Here is final chapter of “Apostle’s Sword.” I’ve been delighted to present this wonderful story and am sorry to see it come to an end!
Even if you didn’t read the previous installments, I beg you to give this story a shot. There are quite a few fan fics out there related to both anime and Christian spirituality, and most are poorly written. However, this is one is good – really good. “Apostle’s Sword” is a retelling of the first two Rurouni Kenshin OVAs (which are stunning pieces of work, by the way) using a Christian background based in history and the Bible story of Saul’s conversion from a zealous anti-Christian to a follower of Christ. The story is written by a freelance writer, melcon, who is amazing. It also doesn’t preach, so I highly recommend all readers out there, believer or not, to take a read.
Morning light peeked through a crack in the window and teased my face. I sat up, rubbing my eyes, and feeling something was not quite right. It took me a second to realize what it was, then I laughed: I was sleeping stretched out on a futon, not propped up in a corner of the room. It was only very recently that I had given up almost a lifetime of vertical slumber and taking to sleeping on a futon. Another habit I had been shedding as of late was the practice of springing to instant consciousness once I woke up. Warriors who sleep deeply are tempting death, and the importance of immediate wakefulness had been drilled into me since I was a child. However, here in the quiet of our village home, my sleep had become peaceful and deep in a way it had never been before. You’re become soft, I chastised myself with a smile. No doubt my sword skills were weakening in this tiny village, yet, on such a glorious morning, I did not care.
Standing up to my feet, I wondered for a moment why I felt so full of a strange joy, and then the events of last night rushed back to me. Tomoe. I automatically turned towards her futon, but she was not there. Assuming she was preparing breakfast, I was surprised to not find her at the hearth. She must have gone to the village for something, I thought to myself with a shrug. It was no matter, I would make breakfast myself. I had done so every day for my master Seijuro.
By the time miso soup and rice were ready, Tomoe had still not returned. I was not particularly worried since Tomoe could have had many reasonable excuses for being gone. But when early morning began to stretch towards late morning, concern set in and I decided to go looking for her.
Stepping outside the house, I was greeted by a fresh snowfall and flakes of snow gently falling to the ground. Although the sight was beautiful, the snow was also covering up any tracks that Tomoe might have left behind. Without any clues to draw on, I decided that the village was the most logical place to start my search. Upon arriving at the village, I began questioning all who I passed. None of the villagers had seen her, and Barnabas, who had an unerring knack for keeping track of everyone, seemed concerned. “Did she try to go after her brother?” he questioned.
In everything that had happened, I had completely forgotten about Enishi’s visit. “I don’t know,” I said, worriedly. “I suppose it is possible but I doubt she would have done so without telling me.”
Barnabas frowned slightly. “We’d best take a look around to see if we can find her.” He pulled a cheerful expression from his endless supply of optimism and said, “Not to worry, brother, I’m sure she’s around somewhere. In fact, she may have returned back to the house. Let’s go see!”
With that, we set off towards the house, Barnabas chatting about his plans to return to Tokyo and his excitement about seeing his family again. I knew that he was trying to cheer me out of my worry and I should have felt grateful, but my only thoughts were of Tomoe. As we approached the house, I was surprised to see a sheet of paper attached to the door. When I drew near and saw the words printed on it, the world stopped.
We have Tomoe. Come to the Shinugan temple in the forest if you wish to see her again.
In an instant, Battousai, Demon of Kyoto came roaring back. He tore the paper off the door, ripped the door back so hard it nearly shattered, and stormed over to the sword stand where his killing blade rested. Kenshin Himaru, the farmer and the one who had renounced his killing ways, was no more: the hitokiri engulfed him and stepped forward to take his place. In a moment, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Battousai had never left me, that I had not severed my ties with him as I had hoped. He was only lurking in the shadows waiting for his time to emerge once again.
