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Chapter 1 Main Chapters Chapter 3

Chapter 2: Emperor

After an hour or two, and after we hitchhiked with a local farmer's wagon, we reached quite a city. It looked to be a major city, if not a capital. Indeed, one large area of it appeared to be a palace. We looked at it while reclining on the piled up hay in the farmer's wagon.

Haruhi was growing restless. "I really thought those men before might've been aliens, but they were just normal people," she grumbled, with a stalk of hay hanging out of her mouth. "We got transported to this world, with a red light and everything-"

"Haruhi," I cautioned her. The farmer had already been perturbed by her weird clothes, and I didn't know what he'd think if he overheard this.

Of course, Haruhi continued talking as though I hadn't said a word, "-and then that's it! No aliens, no espers, not even any time travel! We just get abandoned here!"

Oh well. After all, our mannerisms and Haruhi's clothes were a dead giveaway in any case.

"We could always go back to the world we came from," I said, scrutinizing her reaction. If this were an enclosed space, she might be able to unconsciously collapse it and return us home, if she were inclined towards the idea.

Haruhi turned her head and looked stubbornly at me. "No, Kyon, we're going to tough it out for the sake of the SOS Brigade and our mission! Honestly, you should try to show more spirit! If you're going to do something, do it!"

"We're almost at the capital now," the farmer called from the front of the wagon as he stopped his mare.

Haruhi leapt to the ground and ran to the front of the wagon and asked as she bowed, "Thank you very much for the ride, sir. Would you please tell us what country this is?"

"Well, this is the capital of the Konan Empire," the farmer said, scratching his head. "Excuse my curiosity, but where are you from?"

By this time, I had finally gotten off the pile of hay and was now standing at her side.

"We're from Japan," Haruhi replied. "It was very nice meeting you." She bowed again.

The driver bowed in his seat and said, "And you. Have a safe journey." I noticed that as we were leaving, he shook his head.

We finally got inside the city. There was a large open-air market, with plenty of food vendors, but the prices were really expensive.

Were they? How did I know? And why were none of the shoppers complaining or haggling down the prices very much?

"It's time we found some food and a place to rest," Haruhi mentioned.

"Yeah, but the trouble is, neither of us have 'Konan' money," I pointed out. "I don't think they'll accept our cash."

Haruhi looked around a moment, making her ponytail flail violently, then had an idea. "There are plenty of street performers. We could come up with an act and ask for food as payment!"

"People are staring at us enough as it is," I pointed out.

"We could make that symbol on your forehead glow and charge people to see it!" Haruhi suggested excitedly.

Just then, there was a commotion, and the crowds began to clear the center of the street. We followed suit, ending up near the front of the crowd. A guarded palanquin, with rich, thick curtains, was coming down the street.

"That must be the emperor of this place," Haruhi said to me. "Maybe the royal family is actually a family of espers here! They used their psychic powers to summon us for some reason!"

"There's no need to shout," I told her quietly as several people turned to us.

The palanquin stopped in response to a quiet command to the courtiers bearing it, and then I heard a familiar voice calling, "Friends, is that you?" At the same time, the curtains were parted by a hand, and I saw something very odd.

Inside the palanquin was a richly dressed and handsome young man, with a longsword hanging from his belt. He had long, light brown hair that flowed to the back of his shoulder blades.

All of that, really, was something like what I was expecting to see, when I think of a prince or emperor. What I didn't expect was that this lord would have the face and voice of Itsuki Koizumi, a fellow member of the SOS Brigade. He also had a side job as a member in an organization of espers. And now he was in a palanquin, for no apparent reason.

"I thought I recognized your voices," the lord who looked like Koizumi said to us, with one of his inscrutable smiles. "It's quite a relief to see some familiar faces."

"Koizumi, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be at the Brigade headquarters!" Haruhi asked. She meant the club room that she took over.

He spread his hands, indicating that he didn't know either. "I'll do my best to explain later, although I know little myself. For the moment, however," he raised his hand, then swept it around in a circle, "we're interfering with traffic and everyone's business. Why don't we discuss this at my palace?"

"It's your palace?" I asked. Stupid question, I guess, but maybe he was under some other lord or something.

Haruhi was already forging confidently through the crowd, replying, "Excellent work! You've found an even better headquarters than that drafty old room!"

I wasn't so sure we should so readily accept his hospitality - things were just getting too weird too fast. But I didn't have any better ideas, and I figured I might get some answers Haruhi's way, so I joined them.

As casually as I could, I noted, "This is certainly unexpected. Kind of like that softball game we played in."

"Ah, yes," Koizumi reminisced, "that was certainly an unexpected end, but almost inevitable in a sense."

"How can it be both?" I looked at him strangely.

