Sorry about it being a couple of hours late, but I overslept and my time-sense ended up slightly out of whack.
Back to Chapter 3, Part 3.
1) A bit more of a hint in here regarding the additional (completely AU) sub-plot that started in Chp. 3.3….
2) Just a reminder that anyone who provides constructive criticism will get credited as a gamma-reader….
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 4: Assorted Nuisances – Seta Sōjirō and Senkaku
Misao watched in confusion as the two men locked gazes for a long moment, not understanding what the policeman – Saitō – meant by his mention of hitokiri and Shinsengumi. Those were terms from the Bakumatsu: the assassins used by the Ishin Shishi, and one of the groups of samurai who had claimed to be keeping order in Kyoto, as far as she could recall. She had no idea what they had to do with what was going on here.
Then the policeman continued, “We know the location of Shishio’s lair. We know what we must do.”
“Yes,” Himura replied simply, gripping the sheath of his sword.
They started to turn away, and Misao stared for a moment before racing after them. “Wait! I’m coming too!”
“No,” the policeman said flatly. “You stay here.”
She was not going to take that. Aoshi-sama and Han’nya had trained her to be kunoichi; she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and of helping Himura and this policeman deal with the man who had done this to the village. “Never!” she exclaimed, glaring at them both. First Himura had tried to make her stay back in the forest with the boy, and now this policeman thought he could keep her from doing what she could to help them? “How can I forgive anyone who does this?!” She pointed back toward the frame and the bodies of Eiji’s parents.
“Misao-san,” Himura said quietly.
“What?!” Misao demanded, pulling out her throwing daggers and focusing her glare on him. “I don’t care what you say, I–”
“Could you please stay by Eiji’s side?”
Misao froze for a moment, and then sighed, her shoulders slumping. Himura would have to put it like that….
Looking back toward the boy, she had to admit that it was obvious someone had to stay with him; he was in no condition to be left by himself at the moment. “All right,” she agreed reluctantly.
And maybe, just maybe, he’ll want to follow them, the thought occurred to her, as Himura gave her a slight bow then turned to follow Saitō through the village. I won’t ask him to, but if he tries to… well, Himura can’t blame me for joining him to make sure he stays all right!
That decided, she turned back to Eiji. They were going to have to bury his parents’ bodies themselves, since it was obvious the villagers would do nothing; maybe the work of digging would help him a bit.
Kenshin walked silently beside Saitō as the Miburō led the way out of the village, following the trail Shishio’s soldiers had left, puzzling over the silent message Saitō had been determined that he receive.
What he had been able to sense from Saitō suggested that there was something that concerned the Shinsengumi; something that had little to do with Shishio and his plans for Japan, but that still promised to impact the country as a whole. Something that Saitō thought the two of them would need to deal with personally. And something that he could not speak of directly; at least, not where they stood the slightest chance of being overheard.
Well, if it was urgent, he would have found some way to let me know the details, chance of being overheard or not, the hitokiri thought ruefully. As it was, their main concern now had to be Shishio.
“So, Battōsai, how do you think we should handle this?” Saitō asked abruptly, as they reached the limits of the village and found a path that was the most likely route to Shishio’s lair.
Kenshin gave a slight shrug. “Unfortunately, even if Shishio is here, I don’t believe we are likely to be able to deal with him directly – at least, not at the moment. I doubt he would be here at this point in time – especially as he knows that I have been recruited by Ōkubo and Kawaji – unless he had some form of escape route available to him. Quite likely, if he hasn’t left already, he will try to test us in some way.”
Saitō nodded thoughtfully. “And how much do you think he is likely to force us to reveal?”
“If we are lucky, nothing he does not already know,” Kenshin replied. He paused for a moment, and then looked up at Saitō. “Everything considered,” he said carefully, “I think it would be best if Shishio does not find out the truth of… the role I have taken on.” He didn’t want to be more specific; there were hints of a hostile ki nearby, and he suspected that they were being spied upon.
“Most likely a wise idea,” Saitō agreed, equally carefully. From the way his eyes flicked around the path they were following, Kenshin could tell that he had sensed their watcher as well. “Anything that will lead Shishio to underestimate you will definitely help.”
