Disclaimer: Nope. I don't own Rurouni Kenshin or the poem written by Victor Hugo below. Refer to my Author's Note for lengthy background information about the newest poem, references and allusions within the story, as well as general musings.

Final Pairings: I just realized I never told you guys the final pairings for Versailles. They are as follows. Aoshi/Misao, Enishi/Misao, Soujiro/Misao, Sanosuke/Megumi, Kenshin/Kaoru, past mentions of Kenshin/Tomoe, Shishio/Yumi. The ending does end up choosing either Aoshi, Enishi, or Soujiro to be Misao's consort (and I have already decided who it will be), but for the sake of suspense, you will have to keep on reading to find out who she chooses of the three men. I will, however, gladly read opinions as to who it should be once Soujiro/Misao and Aoshi/Misao interactions have been introduced. If you are eloquent enough, my opinion may actually change and I may rewrite the ending plot.


-Le Quatrième Chapitre-

How had it come to this?

Megumi's hands shook as she folded the packets of opium to be delivered to the eagerly awaiting masses. She swallowed around the inevitable lump in her throat and flung the tiny, white poisoned triangle into the brown box. She tried to ignore the way others stared at her as she worked soundlessly, functioning as a nut or a bolt in a gigantic and efficient killing machine. Tomorrow, she would wake up with the blood of hundreds of addicts on her hands. Tomorrow, she would continue to kill countless others. Tomorrow, she would fold the same opium packet as her heart died the same death again and again and again. It was a vicious cycle that she couldn't break, didn't have the power or the means to break.

Aoshi Shinomori.

The bane of her existence, the man who wouldn't let her die peacefully. She clenched her hands and watched in muted joy as the white powder slipped out of the packet to spill on the cement floor of the basement. She would suffer later for that one second of vengeful action, but it was worth it. One less packet meant one less sin to be freed from. What had she dreamed so childishly to be so long ago? A doctor? Her lips twitched into a ghost of a smile—bitter and cruel, before her features lapsed back into a blank expression. Fate was a lover of Irony and all that came with it. She'd wanted to save lives back then, wanted to make a difference in someone's life. Now? Now she could only wait for her own death to end the suffering of the very people she'd wanted to help mere years ago.

How many times had she tried to hang herself with the fabric of her clothing, to see the world fade to an unforgiving black and know that she would go to Hell for her actions? How many times had she filched a dagger from the workers cutting open the sealed cardboard boxes containing the materials with which to build their poison from? How many times had she sat in her room with the very same dagger in her hand positioned directly above her wrist, ready to descend with a horrible intent? How many times had she tried to consume the opium in the hopes of never waking up?

Always denied that last semblance of salvation by Shinomori's ever-watchful guards. His infamous Le Bras de Dieu who stopped her again and again, breaking her arm to stop the descent of a dagger, cutting the fabric that suspended her from the flickering lamp in her room, burning the opium packets in her possession on a nightly basis. They would never let her rest in peace, stealing away her every wish. Oh, how she hated them. How she hated herself and the rest of the mindless workers who were made to do as Shinomori bid. How she hated the quality that drew the drug overlord to her and ultimately orchestrated her spiral downwards.

A murmur of unease rippled through the clearing, hushed words seeping through the atmosphere like poisonous gas. She shivered at the feeling and drew her dark hazel eyes to the only door in the basement, anticipation twisting her stomach into knots. It was the calm before the storm, Megumi thought with pensive clarity, the false moment of serenity before a massacre. She half-expected Shinomori's henchmen to open the door and rain bullets upon them, smiling morbidly at the thought. She was sorely disappointed when the door finally swung open, hinges creaking in protect, to reveal a man she'd seen only twice before.

"We have had an intruder," Yukishiro announced, dark glasses propped coolly on the top of his spiked hair. His gloved hands tapped thoughtfully on the iron railing of the metal stairs, eyes scanning the clearing with near devilish amusement. She sneered and mocked him inwardly, flipping her long hair over a shoulder in a dismissive gesture before going back to her task. She could care less what the pompous ass had to say. He was everything Shinomori was and was not. He was equally wicked, equally guilty, but confident and suave and flashy in a way that only supremely comfortable and sleazy men could be. She preferred Aoshi's stoic silence. At least it allowed her the faint illusion that he was dead.

