Genji learns that the last lesson of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu isn't necessarily the ougi.
Watsuki Nobuhiro created Rurouni Kenshin, Jump Comics was smart enough to publish it, and Sony was wise enough to animate it. They hold all the copyrights. Darn!
This story relies on information found in the manga, not the television series.
A Star is Born
The ougi! Genji could hardly believe his ears. Finally, after nearly two years of suffering at the hands of his harsh taskmaster, Genji was finally going to learn the succession technique of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu!
Well, actually, if he were really honest about it (damn those nuns!), Hiko Seijurou the Twelfth wasn't really such a harsh taskmaster. All he demanded was a single-minded devotion to kenjutsu and the requirement that Genji address him as 'shishou.' Could Genji help it if he just couldn't seem to form the word in his mouth? Actually, if he were really honest about that, he'd have to admit that at first he had refused to address Hiko as 'shishou' because he was royally pissed off that anyone thought his swordsmanship was in need of any kind of improvement. Now, though, he refused to call Hiko 'shishou' just because it was so much fun to needle the old geezer. Ok, so he wasn't really that old, but… Genji was suddenly interrupted from his soul-searching by a rough shake of the shoulders.
"Deshi, are you planning to cook breakfast in this lifetime or the next?"
It was Hiko, and he was hungry. Genji flashed him a quick smile and got down to business, carefully masking his ki as he mixed some wasabi into Hiko's tea. Ah, good, no whack….
The two ate their meal in silence, each contemplating his own thoughts. Genji's thoughts were on the ougi; Hiko's were on the best way to switch his as-yet-untasted tea with Genji's. The fact that Genji had managed to mask his ki so successfully this time confirmed to him that Genji, despite his character flaws, was indeed ready to learn the succession technique. It pained Hiko to think that the world would now know Hiko Seijurou only as an arrogant horse's ass, instead of the principled, self-controlled man he himself was, but that was the way of the world. Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu could only have one master at a time—it was too dangerous to have more than one—and really, after more than two decades as master, he was ready to relinquish the title. What did it matter that even after nearly two years, his one and only student had never once addressed him as shishou? There was no doubt that the teen had become a flawless swordsman and had accepted wholeheartedly the philosophical underpinnings of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, and that's what counted. It was now time to see whether his student had what it took, both physically and mentally, to master the succession technique. As Genji got up to refill the rice bowl, Hiko carefully switched teacups, then began to speak.
"This morning, we begin your training to learn the succession technique," he announced. "You must be mentally ready for this challenge, for it will tax you as nothing else ever has. You will bring your new sword."
Genji shot a surprised look. "Not the practice sword?"
"To learn the succession technique, you must have speed beyond even the speed of the gods," Hiko said. "A practice sword is too unwieldy. This will require the flexibility and responsiveness of the best blades ever made. Only I, and now you, own such a blade."
Genji was not one to be intimidated by anyone or anything, but he couldn't help thinking about all the hits he had taken from Hiko as he learned the other moves of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. If they hadn't been using practice swords, he knew he would have been filleted, sliced, and diced many times over by now.
"Not that I'm worried or anything," Genji said carefully as he picked up his teacup, "but if we use real swords before I actually know what I'm doing…."
"Yama no Genji, after all this time together, do you not have enough knowledge of my skill to trust that I will be able to teach you with a real sword and yet never touch you?"
"Oh, so you're not scared of what I may do to you?" Genji needled him. He nonchalantly took a sip of tea, then sat in stunned silence as his eyes crossed and his sinuses practically exploded as the wasabi registered on his tastebuds.
Hiko roared with laughter. "Even after two years, you still think you can fool me? Don't you ever give up, Genji?"
Genji could feel his temper rising. "Damn you, Hiko…."
WHACK! Clash…. but it was a weak clash—wasabi can do that to even the strongest… WHACK!!
"Only after you have mastered the ougi may you call me Hiko!" Hiko reminded his baka deshi with a broad smile.
That did it. Genji jumped up from the table, grabbed his new sword, and shouted, "Ok, let's do it! By this afternoon, I'll have you eating your words!"
