Yet people are people, clinging to what is known and familiar. And here amid strangers we cling even tighter, only taking Valdemar’s newness into us bit by bit, like slivered aya. Yamagata must hold the respect of his samurai and the lords of this land; and even here, nobles have rights by sheer power that commoners do not. If he knows….
Footsteps left the roof, and Kenshin sighed softly. If he knows, then he knows. For eight years I avoided his agents; for two, I have struggled only to return to my people. A decade can change anyone. Best to wait and see what he will do.
But what should I do?
After the Revolution, he’d known what he had to do. Blood stained his hands, dripped through his dreams; so much pain and guilt he honestly thought he’d die of it. What better fate could an assassin expect?
But he was not samurai, and he would not seek the noble ending of seppuku. It was not Hiko’s teaching – and he had violated enough of his shishou’s teaching already.
Instead, he’d wandered. Staying quiet, anonymous, helping those few he could. Acting as his master had taught him, as only a humble rurouni, so he might make some small restitution to his victims.
Not just my victims. To all those who died at the Revolution’s hands. All those left friendless, fatherless, childless; lost and placeless when daimyo and domains were uprooted. We sought to make a better world… but kami, the price.
So he’d helped, fending off bandits here, finding a lost child there. Tracing a wavering path throughout the Isles; anywhere but the bloodstained streets of Kyoto and the power-ridden heart of Edo. Slowly – surprisingly – wearing away at the guilt weighing down his heart.
I, who have done so much harm… what right have I to sleep without nightmares?
Yet he had, finally. Once, in the wake of a child’s tears, pulled from the root-cave she’d been trapped in by a rising stream. Again, weeks later, after he’d glared and cajoled a trio of hungry bandits into abandoning their ambush for a chance at honest work, no matter how lowly. And yet again, after spider-youkai had swarmed the abandoned temple he’d shared on the road with a frail elderly samurai on pilgrimage with his young daughter.
That night he remembered, clear as any black envelope. Hungry youkai would not yield to less than lethal force. Training had swamped guilt, fingers snatched steel from the startled samurai, and he’d danced through the predators lost in a kata’s endless now.
Until chiburi, and eyes still burning amber met elderly, startled brown.
“I know you.”