"Takani, you might want to pay attention to what I'm saying." His words snapped her increasingly tightening rope of tolerance and she turned around, a spark in her eyes and bloodlust flaring strong and deep within her soul. The bastard had taken everything she'd ever stood for and he was trying to get her to listen to his sick logic? The nerve.

"Tell it to the grave," she spat furiously and watched with a sinking feeling in her stomach as he only laughed. The sound bounced off the gray, concrete walls to mingle with the echoes of her shrill response. It was cacophonic and she took pleasure in the fact that they could never coexist peacefully. They would never get her to be docile; she'd rather be six feet underground than follow the likes of him with a stupid, simpering smile on her face.

"We have an intruder, and while this hasn't caused any harm to us yet, we'd like for everyone to remain at attention. Should we, namely Les Bras de Dieu, Shinomori, or I receive word of a traitor in our midst…" He lingered ominously on the last syllable, drawing out his gun in the process and shining it with a handkerchief before continuing. "Necessary actions will be taken." He finished at last, questioning eyes turned towards her. She looked away, half hoping he would think her a traitor and shoot her on the spot. She would at least thank him if he did that much for her. But he didn't and merely gazed at her in his calmly assessing way before turning on his heels to leave the dungeon that was her forced home.

"Oh, and by the way, Takani. Shinomori told me that a special someone would be coming to see you in a few days. She's currently traveling with one of his special agents and is at his command. What was her name again?" She gazed in horror as a satisfied smirk worked its way onto his handsome and sly face. Her throat closed up on her and she could only watch in muted terror as his lips formed his next words. "Oh yes. Kaoru. Kamiya Kaoru. Sound familiar?" He placed the muzzle of the gun to his lips and breathed over it lightly, a knowing smile on his face. "We wouldn't want our permanent guest…damaged before she got here, now would we?" He mocked her and she could only stare at his back as he closed the door behind him, the heavy echo of his sharp footsteps on the floor only further trapping her in a world where she just couldn't win.

There was no one to comfort Takani Megumi as she fell to her knees in despair.

La mort et la beauté sont deux choses profondes (1)

Of course he wasn't a sadist.

"Going somewhere?" Shinomori's form stepped out from behind his position by the closet, cold eyes glancing briefly at the room. "I would hardly consider this the perfect time to go on a dinner date. Shishio's note concerns you as well." His tone was bland and yet the words meticulously formed. Aoshi wasn't a man who wasted his words and his careful preparations were irksome to the much more aggressive and fast-paced Chinese opium dealer.

"I can't disappoint her. Besides, the note gave you three days to decide and I doubt he'd rush things at this point in time." Enishi answered easily, shrugging slim but powerful shoulders in a gesture that clearly stated he could care less. "Besides, I have a feeling that this Makimachi Misao isn't who she's pretending to be. It's been awhile since I've had this much fun." He slowly looped the tie around his neck, drawing it tight so that it rested perfectly on his crisp, white attire. "Now, if you'll excuse me Shinomori, I have a lady to attend to and a beautiful night in Paris to enjoy. C'est la vie, mon ami." If he saw the slight and almost sinister glint of metal in by the dim candlelight, he gave no indication of it, moving smoothly to exit out of his bedroom.

"Enjoy." Shinomori muttered to the now empty room before he too departed.

Unbeknownst to the operation head, Enishi's smile curved into one of grim satisfaction as he replied to invisible people. "Oh, believe me Shinomori, I will. I will." He waved a hand at one of the many nameless and expendable people who worked in the manor and swept into a luxury car, gloved hands tightening on the steering wheel with pleasure. The steady thrum of the engine rippled through his veins, potent as opium and adrenaline combined, before he took off down the streets, the lingering remnants of smoke drifting in the night air. It was always addicting to be the one behind the wheel, to be the one who held the reins of such power, to be the one with absolute strength. It was a shame Shinomori insisted on having a simpleton drive the car for him every time. Enishi slipped the shades back down to the bridge of his nose and turned the steering wheel left, enjoying the sights of the lights blurring past him. Such a shame, really.

