Chapter 14: Secrets Revealed
The metallic smell of blood overwhelmed her senses. Kaoru fought the urge to vomit as she cradled the dear body to her chest. The white cloth, soaked in warm, sticky blood, clung to her own clothing. Kaoru rocked the body, her tears falling in silent trails down her cheeks.
Kaoru pinched her eyes shut, her heart tight with loss.
The body in her arms sagged sickeningly. Kaoru only gripped it more tightly. With bloodstained fingers, she cupped the cool face in her trembling hands.
Why did you leave me?
Her stained fingertips stroked the cheeks as she tried to picture the beloved face in her mind. With a muffled sob, she pulled the body close and opened her eyes to stare into the dead face.
Her fingers stiffened in horror. Where eyes, nose and lips should have been, there were none. A faceless and formless mass stared back up at her.
And then she screamed.
Saitoh stood over Yamada's cold body, a cigarette pinched tightly between tense fingers. Yamada lay on the cold gravel of the street, a large puddle of blood congealing around him.
"Well," Saitoh remarked distantly, "There goes our lead."
"Tetsuya Tenken Ryu? Never heard of it!"
"There's never been a dojo by that name here."
"Are you sure that's the name?"
"Sorry sir, I've never heard of that school."
Somewhere, a red-headed samurai stopped and stared into the bustling crowd in frustration. He eyebrows knotted together. Someone had lied. A sudden flash of realization shot through him. Ignoring the crowd around him, he turned and began to run - back to Tokyo.
Kaoru sat up with a jolt, her breathing ragged. She clutched at her chest.
Kaoru turned towards the shut shoji.
"You have a guest, Ugly. So get your ass out of bed!" Yahiko yelled unceremoniously through the paper door.
Silence from within.
Yahiko shrugged and turned to the woman beside him, "Sorry Minako-san - she's really lazy."
Minako smiled with twinkling eyes. "Not to worry," she laughed as she walked to the courtyard, "Tell Kaoru-chan I'll be back in the evening."
"What is it you wanted to tell her anyway? Maybe I could help?"
Minako chuckled. "It doesn't involve you really," she said, tweaking one of his ears, "But thank you anyway, samurai-san."
Yahiko's chest puffed out a bit and he tried to restrain a proud smile. "I train everyday."
"I'm sure you do." Minako arched an eyebrow and followed him out of the house.
Kaoru, meanwhile, was still clutching at her chest, trying to regain her sanity. The dreams, the horrible dreams, grew more and more intense with each passing day. And still, Kenshin had not returned.
Kenshin, oh Kenshin…where are you?
Koji blew the dust off of one of the old books that lay on one of the many shelves in the storage room. He gently pried the book open and began to thumb carefully through the pages. He scanned the list of names with his index finger running down the page. Then, with a small triumphant smile, he tapped the bottom of the page. He rose silently and unceremoniously ripped the page from the dust-ridden book. As he tucked the piece of paper into his sleeve, he tossed the book onto the floor and walked out. Around the book, the layers of dust blew back and resettled.
Fujiwara stretched as he stepped out the house and headed for his dojo. Oddly, he didn't hear the sounds of clashing bokken. Instead, the disquieted murmurs of his many students reached his ears. He stepped into the dojo. His students were crowding around a particular spot in the dojo – their faces confused and some, angry.
"What is going on here?" Fujiwara demanded.
The students fell silent and fell away from the object that lay on the dojo floor. Fujiwara's jaw dropped open. Lying grotesquely in the centre of the polished dojo was a blood-encrusted sword.
"Police," Fujiwara breathed, "Get the police."
The noose tightens.
Koji waved goodbye to Yahiko, as he stepped through the Kamiya dojo gates.
Saitoh approached the Fujiwara estate, a cigarette dangling from his lips.
Minako headed for the market.
Kenshin ran through the forest towards Tokyo, his mind commanding his body to move at an incredible pace.
Kaoru rose from her bed and slipped on a training gi.
The players played their parts.
Yahiko never thought he could feel pity for a bokken. There was no way he was going in there, he thought as he peered into the dojo. He watched as Kaoru practiced fiercely. The swish of her bokken was loud in his ears. He shivered although there was no wind. She was swinging the bokken madly, grunting with exertion – as if she were trying to destroy some demon. And Yahiko knew that if she even sensed his presence, he would be the subject of her wrath instead of the air she was cutting though. As silently as he could, he crept away from the dojo doors backwards. He would NOT be training today.
Kaoru's body was screaming. Her muscles burned and her clothes were damp with sweat. But still her knuckles were white around the bokken and her brow set. Her body's pain distracted her from the demons in her mind. Throwing herself into the movements, she tried to focus and forget.
But the stench!
Although the dream was long over, Kaoru could not get rid of the lingering scent of blood. She wondered, in a brief break of concentration, if she were going mad.
