Here is the third part of the first chapter of Rurouni Battōsai, for your reading pleasure….
1) This chapter is – for the most part – a re-telling of Acts 48-53 of the manga, with some additions to make it fit in with the RuroBatt concept.
2) Again, this is still just a draft, and I need comments! *tag gets Aspen and Mitzy to look cute and adorable, raising the ‘cute-li’l-puddy-tat-eyes’ power to three….*
3) Rurouni Battōsai is simply the working title. Still need suggestions for a better title….
Rurouni Kenshin is © Nobuhiro Watsuki. A lot of the dialogue in this chapter was taken from Acts 48-53 of the Rurouni Kenshin manga, written by the noble Watsuki-san, some of it modified slightly by bits from the anime. This story is fanfiction, and is not intended as infringement on that copyright.
CHAPTER ONE: Saitō Hajime – Mibu’s Wolf
Part 3: Preparations for Battle
“Hmf. One lousy bowl of plain soba?”
Saitō didn’t bother to look up as Akamatsu Arundo sat down opposite him. He’d known the assassin was there the minute he’d entered the restaurant – for one who claimed to be one of the best, he was terrible at concealing his ki – and Saitō had been expecting this confrontation for the past day. The man was slow. “An economical lunch,” he replied calmly.
“Heh…. So it is, Saitō-san,” Akamatsu said.
Saitō did look up at this, and studied the man sitting opposite him for a moment before returning his attention to his meal. “I love plain soba. And it’s ‘Fujita’ now.
“Akamatsu-san, was it?” he continued. “What business do you have with me?”
“None, really,” Akamatsu answered. “Only… I don’t like you.”
Hardly a surprise, Saitō thought in amusement. Your tone has made that very clear – and your ki even more so.
“I should have been given this job,” the assassin continued resentfully. “But Shibumi gave it to you, a total outsider, just because you’re from the Shinsengumi. That, I don’t like.”
Saitō didn’t say anything, simply waited – although the thought of this buffoon being able to even come close to killing Battōsai was ludicrous.
“Well, if you’re going to do it, do it fast. Or hurry up and get killed. Drag this out, and someone might stab you in the back,” Akamatsu added, pointing one finger at him; the implication that it would be him was clear.
Saitō chuckled, and took a sip from his bowl.
“What’s so funny?!” Akamatsu demanded, rising to his feet and slamming his hands down on the table.
“Pardon,” Saitō offered, putting the bowl back down on the table. “I sympathize completely with your frustration.” Now to bait the hook…. “Perhaps we could make this a combined effort?”
Akamatsu was obviously taken aback by the suggestion. “Wh-what?”
“It’s like this: The other day, I left behind several clues, along with my gift,” Saitō explained. “Battōsai must know of my presence by now. But those clues will not lead him to my intentions. So when a letter from me arrives, he cannot help but take the bait and come out.”
“So you’ll lure him…” Akamatsu said slowly.
“…And you’ll finish him,” Saitō said. “How’s that, Akamatsu-san?”
“Not bad,” the assassin admitted. “But…. Still, I don’t like it.”
He is simply determined to be difficult, I see. “What don’t you like?” Saitō asked patiently.
“Battōsai is the Shinsengumi’s nemesis.” Akamatsu glared at him suspiciously. “I can’t see why you’d give him away so easily.”
This one is as much a moron as Isurugi Raijūta – if not more so. You do seem to attract foolish enemies of late, Battōsai. “I said that to Shibumi-san. But the old grudges really don’t matter anymore.” The grudges don’t, at least. However, I’ve been looking forward to trying your blade again for a long time, Battōsai. It’s been far too long since I’ve had a proper challenge. “I told you, my wish is to just live my life as I please. Instead of the big money at high risk, I’ll take the little money – as long as it’s certain. That’s the kind of man Fujita Gorō is.”
He’d convinced Akamatsu – not that it had been difficult.
“Heh…. I still don’t like you – but that, I like,” the assassin declared, standing up. “I’ll take your offer.
“But remember one thing,” he added, as he turned to leave. “I’m still the number one assassin in this outfit.”
