A/N: AU, set in Meiji-era Japan, with lots of artistic license and liberties. Notes are included when actual cultural/historical references are made. All TF caracters are based off the G1 designs.
Special Thanks: To Exactlywhat for being an awesome beta.
Disclaimer: Transformers belongs to many other people, but not me. This was inspired by the Meiji-formers which belong to Sidian007 on deviantart. If you are not familiar with the work, check it out. All the Meiji-formers artwork is absolutely amazing. The images acted as inspiration to this fic, no parts of those images were used or described intentionally below.
Warnings: only my poor attempts at humor which rarely show properly. My apologies in advance ... and now, let our story begin.
Japan, March 5, 1851, Present Day
Early spring crystal-grass swayed in the chill morning breeze. Rolling hills of emerald and jade rose in burgeoning swells reaching to the forested mountains bearing a thin, sparkling trim of winter's last snow. All around the soft trickling of falling water sounded as ice melted in the brilliant sunlight. It was beautiful; a small valley leading to the treacherous mountains further east that glowed warmly in Ameteratsu's(1) joyous light.
Yes, it was beautiful here, and the lone wander passing through gave his thanks to the local spirits of the grassland, river and snow by placing a small offering near a river stone bordering a tiny burbling stream of snowmelt. The wanderer, dressed in robes of white and crimson, was a Buddhist priest(2). Traveling alone he meditated on the world and begged for energon from travelers and villages he passed. It was a simple life, yet one he felt he did not deserve.
The priest sighed after he crossed the tiny brook and sat upon a low stone. Beside him, sitting on another stone, sat all his worldly possessions. A tall maple wood and silver steel staff, topped with a hoop and rings that jingled as he walked serving as a chime to call to others that he was approaching. Beside the staff sat his healing chest, a hefty wood and steel cube intricately fashioned to hold all his herbs and tools. The chest had once belonged to another healer; his mentor and father. A simple woven hat of pleated cupronickel(3) to ward off the rain and searing sun, a plasma-gourd with a stopper to hold energon when it was plentiful and his begging bowl when dregs were all that any could offer. The small pile that comprised the sum total of his life's work made the healer sad for a moment.
It had been so long since he last spoke with another mech. Normally he begged from the villages he passed, offering aid of healing or blessing of homes and warding off evil if the village refused begging as was becoming so common in these strange modern days. He had been wandering for many years now. He knew the world had changed without him, left him behind as the ports accepted the strange ships billowing black smoke and the strange ways of the demon men of the west(4). The few times he entered large cities he saw a world so different from the one he knew when he was young…
Japan, February 9, 1820
All in Japan know the dangers of the sea. The tsunami creep up and swallow villages whole, typhoon rage and smash all within their path. So much damage comes from the sea, yet destruction also comes from the land. The earth quakes and shudders like a whipped criminal begging for mercy. Other calamity comes from the sky. Howling winds, drowning rains, encompassing snows all descend from the skies to make miserable the lowly lives of mortal mechs.
The village of Miho(5) had been buried in snow for weeks, digging themselves out when the blizzard passed, making domes of protective insulation over their homes. The snow was high enough to swallow the high mountain temple and whole trees. When the sun rose, some weeks later the village was decimated. Snow melted so fast the roads became sludge and water ruined the wooden homes. All too soon the sludge hardened into bricks and the wood turned into dried, frayed tinder.
The head man of the village had promised omens of good fortune to come, had sworn that their offerings of the meager scraps left from their winter stores would secure a bountiful spring and the Gods' favor.
That favor never came.
A week after the snow began to melt sickness spread through the village, all but the healer's family, his son and daughter were saved. The three together worked to tend to the village, begin to plant their crops and heal their friends and neighbors. It was too much work for three humble healers. In days the entire village lay in fevered sickness, wracked with disease as the healers ignored everything save their patients.
Then, one night after a day of unusual heat, a sick patient kicked over a candle in a spasm of sickness and sent flames roaring through the ruined village. Striving to save their patients from the flames the healers never noticed the receding ocean. It was the sudden hush, moments later when the fire was quenched in the main building their patients were housed in that warned the healers. Looking out they saw the fire gleaming off a charging wall of water.
