(And it’s another 20-1/2 pg. chapter….) At last, here is the first part of the second chapter of Rurouni Battōsai, for your reading pleasure….
Back to Chapter 1, Part 4.
1) Still need suggestions for a good title….
2) Just a note regarding honorifics…. In the anime (the subtitled version), Ōkubo is frequently referred to as “Ōkubo-kyo”. The subtitles translate that as “Lord Ōkubo”, but according to a bit of research done by the ever-esteemed Vathara, a closer translation would be “sir”, as in the title given to English knights. In keeping with my habit of using the honorifics, I’ve used “-kyo” in this story rather than “Lord”.
3) Please note that anyone who provides constructive criticism will get credited as a gamma-reader….
4) Last (but not least), please note that I am using the fight scene from the manga, not the anime – which means no wild acrobatics and jumping off the walls.
Rurouni Kenshin is © Nobuhiro Watsuki. A lot of the dialogue in this chapter was taken from Acts 54-57 of the Rurouni Kenshin manga, written by the noble Watsuki-san, some of it modified slightly by bits from the anime, some of it modified by the requirements of the story. This story is fanfiction, and is not intended as infringement on that copyright.
CHAPTER TWO: Ōkubo Toshimichi – May 14th, 11th Year of Meiji
Part 1: Challenges
Saitō felt his senses sharpen as the thrill of the challenge he was facing raced through him. He ignored the blood he could feel dripping down his face from the cut on his forehead, focusing his attention on Battōsai. The mask the hitokiri had worn was gone at last, discarded – as it should be – and Saitō could see his own anticipation reflected back at him from the gleaming amber eyes. Whatever the outcome of this duel – and despite their words, Saitō doubted it would be death – they were both going to enjoy this challenge to the fullest. It had definitely been too long.
Battōsai re-sheathed his sword and crouched in the familiar battō-jutsu stance, and Saitō grinned darkly, baring his teeth, as he started his lunge. Now, let’s see what you have, Battōsai!
There was a keening sound as their blades struck each other, and as Saitō slid to a stop, he felt the weight of his sword shift. Looking at it, he was surprised to see the point of the blade had been sliced off – which explained the noise. But Battōsai had struck it with the back of his blade….
“Next, I’ll make your head fly,” Battōsai promised, in the cold, quiet tones he’d last heard in Kyoto more than ten years ago.
Glancing over his shoulder to meet Battōsai’s eyes, Saitō got his first good look at the hitokiri’s blade, and blinked. “A sakabatō…?” That’s right, Yamagata’s report mentioned it…. But why would–?
The answer came to him as he turned to face Battōsai again. Ah, yes – his act of the rurouni who refuses to kill. It was quite the clever idea, Saitō had to admit, fingering his belt thoughtfully. If he still kept an ordinary katana, he would have had to re-train himself not to deliver killing blows – otherwise it would be too likely he would strike to kill by instinct; re-training which, aside from being a long process, would most likely have rapidly proved to be fatal. With a sakabatō, even blows that would normally kill won’t, as long as he judges his strength carefully; but if he needs to, he can still use it to kill.
As they eyed each other, waiting for the right time to make the next attack, Saitō felt Sagara’s ki approaching. So, the thug’s woken up now, has he? he thought, not taking his eyes or his attention off Battōsai. Interesting timing….
Battōsai showed no surprise as they heard Sagara’s voice – but then, Saitō had known for a long time that the hitokiri was more sensitive to ki than any other swordsman he’d met, and had undoubtedly sensed Sagara’s approach before he had. He did notice Battōsai’s minute flinch at his friend’s words, however, and took the opportunity to attack again.
The Myōjin boy’s shocked comment about using Gatotsu again despite the damage to his sword rang loudly in the quiet of the dojo as Saitō started his lunge. Battōsai sneered. “The Shinsengumi never did know when to withdraw.”
