Given that I’m over halfway through writing Chp. 4, I figured it was time to start posting Chp. 3…. (Note re RuroSen – I will try to review it next week to check that Chp. 1 is ready to post – it should be, but I just want to make sure.)
Back to Chapter 2, Part 4.
1) Now, it’s onward along the Tōkaidō….
2) Just a reminder that anyone who provides constructive criticism will get credited as a gamma-reader….
3) This is where things start to get more AU; you will no doubt notice that the Kenshin Misao meets is not the bumbling rurouni. Enjoy!
Rurouni Kenshin is © Nobuhiro Watsuki. A lot of the dialogue – but definitely not all – in this chapter was taken from Acts 58, 59, and 61-70 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 THREE: Makimachi Misao – Tōkaidō and Shingetsu
Part 1: Assorted Nuisances – Bandits and Kunoichi
Kenshin sighed softly as he finished setting up his camp, and put the fish he’d caught a bit earlier over the fire to cook. He’d been walking almost constantly since he’d left Saitō at the train station in Tokyo last night, and as a result, had already managed to pass Odawara. Luckily, three months in Tokyo hadn’t been enough to reduce his stamina too badly, and he could have continued walking until about mid-morning tomorrow before needing to stop if he had felt the need to. But as urgent as dealing with Shishio was, it wasn’t that urgent.
He had just managed to get the fish at the right angle to have them cooked in about a quarter of an hour when he heard the sound of voices nearby. Voices that didn’t sound as though they were from ordinary travellers….
Standing up, he slipped his sakabatō back into his obi, put out his cooking fire, and started in the direction the voices had come from, reaching out with his ki-sense as he did so.
The people in question were in a clearing close to where Kenshin had set up his camp. As he stopped in the bushes just outside the clearing, Kenshin frowned; four men who had the appearance and overall feel of bandits to his ki-sense, and facing them, a lone girl in a hooded cloak….
Something about this wasn’t right. From what he could hear of their conversation, the girl had led them here; which suggested to Kenshin, who had seen any number of ambushes set up in the past, that the danger came from the girl as opposed to the bandits.
Or, at least, was meant to come from the girl… with four bandits involved, however, nothing was sure.
Under ordinary circumstances, Kenshin might have intervened, but in this case, he wasn’t entirely certain of what was going on, so he leaned against one of the trees and watched silently.
It turned out to be just as well that he had decided against it, he reflected, as he watched the girl fling off her cloak and proceed to beat all four bandits into unconsciousness. He couldn’t help but feel ever-so-slightly amused; only a fool would dismiss the danger posed by someone because they were young. After all, he’d been three years younger than this girl when he’d started his life as a hitokiri.
“So,” the girl murmured, sounding quite pleased with herself, “it works.”
Kenshin frowned as he watched her lean down and lift a bag that sounded as though it were full of money from one of the bandits. Amused by the girl’s audacity and the bandits’ idiocy or not, she couldn’t be allowed to steal – even if she was stealing from thieves.
“I just have to purr a little when I talk,” the girl continued congratulating herself, “and the prey comes to me like mice to a trap.”
It took less than a minute for Kenshin to decide how to approach this situation. Judging from the girl’s moves, she was reasonably well-trained – most likely by shinobi; and if he wanted her to take him seriously from the start, which was necessary if he was going to make her return the money to the original owners, it wouldn’t do to appear too much the idiot.
Strategy decided, Kenshin alerted the girl to his presence by speaking. “Well. What a surprise,” he commented, stepping forward as the girl started and spun around to face him. “A robbery was one thing, but for the ‘damsel in distress’ to be robbing the robbers?”
“Oh, so girls aren’t supposed to steal, is that it?” the girl demanded, in a tone that said she felt she’d been denied a few too many things on the basis of her sex.
“No one should be stealing,” Kenshin countered, giving her a narrow-eyed look.
“Oho! So you think you can tell me what to do?” the girl demanded. “Then maybe I’ll steal your money too!” Then she frowned, studying him a bit more carefully. “Of course, looking at you… I don’t think you have any.”