Terrified, they fled, racing into the nearby forest of organic trees and crystal greenery fleeing from fire and water past patches of still thick snow as they raced up the near mountain. When they finally stopped and faced the eastern rising sun, there was nothing left. The village, its animals and every mech and femme had been swallowed by the sea.
"Father, what do we do?" the son asked.
"We go to Edo(6) and offer our services there." The father replied. With only their tattered robes upon their backs the family of healers trudged the nearly forty ri to Edo…
Japan, March 5, 1851
The priest shook his head and stood, with a sigh he moved from the low rock and headed further north bypassing the high mountains filled with spirits and demons that kept men from living on their slopes. He had not thought of his childhood in a long time. Perhaps it was because this plain was so similar to the one he grew up on. With a flick of his hand he absently dispelled the notion. Forcing his mind back to meditation he resumed walking the faint, forgotten path that crossed this once bloodstained plain that saw a thousand battles and trekked onwards to the next village, wherever that may be.
Japan, April 21, 1851
"I am at your mercy," The healer bowed low as the energon was poured miserly into his begging bowl.
"We have little energon, Priest; but the village across the forest has plenty and they suffer sickness. They would gladly trade you for your services." The towering grey mech spoke hesitantly eyeing the priest in the strange robes of white and red.
"I have only my hands, and what skills I can offer. Is there anything I can do in trade for a place to rest?" The priest asked softly, optics to the ground.
"No, wanderers are not welcome here. You must leave, or the Emperor's men will come as you are breaking his decree." The mech replied snidely, staring down on the priest with hostile optics as he held the energon vessel close. It was a strange container, hued black and tan with letters the priest had never seen before written across it.(7)
"I – understand." The priest replied and left, although he didn't really understand at all. What power did the Emperor possess? The Shogun held all power in Nihon, he had since known memory. Disturbed and feeling old, the priest trod a rough path leading from the village, eyeing strange devices the villagers used warily as they seemed otherworldly to his humbled optics.
"That was cruel, Downspin," a femme rebuked softly behind her husband as she watched the priest travel away. "How is such a hermit to know that the Emperor bested the Shogun in war for power? Or that the foreigners have come from the seas?"
"He moved," The mech shrugged unconcerned and tightened the sash over his work robes. "The emperor banned the Buddhists, we are Shinto now."
"Then we are to descend into the Shinto underworld of filth and defilement, instead of rise to join Buddha?" The femme questioned as she turned to her own duties.
"Wife, if the Emperor decrees that we die Buddhist, only then will I pray." The mech nodded and turned to chop wood for their fire.
The priest sighed, feeling despair in his spark. Before him stood a deteriorating temple, short and humble it was being reclaimed by the forest. Around it, shingles lay on the ground and holes riddled the wood paneling of its sides where little insects had eaten through the wood. "Then I am to stay here." He nodded to himself, moving into the questionable shelter as the rains began to fall.
Inside it was clean, it looked lived in, but empty. Little dust was present and some areas of the wall seemed recently repaired. On the eastern side of the temple a massive bronze statue of Buddha sat in lotus position, his right hand pointed downward, palm out in blessing. The left hand held a bowl with a crystal ginko shaped like a bonsai kept by the daimyo.(8,9) It was beautiful, green crystals seeming to flutter as the waning sunlight filtering through the dense clouds and light rain played through the leaves.
The healer smiled as he knelt in prayer, "Perhaps, Ratchet, this is an omen." Ratchet spoke to himself, and smiled through world weary optics before closing them in meditation. Pedes crossed over each other, the right ball placed against the left leg with the left ped crossed over his right calf, he sat back struts straight below his flowing robes, in lotus position mimicking the statue before him.
As the shadows deepened and evening slowly faded into night two sets of dark optics kept a blind vigil over the praying priest until night was deep and the priest laid out in slumber. At the foot of the Buddha statue sat a meager offer of energon, over half of Ratchet's collected ration. Fully asleep, the temple settled and with the coming of midnight blind, staring optics began to glow.