It was Kenshin’s turn to nod in agreement. If he could deal with Shishio immediately he would, of course; but considering how unlikely that was, it might be the best thing they could do to make the other hitokiri believe that Kenshin was truly the rurouni who would not kill. So as they continued along the path, Kenshin concentrated on bringing the mask that was the rurouni to the forefront, making sure his emotions were shielded enough to keep his eyes from giving him away by going amber again before he was ready.
It didn’t take them long to reach the mansion where Shishio was staying. Neither of them were terribly surprised to see someone waiting for them outside the gates.
Kenshin’s eyes narrowed slightly as they approached. The one waiting for them was about his height, and wearing a white gi and blue hakama….
“Himura Battōsai and Saitō Hajime, correct?” the boy – and he was definitely a boy, no older than Kaoru, or perhaps even Misao – said; and Kenshin stiffened.
That voice…. “Be careful, Saitō,” he said quietly. When the Shinsengumi looked at him curiously, Kenshin explained, “He is the one who assassinated Ōkubo.”
“Now, really!” the boy exclaimed. “I’m just a guide today. See? I carry no weapons.”
Both Kenshin and Saitō were well aware of the fact that not being armed did not necessarily make the boy any less dangerous.
“Shishio-san awaits you in the back,” the boy continued. “Shall we?”
‘Shishio-san‘, is it? Kenshin thought, studying the boy, remembering the scene of Ōkubo’s assassination. It made a curious contrast to the fear-filled respect of the soldiers they’d dealt with in the village, and implied that this boy was high in Shishio’s regard. Of course, I always called Katsura ‘Katsura-san’….
“We can’t move forward by being careful,” Saitō commented scornfully, his tone much the same as it had been during the start of the confrontation in the dojo. “Let’s go.”
The boy escorted them inside, and down the hall to a spot that had to be near the centre courtyard. Opening the shoji, he led them in, and Kenshin got his first sight of Shishio Makoto, the man who had succeeded him as hitokiri for the Chōshū Ishin Shishi after the events of the attack on Ikeda-ya and Otsu.
Shishio’s entire body was swathed in bandages, save for his eyes, mouth, and a few tufts of dark hair. It was a somewhat shocking testament to just how much damage he had survived when the Meiji government had attempted to kill him, and showed a great strength of will.
Sitting next to him on the dais was a young woman who looked to be very attentive, and Kenshin studied her for a long moment before returning the majority of his attention to Shishio. It was time to get started.
“So, you are Shishio Makoto,” he said calmly.
“Please!” Shishio objected, raising the pipe he held in one hand to his mouth. “‘Shishio Makoto-kun‘, at least. A visitor should have better manners.”
So, we are going to play at being polite, are we? “Not that your manners have been much better,” Kenshin countered, narrowing his eyes, though he didn’t let the anger he felt at Shishio and his actions turn them back to amber – not just yet.
Beside him, Saitō turned to look at the boy, and commented, “Hey, should you be standing at ease like that? Battōsai could take one leap at Shishio and kill him.”
Except that we both know there’s more than one reason not to do so just yet; and since Shishio is here, he has something planned.
The boy’s response was educational.
“I’m not worried. Himura, unlike you, would never resort to dirty tricks.”
“Tsk,” Saitō responded, shrugging as if the boy had scored a point, and Kenshin hid a smirk. Saitō was quite good at acting; but then, he would have to be, with the number of undercover roles Kenshin knew he’d played.
But it was time to return his attention to the matter at hand. “Why did you target this place?” he demanded. “Your goal is this nation itself, not one or two small villages.”
“Onsen,” Shishio replied casually.
Kenshin was utterly confused by that. It was definitely not the response he had expected.
“The hot springs here soothe my burnt skin, but if other customers saw me, they’d be scared,” Shishio continued. “So I made it mine.”
According to the file on Shishio’s activities that Saitō had given him, the other man was not insane, no matter how much he might sound that way at the moment; which suggested that this was one of Shishio’s tests. Based on that, Kenshin knew how to respond.