Trained in shinobi moves, but not their observational skills, Kenshin noted wryly, making no move to either confirm or deny her guess. Only an idiot would travel the Tōkaidō on foot and alone while making any wealth they had obvious, and he wasn’t an idiot.
“Well, then,” she continued, “if you are broke, I guess I’ll just have to take that sword of yours instead!”
Kenshin just looked at her for a moment or two longer, and then shook his head. “I think not,” he said calmly.
The girl scowled at him, and then abruptly lunged forward, throwing her fist out in a punch… which Kenshin evaded easily, simply stepping to one side. She reacted as any amateur would, and swung again… and missed again.
However, having got a good look at her stance, Kenshin saw an opportunity to get things moving, and stepped into the next punch, deftly removing the bag she’d tied to her obi. The punch had very little force – it didn’t even pain him as much as the ‘fall’ he’d taken from Akamatsu – and perhaps now he could put an end to this farce.
“How’s that?!” the girl demanded eagerly.
Kenshin’s tone was cool; she was starting to annoy him. “Blows from an amateur like you wouldn’t have any force behind them even if you did hit,” he declared, examining the bag: ‘Odawara Inn: Tamura Currency Exchange’ was written across it. “Now, this money should–”
The girl stared at the bag for a moment in shock, then raised her eyes to glare at him. “Now I’m mad!” she snapped, twitching her wrists… and Kenshin tensed as a set of throwing daggers appeared in her hands.
“Give it back! That’s mine! Take this!” she continued furiously, raising her hands into position to throw. “Kansatsu tobikunai!”
Kenshin was moving even before she released the daggers, diving for the cloak she’d thrown off during the confrontation with the bandits. Judging from the way it had hung, the material was thick enough….
He grabbed one end of the cloak just as the daggers left her hands, and swept it in front of him. Just as he’d hoped, it worked perfectly to entangle and deflect them, saving him from injury.
“Augh! My cloak!” the girl screamed.
Yes, she was definitely annoying him.
“Give me back my money and my cloak!”
Kenshin’s mouth tightened in irritation. “The cloak, certainly,” he said coldly, tossing it over to her. “The money, on the other hand… this is going back to the original – and proper – owner.”
“I stole it, so it’s mine!”
That was it. He’d had enough.
Turning away from her, Kenshin started walking back toward Odawara.
“Hold it, you! I told you, that’s mine!” the girl yelled after him. Kenshin chose to ignore her, continuing in the direction of the town.
Kenshin simply began to walk a bit faster; he could sense the bandits who had first stolen the money starting to wake up, and even though he knew he could handle them easily, he wasn’t in the mood to deal with yet more problems.
Obviously realizing that he wasn’t going to listen to her, the girl hurried after him. “You know, you could at least pay for ruining my cloak!”
Pay for ruining her cloak?! Kenshin thought in disbelief, giving her a flat stare. Was she serious?
The indignant expression on her face and the anger radiating through her ki as she trailed after him suggested that she was.
“Considering the fact that the only reason it is ‘ruined’ is that you threw daggers at me, you might want to reconsider that idea,” he suggested. Kenshin was rather surprised that he’d managed to keep his tone as mild as he had, considering just how much she was annoying him.
“But it’s my only cloak!” she protested.
Kenshin did his best to continue ignoring her; but after about ten more minutes of listening to her talk on – most of it complaints about the damage to her cloak and her claim that the money was rightfully hers, since she’d been the one to take it from the bandits (Kenshin didn’t mention that by that argument, the money could now be considered his) – he was tired enough of it that he pulled out the most obvious of his money pouches (which had the least in it) and dropped it in her hand. “There,” he said, giving her a blue-eyed glare. “Take it for the cloak and stop complaining.”
She blinked at him, obviously surprised at his sudden giving in, but did indeed stop the constant stream of complaints – although he heard her mutter something under her breath to the effect of being right about his being poor. He didn’t bother to respond to that.
About half an hour later, they reached Odawara.
“‘Odawara Inn, Tamura Currency Exchange,'” Kenshin read off the sign as they stopped in front of the largest building in town. There were no signs of activity, and he couldn’t sense anything that suggested the occupants were aware of what had happened. “It looks like they haven’t even noticed the robbery,” he commented to the girl. “So much the better for us.”
