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Enigmatic Travels
By: Caladbolg777

Chapter 4


Standard Disclaimers Apply.

~~~~~

Dawn broke the next day; and Soujiro was already preparing asagohan for himself and Keiko. Speaking of her, she was barely stirring from her sleep when Soujiro started to cook the fish, that he had caught for the meal.

She was having a little trouble the night before, since that was her first time sleeping on the ground in nature. She had awoken several times, mostly because she had a hard a time finding a comfortable position.

Soujiro kept a subconsciously vigilant eye, and he awoke at any sound that he thought would bring any implication of danger. He had slept more than Keiko did that night, so he allowed to wake up on her own.

She woke up after Soujiro had finished cooking breakfast, and he waited until she was wide-awake until he gave her some food. She ate it at a very slow and cautious pace, almost giving him the impression that she was trained to eat in that manner. He tossed the thought aside, thinking of it as insignificant, and he finished his portion of food.

Soujiro courteously waited until she was ready to start walking again before they continued their travel to Tokyo. She still barely spoke a word to him, and she spoke through body language, but Soujiro had only met her yesterday. Maybe she would open up to him eventually, or maybe not, he didn’t really mind either way though. It didn’t really mean much to him, and he considered the trip mostly as a task to be done.

It hadn’t occurred to him whether she needed guidance, or not, until now. Maybe she did, or maybe she didn’t, he wasn’t positive. He almost felt the sensation that she truly did need help, and she needed a friend, but he pushed that thought aside as well. A true rurouni was not allowed to make friends, and his philosophy (like almost every other rurouni’s philosophy) was that relationships would only get in the way of his search for answers. If Himura could keep relationships at a distance for ten years to find himself, then Soujiro could do it as well.

Soujiro started to pass the time by talking to Keiko, even if she didn’t respond with many words. It was a start though; she said a few more words, at least, on her own. He didn’t coax her to speak, and he only asked yes or no questions to her. He could tell that she gradually grew accustomed to being around him, and she actually started to speak short sentences to him by lunch.

One thing that he certainly noticed though was that she never talked unless she was spoken to first. He didn’t really know what to make of it, and he never met anyone like Keiko. It slightly bothered him though, for he remembered a similar experience in his troubled past.

Little Soujiro was beaten again by his drunk stepfather, and the three-and-a-half year old boy had asked for his stepfather to stop. His entire family watched in absolute disgust that he had even had the audacity to ask his stepfather that question. To them, Soujiro was a constantly odious sight that made them beat him, solely for the fact the such a repulsive thing ever existed.

Soujiro knew he smelled and probably looked horrible, and he knew that his family hated him; but he never could figure out why. Why could they see that he was in this condition because of them? And yet they still hurt him for being dirty? It never made sense to the boy, and he never thought it would ever make sense to him.

Apparently, on that particular day, his family believed that his voice was like an unbearable screeching sound, that only a horrid animal like him could possess. He was forbidden to speak, unless spoken to by one of his family members. Even when he did or didn’t speak, they still abused him.

He was no longer human to them on that day; no, he realized on that day, he was never a human to them in the first place. He lived the rest of his remaining time in that hellhole, that he was forced to call home, barely speaking at all. He literally thought, in his young mind, that he had completely lost the ability to speak several times in those first 8 years of his horrible existence. To his so-called family, he didn’t have a life; he was just there.

Soujiro was too preoccupied to notice that Keiko had managed to ask him a question, which voiced her increased curiosity over her escort. She mentally bit her tongue, thinking that he ignored her for being so outspoken. She began to question whether asking, “What happened at the Rokubeko?” was really an audacious question or not, but she stopped herself quickly.

She wasn’t allowed to question, only to serve her arranged, and future, husband. She hadn’t met him yet, but she knew that she would eventually. All she was taught by her parents was to obey, and to serve, with grace; everything else was forbidden. Arranged marriages were commonly practiced, that much Keiko knew; but whether her childhood was normal or not still puzzled her to no end.

Soujiro thought her heard a question asked from a voice that he hadn’t completely recognized. He quickly managed to escape from his miserable memories, which continued to play in his mind. Keiko repeated the question, this time much more timidly.

Soujiro’s eyebrow quirked at the question, he never noticed the change in Keiko‘s self-esteem, and he gladly started an anecdote of what happened yesterday. “Anou... well I guess it started when Tetsuya and I were walking to Matsumoto. Ah, do you know Tetsuya, Keiko-chan?”