“You destroyed the village for that?”
Both Shishio and his companion started laughing – but Kenshin was well acquainted with being laughed at; had in fact actively encouraged it in his role as the rurouni. It didn’t bother him at all.
“Please, I’m joking,” Shishio said, sounding quite amused. “Don’t get so worked up.” Then he met Kenshin’s gaze, clearly studying him.
However, he and Shishio had never met each other before now, much less crossed blades; all the information Shishio had to go on when it came to him was second-hand. Which in turn meant that, unlike Saitō, Shishio didn’t have the knowledge of him to realize the ‘rurouni’ was simply a mask. That would leave him at a disadvantage when it came to their final confrontation.
“You’re as humourless as they say you are,” the other hitokiri declared finally.
“That was a cheap taunt,” Saitō said in disgust, and Kenshin felt the slightest flicker of amusement in his ki as the Shinsengumi slapped the back of his head. Kenshin glared at him, not happy about that, as Saitō continued, “Don’t get hysterical, like that weasel girl.”
Just think of Saitō dragging himself out of the river, looking like a drowned rat…. I really must make sure that I bring that up as soon as possible….
“I took this village as a stronghold from which to conquer the eastern shore,” Shishio continued. “And I do like the onsen here.”
“Shishio–” Kenshin started, only to stop as Saitō placed a heavy hand on his shoulder and hissed at him to shut up.
“So, you sit here in your bandages, and plan your revenge against the Meiji government,” Saitō commented, his tone as casual as Shishio’s had been.
That sounded almost as though Saitō was offering Shishio a challenge of his own. But Shishio wasn’t getting to him any more than he was getting to Kenshin, so why…?
“Saitō Hajime, captain of the Third Unit of the Shinsengumi,” Shishio said coolly. “I thought you were more of my mind than that of Battōsai, so I expected you to understand a bit better…. But, not quite.
“I have no desire to take revenge on those who gave me these wounds,” the other hitokiri continued, and Kenshin and Saitō exchanged glances.
So, he’s not interested in taking revenge – or, at least, he claims not be interested, Kenshin mused, returning his gaze to Shishio. Which leaves… what? An appetite for power? That’s definitely possible – Ōkubo did describe him as ‘ambitious’, after all….
“In fact, I thank them for it.”
“These wounds burned many lessons into my body.” Shishio slapped his arm. “‘Trust, and be betrayed.’ ‘Relax your guard, and be killed.’ ‘Kill before you are killed.’
“And also,” he added, smirking as he turned slightly to put one arm around the woman beside him, “‘Women will come to a real man no matter what he looks like.'”
“Is that so?” Saitō questioned, his tone implying nothing more than a vague interest, the challenge withdrawn as inexplicably as it had been offered. “Then shouldn’t you be more content?” The Shinsengumi leaned lightly against the wall. “It’s tiring to have to run around the country after you.”
Shishio sighed heavily. “You and I and Battōsai here are all men who lived through the Bakumatsu. Why can’t you understand my feelings?”
Kenshin’s eyes narrowed. Now, perhaps, they would get somewhere….
“The Emperor, the Shōgun, the exclusion of foreigners, the opening of the ports…. The Bakumatsu was the first era of chaos in thirty years. The Emperor, the government, Satsuma, Chōshū, or Tosa… all carried their banners of ‘right’ through endless killing. A man forged in such an age must be a man of unquenchable ambition.”
The boy and the woman both clapped. Kenshin and Saitō simply waited for the rest of it.
“But by the time my wounds healed, there was something called the Meiji government.” Shishio was spinning his pipe in his hand as he spoke. “A government that fears to send an army to finish off a half-dead being like me, because it fears the eyes of foreign countries. A government of weaklings. I can’t leave this nation to a government like that!” Shishio’s hand tightened around his pipe.
“So!” The pipe broke with a crack, but Shishio ignored it. “If the revolution is over, then I’ll start another one! This time I will gain control!”
Both Kenshin and Saitō stepped forward, and Kenshin found his eyes narrowing even further as his anger at Shishio’s arrogance built. He liked where this was going even less than the possibility that Shishio wanted revenge on those who had used and betrayed him, which was a motivation that Kenshin could at least understand, even if he couldn’t condone it.
