A/N:: AU, inspired by Sidian007's fantastic Meiji Former series on Deviant Art.
Japan, April 30, 1851
Humming echoed through the finished temple, a deep rumbling tune that spoke of happier times. Ratchet worked to clean the temple from top to bottom polishing it with dark pine tar bubbling in a hearth to warm the temple during prayers. These days working with the six villages around the temple had been the best Ratchet could ever remember. Each village had donated wood, rope, pine tar, tools, stone work, ground clearing and other chores to the temple restoration. Ratchet's energon gourd was now three energon gourds all full. He also had a new rush robe to keep the spring rains off. Wax polish for his plating, solvent crystals for baths and fresh crystal herbs and ores that had been nearly depleted from his healing chest.
Restocked and well fed Ratchet felt the itching to be on his way once more, but not today. With a last few strokes of a heavy rush bundle Ratchet finished burnishing the new wood. Turning to an old cloth left by Downspin, the snooty grey mech from his first night in this area, Ratchet began buffing the cool tar to a high shine. The work was welcome, as was the chill spring rain that kept everyone indoors today. He loved this time of year, and had every window open to let the sounds of the surrounding forest and falling rain fill the temple. As he worked the dim brightness of day dimmed towards night, and with one last long, raking scrub of a rush brush against the floor Ratchet threw out the wash water and left to sit by the low hearth warming some energon for his meal.
Once warmed he collected water for a rinse by the hearth, then turned to his prayers and meditation, letting his devotion last well past darkness and into the night. Why not? He had nowhere to go tomorrow. He would spend his last day in the temple ensuring that when a priest was sent by one of the nearby temples that all would be ready.
Around the meditating priest cherry paneling burnished dark with pine tar lined the walls, bringing a warm hue to the lovingly restored Buddha idol standing tall in the center of the temple. Smelling richly of pine and incense the temple possessed an energy uniquely its own. Sitting at the foot of the Buddha was the last of the high grade Ratchet had been gifted, left to the Lord as he himself could not consume such extravagance.
Ratchet's chanting filled the night lending a sonorous litany to the singing night birds and burbling stream beyond the open temple windows. Moonlight streamed into the temple through a break in the clouds and the open windows, the milky light inching like ghostly fingers across the polished floor, tracing up the chanting priest's spinal struts and over his helm until it touched the fearsome guardian statues standing at the Buddha's sides as his guardians for all time.
With the first breath of moonlight upon the age blackened wooden statues, the fearsome visages of the storm gods shifted, flowing like the running time sands as black wood fell away revealing two mechs: one the vermilion of the tori-i gates that stand before the Shinto shrines, the other the yellow of the chrysanthemum, the true color of courage. (1)
Only when fully bathed in the moon's light did the former statues stir. Optics blazed the brilliant blue of Ameteratsu's first light and they were alive! Both blinked weakly, their frames heavy with life as they stared at the temple now complete and whole. The curse upon them had been broken by the bodhisattva guised as a humble priest sent to their aid. There, before them kneeling in prayers, his voice filling the temple like a brass gong ringing to the heavens, was the priest.
The figure they had watched through their nightly toils now sat up, awake and his glory blessed by Buddha himself outshone the moon's brightness. The chanted litany of prayers and thanks to Buddha and other benefactors unknown filled the room with the feeling of Heaven. Then, stepping out from the brilliant moonlight cascading into the pristine sanctuary like a maid stepping from bathing in a river appeared Kannon.
"Sons of Susano-o, gods of Wind and Thunder." She greeted sweetly, but not warmly, "Your imprisonment has been lifted, thanks only to a mortal. However, your punishment will continue. For all the cruel deeds you have done neither the Jade Emperor nor benevolent Amateratsu will take you back. For your cruelty and selfish misdeeds you will remain as mortals for all eternity."
"Can't we negotiate this?" Sideswipe begged, horrified at the thought of living as mortals once more, only this time to never die.
Kannon stepped backwards into the brilliant moonlight ready to abandon the wayward gods and paused, her depthless optics glancing sharply down on the kneeling priest. Studying the white helm and proud, dark chevron upon his brow, Kannon glanced back up to the brothers with a smirk on her divine features. "How about a bargain? Keep this priest safe, stay by his side no matter where he goes and, when his time of passing comes all three will be returned to Heaven once more." She smiled once more, a mysterious smirk and vanished.