“Mmph,” the girl snorted, glaring at him.
Kenshin jumped easily up to the building’s roof, landing lightly and quietly. It would be easier to go in through the top floor; trying to open the main door held the risk of attracting too much attention. And given that people were highly unlikely to believe that he was putting the money back, well….
“Ho! Not bad, not bad at all,” the girl commented from the ground. Then she snapped her fingers. “I get it! You’re a bandit too, huh?”
Kenshin was almost – almost – tempted to say, “No, I’m the most feared hitokiri of the Bakumatsu,” the girl was beginning to irritate him that much; but he just gritted his teeth and concentrated on figuring out which of the windows he could access was closest to the secure room the money would have been taken from.
“Well, you’re not the only one who–” the girl started, then crouched slightly without finishing her sentence. “Yah!” she shouted, jumping upward.
She only just managed to land on the roof; she’d jumped low. It wasn’t a bad jump, however; more proof that she’d definitely had some shinobi training. On the other hand….
Loud, Kenshin thought grimly. She’s lucky that she doesn’t seem to have woken anyone up…. Whatever training she has, it was definitely only in bits and pieces.
Without answering her, Kenshin walked over to the window he’d selected as most likely, and slipped inside. She followed, her ki flaring with irritation, as he led the way to the secure room.
The door was wide open, obviously the work of the bandits the girl had accosted. They both walked in, and Kenshin headed straight for the open vault.
“Now then,” he declared, placing the bag he’d taken from the girl on top, “all is well.” There was a sudden flicker of triumph in the girl’s ki, and he sighed silently, exasperation warring with a steadily increasing irritation, before turning around and relieving her of the two other bags she was trying to sneak out.
“What are you thinking?” Kenshin hissed at her, gripping her shoulders firmly and pushing her out in front of him. He obviously couldn’t leave her unwatched for a second here. “You’ve stolen enough today!”
“But I can’t get back to Kyoto if I don’t have money!” the girl protested.
That startled him. Kyoto? She’s travelling to Kyoto? This… wasn’t good. As he’d mentioned to Saitō, one of the reasons he’d chosen to go by the Tōkaidō was to avoid the risk of innocents being ambushed along with him if Shishio decided to try an attack before he reached Kyoto, by avoiding people (most of whom now preferred to go by boat to Osaka, rather than walk the Tōkaidō). Well, with any luck, his reactions to her theft would keep her from deciding that he needed company on the road….
All the same…. She was shinobi-trained, and from what he’d read of the file Saitō had given him on Shishio’s activities, Kenshin didn’t put it above the other hitokiri to make use of even youngsters.
“So, you’re from Kyoto, then?” he asked, as he followed the girl out of the Odawara Inn, focusing intently on his sense of her ki to ensure that he would know if she lied.
“Uh huh,” she replied, nodding. “And, halfway back from Tokyo, I ran out of money, so I had to steal!” She turned and glared at him again. “Then you came, and ruined things!”
Kenshin frowned thoughtfully. “But what was a young girl doing all alone in Tokyo?” he asked as they reached the bridge that would take them back to the Tōkaidō.
“Well,” her expression softened, “I was looking for someone.”
Someone she obviously cares about, Kenshin noted.
“A person who, during the Bakumatsu, took me in when I had no one else and raised me,” she continued.
So what happened, that she now has to look for him?
She stopped in the centre of the bridge and glanced down at the water for a moment. “At the start of Meiji, we travelled all over… but then he left me in Kyoto with a friend of his. An old man.”
Well, Kenshin could understand that, at least a bit. He certainly would not have wanted to drag a young child along on his wanderings… and from what the girl had told the bandits, she had only been five or six at the start of Meiji. That was too young.
She hadn’t finished her explanation yet, however. “I wanted to stay with him! Every time I hear the rumours….” Rumours? Kenshin thought with a sudden touch of alarm. Who was this man who had rumours about him that would travel all the way from Tokyo to Kyoto? “…I run away from home to find him!
“But each time,” she added, the excitement in her tone changing to anger, which mingled with hurt in her ki, “I fail!”
