Hiya! I'm bringing you a new chapter!
Huff I miss the times where I could update so quickly T_T My job almost kills me, and starting next week I'm gonna back to college for my next degree. Arrrghhh~~~ Wish me luck!
Anyway, thank you for all the reviews! Kyaaa I'm soo happy that many of you who have read my other stories read this one as well! ^_^
kenshin8923, thanks for being the first reviewer! ^_^ Btw instead of Amagiri, I feel bad for Kodo...O_O
mtnikolle, so happy you like the start! And also thank you for reviewing my other stories!
Marialena, haha actually I forgot about Kaoru's existence XD Should I feature him in later chapters? :P
Kit2000, keep following this story and you'll know who the murderer is! ;D *feels like detective*
AnonymousGuest, your wish has been fulfilled! XD
Akaki, welcome back! Yeah in the west, especially Hakuouki fanfictions, Saito x Chizuru doesn't develop well T_T Kyaa but I also knew the fact that Saito is the most popular guy of otome games! It makes me soo happy XD
Reborn Angel From the Past, so many questions! I can't answer all of them lol~ but they will be answered one by one in this story XD And thanks for saying that I've improved! I can't judge myself so I need readers to tell me that XD The only improvement I've realized, hmm...maybe my English? O_O
Let's start reading, everbody! Enjoy and tell me your impressions, ne? *_*
CHAPTER 2: MEETING
The layers of snow had just melted, revealing the shy buds beneath the white blanket which were ready to grow their beautiful flowers and refreshing green grass. It was the beginning of spring already, yet the air was still as freezing as ever.
Inside her room—the place where she had spent her lonely life for the last six months, Chizuru fixed her pink kimono and white hakama pants. Then she strapped her family's kodachi—a short sword, on her waist. After making sure that everything was alright, she tied up her long chestnut locks into a ponytail.
Taking a small mirror from the nearest table, Chizuru was wondering whether her new appearance had resembled a boy or not. Well, she had her own reason for dressing like a boy. After all, she would live together with a group of men from this day onwards...
...At least, that was what Kodo suggested her to—even though Chizuru refused such crazy idea at first. As if losing both her parents at once was not enough, now her 'new father' wanted her to stay under the same roof with a bunch of male strangers? Heck, it was not easy to move on from great sorrow even after half a year. And now a new problem started to show itself.
However, Chizuru knew that she had no other choice. Kodo had told her everything, about her existence as a rare—or even the last pureblood female oni was not a mere casual thing. Although Chizuru didn't fully understand, she knew that the demon leader named Kazama Chikage was longing to make her as his bride. All for the sake of oni clan's future, to get a new stronger heir.
The girl herself had never met this Kazama guy before. But judging by Kodo's story, he was definitely not a good man. And the doctor didn't want Chizuru to fall to Kazama's hands...Oh well, but now Chizuru was confused as she wasn't sure of what to believe. In the middle of a war, each side would think that the opposite one was a villain. There was no really difference between right and wrong.
Truth to be told, Kodo himself didn't look like a very good person. He was a traitor after all. But Chizuru understood she had to choose between Satcho or Aizu. Being neutral was already out of questions, now she knew that she was not an ordinary girl—if not the 'chosen one.'
Trying to stay positive, Chizuru followed her late parents' wish to not join the Satcho. The family had never discussed such serious matter as they wanted to keep Chizuru away from the 'war' thing as far as possible. Yet if her parents had refused Satcho's invitations so many times, there must be a good reason behind it...Or was it just because Aizu never did the same, so Chizuru barely knew about the other clan's reputation?
Chizuru sighed heavily while sliding the door open. She couldn't stay forever in this confusing maze. For the past months, Kodo had taken care of her, and Aizu had given a protection to keep her safe. Her existence was a secret, and it was easier for Aizu to kill her directly if they didn't want Kazama to marry her and strengthen Satcho with the new demon ruler. However, Aizu didn't do that and protected her instead. That way, Chizuru felt that she had to be grateful and get rid of the possibility that someone from Aizu was her family's murderer.