He found himself rather disappointed as the sight of his destination drew closer and closer, but his keen eyes caught the image of a slim and petite female and without his knowledge, his lips curved into a smile. He parked the car gracefully in front of her, killing the engine softly before stepping out of the car with a simple casual movement. Her face seemed remotely impressed but her eyes told him it would take more than a fancy car or a handsome face to win her over. Well, that was fine with him. Two could play at that game. "Madamoiselle," he acknowledged, sweeping into a low bow before taking her soft and warm hand into one of his own.

Eyes twinkling with mischief, he locked gazes with her and lowered his lips to the pale expanse of skin, kissing the back of her hand lightly and tantalizingly slow. He could feel her shiver, every tremor instigating a response in his own body. He could take her now, he could easily overpower her and hold her captive within his room, but one look at the sweet blush gracing her face, and he reluctantly stepped back. Maybe sometime later, once she trusted him enough. He supposed the longer he waited, the sweeter the moment would be. "I am pleased that you showed up alone as I asked." He said, lending an arm for her to hold onto as he prepared to enter the high-class restaurant.

He watched as she pursed her lips, and damn, she looked kissable like that. "Himura wouldn't let me go at first, but I convinced him that you would be terribly offended if I didn't end up coming." She murmured, voice breathy and a perfect mix between being innocent and being completely corrupt. Like red wine and white bed sheets, he thought with a pleased expression on his face. She was quite the fast learner if she could transform her awkward attempts yesterday into such a faint hint of seduction. He'd always had a fondness for lolita-like ladies after all.

"You were quite right in assuming so." He answered smoothly back, placing a hand on the small of her back and relishing the feel of her red silk dress rubbing against his skin. The material was quite fine and so thin that it felt like air. Only a small, hidden zipper and a bow cinching the dress around her waist prevented him from touching skin. The thought that he was so close and yet still far teased his senses and unbeknownst to him, his teal eyes darkened several shades with lust.

She laughed, a lilting sound, and sidestepped his wayward hand with casual ease. "I am glad to see that my judgment was correct. My senses have never failed me before." She tucked a stray hair behind her ear and watched in surprised silence as the restaurant waiter lead them to the balcony where a solitary table with a flickering candle was situated. "Mon dieu. I had no idea you were this intent on pursuing me. I'm flattered." She whispered into his ear, breath ghosting over the rim before she turned to the railing.

"For you, this must be nothing. I am sure you've seen far more grandeur." He replied, following her to edge of the balcony after he told the waiter to retrieve two bottles of the finest red wine they had in stock. They could order later, for now, her company and the view of all of Paris was enough to keep him content. "Do you like it?"

She didn't reply for a while, eyes entranced by the myriad of glowing lights and the towering figure of the Eiffel tower in the distance to bother answering his insignificant question. He waited patiently, admiring her gleaming braid and thin, bird-like bones with appreciation. Himura had good taste in women, he thought absentmindedly, fingers drumming on the railing idly. Himura was also a fool to let her go so easily. It never even occurred to him that there wasn't any reason for the infamous assassin to keep her by his side.

He reached for her elbow, ready to lead her back to the table where the waiter had arrived with his requested two bottles of fine wine. He expected her to follow him, to maybe puller her elbow out of his grasp, but the sudden pivot and kick aimed at his head completely caught him off guard. He didn't pause to admire the scandalous amount of alabaster white leg revealed by the dress sliding up by her sudden attack, but maneuvered quickly back and caught her ankle in a firm grip. It was then that he was amused to find the same amount of shock written on her face as was on his features mere milliseconds ago. "Fast. But not quite fast enough." He quipped, cocking his head to the side in mild amusement.

