At long last… it’s the beginning of Chapter 4!
Back to Chapter 3, Part 4.
1) And now, the first full confrontation between our beloved hitokiri and Sōjirō….
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 70-71 and 74-81 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 FOUR: Okina – Oniwabanshū of Kyoto
Part 1: Sakabatō Broken!
Saitō watched as Battōsai and the boy Sōjirō faced off against one another in the centre of the room. The hitokiri’s face was emotionless as he studied the boy carefully, and Saitō abruptly realized that Battōsai couldn’t sense the boy’s ki any more than he could.
It was a shocking realization. He had never known another swordsman who was as skilled as Battōsai at sensing ki – from what he knew of Battōsai’s style, Hiten Mitsurugi relied on the swordsman being able to read their opponent. That Battōsai, of all people, couldn’t do so, meant that perhaps Sōjirō being essentially emotionless wasn’t as impossible as he had thought.
“I shan’t hold back,” the boy remarked calmly, moving the sword Shishio had tossed him so that he was holding it at his side.
Battōsai didn’t answer, just continued to study him for a long moment; and then Saitō felt the hitokiri focus his ki and direct it at Sōjirō as strongly as he would an attack with a sword.
Before Saitō could mention the fact that he’d already tried that, Misao abruptly stood up. “Hey, Himura!” she yelled. “What are you dozing off for?!”
Apparently irritated by the fact that Battōsai gave her no response, she stepped forward and continued, “If you don’t hurry, the bandage man is gonna get away!” She took another step forward, until she was standing almost directly behind Sōjirō – and then staggered back against the wall, her face pale as she received the full force of Battōsai’s ki attack.
“Wh-what was that?” she stuttered, shivering.
Saitō didn’t look at her, keeping his attention focused on Battōsai as he spoke. “Directing ki toward him is like pushing one’s self off against a curtain,” he stated. “I’ve been doing it myself for a while.”
He could tell that Battōsai had heard him, and continued as Sōjirō bowed, “That boy lacks not only battle ki, but aggression, and rage.”
There was no direct response from the hitokiri, but he continued his ki-projection for another long moment; just in case Sōjirō was simply highly resistant to such attacks, Saitō suspected.
“I’m sorry,” Sōjirō said finally, “but if we don’t hurry, I won’t be able to catch up to Shishio.”
Battōsai’s eyes narrowed slightly; then, re-sheathing his sakabatō, he slipped into the stance for battō-jutsu.
“What is he doing?” Misao demanded, obviously not recognizing the stance; or perhaps she was simply nervous about Battōsai’s abilities when he couldn’t sense his opponent’s ki – Saitō wasn’t sure how much she knew. Once this is dealt with, I really must ask Battōsai about her…. Who exactly is she, and what is she doing with him?
The Shinsengumi shrugged. “If he can’t react to the opponent, then it’s most advantageous to strike with the fastest sword,” he informed her, though he kept his gaze focused firmly on the confrontation playing out in front of them.
“Battō-jutsu, of course,” Sōjirō remarked. “Then I, too….” He echoed Battōsai’s stance.
Saitō tensed as the two of them faced each other, almost as if Sōjirō was a shadowed mirror of the red-haired hitokiri. Battōsai was known for his speed and skill at battō-jutsu – it was, after all, the very move that had given the hitokiri his name – and for another to think enough of their skill that they would attempt to use it against him made the Shinsengumi very wary.
Both unlocked their swords….
…And then they moved.
There was a very sudden, loud metallic keen, a sound that Saitō had last heard during their duel in the Kamiya dojo, when Battōsai had cut his katana in half… and the Shinsengumi watched, his expression grim, as the top half of the sakabatō went flying.
This is not good.
Then his eyes went to Sōjirō, and he felt a touch of relief as he spotted the damage the boy-assassin’s sword had taken. So Battōsai held his own, at least….
Unfortunately, while holding his own might be enough for this particular battle, it would not be enough for the rest of them. And with the sakabatō broken, Battōsai was either going to have to replace it somehow, or he was going to have to take up a katana again.
“Match over, you think?” Sōjirō said, smiling calmly.
“Yes,” Saitō agreed. “It’s a draw; both of you are unable to continue.”
Sōjirō looked down at his sword, and an expression of astonishment crossed his face – though there was still not even the slightest flicker of ki.
“Woo-hooo! You go, Himura!” the girl shouted.
“Astounding,” Sōjirō murmured, examining his blade. “It’s beyond repair.” Then he shrugged, sheathing it. “Oh, well… it’s Shishio’s, anyway.” He started toward the stairs by which Shishio had exited, as Battōsai began walking back toward Saitō and the two children.
