He Walked As Death
Death was his name. If not his name, then it had been his nature for so long he no longer felt the need to be called anything else. There was blood on his hands, on his feet, in his hair. Where his eyes had been, only the golden glow of the souls he had taken remained. The scar on his face – once a reminder of the woman he had loved and lost – now wept at his lost humanity. He was Battousai. He had no mercy.
The streets of Kyoto, once full of the hustle and bustle of merchants, now stood silent, as if poised on a pin's head, holding its breath for the will of the Battousai. He lifted his head, and his nostrils flared. There was something different in the air tonight. Blood, yes, but there was plenty of that in Kyoto. Desperation, panic, the constant smell of waste that accompanied every city he'd ever occupied – all of that was here.
Jasmine. Youth. Innocence. Battousai inhaled deeply. Something in the back of his mind stirred to wakefulness. A move of his thumb exposed an inch of his katana.
Down the main street of Kyoto he walked, a demon lost in a spell.
"Battousai," a voice said from behind him, and he whirled around, hand on his hilt. The young man who owned the voice tossed a ball in the air and caught it, then tossed it again. "Have you lost your way, demon?"
Battousai sneered. "I have not lost my way. I am a hunter. I do not get lost."
"One rarely chooses the path of a hunter." Again, the ball rose in a gentle arch and returned the boy's hand. "Even demons."
Though the katana slid from its sheath another inch, the boy did not move. "Such a path was chosen for me."
The boy shrugged, and caught the ball deftly. "There's a change in the wind tonight, Battousai. The spirits are restless."
"The spirits are always restless. I will do my job as well as I have always done. It is my duty."
"If you strip the soul away, does the duty remain?" The ball paused. "Without the heart, is there nobility, Battousai?"
"There must be," the demon said, though his voice was soft and carried a hint of something before in it. "Otherwise there is no reward. No rest. No end."
"Is that why you continue the hunt? For the reward?" The ball had not risen into the air again. The young boy was staring at Battousai intensely.
"No." Battousai's voice was cold, flat. "I do this because I was told it would end."
The young boy nodded, and tossed the ball in the air again. "Battousai. The spirits are restless. The winds are changing."
"Aa," Battousai said, and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, the ball hit the ground, and the child was no longer there.
He had seen many things since taking the mantle of Death, and such occurrences no longer disturbed him as they once might have. Shrugging his shoulder, he sheathed the sword completely and waited for the scent of the wind to carry him to his next victim.
His feet carried him past an alley. He could hear the piercing cries of a baby crying. The juxtaposition of Death and Life was, as always, a bittersweet feeling. He felt the urge not to linger, not to touch something so new when the essence of him was so opposite. Not that Death was impure, for he carried many noble and deserving individuals to their final rest -- unafraid, their faces lit with hope. It always lifted his heart and rejuvenated his energy.
But then, he had ripped children from their mothers, lovers from their loved ones, fathers from their children. He had taken soldiers and warriors, peasants and nobles. In death, there was no rank. He was soaked in the blood of the innocent, bathed in the scent of mourning.
There were some that escaped the watchful gaze of the spirits, and wandered the Earth, unhappy and alone. Battousai, too, sought these, to carry them to their rest, or to destroy their souls if they refused the unknown.
As he walked down the street, the sensitive grew cold and closed their windows, huddling closer to their blankets and spouses to fight the chill.
"Have you come for me?" The voice was old, weary and tired. Battousai paused, and gazed with golden eyes at a broken man on the street of Kyoto.
"No." He took another few steps.
"Please! I can see you! You must take me with you!" The man reached with both hands, and there was a desperate need in his eyes.
Battousai shook his head and did not turn. "You cannot command the will of Death. You will live out the rest of your days in dignity. When it is your turn, I will come for you."
"Please sir! My wife, my children… they are all gone! What is for me here? What can be gained by leaving me here?"
Kenshin turned, and his eyes lit the street and warmed the beggar. "Where I am going, you do not want to go, Grandfather."
"Am I going soon? To a place I wish to go?" The old man closed his eyes and swallowed in pain.
"Soon," Kenshin said, and his voice was soothing. "Enjoy your last days here, Grandfather. It is not your time yet, but it is coming soon."
"That is all…" the man drew in a deep breath and faded nearly into sleep.