But her technique was good, far too good for a simple self-defense maneuver. Her fluidity and power spoke of years of training and the way her leg tensed underneath his hold told him she was more than capable of turning the tables on him. He slid the shades from his eyes to the top of his head and leaned close to her, relishing the way her heartbeat fluttered anxiously beneath him.

"It seems, Madamoiselle Makimachi, as if you have a couple tricks up your sleeve as well."

Qui contiennent tant d'ombre et d'azur qu'on dirait (2)


She cursed herself for her ill-timed reaction. She had drifted off watching the Parisian skylights, drifted off with the enemy by her side. His sudden reach for her had set off her impulsive reaction and without even thinking, she'd turned around and aimed a lethal kick at his head. Now, with his hand closed tightly around her ankle and his mind filled with questions, she would have to lie better than she'd ever lied before. She took a calming breath and flashed a fiery glare at him, flipping backwards in a move that forced him to relinquish his hold on her.

"Don't we all have our secrets?" She shot back, fingers reaching for the slim dagger securing her braid. "But since you're so eager to figure me out, I'll answer your question provided you promise to never startle me like that again."

He smiled predatorily and snapped his fingers. "Deal. Now my question is, who are you really? I haven't seen a move like yours before and don't even bother telling me that you picked it off the streets. I know a professional killer when I see one and you've been doing this for at least ten years if not fifteen." A part of him told him to be wary of the woman in front of him, for she was glib of tongue and was no doubt skilled. Another part of him was seriously intrigued by the prospect of a true femme fatale and yearned to lay claims to her. He dismissed the first notion and focused on the second one instead, she would prove far more interesting than any other female he'd had before.

"Makimachi Misao. I told you that already. I really was a dancer at one point, but that was just a two-year cover for my assassination plans. I was supposed to kill Fujita Goro, the Commissaire de Police, but someone blew my cover and I had to give the job up. I've worked under various people throughout my life, but most of what I learned came from Kenshin's teachings. I'm currently on hiatus since Kenshin doesn't want to endanger my life anymore than he has to." She paused, proud of her quick lie and the easy way with which the words flowed from her mouth. "He said I was no good with a sword and taught me kenpo instead, hence the reason behind the kick and the lack of a blade on my body. So now you know, Monsieur Yukishiro. Had enough information yet or are you still hungry for more?"

He gestured at the table with the wine bottles on it and gave an easy smile. "I hardly consider that any information at all. Perhaps you could give me some more details about your so-called job over some delightful red wine? I promise you I have not poisoned it."

"I wouldn't put it below you if you did drug it with something." She retorted before walking to the table with flustered strides.

"You wound me with your words." He murmured in response, placing a hand over his heart most dramatically. She laughed softly and withdrew her hand from the knife masquerading as a hair clasp within her braid. He was off guard and still unwilling to consider her a threat. She sighed and willed her heart to calm down. So far, she wasn't in any danger.

"How much do you enjoy your position at the manslayer's side?" He toyed idly with the wine glass, running a finger across the rim before settling for leaning back in the chair. An interesting idea was forming in his head and Enishi wondered if Shinomori would penalize him for acquiring a new secretary.

Misao pretended to debate the question, excitement and anticipation quickening her breath. It was almost too easy to get into the man's head, almost too easy to get herself into his part of the organization. "He is powerful, treats me like a lady, and has plenty of money and loyal followers. I enjoy it—perhaps sinfully so. It's not every day that the manslayer seeks a consort." She tipped her head back to let the wine slide down her throat, the movement exposing her long and smooth neck to Enishi's observant eyes. "Why?" She asked, a coy smile working its way onto her features. "Do you require a lady by your side as well, Monsieur Yukishiro?"

"If the right lady should show up." He answered immediately, raising an eyebrow at her words. "It is quite strange though, I have never heard of someone like you before. As a matter of fact, it has been well over two years since the underground has last seen the manslayer. Rumor was that he packed up his organization to start a new life. Are you the result of his new life?"

