AUTHOR'S NOTE: Dedicated to all those people who have the time and the patience to figure out what they want in life and still always stay true to themselves while they do it. You are truly an amazing person!
DISCLAIMER: Rurouni Kenshin is the property of Noburo Watsuki.I am Tenken no Soujiro…
I am Seta Soujiro…
What you didn't understand, and ultimately what not even Himura-san understood was that, no matter how you look at it, this world is the survival of the fittest. I can wear my smile, and I can refuse to kill, but in the end, it doesn't matter. If I'm weak, I die. If I'm strong, I live.
I thought I was strong. I was the Tenken no Soujiro…once. Perhaps I still am. But I doubt it. The Tenken was brutally ripped in half when my mind cracked on itself…when for the first time, I couldn't smile at the prospect of combat. I suppose my mask fell off. But that's not a bad thing considering how soundly Himura-san thrashed me. Because I thought I had won that battle. I thought it was mine.
That ougi of Himura-san's…it shouldn't work. In reality, you can't pull the sword out of the sheath so fast and take an extra step without cutting open your thigh. And the arm speed required would probably rip my arm right out of the socket. To be able to do it so consistently and in so crucial a time is the mark of the true swordsman.
And for the name of Tenken and the perfect killer…I am a horrible swordsman. My Shukuchi is already extremely limited. When I used to spar against Shi-Shio san, I could never touch him no matter how fast I moved or how much I squelched my emotions. I could close the distance between us in a heartbeat, but I couldn't get within sword range without having a new scar raked across my body. Yeah…I never used kendo swords. Those were for the weak. If I bled, it would teach me to know my place. As Shi-Shio-san said, I'd be strongest of them all second to him.
And for a time I believed it. I was the strongest in the Juppon Gatana. Oh, Usui, that blind idiot would try to intimidate me from time to time, but deep down, he knew he could never keep up. If you can't use all your senses, my Shukuchi is invincible. That lame style he favors so much can barely keep up with my dust. I almost laughed my ass off when Saitoh skewered the poor man. He never really stood a chance. But, I did like Kamatari. He was so funny, the way he would argue against Yumi-chan every time they were together. For a guy, he made a scarily authentic girl…I think it even disturbed Shi-Shio-san. In a way, I was his rival too. I was Shi-Shio-san's right hand.
It took me maybe…five hours tops to master the Shukuchi's speed. I was already used to lifting heavy weights and a sword was nothing too heavy. After more weight training and endurance tests, I could break twenty miles per hour in a brisk jog. When it came to crunch time, I could break maybe…thirty. Only problem was that my sandals couldn't keep up. Yumi-chan had a headache trying to keep up with my constant need of new footwear. Shi-Shio-san just laughed. In a way, that was the most compliment I ever received from home.
Because, when that man says he's strong, he's vastly underrating himself. I could bring every ounce of energy in my legs to come crashing down on him, and he probably would complain that the mosquitoes were getting so damn annoying. In our first lesson, he proved that right away. My first sword was not the Kiki-Uchi-Mongi. My first sword snapped in half when I tried slashing his body. I barely cut the bandages.
That was my first taste of awe. As time went on, and I grew more competent, I still saw no one who inspired me as much as my superhuman sensei. Training me was already a pain in the ass because he had a hard time keeping discipline. If I made a mistake, it wasn't like he could beat me. I'd just smile it off. It's scary how used to pain I've become once I attain my nameless smile mode. A carriage could probably run me over and I'd just laugh it off. Of course, Yumi would probably need to reassemble me, and its not like she hasn't done it before, from my remaining body parts.
I gave Shi-Shio-san so much trouble. Remember my horrible swordsmanship? This is how. My footwork was atrocious. I was so dependent on my godlike speed that my reaction time was painfully slow. I had absolutely no defensive backup just in case someone could keep up with me…which I have yet to see. I could run UP to something, but likewise, I had a hard time running AWAY from things. When I first started using Shukuchi on a consistent basis, I had a brake time as long as a train.
I'll be honest with you. It was a stroke of GOD that Himura-san's Kuzu-Ryu-Sen didn't plaster me against the wall. It pains me to think of what Shi-Shio san would probably have done to me if he had actually SEEN what happened. I basically threw myself at his sword. Why didn't I just use my wakuzuchi and commit suicide? If Himura-san wasn't so worn out from fighting that Shinomori-san, I probably wouldn't even had time to bust out the Shu Ten Satsu.
That move took me 10 years to completely develop and master. Which means to this day, I still don't know how to COMPLETELY use it. To be honest, it was Shi-Shio san that started forcing me to use Battou-Jutsu. Maybe he already foresaw my having to duel Himura-san beforehand. I personally would have preferred Shukuchi in the more conventional manner. Battou-Jutsu requires too much finesse and for all talk removed, remember, I spent eight years of my childhood as farmer boy. My hands aren't used to precision that well.