In the far corners of the temple, guarding Buddha on the left and right, were two statues of ancient demons that had been banished to earth by an ancient warrior long ago. The statues, bearing snarling faces and wicked hands tipped with talons and holding massive, fearful weapons slowly changed from the dark burgundy of ancient wood to metal plating of red and yellow.
"Slag," the right hand statue-turned-mech groaned as he looked at the temple.
"What's wrong now?" The other mech sighed looking at the repairs that should have been shiny and new yet looked worn.
"Cherry blossoms," The first replied, looking at the few cast off blossoms that had found their way into the temple.
"Great, we finally get some wood in here only to lose three weeks to the cherry blossom festival!" The second groaned. "The wood's gone too."
"Great, fun, we've been trapped in this slag heap for centuries and the Jade Empror's court is still laughing at us." (10)
"Sunny," The first paused, finally noticing their visitor slumbering on the floor.
"Don't call me that!"
"We've got a problem." He finished, ignoring his companion's interruption.
"What – oh." Optics met in worry, they had not had a visitor at night in all their centuries guarding the abandoned temple. Wars had come and gone since the long ago massacre that had claimed the proud warrior priests that had once called this temple home. Since then they had been alone, their temple crumbling around them and with its slow destruction came the promise of theirs.
"Sides, is he a priest?" The yellow demon knelt beside the sleeping figure, his yellow fingers transparent as he traced the air over the sleeping face. He smiled slightly, "He's warm." It was never warm here, high on the mountain with no villages nearby. This warmth of a living being so close to his incorporeal hand made him tingle, almost as if remembering what it was like to be alive.
"I think so!" The red demon knelt beside his brother holding his hands out to the slumbering priest's frame as if warming near a fire. "His breath tastes sweet. He's a true believer, and humble." The red demon inhaled deeply again, his plating shifting as he took in the delicious essence of the priest.
"Are you insane?" The yellow demon snarled, slapping his brother from the priest's side. "Drinking him, before the Buddha? We're punished enough I don't want Father to send a storm and destroy our temple!"
The red one hung his helm, black horns making him almost seem like an oni, the ogres of ancient times. "Sorry Sunstreaker, but he's delicious and I'm hungry. We haven't been able to taste the believers in so long." Prayers were their nourishment in their horrible intangible forms. Where once they had fed on prime grade energon or mechanimals of all types they now could only drink of the faithful, this priest offered them their first meal in centuries.
Sunstreaker sighed, "I know, he's pure, faithful, humble – and tortured. He is delicious." In unconscious unison the pair licked their lips wishing they dared bend close and drink in his exhalations, but time was short. During the weeks when the cherry trees bloomed the demon brothers slumbered. Why, they never knew but it took away so much time for them to work.
"Come on, let's see if any deadfall was blown inside." Sunstreaker urged and turned to the hidden doorway that led to the old quarters of the priests. He took a few silent steps then paused to glare at his brother, still staring mesmerized at the mortal priest sleeping in their temple. "Sideswipe!"
"Coming," Sideswipe rose reluctantly and turned to follow. He never tired of the cosmic joke their lives had become. The temple their statues rested in deteriorated daily, each night they had to fix what they could to keep it from crumbling into dust. Yet, the old quarters of the long lost priests tucked under the temple set deeply into the earth remained untouched by time. Woven covers were never moth eaten, the wood shingled roof of the few wings that stuck out beyond the temple's protection never leaked. It still smelled of those ancient priests who had turned to fighting and warfare to keep themselves safe from the invading, bloodthirsty Christians. (11)
Sometimes fresh wood would be blown in by passing storms, almost like gifts from their father Susano-o to keep them going. "Quit dwelling on him, Sides," Sunstreaker sighed, "Our father disowned us when Ameteratsu imprisoned us here at the Jade Emperor's request."
The Jade Emperor, ruler of Heaven who sits at the feet of Buddha had long hated the storm brothers, Sunstreaker and Sideswipe. Known to the mortals below as Fujin and Raijin, the gods of wind and thunder, the pair had had great fun following in their father's wake sending great winds and terrible thunder to scare the villagers. Their aunt, Susuano-o's sister had been displeased and had beseeched the Buddha to intervene on her behalf. (12)
Sideswipe grinned. They had gotten 'promoted' to heavenly generals serving in the Jade Emperor's army as the Buddha sought to curb their evil ways. It had been fun, for a few centuries but, then they had gotten bored. Picking up on his brother's thoughts Sunstreaker grinned at the memory of ruining several heavenly feasts and banquets by extravagant pranks. Holy fruits and sacred waters had been replaced by those of mortal creation and metalli-mule piss. That last one had been priceless.