"Not quite." She replied, reaching back to loosen the dagger from her hair. "He disappeared under the radar for some time due to…certain confidential problems. He never intended to fully leave the scene. As for me…I specialize in being undetectable. If you have never heard of me, it just means that I have succeeded in my mission. Quite the compliment coming from you considering the fact that you as well as Monsieur Shinomori are said to have eyes and ears everywhere." She ran her hand through her wavy tresses, smoothing the tangles and enjoying the way his eyes practically devoured her image. "You could say that I have always been a professional watcher. Himura found me, contrary to what I told the members of the party yesterday, not as a dancer in Bois du Bologne but through my connections who offered him my services. It was a way for me to advance the societal ladder in power and accomplishment and a chance for him to hear about his former allies and their new actions."

"A win-win situation." Enishi commented, before downing the rest of the wine in his glass.

She smiled serenely back at him. "Quite." She murmured and settled a palm against her cheek. "Now, shall we order, or would you prefer to continue interrogating me?"

He laughed and rang the bell on the table for the waiter. "It would be ungentlemanly of me to deny you anything." He paused, hands sliding into his pockets to retrieve a crimson card. "Though I would enjoy your company greatly next week. Do try to make some time for me. I promise I won't impose on you too much." He flicked the sealed envelope from between two fingers, allowing the invitation to cut through the air mercilessly.

"Nice move." She commented, reaching out a delicate hand to catch the card. "I will certainly try to not disappoint you. I have a feeling that you are not a patient man when it comes to waiting." She flashed a savvy smile at him, loving the way he was falling headfirst into her carefully crafted plan. The power to control, to make or break. "But then again, Monsieur…I am not known for my patience either."

"Yet another similarity between us." He commented, hiding a smile behind his poise.

"Oh? You say, another—do inform me of the other trait we share."


Deux sœurs également terribles et fécondes (3)

"Ah Shishio-sama, do you really think that Sanosuke will be able to carry out the task you gave to him?" Soujiro's eyes were passive and relaxed, closed tightly in a beaming smile. His customary white, ruffled shirt and black slacks stood out sharply against the bandaged leader's loose robe. The scent of incense wafted through the small and barely lit room, an opium pipe poisoning the atmosphere. He wrinkled his nose in distaste against the heady combination of smells, but retained his ever-present smile with utmost dedication.

"Of course not, Soujiro. I'll be surprised if he even makes it into Shinamori's house with the note." Shishio flicked some imaginary ashes from the long, amber pipe onto the floor and exhaled a plume of smoke. "And what have I told you about using Japanese in front of me? You know how the French detest us Asian men." The slightest twist of bitter sarcasm and anger tipped the end of the otherwise neutral statement, causing a slight wrinkle to form on the brown-haired assassin's smooth forehead.

"Ah, je suis désolé. J'ai oublié." He replied calmly, hands swinging loosely by his side, careful to avoid the hilt of his prized sword. "It's just that old habits take some time to correct." He bowed low, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear before opening his eyes a fraction to fix an almost deadly stare at his leader. "I owe much to you for allowing me to overcome my fears."

Shishio gave a dry laugh in response, waving a hand in a clearly dismissive and half-hearted gesture. "It's understandable. You spent nearly your entire life in Japan, what was it? Eighteen years? You have only been with me for four years in Paris. It's just a shame that it's taking you so long to adjust to the way of the westerners. Their technology is so much more efficient than the weapons you are used to." He withdrew an elegantly crafted vial, drawing the Tenken's eyes to the white powder inside. "Anthrax. Enough to kill a man effortlessly if I wanted to. The slightest inhalation of it or physical contact with it can send the victim to an early grave." Bandaged hands slipped the vial back into his robes before nervous fingers resumed tapping methodically on the now-empty pipe. "I just wish you would acquiesce to using a pistol rather than a sword. They're so much for efficient, you know."

