By Amos Whirly
They call me a wolf. The wolf. The Wolf of Mibu. I was the leader of the third squad of the Shinsengumi, the bloodiest fighters of the Revolution. We killed hundreds of Imperialists. We stood strong against the fierce tide of our opposition, and we triumphed. I still remember the smell of blood, the taste of death, and the thrill of victory – hunting my enemies in the darkness of the night, in the bamboo forests outside Kyoto in the sliver light of the moon.
It was the only time I ever really felt alive.
Until I met him.
I had heard of him – who hadn't? – the swordsman, the assassin with god-like speed who had slaughtered more than any other man. It was said that he was undefeatable.
Hitokiri Batousai, the Manslayer.
The first time I heard his name, I desired to meet him, to fight him, to show the world that even a legendary manslayer would fall to the power of true justice. For that is what we of the Shinsengumi stood for – true justice. We killed, utterly destroyed, any evil no matter what form it took.
Aku Soku Zan.
Slay evil immediately.
That was our code.
So when I found him that dark night in Kyoto, I was honored to do my duty to my emperor and slay him. Even now, I will admit it. He looked impressive – red hair and amber eyes sparkling against the shadows of the night.
The battle did not go as I planned.
He stopped me. He stopped my Gatotsu, the attack I had honed all my life. No one could stop it, but he had.
I found a new respect for him that night.
The Revolution eventually came to an end.
The Meiji Government took control, and the Shinsengumi disbanded. Our swords – our samurai spirits – were broken.
But I refused to wither and die like a flower in the winds of winter.
I lived on.
Ironically, I became a police officer. I served the government I had tried to destroy with the same fervor and devotion that made me a leader among the Shinsengumi, and I advanced.
I became the top undercover agent in the division, directly subordinate to the police commissioner himself. I was allowed the honor to carry a katana, a Japanese sword, unlike the other police officers who had to carry sabers. I became known throughout the police forces of Japan. I met a beautiful woman and married her. We lived happily and contentedly in Kyoto.
Then, my orders came.
The police commissioner came to me with an assignment that I could not turn down – my opportunity for a rematch with Batousai the Manslayer.
A madman named Shishio Makoto was planning a hostile takeover of the Meiji Government, and only a swordsman of legend such as Batousai could stop him. My assignment was to travel to Tokyo where the Batousai was living and determine his competency.
After all, ten years is a long time.
So I left Tokio, my beautiful wife, in Kyoto and journeyed to Tokyo. I learned along the way that Batousai the Manslayer – the famed swordsman of legends – was living in the Kamiya Dojo, a kendo school.
A kendo school! Absurd.
I also learned that he no longer used the name Batousai – the name so revered and feared by swordsmen all over the land. Now he was Himura Kenshin.
Himura Kenshin, the rurouni who didn't kill.
I could hardly believe my ears when I heard this. The most famous warrior of the Revolution reduced to a homeless wanderer who refused to kill. It was absurd. It was ridiculous. I was filled with a righteous fury unlike anything I had ever known.
Such false justice disgusted me.
I resolved to forget my orders and kill him. Such disgrace could not be allowed to tarnish the history of the Revolution, the sacrifices that my men made.
As I arrived in Tokyo, I began calling myself Fujita Goro. No need to alert the Batousai to my presence.
I weaved my web.
It worked perfectly, just as I knew it would.
I proved to myself how weak he had become. I would have liked nothing better than to end his life in the middle of that foolish dojo, in front of his simpering friends.
I injured him.
I sliced him deeply across the chest, but he came back. I kicked him across the dojo floor, but he stood up. He moved the stupid Kamiya girl out of his path and charged.
The more blood he lost, the more fire grew in his eyes.
Until he blinked and the gentle-eyed rurouni had vanished, leaving in his place a golden-eyed legend.
He was back.
Batousai the Manslayer had returned.
And from that instant on, the battle changed. We were on equal footing. He was just as fast as I, and he was just as strong. He broke my sword – my precious katana. The fight would have gone on if the commissioner had not stopped us. But he did. The fight was over.
It was done, but there was no real winner.
Okubo told his story – how Shishio was planning to take over, and Batousai was needed to stop him. Himura hesitated at first. He wanted to be left in peace with his silly little friends and his silly reverse-blade sword.
It was Okubo's assassination that led to his decision to go. So, Himura left Tokyo.
He said goodbye to that silly Kamiya girl.
He also declined to travel with me, claming to be protecting innocents if Shishio's men attacked us on the road. I think he did not appreciate my company.
I traveled ahead through Osaka while Himura walked by the Tokkaido Road. I reached Kyoto before him, of course. When he finally arrived, he stayed with the old Oniwabanshu in the Aoiya, the restaurant downtown. Ironic, since he defeated their former leader, Aoshi Shinomori. But as soon as Himura reached Kyoto, he disappeared again, and he did not reappear until days later.
When I saw him standing outside of the police headquarters, the wind in his hair and determination in his strange violet eyes, I knew he was different somehow. He was not the same man I had fought in Tokyo weeks previous.
He was confident.
By the time Himura had returned, Zanza the Fighter-for-Hire had arrived in Kyoto by way of the jailhouse. Zanza was one of Himura's friends from Tokyo, a moron who claimed the Sekihotai as his family.