The two now went out to a clearing they often used for practice. If Genji hadn't been worried before, he began to worry now. The last time he saw this combination of concentration and amusement on Hiko's face was when Hiko had started teaching him to read ki. It had been a painful experience, and he had gotten the distinct impression that Hiko had enjoyed himself immensely as he delivered each and every whack to the unsuspecting Genji. This time, however, those whacks would not be delivered with a practice sword.
"Exactly what are you planning to do?" Genji finally asked after the two had been staring at each other in battle stance for several seconds.
Hiko smiled briefly. "There is an attack you haven't learned yet," Hiko said. "It involves hitting your opponent in all nine areas of the body at once. It is done so swiftly that there is no hope of defense. It is a move that rarely, if ever, is needed in battle. Its real purpose is to prepare you for the ougi. It is called Kuzu Ryu Sen. There is only one way to teach it—you will watch as I attack you."
But it was too late—Hiko was already on the move. With blinding speed, he flew towards Genji; before Genji could even blink, he had been hit in all nine areas of his body. Yet despite the feeling that a boulder had just crushed every part of him, he was still alive and unbloodied. It took him a few minutes to recover his senses and make the world stop spinning around him. Was that a smirk he saw curling the edges of Hiko's mouth? Hiko had enjoyed that, hadn't he….
"You bastard…," Genji managed to mutter painfully. He realized that Hiko must have used the flat of his blade for all nine hits, for if he hadn't, Genji had no doubt that he would no longer be in one piece.
Hiko offered a hand to Genji to help pull him up. "I truly am sorry, deshi," Hiko said as he tried to stifle a smile. "Unfortunately, there is only one way to teach Kuzu Ryu Sen, and that is to have you watch it in action against yourself. Only by seeing it come, by feeling the pattern of the blows, can you hope to learn it. I can show you again, if you like…."
"NO!" Genji practically shouted. "I mean, that's ok, I think I caught it the first time."
And he had. The moves had been made at beyond godlike speed, but by this time Genji had been so well-trained in the speed of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu that he could reconstruct in his mind's eye every move he saw and felt Hiko do. He staggered to his feet and said, "Ok, now it's my turn!" Then he collapsed.
Hiko smiled a self-satisfied smile. "Ah, deshi," he said as he sat to wait for his student to recover, "sometimes the rewards of teaching you are truly great."
Half an hour later, Genji finally got up and staggered over to a nearby stream. After splashing his face with cold water, he returned to the clearing, feeling thoroughly rejuvinated. "Now it's my turn," he said, a menacing gleam in his eye.
Once again, the two faced each other. Genji waited and glared at Hiko for all he was worth as he quickly reviewed the moves in his mind. Then, with godlike speed, he ran forward and, with unerring accuracy, delivered the nine blows of Kuzu Ryu Sen. He landed gracefully several feet away and then looked back. Hiko was still standing.
'Damn!' he cursed mentally. Aloud, though, he said, "Those blows were delivered correctly, so how come you're still standing?"
Hiko just smiled. "I must congratulate you, Genji—it was a perfect Kuzu Ryu Sen, and on your very first attempt! Of course, I am stronger than you and just a little bit faster, so…."
"Kuzu Ryu Sen!" Genji roared, and he sped forward even faster than before, delivering the nine blows with even more speed. After landing, he once again looked back; once again, Hiko was still standing, although this time he was at least panting.
"Much better," Hiko said, "and yet I am still stronger and faster."
Now Genji was really mad. He turned to face Hiko as he mentally analyzed every detail of the technique for a clue as to how to increase its power. He decided to improve his grip. He concentrated his mind with a fierce intensity and then, for a third time, he yelled, "Kuzu Ryu Sen!" and raced towards his teacher. This time, when the dust cleared, Hiko was sprawled unceremoniously on his rump, having just barely defended himself from Genji's blade. Genji was triumphant. "I've won!" he crowed.
Hiko stood up, a serious look coming over his face. "What does it mean to win at kenjutsu?" he asked in an ominous tone. "Kenjutsu is nothing more than the art of killing! To win means that you have killed! Never gloat over a victory, for a life is a life, no matter what the holder of that life is like! It is for this reason that a master of a power as awesome as Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu cannot allow anyone to rule him. Become no one's vassal, or you relinquish control of your own power! Guide your sword only with your own conscience, or you will become nothing more than a common murderer! Never forget that!"