"Once more?" Sideswipe asked looking to his brother in bewilderment.
"Who the slag are you?" Ratchet cried, forgetting himself as he scrabbled backwards away from the strange mechs dressed as the ancient samurai of long ago. Their frames were heavily layered with armor plates. Long swords hung at their sashes and massive glaives rested easily in each warrior's hand. They were tall, imposing and terrible with masks of demonic fury hiding their faces.
Half dressed, his robes having been removed from his shoulders and bound only at the waist Ratchet hastily fled the temple grabbing only his medicine cabinet and fleeing into the pouring rain.
"Uh, he can see us?" Sunstreaker asked looking down to his now corporeal hand then to his brother even as they rushed after the half dressed fleeing priest.
Ratchet raced from the temple ignoring the sheeting rain, his only thought to escape the haunted temple and the demons who had come for his soul. Memories from other times, of periods where life had been good only for him to screw it up again and again came back to Ratchet's panicked mind. He fled fearing that every time he had failed the Buddha's teachings had finally caught up to him in the form of terrible demons come to drag him down to hell.
Unheeding of where he ran Ratchet failed to see the swollen river looming before him through the sheeting rain or hear its roaring over the rolling thunder echoing through the skies. Too late, a flash of lightning rent the skies blinding him just as he tumbled into the swollen river. He felt the water pulling him down, threatening to drag him under.
"Whoa!" Strong, solid arms grabbed him, encircled his frame and hauled him from the rushing water back onto the banks. Strutless with fear, Ratchet could only collapse onto the ground staring up at his questionable saviors in mute terror.
The more terrifying of the two demons, the paler monster with intimidating projections coming off his armored helm sighed heavily, his breath misting in the chill air. "Let's get him inside." Ratchet could only tremble, grasping his medicine chest to his frame with his remaining strength as he was guided back to the temple and into the warmth.
The darker demon knelt before him, bright optics blinking curiously at him. "I thought a priest all alone out here would be a lot tougher."
Ratchet rumbled warningly, "I am not a coward!" he seethed, although any fear he may have invoked in the crouching frame before him was ruined by the water streaming from his soaked robes as he shivered.
"Then why run?" The other monster queried softly, "If we had wanted to hurt you, you would never have finished your sutras."
Ratchet swallowed, looking warily from one form to the other. Their breath steamed in the temple as the night grew colder from the rain. "You are mechs?" Ratchet asked looking from one fearsome visage to the other and back again.
"Let's call it a long story and have you get changed." The dark demon sighed as he pulled off the decorative helmet and face mask. "I'm Sideswipe."
"Sunstreaker," The other drew off his own mask and helmet revealing two youngish mechs who could have passed for princes. Their bearing was regal, their optics bright and cunning. "Do we get your name or do we just keep calling you yamabushi?"(2)
"Yama –! I'm Ratchet, and I'm no mountain priest! I'm a healer." The last part was spoken softly, as Ratchet gently set down his chest and inspected it with careful hands. "And this is the only thing I have that can help me save the lives of others."
"Come on, priest," Sunstreaker sighed, pulling Ratchet to his pedes and guiding him to sit by the hearth and a pile of clothes sitting warm by the fire. "Get changed and dried off. The last thing we need is a sick healer."
"How did you two get here?" Ratchet asked eyeing them warily. He was grateful when they turned from him, granting him a modicum of privacy.
Sunstreaker looked to his brother, optics worried. They couldn't tell him the truth, they just got him calmed down after thinking that they were some type of spooks. Telling him they were storm demons would just make things complicated. Sideswipe shrugged animatedly, armor shifting in the darkness, making him yelp slightly when cold water trickled between the heavy plates to reach his plating.
"Help me get this thing off me." Sideswipe turned his back to Sunstreaker letting the other free him from the heavy armor they had been imprisoned in since they defected from the army of Prince Otomo after Emperor Tenji's death. Absently he wondered how long it had been since their imprisonment. (3)
"We were captured, imprisoned and left to die." Sunstreaker finally responded lowly, "We were left in darkness and couldn't see the sun. Just recently our captors vanished, our prison fell apart and now we're free."
