|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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::: Minimal Jinchuu
Prelude to a Nightmare: Chapter 1 - Premonitions
"There's something I want to tell you all... about this battle... from the beginning."
I remember that it was cold that night, and as I crouched on the rooftop I suddenly sensed them, even before I heard the soft scuffing of their sandals, or saw the faint light of the solitary lantern that the man leading them was carrying.
He was walking in front of them, and as they came into view, I noticed in a moment of detatched curiosity that he was also the youngest by far. He was tall, much taller than me, and older by a few years also, but already I knew that he was not a threat to me. It suddenly occurred to me that he was not the one whom I was after either, but I could not allow myself to follow that thought. I had a job to do.
Move. Do not think. It was dangerous to think.
They were talking to each other as they walked; they did not even sense me, for I had done a good job of concealing myself.
"Kiyosato, you're going to be married next month, aren't you?" I froze at the next words. Kiyosato... that must be the young man's name.
Move. Act. You cannot afford to think. It is not allowed.
"That's right," said the young man, smiling. His older counterpart looked affectionately at Kiyosato.
"Marrying your childhood sweetheart... You lucky dog."
"Thank-you." They were now walking side by side, probably because talking was easier that way. They did not hear me as I leapt off the roof. Kiyosato paused for a moment, surprising me, for I thought that I had been found out, but it turns out that he was troubled for other reasons.
"But I cannot help worrying," he admitted to the other two men. They did not realise that I was now standing behind them with my hand on the hilt of my sword. "In these troubled times why should I..."
There was a brief instant in which I felt utterly horrified, absolutely terrified at what I was going to do.
"In this world, everyone's trying to find a little happiness."
I crushed the feeling ruthlessly, pushing it down deep within myself.
"If we make a new age through this work of ours, then that's the form that it should take."
No more. It was time to end this. I had a job to do after all. It was time to act, because they were walking away again. A few more steps and...
"You must be Shigekura Jubei." I was slightly surprised at how cold my voice sounded, but I ignored that thought as well. Instead I stared at them as they turned around. The man in the centre was the one whom I was after. Not Kiyosato, not the large man on the left, but Shigekura Jubei of the Kyoto shoshidai.
As he turned around, the colour draining from his face, I realised that he was nothing more than an old man.
I did not want to do this.
I had to do this.
They could not move; my sudden appearance had shocked them; frightened them. They were frozen with nervous tension and I had seen their expressions far too often on the faces of other men. I was almost sorry. I steeled myself. Sorry was not permitted.
"Though I bear you no grudge, for the sake of the new era I must have your deaths." It was the closest that I could come to an apology, but none of them would ever realise it. All that they could do was look at me in shock, their faces drawn and afraid. I noticed briefly that Kiyosato appeared the most shaken of the three. The other two men were a little more experienced; a little more hardened. Kiyosato hadn't even been able to take up a defensive stance. No true swordsman he.
He was sweating; he was shaking. Poor, poor Kiyosato, although I did not let myself think so at the time.
It had to be done.
"Who are you?" asked the large man suddenly, breaking the deadly silence. He looked strong and battle hardened; perhaps some kind of bodyguard. He tried to glare at me, but could only manage a glance before averting his eyes. My expression did not change one whit.
"Choshuu Ishin Shishi," I told them, as I saw the horrified recognition dawn in their eyes. "Himura Battousai."
Three hands suddenly grabbed three sword hilts. From now on there was no more thought. They knew what to do.
Fight or die.
The big man; the bodyguard was the first to draw his sword. He was also the first to die. A single upwards stroke of the sword and then for a split second it rained blood. He had been slow, I thought absently as I felt the warm wetness on my hands. My eyes sought Shigekura, who was next in line. He would die. It was already decided, and I think that he must have known that as well, for as I bore down on him he did not move; did not bother to fight back; he simply stared at me with bulging eyes.
I aimed for the head, thrusting my blade downwards, going through the final motions of a ryutsuisen attack which ended in a violent spray of blood and the corpse of Shigekura falling silently to the ground. I did not bother to look back. He was dead, that was all that mattered.
I hadn't yet finished my job though.
Kiyosato Akira had been unfotunate enough to witness the whole thing. Now he was backed up against a wall, horrified and trembling.
"Sh... Shigekura-san!" he yelled in disbelief. "Ishiji-san!" Both of them were dead, and I do not think that Kiyosato had caught up with that fact yet. Life was running away from poor Kiyosato as I suddenly locked eyes with him.
It would be a quick kill, I decided, in the split second before I slashed at him with my bloodied sword. Swift and merciful; I could at least grant him that much. The only mistake that Kiyosato had made was that he had been a witness that night. He couldn't be allowed to live.
"Gah!" To my surprise he blocked. I had come against him with lightning speed, unexpectedly, and he had blocked. I looked up into his eyes and saw, in a blink, a fierce, determined spirit.
Too bad for Kiyosato that it wouldn't be enough. I realised this, but he didn't. Not yet.
"Give up," I told him, trying to impose the force of my will upon him, and for a moment I thought that he had succeded.
No such luck. Here was a tougher opponent than any that I had faced in quite a long time. Our blades were still locked, so I twisted my sword suddenly, reversing the direction of the pressure. Caught off guard, Kiyosato stumbled backwards. Almost immediately he corrected his stance and lifted his head to glare at me. It is quite hard to explain the feelings that I had towards the young man at that moment. Perhaps... I am not sure... admiration, or respect, or a mixture of both. It was almost with regret that I attacked him again.
But he had to die.
Our blades met with a soft clang once again. He was managing to block my attacks, through sheer effort of will more than anything else. Kiyosato might not have been as accomplished a swordsman as my other two victims, but he had outlasted them by far.
