Author's Note: CoConspirator feels strongly that Oibore's Legends of the Hitokiri Battousai should be a stand-alone story, whereas I could not resist tacking an epilogue story onto his 'book.' So, for all of you who agree with CoConspirator, here is the 'book' all by itself. CoConspirator also thinks there should be more legends in this 'book,' but neither of us is that adept at writing battle scenes (or thinking up new ones). If we come up with other stories---or if you, our readers, wish to contribute a new story or story idea to the 'book'---we might repost this item at a later date. One thing, however, cannot change—all the stories have to take place prior to 1869, since Oibore is writing in 1869.
In case you didn't read the epilogue, just let me mention that I wrote the Legends in the style I thought an elderly man in 1869 might use to write a book for young boys, namely action-oriented but somewhat florid. I also kept in mind that, according to my story, Oibore wanted to write this book but not be disrespectful of the man he had just discovered was his son-in-law. And, of course, there was no way he was going to mention his own daughter (let alone Kenshin's real name)!
Need I clarify that despite the fact this says the story is by Oibore, this is really a fanfiction written by Conspirator and CoConspirator?
Legends of the Hitokiri Battousai
Published in Kyoto, in the year Meiji 2, 1869
During the Bakumatsu, there was one name above all others that struck fear into the hearts of those living in Kyoto—Hitokiri Battousai. He has been called a god or a demon not of this world, who had eyes that burned with the fires of hell and could bring lightening down from the sky with a stroke of his katana. Others claim he was a real human possessed of superhuman abilities, who could unsheath his sword quicker than the eye could see and could disappear from sight just as quickly. He has been called a bloodthirsty killer who enjoyed the sounds and smell of death. Others claim he was a reluctant assassin, only meting out death to those the Ishin Shishi deemed to deserve "heaven's justice." Here are six tales of the Hitokiri Battousai. They are all based on stories from people who saw him or knew him. Read them and decide for yourselves, dear readers, what kind of man the Hitokiri Battousai really was.
Origins of the Hitokiri Battousai
In the spring of 1863, as soon as the snow had melted from the passes, a small, red-haired boy descended from the mountains outside of Kyoto. He was wearing the clothes of no known clan, and at his side he carried a full-sized katana. To those who knew no better, it looked more like the katana carried the boy rather than the other way around, so when he found his way to the camp of Takasugi Shinsaku and announced that he wanted to join his private army, the Kiheitai, the men laughed. "Boy," one of them said, "if you can even pull that sword from its saya, we'll be amazed!" The boy's eyes glinted with fire, and before the man could even take a breath, the boy had not only pulled out his sword, but had it against the man's throat. "I want to join the Kiheitai," the boy repeated. "Do you believe me now?" That they did, so they took him to Takasugi.
When Takasugi saw him, he asked, "Just how old are you, boy?" The boy answered, "Thirteen, sir." Takasugi couldn't believe this because the boy looked like he was no more than 10 or 11. The boy then said, "I am 13, and I am a master of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. I wish to wield my sword to protect the weak and bring peace to the oppressed. I wish to join your Kiheitai." Takasugi was astonished at such words coming from so small a boy, but he decided to treat the request with as much respect as if it had come from a grown man. He took aside his best swordsman, Kagemiru Shinzui, and said, "What do you know of this school of swordsmanship? I've never heard of it." The swordsman answered, "Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu was supposedly invented nearly 300 years ago and was said to be the most feared style of swordsmanship, but that's just legend. I didn't know it really existed. Let the boy and me have a fight, and we'll see what he's made of." So Takasugi turned back to the boy and said, "Boy, you will fight my best swordsman, Kagemiru Shinzui. If you can fight him to a draw or beat him, then you may join the Kiheitai. But this battle will not be to the death---I can't afford to lose even one swordsman!"