She nodded in response, and he continued.

“Well, anyway, he had told me that his family lives in Matsumoto; he asked me if I wanted to meet them, or not. I didn‘t want to be a burden, so I didn‘t go with him. He seemed to be okay with it, and he told me about the Rokubeko. He had suggested that I eat lunch there, and those men came in shortly after I entered the restaurant.

I kept my eye on them, sensing some of the trouble they were going to cause in the restaurant. They had immediately ordered sake, but you knew that right?”

“I was buying groceries,” Keiko responded in a faint voice, as she started to keep a pace of two steps behind Soujiro.

Soujiro didn’t know any different, so he continued, “okay, they had all ordered sake, and Mae-san had taken their orders. I noticed that she kept the other waitress‘ from the men, which I thought was quite kind of her.”

He paused, noticing that she slightly nodded out of the corner of his eye. He smiled slightly and continued, “anyway, the men kept ordering sake until they were basically sloshed.” By the look of Keiko’s face, even though it was always lowered, he got the hint that she didn’t understand what ‘sloshed’ meant.

So he started, “when you‘re sloshed, you‘re drunk to the point where you can‘t walk straight, and you don’t think straight. Anyway, the drunken men started to flirt with Mae-san. They even got to the point that one of them would slap Mae-san every time she left their table.

I got up after she left and I went to talk to her. I had told her that if she needed them out of her restaurant, I could do it for her. She said she didn‘t want me to hurt myself, but I got the idea in my head that she really wanted me to do it, deep down. So I did.

I walked over to their table with Mae-san, and she asked them, kindly enough, to leave. They exploded in anger. I knew they were looking for a fight, so they volunteered me as their contestant. I didn’t mind, as long as we fought outside. They seemed to agree, and they followed me outside. I stopped when the last one of them came out of the Rokubeko. I guess they thought they could attack me by surprise by circling me into the center of the ring created by them.

Three of them attacked me from different angles, and I got out of the way. They hit each other pretty hard and they sort of flopped onto the ground. The six others got pretty angry and agitated. I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with the people around them, so I decided to knock them all unconscious quickly. It wasn’t hard, and I got done with them before they even realized what was happening. I performed the same method with each man. I hit them hard in the head, but not hard enough to crack any skulls open. I hit each man twice: on their foreheads, on the top of their heads, on the back of their heads, and on each of their shoulders. That was enough to knock them every one of them down for a while. Just out of curiosity Keiko-chan, when did you arrive at the Rokubeko?”

“When you were talking with Mae-sempai,” she replied softly.

“Oh, okay then.”

An uncomfortable silence occurred after that. Soujiro and Keiko mentally tried to figure each other out in the silence that had ensued. Both of them had a lot to figure out about each other anyway.

Soujiro pondered why she was so hesitant about talking, and why she’s so refined she seems like she’s from another planet. ‘What did her parents do to her for her to be the way she is today? She seems to be too timid, and too refined to be raised in a normal fashion. So what could have happened to her,’ Soujiro thought, and he continuosly ran that question over and over in his head.

Keiko was also curious, despite the way she was raised. ‘Why does he treat me like that? It’s almost as if I’m equal to him, but I’m not. No woman is equal to a man, that’s what Okaasan and Otousan say. I’m not sure though, if Okaasan and Otousan are right, then why does he treat me like this? I need to stop this, Otousan and Okaasan would punish me severely if they ever found out that I spoke to him without his consent. I wish I was more like Soujiro, he’s so...what is he? I can’t think of a word that describes him. He has everything that I’m forbidden to have, then what does that make him? I have no idea, I probably would have known if my parents weren‘t so mean to me.’

“Keiko-chan?” Soujiro asked after a while.

She looked up towards him, so that his face was in the corner of her eyes.

“Would you like to stop for dinner?”

She nodded and spoke softly, “I‘ll prepare the food for you. ”

Soujiro hadn’t really expected that statement to come from her, but he decided to be a gentlemen and say, “It‘s okay Keiko-chan. I don‘t mind preparing the food, just rest and relax, okay?”

She was hit with bewilderment, ‘Why did he mean to just rest and relax? It’s my job to please him, is it not? Then why does he allow for me to rest? I don’t understand him at all.’

He noticed that she was struck with awe, and she wasn‘t really moving, so he left to catch some fish.

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