I am not alone. I don't have to be haunted by dreams of my family.
Kaoru's focus cracked. Where had that thought come from? She closed her eyes for a mere second as she brought the bokken down.
A gentle smile over tightly clenched teeth. Fiery red hair sweeping back and forth from her naked shoulder to her breast as he moved over her. The sweet smell of his sweat.
A hesitation in the swing. Kaoru snapped her eyes open as she brought the bokken down again with more force than before. A dark feeling in her stomach boiled up. He was gone. And she didn't even know why or where.
I don't care. I don't need him. I have…
Another smile. Twinkling blue eyes. A sense of belonging; a sense of familiarity.
Kaoru's stopped mid-swing, her focus completely shattered. With an angry yell, she hurled the bokken away from her. She stood panting in the centre of the dojo. Then, she bolted.
Saitoh lifted the sword from the polished dojo floor, dangling it disdainfully. He turned to a pale Fujiwara.
"Whose sword is this?"
Fujiwara inhaled deeply and let his eyes close. He swallowed difficultly.
"I asked -"
"It belongs to…" Fujiwara began in a voice too small for such a large man.
A few minutes later, the two men would be seen sprinting away from the dojo. Saitoh's eyes were slits and his cigarette was tightly pinched between uncharacteristically clenched teeth.
Kaoru threw the doors of the storage shed open. Surprisingly, the heavy book she had come fore lay closed in the centre of the room in a dust free circle. Kaoru ignored this. She lifted the book up in her arms and flipped it open. She unceremoniously flipped through pages, her mind calculating dates. She stopped flipping. It should be there, if anything. She read the names of past students down one page. Then another. And then a page was missing. She thoughtfully played with the ragged edge where the page had been torn. Then she pressed her lips together and continued to scan half-heartedly. A few more pages and then she shut the book and dropped it where it had been before. As she locked the storage doors shut again, she promised herself that it was not there. It was not there - meaning, of course, that there was nothing to suspect. With a satisfied grin, she headed back to the dojo.
Minako heard the sounds of Kaoru's practicing from outside the dojo. She smiled to herself ruefully. Things never change.
"Kaoru-chan!" she cried with a grin as she stepped into the dojo.
Kaoru turned from her training to look at her visitor. A smile lit up her face.
"Minako-san!" she cried back as she rushed to embrace the old woman, "I haven't seen you in a long while!"
"Well," Minako pretended to huff as she leaned back from their embrace, "It's because you were such a sleepy head this morning and couldn't get up!"
Kaoru smiled sheepishly. The older woman tweaked Kaoru's nose as she stepped back.
"Oh!" Kaoru exclaimed, moving to put her bokken back on the rack, "Would you like to go into the house for some tea? I just need to get out of these disgusting clothes."
Minako chuckled and knelt on the floor. "No thank you my dear. I would much rather be here in the dojo."
"You cooky old woman," Kaoru laughed affectionately as she walked back and sat before Minako, "What do you know about dojos anyway?"
"I know quite a bit about dojos young lady," Minako chided, wagging a finger at Kaoru's smiling face. "Did you know for example," Minako said, lowering her voice and her head, "that your father died in this dojo?"
Kaoru's smile faded from her face and the colour drained from her cheeks. "What?"
"Why yes," Minako continued, spreading her hands out on the shiny wooden floor and tracing her palms delicately over it, "His blood spread out all over this floor. The blood of the magnificent but stupid man – spilt by that worthless pup." Here she looked up at Kaoru's shocked visage. "Yes, child. I know much more than you think."
The expression on Kaoru's face wavered between an incredulous laugh and shocked tears.
Minako's gnarled hand snaked out and grasped Kaoru's chin. "You are a disgustingly naive child," Minako said with a smirk as she lifted herself up, her fingers still painfully pinching Kaoru's cheeks, "Either that or you just play stupid." With a rough flick, she relinquished her face.
Kaoru stared in pure disbelief as she watched the old woman's personality change before her very eyes. "Who are you?"
Minako strode to the Kamiya shrine. "Who am I?" she mused aloud, lifting Kaoru's father's sword, "I am Fujiwara Minako. I am the honoured eldest daughter of Nagoya Shobei, samurai."
Minako held herself upright despite her short stature and old age as she returned to where Kaoru was gaping at her with wide, unbelieving eyes. Minako pulled the sword from its sheath. She looked down at the girl.
"Your father was once a magnificent man. He was respected and even revered. His techniques were flawless," Minako narrated, "And I was to be his wife."
Kaoru's eyes widened even more. Minako inhaled bitterly as she tossed the sheath away carelessly.
"Until that bitch came along," Minako continued, disdain and hatred filling her voice, "Kamiya threw away his honour for that bitch. Along with me, his fiancée. I never forgave him. I never will."
Kaoru's lips moved in response but she was not able to produce any sound. Minako smirked down at her.