So the boy and Kagemiru faced off. Kagemiru was a master of the Jigen style, so he decided to spar with the boy the way he would spar with any talented, 13-year-old Jigen student. So he unsheathed his sword and ran towards the boy, intending to swing upward and out to knock the sword from the boy's hand. As he swung his sword, however, his target disappeared in a blur, only to reappear behind him. Kagemiru pivoted around, this time deciding not to hold back and intending to land a blow with the flat of his sword against the boy's chest. But as he neared the boy, the boy disappeared once again. Kagemiru stopped dead in his tracks, looking all around to find him. Suddenly, a mighty yell came from above his head. As he looked up, he saw the boy descend from the heavens, blade flashing. Before he had time to counter the attack or even to blink his eyes, the boy had the blade against his neck. Kagemiru knew that if this had been a real fight, his head and his body would no longer be enjoying their intimate connection. "This fight," the boy said cooly, "is over."
Not long after this, Katsura Kogoro, head of the Chousu Ishin Shishi, came to visit Takasugi. As he and his aides watched the men of the Kiheitai practice, he noticed the boy among the others. The practice involved attacking a target, a wooden post wrapped with rope. One of Katsura's aides called down to the boy, "Hey, little dumpling, I'll give you a ryo if you can cut that in half," thinking that this would be a very funny joke. Instead, the boy cut the target in half in one stroke, then smashed the other half to pieces with his saya. Then the boy walked up to the aide and held out his hand, saying, "One ryo, please." Katsura turned to Takasugi and said, "I must bring this boy with me to Kyoto. He will be the salvation of the Ishin Shishi." And that is how the boy became the shadow assassin known as the Hitokiri Battousai. This tale was told to me by Kagemiru Shinzui himself.
The Hitokiri Battousai Strikes
The Hitokiri Battousai did not choose whom to strike---those names were given to him secretly, in a black envelope. On this particular night, the name was that of one of the most powerful daimyo in all Japan, a man who was considered to be one of the top military strategists of the Shogunate. It was a bitterly cold winter night. The daimyo and his bodyguard of 10 men had just left an important meeting with the Shogun himself when a voice, cold as ice, was heard, saying, "It is time for you to pay for your crimes." There was no one to be seen, so the men started looking all around.
Suddenly, one of them pointed up at the rooftops. In the dark, all that could be seen were two eyes glowing with the fires of hell. Then, vengeance streaked down from the sky as the Hitokiri Battousai flew into the midst of his enemies. His flaming sword seemed to be everywhere at once, striking dead first the two men in front of him with one mighty swing, then the man behind him as he brought his sword back behind him. Then he ran towards the three men guarding the daimyo, who stood shivering with fright. As the bodyguards started their attack in an attempt to save their lord, the Hitokiri Battousai suddenly seemed to disappear from sight, only to reappear behind the daimyo. Before the daimyo even had time to realize what had happened, the Hitokiri's sword had split him in two. Seconds later, the three surprised bodyguards were dead as well, killed by a circular slash of the Hitokiri's blade. Then he whirled around to face the four bodyguards to the rear. Raising his sword high over his head, he shouted and then brought the sword swinging to the ground, causing the earth itself to open up and swallow the men. Before he disappeared from sight, the Hitokiri Battousai pulled a piece of paper from his sleeve and left it at the bloody scene. "Heaven's justice," the note read. Then he was gone. All this took less than five minutes. This tale was told to me by the one man who escaped, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The Two Hitokiri
One rainy spring evening, a young red-haired samurai helped a tavern owner by throwing out some ruffians who were bothering one of the customers. The tavern-owner's wife watched as he left walking down the street, when suddenly she saw a huge man with two swords on chains stand in his way. In a deep voice the man called out, "Hitokiri Battousai, I have been waiting for you. I'll have your life." The woman thought the fight would be over quickly because the red-haired man was not even half as tall as the attacker.
Quicker than the eye could see, the attacker's two swords went flying out at the Battousai, who immediately whipped out his katana, sending the swords flying back towards their owner. A fierce battle ensued, with swords flashing and clashing, but no blood spilled. Then, without warning, the huge man jumped to the roof and sent down one of his swords so that the chain wrapped completely around his young opponent. The Battousai's eyes glowed with fire as he was totally trapped by the chain, but with superhuman strength he pulled on the chain, thus bringing down the attacker's other sword. As the attacker leaped down to confront him, the Battousai cleaved the attacker in half with that second sword. Blood fell in the alley as thick as the rain. It was learned later that the man who attacked the Battousai that night was the Shogunate's most feared assassin, Murakami Rensato.
