Prologue : I see you in my dreams

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! 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 single name.