“Then I will make this country stronger! That is the ‘right’ I bring Japan!”
“But,” Kenshin said quietly, knowing that his eyes had gone amber despite himself as fury rose at the implications of Shishio’s words, “it’s not you who bleeds for your ‘right’. The ones who bleed are those who live peacefully in this age.”
“It is the fittest who survive in this world,” Shishio countered. “But I won’t ask you to understand that.”
Without conscious thought, Kenshin drew his sakabatō, taking a step forward as he did so, the move purposefully threatening. “Shishio Makoto…. No one else may be allowed to bleed for your personal ‘right’,” he declared coldly.
“Saitō-san, how about you?” the boy asked from behind him.
Kenshin knew Saitō was smirking from the tone of his voice. “I don’t make a habit of speeches like his,” the Shinsengumi stated calmly, “but my sword turns against you, too.”
“I have no objection to fighting you,” Shishio remarked, “but if we are to do it, I’d rather it be in Kyoto.”
The statement wasn’t a surprise to Kenshin – he and Saitō had been expecting exactly that, after all – but at the moment, he honestly felt angry enough to see if he could deal with Shishio right now. He silently took another step forward.
“No…?” Shishio sounded almost disappointed, but his ki didn’t reflect that; instead, what Kenshin could sense from him felt triumphant. “Well, if fight we must….” He slapped his hand down on the floor – a signal.
Kenshin stepped back as a blade came up through the floor, followed by a huge arm, exchanging a startled look with Saitō.
“…Let’s leave it to the man who controls this village,” Shishio continued as an enormous form stepped out of the hole, “Senkaku!”
Senkaku was heavily muscled, much taller even than Saitō, and wore blades over his knuckles – Kenshin recognized them as being the most likely source of the wounds on the bodies of Eiji’s family. He was going to have to be careful not to let this giant overpower him by sheer strength. It wouldn’t be easy, but Kenshin was confident he could handle this man.
Looking up at him, Kenshin said coolly, “So you are Senkaku; the man who killed Eiji’s brother and parents.”
Senkaku bared his teeth, and moved forward – remarkably fast for such a large, heavy man.
“He’s quick,” Saitō remarked, as Kenshin moved away equally swiftly. The Shinsengumi didn’t sound the least bit worried, and Kenshin smirked slightly. Nice to know Saitō had that much confidence in him. Of course, Saitō knew what he was capable of, from personal experience.
Kenshin moved behind Senkaku, and the man’s response was surprisingly quick, even taking his speed into account, as he turned to look, then brought his arm around, directing his blade toward Kenshin. “You’re slow!”
Kenshin immediately brought his sakabatō up, blade edge out, and caught Senkaku’s blade about one sun from his chest.
“Oh, my,” the boy murmured. “He’s weaker than expected.”
Senkaku’s response was very similar. “Himura Battōsai is no one to fear!”
Do you truly think so? Kenshin wondered coldly. This first exchange had given him Senkaku’s measure, and he now knew how to defeat the giant. Senkaku was definitely stronger than him – not that that had been in doubt – but wasn’t faster; in fact, he was markedly slower. The combination of arrogance and confidence he could sense in the giant’s ki told Kenshin that Senkaku had chosen to use his fastest speed to attack, whereas all he had done to start with was match his speed to Senkaku’s.
He met Senkaku’s gaze, seeing a flicker of surprise in the other man’s eyes at the fact that he was still alive. “Eiji has his promise,” Kenshin declared; and then pushed forward with his blade. The sakabatō cracked Senkaku’s blade so badly that it became unusable. “I will take you down before Shishio!”
“Take down? Me?” Senkaku repeated in clear disbelief.
“You,” Kenshin said flatly.
Senkaku bared his teeth, and snarled, “Try me!” as he brought his other blade around, straight at Kenshin.
Saitō’s attention was split three ways: between the boy standing next to him, the battle occurring in front of him, and Shishio, who was watching the battle just as intently as he was. Trying to gain more information about Battōsai’s style, he knew. He just hoped that Battōsai didn’t forget their purpose here in his determination to avenge the Mishima family.
