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Chapter 3 Main Chapters Chapter 5

Chapter 4: Bandit

Of course, bright and early the next day, we were all ready. How could it be otherwise?

"So, where should we head, Miss Suzumiya?" Koizumi asked her.

Yuki unexpectedly held out a clear, palm-sized globe. "This globe indicates the location of a Suzaku warrior." She pointed towards a mountain range some distance away.

"Great!" Haruhi enthused. "That's our heading, then. Hyah, horse!" She dug her heels into its sides and it began to canter off immediately. Of course Haruhi held her seat perfectly, despite the horse's panicked pace. She may be unconventional, but her athletic talents are indisputable.

"Um, how do I make it go?" Miss Asahina asked, holding her own reins in utter bewilderment. She looked between one of the leather strips in her hands, then at the other, and tried gently tugging one, but the horse ignored her.

I, of course, wasn't doing any better. In fact, I wasn't even bothering to hold the reins.

"Let me try and show you," Koizumi offered Miss Asahina, nudging his horse over towards her. He began to fiddle with the reins. I have no idea how he knows to ride.

I looked over at Nagato to ask for some help, if she had any to give, but she was curiously studying one of the golden clasps securing a harness strap.

Haruhi made her horse return by sheer force of will. I was starting to feel pretty sorry for her mount. "Come on, you guys!" she demanded. "How does this make the SOS Brigade look?"

"Maybe we could just ride in a wagon," I suggested.

Haruhi dropped the reins and put her arms akimbo. "This is no way to begin an adventure to find espers, aliens, and time travelers! Whatever happened to a loyal band of travelers riding off to exotic adventures!"

"Usually they've had some practice riding," I pointed out.

Koizumi held up a hand appeasingly and said calmly, "I'm sure we'll get the hang of it any second now."

I was going to ask how, but I noticed that Yuki had somehow gained control of her horse and sidled it up to Miss Asahina's, and was now murmuring something quietly.

"Cheating again?" I muttered at Koizumi.

He shrugged and whispered back, "Better than another enclosed space."

"It's about time Haruhi learned to deal with disappointment," I disagreed quietly.

By this point Yuki had come up to my horse and was saying something quietly to it.

"So," I asked Yuki, simultaneously curious and afraid of the answer, "what information are you editing right now, that of the reins or the saddle?"

"A one-way data link from you to your horse," Yuki replied softly after she was done. "It will respond to your mental commands. You know."

A bit disturbing, being telepathically linked with a horse. Still, it works. Asahina's horse is now moving forward, even though she's only holding the reins loosely, and now I can steer mine without even holding the reins. Fortunately, Haruhi is more interested in those mountains on the horizon than in how exactly we learned to ride.

About half an hour into the journey, I slowed my horse and brought her alongside Yuki Nagato's. I could get used to this sort of thing, I guess. I mean the effortless control over my horse without actually having to learn how. I think it'll take a few years of frequent riding before I get used to my sore back and legs.

"So, any idea what's really going on around here?" I asked Yuki.

She looked quizzically at me.

"Can we get out of this world?" I clarified.

"There are multiple information entities present," Yuki explained, "which seek to retain us here until some objective is achieved. Also the structure of this space has been reordered so as to present multiple definitions of persons, the resultant combinations diluting their personal information. The probability of successful extraction of original personalities cannot yet be calculated due to insufficient data."

I frowned. This was usually the sort of thing that happened when I tried to talk with Yuki. All I really understood was that we didn't have a good chance of escaping.

Yuki added, "You know." I looked at her again, but that seemed to be all she had to say.

That evening we set up camp, still many miles from the foot of the mountains. Koizumi, Miss Asahina, Yuki, and I were sitting around a campfire, but Haruhi was standing up.

"This is taking so long!" Haruhi complained. "Where are the other warriors already! Yuki, jiggle that crystal a bit, see if it isn't stuck in the wrong direction or anything."

