"There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth:
(1) not going all the way; and (2) not starting." - the Buddha
He had wandered Japan for nine years. He was certain they had felt long, but looking back they weren't long at all. Certainly not long enough to discover the full of his truth.
True: many people are weak. True: many people would die without help from the strong.
(In a way, Soujiro supposed even Shishio had helped, protected, once upon a time; the gift of a wakizashi ensured his survival when he was weak. There were lapses in Shishio's theory. Soujiro wondered why he had never noticed.)
True: many men lived according to Shishio's principles - the strong live, the weak die - and harmed others for their own benefit; true, Soujiro now helped the weak - the strong should protect the weak.
True: Soujiro did not find anything fulfilling now. What was fulfilling about beating down bandits who were nothing to his skill? What was fulfilling about saving peasants who stayed wrapped in their little farms and did nothing for the world? The only satisfaction to be gained was in knowing his technique never faltered, and he never failed.
But the search for his truth in these actions was failing. One more year, a last attempt to find his way, and then he didn't know what he'd do. Would he return to Himura, and admit his shame? That he was weak and needed to be shepherded, was useless on his own? Would he continue to wander? Was his truth even out there, did it really exist?
Perhaps it didn't. Or perhaps he'd come across his truth, stumbled upon it years ago, and he hadn't recognized it. Or he'd quickly forgotten it in the weariness of wandering. The roads of the land were many and long.
Then again, perhaps the only thing long was this forest. When was he going to hit the edge of Kyoto, already? Could there be more bamboo? Soujiro was sure he didn't want to see more bamboo anytime soon after this large stretch. Or at least not walk through any.
Some being granted him mercy, and seconds later he stumbled into a thin patch of the plants. He squeezed between two skinny shoots and sat down. Tilting his head back, he exhaled, and idly examined his surroundings as he rested his feet.
It appeared that a large swath had once been cleared here. Probably long ago, and very thoroughly; though the plants were prolific and throughout the area, most were still young. Craning his neck to see, Soujiro studied the first thick bamboo he could spot, and noticed it had a scar along its side - remnants of a sword, he would bet his life. He started to look down, but at the edge of his vision something flickered and he turned to look.
To his left a - what? - a mist, or cloud, or foul magic lay in the air, a dark haze twirling unnaturally. Tendrils curled around the edges, turning back to swirl into its center. It was like nothing he had ever seen.
Moving slowly, Soujiro stood, and cautiously eased his way near. Perhaps he was the proverbial cat that would pay for his inquisitiveness, or perhaps he was the brave knight going forth to do battle against evil; or perhaps he was the unwary young man, easily bewitched by the first entrancing vision.
The closer he came, the more fascinating it was. From here, he could see little bits of white, specks seeping into the dark colors and creating marbleized shades of grey. He leaned forward.
Without warning, no sound smell movement to announce, it seemed to leap towards him, engulfing him in its haze.
White grey air breathing; time stopped.
Time began; the mist flowed, coalescing and breaking away from itself. Soujiro could only turn his head, watching.
It went faster, faster, it moved, so fast he thought it was standing still and everywhere all at once. It made him dizzy.
Something was underneath his senses, something was - there. A sound?
An echo of sound: it bounced off of surfaces in the airborne liquid, sounding everywhere and nowhere at once.
I'm always serious. If it isn't too late, could there be a chance now? If winning and strength makes you right, you should believe in Shishio.
The mist swirled, and changed. The sounds altered cadence and echoed.
So kill him. That brat! We take him in and he repays us by stealing?
Then there were screams. Many screams. Accompanied by tearing flesh and pounding rain. Soujiro knew the sound.
That night... my family... they were going to kill me... no...
The pale colors pooled in front of him. His gaze was drawn towards it.
A flash of red, and the puzzling sensation of... pulling someone's hair?
The world blacked out, and so did Soujiro.
When he came to, it was afternoon. He knew this, because the sun was almost directly overhead, and in the huge clearing there was nothing to block it.
He frowned. Clearing? He hadn't been in any clearing. But as he looked, he was forced to concede he was in one now, however it had happened.
And it was surrounded by bamboo. Bamboo that was broken, bent and slashed, evidence of a least one highly skilled swordsman in the area. Studying the ground, he noticed sections of it were torn up, and in several places there were foot shaped... burn marks? He frowned, puzzling over the strange signs. What technique left such marks? And the step length was huge. He had a feeling the unknown technique could compare to his own.
If there was a swordsman nearby of great strength, he would have to be cautious. He'd rather not be tangled up in stupid affairs. Though if it happened, heaven willing, he would finally be able to have a challenge. A worthy opponent.
He stood, and deciding no one was near, stretched out his senses to determine the closest person. To his great delight, a massive amount of people were not that far away. Was I that close to Kyoto?
Pushing onward, he left the clearing, passing a young bamboo shoot with a fresh slash in its side.
He left the bamboo, and followed a path into town. He was amazed at the changes; certainly it had been years, and he expected this, but not so much. So many buildings had been rebuilt where others used to be, and he hadn't recalled a sword smith working in town - the market of foreigners must have picked up, for someone to make a living from weapons. He walked farther.
Why, even the fashions had changed - he was positive he'd smelled a fragrance that had been hated for years. It was supposed to be floral. But in the heat...
Why would they start wearing it again after they realized it smelled like dog sh-
That man was wearing a sword.
Soujiro blinked. A normal man, samurai, hair in a topknot and with a maroon gi was wearing a sword. No one was stopping him.
The man in maroon was joined by another in similar clothing, also with a sword, and the two went into a bar. No one even blinked an eye.
Where were the police? In Soujiro's experience, they were quick to chase down those with swords. And they were so persistent...
Hadn't he passed where the police station was supposed to be? He didn't recall one. If they'd moved it, though... but why were no policemen on the streets?
What's going on?
At the end of the street, a loud voice started yelling, and the crowd backed away. Soujiro, confused, followed suit. Shouldering people away left and right, a group of samurai in blue gi came stalking down the road. Soujiro stared. He could hear the voice clearly now.
"Make way! Make way for the Shinsengumi!"
As they passed, the people around him started muttering.
"Who do they think they are? They're just a group of bullies!"
"They think they're so important... if they're so good, why hasn't the fighting ended yet?"
Soujiro leaned back against a wall, stunned.
What's happened? When am I?
- - -
A lilmatchgirl - I know Kenshin's bloody nose in MD chapter 5 was bugging you; I would argue he was a bit distracted. But you'll like this story better - we will have a most kick-ass Kenshin. You know what I thought would be really cool, though? When I was first planning this, I thought it would be awesome if Soujiro dropped really far back, and took the name Okita. fangirl squeal of glee But he couldn't have observed Kenshin up close like he needed to. Rats. AND BEFORE I FORGET AGAIN! I NO OWN RK!