“The first rule of the Shinsengumi: ‘Act in a manner befitting a samurai’!” Saitō snarled in return. “Fleeing an enemy proves your lack of determination!” He struck, throwing the remains of his blade and moving his right hand to the buckle of his belt, ready.
As he expected, Battōsai intercepted the broken blade with his left arm, forcing it out of the way. “You choose your pride as Shinsengumi over your life,” the hitokiri said coolly, as Saitō unfastened his buckle in preparation for the next move. “Works for me.”
Battōsai thrust his sword forward – and Saitō lashed out with his belt, hitting Battōsai’s sword hand with the buckle, causing him to lose his grip on the sakabatō.
“I have you!” Saitō snarled triumphantly, following up with a flurry of punches that stunned Battōsai long enough for him to get his jacket off and wrapped around the hitokiri’s throat. “This,” he continued, lifting Battōsai off the ground, “is the end!”
Battōsai raised one arm as he struggled, trying to loosen the jacket with the other.
“It’s useless,” Saitō snapped, tightening the jacket slightly. Despite what the moron and the boy thought, it wasn’t tight enough to break Battōsai’s neck – or even suffocate him. It was definitely going to leave bruises, and if Battōsai didn’t surrender soon, it would temporarily damage his voice – but it wouldn’t kill him. They did need him to face Shishio, after all. “Accept your fate!” You’ve lost, Battōsai! At last–
He caught sight of a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye – Battōsai’s arm….
…And felt a flicker of shock, mingled with the same reluctant admiration he’d always felt when dealing with the hitokiri, as Battōsai seized his sheath. This is going to hurt….
It did; but just as he hadn’t tightened his jacket enough to actually kill Battōsai, the hitokiri had obviously judged his blow carefully to avoid either crushing Saitō’s throat or breaking his jaw.
They faced each other, both breathing harshly as they came to a silent, mutual agreement to rest for a moment before continuing. And as Saitō met his opponent’s eyes, he knew he hadn’t been wrong; Battōsai was finding this duel as exhilarating as he was. Although they did have reasons to be angry with each other – Battōsai more than himself, Saitō admitted, since he did seem to count the moron as a friend – it was clear to him that they were also both enjoying the chance for a real challenge.
“It this what the Bakumatsu was like?” Sagara’s voice broke the silence in the dojo, and Saitō felt another moment of vaguely amused accord with Battōsai. This was nothing like the Bakumatsu: then, they had both been truly fighting each other to the death, and their duels tended to last just long enough for whatever group of Ishin Shishi Battōsai was protecting that night to get to safety before Battōsai would disappear. Definitely not something that was happening now.
They were both getting their breath back, Saitō noticed, and he clasped his hands together, cracking his knuckles, and gave Battōsai a dark grin. “Shall we… finish this soon?”
Battōsai raised his sheath, eyes glittering as he responded, “…Why not?”
They lunged at each other as one, and were almost within range of each other when a voice yelled from the door of the dojo, “Stop this!”
Recognizing the voice as Kawaji’s, Saitō reluctantly came to a halt; and Battōsai, no doubt seeing the recognition in his eyes, followed suit as they both turned to face the man standing in the doorway.
“Snap out of it, Saitō!” Kawaji continued, to Saitō’s irritation. Not only was he not lost in his memories, the way Battōsai’s so-called friends – and obviously Kawaji – seemed to think, but things had just been truly getting interesting. Kawaji’s timing left a great deal to be desired, as did Ōkubo’s – Kawaji would have never dared interfere with this particular duel unless Ōkubo was there ready to back him up. “Your mission was to evaluate Battōsai’s strength!” ‘Not kill him,’ was the clear, though unspoken, part of the message.
That had piqued Battōsai’s interest, and Saitō scowled. It was obvious that they weren’t going to be allowed to finish their duel… but he was going to protest anyway. “This is what I have lived for,” he said coldly, the words aimed at both Kawaji and Battōsai. It was going so well, was it not, Battōsai? Though I have no doubt you will at least be pleased to have your questions answered…. “I cannot allow even the Superintendent-General to interfere.”