Yuki obediently shook the crystal ball, but no change was evident.

Haruhi restlessly turned to face the mountains, perhaps hoping that if she glared at them long enough, they'd come closer.

"I didn't realize riding a horse hurt this much," Miss Asahina sighed.

Koizumi waved his hand over his legs, "I understand it gets better with time. Still, I find myself in an awkward position. Could someone please help me stand up? My legs have cramped severely." He closed his fist to indicate the compression.

I struggled to my feet, but before I could get over to him, Haruhi had already hauled him up by the collar.

"Thanks very much," he nodded at her retreating back while he straightened his garment.

I paced about, trying to unstiffen my legs. I noticed Yuki was still jiggling the crystal ball. "You can stop if you want to, you know," I told her. She put it away.

The next day, we were going up the mountains, through a thick wood, when we found the steep path blocked by a fallen log. Before we knew what was happening, we were surrounded by bandits.

"All right, boys," said one hoodlum in a a blue shirt and a large, black leather jacket with huge silver buckles. He chuckled as he swaggered forward, "It looks like we've got some rich people today. Looks like some A-rank- huh?" The hoodlum stared at me.

I stared at the hoodlum. "Taniguchi? You're the last person I'd think of joining a motorcycle gang."

"Kyon, what are you doing here? And- wait, what the? This is the SOS Brigade!" He swept his eyes back and forth along our party.

This is one of my friends, Taniguchi, back from my school in the real world. Like me, he's also an ordinary human. Taniguchi is a bit of a kidder, but he's dependable. Now, what he's doing as a highwayman? I'll have to ask him.

"How did you guys get here?" Taniguchi put his hands on top of his head and slowly shook his head in disbelief.

Okay, I guess he asked us first. "The short version: red light, bird call, I don't know what else," I summarized.

He groaned. "Me too. Great, so now we're all stuck here."

"Do I know you?" Haruhi asked sharply.

We all turned to look at her. Taniguchi looked put out. I don't blame him. After all, he and Haruhi went to the same middle school, and today they still go to the same high school. Besides that, I have a suspicion that she once dumped him five minutes after he asked her out.

"Yeah, it's Taniguchi," I told her. Then, before she could upset him further, I asked, "Taniguchi, it's nice to see you doing so well. You've claimed quite a remarkable area, and you've got some good men with you, I can see. May we please have your permission to pass through your forest?" Taniguchi has always had a weakness for flattery, like most of us, I suppose.

He approached closer to my horse and wheedled, "Come on, Kyon, I've got the guys to think about!" He waggled his fingers at his fellow bandits. "Besides, it's not every day that four A-rank beauties fall into our laps!"

I looked back and forth along our train in confusion. There was Haruhi, myself, Miss Asahina, Miss Nagato, and Koizumi. There are only three women here. Where was he getting four from?

"It's a natural mistake," Koizumi put in as he brushed his luxuriant tresses.

Taniguchi's eyes became as wide as saucer plates. "That's Koizumi?" He backed away and clutched his stomach. "I think I'm gonna be sick," he moaned.

"T-T-Taniguchi," Miss Asahina stuttered, "p-p-please don't hurt us."

Taniguchi's head snapped around to face her. "Miss Asahina!" he nearly drooled.

Haruhi was drumming her fingers on her folded arms. "Come on, Kyon, I want to cross the mountains by nightfall!" she commanded.

Taniguchi said quickly to her, while annoyingly facing Miss Asahina, "Oh, you don't want to do that! It's really cold up there, and it's dangerous trying to find the path in the dark!"

I almost rolled my eyes, but checked myself. Taniguchi didn't ordinarily lie, and he had some good points. Besides, he did have the upper hand in this situation, even if he'd temporarily forgotten it. "May we please stay at your camp, then?" I asked.

"Of course!" Taniguchi agreed, and the bandits cheered. "Stay as long as you like, friends!" He spread his arms welcomingly. The bandits cheered again.

