Author's Note: So sorry for the long wait in updating, but last semester was so hectic that I hardly had any free time to write. My writing style for this chapter might below my usual standards, probably because I've gotten rusty for neglecting this fic for so long. In any case, I'll try to get the next chapter up while I'm still on vacation, and I definitely guarantee that that one will be much bigger than this one. I guess that's all I have to say for now, so let's get back to the story.
Chapter 4: The Lavender Barrier
Drip, drip, the sound of water dripping, it was one of the many things that have kept me awake during my journey. The sound of the wind outside, how it pushes the bamboo trees to the west, I can hear the woods' creak. The passing of a storm, I was normally able to sleep past such things, but when you don't have a blanket to cover you from the cold and the droplets of the rain that seep through the roof, how could I sleep?
"Mina, are you still awake?"
I turn to the other side of the room to find my roommate and best friend still awake. Her usual smile is plastered on her face, even if her eyes are barely open.
"Yeah," I answered, "I can't believe my entire futon got soaked from the storm while we were away."
"It's rather cold, isn't it?" she asked. "Mina, why don't you come in here?" she offered, lifting an opening in her blanket.
"Oh no, Shion!" I waved my friends before me. "Not after that one time you pretended to sleep with me when I had that hangover."
"Ah ha ha ha ha!" her usual laugh escaped her lips. "My, that was quite hilarious, was it not? Ah ha ha ha ha!"
"Good night, Shion," I said as I began to walk to the other side of the room.
"But seriously, Mina," her laughs began to die down, "I don't mind sharing my futon with you. Look, I won't try anything, really."
Shion was always a joker, always flirting with me and stuff, but she was also very serious at times. It was always easy to tell which role she was playing back then, and at that moment, I knew she was being serious.
Without wasting another moment on the rock-hard tatami, I walked to the other side of the room. Unfortunately, there was not enough room for me to fit in the futon with her, so instead, Shion got out of the mattress and placed her back against the wall, bringing the blanket with her. She then opened one half of the blanket and waved me in to the space. I took up on her offer, finding a seat right next to her so that our shoulders would meet. The white material closed over my nearly frozen body after, filling it with a warm gust.
"Better?" she asked.
"Yeah, arigatou, Shion," I thanked her.
"If you need a pillow, you can use my shoulder," she offered.
"Gomen, Shion, but I doubt I'll be needing that."
That's not what happened though. The second I began to doze off, I suddenly found my head drifting to the left. Before my entire body could follow to the floor, I felt an arm wrap around my waist, pulling me to the other side. My head that met with the shoulder of another, my temple nestling into her collar. It was somewhat hard, and yet, I felt very comfortable. I couldn't help but sink my head further down, nestling it between Shion's chin and the base of her neck. She began to pull my body toward hers more, more so as she placed my back in front of her body.
"This is nice...," I began to nestle further into my human pillow.
"Good night, Mina," she whispered into my ear.
"Good night, Shi..."
"Hey, Mina, wake up already!"
"I'm hungry, where's breakfast?!" I turn to the side to find my oldest child whining.
"Just give me a few more minutes, Yurika...," I grumbled as I nestled back into my futon.
The date of my story is now August 3, Western Year 1868, a month and five days prior to when I was supposed to meet Shion in Nagoya. As time passed toward that date, I couldn't help but think of her more and more with each day that passed.
"Waaahhhh!" Ryosuke's cries followed a second later.
"C'mon, Mina!" Yurika began to tug on my sleeve once more.
"All right, all right," I sighed, pushing my blanket to the side.
Despite how mature Yurika acted, she was always a child at heart, and a child she acted as during a majority of our journey. Like most kids, she would always wake up her "mother," that being me, whenever she woke up. I would always have trouble putting her and Ryosuke to sleep, it usually took three or so hours to do so, but Ryosuke also tended to wake up a few times before the morning could come. Sure I got sleep, but it was usually only about five hours or less. Still, it was just enough for me to function at 100% the next day.
"I'm tired of eating dried fish!" Yurika whined as I dug into our bag of rations. "Mina, can't you just buy breakfast this time?"
"Breakfast is rather expensive at inns, that it is," I simply smiled at the child, "and we're running rather low on money these days."
