Standard Disclaimers Apply.
I couldn’t believe he caught me off-guard when I was supposed to be the one who was going to surprise him! Kuso! I shouldn’t have tried to seize him on my own. Now he is going to hurt everyone in the Aoiya. I should have warned the others first. Kuso!
Biting my lip, I decided to stay firm and keep my pride. If this cold-blooded assassin was going to kill me, I was not going down without a fight.
He doesn’t deserve the pleasure of killing the Okashira of the Onniwabanshu so effortlessly. Wait a minute! Whoever said that he was going to kill me? Me? Be killed by a boy like him?
Over my dead body.
“Let go of me, you bastard!!!” I yelled, venom pouring out of my mouth as I penetrated his eyes with my infamous glare. I struggled under his touch, thrashing my shoulders to loosen his grip. I wouldn’t let him… must get away—
Just then, his eyes widened and he jumped back meters away from me. “I… I’m sorry, miss. I… I didn’t know.”
Didn’t know? Couldn’t he think of a better alibi? What kind of an idiot did he take me for? I gritted my teeth in anger, muttering, “Bastard Juppongatana.”
I was about to throw the kunais I had prepared between my fingers when I realized that they were gone. Kuso!
I knew I shouldn’t have underestimated Tenken no Soujiro.
“What are you doing here? What do you want!?” I demanded spitefully. “Revenge. It’s revenge, isn’t it?”
“No… no…” he began protesting, shaking his hands in front of him, staring at me with confused eyes.
“If that is not it then what? You’re planning to continue where Shishio left-off,” I stated more like a fact than a question.
“You got me all wrong…”
Then, my heart stopped beating as my breathing became shallow. It hit me.
He was going to get Aoshi-sama for turning on Shishio during his final battle with Himura.
“I am not going to let you harm Aoshi-sama, Tenken!” With that said, I prepared myself for my deadliest move taught to me by the man I loved and swore to protect this very evening. “Kecho geri!!!!”
He dodged my move effortlessly, his face still painted with confusion, causing my blood to boil to extremes. Then, he smiled. How dare he smile at me like that at a time like this?
How dare he mock me.
I would fight him with everything I have to show him not to undermine my threats… my womanhood and most importantly, me. Che! I had enough of that already. When I am through with him… Tenken no Soujiro would never ever forget the name…
I stared at the woman in front of me with much amusement. Although I never really did find any entertainment in dealing with my challengers, she was different. Her vibrant energy and pure kenki amused me. The anger that was radiating towards me held no malice nor personal contempt. It was that of untainted will to protect.
Just like Himura-san.
Was she the one who held the answers I was seeking? Was all this a part of a magnificent and elegant plan to enlighten me?
Here I am again with my wishful thinking. First things first.
“Miss, I am sorry. You have misunder—”
“Oh I understand pretty well, Tenken,” she narrowed her eyes, preparing herself for a battle stance. “…and by the way, the name is Misao. Makimachi Misao.”
“Makimachi Misao,” I unconsciously repeated. So that was the name of the girl who ran inside the room during my first fight with Himura.
She tried to hit me, punch me and kick me again and again, all of which I dodged. As I was observing her, I realized that she wasn’t some girl, or woman for that matter. She was a skilled fighter… with the most beautiful emerald eyes I had ever seen.
Where did that came from?
“Leave this place, Tenken, if you know what is good for you,” she threatened, pursing her lips into a smirk as she folded her arms to her chest.
Her spirit was amazing. She hadn’t even hit me but her confidence stood unwavering. Trying to resolve the matter at hand, I kneeled on the floor and bowed before her. “Sumimasen, Makimachi-sama. I was taken in by a kind old man when I was sick. I just came out of the room to drink some water. I don’t have any plans to harm you nor your family.”
“You can’t fool me with your smiles and innocent acts. I know what you are up to. Now stand up and fight me.”
I kept still. I wasn’t going to fight her. Although the reason for the old man’s uncalled for hospitality was still a mystery to me. I was sure that she had nothing to do with it. I might as well resign myself to her even if it meant taking the risk of offering myself to a former adversary.
Taking cautious steps to the side, I picked up the set of kunais I had dropped earlier. “Stand up and fight me!!” I growled more fiercely, this time.
He just stayed there in his reverent position and humbly said, “I am not here to fight. I would never hurt the ones who took me in.”
What kind of mind game was he trying to play? Did he deem me foolish enough to believe that nonsense he kept on babbling? Did he actually expect me to believe that a member of the Onniwabanshu took him in? Impossible.