Now Hiko sat down and assumed the lotus position. He knew Genji would learn the Kuzu Ryu Sen quickly, but he hadn't expected him to master it in only three attempts. Now he needed to prepare himself mentally for what was to follow. Therefore, he closed his eyes and began to meditate.
"Hey, giving up already?" Genji asked in surprise. He hadn't expected such a stern lecture, but it wasn't like that had never happened before. Usually, though, they just went back to practicing whatever move had prompted the lecture in the first place. Hiko, however, was unresponsive.
'Pfeh,' Genji muttered to himself, and he wandered over to a nearby tree and sat down. Actually, it felt good to sit—he was rather sore and tired from the morning's exertions. He closed his own eyes and soon was dozing peacefully.
He awoke not long after to find Hiko standing over him. There was something different about the man, but Genji couldn't quite put his finger on it at first. Then it dawned on him—Hiko was not wearing his ever-present cape. He stared in amazement, for in truth, he had never really seen his teacher without the cape except when Hiko was asleep at night. Now, for the first time, Genji got the full measure of the man. Yes, he was shorter than Genji and less obviously muscular, but everything about him exuded a kind of power that was, quite frankly, overwhelming. The cape seemed to have masked that.
"What happened to your cape?" Genji finally managed to ask when he had overcome his shock.
"It is time to teach the ougi," Hiko answered cryptically. "It is time for me to unleash my full powers."
Hiko gave Genji a strange look. "Go retrieve the cape," he said quietly.
For once, Genji did as he was told without a wisecrack. There was something about Hiko's eyes that set off all sorts of alarms in Genji's head. He bent to pick up the cape, planning to at least make some offhand remark about bad taste in clothing, but as he reached for it, he found that it was no ordinary piece of fabric. Under the shoulders of the cape were springs and weights that made the cape unbelievably heavy.
"What the…," he gasped. "This thing must weigh a ton!"
"Eighty pounds, to be exact," Hiko said.
"This cape has been used from the beginning by all who have held the name of Hiko Seijurou," Hiko said solemnly. "Its purpose is to restrain the inheritor of Hiten Mitsurugi's power in times of peace. Now it is time for you to attempt the ougi. Therefore, it is time for me to remove the cape and fight at my true strength. Only by having you fight me at my true strength will I know whether you have truly mastered the ougi or not."
"You mean, all this time I haven't been fighting you at your true strength?" Genji asked incredulously. How could this be? The man was unbelievably powerful with the cape on; what must he be like without it? Genji wasn't sure he wanted to find out….
"You now know," Hiko continued, "that there is no possible defense against the Kuzu Ryu Sen, and yet there is one way to defend—by doing something so bold, so dangerous, that it would kill any other swordsman to perform but a master of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. It involves the super-godlike speed of battoujutsu combined with the use of the left foot. It is the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki. This is the succession technique of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu."
Genji just stared, mouth hanging open. "Battoujutsu with the left foot?" he repeated in a stunned voice. Everyone knew a swordsman always stepped forward with the right foot, otherwise he risked killing himself by accident. Yet this was the very move he was required to do—a Kuzu Ryu Sen with the left foot!
"Now you understand why this can only be learned with a real sword," Hiko said, "and why I must fight at my full strength. Watch…and learn."
Hiko turned his eyes to a practice pole and assumed the battoujutsu stance. Suddenly, with supreme confidence, Hiko flew forward, left foot first, moving faster than the eye could see. Everything was a blur, but when it was all over, mere seconds later, there was nothing left of the pole but splinters, which seemed to be sucked up by a whirlwind before floating back down to the ground. Genji had never seen anything like it, not even when Hiko had attacked him with the Kuzu Ryu Sen. Hiko now turned to face him, eyes blazing in the aftermath of using the ultimate speed and deadly force of the attack.
Genji had watched, but had he digested it properly? He closed his eyes and ran everything through his mind. The left foot, the beyond-godlike speed, but there was also something else. He looked at Hiko, but Hiko said nothing; he just continued to stare at Genji with eyes that seemed to burn into Genji's own. Then Genji understood—the confidence, the supreme confidence of a clear conscience in the service of supreme power and ability. He had no doubt that he himself possessed that supreme power and ability, and as for a clear conscience, well, putting a bit of wasabi into Hiko's tea didn't exactly count. He tested leading with his left foot a few times to learn the feel of such an unnatural act, then dropped into battoujutsu stance and turned his undivided attention to a second practice pole. With a mighty battle cry, he lunged forward, concentrating his whole mind and all his efforts on the pole before him. The feeling was unbelievable—the move on the left foot, the incredible increase in speed it gave him, the immense power of what seemed to be a backdraft, which again picked up what was left of the pole into a whirlwind. He looked back in awe.