Again the wind pushed his feet forward. Closer and closer to the sea he walked. It wouldn't be the first time he had taken a sailor, Battousai mused, but something about the sea always made his heart clinch, as though he was overwhelmed by a deep sadness. As often as he had tried to remember life before, he could never grasp anything but a sense of regret.
There was a whisper on the wind – a voice calling a name that should have been familiar, but seemed strange at the same time. "Shinta, Shinta…"
The smell of jasmine was overpowering, as though a field of them had been soaking in the sea. Battousai was no longer in control of his body as he walked all the way down to the beached area. It had been many years since he had felt the gentle give of sand under his feet – since he had felt anything at all.
Battousai had little time to wonder at the strangeness of it all before he felt the very earth part beneath his feet. Reflexes honed from years of training had him springing up and away before the gap could swallow him whole.
"Battousai!" The scream of a purple-haired man alerted Kenshin that he was being attacked, and he pivoted around to block the man's first attack.
Over the years, few had dared to challenge him, and most of the errant spirits he was to collect were passive, or easily intimidated by Battousai's speed. Though he parried, Enishi broke and spun away quickly, a sneering grin on his face. "Too much time has made you soft."
"Too much time has made you insane," Battousai returned calmly, "you have no fight with me, Ghost."
"The years have made you lose your mind, Battousai. I have a fight with you decades old."
"I do not recall," Battousai said. "I can only assure you of a quick and easy journey, should you choose to come with me."
The man scoffed. "I am Enishi, brother of Tomoe, and nothing you have ever promised me has come true, Demon."
"Heh." Battousai smiled. "I have no time for words. Only time for action."
Enishi smiled the smile of a disarranged spirit. "Then we will not talk. Let us begin."
There were no words from that point on, only the clashing of swords and the grunting of men locked in a battle in which there was no clear victor, for they were fighting a physical battle on a spiritual plane. It went on, it seemed to Battousai, forever, and even his endless supply of energy was beginning to be tapped. Sparks flew from the speed of their swords, and both spirits panted with the strength of their efforts, a remembered habit from their physical forms.
"You will cease this nonsense at once," the stern voice of a spirit interrupted the two, and the two found themselves immobilized, inches away from each other. "The night is ending and time is running out. Even for my baka deshi."
Battousai discovered he was able to turn his head, and he surveyed the spirit, who had taken the form of a man in front of him. He was tall, almost impossibly so, and wore an impressive cape.
"Have you punished yourself long enough for your sins? All your life, you searched for atonement, Battousai. Are you at last ready to let go of the chains that bind you here?"
Battousai blinked and hung his head, closing the golden eyes that he knew in his heart had once been another, more desirable shade. "I would like to rest, sensei."
"I would imagine so. You have been here long enough. As Death goes, you have been dutiful. We find ourselves well pleased with you, Himura Kenshin."
Kenshin felt as though a light had been pierced through his whole body. The pain was immense, the flood of memories absolute and overwhelming. Through the intense pain, he heard Hiko's voice, dimly saw him through half-opened eyes.
"Enishi. You are charged with the task of Death. It is both a punishment and a reward. Here you can atone for your madness, for your sins. I wipe now your soul. It will be restored to you when you have earned one once again. Go to your charged task."
Kenshin was bent over, and felt the reassuring pressure of his old master's hand on his back. "Breathe, idiot."
For some reason, that sentence made him laugh, but it was a wheezing one. He felt his soul grow light, lighter than the body that had encased it. He fought it, and looked into Hiko's eyes. "Thank you, Master."
"You served your duty well, as you always have." Hiko gave a great sigh. "Your woman is patient in death as she was patient in life. Go to her and enjoy your rest, idiot."
"What of you?"
"Kenshin." Hiko's voice was affectionate, amused. "I have work yet to do. You go, and save a place for me."
He felt his spirit rise, up and up, until there was no longer a body. No hint of Himura Kenshin, as there had been no trace of Battousai, no trace of Shinta.
"Rest, you idiot," Hiko said faintly, to the sky. "You, in all your incarnations, have earned it."
In the distance, he saw the faint waving of a blue ribbon, and the kiss of a gentle woman on his cheek. "Thank you. For returning him to me."
"Always a pleasure," Hiko muttered, "Himura Kaoru."
Author's Note: Consider this an experiment gone well, I suppose. Let me know what you all think!