Speaking of which, it looked like Aizu had investigated the case—or so Kodo told her, but they didn't find any clue about the culprit and the mysterious reason behind the assassination. Well, of course they wouldn't if the killer was really someone from Ai—Alright, no more negative thoughts about Aizu Clan. Maybe her father and mother were really killed by just a group of thieves?
Chizuru was not raised as a girl who always placed suspicion on others, and she didn't want to grow up as one. As her steps took her outside the house, she sent a smile to Kodo, who had been waiting for her.
Both of them were fugitives. Satcho wanted their lives. Obviously they were willing to take Chizuru alive, but for Kodo...Chizuru thought that maybe Satcho Clan would pierce him into pieces upon finding the traitor. And the girl...just didn't wish her 'father', who had taken care of her wounded-self and become the only person she could talk to, being assassinated so mercilessly.
Thanks to Aizu soldiers. As the father-daughter walked together outside their residence's gate, Chizuru bowed deeply to them, thanking the brave warriors for protecting her life. She understood that herself and Kodo were guarded all day and night to guarantee that Satcho couldn't even touch the tip of their hair.
Chizuru was snapped back from her trance. She tilted her head to the side where Kodo was smiling at her. Some moments later, they had arrived at Kyoto's main street. Somehow, Chizuru missed the social life after being isolated for so long. Although she lived in a lonely place as well with her family, the young maiden always enjoyed her trip to the town where she could feel a lively atmosphere, see lots of laughing kids, chattering young women, and so on.
"I'm sorry for dragging you into this matter..." Kodo looked at her with guilty expression on his face, "Since the Lord of Aizu himself was the one who suggested it, I couldn't bring myself to object...But to be honest, I myself think that this decision is the best and only method for protecting your life."
"You don't need to apologize, Father." The young girl gave Kodo a calm and gentle smile, telling him that everything was going to be alright. "It was hard to accept at first, but now I know that my life is not only mine anymore...I must learn to accept the reality."
Somewhere in her deepest heart, Chizuru wished to become a normal girl, who lived with her family and didn't have to take a part in the war. Still, those things seemed impossible and so far away to reach upon recognizing her condition now. But she understood that her parents wouldn't be happy if she was just regretting her pitiful destiny over and over again. Moving on was the only thing she could do, though there was still a big scar on her heart.
"Don't worry. Saito is a good and responsible man. I'm sure he could bring you happiness." Kodo glanced at the light blue sky, not noticing his daughter's nervous reaction upon hearing his sudden statement.
Here it was...the actual reason of their journey today. Chizuru was going to leave their residence and move to a new place. The only same thing was, she would still be under Aizu's protection—maybe pretty different, because this time, the one who would protect her was Aizu's elite force. Shinsengumi was not just a bunch of ordinary warriors.
This fact somehow burdened the young girl. Was her existence so dangerous that Aizu needed to use their best soldiers? Yet she attempted to accept all of these wholeheartedly. She didn't want to bother people again. All that she could do was being a good wife for one of the Shinsengumi captains.
If she remembered it correctly...his name was Saito Hajime?
Yes, it was the crazy idea Lord of Aizu, Matsudaira Katamori suggested. Fortunately—or unfortunately, Kodo and the Commander of Shinsengumi himself agreed almost immediately when receiving that command. In order to prevent the birth of new strong oni, all they could think of was to get an arranged marriage for the Yukimura heiress and one of their high-ranking samurai.
Their marriage wouldn't produce a great heir or anything indeed. Still, it was enough to make the demon lord lose interest to Chizuru. At least, he was not going to force her to be his bride again. Chizuru understood if this thing was like hitting a bird with two stones, where she didn't have to give more power to Satcho—the clan her parents didn't like, and also a great advantage to Aizu itself.
A sigh escaped her throat as she saw a huge manor from a far, with some people in light-blue haori walking in front of it...Well, arranged marriage was not a new or weird thing in this era. In reality, many of the marriages had happened due to agreement from both family sides with so many kind of purposes. Yet it was too sudden for Chizuru. In addition, she had not fully moved on from her sadness.
Lost in thoughts, the anxious maiden was trying to chase any negative thoughts away. She was going to live here after all, and Shinsengumi's protection was necessary...Oh no, but her steps became heavier as she entered the mansion and felt the gate guardians glaring at her.