"Unexpected given the score against us just before Nagato gave us our edge," Koizumi explained, "inevitable given the fact that we were playing with our fearless leader at our head," he gestured magnanimously to Haruhi.

Haruhi's memories had gotten onto a slightly different track, because she asked, "That reminds me, Kyo, what did you do with the bat from that game?"

"Don't you remember?" I asked in return. "I sold it to the other team."

Koizumi nodded sagely. "Very well done," he said to me.

I squinted at him. "They were offering a very high price, and it only seemed fair after the way we beat them."

"Nevertheless, you did well there." He noted Haruhi was distracted for a moment by the whispers of the crowds we were passing, and he leaned forward towards me and winked, "I mean your clever way of ascertaining our identities."

"Thank you," I acknowledged. I think a little satisfaction was called for there- it had worked out even better than I intended, since we'd all proven our identities. I'm not paranoid - I just wanted to be sure that we hadn't run into somebody who looked exactly like Koizumi, but wasn't.

When we finally got to the palace, I had to acknowledge that Haruhi did have a point. That place was a lot better than our club room, although that's not really saying too much.

I should give the palace of Konan its due, because it was a marvel. The palace was large, aesthetically pleasing, and had an abundance of food and courtiers. Either we arrived in time for dinner, or Koizumi felt like eating just then - either way, one of our problems was solved.

We ate in silence for a while, then Koizumi broke it by saying, "I suppose I promised to explain how I got here."

Haruhi nodded. "You sure did. Well, I suppose it's about time for the SOS Brigade member reports. Koizumi, what's your report on these strange phenomena we've been experiencing?"

Koizumi reminded her, "I'm afraid I'm not too sure of all the details myself. It's rather like a mosquito being accidentally sucked into a subway train and finding itself having been moved to an entirely different neighborhood."

He went on, "In any case, I was waiting alone in the club room for everyone. Suddenly, I heard a loud screeching noise, like a giant peacock. A red light surrounded me," he swept his fingers around himself, "and I found myself in the palace. Nobody seemed surprised to see me here, in fact they seemed to have been expecting me. They told me that I was supposed to come at this time. They gave me these robes," he fingered the rich silk of his garment, "and said I was to be their emperor. That all happened this afternoon. Since then I've been trying to meet all my advisors and learn something of the history and situation of this Konan empire."

I peered at him. "Why? You're not actually the emperor, you know."

He held out his hands, palms open. "If I'm not, then who is? I can't find anything about any other royal family. Nobody else has made a claim to the throne."

"Have you learned anything about what sort of unearthly power might've called us here?" Haruhi inquired. "Any suspicious local legends pointing to alien interference or a secret cabal of espers? Or time traveling researchers?"

He smiled and shook his head, "Nothing quite like that, but I have gotten a clue as to why we're here. Apparently there's some sort of being called Suzaku ruling this land of Konan, above the emperor, as it were, though he doesn't often intervene directly. Instead, he tends to appoint seven," he flashed that number on his fingers briefly, "warriors named after constellations in his region of the sky. And when they are ready, he calls in a priestess from another world. And here you are," he swept his arm across the table at us. "Do you mind if I ask now how you got here? Specifically, at what time?" He gazed intently at us.

"After school sometime, whenever we got to the library," I said uncertainly. I hadn't checked my watch or anything.

"Probably exactly when I was taken. Please, go on," he nodded.

"We found an old Chinese book in the library," Haruhi took up the tale enthusiastically, "and when I opened it up, there was a red light and a bird call! That must've been when Suzaku took us! We got dropped in the middle of a desert near some really weak slavers. Kyo beat them all up, but he accidentally revealed that he's an alien! Can you believe it, Koizumi? The SOS Brigade's first alien is one of its own members!"

"An alien?" He asked that as he looked at me good-humoredly.

I rolled my eyes and announced, "I'm not an-"

"Don't listen to his pathetic denials," she said, closing her eyes, turning her head slightly from me, and holding her hand up resolutely against me, "there was a bright red Chinese character on his forehead."

"Really? Fascinating. I thought I saw something different about you," Koizumi leaned towards me.

I folded my arms and noted, "It's hard to number the different things I see about you. When did you grow all that hair?"

He caressed it lovingly. "I know, isn't it odd? It just lengthened the moment I came here. Still, I do think it rather improves my appearance. In fact, I'd say that now I look beautiful." He smiled.

"Stop being gross," I disagreed.

"But as it happens," Koizumi went on, "I acquired a character too." He shifted his robe so we could see a faint Chinese character on his neck. "I'm told these are how the Suzaku Seven are identified. I'm Hotohori, and if I recall the scroll correctly, your character means you are Tamahome."

"How cute. So now I have a nickname?" I asked, not entirely pleased or displeased.

