has succeeded in summoning their god and barring their borders to Kutou's armies. The most recent attempt was towards Konan. Miaka came and collected us, you haven't met Mitsukake yet, and we summoned Suzaku. Unfortunately, her best friend came as well and was Seiryuu no miko, but Suzaku was summoned first and Miaka got her friend out of Kutou. All that was four years ago, but things are still rather tense, I mean, Nakago, one of the Seiryuu seishi, brainwashed Tamahome."
"From what I saw of him it didn't seem like there'd be much to wash," Will yawned slightly.
"Nakago got him to attack Miaka, those two are so lovey-dovey it's sick, and something Tamahome does have is a strong sense of loyalty." Chiriko snorted, "Of course, I didn't get here until that was all cleared up, but I understand Nakago was using kodoku to control him. Which just shows how connected he and Miaka are, their love defeated the kodoku, and that is seriously nasty stuff." As he paused for breath Chiriko glanced at Will. "Hey, when'd you fall asleep?" He took his and Will's plates over to the table, then returned to the bed. He lifted Will's hand and let it flop down, "Really asleep." Chiriko pulled off Will's shoes and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt, "That should make him a bit more comfortable at least." Then he worked the sheet out and covered him up, "Wow, I wonder if that's what zonked is?"
End Chapter 1
by Lynda Byatt