Ōkubo knew how to take a cue. “I know very well of your pride as Shinsengumi,” came the voice of the Chief of Internal Affairs, as he walked in the door Kawaji had opened. “But I don’t want you or Himura wasting your lives here.”
The statement reminded Saitō that he hadn’t mentioned his personal suspicions about Battōsai to Ōkubo, even as he sensed surprise from most of Battōsai’s friends, and flickers of understanding and a sense of suspicion confirmed from Battōsai’s still-guarded ki. Which raised the question – should he reveal Battōsai’s act?
“…I see,” Battōsai was saying, his own tone cold. “So you are the man behind Saitō Hajime. Former warrior of Satsuma Province, now Chief of Internal Affairs for the Meiji government, Ōkubo Toshimichi.”
As an introduction to Battōsai’s friends, it lacked something, Saitō thought in amusement as the Myōjin boy complained in frustration at his lack of knowledge.
“I’m sorry to resort to such crude methods,” Ōkubo said, focused on Battōsai, “but we had to know the extent of your abilities. Will you talk with me?”
Battōsai was still irritated, Saitō noticed; or, at least, continued to be willing to reveal his irritation, his eyes glittering now with anger as opposed to the anticipation that had been there only moments ago, during the last part of their battle. “Sure,” the hitokiri replied. Yes, definitely still irritated. “I’d like nothing better.”
There was a sudden prickle of fear and alarm that came from none of the people currently in the room. The flavour of the ki was familiar – Akamatsu. A glance at Battōsai informed him that the hitokiri had also noticed the spike of ki. Well, it appeared he was going to have to deal with Shibumi earlier than he had intended….
Saitō crouched down and picked up his jacket and sword. “Hmph,” he snorted as he stood back up. “The best duel I’ve had in years, and suddenly it’s a conversation.” He let his eyes flick to Battōsai again. All right, Battōsai – I’ll keep your secret… for the present. “We’ll have to wait for another opportunity.”
“You’re lucky,” Battōsai said coolly, meeting his gaze, amber eyes gleaming.
Saitō gave him a wolfish grin. “You are!”
“Saitō!” Kawaji snapped, as he drew near the door. “Mission report!”
“Himura Kenshin is useless,” Saitō said calmly. There you go, Battōsai – your act is safe… for the moment. And you owe me now. “But Himura Battōsai may still have something to offer.” With that, he walked out. He would have to hurry to be sure he reached Shibumi and Akamatsu before they managed to escape.
Kenshin watched Saitō walk out the door, feeling the energy that had sustained him during their duel start to fade, letting the pain from the damage Saitō had done to him come flooding back.
“That man,” muttered the stranger with Ōkubo, the one Saitō had identified as the Superintendent-General, shaking his head. “He’s the best spy in the police force, but I never know what that Mibu Wolf is thinking.”
Kenshin could have told him – or, at least let him know what Saitō was doing – but he wasn’t in the mood to make it easy. He wasn’t upset for the same reasons as Saitō – while he had, in fact, actually been enjoying their duel once he’d let loose, it wasn’t to the extent that he was disappointed it had been stopped; rather, it was obvious that this man was as involved in what Saitō had been doing as Ōkubo was.
“I have a carriage waiting outside,” the latter said then, drawing Kenshin’s attention back to him. “Come with us.”
Without knowing why all this has happened? Kenshin trusted Ōkubo as much as he had trusted Katsura – the man was fundamentally honest, and the fact that Saitō was willing to work for him was quite telling, but…. “Not a chance,” he declared firmly. Not after your orders got Sano hurt, and Kaoru and Yahiko terrified. You owe them as much of an explanation as you do me. “I’m not alone in this,” he added pointedly, as he sensed the others moving to stand behind him; and then winced, as he felt their continuing concern, and realized he was still without his rurouni mask. I really, truly hate this….