Trying to test how long he would keep his act, I threw a kunai at him. He didn’t move an inch. He just slightly squirmed in his position when the blade made contact with his shoulder blade.
Just then, I gasped, eyes widening when my action sank in. Blood was dripping from his shoulders, spilling crimson fluid on the floor.
What have I done?
Wait… why was I feeling sorry for an assassin.
“Stand up and fight me,” I repeated, my voice faintly trembling. It was the first time I hit a seemingly unarmed man, who were bowing in front of me, offering no kind of threat whatsoever.
Except the fact that he was an assassin who just happened to saunter inside our hallways.
Why was I softening up all of a sudden? He was here to kill Aoshi-sama and I was standing here pitying him. Feeling my earlier resolve return, I sneered, “Tenken no Soujiro, if you’d rather play games with me than fight me, that is your choice. But I have wasted enough time with you. I won’t let you hurt me family.” With that, I mercilessly threw my remaining kunais at him.
“Misao that is enough!!!!” Jiya yelled, his voice reprimanding, his face austere as he rushed towards us.
“Jiya? It was you? He was telling the truth?” I asked, feeling my head spinning.
“What have you done!?” he demanded.
Just then, Kamatari’s words came back to me. Tenken no Soujiro resigned his life as an assassin to become a rurouni.
To be just like Himura.
As I glanced down at Tenken’s bloody state, my brain couldn’t process any more coherent thoughts. Blood was flowing out from his tattered gi to the wooden floor but he remained in his position. It was only when Jiya called him again that he lifted his eyes to meet his. “I am sorry if I caused any trouble. I just wanted some water.”
“Water… water… that’s right.” I mumbled to no one in particular as I rushed towards the kitchen to get him some water.
What have I done.
“Seta-kun, are you alright?” the old man kneeled in front of me after Misao left.
“Yes, Ojii-sama, I am alright,” I smiled, jerking out the kunais embedded in my flesh.
“I would like to apologize for Misao’s actions. Sometimes she is too rash and acts upon passion—”
“There’s not need to apologize,” I waved my hands in front of me. “She didn’t do anything wrong. She attacked me because she thought I was going to harm you. She didn’t know that I retired from being Tenken no Soujiro just like Himura-san retired from being Hitokiri Battousai. Besides, I think she unconsciously went easy on me,” I grinned on my last statement.
“What do you mean?”
I plucked out a kunai that slashed my arm from the wall and handed it to him. “If she planned on killing me, you would’ve plucked that out from my head.”
“I understand,” he nodded. “And… you are right. If she had known, none of this would’ve happened. I shouldn’t have hidden your presence. I should have told them about you from the beginning. For that, I apologize.”
I smiled at him as a gesture that the apology was unnecessary. “Ojii-sama, if you don’t mind me asking… why would a former Okashira of the Onniwabanshu take me in when I was out there dying in the rain.”
He was about to reply when Misao returned with towels, bandages and a cup of water. She held her head down, unable to look at us both.
We would have choked in the thick air of tension had it not been for Ojii-sama who first spoke, “Misao-chan, I have to apologize for not telling you about Seta Soujiro.”
“No, I should—”
“Misao, let me finish…”
Misao slightly nodded her head, biting her lip.
The words coming out of Ojii-sama’s mouth slowly faded in my ear as I decided to focus my attention on the woman standing in front of me. Even if she was concealing her face, I could read her ki. And more than that, I could feel what she was feeling. Strange as it may seem for someone deemed to be as emotionless as me to understand her…
…I really did.
If only I could tell her that she had nothing to feel sorry about. That there was absolutely nothing wrong about wanting to protect her loved ones. That she should even be proud of it. I may not know or understand the virtue behind her intentions or the reason for her passions but I envy her. I really do because I didn’t have anything as pure as that inside me. Not that I dared to dream to have one.
Purity would never spring out from void and darkness.
And besides, I haven’t even found my answers yet.
My trail of thoughts were cut off when I heard her speak, “I understand, Jiya. Taking him in was a good idea but we must save the detailed explanations for later. We must tend on Tenken’s wounds first.” She trailed off, guilt apparent in her tone.
“Yes, you are right. Bandage his wounds and we’ll save the talk for tomorrow morning so that we wouldn’t have to repeat everything for the others.”
“Yes, Jiya,” I replied, sighing deeply. Now it’s time to face the consequences of my actions. Turning to him, I said, “Come on, Tenken, right this way.”
“I would rather you call me Soujiro, Makimachi-sama,” he said, barely whispering.