Ratchet eyed them, "Ha, then where did you find the banned relics. Samurai have been outlawed for years."
"Samurai?" Sideswipe queried trying out the strange word. "What is samurai?" (4)
"You are Japanese, correct?" Ratchet donned the warmed robes, wondering if these strangers had other clothing to wear. "You know, Nihon?"
"We know Wa and Yamato, what is Nihon?" Sunstreaker looked to Sideswipe wondering just what they had missed.
"Wa? Yamato? " Ratchet shook his head in disbelief optics widening in fear. "This land has been Nihon since the ancient Emperor Tenji." (5)
"Oh, that's what that fuss was about." Sideswipe replied absently, "Wa was easier to say – ouch!"
Sunstreaker shook his hand painfully after slapping Sideswipe up the back of the helm, "Idiot."
They looked over to Ratchet, the priest's face was pale, optics bright and breath coming in short panicked gasps. "Emperor Tenji died over a thousand years ago."
The brothers were silent, helms bent and optics dark. Sideswipe swallowed tightly, intakes hitching.
"What demon placed you under the thousand year sleep?" Ratchet asked finally getting over his shock. His optics looked from the soaked brothers to the demon statues standing eternal guard beside the Buddha and wondered where the pair had come from. He stood, retrieving his medical case and checking on the brothers as they divested themselves of their soaked armor. He looked them over, noting not even the faintest tracing of scars along their bodies. Their hands were as delicate as maidens', lacking any rough spots from wielding swords.
"Fujin and Raijin," Sunstreaker nearly whispered, optics dark and distant. They had once run a bandit horde, they had been proud and feared with thousands of fighters following at their heels. Now not a one remained nor any who would remember their names.
"Whew, you two really know how to piss off the wrong Gods." Ratchet sighed, "Well, I don't know how well you two will survive this. You're young, at least you have that going for you. I'm too old to keep up with these strange times." Ratchet sighed feeling old, "Strange times indeed."
"How strange can it be?" Sideswipe tried to laugh, but only a dry croak came out.
"Giant men with great metal-barbed beards forced our ports open six years ago. They brought ships that breathed smoke and strange tapping devices that can speak to people in other lands. Their women wear shiny dresses that show off their curves. They have weapons that can kill a thousand men from a league away."(6)
The brothers shared a worried glance at each other. "We have been sleeping for a long time, priest, tell us everything." Through the long night Ratchet told them of the passing ages, the Warring States era, Japan's isolation under the Tokugawa Regime, the strict government, inherited caste systems and the downfall of the powerful samurai in this new age of the Meiji Era and the strange mechs from this America across the seas. So much had happened, the brothers had been imprisoned in ancient times when Japan had still bowed to China, had entertained dreams of conquering Korea and had been little more than a collection of clans on the big island pretending to be a nation.
1) Yellow - courage, while this is a contradiction in the west where yellow is the equivalent of cowardice, in Japan this color was used by the emperor and shogun to display their courage. A frequent motif is the chrysanthemum throne of yellow flowers that symbolizes courage and bravery, the willingness to stand tall despite knowing that one may be cut down.
2) Yamibushi – mountain aesthetics or priests who believe enlightenment comes with commune with nature. 2011/10/05/japanese-mountain-folk-the-mystical-yam abushi/
3) Tenji – Emperor of Japan from 661 AD – 671 AD. Took the name Tenji meaning 'great reform' for participating in the Taika Reforms for the military.
4) Samurai – Traditionally referred to as bushi in Japanese, meaning one who waits upon another of the upper ranks of society, only around the 9th century AD, did the word samurai come into use.
5) Naming Japan – The Chinese called the land of Japan Wa while the early Japanese often used the term Yamamoto, referencing the ruling clan. The term Nihon or Nippon (more formal, used in official capacity) was not coined until sometime in the early 6th century AD, before Tenji's reign, but during his parents' reign, Emperor Jomei and Empress Kōgyoku.
6) Telegraph – Commodore Perry brought gifts of telegraph machines and cables when he broke Japan's isolation. The telegraph was invented around 1792 and Morse code in 1836.