I wonder how the captains would look like...As elite warriors, they must have grumpy faces, scary behavior, wounded bodies and such. I hope everything will be alright...
"Wow! So you're Chizuru-chan!"
"You're a pureblood oni?! It's hard to believe! You look like a cute normal girl for me!"
"It seems we're about the same age! Call me Heisuke, okay?"
"Nice to meet you, Chizuru-chan!"
Chizuru's brown eyes blinked rapidly, couldn't believe what her eyes saw and her ears heard. They were all the captains of Shinsengumi? So unbelievable and way too different from her imagination. Even their subordinates who escorted her to this room were much scarier.
"Hey, you guys made her feel uneasy. Stop acting way too friendly, introduce yourself properly first." A man in black haori gave the rest of men a scowl. He seemed like the leader among them.
In no time, the captains had introduced themselves to Chizuru. Their easy-going attitude slowly made Chizuru feel a bit comfortable. At least, all of these things weren't as bad as she thought before. One by one, she tried to remember all of her new friends' name: Okita Souji, Nagakura Shinpachi, Harada Sanosuke, Toudou Heisuke, and then the Vice-Commander, Hijikata Toshizo, and also the Commander, Kondou Isami...She barely noticed the glommy man with glasses in the corner of the room just if Heisuke didn't call him to greet her. But it looked like the man named Sannan Keisuke was not really interested with her...or was it just his personality? He seemed unhappy, and Chizuru could just gulp when she realized that Sannan's right hand was wrapped in bandage. He was clearly injured and it was the source of his bad mood. Chizuru knew how precious a hand was for the samurai.
After that, an old kind man came in. It was revealed that he was also one of the captains named Inoue Genzaburo. With a fatherlike-smile, he prepared teas for the guests and the other captains. Chizuru couldn't help but choose to give a hand for this too-humble Shinsengumi official.
Seemed like all the captains had gathered...the only ones who knew she was actually an oni. Aside from them, just the investigators of Shinsengumi—who were still on mission, called Yamazaki and Shimada who knew the truth as well. The lower soldiers didn't need to know about that...It was the same with their innocence about the secret project of Aizu called 'Ochimizu.'
Speaking of the Ochimizu thing, Chizuru had known about this shocking truth. And she also knew that Kodo would also bring up this topic today with the Shinsengumi executives...Yet before the people jumped into this matter, was it true that all captains had gathered in this meeting room?
"Where is Saito?"
Shinpachi yawned and leaned against the wall. He murmured something like 'Saito made a perfect decision. Just if I knew that Chizuru-chan was this cute, I would have offered myself to be her husband,' and received a death glare from Hijikata afterwards.
Chizuru let out a quiet giggle. Perhaps the captain was the same like her, thinking the fact that she was a pureblood oni was a scary one. Maybe they imagined her as an ugly witch and such...
...But wait, judging by Shinpachi's words. It seemed that this Saito guy offered himself by his own will to be her husband, while she had always thought that Lord Katamori had pointed a random warrior to marry her. Chizuru couldn't help but think that Saito Hajime was a brave man, taking a risk to marry a demon without even knowing about her personality and appearance first.
Probably Saito-san is the kind of guy who always put a mission first? A loyal and dedicated warrior...
As though her silent question was answered, Okita spoke lazily, "Hajime-kun is as cold as ever. I bet that he forgot about today's meeting and went to patrol like always."
...Is that so?
Attempting to discard her disappointment, Chizuru managed to settle a bitter smile. She understood that it was only an arranged marriage, where Saito probably felt forced and burdened to marry her, although it was the same with her...But hey, what kind of a husband-wannabe who didn't care about the formal meeting with a woman he was going to marry tomorrow?
Oh yes. By the way, tomorrow will be her wedding day. And now, she started to doubt Saito's seriousness. Because Okita said such statement as if it was not a new thing for Saito to ignore other problems when his missions had not been fulfilled yet.
A cough from Hijikata brought Chizuru back to the earth. It was obvious he was trying to get rid of the awkward silence that followed afterwards.
The Vice Commander turned his eyes to Kodo, "Yukimura-dono, do you bring it?"