Taking a deep breath, Kenshin focused on getting the emotions caused by the fight with Saitō back behind their barriers. Perhaps… I enjoyed it more than I’m willing to admit, he reflected ruefully, finding it more difficult than he expected. There was… almost a freedom in fighting full out against Saitō, knowing that even though neither of us were trying to kill the other, we could still exercise our skills to their utmost….
Concentrate, Kenshin! he scolded himself a moment later. Analyze the fight later, when you’re alone and can think about it properly….
“Kenshin?” Sanosuke said from behind him, his tone wary, and Kenshin fought back another wince. His attention was wandering because he was drained from the fight, and the chest wound Saitō had given him at the beginning of their bout….
When all else fails, do what Shishō used to do to force my attention back to a lesson…. Clenching his hand into a fist, Kenshin hit himself – hard – on the bridge of his nose. Much as he disliked adding yet more pain to what he was already dealing with, the shock of the sensation should serve to focus his attention….
It worked wonderfully; by the time he brought his fist down and looked at Ōkubo again, his eyes were already back to violet, although he was still glaring. “This incident has already involved this one’s friends,” Kenshin said firmly, as he purposefully slipped back into his habitual manner of speaking when acting as the rurouni. “You will talk with us all here.”
The relief coming from Kaoru, Yahiko, Sanosuke, and Megumi was almost overwhelming, and Kenshin let himself sag slightly as he raised one hand to gingerly touch the edge of the chest wound Saitō had given him. “Megumi-dono,” he continued, turning to her as Ōkubo and the Superintendent-General discussed their options, “could this one request that you see to his wounds?”
“Of course!” Megumi exclaimed, her eyes widening slightly as they took in the blood soaking his gi – she had been with Sanosuke, of course, and so hadn’t seen Saitō’s first attacks. “There are still some bandages in the next room,” she added, taking his left arm in a firm grip and almost pulling him out of the dojo.
Twenty minutes later, feeling a great deal more focused than he had, Kenshin sat down facing Ōkubo, with all four of his friends gathered around him, waiting to find out why Saitō had been sent in to disrupt his life.
Ōkubo took a breath and let it out in a sigh – a surprising display of emotion for him – and said, “I won’t waste time with discretion. I’ll tell you straight out. Himura….” He met Kenshin’s eyes, and lowered the guard he held on his ki, letting Kenshin feel the worry that ran through him. “In Kyoto, Shishio plots again.”
Shishio? Kenshin’s eyes narrowed a bit further. Shishio – who was reported, not just rumoured, to have died in the Boshin War?
“That’s straight out?!” Sanosuke exclaimed in disbelief. “Who the hell’s Shishio?”
The Superintendent-General – whose name, Kenshin had picked out from the man’s quiet discussions with Ōkubo, was Kawaji – jabbed at Sanosuke and snapped, “Hey, watch your mouth!”
Not wanting to deal with an argument just at the moment – he felt better, but he’d still lost blood and had a hole in his chest – Kenshin interrupted with an explanation.
“Shishio Makoto,” he said flatly, for a moment remembering the first time he’d heard the name – after his return from Otsu – and then he pushed the memory away and reminded himself that he had to stay focused, not give in to old grief. “Once this one emerged from the shadows to fight as a ‘free-striking swordsman’ against the Shinsengumi and its allies, Shishio Makoto, another Chōshū revolutionary, lived the role of the ‘hitokiri of the shadows’. In other words,” he added grimly, “he’s the successor to ‘Hitokiri Battōsai’.”
He’d shocked them. “Battōsai’s… successor?” Yahiko and Megumi exclaimed in unison.
“I’ve never heard of him,” Sanosuke put in, sounding as though that fact were a personal insult.