"'As the Battousai knelt after the battle to catch his breath, he suddenly heard the voice of a young woman who had come upon the scene. As he turned and walked toward her, she fainted. A rule of the hitokiri is never to leave a witness, but he broke the rule. Instead of killing her, he picked her up in his arms and carried her to the inn where he lived. The innkeeper was annoyed, saying, "What's with you men? You kill all day, then expect to have pleasure at night?" But the Battousai said, "No, no, she fainted in the street, and I couldn't just leave her there! Please take care of her." Then he left. This tale was told to me by Kazuko, the tavern-owners' wife, and Okami, the innkeeper.'"
The Hitokiri Battles the Shinsengumi
In the summer of 1864, the Chousu, including the Hitokiri Battousai, were forced to flee Kyoto after the Ikedaya affair and the ill-fated attacks of the summer. Now the most feared in the city were the Shinsengumi and the Mimawarigumi, who hunted and killed the Ishin Shishi without mercy. By the following spring, the Chousu realized that if something wasn't done soon, their cause would be lost. It was during this turbulent time that the Hitokiri Battousai returned to Kyoto, but no longer was he a shadow assassin. Now his job was to protect the patriots in Kyoto by attacking these, their most dangerous enemies, at every opportunity. And now, for the first time, his opponents found out what the Hitokiri Battousai really looked like. They quickly learned that if they met a swordsman with a scar like an X on the cheek and hair the color of flames, then the span of their lives was about to come to an end.
During this particular evening, the Battousai and a group of fighters had just completed a mission when suddenly, from around the corner, a cry went up: "It's the rebels! Over there!" It was a squad of Shinsengumi who had heard the noise of the fight. Quickly, several of the Shinsengumi peeled off from the main group and headed for the Ishin Shishi fighters. As the rest of the squad was about to leave, a lone figure stood at the head of the street, blocking their way. He had red hair and a scar like an X on his cheek. "It's the assassin! Get him!" they yelled. The squad parted to reveal Okita Soushi, leader of Squad One and considered to be the most talented swordsman of the Shinsengumi. "So, we meet," Okita said calmly. Never before had there been so even a match in a fight, with both swordsmen being of similar height and strength, both swordsmen possessing equally deadly skills. In the blink of an eye, the two men ran towards each other, swords swinging, every movement so quick that it was a blur to the eye. No one could tell who did what until, after what seemed like mere seconds, the two men separated, panting. Okita, however, started coughing, blood appearing on his hands. The disease that was to claim his life was showing its deadly face.
Then, a deep voice sounded, saying "Stand back. You cannot defeat him in your current state." It was Saitou Hajime, leader of Squad Three and the most feared swordsman of the Shinsengumi. He was a tall man with the eyes of a hunter. "Prepare to meet your fate," he growled at the Battousai. He dropped into the stance for his deadly gatotsu, a sword technique no man had ever survived. Then the two men charged at each other, blades flying, but the Battousai emerged unharmed. The two men again charged at each other, this time engaging in blow after blow, but again both emerged unharmed. As they began to ready themselves for a third attempt, Okita suddenly shouted, "Saitou-san, stop! We're ordered to move on!" Saitou was already preparing for another run towards his opponent and ignored the order. "Saitou-san! Now!" and Okita grabbed him before he could go any further. The fight was over. And that is how the two most feared swordsmen in all Japan both lived to fight another day. This story was told to me by one of the Ishin Shishi fighters, who calls himself Kenkiki.