"But I don't wanna eat dried fish!" she continued. "Mina, can't you just go fishing or something?"
"I suppose I can do that," I said, digging back into our belongings and pulling out two pieces of a bamboo reed. "In the meantime though, I want you to feed Ryosuke his thermos," I ordered her as I picked up the rest of the fishing supplies from my bag.
"But what am I going to eat while you're gone?!" she asked as I began to make my way out the door.
"There's some leftover bread in our rations that you could have," I pointed out as I made my way out the door.
"That's not fair, Mina!" she yelled before I left the room.
'Oh boy, there she goes again,' I sighed as I shut the door.
I didn't mind take care of both Yurika and Ryosuke, it's just that Yurika was a handful at times, even more was Ryosuke. Still, I enjoyed taking care of them, we were our own little family, and another was to be added to the family as soon as we met up with her in Nagoya. I would finally have someone to help me take care of the kids, I had no idea being a mother of two could be this difficult.
"This looks like a nice spot, that it does," I said as I placed my tackle box on the ground.
There was a valuable lesson I learned while traveling with two kids, food is more expensive when you have more than one person with you. Up until I adopted Ryosuke, I really only had to buy food for myself and a few thermoses of milk for Ryosuke, but with Yurika now traveling with us, let's just say she's a machine. The girl would pretty much just eat and eat, but she was rather picky of what she ate. She preferred her food fresh instead of dried, probably because our main dishes were mainly dried meat. Luckily I bought a fishing pole, some bait, a bucket, and a small trowel so we can gain a free meal or two if we stopped at a stream or lake.
It was rather boring fishing, I never got used to it. I would always tend to almost fall asleep as I did it. The day of my story was no different either. There was nothing exciting going about, not even a small splash in the water. My eyes kept focusing on the line and the drifting wood that was attached to it. There was no wind either, so sound ceased to exist for the most part. The only sounds that passed were my yawns ever five or so minutes.
'Man, it doesn't look like they're biting today,' I thought to myself, 'maybe I should just go to the market and buy some.'
My eyes began to sink into slumber again, but then a sudden jolt shot up my body. My eyes suddenly widened and my arms flinched, something wasn't right. I turned to the left side of the road behind me and saw no one there, so I turned to the right and still found nothing. My eyes then lingered to the bushes directly behind me, not a rustle or brush. I knew I wasn't alone, someone was watching me.
"Who's there?" I called out.
Silence was the only answer I received. At that exact moment, I felt another jolt shooting up my system, this one was coming from my hand. The fishing pole was suddenly being tugged toward the river, and naturally, I clasped the lower half of the rod and pulled the force that was tugging at the pole into my arms.
'Trout,' I gazed into the fish now squirming between my hands, 'I'm sure Yurika will be pleased with this.'
I tossed the fish into my bucket and returned the pole and tackle box into my bag. As I began to make my way back into the inn, I couldn't help but turn back to the bushes. I could've sworn I saw them move, but with a shrug of shoulders, I concluded it was probably just a squirrel or something. Still, I knew I felt a ki back there, but at the time, I thought that it was just my imagination.
"All right, this looks good!" was the greeting I got from Yurika upon returning.
"Well I'm glad you're happy, that I am," I said as I placed my things on the floor.
"Hurry up and cook it!" she ordered as I brought the pale toward the stove.
"Now, now, let's calm down, shall we?" I smiled as I placed the fish into a pan. "Hm?" another jolt went up my system for the second time that day.
I turned my attention toward the balcony of our room. Again, I found nothing there, nothing but the sight of the village we were staying at.
"Is something wrong?" Yurika's voice returned me to reality.
"Oro? Oh, it's nothing," I responded. "So Yurika, were you able to feed Ryosuke?" I changed the subject.
"Hai," she answered, "he went back to sleep right after, see!" she pointed to my baby sleeping on the other side of the room.
"That's good," I smiled, "arigatou, Yurika."
"Paranoid, are we?" her voice began to linger in my ears suddenly.
"You again?!" I fumed in my head. "Just what are you up to this time, Kensai?"
"Nothing," she answered. "I'm just impressed that you noticed it too, you haven't grown too soft with the several months that passed."
"So I'm not just feeling things, huh?" I asked in my head.
"You might want to leave this one to me," Kensai said.