Battou-Jutsu mechanics go like this. By keeping the sword in the sheath, air resistance is vastly negated as only the front of the sword is being affected. That means the original acceleration applied is amplified and the curved nature of the katana allows it to basically flow out of the sheath. This focused force is what gives Battou-Jutsu that extra burst of power. In other words, it's a pain.
So many things can go wrong with Battou-Jutsu that its not even funny. For one thing, its basically a point and hit thing. If you pull the sword slightly off course, it gets caught on the edges and the friction slows the sword down. If you pull it out too fast, the sword digs into the inside of the sheath and might even snap. Pull the sword too slow and you're fodder. Which…I might comment is the fate of the second sword Shi-Shio-san gave me. If I wasn't so scared that he was going to kill me right there, I would've thought his face was funny.
But I can't deny that the results are incredible if pulled off right. But…Shi-Shio-san ALWAYS saw something I was doing wrong. My legs didn't bend enough to give my shoulders enough spring. Instead of arcing up, I preferred to slide the sword sideways and keep the sheath perpendicular to my body instead of slightly bent down. I lost some speed since I had to reach farther around, but I figured with my Shukuchi, that would never be a major problem. When I got to the point when even Shi-Shio-san had trouble locating me, he conceded the point, but I always saw him sighing or rolling his eyes whenever I pulled it off. His complaint was that I could shave a whole eighth of a second if I bothered doing it right. Anal wasn't he?
Besides or as well as himself of, course, Shi-Shio-san had the utmost respect for the Hitokiri Battou-sempaii. Whenever he referred to the assassin he had a tone of reverence that bordered on acceptance. Like most other swordsman, he yearned to test his mettle against the strongest of the Bakamatsu. No offense to Himura-san, but I hated him before I even met the rurouni. EVERYTHING I did was compared to the Battousai. My mechanics, my aura, EVEN my speed! He took it pretty hard when he learned his sempaii was carrying around a sakabatou. It was like nothing was right in the world anymore.
That was the time he went buck-wild on my ass. Training and sparring became a nightmare. I woke up so early my legs felt sore and I went asleep too tired to fall asleep. Needless to say, Yumi-chan was worried.
God bless that woman. She restored my faith in the nurturing nature of womankind. Although a bit rough around the edges, she genuinely showed me compassion that I thought the world had forgotten. It turned out Shi-Shio was already…close…to Yumi-chan before I even came along. How close, I never bothered to ask. And I wouldn't have bothered because once Yumi-chan gets her glare of death at full power, even the Tenken started quivering in his cheaply made sandals. Just smile through the fear…that was all I could do.
The worst session with Shi-Shio san was right after Hoji joined our little group. That man, loyal though he is, is far too nosy for his own good. All this stuff about Japan domination and taking over the government and ruling the world would've been virtually impossible if Hoji didn't make it possible. And for the first time, I think Shi-Shio-san seriously considered his future place in history. And that meant that I better be strong or he would have to do everything himself.
And for the first time, when we sparred, he was out to kill me if I didn't meet expectations.
Normally, he would assume the defensive position while I would do my best to knick his linen bandages. But this time wasn't the case. He told me to start out with the classic Battou Jutsu and I complied. I wasn't serious at first. I laughed it off and decided I'd go with the one step speed instead.
Our first pass, he sidestepped and almost sliced off my ankle with the return stroke. Then he came at me as if hell was burning behind him instead of in him. And stupid idiot that I was, I threw myself at him. I wasn't bad. He told me that afterwards.
I was alive right?
First cut right into my shoulder and raked almost towards my neck. I managed to slow and break right before my jugular was ripped out. I barely had enough time to think before the second cut hit my left arm. Flipping, I threw myself backwards and barely threw my sword in front of my face before Shi-Shio san's blade collided with mine.
He pushed me so hard against the wall, we had to replace it after the duel. While I was trying to keep my sword up, he kneed me in the chest, gripped me by my hair and threw me halfway across the room. The fall broke my collarbone and almost dislocated my shoulder.
I was scared shitless. Kneeling on one foot, my arms were a bloody mess and my gi was coming very close to becoming rags. His face was dead serious…like hell had possessed his spirit. And he stared at me…god…it almost froze my spine.
I coughed blood and smiled genially as if dying was a breeze. But my arms wouldn't stop trembling. Regaining my senses, I slipped the sword back into the sheath and assumed the position. Shu Ten Satsu was coming up.
I actually think I saw respect flare in his eyes. He did the same thing.
Shi-Shio using Battou Jutsu…I would never in my life suspected it. I was faster than him…and he knew it. But why was I the one who felt like the end was so close?
It was the best one step I have ever taken. If I was that determined at our duel Himura-san…and if I was this focused…I think maybe…JUST MAYBE…I would have won. I moved like water and my sword flashed through the air like if nothing was there. And then I saw it…saw something I would've though I would never seen.
Shi-Shio had lost sight of me…and I wasn't projecting any aura…so he couldn't even tell where I was. And by that time, my Shu Ten Satsu had hit its top speed. Throwing my sword forward before I blacked out, I had a full second length on him before he even knew where I was coming.
