To See You Again
A Rurouni Kenshin fanfiction by Heather Logan
(Disclaimer: This was written for fun, not profit. Rurouni Kenshin belongs to Nobuhiro Watsuki.)
One hundred and fifty years ago in Kyoto, with the coming of the Black Ships, there arose a warrior called Hitokiri Battousai. Felling men with his blood-stained blade, he closed the turbulent Bakumatsu era, and slashed open the age known as Meiji.
Then he vanished, and with the flow of years passed into legend -- and then into obscurity. Seeking no recognition for what he had done, he disappeared from the pages of history, and as time moved on he was forgotten.
The years passed. The age of Meiji came to an end, flowing into the Taisho era, and then into Showa. Wars came and passed, and through the years the country modernized, taking its place among the nations of the world.
In the sixteenth year of Heisei, in the middle of Tokyo, this tale begins....
1. Prologue: ordinary world
It was the quintessential symbol of the city, and by extension of Japan itself. Three hundred and thirty-three meters of latticed steel, triumph of the television age, red and white and recognized around the world. Maekawa Yuriko reached the crest of the hill and gazed upward, her right hand cupped beside her face to shield her eyes from the glare of the westering sun.
She must have seen it dozens of times in the four years since she'd moved to the city. From a distance it was spectacular: shining by night above the brilliant lights of Roppongi, dimmer by day but still arresting in its hugeness, its height amplified by the hill on which it stood. But as often as she'd seen it with her own two eyes, cold and solid and engineered, what had always stood out in Yuriko's memory were the stories. The myths.
Tokyo Tower: target of monsters, meeting-point of worlds, lightning-rod of the supernatural. She'd seen it demolished time and again by giant mutant lizards. She'd seen it slashed in two, its mangled spire sliding downwards into a landscape of destruction, a symbol of the ending of the world. She'd seen it at the eye of a dimensional storm, bolts of light shooting down from the turbulent sky as aliens and gods battled above.
Those were the pictures she'd had in her head the first time she'd laid eyes on the tower, on a middle-school trip from her old home in Kamakura. She'd held tight to the strap of her schoolbag then, breathlessly scanning the skies for signs of imminent disaster. But up close, the tower had been disappointingly ordinary. Tall, yes, soaring a third of a kilometer into the sky, but somehow less impressive than when seen from a distance. Up close, Tokyo Tower was just a radio mast, standing quietly on its hilltop between the road and a small tree-filled park.
There'd been no giant lizards, no alien spacecraft, no swirling of the clouds above the tower's apex. Those things just didn't happen in real life. In spite its repeated destruction in the popular mythology, nothing untoward had ever happened to Tokyo Tower.
Nothing, that is, until today.
Yuriko hadn't heard about it immediately. Of course she hadn't; she didn't have time to waste checking the news sites, not at this time of year with midterm exams coming up and the first wave of student course drops and section changes starting to pour into the office. She probably wouldn't have heard about it until tomorrow morning's newspaper headlines, if at all, but Rika had caught the radio news bulletin downstairs in the registrar's office where she'd been filling in at reception, and she'd told Hitomi about it during their afternoon coffee break, and by the time the two other women had come to meet Yuriko for the walk to the station after work they could talk of nothing else.
"It was lightning," Rika was saying as the three women skipped down the side steps of the administration building and turned up the street toward the canal. The sidewalks were full already with office ladies in knee-length skirts and salarymen clutching briefcases, their ties half-loosened in the heat.
"Lightning?" Hitomi shot her friend a skeptical glance from behind her wire-framed lenses. She had taken off her pastel suit jacket and was fanning herself vigorously with a folding paper fan.
"Yeah, lightning," Rika replied, eyebrows arched enthusiastically. "They had one of the witnesses on the radio. He said it was lightning for sure. Like, when it's really close and you hear the crack at the same time that you see the flash?"
"Out of this sky?" Hitomi gestured upward with her fan, raising her eyes pointedly towards the hazy blueness up beyond the back of the student union. "That doesn't seem very likely." She looked back over at Rika. "And if lightning did that much damage, then how come Tokyo Tower doesn't get hit every time a thunderstorm comes through?"
"There's a lightning rod on top," Yuriko commented quietly, hitching her shoulder-bag higher up on her shoulder and flipping a limp strand of auburn hair back behind her ear. She knew these things. She'd read the brochure, back in middle school. "It's grounded," she added. "You know. Discharges the air, protects the structure." She wiggled her fingers vaguely to demonstrate the air-discharging action of pointed metal.
"Oh. Yeah. I guess that makes sense." Rika frowned, then turned back to Hitomi. "But what else could it have been?"
"A bomb," Hitomi said grimly, setting her square jaw.
It was Rika's turn to purse her lips skeptically, as she paused on the curb to glance briefly right and left before continuing across the street and onto the gently-arched bridge that spanned the canal. Yuriko trailed after her friends, frowning.
"The windows were all blown out, right?" Hitomi continued, a little defensively, raising her voice above the whoosh of the passing traffic. "We're lucky no one was killed. All those tourists there, and a whole class of schoolkids.... My god, it could've been so much worse. It could've been like Madrid. We've got elections coming up too, you know. We should be taking this as a warning."
"Oh, god," Rika moaned, rolling her eyes. "Don't get started about Iraq again."