Chizuru gulped as she saw Kodo bringing out a vial bottle from his pocket. The red-blood liquid inside the glass immediately turned the once fun atmosphere into a serious one. Chizuru knew what it was; Ochimizu, the secret potion ordered by the Shogun himself to create, in order to form a more powerful force.
However, Chizuru realized that the potion was not fully completed yet. It turned people into bloodthirsty creatures, though their power would be multiplied by ten or so she heard. In other words, it created fake demons or rasetsu.
To be honest, Chizuru didn't like this idea. She knew that Shinsengumi was burdened with a task to hold this project, while Kodo was the creator of Ochimizu. She also heard that Shinsengumi Headquarters—the place where she would live from now on, had a special room where they used living people as guinea pigs. Usually, they were traitors or rogue samurai...But still, they were humans, right?
"I've added some new substance, so I think the possibility that rasetsu will lose their mind after taking Ochimizu could be reduced," said Kodo quietly as he stared at the transparent glass bottle on the floor.
For a second, Chizuru swore she saw a glint of enthusiasm in Sannan's eyes. The injured man got up and walked closer to take the Ochimizu, "Is that true, Yukimura-dono? If so, then it would be great to have stronger warriors who don't lose their sanity after drinking this..."
Chizuru's body shivered upon hearing Sannan's excited tone. Was he really excited or was it just Chizuru's feeling? Quietly, Sannan stepped out of the room as a grin graced his features. Even Chizuru could guess that he was the one in charge of Ochimizu experiment in this manor.
"Sannan-san." Suddenly, Hijikata let out a voice and it made Sannan stop. Looking at Sannan's back seriously, Hijikata continued his words, "You don't plan to take the potion by yourself, do you?"
Sannan chuckled lightly and turned his eyes a bit to Hijikata, "...What are you saying? I'm not that stupid." But then he looked down at his limp arm, "Still...if that's true that the medicine has been improved, then..."
Without any other words, Sannan exited the room and slid the door shut, leaving the stern atmosphere become even more tormenting. After some seconds, Inoue made an attempt to calm the confused and scared girl down.
The old man smiled at Chizuru, "Don't worry. He was originally a good guy...It's just..."
"...he became crazy after his right arm was wounded and couldn't be used anymore." Shinpachi continued Inoue's speech, in his own—or all people's opinion, since they seemed agreed with Shinpachi.
"Well, Chizuru-chan," Okita smirked teasingly as he slid closer to the young girl, "Just don't follow him to the warehouse in the back, okay? It's not a good place for a woman."
A weary nod was given as a retort. Okita didn't need to tell her that. Chizuru had never planned to see the place where living people were treated like experimental animals. She felt the urge to throw up upon imagining what it would look like.
"Um, well..." Harada spoke quietly as he noticed Chizuru's uneasy expression. "Let's wait for Saito, okay?"
That was right. Back to topic, Chizuru told herself. How about forgetting about all the weird things happened? Tomorrow was her wedding day, after all...
As soon as it appeared, the owner of that sudden voice slid the door open in haste. He gave a deep polite bow to Kondo and Hijikata from the doorway, didn't even care about the other captains' or Chizuru's and her father's existence.
Hijikata narrowed his amethyst eyes, "What is it, Saito? You seem to be in a rush."
"Hajime-kun! We've been waiting for you!" Heisuke exclaimed happily, and quickly Chizuru realized that he was the Saito guy she was going to marry tomorrow. Thank goodness that he finally came. Maybe he just noticed the time and felt guilty and—
"We've captured several men from Satcho. It seems they are pretty important persons in the clan. I believe they hold some secret information, and of course my division would do our best to force them to speak."
Trembling, Chizuru couldn't say nor think of anything. Her thoughts before were fading away. Not only the purple-haired young male didn't give a crap about her presence, but also he wanted to do another thing while he should have greeted his bride-wannabe.
Well, it was his job as one of Shinsengumi officials. But, still...
Settling a weak smile, Chizuru bowed to Saito, who finally noticed her. Right, he would be the man of her life, her protector, and it was just normal for her to introduce herself first.
"Nice to meet you, Saito-san...My name is Yukimura Chizuru, please be good to me for lif—"
"Captain Saito! One of the prisoners ran away!"