“There is no winner or loser in this match,” the hitokiri said, his tone calm.
Sōjirō nodded. “I’ll be on my way for today. I hope we meet again. Before then,” he added, as he passed Battōsai, “please find another sword.”
Battōsai didn’t respond to that, simply watched the young assassin start down the stairs. Then he met Saitō’s gaze, and the Shinsengumi could easily read the thought in the amber-blue eyes: This will be a problem.
“Himura…” Misao said quietly, looking at the broken sakabatō as Battōsai re-sheathed the part he held. “Your sakabatō… broke….”
“And Shishio and most of his gang got away as well,” Saitō added.
“Hey!” the girl snapped, glaring at him.
“Well, another sakabatō can be made,” Battōsai murmured, “and we can chase Shishio again. And we managed to rid this village of Shishio’s men. That is something, at least….”
As Misao walked over to the hitokiri, Saitō’s attention was caught by the boy, Eiji, as he moved toward Senkaku’s unconscious form. Remembering the rage he’d sensed in the boy’s ki when they’d been in the village – a completely understandable rage, admittedly – he frowned. He didn’t like the looks of this. Eiji was young enough to think that revenge would make everything better. Pushing himself away from the wall, Saitō started toward the boy.
A moment later, Eiji raised the old sword he had been holding, his intentions obvious, just as Battōsai and the girl noticed what was going on.
“Eiji,” Misao shouted, reaching out one hand as if to stop him.
The boy didn’t appear to have heard her. His attention was fixed on Senkaku, and if looks could kill, the giant would have already been dead.
Before Eiji could bring the sword down, however, Saitō had grabbed the blade from behind. The boy turned his head to stare at him, and Saitō took hold of the collar of his gi and tossed him back against the wall, firmly enough to make an impression without hurting him beyond minor bruises.
“He’s no use to us dead,” the Shinsengumi said curtly, looking down at Eiji as the boy tried to recover from the impact. Mishima Ei’ichirō had been one of his people, and Saitō had always taken his obligations to his people seriously. He would not allow the boy to ruin himself when he could prevent it; this was the Meiji era, not Edo, and things had changed. Besides, while Senkaku hadn’t been in Shishio’s inner circle, he had been of a higher rank than the foot soldiers that had been all they’d managed to capture and interrogate thus far. “There’s still too much we need of him.”
“This is my revenge!” Eiji protested angrily. “Don’t stop me!”
“Idiot.” Saitō’s tone was cold. “Revenge killings were outlawed in the sixth year of Meiji. I’ve enough to do already.” He turned and walked over to where Senkaku was lying, and then glanced back at Eiji again. Perhaps this would pacify him…. “Besides, if he’s turned over to the law, he’ll be tortured and then executed. It’s much crueler than killing him while he’s unconscious, if that’s what you want.”
He heard a gasp and a mutter of, “Ogre!” from the girl, but ignored it. He needed to get Eiji’s focus off revenge.
“Shut up!” the boy yelled. “I don’t care about laws or executions!”
Out of the corner of his eye, Saitō saw him start to reach for the hilt of the sword he’d dropped when he’d hit the wall.
“If I don’t take revenge with my very own hands, how can my family ever–?”
He broke off, and Saitō turned his head to see that Battōsai had placed a hand over the one Eiji had gripped the hilt with.
“What the dead wish for is not revenge,” the deadliest assassin of the Chōshū Ishin Shishi said quietly, “but happiness for those left alive. If you dirty your hands now, no one will be happy.”
Saitō watched intently as Eiji stared at Battōsai, stunned. Even the girl appeared to have been silenced by the utter seriousness of Battōsai’s tone, and the hint of knowledge his words held.
“As time passes,” Battōsai continued, his tone still serious as he lifted Eiji’s hand off the sword-hilt, “this small hand will grow larger, and you will become an adult.” The hitokiri’s expression was somber.
“Don’t grow into a man like Shishio or Senkaku, oppressing others with power. Don’t grow into a man like these villagers, paralyzed by fear.
“Grow into a man like your brother, who wanted, at the end, for you to be safe… and to achieve happiness.”
Eiji’s eyes were wide as he continued to stare for at Battōsai for a long moment; then he dropped the old sword carelessly on the floor and burst into tears.
“For now, at least, I guess things are settled,” the girl murmured after a glance at Battōsai, and then handed Eiji a cloth to wipe his face as the hitokiri stood up and came over to stand next to Saitō.