"And why would I want to do that?" I sighed, still speaking in my head. "I made an oath never to kill again, and I intend to keep it. That goes for you too, I don't want you to start killing for me."
"How long do you think you'll be able to hide your true self from your 'children'?" she suddenly asked.
"What do you mean?" I asked, puzzled by her words.
"Do you remember how many lives you and I took in the war?" she reminded me. "Don't tell me that you don't get the urge to..."
"I made an oath and I will keep it!" I yelled at her.
"Fine, I'll play along with your game for now," she sighed. "But remember this, just because you can no longer kill doesn't mean you can't hide your lust for blood."
"What's that supposed to mean?!" I spat. "Kensai, answer me!" I yelled after a second of silence.
"Mina?" the voice of my child entered my ear after.
"Gomen nesai," I apologized, "my imagination's just getting the best of me, that's all."
As I fried the fish, my thoughts couldn't help but linger back to that ki I felt earlier. There was no mistaking it, it was the exact same ki I felt back at the fishing spot. Whoever it was, I had no idea, I never felt a ki like that before. It seemed different from what I had ever felt before in battle. Whatever it was, it was strong.
We left the inn and village shortly after our meal, our destination was to head northeast in Kyoto's direction. Nagoya was a few miles east of Kyoto, and it would naturally take a month to get there.
"Where are we going?" Yurika asked as we traveled down the road.
"Nagoya," I answered, "there's someone I have to meet over there, that I do."
"Who?" Yurika asked as she ran in front of me, stopping before my tracks.
"A friend," I answered, giving my usual smile to the child. "Her name's Shion, she's my best friend from the war."
"Shion, huh?" she asked as I began to walk passed her. "What kind of person is she?"
"Oh, she's a very nice person," I began. "Shion helped me with a lot of things, she even saved my life a few times, that she did. Although I didn't like the fact that she would hit on me," I muttered the last sentence to myself.
"What was the last part, Mina?"
"Oh, nothing. Hm, again?" I quickly turned to the field on the side of the road.
There was no mistaking it at that time, we were being followed. I placed my belongings on the ground and began to reach for the reverse-blade that rested on my belt.
"Mina, what is it?" Yurika asked as she noticed me dropping my things.
"Sh! Someone's watching us," I whispered as I handed her the younger child that was resting on my back.
"Show yourself, coward!" I yelled into the field.
A gust of wind suddenly blew passed me, blowing towards my children. With a quick step to the side, I swung my blade away from Yurika and Ryosuke. Ting! My weapon had just swatted away a shard of steel in the form of a dagger. My daughter just stood there with her mouth wide open and her arms tightly clinging to her brother. I couldn't help but narrow my eyes to where I thought the source of the attack was, only to have them widen again as another gust blew from behind.
"Watch out!" I brought my children into my free arm and pulled them away from the wind, swinging my blade at the source once more.
Another knife fell to the ground, and Yurika was as scared as ever, still hugging Ryosuke tightly.
"Yurika, I want you to stay close to me," I ordered, bringing my other hand to the pommel of my sakabatou. "Your sword is in the bag if you need, get it while you can."
I didn't like the idea of keeping a weapon for my children, but the fact of the matter was they would need to defend themselves if need be. I kept the Masamune unfortunately, but only because it was Kondou's heirloom to Yurika. Still, I couldn't help but worry whenever Yurika used it, fearing that she'd go crazy like the time we fought or if she'd take lives. For some odd reason though, she was no longer able to use the ki of the sword to attack in long distances.
The girl did just as I said, using her free hand to take the legendary sword out of my bag and into her belt. She kept Ryosuke as close to her as ever as she took the weapon, but she reached for the weapon ever so slowly. Just as she returned to my side however, a third rush of wind followed, this one heading straight for me. Without even thinking, I pushed my children away and swung my weapon forward, catching another slab of steel. This time, however, I caught more than a weapon, there was someone holding onto this one. His entire body was covered in black, and his face wrapped in cloth. His weapon was very odd too; it was a sword that was about three feet long with no groove to tell which side held the blade's edge. The blade was still curved, but there was no real point. I also noticed that it's wielder only used one hand to hold it. After observing the details of who my attacker was, I pushed all my weight into my weapon, forcing him to jump away in a back flip.