"Do you know what else I know? I know that your mother was skewered by Tetsuya in the courtyard. I know that Yamada taught Tetsuya and sent him to kill your whore of a mother," she sneered.
Kaoru winced, the scent of blood growing stronger. The memory of her mother's death beat against the walls of her mind. Minako did not stop.
"Silly girl – you actually believed in me? You actually trusted me? Let me let you in on a little secret," Minako bent over to breath into Kaoru's ear, "I had your mother killed. Yamada works for me. Or," she added, "Worked for me. I killed him last night."
Minako smiled to herself. "That stupid man. It was so easy to manipulate him. So stupid. So expendable."
Kaoru shuddered and fought the vomit down. This woman. This woman she had laughed with. This woman she had just embraced. The woman had planned everything since the beginning.
"And you, Kaoru-chan," she whispered, "Are the spitting image of that fucking whore. I have waited years to continue my revenge on the bitch."
Minako lifted her father's sword and prepared to thrust it into Kaoru. "Watch and weep from the grave, Kyoko-san," Minako laughed, "As I remove your daughter from the middle world."
Kaoru's mind registered danger. But lost in the sea of disturbing revelations, all she could do was shrink away. Minako grinned.
Minako halted in mid-thrust and turned. "Fujiwara?" she arched an eyebrow at the big burly silhouette in the door.
"Minako, that's enough!" Fujiwara commanded, stepping in.
"Who are you to tell me what to do?" she demanded, waving the sword around maniacally.
"He is your husband, old lady."
Minako chuckled derisively, "Ah, the Mibu Wolf graces me with his presence."
Saitoh stepped in and drew his sword. Fujiwara took a step forward.
"No!" Minako shouted, a mad haze filling her voice, "I will have my revenge. Don't you want to see the Kamiya house disgraced?"
Fujiwara shook his head. "Not at the cost of innocent lives."
"No one is innocent."
Fujiwara smiled sadly. "Did you kill that man. That Yamada?"
Minako smiled and half-turned to Kaoru again. "Why do you care? Oh my great replacement husband."
"Because," Fujiwara sighed, "I love you. I loved you even when you bore a son that did not belong to me. I loved you even as I watched your desire for revenge drive you insane. But you cannot kill that girl."
"Watch me," Minako said through gritted teeth.
"I think not," Saitoh coolly interrupted, appearing beside Kaoru.
"Fast, are we?" Minako scoffed and lifted the katana to strike, "All that matters is her death."
Minako attempted to lunge at Kaoru but, as expected of the Wolf, Saitoh intercepted the strike. With a swift blow to the back of her head by the butt of Saitoh's sword, Minako crumpled to the ground, unconscious. He hoisted Minako up and began to carry her out.
"I suppose that we have found the mastermind. A hoax. Perhaps to disgrace and ruin your family, Kamiya-san, " Saitoh commented dryly, "I'll take her now."
Saitoh passed Fujiwara without a word. Fujiwara did not move for a moment. He met Kaoru's stricken eyes.
"I must speak with you."
It was dusk when Kenshin finally reached the bridge that led to the Kamiya dojo. He paused for a breath. As he inhaled deeply and prepared to run again, a tall figure stepped directly in his path.
Kenshin reined in suddenly. "Get out of my way. I have to get back to the dojo."
"How could you?" Koji demanded in a whisper, "How could you do that to her?"
"Do what?" Kenshin asked angrily.
"You know what I mean."
"Stop playing with your words," Kenshin commanded angrily, his hand going for the hilt of the sakabatou, "I don't have time for this. I have to get home." He prepared to push past Koji by force.
"Home?" Koji shouted angrily, "It's not your home."
Kenshin's face twisted angrily and his eyes narrowed. "What are you implying, Koji-san?"
"That it is because of you that Kaoru is wilting away with her broken heart," Koji accused.
"I wouldn't have left in the first place if you hadn't insisted!" came Kenshin's angry reply, "Now let me pass!
"You fool," Koji's voice rose, "You shouldn't have done that before leaving the dojo. Now she thinks you want nothing to do with her."
Kenshin paused in his attack.
"She believes that you only wanted to satisfy your lust and," Koji reported coolly, "Now that you've had her, you feel no need to stay."
"And you didn't explain to her that it was your idea?" Kenshin began to exclaim furiously.
"How could I," Koji stated, "When you dirtied my sister before leaving. I myself doubt you."
Kenshin fumed silently, knuckles white. Koji smiled a very cold smile.
"Think about Kaoru for once," he advised, "And stay the hell away."
Without another word, Koji turned and disappeared in the night. Kenshin was left standing alone on the bridge, his fingernails digging into the palms of his hands and his eyes squeezed shut in anger and frustration.
"This is not the way it will end," he whispered through clenched teeth.
End of chapter 14, to be continued!