Disclaimer: Based on secret Imperial Court documents, some written in the Emperor's own hand, and other diaries and contemporaneous ephemera. Believed to have been first revealed to the West under the investigations of one of General Douglas MacArthur's closest aides and released to him under duress. Kept quiet as part of the General's insistence on keeping the Emperor position intact, these items lay dormant in a dusty Iowa attic for decades. The existence of same had long been rumored by those Japanese Meiji scholars most closely connected to the Royal family. Probably known to Watsuki Nobuhiro through video game subtext, but rejected for inclusion in the Rurouni Kenshin saga due to publication in Shounen Jump, a boy's comic published in Tokyo. Revealed here to English audiences for the first time, based entirely on the public's right to know.
More Romantic Tales from the Meiji Era
Prelude: Afternoon of the Pawn
- Warmth beckons, heat flares
The flame flickers and goes out
His soul chills again
There were certain advantages to dressing in the dark. During his three-year tenure as a shadow assassin, Hitokiri Battousai had learned to do everything in the dark: absolutely everything. Dressing in the early hours of a new day, he took leave of the softness of the borrowed futon reluctantly. Leaving the embrace of his nameless companion was easier. He winced with unbidden memories and continued to deftly fasten the ties of his hakama.
The coolness of the January evening was matched by the silence of the falling snow. Himura's passing disturbed neither as he made his way back to the Choushuu soldiers he would march with and protect during the next battle. The next battle in a war that had begun for him so long ago, back when his spirit was as young as his heart. Back when his idealism had existed intact, instead of the shattered principles that weighed heavier upon him each time he drew his stained katana in service of the restoration. The outer evidence of their success would be the restoration of the Emperor. The ultimate goal, for Kenshin, was the happiness of the people and their liberation from the tyranny of the Shogunate.
His battalion was ready for an attack before dawn. These days, they were always expecting an attack, no matter what time of day it was. The first rays of the morning sun brought the battle. The Tokugawa Bakufu attacked in earnest amid the willows and the scent of sake. His blade flashed and people died. People who would never be happy in the next era. People whose families and loved ones would be devastated by their loss. Just as he had been devastated by the loss of his beloved.
How many more times must his sword triumph over the servants of the Bakufu? With each slash felling multiple victims and clearing the path for the loyal Choushuu fighters of the Kiheitai following him, Himura met the battle on the both the streets of Fushimi and its many bridges. It was brutal. It was bloody. As he caught his breath after his latest attack his practiced eye surveyed the surroundings. The Ishin Shishi were forcing back the attack, routing the Shogunate troops, including the Shinsengumi.
Again and again his battle cry rang out, instilling terror in the enemy and encouragement in the Imperialists. No longer in the shadows, the battle cry of the Hiten Mitsurugi moves, the signature sound of the Battousai was widely known and feared by now. Just as day followed the night, the terrifying sound was the portent to murder. The murder of any and all that tried to stop time or tried to delay the future. The future was upon them as surely as their death.
Finally, there was an end to the slaughter. Routed, no enemy stood before his path, no Shinsengumi threatened his battalion, there was not even a Wolf of Mibu to resist him.
The wind was at his back as he stood in awe at the arrival of his own release. The battle had been won. This battle had been decisive. The promised time had come. The cold steel of his amber eyes softened in acknowledgment of the completion of his work. The Tokugawa Bakufu was finished. The Ishin Shishi would prevail. The Imperialists would restore the monarchy.
The sun began to set, casting the longest shadows of the cold, blustery January day on the Toba Fushimi battle. The shadows of the dead were short, but so many in number that their darkness nearly covered the ground. In the quiet aftermath none stood to mar the peacefulness of the dead. The living had gone on, caught in the flow of life that swept them away. They moved on to tend to their wounds and prepare for the battles that the failing Shogunate would inevitably raise against them in a futile attempt to stop the flow of time and history.
A single longer shadow stood alone. It was cast by the last thrust of a bloody abandoned blade.
Passing Ishin Shishi patriots wondered at its meaning. Never had this blade been parted from its owner. They gave the sword a wide berth in their travel. No one wished to be too close should its deadly owner decide to retrieve it. There was but one among them, Katsura Kogoro, who understood the meaning of the abandoned blade and the promises it represented. Promises to the dead and the living.
Thus ended the battle of Toba Fushimi, the first and decisive battle of the Boshin Wars, the last battle of the legendary Himura Battousai. It was January, 1868.
April 2, 2004