Prologue : I see you in my dreams...
Moonlight glinted off the
tip of the upraised katana, the silvery light contrasting with the dark crimson
blood running down the blade, a bare instant before it slashed down in an
inhumanly swift arc. A scream echoed off the narrow alley, the last one to join
the other dying shrieks that chilled the air before. A new spurt of liquid
splashed off the already stained walls, streaming down to join the others
painting the walls scarlet.
Unreal, the silent observer thought, so much blood, running like rainwater. As
if Kyoto itself is bleeding from all the killings. But then, Kyoto had probably
seen enough over the years to wash it with blood several times over.
A slight lone figure
stood in the thick shadows of the narrow alley, as still as the broken bodies
sprawled and slumped around him. Ruby droplets slowly slid down the katana he
held pointing downwards. He lightly stepped across the crumpled forms of his
victims, careful to avoid the pooling wetness in which they lay.
A sudden scream once
again pierced the air, higher in pitch, full of despair and heart-crushing
grief. The samurai stopped in his path, his high ponytail snapping back as he
whipped his head up. A young woman stood near the far entrance of the alleyway,
bowed nearly double over one of the figures lying on the ground, her hands
covering her mouth and part of her face. "Anata,"
she screamed, "husband, no!
The observer started. *Anata.*
A delicately beautiful face floated in his mind's image, eyes young and old at the same time like
pools of darkness pulling at him, to drown in the depths of their sorrow...
The samurai in the
alleyway started walking again, outwardly impassive. Only the observer saw how
his fingers clenched and unclenched over the hilt of the katana, a barely
noticeable tremor running through them.
Just as he was about to
step out of the alley, the young woman looked up from her crouch near her dead
husband. Her face, ravaged by tears and grief twisted into a demon mask of
hatred. A small dagger appeared tightly clutched between her hands.
"Murderer," she screamed at the passing samurai, "give me back
my husband, you murderer!" She lunged wildly at him from her crouching
position, dagger angled up to stab his chest.
A sharp clang of steel
against steel rang sharply in the night air, followed a moment later by a loud
clatter as the dagger fell to the pavement a few yards away. The katana had
intercepted the dagger in a blur of motion, too fast for the woman to see
clearly. She knelt on the ground where the force of the blow had thrown her,
holding her bleeding fingers. All at once, the insane fury seemed to leave her
and she slumped to the ground like a broken doll, a wordless keen starting on
the back of her throat.
The samurai looked at her
for a moment more before carefully wiping his blade on a piece of cloth and
sheathing it. Turning around he started down the street soundlessly. Just
before he turned around a corner, the woman lifted her head up and shrieked at
him, "You will pay for this, murderer! Everyone you've killed, we will
haunt you for the rest of your miserable life, *Hitokiri Battousai*!!"
Finished, her hands once again wound themselves around a metal hilt, this time
the wakizashi of her dead husband.
For the observer, time seemed to suddenly slow down. *No!* His silent scream seemed to spur the
samurai to leapt into action, sprinting back the way he came, hand outstretched
towards the woman. Too late, he
realized with sickening certainty. I'm too late, as always.
The sound of steel
stabbing into flesh was too familiar to both the samurai and the observer, but
somehow this time it was different. Red bloomed around the cold steel imbedded
in her chest, staining the delicate blossoms of her kimono. The fall of her
body seemed too slow, echoing another fall from memory, another woman with
white blossoms on her kimono.
The samurai stood over
the woman's still body, breathing heavily as he had not when he had cut down
the men in the alley. His hand was still stretched in front of him, uselessly.
His chest hurt, another echo of memory from the past, of pristine snow stained
red with heart's blood. Slowly, he knelt down on one knee, gently turning over
the slender body twisted around the short sword. The woman's face turned up
towards him and the light of the moon fell squarely on her still white face.
Delicate face, beautiful
still in repose deeper than sleep, long thick lashes covering endless pools of
night, closed forever by his own hand. A thin rivulet of blood trickled down
her pale lips, lips as soft as silk. A face as familiar as his own, indelibly
imprinted in his memory as the scars on his cheeks.
The pain in his heart
wrenched it to pieces, each shard twisting more painfully than any sword cut.
He gasped for breath like a dying man, his hands slick with *her* blood. No
amount of water would ever wash this sin away. The samurai and the observer
both mouthed the name of the woman... Tomoe
He woke up with his hand
reaching for her, his dark eyes stark with tearless pain. He grasped only empty
air, as he had countless times before. Cold pain seemed to sear his left cheek,
drawing an instinctive reaction as he lowered his hand to touch it. His fingers
grazed the scarred flesh, and he froze. Slowly,the fingers curled into a
trembling fist, and he deliberately let his fist thumped to the thin mattress.
The young man with a name
that inspired fear into both enemies and allies, the legendary executioner of
Kyoto, spent the rest of the night gazing up the ceiling, listening to his
heart tearing his soul apart with a