"Who are you?" I asked as I readied my blade once more. "And why are you attacking us?"
"My name does not concern you," the man spoke, his voice speaking in an odd accent and his words somewhat disjointed.
He charged once more after speaking, his form nearly disappearing from my eyes as he did so. The winds were now coming from behind, I knew he was going to strike with my back turned. Out of instinct, my feet pushed me backward once more, my left arm grabbing hold of Yurika and Ryosuke once more so that they could escape harm's way.
"Run!" I ordered Yurika after, pushing her to the battlefield's side lines.
Without a saying a single word, the child nodded and began making her way toward the tall grass fields to the side with Ryosuke in her arms. Yet before they could reach it, our unknown attacker had appeared before the two of them. I knew I had no time to rush over there and deflect that man's attack, but there was an alternate that would still save their life. Without wasting another second, I pushed my feet forward once more, turning my body one-hundred-eighty degrees just as soon as I was able to wrap my children in my arms once more. Just as soon as I had caught them and as soon as my feet met with the ground, a jolt of pain shot through my back. It was the kiss of steel against my back, slashing downward and stopping inches before my pelvis.
"Argh!" I screamed the very moment the sword had met with my flesh.
"Mina!" my eldest child cried.
My body was beginning to drag to the ground at the moment, my breath had become short. I can feel another pound pressing down on me with every drop of blood that escaped the newly opened wound. My arms, my legs, even my head, all were sinking to the floor, each of these things and the rest of my body were too heavy to lift.
"Typical woman," the man taunted after, "always trying to protect their young. It's this very weakness that will bring you to your death."
"Come on, Mina, get up!" Yurika began to yell, pushing my shoulder with her free arm.
It was no good, my body had succumbed to the pain of the strike. The cut was deep, I could feel every drop of blood being drained from my body. Yurika's and Ryosuke's cries were as loud as ever, yet, they were at the same time growing fainter and fainter from my ears. The tears that were streaming down their cheeks, oh so hard they flowed, and yet, those very floods, as well as the faces of my children were beginning to fade to black. I thought back then that this was really going to be the end, however...
Clang! The sound of metal screeching against another had entered my ear once more. Light was beginning to return to my eyes, and once again I could see my children crying before me. The weight of steel in my right arm had also returned, but for some reason, I had not ordered my body to move. My head began to rise suddenly, and as it did so, it captured a glimpse of lavender in the hands of my youngest one.
"My ribbon?!" I said shocked upon finding it in Ryosuke's hands, yet, my voice did not escape my lips. "If that's there, then that means..."
"What is this?!" I could sense the perturbation in the masked man's voice.
"Attacking a woman from behind, how crude," my body suddenly spoke.
"Kensai!" I realized who was now in control of my body.
"Crude or not, your head will be mine!" the rush of the man's blade plummeted downward once more.
My lips suddenly curled the second the man's sword fell downward, only to wipe away that smirk with the rise of my sakabatou. The two slabs of metal clashed once more, with my left palm supporting the flat side of my blade. The two weapons were only locked for a second however, as I suddenly found the wind cutting against my face and my body twisting itself backward. In the blink of an eye, I was facing the back of my opponent, yet my body did not act yet. Instead, my feet began to push all my weight against the ground, pushing it hard it enough that it launched me into the air. In the very next second, I found both my arms rising upward, creating a firm grasp on my reverse-bladed sword. In not even a second, I was already an inch above the man's skull and my weapon was already striking downward.
"Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu," Kensai cried from my body, "Ryu-Tsui-Sen!"
"Where...?" the man suddenly realized I was nowhere to be found at the instant.
Before I knew it, the man had turned upward for one second, only to see a flash of steel fall down upon his face. A loud crunch followed after the impact, his nose pushed inward into his skull and his mouth wide open. His body fell to the floor afterward, the earth around him crumbling. A whirlwind of dust had followed after his fall, engulfing the entire area in clouds of earth. His body came into clear view seconds later, as well as my two children, the older one still clinging desperately to the younger one.
"I can't believe you had trouble with a simple thug like him, Mina," Kensai spat, "has your oath to kill made you soft, or is it...?"