Damn…I was fast. He only had time to bring his left forearm guard up before with a loud clang, my sword cut right into the metal plates he keeps under his bandages. It almost cut…almost…but this was no Kiki Uchi Monji. And so my sword basically pulverized itself. The recoil force was tremendous. Shards of metal cut right into my skin and lodged against my lung as I finished my pass. Then his sword flew out of his sheath and hit me right on the stomach.
I came to a stop maybe three meters in front as I felt my vision go black. Coughing blood, I dropped to the floor as my body collapsed and I hit the floor hard. It was no use…my blade was gone, my Battou Jutsu was gone…my breathing was about to be gone…and Shi-Shio was going to kill me.
I was still smiling.
It took me 4 days to wake up from my coma. I had lost a massive amount of blood and my wounds were still sore. In the cool room, I still felt feverish as I begged whoever out there to give me some water. Yumi almost instantly complied…and judging from the bags on her normally perfect face, it seemed she had been tending to me for quite awhile.
It turned out that Yumi had completely freaked to see me that badly hurt. She was used to bandaging a scrape, knife wound, chest contusion, and the like, but it shocked her pretty bad to see all three of them at the same time. It also turned out Shi-Shio spared no expense to nurse me back to health. The best doctor in Kyoto came to attend me…and wonders of wonders, Shi-Shio let him live.
I blacked out again and woke up to find myself face to face with my Sensei. I was surprised…his arm was in a cast. Noticing my surprise, he grunted nonsensically and made a comment about some freak accident. I only smiled.
That was the day where I finally got the Kiki Uchi Monji. I found it lying next to me the next morning. That sword is art Himura…pure art. I really wish you didn't have to shatter it like that…swords like that white handled one come once in a lifetime.
I basically became the right hand of Shi-Shio that day as well. It turned out the entire Juppon Gatana had been there watching. Not one of them expected me to still be alive. Usui started watching his step around me a lot more carefully. Anya just grunted as if he knew it all along. And Kamatari kind of gave up hope. I was the number one Juppon Gatana. And everyone knew it.
Yumi later told me Shi-Shio-san had told her I was too valuable to kill. That a swordsman of my caliber was worth a thousand men. That…that actually made me feel…pride. Shi-Shio could've torn my chest in half with that pass. That he had chose only to use the flat of his blade meant replacing me would've been near impossible. That day, I was the second strongest man…or boy…in the world.
The last pieces of our Juppon Gatana were assembled. Hoji went far and out of his way to assemble our army for Shi-Shio san's Kuri Tori. And great man that he was, I was sent all over Japan as messenger boy. I'll never forgive him for that. I can run fast sure, but does that mean I WANT to?
But most of my jobs always had a side prerogative. I was a master assassin remember? Usually I would always have to make a side detour to…visit…someone. Shi-Shio never asked that I bring back a head or a heart or another body part. He took my word quite nicely. Not to mention blood splatters and I always needed a shower or Yumi would scream that I get out of her area.
Himura-san…you may have a strong woman but Yumi would quite literally tear her apart. I even think Shi-Shio himself took great pains to stay on her good side…let's just say the time of the month was marked with great fear and trepidation.
Killing with a soft smile and a quick blade wasn't hard. If my victims were on a carriage, I could outrun them give or take fifteen seconds. If they were on foot with bodyguards, so much the better. And if they had their private little garrison…well…nothing a little ingenuity wouldn't take care of. You have no idea how many dupes have been suckered by a small boy in a blue gi whose carrying a sword. They ALWAYS think I've found it even if it's dripping blood. They'll run up asking where I found it and who did it and then various limbs must be removed before they either die of blood loss or dismemberment.
Gruesome I'll admit. But as I say…or used to say…or might even believe now…The strong survive and the weak just die. The men that I killed were either political enemies or people Shi-Shio believed just might be too problematic. Either way, they were men who had to understand the risk they took in their position. I was simply a reminder of the consequences.
I respected those that were willing to fight back…some of the people I killed were no slouches with the sword. I wonder if Shi-Shio set me against them just to keep my blade honed. I've aced at least 10 Hitokiri and maybe 5 ex-Shinsen Gumi. They're skill derived from the bloodbath of the Bakamatsu are unparalleled. Each had their own style and each had their own way of killing…And none of them kept up with my Shukuchi.
A duel…a real duel should never take longer than two minutes. If the element of surprise is yours, it shouldn't take longer than fifteen seconds. I learned that the hard way. The longest I took was against a Hitokiri down by Okinawa. He was good…good enough to have Shi-Shio sic me on him instead of another one of his Juppon Gatana.
Five minutes of exchanging blows and all I had to show was a rake across my right hand. Then a freak fog showed up and I lost him in the dense underbrush. I later learned he was found dead of massive internal hemorrhage and hypothermia. Not exactly what I had planned but I'll take it anyway I can.
When enough people had been silenced and our strength was gathered, the Kuri Tori began full rage.