Soujiro chuckled softly in the poor lighting of the room, rubbing a hand against the back of his head in abashment. "I've been taught to use a sword for most of my life and the idea of using a machine is a bit…foreign. I have no doubt that I would be most terrible at aiming. I admit that my main strength comes from being able to kill silently and swiftly, which is far easier for me to do with a sword than with a gun. The recoil I have heard about from Hoji is painful for first-time users, isn't it?" His tone was light as air, as if the conversation was nothing more than a discussion of an invitation to a party. It seemed as if the young man's tone existed only to soothe and pacify, the very sound of innocence.

"What Hoji says is true, but the recoil only affects the user if the user is incompetent. You are a fast learner Soujiro, I have no doubt that firing a gun would come just as easily to you as using a sword." The conversation was interrupted by a sharp rap on the outside door, surprising neither of the two figures. "It seems as if there is some news we need to hear." Shishio remarked calmly, gesturing for the younger of the two to open the door.

"Monsieur Shishio! Je te présente Zanza!"

As the introduced figure stepped into the room, both Soujiro and Shishio were careful to keep their hands close to their respective weapons. Both were highly trained in the business of forming alliances and they had long ago memorized the rules of the game of survival in the underworld. Rule one, of course, was to trust no one—least of all the people who worked with you. At least enemies were dependable in their actions. "I trust that you bear good news for me?" Shishio ventured to ask at last after a period of tense silence.

"I would be suicidal to walk in here with bad news."

Ayant la même énigme et le même secret. (4)

It wasn't, admittedly, the most comfortable situation to be in. Hell, he would be lucky to even walk out of the room with his pride intact, much less his head still on his shoulders. From the corner of his eye, Sanosuke saw the infamous Tenken no Soujiro casually unsheathe his sword. Resisting the urge to just deliver the message in a quick and messy sentence then leave, the fighter-for-hire settled against the wall with a short, tense sigh. What he said had been true. He wasn't known for his intelligence, but he certainly knew enough to understand that one did not walk into a meeting with Shishio carrying bad news. He was just lucky that Shinomori had been too busy overseeing the dead body to notice the addition of a note on his carefully organized desk.

Immediately following that thought, the image of Beshimi's corpse floated into the forefront of his mind. The job had been clean and most likely painless, but he still couldn't forget the haunted and panicked look in the dead man's eyes nor the almost mechanically perfect made incision from where the sword entered the neck and then promptly withdrew. Instinctively, hazel brown eyes slid carefully to look at the twenty-two year old swordsman standing by Shishio's side in well-concealed fear. That man was heartless and brutal. The best of the best. That particular knowledge only made him all the more anxious to escape the room.

"So you were successful in leaving the note with my instructions on it for Shinomori to see?" The skepticism was clearly heard and Sanosuke crossed his arms in open defiance. "And you weren't detected by anyone?"

"It wasn't easy, but I managed because of the fact that everyone was way too disorganized and occupied with examining Beshimi's corpse. It helped that Yukishiro was suspiciously absent from the manor, leaving everything in Shinomori's hands. If you ask me, I figure that their alliance is shaky." There was absolutely no way in Hell he would admit to the two of them that he was nearly caught by the manor guards twice and escaped only by climbing up a tree. He would only be mocked mercilessly by the weapons dealer.

"Interesting." Shishio remarked, leaving the room otherwise eerily silent with only Soujiro's bright smile to occupy Sanosuke's thoughts. It wasn't pleasant to look at the nut job's grin. It reminded the fighter-for-hire far too much of a loose marble in the bag and of serial killers who weren't quite sane in the head. There was no way any normal person, forget murderer, could possibly smile for such an extended period of time. He wondered if the kid even smiled like that in his sleep. Creepy. The whole situation was distinctly hellish and though the room was devoid of spiders and the telltale hiss of snakes, he couldn't get rid of the impression that he was all just a part of a larger picture. He was a delinquent and had his fair share of jail time, but even he knew when to stop. It was almost humbling to stand in front of one of the world's greatest weapons dealers and crime lords. Almost. He wondered if this was what a lust for power twisted a person into—a being without a soul and sustained purely on the hate and murderous thoughts of others.