My vision was then cast upon my children, looking at them through a tiny slit in my eyes. My lips began to curl for a second, my tongue applying a layer of saliva over my mouth. My feet began moving once more after, moving my body toward my children. With every step she made me take, there was not a second my eyes left theirs.
"Mina...?" Yurika called, puzzled.
"Kensai, whatever you're planning on doing, stop it!" I tried to order, yet the words could not escape my lips.
My words were unable to reach her, but I knew she heard them. With that simper still stretched across my lips, Kensai knelt down to my child, her hand still on my reverse-bladed sword. Yurika's eyes were still filled with confusion as Kensai gazed into her cerulean blue pupils, but Kensai had turned away from them shortly after to observe the child in Yurika's arms. They were open as wide as they could be, yet there were still tears streaming down his cheeks, and whimpers were escaping his lips. The fingers on my free hand began to glide down the baby's face, sliding downward until it found the other child's face.
"I see...," Kensai suddenly said in my voice, "so this is why..."
"Why what, Mina?" Yurika asked as confused as ever.
"Kensai...?" my doppelganger had even left me puzzled.
"Yurika, hand me my ribbon, won't you?" Kensai asked to my surprise.
"Um...okay," the child slipped the lavender material onto my hand after.
"This isn't like you, Kensai," I said as she fastened the ribbon onto my hair, "just what are you up to?"
"I'm not up to anything," she answered, "it's just an observation, that's all."
"I just remembered a story I heard back in the Revolution," she continued, "mainly how that story is linked to our friend over there."
"You mean you know who he is?" I asked returning my gaze to our unconscious attacker.
"No, but I think I have an idea what this whole thing was about."
"What is it?"
"See for yourself," she ordered me as she tightened the hold of the purple barrier. "Search his pockets."
Without another word, I began to step toward our assailant. His breath was heavy and his limbs were shaking, but I knew he wasn't going to get up anytime soon. The man was pretty much knocked out, although a few words did escape his lips as he lay there. I couldn't understand them unfortunately, they were spoken in a language I could not understand. Ignoring his rants, I had my fingers trace through the pockets of his clothing. His shirt contained a wallet with fifty yen in it, an a few more daggers hidden in his sleeve. Although it was stealing, I needed the money so I placed it in my own pocket, but the daggers I placed in my bag. It didn't take me long for me to find something in his pants' pocket, however.
"What's this?" I said as my fingers skimmed down the pocket on his right side.
My index and middle finger quickly clenched the material that was sticking out of the pocket, prying it quickly to reveal a piece of paper. It was cluttered with lint and some dirt, but it was blank, at least on the side I was looking at it. As my nails skimmed through the piece of paper, I found a small flap on the bottom. It was a fold, and naturally, I pulled the inside and outside apart to reveal something I thought I would never have to see.
It was a picture of me and Shion, our faces from the neck up. There was a crease on the paper that had separated our pictures, but beneath our portraits was something else. At the bottom half of the paper was some writing, an alphabet that was alien to me. It was similar to kanji, yet, there were extra markings on the symbols. I could not read this writing, despite the basic form of the lettering being the same. With the kanji that was still the same, it spelled words that I could not understand.
"What is it, Mina?" Yurika interrupted after using a minute or two to investigate this mysterious piece of paper.
"...it's nothing," I said as I pushed the entire page into my left palm using my right hand.
"The sword he had is pretty weird, don't you think?" the child reminded me of his weapon.
"Yeah," I turned to the other side of his body where the slab of steel lay, "it doesn't look like anything from around here. Anyway, we should get out of here before he wakes up again," I said, beginning to make my way toward the north once more. "But I think these tools and money of his will be of some use to us," I said, taking prying the foreign blade from the ground, "I'm pretty sure it can sell well in the next village."
"Sounds good," Yurika began chasing after me. "Do you think we can eat out instead of eating more jerky once we sell the guy's stuff?"
"Of course," I smiled, despite the fact I knew we wouldn't be able to afford to do so.
'I'm such a bad liar; the money I get for this stuff will probably be used to pay the doctor that fixes me up, the damn punk actually got me pretty good,' I thought to myself as the burn of my wounds began to ignite once more. 'In any case, I won't have to deal with guys like him again.'
"What makes you think that?" Kensai's voice appeared in my head once more.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Do you think it's all over just like that, you really have become soft since the war, Mina."
