A figure appeared in the grayness.
"I bear you no personal grudge, but for the sake of my revenge, I'll sacrifice you here," said Enishi as he stalked toward Kaoru.
Kaoru grasped her bokken in fighting stance. Looking at the tall, muscular man looming over her with his sharp watou, she knew she couldn't beat this guy, but she couldn't just give up.
"No matter what you do, Battousai won't come. If we fight, the result is obvious," said Enishi as he pointed disdainfully at Kaoru's bokken. "If you cooperate, I'll finish this quickly."
"I know I can't win, but I can't just give up either! Kenshin said, 'No matter how hard it is, this worthless one will fight to the end to protect everyone'. So he'll come just like he always does. As long as Kenshin doesn't give up, neither will I," said Kaoru, glaring with determination.
Enishi's eyes narrowed in annoyance at this girl's defiance.
"That so?" he said.
Then he was gone.
"Then it can't be helped," he said as he grabbed Kaoru from behind, putting his hand over her mouth.
A sweet, stifling aroma.
Kaoru's bokken clattered uselessly to the floor as she went limp in Enishi's grasp.
"ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGH!!!!!!" Kenshin cried as he struggled against Kujiranami's powerful grasp.
Kenshin was finally able to move his arms and grasp Whale Mouth's giant fingers. Adrenaline borne of fear and rage coursing through his veins, he started pushing against Kujiranami's grasp.
"BATTOUSAI!" roared Whale Mouth, pulling back his right arm to smash into Kenshin.
"OH NO, YOU DON'T!" called Sano as he came charging in.
Sano landed a punch on Whale Mouth's right pectoral, followed immediately by Saitou, who struck him in the left pectoral with a Gatotsu.
Whale Mouth's giant body shuddered under the combined effects of the attacks. Blood spurted from his mouth, his legs buckled and he collapsed, losing his grip on Kenshin.
"Hmph," was Saitou's friendly response.
"Kenshin, the white haired bastard's..." said Sano.
Kenshin had already picked up the Sakabatou and was now dashing toward the dojo, without a word to either of them.
Nothing mattered but one thing: reaching Kaoru-dono before Enishi was able to do whatever horrible thing he wanted to do to her to get his revenge on Kenshin. Despite the blood loss, despite the pain, Kenshin ran as fast as he could, Kaoru's smiling face spurring him on. He had to get there, had to save her.
As he ran into the swirling gray smoke, he faintly registered Megumi-dono's voice calling after him, but didn't slow down in the least. Nothing would deter him from reaching her.
Intermingling with the thick smoke, the smell of white plum blossoms suddenly assaulted Kenshin's senses, triggering a visceral nausea. He skidded to a dead stop.
'This scent, it's...'
A shadowed figure emerged from the smoke.
"White plum. To me, it's my sister's scent. To you, it's probably..."
The feeling of his katana slicing Tomoe's body in half played back in Kenshin's mind as if it had just happened moments ago.
"ENISHI! WHAT DID YOU DO TO KAORU-DONO?!!!" Kenshin cried in desperation.
Enishi grinned maliciously.
"This scent is a trail. Follow it carefully," he instructed. "The 'answer' you've been searching for is there."
Kenshin began running again, adrenaline born of desperation coursing through his veins, speeding him along.
"Take a good look..."
"Mourn, scream, regret, then cry yourself to death."
At that moment, Kenshin had a revelation. In the sudden stab of grief that pierced his heart to the quick, he realized what Kaoru had come to mean to him. He would have admitted that he liked Kaoru -- even that he was very fond of Kaoru. But now he knew as he dropped the Sakabatou and crumpled to his knees, that Kaoru had been dearer to him than anything in the world.
"Hiten Mitsurugi is worthless. Himura Kenshin is worthless. Once again I couldn't protect the woman I loved. Kaoru-dono. Kaoru..." Kenshin sobbed brokenly, his mind and senses shutting down.
Megumi and Sano came running up behind Kenshin, but skidded to a halt behind the tearblinded little rurouni. Their jaws dropped and their eyes filled with horror at the grisly tableau laid out before them.
Kaoru's blue eyes gazed lifelessly forward as blood ran in rivulets down her face from her mouth and a horrid cruciform scar etched into her left cheek, Enishi's Watou staked through her heart, pinning her body securely to the dojo wall.
There would be no comfort for any of them.