This was cruel, too cruel. I decided to end it then and there. He was pale, and had broken out in a sweat. I was not even breathing heavily. This was too unfair.
"Ooooh!" Suddenly he charged at me; perhaps he had been thinking the same thing. All I knew at that moment was that I could kill him. I did not move much, I just stepped out of the way, angled my blade downwards, made a smooth killing stroke.
Kiyosato's charge faltered, and there was an inescapable moment in time where everything slowed and became painfully clear. As I followed through, I became aware of a strange, burning sensation... pain.
Suddenly he fell to the ground, but I did not really notice, for I was too preoccupied with the single vertical slash which had suddenly appeared on my cheek. Kiyosato had wounded me? I hadn't noticed; hadn't realised. Amazing, that his blade could even reach me. I looked down at my opponent who was now sprawled on the ground, framed by a splash of red.
He had... cut me? Tentatively, I brought my hand up to the wound and the sudden pain, the warm feel of blood, made me think.
Poor Kiyosato. It really was unfair... this Bakumatsu of ours... He was dead because of it, and to be honest, he hadn't stood a chance against me. Not in this life, anyway.
No. I shouldn't think like that. Not ever. When my thoughts ran that way I trod on dangerous ground. It was safer to act rather than think.
It had needed to be done.
Refusing to look at the slain Kiyosato any longer, I turned on my heel and walked away.
"Die... don't want to... die..."
I thought I heard something, but then I shook my head. Kiyosato was dead. I was just imagining things.
Don't, I told myself sternly. It needed to be done.
He was going to marry her...
"I... would have loved her... forever..."
Still alive? Surely...
I spun around and without hesitation plunged my blade deep into his chest. His words... I didn't realise it at the time, but I had wanted them to stop. Horrible, terrible words. They had only been the mutterings of a desperate, dying man, but they had stung me like small hurtful accusations.
Enough. He was finally dead, and my sword was red with blood. The cut on my cheek... it hurt.
Enough. I turned around, sensing that there was someone watching me, standing around the corner. Two people, full of nervous ki, watching me warily. Suddenly they stepped into view, and I recognised two of my Ishin 'minders'.
"We've come to check," said one of them as I wiped my sword. I nodded slightly.
"Thankyou for examining them," I said politely, after a small pause. There was no room for conversation between us and I turned to leave. The minder's eyes widened suddenly as he stared at my face.
"Your cheek!" he exclaimed. "It's..."
I glared at him. "It's nothing."
"But he reached your face with a sword... He must have been very good." These men, they really knew nothing about swordsmanship. I shook my head at their lack of understanding. Or perhaps they just hadn't seen the look in Kiyosato Akira's eyes.
"No. His skill itself was nothing." The two men looked at me as if I was utterly mad; they had not been expecting me to say this. "But his will to live..." I sheathed my sword with a barely audible click, "was incredible." I turned my back on them, suddenly wanting to get away from that place. The smell of blood... it was becoming too much for me to bear. "I'll leave the rest to you," I told them, walking away slowly. It was too much...
Almost as an afterthought, I glanced back at Kiyosato's dead body. Regret briefly washed over me; regret that I couldn't have known him as something other than an enemy. Remorse came also, but I only allowed myself that feeling for a second. Kiyosato had not been a proficient swordman, but his spirit... that had burned more fiercely than any skill of his.
"May you find happiness in your next life," I murmured softly, and it was all that I could say.
It had needed to be done.
It was done.
"Did you say something?" My minders truly were on edge, tense and listening for everything and anything. I was a little surprised that they had even heard me.
"No." I did not even bother to look back. "It was nothing."
A few faint snippets of their conversation continued to drift to me on the breeze as I walked away.
"...will to live... tell that just by crossing swords with someone..."
"...killed them all without even blinking..."
"...he really is a hitokiri..."
Terrible words, painful words.
I pretended that I hadn't heard, for them... and for myself. To do otherwise would be dangerous, and anyway, it was done. Just like that I walked away; walked away as if nothing had happened, but inside I was screaming.
Kaoru took a moment to look up, and looking directly across, she met Sano's eyes. He nodded briefly, once, reassuring her. Her gaze shifted to Megumi, who looked unnaturally pale.
They were horrified.
Not of Kenshin, but of what he had just told them; of what he had done. For a while he had, with his words, plunged them into a terrifying bloody world. Kaoru had heard stories of the Hitokiri Battousai, but never, ever from Kenshin's own mouth. Somehow, hearing the words from the man himself; her rurouni, was much, much worse than any old wives tale could ever be. It was worse, because now she could hear his pain.
She had not imagined, after so many years, that Kenshin's wounds could still be so raw. But now she realised that they had not healed at all. Kenshin had just kept them so tightly wrapped for a very long time.
Tonight however, he was unravelling the bandages, finally reavealing to them his raw bloody soul.
Oh Kenshin. Kaoru looked at him, but he would not meet her eyes. Poor Kenshin.
She had thought, she had imagined, and she had wondered about him, but never, not in a million years, had she believed that it would be like this. Far, far more disturbing however, was the realisation that Kenshin had only started to tell his story. But why with such a bloody, disturbing moment? Kaoru realised, with growing dread, that nothing good was going to come of this...
But what could possibly be worse?
Kaoru realised that her hands had become very cold, and she suddenly clasped them together, shivering slightly.
What had happened between Kenshin and Tomoe? Surely he didn't really mean that...
The wife that I killed with my own hands.
Surely it was just a figure of speech; it hadn't really been Kenshin's fault. The words were just an expression of his guilt... right?
Kaoru looked at Kenshin again and shivered, for right now, even that seemed too good to be true.
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