Not even bothered to hear Chizuru's self-introduction, Saito quickly unsheathed his katana and rushed towards his subordinate's voice, leaving the maiden to freeze in place...
...Yet the fact that Saito was a cold man was not the only one that made her rooted onto the floor. She saw it, the unique characteristic when Saito took out his sword. The unforgettable trait she never told anyone, including Kodo.
Cold sweat drenched her clothes as she remembered the shadow figure she saw on the night her parents were slaughtered. Barely listened to Kondou's 'Sorry for his behavior' or Heisuke's 'Don't worry! Hajime-kun is just too busy at the moment!', Chizuru heard her own voice, in the form of shaking whisper.
"...Is Saito-san...always fighting with his left hand?"
Nothingness prevailed, then Hijikata answered, "Yes. He's a very skilled left-handed warrior...As you know, people discriminate left-handed samurai. Maybe that's the reason of his earlier behavior. He's very loyal to us because Shinsengumi is the only place where he could find his real self, where nobody laughs at him for fighting with his left hand. Also—Chizuru?"
Abruptly, her body became limp and refused to move. As the traumatic event kept on replaying in her brain, Chizuru felt Kodo catch her weak body. No, such a bad coincidence wouldn't happen...
"Chizuru-chan?! What happened?" The rest looked at her with concern. Probably they thought Saito had hurt her feelings so much that she almost collapsed. What a silly deduction...It was far more serious than that.
Left-handed samurai was rare, or even didn't exist at all. Hence upon finding one, plus the fact that he was gonna be her husband, Chizuru felt her head spinning and torturing her...Speaking of torture...Was that insensitive guy torturing the prisoners to get the information right now? On the very day before his marriage?
Finally, Chizuru managed to calm down and tell the men that she was just exhausted. Excusing herself, Kodo and some captains escorted her to the guest room. On her way, Chizuru took a glimpse at the back of mansion. Although she couldn't see the warehouse from her current location, she was sure that Saito was there, forcing the prisoners to speak before the mad Sannan turned them into rasetsu.
Things couldn't get worse, right? As she entered the room to get a good rest, she kept on telling herself that it was just a coincidence...Saito was not her parents' murderer. But her other self did place a suspicion on him...She didn't know what to trust, and prefer to cry in silence before falling asleep.
When finally she got better and went to have dinner together, Saito was still not there. Although the captains attempted to make a fun conversation during the meal, it couldn't erase great sorrow, confusion, worry, and many unexplained feelings in her heart.
Walking back to her room, Chizuru stared at the white wedding kimono Kodo had prepared for her. Yes, tomorrow she was going to wear that and give herself to a somewhat-heartless man named Saito Hajime...
...Was it really a perfect choice? She didn't know which one was better between marrying Saito and Kazama.
A lot of questions were dancing in her head, as if they wanted to make her lose her mind. Could she really trust the Shinsengumi? Or especially, the left-handed captain of third division?
Whatever. She was already here and didn't have choice of turning back. What she didn't expect was, the fact that Saito was left-handed and he was the only Shinsengumi captain who didn't greet her properly—beside Sannan, perhaps.
As Chizuru laid her tired body down to sleep, she kept praying that Saito wasn't really the culprit. She couldn't ignore Aizu after all the good things and protection they provided her. The girl also wished that at least, Saito could be a good husband, because divorce was already out of questions. It was really a disgrace and she didn't need an additional bad luck in her life...
...Wait, why the hell she was already thinking of divorce when the marriage itself had not started yet? Trying to keep calm, Chizuru could just hope the best for tomorrow.
Sleeping soundly and hopefully, she didn't realize that there was a figure passing by her room, illuminated by the moonlight. Signs of exhaustion were clearly seen on his blood-stained face after overworking all day.
Saito halted right away upon realizing that the Satcho men's blood was dripping on his way. Sighing, he took off his bloody haori and cleaned the crimson liquid from the wooden floor in front of Chizuru's room. That innocent-looking girl didn't need to see this.
...Why do I feel that this story is gonna be darker than my previous one, the modern-fairytale one (or so it seems)? D8
Kyaaa anyway, I love all my stories *narcissistic mode:on* , so I hope you like it as much as I do ^_^ Your REVIEW will keep me going and make my day!
Thanks for reading!