|Disclaimer||This fan fiction is based on the Rurouni Kenshin manga. Rurouni Kenshin characters are the property of creator Nobohiro Watsuke, Shueisha, Shonen Jump, Sony Entertainment, and VIZ Comics. This is a non-profit work for entertainment purposes only. Permission was not obtained from the above parties.|
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Faint, but enough for me to make out the solid grey lines of the buildings in front of me. As I glance to the side I see the pale faces of my companions, their mouths set in thin, determined lines.
Like me, they are afraid.
Like me, their hearts are beating wildly and they are breathing unevenly, trying to hide the smell of their fear behind impassive stares. Their hands, like mine, are clammy with sweat, and their senses are stretched to a painful limit. Every small breath of wind; every whisper of silence is a threat. The sounds of the night - they are not a rustle of leaves but an unseen enemy; our death by a cold swift blade.
Our eyes flicker nervously from corner to corner, asking questions of shadows and often catching glimpses of this phantom assassin as he flickers in and out of sight, toying with us.
We cannot ignore him, even though he taunts us, making us touch the hilts of our blades nervously and tense at every change in silence. Of course, it is not him, but us. The imagination; at a time like this, it can be a man's worst enemy.
It makes danger out of shadows and heightens one's fear of dying. I had never noticed before that silence had a sound, however thinking about it now, I believe that the absence of sound is a very loud thing indeed.
It is the sound of your head; of the breath leaving your nose and the pounding of blood. The sound of the wind and the shifting of clothes and the tensing of muscles. The beating of hearts.
And in this loud silence, we still strain our ears for the slightest whisper or footfall. We cannot ignore him, for just once, he might be real.
Especially tonight of all nights, when we know who the target is.
I stare, and stare, and stare into the shadows, however as hard as I try, all that my eyes see is black. Eventually, I blink, knowing that I have been staring for too long.
My head snaps to the right, for I have seen something. A black shadow; a movement in the night; something out of the ordinary and I am reaching for my katana, my muscles taut, my breath quickening, my heart hammering in my chest but it is only a cat, slinking past the buildings, down the alley. I catch a glimpse of its sleek black form in the moonlight as it passes between shadows briefly, before disappearing into the darkness.
My shoulders sag slightly in relief and I share a knowing glance with one of my companions before we train our eyes back onto the street. This waiting is agony. For an interminable length of time, we are waiting and then, eventually, we hear the faint sound of voices.
Real voices? I strain to hear, wondering if it is simply my imagination, but then they are again, causing the beat of my heart to quicken. I feel as if my chest is going to explode.
Voices, cries of men, shouts, the unmistakable sound of violence.
It. they. no, he has come at last, and we no longer have time to feel afraid, for the shouts are becoming louder; they are moving towards us.
A sudden gasp of pain splits the night like a thunderclap and I instinctively know that someone has died. My heart is beating in my head and I can hear almost nothing but the sound of my own breath rasping in my ears.
Footsteps, heavy ones; they cause me to tense, but then they are stilled suddenly as I hear a person fall and the cold night wind rushes by, blowing my long hair into my face. I blink and try to clear my vision, for this moment is vital.
Part of me wants to run, but I am bound by duty. I decide in that moment that I will stay and fight in this place even if it means my death tonight. I can feel them approaching, and I can tell that they are strong, but perhaps I will have a chance, for my kenjutsu training has been long and extensive and I consider myself skilled in the art.
My palm is slick with sweat as it closes around the familiar hilt of the katana; my arm is taut and it is almost painful to wait with the blood pounding in my ears.
Almost like a premonition, there is a sudden brush of the wind; cool breeze sweeps past my face and then, like a dream materializing before me, he suddenly appears in the entrance to the alley. For once, our phantom assassin has really come.
He is no brute of a warrior, but a small, almost delicate figure, my eyes tell me, as for a split second he pauses in the moonlight. I see a flash of dark red, and for a second I am reminded of blood, but then I realize that it is only his wild, long hair, being whipped around his face by the cool night breeze.
In that moment, my heart foolishly hammers in my chest and I experience the odd sensation of hope, as I think that perhaps, just perhaps, they have been defeated and he is all that remains.
I had not been expecting just one of them.... but that ki, it belongs only to him.
Then he is gone, and I spin around as the cold air whistles past me and he becomes nothing more than a blur. I turn around to see the mesmerizing fluid arc of a katana as it is brought out of the sheath.
The silent hiss of a sword; it makes me cold.
My heart stops.
The sound of a blade slicing through sinew and bone really is a strange one; it is almost noiseless, but I can hear - or perhaps feel - the flesh being cleaved, even though it is not my own. I am frozen in shock as the warm blood splatters onto me, onto my face; my clothes. All of a sudden, I know nothing but the metallic smell of blood; I blink, and suddenly my vision is clouded red.
I want to run, I want to be able to flee, but I find myself unable to move as my remaining companion stares across at me for just a heartbeat before he too falls under that smooth killing arc. I can no longer see the assassin's blade in the moonlight, as it has become darkened with blood.
My mind is frantic; my body is frozen in shock. I find myself unable to move, and now I know that I will die here. He has turned around. changed direction. he lifts his sword.
You are already dead.
Death is no more terrifying than a pair of glowing amber eyes and the rushing of the wind as I feel the cold aura of a killer. It is also nothing more than a young pale face and a swift bloodied blade and the coppery scent that fills my nostrils as I look up for the last time through a clouded gaze. Perhaps death is tempered with compassion, or perhaps I am simply imagining things. I cannot be sure, for there is blood in my eyes, and I.....
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