“Senkaku, who to this day has carved up ninety-nine people, will make you his one-hundredth!” the giant yelled, as he swung the blade Battōsai hadn’t ruined at the hitokiri.
“Only ninety-nine?” Saitō repeated. He chuckled darkly as Battōsai evaded the blade, and leaned back against the wall again, crossing his arms over his chest. Between his assignments, their bodyguards, and the ambushes both Saitō’s fellow Shinsengumi and the rest of the Shogunate forces had laid for him, Battōsai had killed more people than that during his first six months as hitokiri, let alone the next four years. He smirked in open amusement. “And here I thought you were a warrior.”
Battōsai’s figure blurred as he moved behind Senkaku, and Saitō’s eyes narrowed as both the boy and the woman reacted to this demonstration of the hitokiri’s infamous speed. That wasn’t the fastest he’d seen Battōsai move; it wasn’t even up to the speed Battōsai had started with during their duel in the Kamiya dojo. What exactly are you doing, Battōsai? We both know that if it comes down to a contest of speed, you can defeat this Senkaku with ease.
The giant spun around to face Battōsai, who responded by moving back around so that he was once again behind Senkaku… only slightly faster this time.
Saitō doubted that anyone who hadn’t fought Battōsai before would have noticed it, but the two of them had fought each other so often that the increase in speed seemed obvious to him.
“Heh…. Is Battōsai a coward whose only skill is to strike from behind?” Senkaku asked, looking over his shoulder at the hitokiri, whose expression didn’t even show the contempt Saitō could feel practically radiating from him. “That’s something I can do too,” the giant added, imitating Battōsai’s move.
“It’s nothing to be proud of,” the hitokiri said coolly.
“Your speed matches mine,” Senkaku proclaimed, and Saitō frowned at that, “but I have sheer strength you don’t, and these knuckle blades take full advantage of both!” He swung out at Battōsai again; and again, Battōsai evaded him, once again moving just a little faster than before.
And Saitō let a bit more of his weight rest against the wall as he realized exactly what Battōsai was doing. Oh, yes, Battōsai, you are still as clever as ever….
The battle – if it could be called that, considering that Battōsai had yet to even attempt to strike a blow – continued for several more minutes. Saitō was finding it rather amusing, all told; he wasn’t certain whether or not Shishio understood what was happening, but it was clear that the boy didn’t, and Senkaku definitely didn’t.
While Battōsai was dealing with that, Saitō tried to determine the viability of attacking Shishio. The renegade hitokiri was distracted by the battle between Senkaku and Battōsai, which would make this a perfect time to strike….
…Except for the fact that the boy was still next to him, and Saitō couldn’t tell how he would react. Battōsai had identified him as Ōkubo’s assassin, which meant there was definitely more to the boy than the innocent appearance he had shown them so far.
Saitō had been trying to sense the boy’s ki since they’d arrived, but hadn’t yet been able to – he was going to have to ask Battōsai what he could sense. However, even if he couldn’t sense the boy’s ki, he should still be able to affect it.
Even as he thought that, the boy commented, “Himura is really having a hard time. He’s been pushed around, and hasn’t had a chance to strike, not even one.” Then the boy looked at him, and Saitō took the opportunity to project his own ki, in an effort to overwhelm the boy. If he could do that, he would be able to attack Shishio without needing to worry about the boy’s response. “Why don’t you help him out?”
Saitō tilted his head slightly and looked down at the boy, doing his best to hide the confusion he felt. There should have been a reaction – some reaction, even if it was only a blink – but there was nothing. It was as though the boy had no true ki at all, which was almost impossible to believe. He would have to be emotionless, or as close to that as made no difference, for that to be true!
Either way, it meant Saitō had no way to predict how the boy would react, and so he couldn’t afford to take the chance of attacking Shishio. Instead, he concentrated on his role of being Battōsai’s back-up, though he continued to work on projecting his ki toward the boy, just in case.