Saitō ignored the unsubtle threat, finishing his bowl of soba, and then glanced in the direction Akamatsu had gone with a touch of amusement. “I have no interest in such petty struggles for power,” he remarked to no one in particular, and smiled coldly. Things were about to get very interesting.
And the next move is yours, Battōsai. What will you choose to do with it?
Kenshin looked up as a knock came at the dojo’s gate. Sliding the wooden door open, he gave the boy standing there an inquiring look. “Yes?”
“Are you Himura-san?” the boy asked, staring at his hair in open fascination.
“Yes, I am,” Kenshin replied, a touch warily.
It had been three days since they’d arrived home to find that Sanosuke had been attacked, and he hadn’t woken up yet, although Megumi said he was well on the way to recovering.
Kenshin hadn’t yet told any of them who had attacked Sanosuke. He still didn’t understand why Saitō had done that, much less why he’d only wounded Sano, rather than killing him; although Kenshin was grateful for the latter, it wasn’t like Saitō to avoid fatal attacks.
Over the past three days, Kenshin had spent hours puzzling over the few clues Saitō had left for him, along with the meaning behind Saitō’s presence here. During that time, he had only been able to come to two conclusions.
First: Saitō was too dangerous for the Meiji government to have been willing to let him live – they’d killed Kondō Isami and Hijikata Toshizō, after all; unless Saitō had actually started working for them.
Second: Whatever Saitō was doing, this was not a challenge; or, at least, not the sort of challenge one would expect between expert swordsmen who were adversaries. If Saitō had wanted a normal challenge, he would have made it clear from the beginning, and he would have never brought Sanosuke into it. He certainly wouldn’t have turned it into this elaborate… ‘game’.
“Why?” Kenshin added then, studying the boy carefully.
“I thought so,” the boy declared. “The man said you had red hair and a scar on your cheek.” Kenshin stiffened, knowing precisely who was most likely to have identified him that way, as the boy thrust a folded note at him. “Here – I was told to give you this.”
“Thank you,” Kenshin said, bowing his head slightly, and the boy grinned and darted away, leaving him to study the note – which was, unsurprisingly, signed ‘Hajime’. Saitō…. He frowned as he unfolded it.
That the note was definitely in Saitō’s handwriting was the first thing Kenshin noticed; he’d seen enough samples of it during the Bakumatsu to identify it immediately, particularly as Saitō had a few unusual quirks in his writing that had made it impossible for the Ishin Shishi to find anyone who was capable of imitating it properly.
The next thing he noticed was the message itself. It appeared as though it was an invitation to meet, suggesting a challenge; but just as the handwriting was distinctively Saitō’s, the choice of words was not.
To Kenshin, the combination indicated that this was, in fact, an invitation to make the next move in this game Saitō had pulled him into. There would quite likely – though not definitely – be something or someone at the meeting place that would provide him with another hint to what was happening.
“Hey, Kenshin,” Yahiko called, and Kenshin looked up to see the boy heading his way with the tofu basket in one hand. “Kaoru wants you to go get some tofu!”
Kenshin slipped Saitō’s letter into his sleeve, and gave Yahiko a mild ‘rurouni’ smile. “Sorry, Yahiko, but this one has an errand to run.” Either way, better to go and find out what I can, than stay here where I can do nothing to help Sano, only keep trying to work out the answers when I don’t know all the questions.
And Saitō knows that, damn him.
Yahiko looked puzzled. “Errand?” he repeated.
“It may take quite a while,” Kenshin added, still smiling as he re-opened the dojo’s gate, “so make sure you lock up tonight.” He slipped out, closing the gate behind him, and started in the direction of the field the letter had told him to come to. If he had the distance right, it would take him just over an hour to get there. All right, Saitō; I’m coming.
The field was quite rocky and appeared to be empty of all life, save for a few birds that his appearance disturbed – but Kenshin knew better. There was someone here… he could sense it.
“Saitō,” he called. He was fairly sure that it wasn’t Saitō – but the instincts honed during the Bakumatsu told him it was best not to let whoever this was know that. “It’s as your letter directed. Why don’t you show yourself?”
There was the sudden sound of metal – not a sword, something else – moving through air, accompanied by a spike of unfamiliar, hostile ki, and Kenshin removed his sheath from his obi and spun around, using the sheath and his momentum to block the chain heading straight for him.
