|Disclaimer||This fan fiction is based on the Rurouni Kenshin manga and anime series. Rurouni Kenshin characters are the property of creator Watsuke Nobuhiro, 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.|
|Author Intro||Once again I am grateful for Misaoshiru pointing out a major error in my timeline for Kyuushutsu. Unfortunately, I did not do enough research and was unaware that at this time (May, 1865) Katsura, Okubo and Saigo were not co-leaders of the Ishin Shishi. The Satsuma-Choshu Alliance did not occur until 1866. I have seriously tried to see how I could correct this problem, but do not feel that I can without completely rewriting the entire story. I apologize for the inaccuracy of my story and ask you to please accept the use of artistic license in this story and enjoy it, such as it is.|
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Kyuushutsu (Rescue, Deliverance): Chapter Six
by Terry L. McElrath
While running through the dark streets of Kyoto towards the Shinsengumi main headquarters, Kenshin kept his senses on high alert, seeking any indication of hostile auras. The Shinsengumi were entirely too active at this time for him to take any chances. His diligence paid off only a few minutes later, when he felt several strong warriors’ auras ahead, two of which stood out like beacons to his sensitive inner sight. Instantly, he completely masked his ki and slipped into a nearby alley. Jumping to the roof of the nearest building, he moved silently over the rooftops towards the group. Using the stealth he had mastered as the Ishin Shishi’s Shadow Hitokiri, Kenshin worked his way closer.
Kenshin had recognized those two bright auras instantaneously as belonging to Okita Souji and Saito Hajime, Captains of the Shinsengumi First and Third Troops, respectively, and the two strongest swordsmen in the Shinsengumi. He could scarcely believe his good fortune. One of the most dangerous aspects of rescuing Katsura from Shinsengumi main headquarters was the probability of having to face both Saito and Okita. Kenshin had fought both Captains more than once, although circumstances had forced the duels to be inconclusive. He was confident that he could defeat them in an all-out attack, but it would be much more difficult while protecting an injured Katsura. After a moment’s debate, Kenshin decided to take the time to see if he could learn anything that might affect his mission to rescue Katsura. Taking full advantage of the shadows, he edged close enough to overhear their conversation.
“. . . ridiculous to drag out the meeting until dawn!”
“I agree, Dazai; but you have to admit, the geisha was very beautiful, eh, Saito?” Okita looked up at his dour comrade with a cheerful smile.
“Hn. Who was the ahou who decided to hold a secret meeting in a teahouse?” Saito grumbled. He had little patience with fools in the first place, and even less for idiots who wasted an entire night on trivialities.
Tilting his head thoughtfully, Okita considered the question for a moment. “I believe it was Inihara-san.”
“Damn bureaucrats.” Saito looked disgusted and toyed with the hilt of his katana, as if he was considering whether Aku Soku Zan would apply to this situation. “When it comes to security, they have no more sense than a monkey does. The meeting should have been held at headquarters.”
“It certainly would have been a lot easier,” Okita agreed amiably.
Mildly amused at Saito’s disgruntled complaints, Kenshin thought it was ironic that the two Captains had been up all night. It appears to have been a poor night for sleeping. Thinking of the reason why he had not slept that night brought him back to his surroundings with a jolt, all humor forgotten. Since their conversation indicated that they were uninvolved with Katsura’s capture, Kenshin let them continue on their way unaware of his presence. At the pace they were walking, it would take them no more than forty-five minutes to get back to headquarters. By going straight across the city, he could be there in fifteen minutes. That didn’t leave much time to rescue Katsura. He took off, running across the rooftop as fast as possible.
Arriving at Shinsengumi main headquarters, Kenshin took a position on the roof of a nearby building, observing the activity within the complex. Seeing the walled compound in the early morning light gave him a slightly different viewpoint than the one he had gained a few hours earlier. A closed carriage with the Shinsengumi insignia emblazoned on the doors was waiting in front of the main entrance into the administration building, the driver standing near the horses’ heads.
Realizing that it would most likely be useless, Kenshin still opened himself up to receive impressions, searching for Katsura’s ki. At this time of day, there were many more men awake than there had been earlier. As he had expected, it was impossible for him to differentiate Katsura’s ki from so many auras, he would have to get much closer.
Even though the knowledge that Okita and Saito were getting closer was intensifying his sense of urgency by the moment, Kenshin forced himself to concentrate on the task ahead, pushing all distracting thoughts away. Infiltrating Shinsengumi main headquarters in daylight would be extremely dangerous; but if he were to succeed in freeing Katsura, he could take no unnecessary risks. Once he crossed the wall into the compound, he could not stop. He had to have a plan already prepared. As much as he wanted to go in as quickly as possible, he would take whatever time was necessary to maximize his chance of success.
Katsura would certainly be held in the cell block, under heavy guard. That meant that Kenshin would have to enter the administration building, make his way down to the basement, free Katsura and leave the complex. Simple. The only problem was there were nearly two hundred swordsmen standing in the way.
First things first, he thought, thinking furiously. Get into the complex. From his earlier reconnaissance, Kenshin knew there were two places where he could cross the wall unobserved by the inner sentries. Previously, he had come across behind the stable, but that wouldn’t work this time. He could see several people working in and around the barn. Two young boys were running back and forth, carrying soiled straw to a wagon parked behind the horse stables. It would be virtually impossible to get in unseen and he would not kill innocent stablehands. That meant he would have to enter the compound behind a storage shed. That wasn’t good, because it was farther away from the main buildings, but he had no other option.