“Well, then Soujiro. Just call me Misao,” I smiled weakly, opening the shoji door that led to the main hall. I stepped inside and sat by a corner, motioning him to sit in front of me. My thoughts were still a little rumbled because of the earlier incident that for the next couple of minutes, I just stared blankly on the tray of medicine, unconsciously fiddling with the towel.
I just don’t get it. What would made him change his mind that before Shishio’s battle even began, he left. If he hadn’t left, what would the result be? Would the world as I know it now still exist? Better yet… what had changed inside of him during his journey for the past what… two years?
“What is it, Misao?” he asked, looking at me worriedly, cutting my trail of thoughts.
“Oh, nothing.” I mentally slapped myself for succumbing to trance when he was here. Beside me.
Probably already bleeding to death.
Better start now. “Take off your gi so we could clean your wounds.”
He nodded and started untying the belt that held his upper garment. He slid it off his shoulders carefully, not a trace of pain on his face even of some of the blood crusted between his skin and clothing.
I trailed my eyes from his face to his bloody chest. I felt my bile rise up, not because of the stench of blood but because I was the one who did that to him. As a consolation, I just reminded myself that I would never really kill him. Right?
But then, what if he was really there to kill them. What if he was aggressive and not impassive and resigned like before? Would I have killed him? Could I?
I shook my head to rid myself of those thoughts as I wrapped the damp towel on my hand, dabbing it carefully to clean the blood surrounding the wound. The next thing I did was to put on medicinal herbs on them before wrapping a clean bandage to avoid infection.
When I had finished, I found myself staring at his flawless chest. I could feel my cheeks warming up at the sight of a man’s bare chest but I disregarded that thought almost immediately when I noticed something amiss— not a single battle scar could be traced. And it only meant one thing… no one was skillful enough to hit him.
Until tonight, which ironically didn’t even had anything to do with skill.
That I admit without pretentious humility.
“Is something bothering you, Misao?” he asked.
I smiled slightly and nodded. “I’m sorry for throwing my kunais at you. Why didn’t you dodge them anyway? You could have easily dodged that.”
“I didn’t want to.”
“Because I deserved it…”
“…for startling you.”
I looked up at him, silently asking him what was that all about. Patiently, I waited for his explanation but it never came. He just smiled at me as if everything was normal. Shrugging to myself, I stood up and went on my way. I was about to leave the room when I remembered, “Soujiro, do you have an extra gi or yukata with you?”
He shook his head in response.
“Come with me. You can’t sleep like that. You’ll get sick.”
I smiled at her, following her lead. Although I was smiling on the outside, I couldn’t help but feel baffled at the situation so I asked, “Why?”
“Why are you doing this?”
At that, Misao turned around, looking at me incredulously. “Do what?”
“This? Why do you care if I bleed to death… if I catch cold? Why do you people care if I am sick or well, live or die when I am to nobody you… or an adversary even, if we are going to put the past in context. Misao, why?”
“Because it is only natural to help other people in need…”
“Natural?” I voiced out my thoughts.
“Yes, natural,” she repeated.
“Even if you don’t really know me?”
“When your intentions to help are pure, all that you need to know is that the person you are helping will be alright.” She then paused for a minute, looking thoughtful, and added, “Well, of course, your help must lead to a greater good, not aggravate something bad.”
I chuckled lightly, knowing exactly who she referring to.
I totally disagree with her on that matter but as I had learned, I had to respect her opinion. Wanting to clear up things, I asked, “Misao, what is good anyway? And what is bad? Who has the authority to judge that when good and bad is so relative?”
“I guess, judgment would depend upon the values embedded on the person,” she shrugged, continuing to walk down the hall.
Following her, I continued asking, “What if the person doesn’t have any set of values?”
“I don’t really know.” Lowering her voice, she finished, “I don’t have all the answers, Soujiro. I don’t even know if those I have right now are correct.”
At that, I ceased my inquiry. Maybe I was asking too much from my journey. I was rushing things. After all, I couldn’t expect to find my answer this soon when Himura-san found his after ten years.
Misao entered a room as I waited outside. She handed me a fresh piece of yukata and a pair of gi and hakama. “Here, use this,” she said. “Nobody is using it anymore so it is as good as yours.”
“Thank you very much!” I beamed, bowing slightly.
“Good night, Soujiro.”
“Good night, Misao.” I waved at her and turned around to return to my room. I absent-mindedly scratched my head as I thought of the things she said. Sighing deeply, I shrugged. I was about to come inside my room when I heard someone called out.
“It’s okay to need someone or accept someone’s help once in a while, you know.”
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