"It's so curious, Monsieur Sanosuke." Soujiro finally spoke up, scratching his head in confusion. "You are obviously uncomfortable in our presence and yet you remain. Tu ne cours pas mais tu as peur de nous. Pour quoi? Je ne comprende pas." The smile stayed firmly in place despite the nearly ominous question lurking underneath his seemingly casual and friendly words. Sanosuke didn't forget that the innocent looking individual in front him was a brutal murderer capable of taking a life without batting so much as an eyelash. It was hard to forget with the sadistic grin painting Shishio's bandaged face and the carefully concealed grip of the Tenken's hand on his wicked sword.

"Hate is much stronger than fear. I am smart enough to know when I am outmatched in power. And don't call me Monsieur Sanosuke. I doubt that I deserve that kind of respect." Here he gave a pointed look at his own two fists, a shadow passing over his face. He specialized in kickboxing and street fighting, not in the subtle art of deception or the simple pull of a trigger. He wasn't in any shape to take on any of Shishio's men. A fist, after all, couldn't kill a man. But a gun could. A gun could easily blow his head to pieces. He had no doubt about that. And that was what made the whole situation terrifying, to know that one man could decapitate him with a simple flick of the wrist, and that another could easily shoot a hole in his heart. "I haven't forgotten my other part of the bargain. You probably know already that Shinomori will most likely ignore your threat. I am fully prepared to infiltrate the manor once more and assault one of his remaining three guards. I keep my promises on the grounds of honor."

"Don't speak of honor." Shishio stated flatly, letting the pipe drop from his burnt lips with a resounding clatter. "Honor is for the bastard policeman and people the likes of L'association de curateurs." He spat out viciously, slamming a hand down on the table. "In my domain, there is no such thing as honor. Only truth. The weak die and the strong survive here, in my world."

"That's harsh," Sanosuke commented without thinking, and immediately faced a ferocious stare from the seated leader. "So you would have your own men die in front of you if they were weak enough to be killed?" It was a morbid question, the likes of which the fighter never really liked to ask or have answered. He didn't understand why he asked it in the first place. In the underworld, questions were a sure-fire way to get you killed. He knew that, but the macabre way with which Shishio looked at the world repulsed and fascinated him at the same time. Like a moth lingering too close to a flame, he thought. He wanted to get deeper into the organization, to become a rebel in society and be accepted by the moral-less characters of the alleyways and streets. But it seemed as though the deeper he went into the heart of criminal associations, the more he desperately wanted to get out.

"It's a one-way place to Hell if you're here with us. If you're weak, you just go down and see Satan earlier. If you're strong, well, you can get a few more days of life on Earth. Nobody ever said things had to be fair." Shishio paused, something akin to pride flickering briefly in his eyes as he gazed at the young sword prodigy by his side. "People who seek to align themselves with me are doing so because they want to be part of the group that stays on Earth a little bit longer. I owe them nothing and if they die, there are always others out there waiting to fill their places. It matters little to me who bites the bullet these days. Mourir."

It was like a fucking cult here, Sanosuke realized suddenly. All that was missing was a sacrificial lamb and a giant pentagon hanging in the background. He turned around abruptly, running an agitated hand through his spiked hair. God, the people here had serious issues. "Is Soujiro the same? Is he equally unimportant in your eyes?" He expected the smile to drop from the boy's face or at least some semblance of anticipation to ripple through the boy's frame. He was sorely disappointed, the smile stayed in place and if anything, a look of near smugness melded gently with the assassin's features.

"He transcends Heaven." Shishio replied enigmatically before pointing to the door. "I believe you have exhausted your stay here. I expect you to reappear in three days with good news once again. Do not forget that the price for failure is your life."

"I haven't forgotten. Believe me."

"See to it that you don't."

And with that, the wheel was set into motion, tumbling down a ravine deep enough to drown a man. Soujiro watched as Sanosuke walked out of the door and back into the moonlit night with a dangerous twist to his lips. The young assassin supposed it was a shame to see an idiot like that be manipulated so easily. But the rules were the rules, and the weak were bound to die anyways. At least this one would die with a purpose—however meaningless it would prove to be. He shook his head in amusement before locking gazes with Shishio once more.