Next, get across the grounds. Because of the layout of the buildings, Kenshin couldn’t simply go straight to the central building. The nearest building to the storage shed was the dining hall, but there were too many people coming and going. Apparently men coming off night duty were being served their meals now. There was no way he could chance going close to that building. Instead, he would have to go to the infirmary. It was a little out of the way, but it put him closer to the end of the nearest barracks. That would be tricky, though. He’d have to watch for men leaving their quarters. From the barracks, it was a straight shot to the administration building.
Enter the building. Now that was going to be a problem. Intently, Kenshin studied the building. None of the windows he could see on the first floor were open and there certainly wouldn’t be time to check each window until he could find one that was unlocked. There were no open windows on the second floor, either; and, with the morning sun shining directly into the covered balcony, he would be clearly visible if he tried to force his way in. Worried that he would have to work his way around to the other side of the building, he continued his inspection. If he had to try to enter through the back entrance, it would be impossible to keep his presence a secret. Just as he was beginning to think that a direct assault was his only choice, he spotted an open window on the third floor. Though it would be a very challenging maneuver, he now had a way into the building.
Then all I’ve got to do is rescue Katsura and leave. Kenshin snorted at the ridiculous understatement. This would be the most difficult mission he had ever attempted. He could not allow himself to be distracted, even for a moment. Eliminating all extraneous thoughts, he considered what he would be facing once he was inside. He knew there were men within the building, but they were all on the first floor. That would help. However, it was impossible to predict what would happen, so there was no point in wasting time trying to plan every little detail now. He would go in prepared to do whatever was necessary and be ready to take advantage of any opportunities that presented themselves.
Being extremely cautious, Kenshin worked his way around the headquarters until he was positioned in an alley across from where he intended to cross the high wall that surrounded the compound. Ruthlessly controlling his impatience, he waited until the first set of patrolling guards disappeared around the corner. Sprinting, he covered the intervening space in seconds and was up and over the wall long before the next pair of guards had appeared.
Landing noiselessly, he crouched at the base of the wall momentarily, surveying the immediate area with both his inner and outer senses. Assured that there was no one nearby, he ran at full speed – becoming nothing more than a faint blur – to the storage shed. Edging around the side of the small structure, he looked at the infirmary that was his next goal, scanning the adjacent surroundings. Disappearing, he traversed the distance in moments, running even faster than before.
Grumbling to himself about lazy helpers, assistant cook Hatakeda Aki shoved the kitchen’s back door open. Manhandling a heavy tub of garbage through the doorway, he started to haul it to the nearby cart when he thought he heard whispered footsteps. Stopping, he set the tub down and looked around for the source of the quiet sound. Seeing nothing except a small puff of dust, he jumped nervously when a hand suddenly landed on his shoulder.
“Whatcha lookin’ at, Hatakeda?” came a gruff voice.
Glancing over his shoulder at the Shinsengumi swordsman who had sneaked up on him, Aki asked, “Did you see or hear anything just now, Tanuma?”
“Nah,” Tanuma replied, looking around. “Why?”
“I thought I heard something. Guess I was wrong,” Aki mumbled, feeling foolish for having asked.
“Well, keep your eyes peeled. You never know, somebody might be tryin’ to steal the garbage,” Tanuma said, laughing as he walked away.
“Yeah, yeah. Wise ass,” Aki muttered beneath his breath. Dismissing the entire incident, he picked up the heavy tub and continued to the cart.
Kenshin arrived behind the infirmary and quickly slipped around the corner. He started to move down the side of the building when a door he hadn’t noticed before suddenly opened before him. Startled, he barely had enough time to jump to the roof and lay flat before someone walked out, slamming the door behind them. Kuso! he thought, taking a deep breath and holding it in an attempt to slow down his racing heart. It seemed to take forever before the man finally walked away and turned the corner. I don’t have time for this! Saito and Okita are getting closer by the minute!
Closing his eyes, Kenshin extended his senses to their fullest, focusing on the locations of the nearest auras. Luckily, he wasn’t visible to the sentries that were posted inside the walled compound. After all, they were supposed to be looking out for intruders crossing the wall, not watching the activity within the complex itself. There were quite a lot of people around the dining hall, but only part of the infirmary could be seen from there. There were still only a few men in the administration building, and they were all on the first floor. The barracks was becoming busy, however, as more men woke up. He would have to move quickly.
Dropping down from the roof, Kenshin walked to the end of the building and carefully looked towards the barracks. The area was clear, so he raced across the intervening space, stopping by the corner nearest to the administration building. He couldn’t see anyone, but he could feel several men coming near. Unfortunately, one of the guards stationed at the back door into the main building was looking towards the barracks. Kenshin waited anxiously – praying to every kami he knew of – for the guard to look away before the approaching men arrived. This was the most difficult part of his plan to get into the building and the timing was critical. With absolute concentration, he examined every foot of the parade ground that stood between him and his goal. It was crucial that he judge the distances correctly, since he wouldn’t get a second chance.