The first time I saw you Himura, I almost laughed. You don't look like a swordsman…just like I don't. That's how I knew you were good. But how good really? At least you got a chance to go one on one with Saitoh. I would've paid to see that…if I had any money.
But that's life. Anyway, that Okina guy had to be killed. It was just that he was too competent for his own good…plus Shi-Shio wanted you to get in on the action. I mean, what's a revolution without a Hitokiri Battousai…or another one. Of course, being the righteous man you were, you took the bait full line and sinker. But really…I don't know what you were thinking.
Because, you really weren't that good as a rurouni.
I could see it when we might at that lousy piece of real estate Shi-Shio liked just for its hot springs. That non-killing thing might work against amateurs but you actually tried to square down with me! God…you were so easy to read. That cone-headed freak Senkaku was always expendable anyways. Saitoh already knew I was going to win…I knew you didn't stand a chance.
Of course after you finished trying to glare me down, we got to business and come on…have some originality here! Battou-Jutsu? I humored you. I should've just gone in with a reverse slash and added a new scar on the other cheek and a slash through your neck. But instead, we threw our swords at each other and wonder of wonders…you needed a new sword pretty quick. And…I…unfortunately got Shi-Shio pretty angry that I broke one of his prized swords. How should I know what a Nagane…Ko…something is?
It's not like he REALLY paid for it…
But, like I said, Nagane Ko whatever is no Kiki Uchi Monji. You wouldn't even have had a chest left if I was holding my best sword. Feel lucky, I wasn't even going five step speed. I've had better starts on warm-ups.
Still…it was rather impressive. I had seen many do far worse than you did. But you weren't even close to being the Number One Hitokiri I heard about in the Bakamatsu. It was oddly disappointing. But, you didn't kill…what could you expect?
I was half hoping that Saitoh might want to save you with that Gatotsu I've heard so much about. It would've proven more interesting than your Battou-Jutsu.
Shi-Shio of course overreacted and assembled the entire Juppon Gatana. Personally, I would've just killed you right there. My mind breaking or not, you still weren't good enough to keep up with my Shukuchi. Your ougi is what really separates us…otherwise, we're far and away apart. Your vast experience and cool head vs. my superior speed and power.
Interesting isn't it?
I got lazy after that. I'll admit, being the overconfident brat that I was, I of course figured the day you could beat me was the day Yumi would go for another guy. Honestly, those two needs to learn that I don't LIKE seeing them neck out in public…get a room or something. It disturbs me when you do that…
One of my first tasks was to bring Mr. Aoshi into the Juppon fold. Simple enough task except that guy is FREAKIN rectal. Good for you, Mr. Leader of the Now Deceased Oniwa Banshu. I respect loyalty, but this guy took it to levels God had never intended man to tread. I call it cultist fanaticism, but hey, that's just me.
Dual Nittou Kodachi…very impressive sword style. Impervious defense mixed with a splash of offensive flare. Who knows how I would have done against him? Once again, it all really comes down to how fast you are. He did lose to the rurouni before, so he obviously wasn't THAT good to start out with…but things change.
Being the jerk he was, he of course took the moral high road and began proclaiming his independence and grandiose important mission. To be strongest in the world by defeating the Hitokiri Battousai. Sorry buddy, but I beat you to it. Does that mean I could kick your ass without batting an eye?
Oh you know I can…
Keeping a smile while listening to this guy RANT is in itself a remarkable feat. But, icy-cold or not, Aoshi still had emotions. I didn't. Obviously, the Oniwa Banshu's hand fell before mine. With the right incentive, he became another flunky to the Kuri Tori.
God it's fun being evil.
Juppon Gatana reunion time took place just after Himura laid the smack down on the broom head…Cho I think. Funny guy, not too useful. Too many blades equal extra weight which when all added up, equal fodder to remind Himura that we are out there.
Usui had to take the flashy appearance and laid the blade on two of Shi-Shio's finest guardsman. But he knew better…he was useful…but not enough to cross a certain line. If he had even laid a scratch on Yumi, he was dead. And then the crowd grew: Anya, Kamatari, Fuji and the big-headed guy, the bird-guy, the big fat guy…god I am bad with names.
All I know is that watching Yumi and Kamatari fight is in itself a very interesting spectacle.
Yumi wins most of the time…all of the time actually…but don't get me wrong. Kamatari is a wonderful…she…he…person…god I confuse myself when I think about her…him… YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN?
Things settled down and Shi-Shio didn't require me to run around all of Japan anymore. I sparred a couple of times with Kamatari to pass time with Usui making the snide comment whenever he was around. It was fun…not enough to break my sweat but it's interesting…that monster scythe of hers…his…Kamatari's. There! Kamatari is Kamatari! There is no gender there is only Kamatari!
Where was I again?
I figure Himura-san, that this was the time you garnered all your strength from. Remarkable isn't it…that a week…maybe two weeks could change you so much. It's embittering too…if only two weeks could change ME that much…
And, to stomp it down, you promptly kicked our asses. Not only did you thwart all our main plans, you shattered our army with those LAME Oniwannabe Banshu's from the Aoiya, you sunk the Rengoguken, and you made Hoji almost tear out his rapidly balding head.