“For now,” Battōsai echoed quietly, as the two children began arguing. He followed Saitō’s gaze to the broken-off half of his sakabatō sticking up from the floor, and frowned. “So, the appropriate question would be: What next?”
“There’s a unit of police officers in Numazu who are waiting for me to send word of what has happened here,” Saitō replied. “I’ll contact them to come and collect Senkaku, and deal with the village; once that’s done, we’ll make a decision about the rest.”
He paused for a moment, and then looked back toward the two children. Now would probably be a good time to ask. “I thought you were going along the Tōkaidō to avoid getting any innocents involved,” he remarked. “What’s with the girl?”
Battōsai sighed. “Her name is Makimachi Misao. It’s a bit of a long story, but the gist of it is that she was raised by Shinomori Aoshi and the Oniwabanshū for a few years after the Bakumatsu, and then left in Kyoto with someone Aoshi knew. She apparently heard rumours that Aoshi was seen in Tokyo, and left Kyoto to look for him.” He shrugged. “I did try to get rid of her – I left her in Hakone yesterday afternoon – but she kept following me. I made the mistake of reacting when she told me she was searching for Aoshi, and while I told her I had no idea where he was now, I’m not certain she believes me.”
Saitō frowned. “I imagine you didn’t give her any of the details of what happened,” he commented, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. Should I tell him that Shinomori is likely heading for Kyoto?
“No,” Battōsai admitted. “I simply implied that I knew of Aoshi from the same rumours she heard.” He glanced toward the girl. “I… don’t exactly know how to tell her that the rest of the Oniwabanshū are dead.”
“Hmph.” No, I think I had better not. Best to keep him as a wild card; besides, Battōsai has enough to worry about as it is. And I want him concentrating on Shishio, not worrying about Shinomori – or, for that matter, those idiot friends of his – or what they might do. “So what will you do with her now?”
“Escort her to Kyoto, to her guardian,” the hitokiri replied. “And then leave her in his care, while I concentrate on Shishio.”
“And do you really think that she’ll leave you alone?” Saitō asked, blowing out a thin stream of smoke from the cigarette. “You said she followed you from Hakone when she wasn’t supposed to, and we saw just how well she obeys orders to stay where she is this afternoon.”
Battōsai grimaced. “I’ll just have to find a way to persuade her. She’s been partially trained in shinobi skills, but she’s currently at the stage that she thinks she knows more than she does, and you know how dangerous that can be.”
Very much like that idiot Sagara, who thinks resilience can compensate for lack of defensive skills, Saitō thought, but didn’t say out loud. “All the more reason to suspect she won’t be inclined to let you deal with things on your own,” he pointed out, then shrugged. “Well, she’ll learn, or she won’t. As long as she doesn’t interfere with our dealing with Shishio, she can do what she likes.
“Keep an eye on them while I contact Numazu, will you?” he added, gesturing to both the children and Senkaku, before heading out the door. There should be a telegraph he could use somewhere around here….
They stood at the top of the cliff, looking down on the village as the police took Senkaku away, to the accompaniment of cheers from the villagers.
“I know that now Shingetsu village can return to normal, but I don’t feel right about the way everyone’s cheering like that,” Misao remarked, frowning slightly.
Kenshin echoed her frown. He suspected it was somewhat overly optimistic for Misao to think that things could go back to normal for the villagers so quickly. They’d been essentially held captive for two years, and that could have ended up doing a great deal of damage.
“It’s only the beginning,” Saitō said, his tone grim, and Kenshin knew he agreed. They’d both seen evidence of the damage living in a war zone could do to even those not involved in the fighting; how much worse would it be for someone held captive in that environment? “The ugliness of their souls was exposed by this incident, meaning it’ll be rough for a while.”
Kenshin nodded in reluctant agreement, even as Misao turned and snapped at Saitō, “I don’t feel ‘right’ about you, either!”
He hid a smirk at that. Saitō had definitely rubbed her the wrong way….
The Miburō snorted and ignored her, looking back over the village.
“This village is still my homeland,” Eiji said quietly after a minute of silence, a newfound maturity in his voice. “I’ll pray for the best.”
Which brought up another concern Kenshin had….
“Now, it’s time for me to leave,” Saitō declared, before he could say anything. “I’ve got to take Senkaku back to Tokyo and let Kawaji know what’s happened so far before I can continue to Kyoto.”
“All right,” Kenshin agreed. “But… what’s to be done with Eiji?”
“Neither you nor I can take him along,” the Miburō stated, glancing down at the boy, “so I’ll have Tokio take care of him until things settle down.”
“‘Tokio’?” Kenshin repeated, puzzled. He’d never heard Saitō mention that name before. Who was she?