“Hmph. Blocking my chain with ease,” said the stocky man standing on one of the rocky outcrops. “You are Battōsai, aren’t you.”
Kenshin had never seen this man before, and he’d never heard of any assassin with that appearance who preferred chains. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“Akamatsu Arundo,” the man replied, grinning. “I’ve come to take your life.”
Saitō heard the sound of shouting as he approached the dojo gate, and found himself wondering what was going on. According to the man he’d set on watch, Battōsai had left almost an hour and fifteen minutes ago; by now, he would have reached the field, and was undoubtedly facing Akamatsu at this very moment.
Had the thug woken up? That was the one thing that could cause a problem with this aspect of the plan – although he did have a fallback if that had happened. After all, when dealing with Hitokiri Battōsai, one could never be too careful….
Sliding open the dojo gate, he saw that the noise was actually coming from Kamiya and Myōjin, who were busy yelling at and hitting each other. And these are those you would name ‘friend’, Battōsai? So far, I am not impressed. Sagara is a moron, and as for these two…. Hardly the sort of behaviour one would expect from samurai.
“Pardon me,” he said politely, causing the two youngsters to abruptly break off their fight and stare at him. He courteously removed his cap. “I’ve heard there’s a Himura Battōsai at this dojo…?”
They both looked suddenly nervous, and Saitō hid an amused smile. If only they knew…. “I’m Lieutenant Fujita Gorō,” he continued. “I’ve been recently assigned to this city, and I’ve heard of Himura-san from the chief.”
As he’d expected, both of them relaxed as soon as he identified himself as a police officer – and hadn’t reacted to his name, which meant that Sagara was still unconscious. Kamiya even gave an audible sigh of relief. “Yes, well,” she started, “Kenshin’s not at home at the moment….”
No, he’s currently in the middle of a fight I suspect you know nothing about. “It’s as yet unverified,” Saitō said, making his tone sound concerned, “but we’ve had information that someone is after Himura-san’s life.” That obviously shocked them; more proof that Battōsai hadn’t mentioned anything about him – much less what he knew of the attack on Sagara – to them. “I’m sorry,” he continued, “but may I wait here a bit?”
“Um…. Sure,” Kamiya said a bit hesitantly. “He might be back late, but if you don’t mind….”
“Not at all,” Saitō assured her, stepping into the compound. She turned away, obviously leaving Myōjin to show him where to go.
“This way,” the boy said, and led him into the dojo and over to a small shrine. The hole he’d sent Sagara through, Saitō noticed as he walked in, had not yet been repaired. “And his name is Himura Kenshin, not ‘Battōsai’,” Myōjin added, as Saitō knelt down to wait.
“I see,” he replied calmly, which served to give the boy the impression that he’d simply been briefed quickly, rather than thoroughly, by Chief Uramura.
Saitō knew from his spies and his own observations of this group that they believed ‘Himura Kenshin‘ temporarily reverted to the hitokiri when faced with challenging battles, and then switched back afterward – and that they also believed those were the only times Himura was ever ‘Battōsai’. That was the theory Ōkubo had been working from when this plan to recruit Battōsai was first conceived, so Saitō could hardly fault them for those beliefs – particularly as observation had shown that Himura made no effort to discourage that impression. However, it was equally obvious from their behaviour concerning those incidents that they also believed the stories that portrayed ‘Hitokiri Battōsai’ as a bloodthirsty demon whose only love was killing, despite what they’d seen with their own eyes.
Saitō sneered at that thought. The first time he’d heard one of those stories, he’d laughed so hard he’d ended up coughing as badly as Okita had the morning after the Ikeda-ya affair; and then had laughed even harder when he’d realized the man telling the story was absolutely serious.
He knew Battōsai, as few others did, and while the hitokiri was a killer – that was undeniable, which was a large part of what irritated Saitō so much about the idea of being a peaceful rurouni who refused to kill – he was neither bloodthirsty, nor possessed of a love for killing. As with the rest of them – Ishin Shishi and Shinsengumi – who had fought for what they truly believed in during the Bakumatsu, Battōsai had killed for a purpose, and had killed only those he felt he needed to.