At last, the guard turned away and Kenshin was gone. Running faster than he ever had before, he became virtually invisible as he crossed the open area. Keeping his eyes firmly focused on the spot he had chosen, he raced forward, his left hand resting on his swords. With no hesitation, he coiled tightly within himself and leaped upwards the instant he arrived at his take-off point. Still running when he landed on the balcony’s roof, he took two steps and dove through the open window, tucking and rolling across the dojo’s polished floor, being careful of his swords. Coming up in a semi-crouch, Kenshin froze, listening for any indication that he had been seen. Hearing none, he stood up, breathing heavily.
Taking a few moments to relax, Kenshin centered himself and extended his inner sight, seeking Katsura’s ki. He could not feel it, but he did sense that a man with a very strong sword-ki was coming up the stairs towards the dojo. Striding silently towards the stairway, Kenshin stood next to the door, waiting for him to arrive. Within moments a man dressed in a training gi and hakama, daisho at his side, stepped into the room. A flashing battoujutsu removed his head before he even realized he wasn’t alone. After flicking the blood from his sword, Kenshin sheathed it. Stepping over the body, he left the dojo.
Moving with assassin’s stealth, Kenshin went down the stairs, keeping all of his senses at high alert. He still could not feel Katsura’s ki and was beginning to become worried. Even if he is asleep or unconscious, I should be able to detect him at this distance! What is going on? he thought anxiously. Standing at the foot of the stairs and looking down the wide main hall on the first floor, Kenshin could clearly feel the auras of at least ten men grouped in offices near the front doors. Concentrating, he could sense five auras in the detention center below, three of which he recognized as the prisoners he had seen earlier. Slowly advancing down the hallway, he studied the auras of the men in the offices ahead, thinking that perhaps Katsura was there, being questioned; but no, there was no indication that he was in the building. Where is he? Kenshin was focused so intently upon the auras of the men ahead, he was caught momentarily off-guard when the back doors suddenly opened and a large group of Shinsengumi fighters wearing training uniforms walked into the building.
They stopped short when they saw a swordsman wearing a Choshu uniform standing in the hallway. Immediately an alarm was raised, drawing the attention of the guards standing outside the doors and the men at the other end of the building.
“There’s an intruder!” one of the Shinsengumi yelled.
“It’s the Battousai!” another shouted, having noticed that the swordsman had red hair.
Drawing their swords, the group charged forward. Kenshin could hear confusion behind him, as men ran into the hallway. Outside, the sentries were sounding the alert and Kenshin could feel more fighters running towards the building. Remembering that the offices were unlocked, Kenshin momentarily considered escaping through a window, but there were even more Shinsengumi swordsmen outside now, trying to surround the building. Watching the oncoming swordsmen, Kenshin cleared his mind – setting aside all speculation about Katsura – and prepared to fight his way free. For Katsura’s sake, he had to escape. Turning, he suddenly raced down the hall, towards the front entrance and the smaller group of men.
Stunned, they watched as the Battousai ran towards them, followed by more than twenty fighters. Three men stepped forward, forming the first line of defense to prevent him from reaching the doors. They intended to keep the Battousai from escaping and hold him until the others could come up from behind.
Performing a battoujutsu without breaking stride, Kenshin cut down all three men and threw himself into the knot of remaining swordsmen. His katana flashing repeatedly as he spun in a circle, Kenshin took out five men at once. Now only two men stood between him and the door. Assuming one of the Hiratsuki positions, the nearest swordsman took his stand, his eyes glinting with determination. Sensing the arrival of more Shinsengumi on the other side of the doors, Kenshin continued to advance. The front doors slammed open, startling his adversary. Exploiting his distraction, Kenshin killed him with a thrust through the heart. A squad of fighters ran in, forcing Kenshin to take a few steps back to give himself enough room to maneuver.
Coming face to face with a scene straight out of a nightmare, the Shinsengumi swordsmen stared at the redheaded Ishin Shishi assassin standing before them surrounded by corpses, a bloody sword held loosely in his hand. Drawing his wakizashi, the Battousai faced them. Expressionless as ever, only his eyes showed any emotion, glowing with an unconquerable spirit. Before the men could react, he was already in their midst. Striking with incredible precision, the hitokiri’s blades seemed to be everywhere at once. Twisting and turning fluidly, each stroke flowed into the next, with no loss of momentum or power. Bodies began to pile up as the Battousai fought his way towards the doors.
Although they were unprepared for the Battousai’s surprising attack, the Shinsengumi swordsmen would not retreat; preferring to die, rather than dishonor the samurai code. More than half of their squad was killed in less than a minute, but that only seemed to strengthen their resolve. Seeing that the other group of Shinsengumi had almost reached them, the remaining fighters redoubled their efforts to kill the infamous manslayer.
With the arrival of the first group of swordsmen, Kenshin found himself in the middle of nearly thirty fighters. Using his sense of perception to its fullest, he was able to either avoid or block almost all of the strikes aimed at him. However, he could not parry all of them. He was able to successfully block a thrust aimed at his throat, but could not completely avoid another one that slid across his upper right arm, slicing into his biceps. Driven backwards by a concerted attack from three swordsmen, burning pain flared in his left side as a slash managed to get past his guard, only partially deflected by his sheaths. Spinning instantly, Kenshin’s wakizashi took his assailant’s head off in one smooth stroke, blood splashing across the wall. Completing the spin, he continued fighting the original three Shinsengumi, killing two before they could take advantage of the distraction.