Only, the piss had made several of the gods sick, and killed one heavenly general. Seen as menaces they had been stripped of their god-hood and sent to live among mortals. It wasn't their fault they were good at fighting, and had no lineage, land or skills to grant them livelihoods otherwise. So they became fighters and terrorized all of the Kingdom of Wei.
"Ow!" Sideswipe rubbed the back of his helm tenderly, "It's not fair that we're transparent and unable to touch anything living and yet you can still hit me!"
"It was still your fault that Gods took offense for killing off that whining emperor." Sunstreaker snarled as he pulled at a chest of draws, dismantling the beautiful craftsmanship with a heavy spark as he gathered wood for much needed repairs in the temple.
"But he was useless and a coward!" Sideswipe protested, frowning as his brother destroyed one more memory of their short lived happy times. "Besides, how were we to know Aunt Ame still counted the mortal emperors among her children?" He asked referring to the Sun Goddess Ameteratsu by her much hated nickname.
"We couldn't, but it was your bright idea." Sunstreaker sulked.
Sideswipe grinned, "I didn't hear you complaining."
"Come on, I can't destroy anything else." Gathering the few slats of wood they turned to the temple and frowned when an invisible force began pulling them apart from each other.
"That's not fair! We just woke up and it's already sunrise." Sideswipe pouted even as they were pulled back to the waiting statues with the rising sun. As the first rays of light kissed the temple they were once more encased by all consuming, ancient wood and the slats they carried fell to the ground in a noisy clatter.
(1) Amateratsu – principal deity of Japan's Shinto faith, Sun Goddess, Ancestress to the First Emperor.
(2) In Japan Shinto and Buddhism live side by side and are often worshipped simultaneously. Ratchet's red and white robes were inspired by the Meji-formers by ***. In the image Ratchet is a Shinto Priest, but I went with a more Inuyasha-ish approach and made him Buddhist. ^.^
- In Japanese no difference is made between a monk and a priest. The term priest here is used as Ratchet is ordained within the Buddhist ranks, while a monk may or may not be.
(3) Cupronickle – the copper-nickel alloy used to plate American 5 cent nickels.
(4) 1845 Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to open their ports to American steam vessels after two hundred plus years of isolation. These ports were used as way stations on the way to China's riches.
(5) Historic account of the destruction of Miho village. Visit: Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries - Geologic Hazards of the Oregon Coast: Historic accounts and oral histories of coastal destruction.
(6) Prior to 1845 Tokyo was known as Edo, and was not the capitol of Japan, or Nihon, that was saved for Kyoto.
(7) The Emperor of Japan was considered to be the living embodiment of the Shinto faith. He was head of that religious order and when the Shogun lost power at the fall of the Tokugawa regime the Emperor attempted to ban Buddhism and promote the Shinto faith alone.
(8) Description of the Medicine Buddha.
(9) Daimyo were the vassals of the Shogun, and powerful leaders of their lands.
(10) Jade Emperor – Ruler of Heaven, a Chinese deity imported to Japan along with Buddhism.
(11) Religious strife between Christians and Buddhists forced many Buddhist sects to take up arms and led to many wars between the two faiths. This bloodshed was one of many factors leading to Japan's seclusionist policy.
(12) According to Japanese mythology Fujin and Raijin were the siblings to Susano-oand Amateratsu created when Izanyagi – the first man – washed the filth of the Shinto underworld from his body after he descended to save his beloved wife from death - and failed. This rite of bathing brought forth numerous gods, and generated the origins of the Japanese mythology.
Meiji era Japan, a country in flux as changes happen daily. One Buddhist Priest, steeped in old traditions and dark memories travels alone until he disturbs an abandoned temple and the hidden demons within. Request fic from darkmustang, inspired by Sidian007's Meiji-formers. AU, G1 characters.