Barnabas seized my shoulders with both hands. “Kenshin, don’t,” he commanded harshly. “Don’t do this. This is a trap…” He got no further before I flung him away from me hard enough to send him reeling backwards onto the floor. Awkwardly, he got to his feet but showed no fear in the face of the Battousai. Moving towards me, his brave eyes locked on mine. “Don’t do this,” he said firmly. “Think! Plan rationally. This is a trap. We need a plan…”
“Get out of my way!” I growled, but Barnabas planted himself firmly between me and the door. In that moment, I no longer saw him as a friend and trusted companion, only as a body blocking the way between me and Tomoe. Without thinking, my hand flew to my sword and in an instant, the naked blade was an inch from Barnabas’ neck. Baring my teeth, I snarled, “Move or die.”
Rather than quaking in terror, Barnabas simply looked at me sadly then moved so that he was not standing in front of the door. Pushing past him, I stormed out of the house, ignoring Barnabas’ calls after me, my eyes fixed firmly on the forest where Tomoe was being held captive.
I was so consumed with rage as I entered for the forest that it was some time before my common sense seized possession of my scattered wits and demanded my attention. I stopped, panting in the snow. Breath. Think, I ordered myself. Closing my mind, I called upon every last shred of training I possessed in order to calm the fire raging in my soul. After a few moments, my breathing slowed and my heart settled into its normal pace. I was still more furious than I had ever been, but it chilled to a frozen anger, steadier but more deadly than the mindless fury that had been possessing me. I knew that if I wanted to save Tomoe, I could not rely on blind rage.
As my heartbeat began to take up its normal rhythm again, I began to realize that my awareness seemed curiously leadened, as if a veil had fallen over my chi sense. The forest around me was like a dead thing, void of any sense of life. The keen awareness that had guided Battousai’s every move was eluding my grasp. At first, I thought that perhaps the long months away from hard training had weakened my chi and dulled the warrior’s awareness, but as I moved through the forest, I became convinced that there was something evil lurking among the trees whose powers were eroding my ability to read my surroundings.
The sudden blinding pain of a blade slashing across my shoulder was unassailable proof my awareness was hampered: I had not sensed anyone near me until my shoulder was ripped open. Training took over, and I found myself ducking and weaving out of the way, astonished and disgusted with myself that I had not sensed my attacker’s presence before he struck. I dodged and attacked in the same moment, and my katana left its sheath for the first time in months. But my strike missed, and a masked man leaped back adroitly out of the way of my katana‘s arc, laughing wildly.
“Welcome, Battousai, Demon of Kyoto, to the Forest of Barriers!” he said manically. “You’ll find we are most accommodating here to such a renown warrior as yourself. In fact, we’ve taken your sixth sense from you, so you won’t be burdened by it. Ha ha! Only warriors schooled in the dark arts can have full use of their awareness skills in this forest!”
“Do you think that matters to me?” I stated coldly. His laughter stopped, and for one moment uncertainty glittered behind his mask. “I have come for Tomoe and I will leave with Tomoe, and you will not stop it.” Facing him, I gave him a cold once-over. He would die soon.
The eyes glittered again as suddenly he dropped his sword and flicked his hands outward. Searing pain knocked me backwards a step as a razor-sharp spike buried itself deeply in my shoulder. My opponent laughed again, triumph filling his voice, but his laughter choked into a gasp of pain as I tore the spike from my shoulder and sliced him across the torso in one swift movement.
It was a fatal wound – he would bleed out in a matter of minutes. Standing over him, grasping my blood-splattered blade, I demanded, “Tell me where Tomoe is.”
The man gasped, spitting up blood, then smiled at me hazily. “Find her in hell. You’ll be there soon enough yourself,” before falling forward. Out of nowhere, his hand closed over a rope and he gave it a quick pull, disappearing in a blinding flash of light and noise.
I must have been knocked out for I found myself waking up to blood tricking from both ears and a painful buzzing filling my head. My body felt like it had been beaten all over, and both shoulders were bleeding steadily from their wounds. Blinking and turning my head gingerly, I realized that my acute hearing was nearly gone. You’ve lost your intuition and your hearing. This isn’t good, I told myself.
But Tomoe still waited. I still had four of my senses left. I had fought drunk and injured before. For Tomoe’s sake, I knew I would fight until I still had strength left to crawl. As of now, I still possessed some hearing. It would suffice.
Pulling myself to my feet, I moved forward. Tomoe was waiting. I had to get to her. My breath froze in the cold air, sending puffs of fog around my head. My blood left rosy patterns in the snow, swirling with the ridges my sandals churned up. Coldness and shock began to set in, but I ignored them. Tomoe. I had to get to Tomoe.
