Chapter 03

Chapter Three

Kenshin stared at Sano’s back as they walked, wondering why his master had given the mercenary a symbol similar to the one he’d given Kenshin. What had his master seen in Sano, to give him such a thing?

Kenshin fingered the necklace, aware that the gesture was starting to become a habit. The village they were going to-why was it such a secret? Part of him worried about going to such a secluded place; he’d had enough of them during his days as a hitokori.

But his master wouldn’t send Kenshin to a place where his apprentice wouldn’t thrive. Knowing that alleviated some of Kenshin’s worry and allowed him to be intrigued, instead. What possible reason could an entire village have to hide its very existence?

All his master had told him was to throw away his idealism because it wouldn’t serve him. That was before the fiasco with Makato Shishio, before Kenshin had been slapped in the face with the truth that the insistence on living with his ideals was going to get somebody killed.

That realization had stirred him into action. Kenshin couldn’t wait around for any more of his enemies to seek him out. He couldn’t lead them to Karou and Yahiko, two innocent civilians who’d been dragged into more than their share of battles because of him. There weren’t enough fingers on his hands to count how many times he’d nearly gotten the two of them killed.

Sano, too, for that matter. But Kenshin didn’t feel guilty about getting the mercenary involved in his fights. Sano had been a solider. He’d seen the horrors of the Revolution with his own eyes; there was no innocence for him to taint.

And Sano could handle himself. He was the first man since the Revolution ended that Kenshin trusted implicitly to have his back in a fight.

When he considered that fact, it made a certain amount of sense that Sano had been given a symbol similar to his. Their necklaces would serve as passage into the village; an entryway into a new life.

The thought both excited him and filled him with dread. He’d worked hard to live a life free of killing since the incident with Tomoe. He shuddered. Now wasn’t the time to think of that. There were things about his past Sano didn’t know, Tomoe included, and Kenshin found himself disinclined to share.

“How far are we from Mitaka?” Sano asked, shielding his eyes as he looked at the sky to gauge the time.

Kenshin shrugged. “About two hours,” he said. “We’ll have to take a boat from there.”

“To where?” Sano asked.

“Ujina.”

Sano scowled. “Where exactly is this village located anyway?”

Kenshin ignored the scowl. “It’s about three days out of Ujina, according to the map.”

“But there’s nothing out there!”

Kenshin raised an eyebrow. “I think that’s rather the point.”

Sano flushed. “Fine,” he said. “But I’ll have you know I hate boats.”

“You and me both,” Kenshin muttered. He didn’t tell Sano that the reason he disliked boats was because they were difficult to fight on. The two of them had fought on a boat before and he’d almost lost his life because of it. He’d surrendered to the bandits then to keep Karou alive and he’d do it again.

But that fight wasn’t the cause of his dislike of boats. There’d been a fight during the Revolution on a boat. One that had nearly cost him his life because he hadn’t been a strong swimmer and his enemy had gotten the upper hand on him and thrown him overboard. Needless to say, he’d spent two months after it happened honing his ability to swim. It was a skill, once learned, that had saved his life more often than he could remember.

Sano spoke, voice quiet. “My father died on a boat, along with my little brother. I never knew them.”

Kenshin winced. He placed a consoling hand on Sano’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said. “If there was another way to get there, we’d take it. I prefer land over water, that I do.”

Sano smiled at the appearance of Kenshin’s odd dialect. “It’s a short ferry, isn’t it?” he asked, forcing lightness he didn’t feel into the words.

“Aa,” Kenshin said. “Three hours.”

Sano frowned at the sky. “We won’t get into Mitaka before nightfall.” He nodded once, then moved off the path and into the woods. Once he found an acceptable area, he laid out his bedding and started gathering wood for a fire. “We might as well make camp for the night.”

Kenshin nodded his agreement and began helping gather firewood. Truthfully, he was relieved. The less he had to deal with townspeople, the better. His sword caused enough of a stir during the day, despite having the government’s permission to carry it. He didn’t want to risk a green policeman in the middle of the night attempting to arrest him for possessing it.

“So three days from now, we’ll be at this village,” Sano said. “Do you have any idea what to do when we get there?”

Kenshin shrugged. “My master only said that these-” he lifted the necklace, “would be the key to granting us passage. Other than that, I’m going into this blind.”

Sano chuckled. “It doesn’t seem like you,” he said.

“What doesn’t?”

“Going blind into something like t his,” Sano said. “You’re usually the person who’s prepared for anything.”

Kenshin gave him a tight smile. “Maybe it’s time that changed,” he said.

“Maybe,” Sano said, and let out a yawn. “I’ll guess we’ll see when we get there.”

“Aa,” Kenshin said, feeling a twinge of unease. “I guess we will.”

Chapter 2     Chapter Index

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