“You’re joking,” he said out loud, in response to the question the boy had asked. “I don’t plan on revealing my sword moves to an opponent like that.” Saitō jabbed his finger in Shishio’s direction. “Look at him. He’s trying to analyze every move Battōsai makes.
“Battōsai, of course,” the Miburō continued, “can feel his eyes; and that is why he is waiting for his opponent’s self-destruction.”
“‘Self-destruction’?” the boy repeated, sounding puzzled; but still, there was no sense of his ki. Even with sword-masters who knew how to shield their ki as well as… well, Battōsai… there was still a sense of presence, at least when they were as close as the boy was right now. But the boy had nothing.
Even as Saitō continued to try to make sense of that, he saw a flicker of triumph cross Battōsai’s face.
“It’s about time,” the hitokiri remarked, before moving away from Senkaku’s attack again.
“Will you give up this–” Senkaku started as he began twisting around… and then a sharp crack sounded, as his legs twisted and gave out, dropping him to the floor.
“Guaah! My… leg… is broken!”
“By moving repetitively without dropping your speed,” Battōsai said calmly, standing over the fallen giant, “you’ve exceeded the impact your body could stand.”
“Nonsense!” Senkaku blurted out. “We were moving at the same speed! How can my body have hit its limit before your puny body hit its?!”
Saitō smirked. The idiot didn’t get it, though he thought that Shishio might have finally realized what Battōsai had done.
“We moved at the same speed, but your body is heavier, so the burden on it was greater,” Battōsai stated.
“No, that can’t be!” Senkaku yelled in denial. “That’s never happened before! My body shouldn’t hit the limit at such a speed–”
As entertaining as certain elements of this situation were, they still had a job to do. Saitō interrupted the giant’s protest curtly. “Fool. Don’t you see yet?” When Senkaku just stared at him blankly, Saitō shook his head in disgust. “Every time he moved, Battōsai increased his speed slightly. You believed you were moving at the same speed and fell for it.”
He smirked. “You were saying you’ve killed ninety-nine people, but your hundredth kill seems to be you.”
Senkaku gaped at him.
The boy made some comment, but Saitō ignored him as he watched Battōsai approach Senkaku. Remember, you’re playing the rurouni here, Battōsai…. Unfortunately, judging from the fact that the hitokiri’s eyes were glowing pure amber, he suspected that Battōsai might have forgotten that aspect of what they were doing here in his anger over the treatment of the Mishima family. He was certainly making Senkaku more than a little bit nervous.
The giant raised one hand in an effort to stave off Battōsai’s approach. “It… was a lie…” Senkaku stuttered. “I didn’t kill that many people! Ninety-nine was just a figure of speech… you see?”
Battōsai appeared to be utterly unmoved. “But you were the one who killed Eiji’s family, weren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
“Senkaku,” Shishio interrupted the confrontation. The giant turned to look at him, and Saitō had to admire how well the man broke Battōsai’s spell. “I didn’t really expect you to win, but if you lose without making Battōsai reveal a single move, I’ll personally put an end to you.”
Battōsai’s expression flickered for just a moment, and Saitō winced, knowing the hitokiri didn’t intend to leave Senkaku’s fate to Shishio, no matter how angry he was – even if he wanted the giant dead himself. Saitō could only hope it didn’t involve showing Shishio one of his specialized moves… although that was probably what Battōsai would do if he were truly the rurouni….
Even as he was wondering just what Battōsai was planning, Saitō sensed the ki of that girl and the Mishima boy approaching. Idiots! he thought furiously. Are they trying to get killed?
He didn’t have time to think about how to deal with them just yet, however, because at that moment, Senkaku forced himself to stand up, and charged forward, obviously more terrified of Shishio than he was of Battōsai.
Battōsai drew back his sword, and then moved. “Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryū! Ryūshōsen!”
Saitō watched as Battōsai brought the blunt edge of his sakabatō up to Senkaku’s neck, and found himself hiding a smirk as he realized that the hitokiri had not, even with the provocation from both Shishio and Senkaku, stopped thinking. Clever, Battōsai, very clever. A move that’s best used against one much larger than you are, or who is standing higher than you. As long as you avoid fighting Shishio while he’s on a level more than a shaku above you, his knowing that particular move shouldn’t help him.