“Well, that does explain a few things,” Kenshin commented, relieved to know that this wasn’t a trap set by Shishio, though still uneasy about the identity of whomever the man had been who had raised her… and then hesitated. She hadn’t yet told him her name…. “Uh….”
“What? Oh, my name?” She smiled. “Misao. Makimachi Misao.”
Kenshin inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement, and carefully avoided giving her his own name. Not because he thought she would recognize it, shinobi-trained or not, but he didn’t want her to think that he was encouraging her to accompany him, which in this case was justification enough for the rudeness. “Still, no matter how badly you need the money, you shouldn’t be stealing…” he pointed out.
“Then how am I supposed to get home, huh?” Misao demanded.
“Well, you have some money now, from me,” Kenshin reminded her, with an uneasy glance back toward the inn. They’d taken enough time returning the money that the bandits might have managed to get back here…. “Use that to send a letter to this ‘old man’ in Kyoto, and have him come fetch you.” That should definitely keep her from deciding to travel with him, just in case his attitude hadn’t been enough.
“Ooh, yeah!” she exclaimed in response to his suggestion, an expression of realization crossing her face.
“Another thing,” Kenshin continued, his uneasiness increasing rapidly. He’d been concentrating his attention on examining Misao’s ki for any hints of deception; now he was beginning to think he really should have waited until they’d left the town before starting in on questioning her. “The men you attacked probably have yakuza connections, so you’d better get out of Odawara as soon as–”
“There they are!” came the sudden shout, and Kenshin and Misao both looked back in the direction they’d come from, to see a large crowd led by two of the bandits Misao had beaten up coming out from the side streets to block off that end of the bridge.
And the other two are–
“Get over here!” came another shout, from the other side.
“They’re all over!” Misao gasped, even as one of the ones from the side the inn was on shouted instructions to cut them off.
“You wench,” shouted one of the bandits Misao had knocked out, “now you’ll pay!”
At this point, Kenshin’s irritation with the entire situation was rapidly becoming full-out anger. All he’d wanted to do was stop for a bite to eat and a bit of rest….
“Feh. Puh-lease!” Misao said, her tone contemptuous, though Kenshin could easily sense her nervousness. “There’s about thirty. You think you can handle half, swordsman?”
“Of all the–” Kenshin started, then shook his head. He’d had just about enough of all of this. “I would prefer to stay out of this nonsense.”
He and Misao were in the centre of the bridge; both groups of thugs were coming straight toward them. This would be easy.
“Huh?” Misao blurted, her tone confused, as Kenshin took a step forward, eyes glinting with amber flecks as he readied himself.
“Drop the tough talk, shrimp!” one of the original four snapped. “You’re dead too!”
Kenshin drew his sakabatō using his full speed, knowing that the people watching would see his movement only as a blur, and made a precise strike on the bridge, the action familiar though it had been over ten years since the last time he’d needed to do this. (He made a mental note to remind Saitō of that time when they met in Kyoto; as he recalled, the result of that particular event had been a group of Shinsengumi – including the captain of the Third Unit – looking like drowned rats. In fact, it had been rather amusing…)
“You’re all thieves,” he declared, looking between the two groups and Misao as he re-sheathed the sakabatō, “and she’s a thief for stealing from you.” Just another moment…. “What say you I call it even, and punish both sides?”
With that, he leapt upward, aiming for the bank of the river, and the combination of the force used for his jump and the strike he’d made on the bridge caused it to break, dumping Misao and the entire contingent of thugs into the river.
He waited on the riverbank until Misao managed to drag herself out, feeling somewhat responsible for her in spite of himself. Well, responsible enough to make sure that she didn’t get killed by the bandits and their yakuza friends, at least.
“You may not look like much, but you got it where it counts!” she muttered, rolling over onto her back and staring up at the night sky.
“I’ve defended my share of riverbanks,” Kenshin replied, giving her a hand to help her sit up. “And dropping a bridge is easy when the opponents put all their weight in the middle.”
“That’s great,” Misao commented. “Almost as great as the folks who raised me!”