"Something like that, I don't really know for certain," Koizumi shrugged.

"So you're both espers now! Well done, brigade members!" Haruhi clapped. "Now, as priestess, what esper powers do I get?"

Koizumi cocked his head at her. "I don't know about powers, but I have heard that you get a wish, if you assemble all the Suzaku Seven."

Haruhi was grinning from ear to ear. "A chance to meet more espers? I'd never pass that up! It's the very reason I made the Brigade, to meet espers and aliens and time travelers! I'll be counting on your assistance, Kyo, Koizumi."

"Of course. I'd be interested to meet the other five warriors myself," Koizumi agreed.

"Hold on," I protested.

Usually Haruhi would give me a few seconds to speak before dismissing my cautions, but this time she didn't even seem to hear me, as she insisted on seeing Koizumi's documents for himself. Koizumi addressed this request to the nearby courtiers, and they agreed to bring "The Book of the Universe of the Four Gods." Haruhi didn't want to lose any time, so instead went with them to see it for herself.

After she was gone, I took a few more bites, trying to chew out my frustrations on some of the best Chinese food I've ever tasted. Then I asked Koizumi, "So, you can actually get out of this enclosed space, right?"

He looked knowingly at me, then dismissed all his attendants. I apologized awkwardly, "Sorry, I forgot."

"It'll be all right. They seem loyal enough, and we're strange to them already," he reassured me. "But as to your question. Unfortunately, despite my true esper powers in our normal world, I can't leave this place. I assume you can't, with your new powers?"

I set down my utensils for a moment, but then shook my head. "That didn't really occur to me before. But I can't seem to leave either, no. I've been thinking this isn't a normal enclosed space."

"I concur," he said seriously. He waved his hand toward his head, "It's hard to describe to someone without an esper's abilities, but we espers can perceive enclosed spaces. When I perceive this place, and when I try to leave it, I see it is like an enclosed space, but not. It smells subtly different. The difference is enough to render most of my powers in an enclosed space useless. It's like being able to dive," he waved his hand down and swirled it around, "and surface," he waved his hand upwards, "in the water, but then going on land," he moved his hand away from himself, "where you don't have as much freedom of movement."

"So we can't depend on the other espers in your organization being able to enter either," I sighed.

"It is a worrisome prospect," he folded his hands and rested his chin on them. "Haruhi is able to exert some degree of control on this space, whatever this world's true nature is. I presume that's how we ended up here, as members of the Suzaku Seven. If she should generate further enclosed spaces here, I'll have to try to disperse them alone. So it's up to us," he looked at me meaningfully, "to make sure that Haruhi never feels the need to make another enclosed space: that she is never bored, or lonely, or cross."

I frowned. "I disagree. That makes it all the more important to get back home."

He flashed an open palm at me as he tried to persuade me, "Is it? Consider- we may be wrong, and Haruhi may have made this world after all, to fulfill her desires. We've anticipated this possibility for some time. If that's true, it's our responsibility to make sure she's happy here, and doesn't try to disturb the order of the universe further. Besides, whatever the case may be, I suspect this is like last time, and convincing Haruhi to return to the previous world depends more on you than on me."

I folded my arms. It wasn't as though that hadn't occurred to me more than a few times that day. But it was a near thing the last time I tried to convince Haruhi to give up one of her enclosed spaces and the world of wonders she'd made in it.

"I'm not sure she'd listen to me if I try to do it again like I did last time," I pointed out. "She might think I'd be manipulating her. I suppose justifiably."

"But," I went on, "I'm not as prepared as you to accept this place. Haruhi is bound to get bored after a while. When she does, I'll ask her to bring us back to our original world."

Koizumi reminded me, "That's assuming that she can." He leaned close again, and I kept my arms tightly folded as he said quietly, "You see how happy she is right now. I think she could be happy here forever, given certain circumstances. Don't you, of all people, want her to be satisfied for once in her life?"

"Don't look at me like that," I snapped, harsher than I meant. "Sorry," I said guiltily as he retreated suavely. "I just don't think she can be happy if we have to give up everything in our original world. She might be happy, but it wouldn't be worth it. Deep down, she couldn't live with herself. I couldn't live with myself."

"It's not easy for me either," he remonstrated, and I felt another pang of guilt, "but it's better than not existing at all, which could happen if she ever gets too out of sorts and creates an enclosed space that remakes the world. Still, I suppose we needn't worry. If you feel that way about our original world, I'm sure she'll feel that way too, in time."

"That's assuming," I reminded him, "that Haruhi is the key to getting us out of here."

"True enough," he nodded. "It might be this Suzaku who is the key. Which is why I think both of us have a reason to help her find the other Suzaku Seven."

Chapter 1 Main Chapters Chapter 3