Frustrated, the Shinsengumi warriors watched as the Battousai felled man after man. If he was concerned about the number of men surrounding him, he did not display it, his impassive expression never changing. The assassin moved with incomparable grace, his swords creating a shield of steel that the swordsmen found nearly impossible to break through. Although he was bleeding heavily from two wounds, the hitokiri seemed totally unaffected by his injuries. The number of fallen Shinsengumi were causing problems for the remaining fighters, the bodies impeding their attacks, although the Battousai didn’t seem to be bothered as he continued to cut down his enemies.
Kenshin knew that time was running out. His opponents knew that, too, and were making a desperate effort to delay him until reinforcements could arrive. He could hear more Shinsengumi entering the building from the back and could sense even more running towards the building. He had to get outside now, before he was trapped. Even with his exceptional sword skills, he could be overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
A young fighter slipped in a pool of blood, accidently impaling himself on Kenshin’s blade, distracting him for a moment. Kenshin barely managed to jump back in time as another swordsman attacked, turning a vicious slash that was intended to disembowel him into a long shallow cut across his abdomen . Freeing his sword with a jerk, Kenshin slid aside at the last moment, deflecting a diagonal slice coming down towards his back with his katana, while driving his wakizashi into the man’s throat. With only ten swordsmen left opposing him, Kenshin turned towards the doors. The men coming up behind him were getting too close. I don’t have time to take each man down one at a time. I’ll have to use a variation of the Ryu Sou Sen. The wild attack technique will take a lot out of me, but I have no choice. Taking a deep breath, he centered himself and exploded into action.
To the Shinsengumi fighters who were running down the hall it appeared that the Battousai simply vanished. One moment he was there, the next, he was gone. Then the men positioned before the front doors began screaming and collapsing, bloody wounds suddenly appearing on their bodies. All the swordsmen could see were silver flashes, until the Battousai abruptly reappeared, standing in the midst of the bodies before the doors. Shocked by what they had just seen, the swordsmen’s forward rush faltered.
Flicking the blood from his wakizashi, Kenshin sheathed it before opening the doors. The carriage was still parked in front, although the driver was nowhere to be seen. He knew he had less than a minute before the Shinsengumi fighters behind him would be coming through the doors. Kenshin leaped to the top of the carriage to survey the area. Several groups were running across the courtyard, but only one squad currently faced him. The massive main gate was closed and half a dozen sentries were gathered in front of it.
His eyes narrowed in concentration, Kenshin evaluated the situation. With swordsmen converging from both sides, once again going forward was his best option. At least out here he had more room to maneuver. Launching himself forward, Kenshin raced toward the nearest man, his battoujutsu leaving a deep gash from hip to shoulder. Jumping over the body, he darted between two men, shifting his katana to his left hand and using it to cut the lefthand man’s throat, while disemboweling the man on the right with his wakizashi.
Once again sheathing his wakizashi, he continued forward, seeing a group of six men running towards him. For a moment, weariness weighed him down, slowing his reflexes and making him feel clumsy. Shaking his head angrily, Kenshin let that anger burn through his fatigue. I will not be defeated! I’ve come too far to give in now! Katsura! Amber eyes blazing, Kenshin released his sword-ki in a fierce intimidation attack that completely rattled the oncoming men. Stumbling, the fighters fell out of formation and Kenshin took advantage of their confusion to slip among them, his swords flashing. The last two fell after managing to put up a brief defense. Flicking the blood off of his swords, Kenshin sheathed them and kept going.
Well aware of the men coming towards him from behind, Kenshin charged directly at the six sentries guarding the main gates. Three of them ran forward, spreading out to try to surround him. Swerving to the left, he leaped high over one of the guards, twisting himself around in mid-air and burying his katana in the man’s head using a two-handed downwards slash. Landing behind the corpse, Kenshin placed his foot in the middle of the man’s back and yanked his blade free. Before the other two could react, he had already sheathed his sword and was sprinting towards the three guards standing before the gates, leaving the other two sentries gaping at his back for a moment before they chased after him.
Putting on an extra burst of speed, Kenshin reached the sentries well ahead of the others. The oldest man stepped forward, drawing his katana and gesturing rudely. Moving to the side so swiftly he seemed to disappear, Kenshin repaid the guard’s crude behavior by cutting his sword arm off at the shoulder. The man’s agonized scream was cut short when his head joined his arm on the ground. The two young sentries were standing there, eyes wide, staring at the headless corpse lying before them. They didn’t have time to react before they were run through by Kenshin’s swords. Spinning, Kenshin raced back the way he had come and passed between the two remaining guards. Both skidded in their attempts to stop and face the young hitokiri. Turning, they couldn’t even raise their swords before their heads flew from their shoulders.
Finishing the follow-through for his battoujutsu, Kenshin ran back to the locked gate. Taking a moment to breathe deeply and center himself, he extended his inner senses outwards, seeking Okita and Saito’s bright auras. As expected, they were very close, no more than two or three minutes away.
With no time to lose, Kenshin faced the large double gate. He didn’t want to reveal his ability to leap incredible heights, so he chose another means of escape. Raising his katana, he made two powerful slashes, easily cutting an ‘X’ through the gate’s reinforced timbers. The broken gate collapsed, the two halves hanging awkwardly from their hinges. Kenshin ran through the opening, glancing back at the astonished Shinsengumi swordsmen who were staring in disbelief at the wreckage before them.