Kenshin blinked in surprise, vaguely aware that behind him, Misao was gaping at Saitō in absolute disbelief. “I hadn’t realized you were married.”
Saitō shrugged. “She’s a good woman; she’ll take good care of Eiji.” He paused for a moment, and then frowned at Kenshin. “You just hurry to Kyoto. We’re too far behind Shishio as it is; and even after you arrive in Kyoto, you’re still going to need some time to find a new sword.
“In fact, it definitely wouldn’t hurt you to rent a horse at the next post station,” the Miburō added. “At this rate, it will take you another week and a half to reach Kyoto, and I don’t think we have that much time.”
Kenshin glanced down at his saya, where he’d sheathed the remains of his sakabatō, and shrugged. “Luckily, I know who to look for to manage the new sword,” he replied. “The swordsmith who made the sakabatō for me promised that if I needed a replacement, I could come to see him.”
Saitō’s frown deepened at that, and he looked over at Misao and Eiji before motioning Kenshin a short distance away. “We’ve already managed to deceive Shishio into thinking you’re no longer hitokiri,” he said, once they were out of earshot of the children. “I would think it wiser to get a proper katana, rather than simply replace the sakabatō.”
“Just because I am willing to kill if it’s necessary, Saitō, doesn’t mean that I want to,” Kenshin declared soberly. He met Saitō’s eyes, his own dark. “I don’t intend to kill if I can prevent it, which means I need a sakabatō.”
Because using a normal katana – I will kill. I’ve always had to use lethal blows; I’ve never been able to train myself to do otherwise. My instincts simply will not let me. And I don’t want to end up killing someone who needs only be arrested in order to stop them.
Understanding flickered in Saitō’s eyes, along with exasperation, and the Miburō shook his head. “Very well,” he said finally. “Just remember that I’m counting on you to handle things properly until I get there, Battōsai.” With that, he beckoned Eiji over, and started toward the trail that led down to the village.
Kenshin sighed and looked back over the cliff, watching as the police finally managed to move the cart containing Senkaku out of the village, his thoughts still dark. That boy, Sōjirō…. I’m definitely going to have trouble dealing with him when we fight again. I’ve never met, or even heard of, any other swordsman who’s emotionless enough to have no ki. Without that, all I can do is guess at what move he’ll make. And his battō-jutsu… it was the same speed as mine.
I could change that if I had a katana– He cut the thought off abruptly. No. As I told Saitō, I refuse to leave a trail of bodies behind me, which is what I would do if I used a katana. There has to be some other way.
Unfortunately, he was having a great deal of trouble thinking of one. One of the problems of having few who could equal him when it came to swords, though not one he’d ever had to consider before. Saitō, Okita and I were all equals during the Bakumatsu… but I could always read at least a portion of their intent through their ki. I can’t do that with Sōjirō–
“Hey, Himura!” Misao called from behind him, interrupting his thoughts. “Why so glum? After all, they ran and we won!”
“Did we?” Kenshin countered, still frowning. And Saitō’s right about the need to get to Kyoto as quickly as I can. Perhaps I should rent horses….
“Of course we did! We got rid of Senkaku and saved the village, after all,” Misao pointed out. “And I’m sure we can replace your sakabatō once we get to Kyoto. So there’s no need to frown. Don’t listen to that Saitō guy – after all, he didn’t even do anything to help! Just stood against the wall making comments while you were actually fighting!”
And we did succeed in convincing Shishio that the rurouni mask is the truth of who I am, which should give us a certain advantage, Kenshin reminded himself, and managed to smile a bit. “You’re right, Misao – we did win this battle,” he agreed.
“See? I told you!” she declared, grinning. Then she grabbed his arm and tugged him back towards the woods. “Now, you said we need to get to Kyoto quickly?”
“Yes, I did,” Kenshin agreed, forcing his muscles to relax. He was thankful that he wasn’t going to spend too much more time with Misao; as optimistic and uplifting as she was, the way she tended to grab at him was fraying his nerves – and it was worse knowing he had only the broken half of his sakabatō to defend himself. “What do you think about getting horses for most of the rest of the trip?”
Numazu: The 13th station on the Tōkaidō going from Tokyo to Kyoto (not counting Tokyo). Hakone is the 11th station. An interesting note: Mishima – Eiji and Ei’ichiro’s surname – is the 12th station (between Hakone and Numazu). Here’s a link to a map and the station list of the Tōkaidō.
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. May 10/06] Go to Chapter 4, Part 2: Plans in Tokyo (Saitō and Tokio discuss the future.)