Sabyr eyed the stranger carefully over his cup of tea as they waited for their food. There was something very odd about the situation, and the Pingfan realised he had to choose his words very carefully.

He smiled internally, and concentrated.

Sure, "dating sim" games were simplified, and gave the player an advantage. Just by choosing the right options, they could win the heart of any two-dimentional girl.

But those conversations were, after all, modelled after conversations in the real world. And when you got down to it, talking to someone always involved making certain choices and hoping they'd react favorably. Sure, the number of conversation options was much bigger, but to an adept of the Way of Ping, it all boiled down to choices... and numbers.

"Ping's emotions...", the stranger was saying, half to himself. "Miho believes they are real. They seem very strong indeed. But... what is the key?"

"The key?", Sabyr echoed.

The stranger nodded, still looking a bit absent-minded. "People always keep their emotion in check. But everyone has a weak point... something that breaks down their barriers and lets their emotions run free. A key to their souls, if you will..." He blinked, then focused on Sabyr. "What do you think is the key to Ping's soul?"

"That is a very interesting question," Sabyr replied slowly, gently sipping his tea. "Much as with any person, there is no simple answer to that question. It is not like a door that is either open or shut. A person's emotional barriers can be wide open to one person, yet locked and barred to another.

"And of course, the situation is also important. Perception is everything. Trust, compassion, love. These are elements.

"But you speak as if you want something." Sabyr took a large bite of pie and chewed thoughtfully. "Yes, I see desire in your heart. You seek something more that knowledge for its own sake."

The stranger nodded a little. "Yes... we are seeking something. We all have a common goal. That is what brought us together - along with our love for the Master."

"Then what you seek holds within it the key. What is it you seek with the Bodhisatva? Tell me." Sabyr's eyes burned into the man, willing an answer to this simple question. He had given part of what the stranger desired, but in giving, had been able to penetrate enough into the strangers own emotions to exert influence on him.

There were few in Megatokyo that could successfully resist Sabyr's questioning when he had them alone in a quiet place. Whether it was gentle persuasion or insistent coercion, Sabyr was a master of the art.

"We seek... the power. The power of emotions that Ping and the other Main characters hold." The stranger didn't flinch, he merely answered the question as if it was plain for all to see.

Sabyr laughed aloud when he heard this. "You seek that?" he asked, still laughing. "And you think you could control it? Very well, I will tell you what you want to know.

"The Bodhisattva Ping, in her journey through life, has taught us the Four Roads to Enlightenment. One of these, the Road of Devotion, is relevant to what you seek. The Blessed One showed selfless devotion to her companions and thus walked her own path.

"For remember, she aided the Buddha Largo on his Path of Enlightenment with the holy lamppost... and she was the selfless companion to Piro the Great One, though in his ignorance and cluelessness he did treat her as a household appliance."

"So... you're saying that... they key to Ping's emotions is helping others?", the stranger interjected.

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A bright beam of light shone out of an Ethernet port in the Shirtsou Daitou computer room. The beam widened and the figure of Iain Caduceus appeared. A couple of the students looked up from a Quake deathmatch and waved at him. With a nod in their direction, he stepped outside and headed for the nurse's office.

An ID declaring him to be a doctor, coupled with his distinguished appearance and his white labcoat, got him past nurse Sugawara with no fuss. Iain felt bad about presenting flase credentials, but he had direct orders from Erika-sama to investigate Yuki Sonoda.

---------------------------------------------

"Yes, mark that lesson well", Sabyr was in full 'sermon' mode now, and there was little his companion could do but listen. "Even to the face of emptiness we can show love. Can not the slave love his master? Or the animal his keeper?

"Yet the Bodhisatva shows it greater than any mortal creature. For yes, she feels the hurt of others more strongly than her own hurt. And the pain and angst of the Great One she feels above all. Though we cannot fathom the true meaning of this, short of our own Enlightenment, we can know this... That Piro the Great One is of great importance to Ping, the Blessed One. Does that answer your question, stranger?"

Sabyr swayed a little in his chair. The exertion of his persuasion, the power of his words, and the rum in the pie were combining to make him feel lightheaded and weak.

"Piro. It always gets back to Piro, doesn't it?", the man mused. He was silent for a while, then said: "Yes. It does. Thank you. You may not know this, but you have just helped bring about a new age for Megatokyo."

Sabyr struggled to keep coherent. "New age? You cannot know what you are dealing with ... interference with ... Main Characters..." With some effort, Sabyr focussed again on the man. "What is it you want?" he demanded.

The man leaned forward on the table suddenly, eyes shining with a fanatic light. "What we want? I'll *tell* you what we want!"

---------------------------------------------

C-kun raises his glasses a bit and rubbed his eyes with the back of a hand. He had found enough to determine the situation was alarming, but not enough to decide what he should do next.

The energy signature on Yuki was identical to what Erika had allowed him to scan off herself. That meant someone with Technomancer powers, or similar tools, was out there, and they were draining the energy of the Main Characters.

But what could be done about it? Short of guarding the Main Characters 24/7, he really couldn't see any way. He quickly typed up a program on his Holotop that would alert him if the signature manifested again, just in case, then prepared a report for Erika.

He left Yuki Sonoda in the same deep sleep in which he had found her.

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That evening, a Temple novice stumbled on the body of Sabyr, laying face-down across the dias in front of the statue of Ping.

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[AN: Thanks to Sabyr for the help in writing this post.]

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