"So what?" I retorted in my mind so that my children could not hear me. "There's no need to do what I had to back in the war, I can just life normally and..."
"Normally?" the word had made Kensai burst into laughter. "What makes you think you can live normally now? Just because the war ended doesn't mean anything. They'll still come after you, you know."
"And just who are 'they?'"
"That piece of paper, Mina, what do you think it is?" Kensai asked. "It's a bounty poster, that's what it is."
"How do you know this?"
"Posters like this were always up during the war, remember?" she reminded me. "Only this time, the one on the poster is you."
"So Shion's plan didn't work after all," I concluded. "And with her picture on the bounty list as well, the Meiji must be after her too."
"It's not the Meiji who's after you, Mina," Kensai continued, "it's someone else. Think of it, if it was the Meiji, don't you think they would have put up wanted posters for you and Shion ages ago?"
"Then who is it?" my teeth began to grind against each other.
"I don't know," Kensai answered. "But whoever it is, I'm sure Shion might have an idea."
"Shion?" my feet suddenly stopped at the mention of her name.
"Mina, why'd you stop?" Yurika tugged at my sleeve. "You're not going to fall down, are you?"
"Are they after you too, Shion?" I began to speak my thoughts. "Are you even still alive?"
For the first time ever since we went our separate ways, I began to worry about her safety. Shion was always a strong warrior, she was probably the only person other than my brother who was able to match my skill back then. But after fighting that mysterious bounty hunter, I had to worry. Are there bounty hunters that are just as strong as the guy I just fought, or was that guy just a small fry? This question plagued my mind over and over again as I stood there; it's presence in my mind taunted me, taunting the person I had become. During the Revolution, it wouldn't have been a problem to kill a man like that, I have killed over a thousand men during the Revolution according to Tetsu's final report, but now that the war is over, my power had decreased significantly. I had to wonder if the same had happened to Shion, and if it did...
"Come on!" my feet suddenly broke out into a run.
"Mina, wait up!" Yurika cried as her voice began to grow faint.
"Shion, you can't die that easily!" I said as my feet pushed against the ground faster. "I won't allow you too!"
"I guess this is goodbye then," my thoughts began to recall our last conversation.
"No, this isn't goodbye, I won't let you say it before we meet again!" I cried.
Chapter 4 Liner Notes
About Mina's ribbon- If you haven't read book I of "Crimson String," the lavender ribbon is a gift from Kenshin that allows Mina to prevent Kensai (her more violent persona) from taking control of her body. Mina suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder, and Kensai is her other persona who is much more violent and perverted than her true self. The ribbon is based on Japanese mythological artifacts that are able to seal away demons if their spirit is able to find their way into a person's body. If the artifact is not removed, the person can control their body without having the demon that possesses them take control. However, if the artifact is removed, then the demon will take possession of that person's body until the artifact is restored. Basically, when Mina removes her ribbon, it's like she's saying "I'm going all out." When her hair is tied in her usual high ponytail however, it symbolizes her holding back.
About the unknown bounty hunter- I don't want to give too much away, but I will tell you that whoever placed the bounty on Mina's and Shion's head has something to do with Shion's past. For more details on it, read the fourth of chapter of "When Angels Lost Their Wings." The weapon the bounty hunter had, however, is not a katana, but a Chinese broadsword, and the unknown language that was written on the bounty list was Cantonese.
Next time: "She has awakened once again, and I continue to combat her influence just as I did in the hell that was the Meiji Revolution. I never wanted to fall under her spell, but now, with the life of someone so dear to me in danger, our desires become one once more..." -Himura Mina
Author's Note: I hope this chapter was okay, sorry if it disappointed you readers, but it seems like I'm rusty after all this time, but I swear to you my writing level will return to how it was when I wrote "Crimson String Book I: Siblings of the Sword." Well I'll try to get the next chapter up soon, it'll be huge, the reunion of Mina and Shion, hopefully that one doesn't disappoint. Also with the next chapter, I'll be starting to put up character profiles and whatnot, starting with Mina. More profiles will also be put up in "When Angels Lost Their Wings," I'll be starting with Shion in the next chapter of that fic. I guess that's it for now, and again, sorry for the long wait, later people.