Of course, not thirsting for blood or loving killing made Battōsai no less dangerous; rather, it made him more so. Anyone who could survive as a hitokiri for over a year, when most were killed in three months or less, followed by more than three years of acting as a bodyguard for the Chōshū Ishin Shishi, all before he turned nineteen, was far more dangerous than a madman who killed for the love of it.
No, Battōsai was a highly intelligent killer who had been the Shinsengumi’s most cunning and challenging foe during the Bakumatsu; which was part of what had led Saitō to his current suspicions.
All that remained was to wait for Battōsai to return from dealing with Akamatsu, and then they would see.
Yes, then we shall see indeed, Battōsai… Saitō thought, picking his sword up. He overheard the two women in the next room mention how reassuring his presence was as he drew his katana partway out of its sheath.
He smirked to himself. So trusting…. He would have thought that Battōsai, and the actions of the Hiruma brothers and Takeda Kanryū, would have taught them better. Not wise to leave them ignorant of the dangers that surround you, Battōsai. They’re daggers at your throat, and can – as I have just proven – fall into your enemies’ hands so easily….
“Plenty of people have reasons for killing,” Kenshin said coolly, studying Akamatsu carefully, “but this one doesn’t plan to die for something he has nothing to do with.” What was this man’s connection to Saitō? “Let’s hear your reason.”
“Reason?” Akamatsu inquired. “You need a reason?” His ki spiked again, telegraphing the fact that he was going to attack. “I’ll tell you in detail – at your grave!” he added, launching his chain again.
Kenshin darted out of the way, moving in a swift blur around Akamatsu, knowing that the man wouldn’t be able to follow his movement properly.
“Ha! I see you! You’re to the left, Battōsai–” Akamatsu said – and then stopped, staring in shock and letting his chain fall slack, as he realized that Kenshin wasn’t where he had thought.
“What you saw,” Kenshin said calmly from behind him, “must have been the afterimage.” His eyes narrowed further as he let his irritation rise, shifting colour from the faded violet of his mask to a cold blue. “It’s been a while since this one was there.” What was Saitō playing at? He had to know there was no way Akamatsu could even hope to take Kenshin….
“Wh-h-h-y… you!” Akamatsu shouted, jumping upwards and twisting around in midair, launching his chain again as he did so.
Kenshin was ordinarily quite patient – one had to be, as a hitokiri – but the whole situation with Saitō, Sanosuke, and now this buffoon had pushed the bounds of that patience too far. He was tired of it; he wanted answers, and he wanted them now. Rapidly unsheathing his sakabatō, he dodged to one side, and brought his sword back down into the sheath right through the chain, breaking it – and then lunged at Akamatsu before he landed, aiming his sheath for the other man’s chest. The force of his blow sent Akamatsu tumbling onto his back, out of breath; and then as he tried to recover, Kenshin picked up the broken chain scythe and waited.
Akamatsu managed to turn around and get up to a crouch, fists clenched, ready to move again.
“Enough,” Kenshin said coldly, glaring at him. “You’ve no chance of winning.”
Akamatsu’s eyes widened in shock at the sight of him holding the chain scythe by the blade.
“Who are you?” Kenshin repeated, tossing the scythe to one side. “What connection do you have to Saitō?” His eyes narrowed as he glared down at Akamatsu, and he let his irritation flare further, along with the anger he felt over the attack on Sanosuke, turning them to amber. I’m going to get the answers – even if I have to hurt you to do so. He let that thought slip into his expression, and watched as Akamatsu began to sweat under the strain….
…And then start to break.
“I’m sorry! I was wrong!” Akamatsu blurted out, falling into a low bow. “Forgive me! I didn’t want to do it! But Saitō threatened me… I had to…!”
Or perhaps not. Clearly Akamatsu was stronger willed than Kenshin had thought, to be able to lie to Battōsai’s face – and Akamatsu was lying, his ki was blatantly projecting that fact…. Yes, he had a tremendous strength of will.
Obviously, if Kenshin wanted to get any information from him – which he most definitely did – he was going to have to trick him.