“Mm…” Kenshin murmured in agreement. “He worked in the shadows and is almost completely unknown. Even this one had no direct contact with him.” Then he gave Ōkubo a pointed look. “But how could this be?” he asked, although he thought he had a pretty good idea of the general outline of what had happened. He had the feeling it would be a wise idea to let the others know just how dangerous a situation they might be dealing with. “This one heard Shishio died in the Boshin War ten years ago.”
Ōkubo met his gaze silently, the truth – which was exactly as Kenshin had thought, at least in terms of what they had done to Shishio – clear in his eyes.
“Ah… so he didn’t die after all. He was erased by his comrades.”
Kenshin could feel his friends staring at him as their unguarded ki resonated with shock and bewilderment.
“A man whose life is a dark secret can be made to disappear into even greater darkness for the good of everyone,” he explained coolly, a bit of the hitokiri’s mindset leaking past his mask. “It wasn’t hard, during that chaotic age.”
“We had no choice at the time,” Ōkubo added quietly. “Shishio Makoto’s skill at the sword was as great as yours, but he also had ambitions and greed beyond imagination. His reason for taking on the task of hitokiri was only to let the revolutionary officers feel his power and presence; unlike you, who wished only to fight for your comrades, and for the weak.” Ōkubo looked down, an expression of shame crossing his face.
“Some of the assassinations Shishio committed can never be revealed; if so, the Meiji government would be turned on its head. If we entered the new age with Shishio alive, he could use that vulnerability to get his hands around the nation’s throat.”
At that point, Kenshin was somewhat confused. “So he was killed in the chaos of the Boshin War…. Wasn’t he?”
“Yes,” Ōkubo said grimly. “We killed him.” He paused for a moment, and then added, “We thought. We even had oil poured over him and the body burned.
“But even with his body engulfed in flames, Shishio Makoto survived. And now, he’s gathered many battle-mongers who crave blood and flesh, and weapon-merchants who hate the peaceful times, creating a large army of soldiers, making the dark streets of Kyoto his base, plotting to trigger a war of vengeance splitting this country in two… split with the secrets of his assassinations.
“The many troops we sent have all been annihilated. You are our last hope. For the people of this country, Himura… please go to Kyoto once again,” Ōkubo finished, meeting Kenshin’s gaze again, his plea clear.
He honestly believes that I am their only hope against Shishio….
“Does that mean you want Kenshin to assassinate Shishio Makoto?” Kaoru demanded in dismay.
“To put it bluntly, yes,” Ōkubo replied, looking down again.
“Of course,” Kawaji put in, “we don’t expect that you’ll work for free.” Kenshin winced, certain that the Superintendent-General was about to set off another explosion. “We’ll reward you generously and take care of your allies.
“Such as,” he added, his eyes going to where Megumi was sitting next to Kenshin, “pardoning Takani Megumi of the crime of selling opium.”
Yes, there was definitely going to be another explosion….
Megumi slammed her hand down on the floor of the dojo. “Don’t you toy with me,” she snapped. “If I am to be an ingredient in some deal causing Kenshin trouble, I’ll take the hangman’s noose!”
Kawaji looked rather frustrated at that – he’d obviously been counting on having Kenshin’s friends to hold over his head, something that Kenshin did not appreciate. On the other hand, it was clear that Shishio apparently did pose a serious threat….
“This whole thing is because of the Meiji government’s dirty deeds,” Sanosuke said coldly. “Why should Kenshin wipe your butts? He chose the life of a rurouni, forbidding himself to kill.”
Kenshin winced again at that statement. This was going to be a problem….
“I can’t just sit by while you drag him into your filth!” Sanosuke finished, cracking his knuckles threateningly.
“Shut your mouth, you ignorant punk!” Kawaji snapped.
Perhaps more than just one more explosion…. The Superintendent-General was not making any friends here.
“The existence of the Meiji government rides on this!” he continued.
Definitely the wrong tack to take with Sano….
Sanosuke snorted contemptuously. “Then maybe your dirty government should fall! What have you done for the people, anyway?!”
…And with me. Ōkubo’s argument is far more effective. Of course, he does know me better….