My limited hearing, damaged as it was, was enough to let me hear the boast of my next opponent before I could see him. “Battousai of Kyoto without his awareness or his hearing. That doesn’t sound like a fair fight!” An enormous man wielding a massive ax stepped into view and grinned at me.
“No,” I replied coldly. “For my opponents, it is never a fair fight,” I said and charged him head-on. Massive as his ax was, he hoisted it as he would a paintbrush, but even his enormous strength and speed were no match for the lightning reflexes of Battousai. I evaded him easily, lightly. Bleeding as I was, ears still deadened, and pain radiating through my body, I felt alive. I had forgotten what it was like, this life and death struggle of living by the sword.
As life coursed in me, my chi began to wake up and struggle against the overpowering essence of the forest. It was for that reason that I sensed, a millisecond before it happened, the presence of another, not in front or behind, but above. I dodged and attacked at the same time, but it was not enough; some strange claw contraption tipped with razor-sharp blades buried itself into my shoulder. I staggered backwards as fresh blood began to flow in earnest down my chest and back and leave smears on the tree I fell against.
The ax-wielder, sensing his chance, moved forward. Through the tree, I felt my other opponent move and began his attack again. Wait for it, I told myself, tensing. Now!
As the clawed hand shot downward again, I darted out of the way at the last moment – as the ax came down, it met razor blades instead of human flesh. The creature in the tree, whatever it was, man or beast, screamed in agony as its claw was severed and fell into the snow, gushing blood of a strange hue. As ax met metal claw, I sliced the ax-wielder’s legs, neatly removing one and leaving him writhing in agony on the ground.
The creature in the tree hissed and screamed, “I am leaving now, Battousai, but I will find you!” before disappearing into the trees of the forest. The man on the ground continued to moan in pain, but his blood-smeared face lifted to meet mine with one last look of defiance before pulling at a handle on the ground.
Another explosion, this one primarily of light, knocked me backwards into a tree. Fierce pain seared my eyes, and I buried my palms into my eye sockets in desperate attempts to keep out the blinding light. When I dared remove my hands from my face, it was only to realize that my sight was severely damaged. The forest was merely a hazy glow with indistinct dark spots. Third sense gone, I thought to myself. First intuition, then hearing, now sight. But I had defeated three enemies, and my resolve had not soften one iota. I had come for Tomoe, and I would kill anyone else who stood in my way.
Staggering to my feet, I leaned heavily on my katana. The blurry world spun heavily around me, and nausea set in. Dimly, memories moved to the surface, pulling me in and out of the present and the past.
The innkeeper’s sarcastic tones. “Good evening, Mr. Himaru. My, you Inshin warriors have energy to burn. You slaughter men all night but still swing by the pleasure quarter on your way home.”
A dying man’s last gasp. “I…I forgive you, my son.”
Seijuro, my master, with sardonic eyes gazing at me. “Bakka! Attack again!”
Blood. Blood flowing like rain down the front of a white kimono. The scent of white plums. Two soft hands closing timidly over mine.
Lost in my memories, weak from cold and blood loss, staggering, nearly blinded, almost deaf, I kept moving forward, leaving bloody footprints behind me. Tomoe. Tomoe. Her small frame danced in front of me like a ghost, weaving in and out of my consciousness. The minutes crawled by, and I felt like I had been moving through the woods for an endless age.
At once, my journey ended – the forest gave way to a small clearing where a temple sat. Outside the temple stood a man, gray-bearded, but tall and strong and gazing at me with something like amusement on his face. Behind him, crouched against the door, was Tomoe. I had found her. There was one last barrier between me and her.
My body took over and moved of its own accord, but I was greatly weakened and my strikes were slow. The man easily evaded my first three strikes, then attacked. Explosive force slammed into my abdomen and sent me backwards into the snow. I scrambled, trying to find a purchase in the slick snow, then jumped clumsily to my feet before attacking again. He ducked and punched me with a stiff uppercut – I staggered backwards again, my limited sight clouded over with the pain of his blows.