Instead, he cut off his finger. Wonderful…if it wasn't so pointless I'd find it fascinating how loyal he became. It seemed to work though as automatically Shi-Shio's opinion of this man shot up another ten notches. Personally, I thought the plan Hoji came up with sucked…
It came down to this. Shi-Shio figured Himura, Saitoh, and the rooster head would want to come face-off with us. So he countered with Usui, Anya, and me along with our trump card Shinomori Aoshi. The remaining Juppon Gatana would go take out the Aoiya and the rest of those Oniwa Banshu weaklings that Aoshi had betrayed.
It was a fun idea…in a way. Kind of arrogant actually, but as long as we get the job done, it's all good. We were pretty confident…I remember Shi-Shio joshing me around, commenting that I should just lose on purpose so he wouldn't be too bored. This is the way Shi-Shio HAD planned for events to go.
Anya would turn rooster head into a pancake and if any of the other two wanted to try their luck, he might take one down before losing. I have a lot of respect for Anya…even if he IS too bulky to ever beat a GREAT swordsman.
But more than likely, he would be good for just one. Next would come the blind freak. I personally thought that Usui might even give Himura a run for his money much less Saitoh, but Shi-Shio replied firmly that Usui was going to get eaten alive by the Gatotsu. The best chance we had with Usui would be as a really annoying filler.
Than came our trump card. Aoshi wasn't bad…in fact, he was really good. Par on par with Himura, he might actually win. If so, then he would be disposable material and Shi-Shio would go about his way coming up with another way of conquering Japan without any annoying moralistic Hitokiri turned rurouni to deal with.
If Himura did win, I would play clean up crew. That didn't really turn me on but hey, assassins don't get to complain. Fate, it seems, is not without its cruel ironies.
Shi-Shio never figured he would get up to bat…and we almost took it for granted the Aoiya was going to be reduced to a burning rubble pit.
The fun started.
Anya beat the rooster head…just not as decisively as I thought he would. Barely winning, it was more of a draw than a win because the rooster head was well enough to walk away afterwards. But I got this nagging feeling that good guys just HAD to talk their way to victory…cause Anya was ready to beat the living crap outta the rooster before "realizing the error of his ways and seeing the light…"
It sounds so stupid, but in a way…its what happened to me isn't it? God…it cracks me up.
Round two started with Usui gloating over his wonderful blind techniques that nobody really took seriously. I mean, how can you really look at a guy who's blind, is wearing a turtle shell, has the weirdest haircut I've ever seen and a fashion sense that turn's Yumi completely off and feel anything else besides pity and humor? Sure it might looks like he has ESP but just bring a really loud drum set into the room, and he is so screwed.
While Himura and the rooster ran off with Yumi complaining all the way (I would have sold my soul to you, Himura-san, if I could've been there to see you cart off Yumi like that) I think what's left of Usui was still dripping down the walls. I saw firsthand the Gatotsu Zero when I was making my way out of the caverns.
Well, at least the blind idiot was still smiling…for whatever good that's going to do him. I guess he didn't really put much of a fight. A pity…I would've loved the chance to be the one who sent him off this mortal coil.
And then, Himura-san…I finally got to see how good you've really become. Shinomori Aoshi…you owned him. If it wasn't for your lame reverse blade, you wouldn't have even gone through all the trouble you did. One pass, and the dual Kodachi Ninja wouldn't have had much of a chest left to breathe from. Even though you got two scratches on your neck, he was the one hacking up blood. If it was a sharp sword rather than a blunt flat end, I think the results would have been…really gruesome.
But you LOVE doing it the hard way.
AND YOU HAD TO TALK! WHY DO YOU ALWAYS NEED TO TALK!! As a swordsman…polite banter is fun, but do you really need to make moral and social commentary when the other guy has just made it clear he just wants to fight? Sure I might be a messed up kid, but I don't want to hear about it!! I might not have wanted to kill but why does that concern you?
While I was thinking this, the ougi came and sent Aoshi into orbit. Yumi sure as hell was surprised…Shi-Shio was interested. I think I was smiling at all the pretty cracks in the wall but hell, I was a pretty introverted stoned kid back then…I think I still am…but we'll get to that later. Our trump card was completely destroyed and no one knew where Saitoh had gone.
It didn't matter. It turned out Rurouni Kenshin was just as damn good as Hitokiri Battousai. You were suddenly, once again, the strongest in the Bakamatsu.
Meet the Tenken.
It was almost thrilling…if I could feel that emotion back then. All I could feel was a dull nagging tug of my heart mixed with some adrenaline. I wonder…I really do wonder what went through Shi-Shio's mind as he saw me grab my sword and step outside the door. I regret not asking him. I was his pupil…in some ways his son…a flower of his hegemony. In me, I reflected all his killing drive and warped sense of impartiality towards the weak. The perfect assassin.