Still playing the part, however, Saitō put a mixture of disgust and irritation in his voice as he spoke. “Idiot…. Taking pity on that muscle-head – that kindness may cost you your life.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Battōsai said coolly, as he landed easily between Senkaku and the dais where Shishio and the woman were sitting. “I’m not so worried about this one….”
Raising his sword, he pointed it directly at Shishio. “Get your sword, Shishio Makoto.”
Settling himself a bit more comfortably against the wall, Saitō glanced down as he heard a whisper of sound from next to him to see that the shoji was slightly open. Judging from the shock he sensed from the girl’s ki, she and Mishima were undoubtedly the culprits, and had most likely seen Battōsai’s latest move.
“This… isn’t anything we should stick our noses into,” the girl murmured, so quietly that Saitō could barely pick up the words.
Hmm…. Perhaps I should let Battōsai handle them. It should be interesting – and useful – to find out how he now deals with disobedience. Smirking at the thought, he reached down and pulled the shoji open. “So stop sneaking around, and watch,” he said, as the two children came tumbling into the room. “Just don’t leave my side,” he added curtly. They were in enough danger here already; no point in exposing them to more.
Battōsai had whirled around at the noise, and was now staring at the children in dismay. “Misao-san!” the hitokiri exclaimed, his tone one of disappointment.
“That move called Ryūshōsen,” Shishio remarked from the dais, giving no indication that he’d even seen the children. Battōsai turned back to face him, and Saitō waited, knowing that whatever happened now would determine whether they’d succeeded in their goal for this particular confrontation with Shishio. “You swung upward into Senkaku’s chin, but it’s originally a move designed for a blade, yes?”
“Yes,” Battōsai admitted after a long moment, the agreement sounding quite reluctant.
Shishio didn’t look terribly pleased. “I’m disappointed,” he declared, and Saitō made sure his ki was thoroughly shielded, not wanting Shishio to sense the triumph he was feeling.
“I’d heard from my men that you had quit being hitokiri and become rurouni, but I couldn’t believe it, not till I saw with my own eyes. To try and beat me like that… you haven’t a chance in hell. And I don’t like boring fights.” Shishio snapped his fingers, and the woman stood up and opened a shoji right behind them, revealing a set of stairs going down into the ground.
“I’ll wait for you in Kyoto,” Shishio continued, standing up, “so come back once you’re hitokiri again.”
“Running with your tail tucked between your legs?” Battōsai taunted.
Shishio looked at him for a moment, then reached down, picked up the katana that had been resting next to him, and threw it.
The girl – Misao, that was what the hitokiri had called her – gasped in shock as Battōsai didn’t move, but Saitō ignored her. The sword wouldn’t hit Battōsai; it had been aimed quite carefully at the boy who had brought them here, who caught it easily.
“Sōjirō, amuse yourself with them in my stead,” Shishio ordered, as Battōsai turned to face the young assassin.
The boy gripped the hilt of the katana and grinned. “Oh, may I?”
“Yes,” Shishio replied. “In return for the ‘Ryūshōsen‘, show them your ‘Tenken‘.” With that, he turned and walked down the stairs, leaving the five of them – Battōsai, Saitō, the boy, and the two children – alone in the room.
Additional Author’s Notes: 3) Yes, Kenshin is going to bring up the “Bridge Incident” – sometime after they get to Kyoto. It’s got to be timed just right, after all….
4) [Spoilers for final battle with Shishio] Yes, I know Kenshin uses Ryūshōsen in that fight – that’s one of the things I will be changing (probably).
shaku: A Japanese unit of measure equivalent to approximately 30.303 cm (just under one foot).
sun: A Japanese unit of measure equivalent to approximately 3.03 cm (just under 1.2 inches).
Both are used for swords and building.
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[Edited Thurs. Apr. 13/06] Go to Chapter 4, Part 1: Sakabatō Broken! (Kenshin faces Sōjirō, and talks with Saitō).
[Minor edits Thurs. May 18/06.]