Two more times, I attacked and was beaten back by the power of his fists. On the fourth blow, I fell to the ground limply, too stunned to rise to my feet. The man laughed, “You’re bleeding. You’re cold. Shock has set in. You’ve lost your intuition, sight, and hearing. You’ve beaten three of my warriors, and they all left their marks on you. You will not win this fight, Battousai of Kyoto. No,” with that he drew a long tanto. “I am the hand of God who will bring his justice to you. At last, you will pay for the sins you have committed and the lives of Christians you have taken.”
Sheer will pulled me to my feet and I stood, staggering, but upright. Clutching my katana in my numb hands, I faced him. His face was cold with anger now, and there was a certain twisted pleasure in the cast of his eyes.
At that moment, I knew with blinding clarity what I had to do. I knew that the only way I could defeat him and save Tomoe was to get within range of his knife, to sacrifice myself. I knew I could not walk away from this battle alive, that the end had come for Battousai the manslayer and Kenshin Himaru the farmer and fiancé of Tomoe. Both would die in front of this temple. But, if I attacked with all the remaining strength still present in my being, I knew I could kill my opponent and free Tomoe. There was only one choice, and I made it.
Farewell, my love, I thought desperately as I prepared to attack. Live free and remember me always.
I charged, conscious of nothing but that last final attack. As in a dream, I felt my arms raise to position and strike. The katana cut a bloody path through black hair and blue fabric, and the smell of white plums mingled with the salty tang of blood.
My opponent fell to the ground, bleeding out from a deep throat wound. Tomoe fell against me; her hand clutching the bloody tanto dropped limply to the ground. For a moment or two, I was bewildered. Why is Tomoe here? I thought. It was only when I felt her wet blood seeping through my clothes that I realized the truth, but my mind froze in disbelief.
No. It could not be. I lowered Tomoe to the ground, holding her in my arms. She was not hurt. I could not have struck the woman I loved. She could not have sacrificed herself for me when such a task had fallen on my shoulders. I looked at her in complete disbelief, trying to will away the horrendous wound that had sliced her deeply from shoulder to hip. I stared blankly in her face, trying not to recognize the pale, disoriented look of someone who is steps away from death, a look I knew all too well.
I clutched her wordlessly, begging without sound for her to cling to life, to live, to not leave me, even when I knew that it was hopeless. Tomoe fixed one glassy eye on me, then moved her tanto up to my face with a trembling hand. I did not move as she gently scored a vertical slice on my cheek, intersecting with the horizontal scar that her former fiancé had left behind. Having done so, she gave me a weak smile before closing her eyes.
It was Barnabas who found the two of us, Barnabas who gently lifted Tomoe in his arms, carrying her body and half-carrying me out of the woods back to the village. I don’t know how he managed both of us for I could scarcely walk and hung heavily on his shoulder. Numb with disbelief and shock, heavily wounded, and barely clinging to consciousness, I somehow kept a weak grip on Barnabas and staggered beside him through our slow journey. In truth, I wanted Barnabas to just leave me there, to let blood loss and the cold of winter do its work so that I could be with Tomoe. I no longer had the will to live now that she was dead, dead by my hand.
But Barnabas had a will nearly equal in stubbornness to my own. It was his force that propelled us forward on the long journey back through the woods. Back at the house, a small crowd waited. They surged forward when they first sighted us, then drew back in shock and horror at the gruesome display of blood and death. Barnabas ordered most of them away except for a few women whom he turned Tomoe’s body over to and then guided me into the back room of the house, away from Tomoe. I made a move to protest, but Barnabas pushed me down, and I did not have the strength to rise.
He disappeared for a few minutes, then returned with his hands full of bandages and healing supplies. Barnabas had some skill as a doctor and set to work on my injuries, cleansing and stitching up my wounds. I did not protest as his needle stabbed through my bleeding flesh or when he helped strip me of my tattered, bloody clothing and into clean clothes. When he was done, he thrust a bowl of something in front of me and commanded in a voice cracked with emotion, “Eat it, or I will feed it to you.” I did not taste it as it slid limply down my throat – I was only eating because I had no will left to fight him over it.
When the bowl had fallen from my nerveless hands, I said in a hollow voice, “Take me to Tomoe.”