His decision made, Kenshin turned away, his attitude having a touch of carelessness to it, as though he truly thought Akamatsu had broken. “Nothing you say can be believed,” he remarked, his tone still cold. He wasn’t about to let Akamatsu think he had been entirely fooled – it was unlikely the other man would believe that of Battōsai. “Learn from this – get another career.”
“Y-yes,” Akamatsu stuttered.
Kenshin wondered how he would attack next. He favours chains… he thought, so perhaps–
Akamatsu’s ki spiked a third time. “Right after I kill you!”
It was hard to stay where he was, letting the chains come to him; but his shishō – not to mention his time in Kyoto during the Bakumatsu – had trained him quite thoroughly, and sometimes it was better to let an attack happen, in order to deceive, as long as one could minimize the damage. Kenshin clenched his right hand and raised it to the level of his neck, preventing one of the chains from strangling him and giving him a potential weapon of his own, and moved his sheath so that the other one chained it to his left hand. It was a position that appeared to place him at a serious disadvantage… but only appeared to. Saitō would no doubt have known better than to believe him neutralized; but then, Saitō had not only fought him numerous times, but was both intelligent and ki-sensitive. Akamatsu was stubborn – but an idiot who clearly had no ability to sense ki at all.
“Heh,” Akamatsu chuckled – thus proving Kenshin was correct. “Good move to keep yourself from being strangled, but what now? Both your arms are useless. Plus,” he continued, pulling the chains back, “you can’t move!” He gave a sharp jerk that flung Kenshin into the air, and down again.
Yes, Saitō would very definitely have known better, Kenshin thought, as he let his body go limp before he hit the ground. Of course, the Captain of the Third Shinsengumi Unit had seen him fight quite often and was well aware that Ryū Tsui Sen was one of his favourite attacks; and one could not use that particular attack properly without first learning how to fall, and how to land.
He hit the ground hard – hard enough that he would have bruises for a day or two, but no other damage – and groaned, as though in serious pain, before closing his eyes. He could feel Akamatsu walking toward him.
“I may be slower than you,” the other man said, a definite note of triumph in both his voice and his ki, “but I’m more powerful!”
Fool, Kenshin thought coldly, but didn’t move except for breathing.
He wasn’t terribly surprised when Akamatsu proceeded to fling him into the air a second time; he simply stayed limp and didn’t make another sound. He collected a few more potential bruises from the second landing – but again, no more than that.
“Huh. Finally finished,” Akamatsu muttered, approaching him again. “Six times… he was tough.” He paused for a moment, and Kenshin could feel his eyes studying him. “You’re not in your grave yet, but I’ll tell you. Saitō and I were hired by Jin-e’s corps of assassins.”
According to Akamatsu’s ki, he honestly thought he was telling the truth this time.
Kenshin still didn’t believe a word of it, however.
Admittedly, ten years was long enough for a man to change, possibly quite drastically, and what he’d done to Sanosuke would suggest that Saitō had undergone such a change; but a nagging sense of having missed something – some hint he’d already seen but not taken into account – told Kenshin otherwise. Whatever it was Saitō was doing, it did not include becoming a paid assassin.
Not that Saitō had any moral compunctions about killing those he considered to be corrupt….
Once again, Kenshin was very glad for the lessons he’d had in hiding his emotions as a sudden realization dawned – it wouldn’t do for Akamatsu to realize he was still conscious too soon.
Ishida medicine. Because it was Hijikata’s family who sold it, it was often used by Shinsengumi spies in disguise – and Saitō was Hijikata’s best agent. He was the one Hijikata and Kondō planted in Itō’s group of deserters….
Kenshin had already come to the conclusion that Saitō had to be working for the Meiji government; and now he had a fairly good idea as to what job they’d given him. He was an agent, a spy – and considering that Chief Uramura had undoubtedly passed on what Kenshin had told him of Jin-e’s words about having been hired, was most likely working on ferreting out who had been the one who hired Jin-e.
It still failed to explain to Kenshin how he was involved in all this, however. Yes, he had taken care of Jin-e – but why had Akamatsu been ordered to kill him, and what did Saitō’s attack on Sanosuke have to do with it?