Worried, Katsura sat in the darkness of the carriage, wondering what would happen next. He hadn’t liked the cold, calculating look in the Shinsengumi officer’s eyes. It sent a frisson of dread through his nerves that raised the hairs on the back of his neck. The menacing aura this man exuded made the devious Captain Isayama seem like an ineffectual fool. While the Shinsengumi were the Shogunate’s police force in Kyoto, they strictly followed the samurai bushido, and Katsura respected them for that. But this officer’s actions seemed to betray the Shinsengumi’s sense of honor. Katsura had seen the way the man’s eyes had lit up as he had shuffled his way out of the cell and it did not speak well for his future.
After what felt like an unending ride, the carriage finally slowed down and stopped. When the door was opened, Katsura squinted against the bright light, but made no attempt to move. Even so, the two burly guards sitting next to him stiffened, as though they thought he might suddenly escape. Shaking his head slightly, Katsura nearly laughed at the ludicrous idea. Sobering swiftly, he noted a soldier wearing an army uniform was holding the carriage door open. Before he could say anything, the two Shinsengumi officers stepped outside, followed by the guard nearest the door.
Slowly, Katsura stood and moved to the doorway. Looking around, he immediately realized that they were at the Shogunate’s Kyoto headquarters. The mounted Shinsengumi guards were gone, replaced by a squad of soldiers that surrounded the carriage. But the Shinsengumi officer had said that he was being taken to Shinsengumi main headquarters for questioning! Why had he been brought here, instead? Before he could consider the situation any further, he was literally jerked out of his thoughts when the guard standing in front of him grabbed the manacles that were locked on his wrists. Unable to step down, Katsura jumped out of the carriage, landing somewhat clumsily.
Watching Katsura’s face intently, Hokusai gave his orders to the guard. “Take our guest to his quarters, and make sure he’s. . . comfortable.” He was pleased to see Katsura wince slightly at his comment, but hid his smile of satisfaction until after he had turned and walked away.
Smirking, the beefy guard yanked on the manacles again, painfully jolting his stiffened shoulder. Turning suddenly, the guard walked off into the building, forcing Katsura to stumble awkwardly along behind him while the soldiers laughed as he struggled to stay on his feet. Led through the halls and downstairs into a small detention center, he found himself standing before another cell. Opening the barred door, the sadistic guard dragged him across the cell floor and threw him against the wall. Shaking from the impact, Katsura barely had time to regain his balance before his arms were brutally wrenched above his head. The guard looped the chain he was holding over a hook mounted high on the wall. Gasping in pain as his shoulder wound was reopened, Katsura found himself nearly standing on tiptoe as he tried to relieve the terrible strain on his injury. Once again he could feel blood begin running down his chest.
Stepping back, the guard sneered at his prisoner, taking great delight in his suffering. After looking him over closely, the guard’s eyes lit up with unholy pleasure.
“Your clothing is torn, sir,” he said mockingly. “Let me see what I can do about that.”
With no further warning, he reached out and grasped the torn edges of Katsura’s gi, ripping the cloth apart with his bare hands. Dropping the ruined garment onto the floor, he shifted his grip, tearing the yukata off as well. After inspecting the blood-soaked bandage wrapped around the prisoner’s shoulder, the guard reached into his gi and pulled out a knife. Slipping the sharp blade under the dressing, he sliced through it, creating a thin bleeding cut.
“There! That’s better, isn’t it, sir?”
Glaring at his tormentor, Katsura refused to give him the satisfaction of a reply.
Disappointed at not having gotten a rise out of his prisoner, the guard shrugged and left the cell, locking the door behind him. Leaning against the wall across from door, he stood with his arms crossed over his chest, watching the Choshu leader.
No matter what he did, Katsura could not reduce the intolerable pressure his position put on his shoulder. The stab wound was bleeding sluggishly and throbbing painfully with every beat of his heart. He soon quit moving altogether, however, when he realized that all he was succeeding in doing was scraping his wrists raw. He assumed that this treatment was meant to force him to talk and wondered how long he would have to stand like this. Trying to distract himself from his pain, he began looking around. The cell was bare, with the exception of a small bench shoved against the other wall and a bucket sitting in the corner. It was dark, since the only illumination was the light that came through the door’s steel bars. Finally noticing how cold it was in the cell, Katsura realized that the guard had taken his gi for more reasons than just to humiliate him. Without even a light yukata to help keep him warm, he was soon shivering uncontrollably.
It wasn’t too long before he heard footsteps approaching. His guard stood at attention and opened the cell door. Katsura was quite surprised when the Shinsengumi officer who had brought him here walked in wearing an Army officer’s uniform.
“You know, it feels good to get back into uniform,” Hokusai remarked, enjoying the stunned look that Katsura was giving him. “I’ve worn one for so long, it feels strange to wear a hakama and gi. Oh, do forgive me, Katsura-san,” he said sarcastically, “I haven’t introduced myself. I am Hokusai Narihira, and I am a Colonel in the Shogunate Army.”
“Why the deception?” Katsura asked when Hokusai paused, although he was pretty sure he knew the reasons behind the subterfuge.
“That should be obvious, Katsura. You are a very valuable prisoner and I am certain that the Ishin Shishi are planning a rescue attempt as we speak. By making it appear that you are being held by the Shinsengumi, the Imperialists will waste time trying to stage a fruitless rescue. Time that I will put to good use.”
