DISCLAIMER: Rurouni Kenshin is the sole property of Nobuhiro Watsuki and its anime/manga studio. No profit is being made off this and no copyright infringement is intended; this is written purely for the enjoyment of this fan and her fellow fans. WARNING: Gory violent content up ahead and a lot of cussing. Last warning for the squeamish (translation: lots of blood, gore and swearwords--then again, I’m sure a lot of the RK fans out there have already seen the OAV’s).
Vampire? The English word was unfamiliar but Saitoh didn’t want to waste time wondering what the hell Isabel was babbling about. They were surrounded by a bunch of resurrected thieves-turned-gaki, complete with blazing red eyes and wickedly long sharp fangs. His hands tightened on the hilt of his sword as he coolly thought over his options. Maybe he ought to be running scared right now. Maybe he ought to pay more attention to the cold fingers of fear raking their way down his spine. But if he did that, he was going to die. Painfully.
Saitoh Hajime, former captain of the Shinsengumi, didn’t survive the Bakumatsu no Douran just so he could end up as a gaki’s dinner.
There was one brief endless moment where everything and everyone went absolutely still. Then, snarling with fury and that terrifying hunger, the gaki attacked.
In that moment, Saitoh was stripped of the instinctive terror of these monsters that had been slowly threatening to incapacitate even him. Once more, he was the Shinsengumi captain on the Kyoto streets in the days of the Bakumatsu no Douran. Man or beast, ghost or demon, he really didn’t care. Here, after so many years, was his rightful prey.
Aku. Zoku. Zan. Kill. Evil. Instantly.
The Wolf of Mibu remembered his creed and threw himself into the battle, matching the gakis’ ferocity with his own. Blood flew as the gakis fell one by one courtesy of Saitoh’s sword.
The gaki thieves who were still unhurt abruptly seemed to remember that they were carrying swords. They had apparently thought that the mere terror of their presence would be enough to take down their prey. They now remembered what sort of damage swords could do and drew their own in defense. Howling with renewed rage, they attacked once more, swords raised for the kill.
In life, the thieves were good enough swordsmen but their skills were far inferior to Saitoh’s own. Now, as gaki, they had acquired an inhuman speed and strength that more than made up for that lack.
It was like fighting a dozen Seta Soujirou’s all at once.
But then again, Saitoh had some tricks of his own.
Saitoh’s sword split through the torso of one fanged gaki thief, slicing him neatly in half. He side-stepped and turned just in time to avoid another slavering monster leaping for his throat. That one’s head went flying in a spray of black, foul-smelling blood.
Beside him, the little Countess Isabel more than ably held her ground, matching the gakis’ speed and strength. Even as Saitoh skillfully kept the monsters at bay, he saw, with mounting astonishment, that her moves were eerily similar to the Battousai’s, her skills and strength a close second to his own.
So the reports haven’t lied. It’s like she and the Battousai are from the same school of kenjutsu…
"Saitoh! Take their heads!" Isabel shouted. "It’s the only way they’ll stay dead!"
Stay dead--? Saitoh bit off a sharp curse as he saw the gaki he had just disembowelled slowly stand up, the only evidence that he’d just been sliced in half now just a large, gaping wound across his torso that was even now slowly closing.
His sword flashed and the head went rolling on the ground. All of the others who had also fallen before his sword but didn’t lose their heads in the process were now painfully getting to their feet. Their still-unscathed comrades stood beside them, licking their chops. All of them were looking at him now with those fiery red eyes that seemed almost hypnotic in their glow…
Come with us, Wolf of Mibu, those eyes seemed to be saying. Come with us, brother in all but blood…and we shall hunt together.
Saitoh shook his head. The call was strong and incredibly powerful, calling to the darkest reaches of his mind and soul that even he had not known existed.
And then, the voices in his head changed to just a single, achingly familiar one.
Come to me, Hajime, came Tokio’s voice. We will have eternity together. Do not deny me…anata…
Tokio stood there, her arms outstretched pleadingly. Beautiful Tokio, whose beauty would fade as she aged, who like all mortal women was destined for the grave.
She will never die. She will remain as she is now, if you will only join us. Come to us and be free of all mortal constraints.
Tokio. Saitoh closed his eyes and then, he understood.
His eyes snapped open just in time to see the gaki who was already just a scant few inches away from his throat. He leapt out of the way, his sword flashing once more to take the thing’s head.
In those few moments when they had tried to reach for his mind, Saitoh saw the Hunger that consumed them. A Hunger that held them utterly in thrall, their hearts and souls devoid of all thought and feeling except the urge to fill that terrible need. Somehow, he understood that their promises would grant him and Tokio an existence that was infinitely worse than death.
"Get out of my head, " Saitoh snarled.
It was a wild, unearthly cry that must have been heard all the way back to the town. The power she unleashed was incredible; the sheer force of her chi surrounded her body in a blaze of blue light. Every dead gaki on the ground went up in flames, the ashes scattered by a sudden gust of wind. A wall of blue fire blazed, cutting off Saitoh and Isabel from their enemies. Out of fifteen, there were still six of them left. Three threw themselves against the wall of fire, incinerating themselves in the process. The last three hung back, snarling in impotent rage.
"Saitoh," said Isabel, tugging at his hand. Her voice was unsteady. "Run!! I can only hold them off for so long. There’s more still coming."
More? The image of another dozen snarling gaki came to Saitoh’s mind and he swore again. The former Shinsengumi knew when to retreat. He sheathed his sword and they ran off into the forest. As they dashed along the trail, Saitoh abruptly remembered the carriage and the driver sitting all alone. He prayed that it would still be there.