Did he really think I would win or was my purpose just to slow down the raging Dragon? Was Tenken no Soujiro just another obstacle? Or Shi-Shio…did you actually think this small eighteen year old child would take down the strongest man in the world?
It wasn't time to think though…that would come in the middle of the battle when I least needed to think…
It was time to fight.
Your face Himura, was oddly resigned when you looked at me. You had already taken wounds to the neck and the chest…but those were cosmetic blows…you still had the speed. That incredible speed I've heard so much about. And that ougi…that godlike ougi that I still cannot compare to anything I've seen in this world.
The rooster head…Sagara-kun I think? I wasn't too worried about him…but WHY was he getting along so well with Yumi? I mean…wasn't I supposed to KILL him? I was kind of skeptical…but I was even more skeptical about you Himura-san. You beat Aoshi with that non-killing style of yours…that in itself was a credence to your name. But you faced me now. You faced the strongest of the Juppon Gatana. If you held anything back, I was going to tear you apart.
Didn't you understand that?
Didn't it make you scared?
Didn't it make you see that the only way past my blade, my Kiki Uchi Monji, was by reversing that sakabatou and showing me the killer that you once were?
I would have welcomed it Himura-san…I would have had no reservations, no fear…no regrets. If it had been my blood that had been sprayed across the mat, then it would have proved my point. The stronger kill the weak. If I was weak, I deserved to die. I admire you Himura-san…I do…but…because of that admiration, I can never truly understand you and your twisted philosophy as much as I ever understood Shi-Shio.
And not to sound repetitive and all…but WHY…just WHY do you feel the need to ALWAYS use a Battou-Jutsu? Can't we be a bit creative? Maybe a running slash or a few cuts…WHY do I always have to chuck my blade at you whenever we fight? Once again I humored you though, except that if your blade snapped in half, your bloody carcass was going to do exactly the same.
I started out slower than normal…maybe around ninety-five percent of your maximum speed…on that first pass. Your sword speed was right on par with mine. Your follow through however, was a bit rusty though. Whereas I only skidded to the side, you broke into a three sixty spin, losing your control of the blade. Your foot strength still wasn't as good as mine. I had learned how to stomp the brakes a long time ago.
The first pass, even though the rooster started screaming about my scratched sword, was my win. Your recovery time wouldn't have been fast enough if I had just planted my foot against the tarp and threw myself back around. But still…you scratched my precious blade…NO ONE had done that before…
This…this was suddenly interesting.
You had gotten a LOT better since last time. But, well, you didn't have a chance in hell against Shi-Shio and I said as such. I started wondering not how good you were, but how much better I was than you. Arrogant? Undoubtedly…getting my ass kicked helped me contain my ego in the future. That's why I started out three-step speed. You weren't even going to kill me even if I screwed up anyway, so why should I try hard?
Oh, the look on rooster head's face was PRECIOUS. And that wasn't even TOO fast for me. I missed you…I expected that, but only by a step. Only because I let you. I'll concede that pass to you however, because you got behind me. Shi-Shio used to tell me that if someone ever got behind your back, it was time to die. I didn't bother slowing down hard enough so I came to more of a skidding stop. If I was sparring against Shi-Shio, I would've gotten a nice long embarrassing cut right across my butt for being so stupid.
But still, both of you…well…all of you including Yumi, looked so brilliantly shocked. It was like, DAMN…how did he do that. Yumi had never seen me fight for real, even though she tended all my wounds. For such a motherly figure, she had little qualms about me going around killing people…isn't she great?
And then came the second step along with the third pass. Mine. Completely and utterly mine. You lived because I was more stunned that you were barely alive rather than very dead. Himura-san, even you must concede that I could've saved the Kuri Tori right here all by myself when I dug my blade halfway through your back.
I'm sure you thought you had won when your Kuzu Ryu Sen came out, but I had a full eighths of a second on it. To my Shukuchi, that's a lifetime. I came up right behind you before you could even blink and a high slash sent you stumbling back with a nice present from yours truly. The shock evident on your face was one of complete awe…
But if you looked at my face carefully enough, you would have seen a mirror reflection. I had tried actually…tried and actually not succeeded. This should have been enough… what kind of miracle of fate kept you standing is beyond me. Yumi was ecstatic. I mean, even though I missed, half of my blade was dripping blood. Even though you were still alive, I think about an inch more and you would have lost too much blood to continue the fight. Missed opportunities get you every time.
This…this was getting weird. Maybe your non-killing thing wasn't as weak as I thought…I didn't concentrate on our fight…I didn't really give it any effort…because all that was going through my head was the mantra I had lived by so long and how such a complete antithesis of that quote was standing here before me.
He let Senkaku live even though he didn't have to.
I killed Senkaku…
So what does that prove to me?
I think that was where I started to lose my grip on sanity. Ten years…ten years of keeping everything in check…it…it's not as easy to do as I make it seem. My…my head just wouldn't stop pounding…and I just couldn't stop asking that question.
How could someone not kill be this strong?
