Tales of the Mitsurugi Dragon

Part One: Shadow of Shadows

By: Hitokiri Gentatsu

Summary: A look at the life of the young hitokiri. This story was one that was shelved while I was working on the second wandering years story. I do not own the characters and, having no money, you would not get any from me anyway.

Prologue: Kyoto, Spring 1864

" If there is a new world that can be created by my sword, a world where anyone can live peacefully and without fear… If my arm can create that world…I will serve as Heaven's Justice. I will kill."

Himura Kenshin

Tsuioku Hen

The sun was setting, washing the western sky in a myriad of pinks, purples and reds and the birds were just beginning to settle down for the night, calling to one another as if seeking comfort in the knowledge that another of their species was nearby during this time of turmoil. The crickets had begun to chirp their nightly song, some loud and some barely a whisper. The light wind stirred the trees and caused a few plum blossoms to fall from them in a shower of petals that had a ghostly quality to them in the failing light. The wind was heavy with their sweet scent and with the scent of wood smoke. Near the river, the water lapped quietly, almost imperceptively, against the shore and against the supports of the bridge on which a boy stood.

He was leaning against the railing, his head bowed and the fall of his hair hiding his features from the few people who were still out this close to nightfall. The boy looked down at the water, which was a sparkling sheet of red-gold in the light of the setting sun, almost mesmerized by its dancing glow. He stared down at his own wavering reflection in the water far below him, the setting sun making it appear as if his red hair was aflame. The wind whipped his high ponytail into his face and his long bangs tickled his pale cheeks. He brushed the hair away from his face with a trace of annoyance, his eyes still trained on the shimmering water below him, as if lost in the memory of another time and place.

--There were two things Kenshin loved most of all about his master's home on the mountain: the expanse of forest that was near the river that he fetched water from daily and the waterfall where he was training in the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu. Nothing in all of Japan, Kenshin felt, could ever compare with the sheer beauty and majesty of those two places. Nothing, that is, except for his mother's smiling face and the laughing eyes of his sister, neither of which he had not seen since his parents had died some years before of cholera and his sister vanished without a trace.

His Shishou, Hiko Seijuro, the thirteenth master of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu, was an exacting man who expected much from his young charge but Kenshin didn't mind because his father had been much the same. Hiko was also a man who demanded perfection in everything that was done, from the way a sword was swung in practice to the taste of his sake but Kenshin could find no fault with the normally overbearing man, at least not today. Today had been one of those all too rare occasions were Kenshin was given a break from his training so that he could spend an entire day doing as he chose. Hiko believed this would make him more self-sufficient and had, on several occasions, already left him to his own devices while he dealt with problems in the village.

Kenshin's skinny legs dangled from the branch of a tall maple and they were swinging in time with the music of the nearby falls. He had just finished eating some fish he had caught and was now lying contentedly across a wide, shelf-like branch, watching the sunset reflected in the water and listening to the music of the nearby waterfall. The sun's light glistened on the waters below him, staining the water crimson and gold.--

The boy on the bridge blinked his eyes at the memory and turned away from the river, a dull ache in his heart for the place he had left behind to come to this city of bloodshed and death. His right hand clinched into a fist, while his left strayed to the two swords he wore. His hand gripped the smooth wood of his katana's saya and he felt somewhat comforted by the presence of the sword his master had given him.

"Six months…" he whispered to no one. Had it really been that long since he last saw his master? Since he had last listened to the waterfall? Since he had used his real name, Himura Kenshin? Since he had been an innocent child?

Six months ago he had left Hiko's mountain to join other samurai who were going off to war, saying that he could no longer stand by while the innocent people of Japan suffered at the hands of the tyrannical Shogunate. His master had been angry and bitter but he had let Kenshin leave to follow his own heart. Within a week of his departure, his skill with a sword had gotten him recruited by Katsura Kogoro to serve as the Choshu clan's prime hitokiri, the one chosen to bring down Heaven's Justice on their enemies. He was also given the rank of samurai and had, within a month, earned the title Battousai, because it was apparent that, despite his young age, he knew far more about battoujutsu than anyone else they had ever seen. No one in the Choshu camp knew what sword technique the newest member of the clan used or even where he had come from, but they did know one thing for absolute certain: with him on their side they were assured of victory. It seemed as if the heavens themselves were sanctioning their actions against the Shogunate by bringing this mysterious and god gifted young swordsman to them in their time of greatest need.

The wind picked up slightly and it blew around him, tugging at his hair and dark clothing but he ignored it. He turned his head and watched the sun continue to dip ever lower in the western sky. A bell rang out the hour over the rapidly silencing city, as people scurried home in the dying light of the sun. Battousai sighed as he watched the sun sink below the mountains, his hand shading his face from its glow. As he lowered his arm, he heard a faint rustling sound and remembered why he was out in the first place.

"Six months… and still the streets run with blood and the slaughter continues." he thought again as he drew a black envelope from one his inner pockets of his sleeves with a frown.

For the past six months he had been receiving the missives of death and still, every time he saw one, his heart felt sick at the thought of another death by his hand. Whenever a black envelope came to him it meant certain death to whoever was named therein as the sword of the hitokiri claimed another life. The Hitokiri Battousai let no one escape once his superiors had marked them for death, he could not afford to or his life was forfeit. All he could do was to try and make sure the death he dealt was quick and painless because it was the only kindness he could offer his victims: that and an unvoiced prayer to the gods for the happiness of their souls. Yet, he knew that what he was being asked to do was nothing more then murder and that he was know better than a common murderer, even if it was in order to protect the lives of others and to build a peaceful world. Hiko's words about how evil men were still human beings who were just trying to live their lives to the best of their abilities were coming back to haunt him. Every night, he could hear his master's voice repeating those words but now was not the time for such thoughts, for they would only disrupt his concentration. He blocked the thought from his mind and felt a cold detachment come over him, knowing that it was the only way he could perform his duties as a hitokiri, duties he was rapidly discovering he had no liking for. His other persona, the cold and calculating Hitokiri Battousai, was the only way he could survive in this blood soaked hell of Kyoto. He was Kenshin's only defense in a world that had become a long, never ending nightmare that was too much for his gentler nature to deal with.

Hitokiri Battousai scanned the information on his latest targets, quickly committing the list of people and places to memory, before returning the envelope to its place. He felt the cold fire beginning to burn within him and his eyes narrowed, an amber glow coming to them as he gave himself up completely to his shadow self. Quickly, the hitokiri ran from the bridge and slipped into the shadows of the alleyway, feeling suddenly too exposed on the bridge and longing for the cover offered by the shadows. Kenshin was now a hunter in search of his prey but in the back of his mind, Hiko's words echoed faintly, remaining with the young man he had trained until the day came when he was ready to finally listen.