The stupid Kamiya girl and her student weren't far behind him either. Himura left the Kamiya girl and her student at the Aoiya, but Zanza would not stay. He insisted on coming with us. It was fine with me as long as he stayed out of my way.
I visited my wife before I met Himura at the Aoiya. We said our vows. She embraced me. I walked away. There were times afterward that I wished I had been the one to embrace her.
So the three of us set out for Mt. Hiei, for the battle of our lives.
It was difficult.
I will admit it.
Zanza fell first, of course. The moron. But he did defeat Anji the Destroyer. I'll give him that much, even though it was all luck and little skill.
Then, I fell.
Usui, the blind swordsman, injured my legs, although I defeated him in the end. But I could not move much. Himura and Zanza continued on while I bound my wounds in the darkness.
My thoughts, strangely enough, dwelt on Zanza. Sanosuke Sagara, the child of the Sekihotai, had fought bravely every time I saw him in battle. I constantly insulted him, overlooked him, mocked him, but he refused to leave. He persevered. He is particularly strong for being 19 years, I think, and his futae no kiwami is impressive, considering that he only recently learned it. He is still a moron, though.
I thought also on Batousai.
I honestly had not expected him to come to Kyoto again. I expected him to flee cowardly and weak into the shadows where he had been hiding for ten years.
As I lay there, I came to a new respect for Batousai – for his patience with morons like Zanza, and as I stared at the darkened ceiling, a question formed in my mind. A question I never expected to ask myself.
What would it be like to never kill again?
To never hunt? To never taste blood on my sword? To lose the thrill of battle? To allow false justice to reign supreme?
What would it be like?
I realized in those moments that I had been wrong about Himura.
In those moments, I realized how dependant I had become – dependant on blood, on the hunt. The wolf had taken control of me as Batousai had taken control of Himura that night in the Kamiya Dojo.
I realized how strong Himura truly was.
The strength it must have taken him to lay aside his swords and pick up that silly sakabatou – the strength it must have taken to be homeless and unwanted – and the strength it must have taken for him to leave that silly Kamiya girl behind him.
I saw how he looked at her.
I saw how she looked at him.
It was the expression I longed deep within to show my wife.
Not just duty or honor.
It was a different kind of strength than I was accustomed to. No, I did not have that kind of strength. My strength is in my swords. His strength is in his heart. It has always been that way, and doubtless that is the way it shall remain, as I have no inclination to change.
I may respect him – I may admit that I was wrong about him – but I do not envy him.
My pride would suffer too much under the blade of a blunted sword, although, perhaps killing is not always the answer. Perhaps Aku Soku Zan is too harsh. Perhaps justice is blinder than I had assumed.
Even as these thoughts filled my mind, I climbed to my feet, quivering on my injured legs. I trekked up the stairs and burst onto the battlefield. Shishio stood before me – evil in the red sunlight. The heat was unbearable.
Himura lay broken on the ground.
Zanza stood helplessly on the sidelines.
So I fought, and again I lost.
As I fell, Zanza charged into battle. He lost pathetically, but his effort was admirable. Aoshi Shinomori even showed his face before Himura revived and finished that devil.
Shishio killed himself, overheating during the battle and dying on the spot, as the building around us collapsed.
We all escaped the building together.
Nearly all of us, that is. I took the chance to escape alone as quietly as I could. I cleared the path with a well-placed Gatotsu that conveniently buried me in debris. I allowed those fools to think I had been crushed in the ensuing collapse.
Zanza, the moron, was disappointed, I think, that we had been denied our own rematch. I don't believe Himura fell for my deception, though he's kept his suspicions to himself.
So, here I sit, slurping soba noodles in a Kyoto café.
Tokio welcomed me home with a grand meal. It was good to see her again, and I told her so.
She was shocked to hear me say it, I am sure.
She is a good woman, and I intend to take a page from Himura's book concerning her. I intend to make certain she knows how much she means to me.
Life continues as it always has. I walk my rounds. I stop thieves and criminals, though I'm loath to think my tactics have become less brutal.
Not much less. But slightly.
I try to stay hidden as well as I can. No sense at all in tipping Himura off that I'm still alive, whether he suspects it or not. And there's no sense either in letting the fact slip to Zanza.
I am determined that Himura and I will fight again. It is necessary. We are destined to always look differently at life. It is my purpose to bring justice to the people. Himura will do the same, though his justice is found in that silly reverse-blade sword.
I am still a wolf. The wolf. The Wolf of Mibu. My sword is as strong as it has ever been. My fangs are sharp as a diamond's edge. But my heart is no longer so cold. My soul is no longer so callous.
I will not refuse to kill if I must, but I will never take life for granted again. Our time here is too short for that.
We will face each other again some day – Himura and I – but I know I will not face Batousai.
Batousai is dead. He found his grave in the blue eyes of that silly Kamiya girl.
From here on out, my business is with Himura.
He is the greater man, after all. He is the stronger of the two. And when we duel, we shall duel for honor. I have already decided that I will not kill him. Someone so strong – thought deluded – should be allowed to live.
And, I suppose, I can live with that too.