Stupid question to ask when I was winning…but really…how?
In the middle of racking my head for an answer that just wouldn't come, my waragi lace broke and I had to stop. I'm pretty sure if we had gone from there, I would have gone completely insane. I needed the time just as much as you did to calm myself down and stamp down on my emotions.
It…it didn't work that way. My mind refused to listen to me and all I could think about was how strong I might be, and how weak I might be, and why it mattered…and…god… I can't even think about it now without giving myself a headache. Behind the smile, I could feel a maelstrom of emotions that just wouldn't quit.
Those worthless fools that I had killed…
Shi-Shio san saving me…or did he save me? Did his words really save me?
Or did I just kill them in plain cold blood…because…because I was the one who was weak? I don't know…I DON'T KNOW!
By the end of the break, I couldn't even breathe straight and my eyes couldn't stop wavering. Those screams of my family…the blood that poured from their wounds…that blood was like mine as well. How different were we?
If the strong really did kill the weak, how did I become strong? Anyone could kill the weak but does that make them strong? Did I ever kill anyone strong in my life? What am I than? I could not…simply could not understand. To an extent, I understand now…for I have delved among the weak…but back then to times even now, I felt as if I was clinging to my sanity through my fingernails.
But…those people tried to kill me…
I wasn't wrong to kill them…
Shi-Shio wasn't wrong not to save me. He was strong…and so are you. So it's only natural for you to want to kill me too…
It's only right…ONLY right…but you didn't. You don't kill…HOW?
And if you believe that so fervently…
If you can carry that reversed blade…
Fourth pass came.
WHY DIDN'T YOU SAVE ME!
With that thought, finally…finally, you started distancing yourself from me. No matter how fast my Shukuchi went, with that raw, childish thought following me everywhere, I could almost feel your eyes burning into my back. My emotional shield was cracking all over the place and my aura must have been leaking through all the holes. It was…remarkable…really…when I completely missed you and when I looked up; all I saw was your sakabatou at my neck.
WHY DIDN'T YOU SAVE ME!
I…I had lost. The Tenken no Soujiro had lost. I deserve to die…right? I deserve a death by someone stronger. I DESERVE TO DIE DAMMIT! What kind of mockery is this? What kind of sick disgusting joke are you pulling? Swing the sword Himura-san! Don't…don't do this…don't…don't just stand there.
And in clear, brutal gesture, you lowered your blade Himura-san. You completely destroyed my reason for existence that had taken ten long years to build. The foundations upon which I had built my way of life on had been shattered. And you told me…you told me the truth I didn't want to hear. The bitter truth that I had been hiding for far too long…
I didn't want the Tenken.
I didn't want to kill.
It wasn't just blood that was flowing that night…it was my tears…
I had lied to Shi-Shio…I had lied about it all.
I could hear screaming…and only when my throat ran dry did I figure out it was mine. It was like someone had driven a sledgehammer through my head over and over again. Ten years of truth, lies, hate, love…Ten years of repression just shattered and pulverized whatever control I had left. It must have been almost overwhelming to you…to see this child really, break right in front of your eyes.
I wanted revenge for this…I wanted to sink my blade so far through your chest that I could bathe in your blood. I wanted nothing more than to lop off your head so I wouldn't have to hear your stupid, altruistic mouth say anything DAMN MORE!
And you didn't face the Tenken anymore. You faced me. You faced Seta Soujiro. The real, unadulterated Soujiro. One without lies, without falseness, and without any direction in his life. You faced the misery of the small boy who had to save himself…who had to kill to save himself.
The sword that fit like a glove in my hand, suddenly weighed all of its five pounds. But it didn't matter…nothing mattered except the last trump card I had up my sleeve. My ultimate attack that no one…no one but I could do.
The Shu Ten Satsu. The Divine Instant Kill. Blink, and you'll find you're already dead. My right hand dropped a bit and I placed all my weight on my leading leg. There was no turning back here…with this attack my fate would be decided. I gambled my entire belief, my soul, into this single moment.
And this time, your Battou-Jutsu didn't seem so readable. You assumed no position. You didn't lead with any leg. You slid the blade back into the sheath and slipped it into your sash…and stood there. But you weren't mocking me…I could see it in your eyes. And for the first time in a long time, I was dead serious. No comedy…no smile…I was Seta Soujiro.
My knuckles cracked as I tightened them together, than relaxed them. I could see it clearly…if I won…Shi-Shio was right…if I lost…than Himura-san was right. It didn't matter what I thought…all that mattered was the tight coil of the Shukuchi, the weight of the sword, and the dull focus of my heart.
Here I come.
Shukuchi at its full speed is almost unfathomable. I move so fast, my eyes blur and I can't see clearly. The roaring of the wind in my ears and the almost blurred sensations above and below…like somewhere between heaven and hell.
And the last thing I saw…was your left foot hit the tarp.
The impact was incredible. I threw my sword forward so hard that the recoil stung my hands and the shock almost broke my arm. I could literally feel the force of your swing erupt from your sheath and arc towards me.