“Without the Meiji government, there can be no peace in the land, fool!” Kawaji snapped, grabbing Sanosuke’s jacket in one hand.
“Someday you’ll find out the people don’t need your government!” Sanosuke returned, copying the gesture – except more effectively.
Kenshin was wondering how he could intervene between them without doing more damage to the atmosphere in the dojo, as they started insulting each other, when Yahiko interrupted.
“All this talk about Meiji and government…” he muttered, sticking his finger in one ear, “guess this kid can’t get it.
“But I do get that if things had been different… Kenshin would’ve been the one being erased.”
Everyone stared at him, and Kenshin felt a surge of pride in the young boy. No one here was likely to underestimate Yahiko’s intelligence now.
“All you care about assassinations is if they benefit you or not,” Yahiko continued. “Me, I’d never get mixed up with you.”
Making you smarter now than I was at three years older than you, Kenshin reflected ruefully.
“Ōkubo-kyo,” Kaoru said firmly. “I understand that you need ‘Hitokiri Battōsai’ to help you. But Kenshin is no longer hitokiri.”
Kenshin eyed her carefully. He had never, even after Yamagata and Jin-e, anticipated his past coming back to haunt him in such a way… and their defense of him, particularly Kaoru and Sanosuke’s, gave him serious cause to regret his deception; while at the same time, everything that Ōkubo had said about how they had dealt with Shishio, and Yahiko’s insight, only proved how necessary that deception was.
His thoughts were interrupted as Yahiko, equally firm, finished Kaoru’s statement. “We will never allow Kenshin to leave for Kyoto.”
“Idiots!” Kawaji exclaimed. Kenshin lowered his gaze, letting his hair hide his eyes as they flared blue with renewed irritation, directed at this entire situation in general, and both Kawaji and his own deception in particular. “Don’t you realize how serious this–!”
“Stop, Kawaji,” Ōkubo interrupted firmly. He had been letting the Superintendent-General do the same thing as Kenshin had been letting his friends do – sound out the situation. But it was clear that that was now proving counter-productive.
“We can’t expect an answer to such a situation right away,” Ōkubo continued calmly, and then spoke directly to Kenshin again as he stood up and picked up his coat, putting it on. “Please think about it over the week. A week from now, on the Western ‘May 14th’, I will come back to hear your answer.”
Ōkubo had turned and started toward the door before Kenshin made any response.
“Ōkubo-san,” he said quietly, wondering how the Chief of Internal Affairs would react, “you’ve lost weight, these past ten years.” He raised his head as Ōkubo stopped and looked back at him, letting the other man see the blue colour of his eyes.
“To build a new era is more difficult than to destroy an old one,” Ōkubo offered after a moment. “Sad, but true.”
Yes, Kenshin could understand why Saitō had been willing to place himself under Ōkubo’s command. There was a wisdom in his expression that he hadn’t had the last time Kenshin had seen him – the kind of wisdom that could only be gained through the twin forges of growth and pain.
“I’ll anticipate a favourable reply,” Ōkubo finished quietly, and turned away again.
As soon as the door closed behind Ōkubo and Kawaji, the others exploded, yelling, their words all more or less amounting to a denunciation of Saitō, Ōkubo, and Kawaji, and their determination not to let him leave Tokyo. Kenshin ignored all four of them, standing up carefully and heading for the hall.
“Kenshin, where are you going?” Kaoru demanded, her tone urgent. “We need to discuss this!”
No, we don’t. This is a decision I have to make. Taking all of you into account, of course – but it is my decision. “This one is going to bed, Kaoru-dono,” he said out loud, his tone calm. He could feel the warmth from his neck that meant the bruises caused by Saitō’s stranglehold were starting to become visible. “It has been a long day, and this one requires sleep in order to help heal. Saitō was not gentle in his attacks, that he was not.”
That managed to silence them – all of them – and he continued toward his room without any more questions being asked.