Barbabas nodded through tears and slid back the door. I followed him into the small bedroom where Tomoe and I had slept side-by-side, never once touching. The only time I had held her in my arms had been the night before. She would never lie with me; I would never feel the softness of her naked flesh against mine. She had lived as my wife in name for several months, and I would never know her as my true wife.
Tomoe lay under the covers, her face cleansed of all blood and her hair neatly combed. She seemed merely sleeping as if she would soon awake with one of her calm, gentle expressions and start her daily chores.
I knelt at her side, gazing hungrily at the moonwhite face on the pillow. Behind me, Barnabas and the others left, leaving me alone with Tomoe.
I wanted to cry, scream, rail, fight, but I had nothing to draw on. There was only a yawning chasm of loss and guilt and sorrow in my being, and the depth of it permeated every pore. I could only sit and stare at her and grieve.
For two days, nothing could tear me from Tomoe’s side. Barnabas never left the house the entire time I was grieving over Tomoe. At times, he forced me to eat and checked my bandages, but mostly, he left me to the room and tactfully turned aside mourners from the village who appeared at the door to pay their respects. On the second evening, he set tea in front of me and said gently, “Kenshin, we must bury Tomoe.”
I nodded numbly.
Barnabas sighed deeply. The circles under his eyes were deep; grief had scored him also. “I will tell the villagers. We will dig the grave tomorrow.”
I said nothing. Barnabas looked at me. “I’ll arrange another safe house for you…”
“No,” I said flatly.
Barnabas nodded, “You want to stay here?”
He looked at me narrowly. “You’re not planning on turning ronin, are you?” he said harshly.
I said nothing. In it, he read my intentions. “Kenshin, no,” he said, “Tomoe…Tomoe…I don’t know what happened and I didn’t want to burden you by asking. But whatever it was, turning ronin is not the answer. You’re wanted by both the Ishin and the Shinsengumi, and you can’t simply wander about like that, without a home. You’re a part of us now and…”
“That part of me died with Tomoe,” I said in a deadened voice. “That day, that day that we discovered Tomoe had been taken, I knew. I knew that I am hitokiri. Nothing can change that.”
Barnabas gave me an angry look. For one moment, I thought he was going to punch me. “Baka!” he snapped, shooting to his feet and pacing. “When are you going to accept that Christ died for your sins? When are you going to stop trying to carry all your sins yourself? You can’t!”
“When you have slaughtered hundreds and killed the woman you loved, you will have the right to ask me that question,” I responded.
Barnabas stopped pacing and stepped forward. Grabbing my head roughly between his hands, he bent forward so that our foreheads were touching. Sighing deeply, he said in a choked voice, “Brother, I will pray for you every day. I will not give up hope that you will find the redemption you so desperately seek.”
I sighed deeply. “I had hoped to find it here. For a time I did.” Barnabas released me and stepped back, tears forming in his eyes. I went on, “God may forgive me. But I cannot. Not now.”
We buried Tomoe that day. How the men hacked a grave out of the frozen soil, I do not know. I could not attend her funeral; I could only stand on the hill and watch it from afar. When it was over, I left, taking nothing save my katana and a few supplies. My wounds were still healing, and I was nowhere near recovered from the battle of three days ago. But I could not stay in the village anymore than I could pass through fire unscathed.
I did not know what the path before me lead to. If it was to my death, I welcomed it. I did know that the life of an assassin was behind me, that even if the Ishin had accepted me back, that I could no longer kill innocent people again. Although I could not fully embrace Christianity (the weight of my guilt seemed too great for even Christ to remove) I had lived and loved among them for a time and was embraced by them as one of their own. There seemed only one choice before me – to protect the weak and defend the Christians who were being hunted like wolves throughout Japan. I had not forgotten throughout these months that our village was harbor in a raging sea of violence. Outside, Ishin and Shinsengumi still raged, slaughtering each other and countless thousands of innocents. My sword had killed to take the lives of Christians – I would now wield it to save their lives. With my actions and with time and penance and repentant, perhaps someday I could find the peace and forgiveness I sought.
For now, I had a path. I took it, leaving behind only my footprints in the fresh snow.