To his surprise, the same fiery blue wall surrounded the carriage as they finally reached the road. Isabel pulled him through the wall, not giving him time to wonder whether he would burn like the gaki did, and got into the carriage. As soon as she slammed the door shut, the driver snapped his whip and they practically flew down the road. Saitoh found himself fighting the urge to look out the window to check whether the gaki were still after them.
"They’re not," said Isabel, startling him. "And they’re not gaki, they’re vampires."
He stared at her. "You read my mind. " It was a statement, not a question. He had finally had enough. Saitoh threw all notions of protocol to the winds and continued. "What the hell are you, some kind of mahoutsukai?"
She smiled wearily. "Yes, I do use magic. Sorceress would be a better term though. It’s usually a fun occupation, at least when I’m not facing more than a dozen vampires at one time."
"Sorceress," Saitoh repeated to himself
Once more, J. Isabel Draven, Countess Rosscraft, assumed that maddeningly serene composure. Those clear, blue-gray eyes looked at him carefully and Saitoh had the strange feeling that she was searching right through his soul.
Then, she smiled. "Iggy’s right. The entire friggin’ race of the Undead is doomed with you on the job, Saitoh-san."
"Ahou ga." Saitoh bit out the words. "What the hell are you babbling about, girl?"
She leaned back against the carriage seat and chuckled. "Call me Jay, Saitoh-san. Calling me an idiot wouldn’t do at all and Jay’s easier to say than Isaberu-sama, neh?"
". . . ."
She laughed at his non-plussed expression. "You have just met the Western equivalent of your gakis, Mibu’s Wolf. Vampires. And I must say, you did a damn good job of kicking their asses just now. Congratulations. "
"I’m glad to see that you’re pleased, Countess," said Saitoh drily, recovering fast. The girl had managed to poke through his normal reserve once too often. "Now, you might like to enlighten me on what the hell are these—" He stumbled over the foreign word. "—vampires are doing in Japan?"
Isabel blinked at him speechlessly for a moment and Saitoh was secretly pleased that he’d managed to poke through that maddening composure for once. But then, she grinned. "You’re really just taking this all in, huh? No ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me’ lines? No thinking you’ve finally gone off the deep end?"
"I know what I saw. I know I nearly got killed by those things. And I’m sure as hell not going to convince myself that it was all a figment of my imagination!"
"Good," Isabel approved. Then, more seriously, she said. "Last chance, Saitoh-san. I can tell you enough for your relative peace of mind and I can send you back to your superiors with a plausible tale that’ll make them happy. You can forget all about what you saw tonight."
The girl’s eyes narrowed. "Choose carefully, Saitoh-san. If I do tell you everything, you’re going to be in this so far that you’ll wish you never decided to take me to the hideout."
"I’m already wishing that, girl. Stop being so damn patronizing. And as I recall, you practically left me no choice when you asked me to take you there."
She snickered. "You can be an overbearing patronizing bastard yourself. How’d you like getting the tables turned?"
The humor disappeared again and she sighed. "Gomen nasai, Saitoh-san. What happened back in the forest was…unexpected."
"Masterpiece of understatement, that."
"I truly am sorry," This one was said with such sadness and sincerity that it grabbed Saitoh’s full attention. "I was told that it might be necessary to involve you in this but I don’t like pulling in the innocent unless I absolutely have to. But now, you are definitely in this, whether you like it or not."
"I’m hardly innocent," returned Saitoh. "And it is my job to be in on this, whatever this is."
"Good choice of words," said Isabel quietly. "Because it is your job. You’ve got the gift for it, as I do. But I’m warning you, what happened in the hideout is the least of what we’re going to face. Their Master—" She fell silent and took a deep, shaky breath.
Saitoh abruptly remembered the Battousai when he appeared to them back in the forest. The unscarred face, the unholy Hunger in his eyes…
"No." Isabel said the word so fiercely, startling Saitoh. What startled him even more was the ominous sheen of tears in her eyes.
I know that Himura has a way with people, especially women but why the hell would she weep for a man she barely knows?
And somehow, Saitoh was sure that romantic love wasn’t the reason.
Isabel was speaking again. "Pray to all your gods that what we saw isn’t really Kenshin out there." She shivered. "There was an evil there that is beyond redemption, a being totally devoid of humanity."
"Stop being so melodramatic. If it is Himura and that harmless act of his has been a sick joke all along, I’m going to take great pleasure in killing him." Saitoh had always known Kenshin’s harmless rurouni persona to be a fraud, an idiotic, hypocritical mask to hide the ruthless killer that he was and always would be. But for some reason, the hard, harsh proof of that knowledge staring at him right in the face deeply offended him.
Or was his anger and disgust actually…disappointment?
He didn’t want to think about it.
"I’m sure you’d love to get another crack at the Battousai, Saitoh." Isabel smiled, but the smile was utterly devoid of the humor and mischief Saitoh has seen earlier in her. "Trouble is, you can’t really kill the evil we’re up against."
Another carriage clattered through the streets of Tokyo that night. The insistent tapping on the roof of the carriage made the driver spur the horses on faster and faster, heedless of any passerby that might still be on the streets, even at that late hour.
They stopped at the door of the Christian Church.
Three figures in the hooded, brown homespun robes of monks came down from the carriage. They had no need to knock, the door was already open. Father Andrei Rosetti’s face was alight with feverish joy.
"Oh, thank God," he breathed. "You are here at last."
UP NEXT: The three new visitors. Kenshin’s nightmare…and his true past. Rhiannon does her Bela Lugosi imitation. Coming soon!