Hokusai walked up to his prisoner and examined his injury. Reaching out and prodding it with a finger caused Katsura to flinch in a most satisfying manner. Stepping back, he watched the white-faced Choshu leader struggle to control his reaction. Smiling, he resumed speaking.
“You see, my job is to get you to tell me everything you know. And lest you think that you have some choice in the matter, let me assure you that you don’t. I am very good at my job, which is why I was given this assignment. I have never failed to obtain whatever information was required.”
Hokusai stopped speaking, giving Katsura a chance to say something. When he just waited patiently for the officer to continue, Hokusai raised an eyebrow.
“Nani? No dramatic declarations of ‘you’ll never get me to talk?’ Do you believe that you will be able to resist forever?”
“No,” Katsura answered quietly, “but I don’t have to ‘resist forever.’ In a few days any information that I have will be completely useless to you.”
“Ah! A challenge!” Hokusai said, actually sounding pleased by the prospect. “Would you like to place a little wager on how long it takes me to break you? No? Oh, this will be enjoyable!” Turning away, Hokusai threw one last comment over his shoulder. “Relax for now, Katsura, I’ll be back in a while and we can begin our little. . . discussion.”
With that, he left the cell, quite content with the way the game had started. He knew full well the value of psychological torture. He would give the Choshu leader some time to think about what was coming. It was a near certainty that by the time he came back, Katsura would have already begun his job for him.
When the group of Shinsengumi swordsmen turned the corner and faced Shinsengumi main headquarters, the first thing they saw was the shattered remains of the massive double gate hanging sadly from their hinges. The next thing they noticed was the bodies lying scattered across the front courtyard. Saito Hajime was the first one to walk through the broken gate. Amber eyes narrowed, he began examining the carnage spread out before him. It was eerily quiet. Men were moving about the grounds; but there was no anger, no moans or groans from the injured, no one was talking. It was as though everyone was in shock.
Striding up to one of the stunned fighters, Saito grabbed his shoulder to get his attention and snapped, “What happened here?” When the man didn’t answer quickly enough, he shook him and barked, “Report! Now!”
“S-sir!” the unfortunate man stuttered. “It was the Battousai, sir! He left just a couple of minutes ago!”
“Nani?” Okita demanded, having just caught up to Saito. “Battousai did this? Why?”
“Yes, sir! No one knows why he attacked us. He just showed up and started killing men! And it gets worse, sir. He slaughtered nearly fifty men inside the administration building! He’s a demon, sir!”
“That’s ridiculous,” Saito muttered, stalking away towards the main building’s front doors, closely followed by Okita. Pausing, they waited until a carriage was driven back towards the stable before entering the building. One look at the number of corpses lying in pools of blood in the corridor proved that the shaken fighter hadn’t been exaggerating.
“This makes no sense,” Okita said sadly, recognizing most of the men. “What would make him attack headquarters?”
“He’s gone insane,” Saito stated flatly. “He wouldn’t be the first hitokiri to do so. But I swear, I will make him pay for what he did today.”
Before Okita could respond, both Captains turned at the sound of a galloping horse entering the courtyard. A Shinsengumi courier pulled his lathered horse to a stop so hard it sat on its haunches, sliding across the paving blocks.
“Sir! Higashiyama-ku district headquarters has been attacked! Over half the men have been killed!”
“Has the Ishin Shishi declared war on the Shinsengumi?” Saito growled furiously. Glaring at the hapless courier, he snarled, “Get back to Higashiyama-ku as fast as possible. Tell them I’m coming and they’re not to touch anything, do you hear me? I’ll be there as quickly as I can. Now, GO!”
“Yes, sir!” Saluting, he spun his horse around and clapped his heels to the horse’s sides, disappearing through the broken gate.
“I don’t believe this,” Saito complained, shaking his head. “You!” he yelled at a passing swordsman, “Bring me a horse!” Nodding, the fighter ran off.
“Go check it out, Saito,” Okita said softly. “I’ll stay here and see what I can learn.”
“Hn,” Saito grunted as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and proceeded to light one.
While running away from Shinsengumi main headquarters, Kenshin was nearly overwhelmed by fatigue when his adrenaline rush began to fade. He had used an incredible amount of energy in the last few minutes and was beginning to feel the aftereffects. The pain from his injuries was starting to make itself felt at last. He had been so focused during the fights, he had scarcely noticed it. The slash on his left side throbbed intensely, irritated by the weight of his swords rubbing against it, while the long cut across his abdomen burned from the sweat running down his chest. For a moment he was confused by the stinging sensation he felt near his right shoulder, until he remembered the thrust that had slid across his arm.
But worst of all, was the crushing sense of failure he felt at not having found Katsura. Why wasn’t he at main headquarters? What went wrong? Where is he? The questions kept repeating themselves over and over. But no answers were forthcoming. Finally, he had to set the maddening questions aside. He could do nothing without more information, and Uchida was his best hope for finding those elusive answers.
Seeing people ahead, Kenshin glanced down at himself before darting into the nearest alley. It wouldn’t do to be seen in his current condition, he would attract way too much attention. His gi was slashed in several places and he was covered in blood, too much of which was his own.
As he ran through the alley, Kenshin sensed a large group of warriors’ auras ahead. Cautiously, he approached, not anxious to walk into an ambush. As he drew near, he could hear the unmistakable sounds of fighting: battle cries, swords ringing and screams of pain. Looking around the corner, he saw a troop of Ishin Shishi was being attacked by Shinsengumi and it looked like the Imperialists were losing.