To sleep… and to think. I have a decision to make.
Saitō looked at the large house in front of him with distaste, before slipping in behind Akamatsu. Whatever Battōsai had done to him in those two hours, combined with the panic that had been brought on by the realization that Ōkubo – who was known by most of the government to be incorruptible – was involved, had caused the assassin to forget to pay attention. He hadn’t noticed when Saitō had begun following him, and still hadn’t noticed, half an hour later, that he was leading someone straight to his employer.
Heh…. You broke him, didn’t you, Battōsai. Not as badly as Isurugi Raijūta – but then, much as I find him distasteful, Akamatsu is made of sterner stuff. He would be able to resist you… somewhat better.
Using the darkness to hide him, much as Battōsai had in Kyoto during the Bakumatsu, Saitō drifted up the stairs after Akamatsu, listening carefully. The one problem with paper walls that Western-built buildings didn’t have was that sound carried easily. When one was on a second floor, and unable to see the shadows of would-be eavesdroppers, it made it easy to listen in.
“Ōkubo Toshimichi!” Shibumi’s voice exclaimed in shock. Saitō grinned darkly as he finished climbing the stairs, and moved into the natural shadows of the hall.
“Yeah,” Akamatsu said, his voice panicky. “What are you gonna do?”
“So… Saitō is Ōkubo’s dog,” Shibumi said.
Saitō’s grin morphed instantly into a snarl. Dog? If that is what you think of me, Shibumi, you are in for quite the surprise. Still staying in the shadows, he slipped down the hall toward the room the voices were coming from.
“This is good,” Shibumi continued. “If I bribe Saitō and have him find Ōkubo’s secrets….” In the hall, Saitō bared his teeth in anger at the insult. “…I can become the next Chief of Internal Affairs!”
What you can become is a corpse!
“Th-this is no joke!” Akamatsu stuttered, as Saitō reached the shoji leading into the room and slowly, carefully slid it open. “You go on and burn your own bridges! I’m heading for someplace safe, like Shanghai!”
Ah, perfect timing…. “There’s a safer place to go than Shanghai,” Saitō said coldly, stepping forward – and drew his sword and slashed it through Akamatsu’s neck without a pause. “A place called hell,” he finished, as the assassin’s blood flew past his face.
Shibumi was staring at him in stark terror as he advanced slowly. “Shibumi, you’ve misunderstood one thing.
“You revolutionaries think you alone created Meiji, but people from the old government also put our lives on the line. As the ‘defeated’, we’ve contributed too. The reason I serve the government, as a former Shinsengumi who spies for his conquerors, is to rid Meiji of the blood-sucking ticks who feed on it.”
By now, sweat was pouring down Shibumi’s face.
“Ōkubo, or whoever it may be… if he will drown in his own greed and bring misfortune to the people of this country… then he, too, shall meet the ‘Swift Death to Evil’,” Saitō finished. That, after all, was the reason Ōkubo had agreed to employ him, and the terms under which he worked.
“W-wait a minute!” Shibumi cried, holding up one hand in a futile protest. “I’ll give you money! I’ll–”
Saitō sneered. “One may tame a dog with food,” he said contemptuously, “or tame a man with money; but the taming of a Wolf of Mibu – that, none may do.” And he swung.
“A wolf is a wolf,” he commented a minute later to the silent room, studying his handiwork, “as Shinsengumi is Shinsengumi….” A thin, wolfish smile crossed his face. “…And hitokiri is hitokiri. Right, Battōsai?”
A bit of an explanation for certain things Saitō and Kenshin refer to:
1) Article #1 of the Shinsengumi’s laws prohibited members of the Shinsengumi from deviating from the path proper as a samurai.
2) The laws under which the Shinsengumi operated are one of the strictest sets of laws known in human history.
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 Fri. May 13/05] Go to Chapter 2, Part 2 (Contemplations).
[Minor edit Thurs. May 18/06.]