"He won't be coming back here in three days." The leader murmured softly, calmly, with a pleased expression playing about his face. "There's no way he could possibly get out of Shinomori's manor alive after your beautiful execution of one of his most precious guards." He sat back then, picking up the previously discarded pipe with bandaged hands. "You know, I always thought things were better after they were broken once before. Wouldn't you agree?"

"Of course."

Yes, it was a shame, Soujiro mused to himself as he took his leave, the wind playing lightly and tenderly with his stray strands of chestnut hair. He reflected on it as he sat in the bonsai garden, solitary save for the nightingale perched on a tree branch. It just didn't make sense how Zanza didn't see the truth or the futility of even trying to accomplish the impossible task set in front of him. But then again, he supposed, if the weak were smart, than they wouldn't be killed so easily.

Such a pity that Sanosuke never realized he was their sacrificial lamb.

(1) Death and beauty are two things profound,
(2) So of dark and azure, that one might say that
(3) They were two sisters terrible and fecund
(4) Possessing the one enigma, the one secret.

-The poem for the next three chapters will be Victor Hugo's Ave, dea; moriturus te salutat (Hail, Goddess; he who is about to die salutes you). It's quite the lovely poem and was dedicated to Judith Gautier, one of his most prized mistresses. Some say that it was the best love poem of his career. At any rate, enjoy!

-Opium generally takes the shape of white, triangular packets. Considering that opium was highly consumed in China during the period of time that this story takes place in (not to mention the Opium Wars were being fought as well between the British and the Chinese), it would make sense for Enishi to oversee the operations. In accordance to the actual storyline of Rurouni Kenshin, he has ties to China, having grown up there. I transferred that over to this story.

-Soujiro's past has been altered, as you will see, but I do draw upon his traumatic experience in the manga as a template. The words he says in French, translated, amount to: "I'm sorry, I forgot," followed by "You don't run, but you are afraid of us. Why? I don't understand." I am certain that I messed up on the placement of the 'nous' for the 'afraid of us' part, so any corrections would be greatly appreciated.

-Shishio's character is slightly more demented in a quiet way in Versailles. I figured it would be more eerie and menacing than if he were outright, cackling insane. He says Mourir, which means "to die" in French.

-Sanosuke is a lot more perceptive (but still obtuse in comparison to Saitou, Shishio, Soujiro, Misao, Aoshi, and Kenshin) in the story. He shows slightly more class in front of Shishio because he wants to make a better impression. Obviously, his normal casual slang simply won't work at all for the tyrant of a weapons dealer. Keep in mind that he's dealing with the top of the chain, the people who attend operas and fancy parties as they reap the benefits of their corruption. This isn't a street thing anymore; this is a much more serious and treacherous game he's playing.

-Merde, said by Misao, means "Shit".

Author's Notes: Wow that was about three times as long as normal. I hope you all enjoyed it, because goodness knows I spent several days writing it. I think there was quite some foreshadowing in this chapter and that the plot has very obviously developed. Thanks to everyone who reviewed last time, and I hope you guys continue to support this story. (I must confess though, that my ego took a sharp dip when I realized that I lost roughly half my readers with the last chapter.) So please, please motivate me and drop a comment!

Summary and Preview of the Next Chapter

There was hardly enough time to react in the cramped space. But it wasn't as if he could've reacted in the first place anyways. The dagger was pressing far too deeply into his neck for him to even bother contemplating the circumstances. The sharp and flaring pain that came when the blade sought to bite into his skin sent all his thoughts scattering.

"Who sent you?" The words were hissed out as the dagger stilled momentarily.

He almost laughed at the irony.

Summary: In which everything goes wrong for Sanosuke and he is forced to make a terrible choice. Meanwhile, Misao reflects on her close call and realizes something important is missing from the equation. And in the middle of everything, Saitou seizes the chance to make his first, deadly maneuver of the game.