Without hesitation Kenshin joined the fight, coming up behind a Shinsengumi swordsman who was about to kill a Choshu fighter. Using a two-handed grip, he drove his katana through the man’s shoulder and deep into his chest with one powerful slash. Freeing his blade, Kenshin drew his wakizashi and entered the fray.
Startled by the unexpected death of his attacker, the Ishin Shishi fighter looked at the man who had saved him. Recognizing the red haired swordsman, he yelled “Battousai!”
Reaction to the surprising announcement spread throughout the fight. Several of the Shinsengumi wavered, looking around for the notorious hitokiri. The Ishin Shishi troops became more determined, attacking with renewed vigor.
Kenshin fully exploited the Shinsengumi fighters’ hesitation, charging into the center of a group of swordsmen and taking down several in short order. He had to be careful now, though, since Ishin Shishi fighters were mixed in with the Shinsengumi. He almost struck at a man when he bumped into his back. Only a glimpse of the Choshu uniform saved the man’s life.
“What. . . happened. . . to you. . . Himura-san?” squad leader Motoyoshi Tadiyuki asked breathlessly, between sword strokes, having noticed that he was injured.
“Shinsengumi headquarters,” Kenshin grunted as he took a Shinsengumi swordsman’s head off. “Katsura-san wasn’t there.” Dodging, he slashed another man from neck to groin.
From the corner of his eye, Motoyoshi saw a Shinsengumi swordsman leap towards him, his katana held straight forward in the classic Hiratsuki thrust position. Blocked by the press of bodies surrounding him, he could only stare as he saw his death swiftly approaching. With the Shinsengumi warrior only two steps away, Motoyoshi watched in horror as the man was shoved aside when a Rebel fighter crashed against him, sending him staggering directly towards the Battousai’s back, perfectly positioned to run him through.
In the confusion of the melee, Kenshin’s exhaustion betrayed him. Just an instant too late, he became aware of the sword thrusting towards his back. He frantically twisted his body in a desperate effort to block the blade; but, weakened by blood loss, his reaction was delayed by a fraction of a second. Too slowly, he brought up his katana, amber eyes widening as he saw the blade rushing towards his head. He stiffened, horrified, as he felt the searing kiss of cold steel slicing into the soft flesh of his throat. Despairingly, Kenshin grabbed convulsively at his neck in a vain attempt to stop the rush of hot blood. The next moment, he staggered as the fight seemed to come to a painfully abrupt halt – everything around him fading into darkness, except the keen edge of the deadly katana that filled his vision. A choked sound that might have been a groan escaped from between his clenched teeth just before his eyes dulled and he collapsed limply onto the ground.
Motoyoshi had desperately tried to reach Himura; but by the time he was able to break free, the assassin was already lying on the ground. In a fit of rage, the squad leader turned to the Shinsengumi fighter who had accidently brought the Battousai down and cut his throat with one vicious slash.
The sight of the red haired hitokiri lying so still on the ground stunned the fighters – Ishin Shishi and Shinsengumi alike. The assassin had survived so many fights that both sides had almost come to believe that he was invulnerable, perhaps even inhuman. One comrade reached down to gently touch the fallen swordsman’s neck, feeling for a pulse. Quickly, he pulled his bloodied hand back. Looking at the Ishin Shishi squad leader in stark disbelief, his shocked voice was clearly heard by all.
Author's Notes: I would like to thank all the people who have taken the time to read this story. Domo arigatou gozaimasu, minasan! Okay, I am truly sorry that it took me nearly three months to post this chapter. Please accept my sincere apology. Gomen nasai gozaimasu, minasan! My granddaughter finally went home on the Fourth of July, and I thought that I would be able to complete the chapter quickly. Unfortunately, I encountered a major writer's block. I hope this chapter didn't suffer too much from the difficulty I had getting back into writing mode. I have already begun working on chapter seven and promise to post it as soon as possible. The list of Japanese Words is after my reviewer responses.|
List of Japanese Words:
ahou - moron, idiot (in its most insulting sense)
Aku Soku Zan - "slay evil immediately" (literal translation wicked immediate slay), a motto of the Shinsengumi
battoujutsu - the act of whipping the sword out of the sheath, which can increase its speed twice or three fold; a great technique which can kill with one blow without taking a single blow from one's opponent
Battousai - The nickname for Himura Kenshin when he was a hitokiri; it means "master of the battoujutsu sword technique."
bushido - "the way of the warrior", was an ethical code of conduct, developed between the 11th to 14th centuries and was formalized during the opening years of the Tokugawa Shogunate for the members of the samurai class
Choshu - one of the most anti-Shogun provinces, fought for the Ishin Shishi
daisho - term used to refer to the pair of swords carried by a samurai one long (katana) and one short (wakizashi)
dojo - a martial arts training hall
domo arigatou gozaimasu - the most formal version of "thank you very much"
geisha - traditional Japanese female artist and entertainer; geisha are not prostitutes
gi - kimono shirt a fighter's or sword practitioner's shirt
gomen nasai gozaimasu - the very formal version of "I'm very sorry"
hakama - A divided or undivided skirt, rather like a very wide pair of pants, traditionally worn only by men but now worn also by women, and also worn in certain sports such as aikido or kendo. A hakama typically has pleats, and a koshiita - a stiff or padded part in the lower back of the wearer.