"Well, why are we there?" Hitomi snapped back. "What business do we have being there at all? The constitution--"
Yuriko sighed silently. This argument had been raging in the office for months, ever since Japanese forces had joined the occupation back in January, and she had tried to keep out of it so far. She had mixed feelings about the the whole thing: of course it was good that the old dictatorship had been toppled -- no one deserved to live under oppression like that -- but now, a year later, that distant country was dangerously close to sliding into civil war. If that happened, it would be the people who suffered. In the end, it was always the people who suffered.
This time, though, she wanted information, and she wasn't getting it. She quickened her pace to catch up with the other two women and slipped between them.
"Hitomi, Rika," she cut in. "Come on; I haven't even seen the news yet. What do they know actually happened? Was it an explosion, or what? Was anybody hurt?" Were there any monster sightings, she didn't say.
Hitomi sighed, pushing a hand through her short bobbed hair. "Yeah," she said, "they think it was some kind of explosion."
"--Or lightning," Rika added, holding up a finger.
Hitomi rolled her eyes. "Fine, 'or lightning.'" She turned back toward Yuriko. "They lost all the windows on one side, but I don't think the structure itself was damaged. A few people got hurt, some of them pretty badly. Nobody was killed, but I heard they took fifteen to the hospital, some of them still unidentified. No chemical burns or anything like that, though; they don't think there was poison gas."
"For god's sake, Hitomi, it wasn't terrorists!" Rika raised her arms as if imploring the heavens. "It was lightning or a gas leak. If you assume everything is terrorists, the terrorists don't even have to do anything! They just sit back and win by default!"
"You don't know that--"
Yuriko let herself fall a couple of steps behind the other two as the old argument flared up again. They had reached the subway station, stepping down the worn concrete stairs and into the fluorescent-lit subterranean coolness. She touched her pass to the RF reader and the gate chunked open.
Tokyo Tower, she thought as she followed her friends through the bustling station concourse. A gas explosion... or something else? A bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky? People injured, some of them still unidentified. A tingle ran down Yuriko's spine, and she knew then that she had to see it for herself.
Rika and Hitomi were heading for the up-line platform, toward Ikebukuro. Normally she'd walk there with them and onward, past the Marunouchi line and on through the tunnel and up the steps to the smaller platform for the Chiyoda line. But not today.
"Hey, Rika, Hitomi," Yuriko called after them. "I've got to run some errands tonight." She pointed over her shoulder down the connecting hallway to the down-line platform opposite. "See you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay, see you, Yuriko," Rika called back. Hitomi turned as well to smile over her shoulder and wave, and then they were both gone, swept around the corner and down the wide corridor toward the platform with the rest of the crowd, the sounds of their continuing argument quickly lost under the muted babble of the Monday evening commuters.
The tap-tap of Yuriko's footsteps quickened just a little as she walked away. Her palms were sweating slightly, dampening the maroon cotton strap of her shoulder-bag where she clutched it. Excitement? Perhaps. Or maybe it was just the heat of a muggy day in the middle of May.
Now that she was here, though, there was really not that much to see. The base of the tower had been cordoned off with yellow plastic tape and a few public-works signboards scattered about. 'Caution -- construction,' the signboards read, and 'Apologies for the inconvenience.'
The windows had indeed been blown out all along the east side of the tower, the side facing the park; Yuriko could see them now as she continued warily along the road. They'd been boarded up with plywood already, all three floors of the nondescript concrete building that formed the center of the tower's base.
There'd been an aquarium in there when she'd come here as a teenager -- a small boring aquarium and a tacky wax museum. And a shop selling postcards and cast-aluminum replicas of the tower.
Yuriko stopped and squinted upwards, past the setting sun, blocking the glare with her palm. The windows up on the main observatory level seemed to be untouched. Too far from whatever had done this damage, apparently.
She frowned, considering, surveying the wider scene. One of the benches near the tower entrance was festooned with yellow tape; from where she was standing she could just make out the pale flash of splintered wood from fresh breaks in a few of its green-painted slats. Most of the freestanding green-and-white fabric awning that had covered the approach to the entrance had been taken down too, its support poles gathered up and leaned neatly against the wall beside the ticket window. But other than that...
A couple of cars hummed by on the road behind her, the second one slowing to rubberneck at the damage. No different than what she was doing, really. And no reason they shouldn't, now that the road was open again -- climbing the hill, she'd seen the orange wooden traffic barricades stacked up against the outer wall of a small temple on the other side of the street. There was no reason now to keep people away from this place. Even the yellow plastic tape only said 'Caution,' not 'Police line -- do not cross.'
Yuriko scanned the concrete again, beneath the tower's splayed legs. No matter how she looked at it, there was nothing here to be seen. No glassy crater, no whorls of psychedelic color, no sorcerer's chalked mandala. Even the broken glass had been carefully swept up. Tokyo Tower was still no more than a radio mast and a tourist trap, like it always had been.
She sighed and let her arm flop to her side. The truth was, she'd been excited coming here, her pulse running fast from more than just the trek up the hill. She'd had that anticipatory feeling that this was it, this was finally it: the first crack in her mundane reality, her first chance to step through into... into something else. Into something beyond.
No. It was disgraceful being excited about this; there were people in the hospital, for heaven's sake. And what had she expected, anyway? Aliens? Godzilla? Her fairytale prince astride a horse, here on the concrete beneath Tokyo's tallest radio mast? It was childish, plain and simple. This was the real world. Magic didn't happen in the real world.
Enough of this, she thought. She'd be thirty-two in a month. It was time to stop believing in magic.
Maekawa Yuriko shook her head and started back down the road, toward the setting sun and Kamiya-chou station.
Author's notes: Heisei 16 is the year 2004. For names I use the Japanese convention of family name first, given name second.