The change from the Bakumatsu to the Meiji Era also changed many people's lives. Not everyone was able to adapt to the new era. Those who rejected the new era and who were rejected by the new era had no place in society and were shunned by the world. In the due course of nature, they came together and formed a misfit community, a village of outcasts. This was the last stop for those who had given up on their lives...
Against the wall of a dilapidated building with festering wounds crisscrossing his body, the Sakabatou's hilt bound in chains, he lay. Bright eyes now dull, warm and kind face now spent and empty, he lay. Too weak to even know who they were, he lay.
This was how Sanosuke, Megumi, Yahiko and Tsubame found him, a broken shell of the man they had so ardently admired.
"Ken..." said a stunned Yahiko, only to be cut off by Sanosuke's angry voice.
"LET'S GO! COME ON, GET UP!" Sano shouted.
Kenshin didn't speak, move, or even raise his eyes. He knew he should know that loud, angry voice, but he couldn't think of who it was. Thinking took too much energy, which he didn't have anymore. Besides, since he had failed and she was dead, it didn't matter anymore.
"WE'VE GOTTA GO FUCKIN' KILL ENISHI AND AVENGE MISSY! IT WON'T BRING HER BACK, BUT WE CAN'T JUST BACK DOWN! IT CAN'T END LIKE THIS!" Sano shouted even louder when Kenshin failed to respond.
Still, the small swordsman didn't move. What the hell was going on? This wasn't the Kenshin Sano knew! Frustrated, Sanosuke grabbed Kenshin by the folds of his kimono and yanked him up.
"KENSHIN, WHY DON'T YA SAY SOMETHIN'?!" he roared, trying desperately to rekindle the rurouni's spirit.
Kenshin opened his mouth and slowly raised empty eyes, the sight of which sent a chill down Sanosuke's spine.
"No more. Too tired," he answered in a small, broken voice.
Sano couldn't believe his ears. Kenshin was giving up? Just like that? This broken thing was the man he had come to admire in Captain Sagara's place?
"BASTARD!" snapped the disillusioned kenkaya, shoving Kenshin back to the ground in disgust.
"Sanosuke!" cried Megumi in horror at Sano's rough treatment of the fragile rurouni.
"YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!" roared Sano, who was just about to throw himself on Kenshin when they heard a scuttling sound behind them.
The denizens of Rakuninmura had come out of the woodwork, attracted by the noise, and weren't happy to find these outsiders here, tormenting one of their own. Filthy skin, snarled hair, sunken eyes and ragged clothes were all that were needed to describe their haggard appearance. More animal than human, they lived in a pack, like ravenous wolves.
"I don't know what's going on, but even though this man hasn't been here but a few days, he's still one of us," said one.
"We have no laws here, save one rule, which is to protect each other," agreed another.
"We won't allow outsiders to attack us, if you plan to continue..."
"YOU'D BEST BE PREPARED!"
"Shit! So the rejects are lickin' each other's wounds! Fine! I'll pound all you fuckers into the ground!" barked Sano.
"Cut it out, moron! We have Tsubame-chan with us!" reprimanded Megumi.
The aforementioned little girl watched in disbelief and horror as Kenshin stood up mechanically, returned to the wall and slumped down again, head lowered, ruddy bangs concealing his face.
"No more. Too tired," he repeated as his bruised eyelids fell shut. "Let this worthless one... rest in peace."
Then the darkness and the sorrow enveloped him again. Whether these half-familiar people were still there or had left didn't matter. Only that it was quiet and dark and he could dream of her smiling face, her bright blue eyes. Bright blue eyes, dulled as a sword was thrust through her heart and a horrid cruciform scar was etched on her left cheek.
Perhaps blackness was preferable.
That night, Sano sat in his dark flat in Ruffian Row, his dinner, quite unusually, untouched. Instead, he pounded back saucer after saucer of sake, trying to douse the rage that burned in his heart, but only finding it growing more ardent with each drink he took. The words of the man he had come to admire more than anyone since Captain Sagara, echoed in his head.
"No more. Too tired..."
So much for admiring and heroes! What good was it? If you admired someone great, they were either killed like Captain Sagara, or turned out to be total frauds, like Himura Kenshin!
Sano tossed the still full saucer into the wall, where it smashed and broke, just like everyone's hopes and dreams.
'Fuck you, Kenshin!'