“Why you?” Akamatsu continued, almost as though Kenshin had asked his question out loud. “Who knows. My guess is the politicians learned you were still out here after the Kurogasa incident, and they’ve hired us to keep their nasty deeds from being revealed.”
That was… a definite possibility, Kenshin had to admit – at least for Akamatsu’s role. It was one of the reasons he had continued to maintain the pose of the rurouni who refused to kill all these years – even after he’d come to the conclusion that there were sometimes occasions where in order to protect, it was necessary to kill – especially in the months since Katsura-san’s death. Simply because of who he’d been and what he’d done for the Ishin Shishi, both before and after Ikeda-ya, he had a great deal of information on the deeds – and misdeeds – of those presently in power.
That still did not answer the question about Saitō’s involvement, or why he’d attacked Sano – but Akamatsu wouldn’t know those answers; and bringing them up would only serve to endanger both Saitō and whatever it was he was doing.
“Every politician has his secrets, after all,” Akamatsu finished, and his ki flickered with the preparation to kill.
Kenshin opened his eyes. “Ah…. Saitō Hajime is an assassin like Udō Jin-e…” he murmured, as though he had just experienced a revelation. For the present, he would back Saitō’s play with respect to this group of assassins, though he reserved the right to change his mind depending on what Saitō’s ultimate goal was.
He heard Akamatsu gasp in shock as he sat up and turned his hand to grip the chain that was hanging around his neck. “It’s rumoured that Saitō often turned his sword against other Shinsengumi, to keep them in line,” he continued calmly. Those rumours, he knew, were quite true. “So that’s it….”
Akamatsu’s ki flared with a combination of fury and fear. “They were all… defensive falls!” he muttered in sudden realization.
“So even now, in Meiji, he still plays at being an assassin,” Kenshin finished, as the fear he felt from the assassin’s ki transmuted itself to determination and the intent to attack again.
“Then I’ll just slam you into a rock and kill you for sure!” Akamatsu shouted, and jerked on the chains.
This time, however, Kenshin was gripping them. As Akamatsu flung him toward one of the rock outcroppings, Kenshin twisted in midair and absorbed the impact with his feet, placing himself in a perfect position to lunge back at the assassin – particularly as his twist had placed Akamatsu’s arms into a position where he couldn’t move. Then, the amber colour making his eyes appear to glow in the sunlight, Kenshin loosened his sakabatō from its sheath. This time, he would break Akamatsu….
A bit of an explanation for certain things Saitō and Kenshin refer to:
1) Certain sources say that it was after the Ikeda-ya affair – which apparently took place on a rather cold night – that Okita’s tuberculosis was first noticed.
2) Article #2 of the Shinsengumi’s laws prohibited members of the Shinsengumi from leaving the group.
3) March 10, 1867, a group of 15 men led by Itō Kashitarō, the military advisor of the Shinsengumi, deserted – provoked by Hijikata’s decision that Yamanami Keisuke, who had been a friend of Kondō’s (and likely Hijikata’s and Okita’s) since before the Shinsengumi, was to commit seppuku for deserting when he found that he no longer shared the same political beliefs as they did. Itō’s group included one Saitō Hajime, who had actually been placed there as a spy by Kondō and Hijikata. Saitō sent them regular, detailed reports, and on November 18, the leaders of the group – Itō, Hattori Takeo, and Tōdō Heisuke (the captain of the Eighth Unit) – were killed. Most of the rest of the group managed to flee. It apparently resulted in giving Saitō a very unenviable reputation among the rest of the Shinsengumi.
4) Itō’s group wasn’t the only internal problem that Saitō dealt with. The Tani brothers – Mantaro, Sanjūrō and Kondo Shuhei – were a problem until Saitō killed Tani Sanjūrō (the captain of the Seventh Unit). Takeda Kanryūsai (captain of the Fifth Unit) decided to ally himself with Satsuma, and was trapped and killed by Saitō.
For reviews, feel more than free to comment here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any type of reviews save flames are welcome (flames will be put out by the sand-kicking Plot Bunnies); constructive criticism is more than encouraged.
[Edited Wed. Feb. 02/05] Go to Chapter 1, Part 4 (Face-to-Face).
[Minor edits Thurs. May 18/06.]