My blade shattered…just like so many of those old ones I used to use…my Kiki Uchi Monji.
The carryover was tremendous. Barely even moved by crushing my sword, you hit right between my gut and my ribcage and finished the swing up. The literal momentum carried me right off my feet and threw me across the room.
I broke three ribs and I was still really lucky because you could've shattered my heart along with my sword. I hit the tarp on my descent down and almost caved in the mat. If the floor wasn't so yielding, I could've broken my skull. In my hand, I was still tightly gripping the remains of my fallen blade.
I must have looked a mess. I didn't know if I was bleeding or not, but something in my heart was hurting. Opening my eyes, I felt so relieved to see Yumi there, cushioning my head and allowing me to rest. She hadn't left me after all. She…she would have made a wonderful mother.
She smelled nice.
I think that's the first time I've ever noticed that. I laughed and listened to the sound of my clear broken laughter. It sounded hollow…but so…so real. It…it was funny…kind of. Just two weeks past, I had cleaved your blade in half…now, what was left of my blade rained all over the tarp. It…it was almost too much.
You are a strict taskmaster…I have never felt that devastated and yet so completely free in my life. I could see so many things so clearly now…things hidden by my emotion-clamp and my pride. I…I felt so cliqued…but it was all right. You forced me to find my own path…instead of laying one out for me like Shi-Shio. You gave me the chance to find out for myself how far Seta Soujiro could go.
For that, I must thank you.
And for Shi-Shio, I must thank you for allowing me the chance to learn this lesson. I could not have tread this far without treading in the path of the Tenken. Both of you are remarkable people. One white…one black. The greatest swordsman ever to have existed.
And thank you Yumi, for letting me go…and for allowing Shi-Shio to understand before I left. You were like a mother to me, and I could never, never thank you enough for what you have allowed me to do. Taking the precious wakuzuchi given to me by Shi-Shio… the blade I have treasured all these years…is in a way, as much as to you as to my teacher. Thank you for accepting my gift.
You won Himura-san.
The battle was yours. I knew that you would never be able to 'save' Shi-Shio though. Through fire and blood and contest of steel, there would be only one victor. I remember hobbling my way out of the shrine as Hoji lit the entire place up. As the area began tumbling down, I suppose in a way, it's paying homage not only to your greatness Himura-san, but of Shi-Shio's as well.
I left the burning hole behind me and disappeared into the forest. My sins have yet to be washed away…and I do not know if I have your strength to cleanse them. But I will not forget your lesson, just as I will not forget the tutelage I received under the Tenken. I am the best of both worlds…the old-age Hitokiri and the new-age Rurouni. But now and forever, I will always be Seta Soujiro. Whether that means I will once again pick up the blade will be left to be seen.
Will it be reversed?
Or will I keep the edge sharp?
I do not know.
Watch over me Yumi-san…along with Shi-Shio. Himura…as I stand over your gravestone along with that of your woman, I request that you too will guide me as well. Those who have not met you on the battlefield can never truly appreciate you, who have lived for so many and fought for so much. Your death was not worthy of such a great warrior but, oddly, it is fitting. You lie here along with your woman…having found peace in your existence…having found meaning in the way of the sword.
Kenji's eyes widened as he saw a figure kneeling in front of the gravestones of his mother and father. It was a man perhaps in his young thirties or older twenties. Dressed in a light blue kimono and a European dress shirt under his gi, what attracted Kenji's attention however was the sword sheath slid into his waistband.
It almost looked as if he was praying…
Walking up besides him, Kenji nodded his head. "Did you know my father sir?"
The man's eyes flashed open and widened as if seeing a ghost. Softening almost immediately, he got to his feet and smiled breezily, as if he had received a divine answer. "Ah…I had the privilege of knowing your father."
"Did you fight with him?"
An ironic smile crossed his lips as his hand trailed unconsciously over his abdomen and across his chest. "Something like that…he was a great man…and a great swordsman." Noticing the sakabatou Kenji carried at his sash, the man placed a hand firmly on the boy's shoulder. "The strength of your father was placed not only in his sword…although you have inherited his blade, do not forget that it is you who wields it. Your strength. Your belief. Your father helped me realize that…I didn't have the chance to thank him properly."
Kenji grinned. "But you still carry a blade."
"So I do…but…" Looking down at the white-handled blade at his side, the man shook his head and slowly untied the sheath from his sash. Pulling the blade out of the sheath, Kenji winced in sympathy upon seeing the shattered cutting edge, cleaved almost in half. "It is not a weapon…I carry this as a reminder of what Himura-san taught me." Closing his eyes, the man took a deep breath and mused out loud, "And perhaps this is the only way I can thank him…"
He thrust the sword into Kenji's hands and smiled brilliantly. "Even though this sword may be broken boy, don't underestimate it. It contains all the lessons, trials, and pain the Tenken ever learned."
Stunned, Kenji gaped openly at the man.
"Tell your father…Himura Kenji, that Seta Soujiro gave this to you."