“‘Almost’, huh?” Kenshin asked, a hint of a smile crossing his face as he turned away. It was amazing how much dumping people who were irritating him in a river could improve his mood. Or maybe it was just the memory of how Saitō had looked that time….
“Yeah,” Misao replied, her tone bright. “During the Bakumatsu they defended the royal Edo Castle from the shadows.”
Kenshin froze, turning his head to stare at her in shock. The Oniwabanshū?!
“I wonder what they’re doing now,” she continued thoughtfully, “Aoshi-sama and the Oniwabanshū onmitsu….”
Kenshin felt his eyes widen as a completely unexpected shiver of apprehension ran through him at the sound of Aoshi’s name. “Shinomori Aoshi?” he murmured, half-disbelieving. It would, at least, explain the fact that Misao had followed rumours… and how she’d received her shinobi training….
“You know him?” the girl blurted out, and Kenshin blinked as he realized he’d spoken Aoshi’s name out loud. This isn’t good…. “Where are they all now? Tell me! Are they alive?”
Chikusho! Kenshin thought desperately, as he stared at Misao for a long moment. He’d already gotten an idea of how determined she could be when her mind was set on something, based on her behaviour over the money… but trying to explain to her what had happened to the Oniwabanshū without explaining who he was, or the fact that Aoshi was determined to kill him for the title of ‘Strongest’, would be exceedingly difficult.
And he definitely didn’t want to tell her either of those facts.
“You have to tell me!” she exclaimed, bouncing to her feet; she looked quite energetic for someone who had been half-drowned only a few minutes ago. “Where are they?!”
Now what? Kenshin wondered, his sense of desperation increasing at the eager look on Misao’s face. How do I get her off the track… without actually lying to her?
It took a moment to figure out an answer.
Of course…. She even said that she was following rumours…. “I don’t know,” he replied, widening his eyes in an expression of innocence. While Misao probably wouldn’t be quite as taken in by the mask of the rurouni as his friends in Tokyo were, given that he’d already shown her a harder side of himself, the appearance of innocence could still carry some weight. “I had heard Shinomori-san’s name about a month or so ago, but as far as I am aware, he left Tokyo soon after. I have no idea where it was he went.”
It was even the complete truth… as far as it went.
The girl sighed heavily, her shoulders drooping in dismay. “I already knew that!” she protested.
Kenshin shrugged. “That is what I heard.” Again, the truth; though what it implied was quite a different matter. Then he glanced toward the rest of the riverbank, where some of the yakuza who had accosted them had managed to pull themselves onto dry land.
“I don’t think it would be wise for us to remain here,” he continued. I would prefer not to risk having her with me at all – there is too much of a chance that accompanying me, she might be spotted by one of Shishio’s men – but I can’t leave her here by herself. She doesn’t know half as much as she believes she does… just enough to possibly lead her into danger she won’t be able to handle. “If you wish, you may come with me to Hakone, and contact your ‘old man’ from there.”
“Okay,” Misao said brightly; then grabbed his arm – thank the kami she had made the move obvious enough for him to control the instinct to toss her away – and pulled him toward the main road as some of the half-drowned yakuza began to stir. Kenshin didn’t argue, not wanting to be standing around when the thugs recovered enough to begin thinking about what had just happened.
1) Despite what Saitō says in the manga about it only taking ten days to walk along the Tōkaidō from Tokyo to Kyoto, the average person took twelve days. (Information from Taiho-Jutsu: Law and Order in the Age of the Samurai by Don Cunningham – a book I highly recommend for anyone interested in that period of Japanese history, or in Japanese historical law enforcement. It’s available at Amazon.)
2) There were 53 post stations along the Tōkaidō where lodging, food, horse and porter stations were located, not including the two termini (Edo/Tokyo and Kyoto). Not counting the Tokyo end station, Odawara is the ninth station along the route; Hakone is the tenth. (Information from Taiho-Jutsu and The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido.)
3) The incident Kenshin thinks about regarding the Shinsengumi patrol on the bridge… will come up again. *EG*
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 Tues. Nov. 22/05] Go to Chapter 3, Part 2 (Assorted Nuisances – Morons and Okashira).