Higashiyama-ku - a ward (district) in eastern Kyoto
Himura Kenshin - The main character of the manga and anime series, Rurouni Kenshin, created by Watsuke Nobuhiro. A swordsman of legendary skills and former assassin (hitokiri) of the Ishin Shishi. Kenshin means "heart of the sword."
Hiratsuki - a fighting style created by Hijikata Toshizo, deputy leader of the Shinsengumi
Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu - Flying sword to heaven philosophy. Himura Kenshin's sword technique, used more often for defense than offense. An ancient style that pits one against many, it requires exceptional speed and agility to master.
hitokiri - assassin, manslayer
Imperialists - another name for the pro-emperor Ishin Shishi forces
Ishin Shishi - the name given to the pro-emperor forces from Choushu and Satsuma during the Bakumatsu (another name for the civil war that pitted the anti-emperor Shogunate forces against the pro-emperor Ishin Shishi forces); also known as Imperialists, Revolutionaries, Patriots, and Rebels
kami - god
katana - a Japanese sword; most katana are about 42 inches long from tip to pommel (the end of the hilt) and the blade is usually 26 to 28 inches long
Katsura Kogorou - Born in 1833; he was a leader of the Choushu clan and one of the three leaders of the Ishin Shishi (the other two are Okubo Toshimichi and Saigo Takamori). He was born Kido Takayoshi and was also known as Kido Koin. He died of natural causes in 1877. He is Himura Kenshin's "boss."
ki - a person's "aura," or his swordfighting spirit; the Asian concept of a life force or life spirit; it's used a lot in martial arts anime. "Ken-ki" is used in Rurouni Kenshin in reference to swords
-ku - means ward or district
kuso - "damn it," "shit"
Kyuushutsu - rescue, extricate, reclaim, deliverance
minasan - everyone
nani - "what"
Okita Souji - Born Harumasa Soujiro in 1844 from a samurai family, he started training in the Shieikan Dojo at the age of nine with Kondo Isami, a master of the Tennen Rishin Ryu. He proved to be a genius swordsman, and was a teacher of kenjutsu at 18. His signature technique being his Sandanzuki, which translates as "Three Piece Thrust," a technique that stabs the sword at the neck, left shoulder, and right shoulder. (This technique was said to have hit all three points almost simultaneously, but this is most likely embellishment.) Okita is usually considered one of the most talented and strongest out of the Shinsengumi, along with Saito Hajime and Nagakura Shinpachi. After the Boshin War, he went into a tuberculosis hospital in Edo and died at the age of 25, on May 30th, 1869.
Rebels - another name for the pro-emperor Ishin Shishi forces
Ryu Sou Sen - (Dragon's Nest Strike): a Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu technique; this is a multiple strike attack, each of the swings hitting the opponent
Saito Hajime - Born January 1, 1844; his life story and origins are very obscure and somewhat contradictory. Some say that he was a son of a ronin, while others say he left Edo after killing a person (some say accidentally) to join an army in Kyoto. He was the captain of the Third Troop of the Shinsengumi. He was one of the few who survived the numerous wars of the late Shogunate period. He was not considered to be as strong as Okita Souji, but he was fierce and fearless in combat and his left-handed single thrust was the most dreaded and lethal techniques of the Shinsengumi members. This one-hit technique matched well the philosophy of "Aku Soku Zan" ("Kill Evil Instantly" in a loose translation, "Kill those who are evil immediately" in a figurative translation). He married Takagi Tokio, a daughter of a daimyo. After the war, he changed his name to Fujita Goro and worked as a police officer. He obtained special permission to carry a katana. He died on September 28, 1915, of a stomach ulcer, at the age of 71.
samurai - Japan's ancient warrior class, officially abolished at the start of the Meiji era (1868)
-san - an honorific; carries the meaning of "Mr.," "Ms.," "Miss," etc., but used more extensively in Japanese than its English equivalent (note that even an enemy may be addressed as "-san")
Shinsengumi - In 1862, in order to assure the security of Kyoto city, the Edo Shogunate formed a special police force by recruiting among masterless samurai and farmers skilled in sword technique. Serizawa Kamo, Kondo Isami, and Niimi Nishiki were the original three Captains when the Shinsengumi was formed from the Roshigumi in March, 1863. Niimi Nishiki's rank was lowered to Sub-Captain, and he was subsequently forced to commit seppuku on September 8, 1863, by Hijikata Toshizo and Yamanami Keisuke. Serizawa Kamo was assassinated by Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo on September 16, 1863, because of his reckless actions. Kondo Isami then became the Captain and Hijikata Toshizo and Yamanami Keisuke became the Vice Captains. They provoked terror among pro imperial samurai with the Ikedaya incident in 1864. The Shinsengumi disappeared with the defeat of the Tokugawa regime in 1868.
Shogunate - the military rulers of Japan, they ruled from 1192-1868
Tokugawa - the family that had been Shoguns from 1603 to 1868
wakizashi - short sword (between 12 and 24 inches long, with 20 inches being average) worn by samurai (along with the katana)
yukata - An informal unlined summer kimono usually made of cotton, linen, or hemp. Yukata are most often worn to outdoor festivals, by men and women of all ages. They are also worn at onsen (hot springs) resorts, where they are often provided for the guests in the resort's own pattern. Yukata are also worn under a kimono or gi, and for sleeping.
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