The Battousai Saves His Lord
Sometimes the tides of war shift as quickly as the grains of sand on a beach. In little over a year, the Chousu, who had been banished from Kyoto, were able to return, and they began to reassert their power. This was when the Hitokiri Battousai became the Chousu's most valuable bodyguard. Not long after the return of the Chousu, he was working as part of a bodyguard for Katsura Kogoro, head of the Chousu clan. It was broad daylight, and the group of eight bodyguards was not expecting trouble when suddenly the group was surrounded by thirty Mimawarigumi. The outer bodyguards immediately tried to draw the attackers away, but more attackers poured in. The Battousai immediately threw himself into the fray. Within seconds he had killed three of the Mimawarigumi with one mighty sweep of his sword. As more attackers came forward, he jumped upward; then, with a mighty downward thrust, he cleaved an attacker in two. As quickly as his sword had finished its downward arc, he brought it up again laterally and instantly beheaded the next attacker.
Now he turned to see how Katsura, himself a swordsman of great renown, was faring, only to find an attacker like none of the others taking aim at his lord. It was a ninja, and eight kunai were already in flight aimed at Katsura's chest. Quicker than the eye could see, the Battousai flew in front of Katsura, swirling his sword in his hands so that it was spinning like the blade of a windmill. As the kunai came close, the wind from the sword forced them to drop harmlessly to the ground. Sword still swinging, the Battousai flung himself at the ninja, beheading him as well. When the battle ended, Katsura turned to him and said, "Today, Battousai, you saved not only me, but Japan as well." This story was told to me by Takayama Miyara, one of the bodyguards.
The Hitokiri at the Battle of Toba Fushimi
It took two more years, but finally it seemed that the era of the Tokugawa was coming to an end. The final blow came at two little towns outside of Kyoto, Toba and Fushimi. Arrayed against the forces of the Shogun were the even greater forces of the Satsuma, Tosa, and Chousu clans, and among the latter was the Hitokiri Battousai. He was put in charge of a squad of men whose job it was to advance to the very front lines and prevent the enemy from moving forward.
To prepare for battle, it is said that the Battousai would touch the X scar on his cheek and utter a special phrase that sounded like 'Tomomomo.' Some say this phrase was a powerful incantation linked to his superhuman speed, but others say it was a prayer to a lost love. On this day, he had just touched his cheek and uttered his special phrase when, suddenly, his squad found itself surrounded by Bakufu forces. His men were all experts with a sword, but they were no match for the overwhelming numbers they faced. The Battousai, however, was a match, and using every technique of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, he managed to slay more than a dozen men in the first minutes of battle. Then, when he found himself without opponents, he rushed to the aid of his beleaguered men, slaying a dozen more of the enemy. Then he saw one of his men crumpling under the attack of three soldiers armed with pikes. He raced over, and with a mighty battle cry, he leaped up to the heavens and descended on them like a god of vengeance. With a mighty swing, he cleaved the first soldier in two, then swinging laterally he beheaded the second, and with a backward stroke he killed the third, thus saving his comrade from death. The squad had lost several men, but their mission had succeeded---the enemy did not advance.
At the end of the day, the forces of the Shogun had been defeated. It was the beginning of the restoration of the Emperor Meiji. The Ishin Shishi fighters, tired, hungry, and bedraggled, returned to their camp to celebrate their victory. One man, however, was missing---the Hitokiri Battousai. "Where could he be?" they all wondered. They knew he hadn't been killed, for his men had seen him start walking back to camp. Still, he was nowhere to be found, and he has not been found even to this day. He has disappeared. This story was told to me by Ichiro, the soldier saved that day by the Hitokiri Battousai.
And now, dear readers, the legends are at an end. I leave it to you to decide just what kind of man the Hitokiri Battousai was. A bloodthirsty killer or a reluctant assassin? One thing we do know: He was a man who wanted to protect the weak and bring peace to the oppressed, no matter what methods he used. If you, my readers, also desire to protect the weak and do what it takes to preserve the peace of this new age, then you have nothing to fear from the Hitokiri Battousai. But if you don't, then beware!
Oibore (his mark)
Bakumatsu: Japan's civil war.
Katana: long sword.
Jigen: one of the most well-known and deadly sword-fighting styles.
Chousu: name of one of the most anti-Shogun clans.
Ishin Shishi: those fighting against the Shogunate.
Ryo: Japanese coin.
Daimyo: a lord, in the feudal sense.