Now it's supper time with my friend Taniguchi, the bandit king. He's got a pretty good headquarters- an actual compound up here in the mountains. We're all eating at one long table, with plenty of fare.

People like Miss Asahina are right to be worried when surrounded by brigands. They had been crowding around her. If they bothered her, I'd show them some of these new martial arts moves I had! It didn't come to that, though. Haruhi sat down with Miss Asahina and began plotting her usual wild schemes, putting Miss Asahina in a headlock to convince her to agree. The bandits had edged back to their places at the table, and they spent the rest of their meal staring nervously at the two of them.

Haruhi enjoyed a sampling of all the different kinds of fare here. I felt bad about eating stolen food, but it's better than the alternative.

"The way I see it, Kyon," Taniguchi waved a chicken leg at me like a cudgel as we faced each other across the table, "you owe me."

I regarded him and asked coolly, "How do you reckon that?"

"I warned you about Haruhi," he reminded me quietly, "and you didn't listen. Now we've all gotten sucked into her weirdness."

"Things could be a lot worse," I pointed out. "Besides, how do you know she did this anyway?"

"Oh come, on! I have no idea how, but it's obvious she did it!" He paused to take a bite of chicken. Something seemed odd about his mouth, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

Taniguchi continued, "Look at this! All of us, here, together! Are you trying to tell me that's a coincidence?! Now look, you owe me for bringing me into this. Convince the rest of the Brigade to stick around! At least a few days!"

"I barely have any say in what happens around here," I refused. "Convince them yourself."

He glared at me, and I realized what was odd about his mouth. He now had sharp fangs, like a dog or a wolf, mixed in amongst normal human teeth!

"Taniguchi, what happened to your teeth?" I asked.

"Just some more weirdness," he shrugged.

His second-in-command clapped him on the shoulder. "Taniguchi, you can't fight destiny. You know you want to go with them."

Taniguchi turned to him as though his lieutenant had bayed at the moon. "No I don't! I want to stay here, and I want Miss Asahina to stay here at least!"

The lieutenant shook his head with a sad smile. "The old boss said you were to be our leader before he died, but we all knew it was temporary. You're Tasuki, of the Suzaku Seven."

"No, I'm Taniguchi, completely different sound!" Taniguchi argued. "And what are the Suzaku Seven?"

"Really weird people like us," I explained. "We came out here in the first place to find the last three."

"I know you really want to go with them," the lieutenant said, happy for his boss but sad to see him go.

"What? I'm not one of the Suzaku Seven!" Taniguchi protested, seething.

The lieutenant tapped his forearm, "Then what about the character there?"

Taniguchi pulled up his jacket sleeve to reveal a dully glowing character on his forearm. "That doesn't mean anything!"

I hated to do this to him, but it was better than Haruhi getting bored and making an enclosed space, and it might get us all home. I pointed out, "It means that you'll get to travel with us wherever we go. We Suzaku Seven probably ought to stick together."

"So I'll be traveling with Miss Asahina?" He gaped at me.

"Take the boss' old iron fan, and use its flame spell well, just like we practiced," his lieutenant presented a small iron fan to him. "I'll lead the guys in your stead while you're gone."

Taniguchi took the fan in shock, then grabbed my arm, so quickly I didn't even see it move. "Kyon, don't kid with me. What's happened to me? What's going on? Maybe you're used to this kind of weirdness, but I'm not, and I don't wanna be! I don't want to be a Suzaku Seven. I don't want a destiny. And I don't want fangs! I just want my old body and my old world back!"

I pushed my food around. "I don't know what to tell you, except coming with us is probably your best shot at that."

He slumped back in his chair, clutching the fan to his chest, then sighed and agreed, "All right." He leaned forward again. "Like you say, it could be worse. Not every day I get to travel with three A-ranked beauties."

I can tell it's going to be a quite a trial finding the last two Suzaku warriors.

Chapter 3 Main Chapters Chapter 5