"You understand, now, the power of this move?" Hiko asked quietly. "Even if your opponent could somehow defend against the attack itself, the whirlwind created by the awesome speed will suck him back. There is no escape."
Genji, for once, was speechless. The silence continued, Hiko staring with blazing intensity at Genji, Genji staring incredulously at the remains of the two poles. Finally, Hiko broke the silence.
"It is time."
Hiko now assumed the battoujutsu stance and waited. Genji just looked at him, uncomprehending, until Hiko motioned for him to do likewise. Apparently, Hiko intended for them to attack each other with the ougi, but how could that be? The seconds ticked off slowly.
"This is your test," Hiko said quietly. "It's your move."
His test—yes! He would show Hiko just what he could do, and then finally he'd be able to call the man Hiko to his face without getting whacked for it! Genji assumed the battoujutsu stance, cleared his mind of all distractions, then suddenly flew into action.
If anyone had been there to watch, they would not have believed their eyes. Two blurs—one white-haired and of medium height, one dark-haired and tall—tangling in a whirl of speed far beyond what the eye could comprehend. The clash of steel sounded faster than the ear could take in. And when it was done, the whirlwind created by the attack and counterattack achieved nearly the force of a small tornado. When the dust cleared, one form lay on the ground, one was left standing. It was Genji. He turned to look back and saw his master lying still, not even moving his eyelids. He ran over to find a huge, heavily bleeding gash running from Hiko's shoulder to his hip. Genji immediately pulled off his gi and started tearing it into strips to use as makeshift bandages. Hiko brushed his hands away.
"Deshi," Hiko said weakly, "your ougi…was perfect. You are now a true master of Hiten Mitsurugi…." He started coughing up blood.
"But I've killed you! You're dying!" Genji cried out in alarm as he lifted Hiko's head onto his lap.
Hiko just smiled. "That is the last lesson…of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu," he said in a halting voice. "The student becomes the master…by taking the life…of his teacher." He stopped to catch his breath. He had prepared himself for this, but still the pain and the difficulty of breathing were hard to deal with. "You… are the new Hiko Seijurou. The cape…." And then he was gone.
Genji cradled the body of his teacher as tears started to fill his eyes. He had killed his teacher! The man who had taught him everything, had driven him crazy, had taken all his taunts—dead! His heart suddenly felt like it would burst. Never had he felt this kind of grief, this kind of remorse. "Shishou!" he sobbed. "Shishou!"
Now he understood what Hiko meant about the last lesson of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, about learning the true value of a life and thus the true meaning of death. He gently placed Hiko's body back on the ground and now, solemnly, began collecting what was needed for a funeral pyre. Being thoroughly versed in the customs of Buddhism, he knew exactly what was needed for a proper funeral, and he performed the rituals with all the respect he knew was due to so great a swordsman. When it was over, he buried the ashes and found a huge boulder to mark the site—a fitting monument for the twelfth master of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. Then, with a heavy heart, he took the cape and swung it about his own shoulders. He looked around the clearing at the remnants of the fatal lesson, then cleared his mind as best he could of its grief.
And so Hiko Seijurou the Thirteenth strode out into the world, as self-assured and arrogant as ever, but tempered now with a wisdom thrust upon him by the final lesson of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu.
Kenjutsu: art of sword-fighting.
Shishou: master teacher.
Ki: a person's 'aura' or sword-fighting spirit.
Baka deshi: stupid student.
Wasabi: green Japanese horseradish—very potent!!
Author's Note:Yes, finished already (what, you expected sixteen chapters again?). Given the way we're told Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu is passed from master to master, it was inevitable that this story would end with a death, but at least in this chapter the future Hiko Seijuro the Thirteenth gets a taste of his own medicine (literally)! I hope you've enjoyed my take on our favorite arrogant swordsman.
As always, many, many thanks to all our reviewers: Beriath, Curls of Serenity, HakuBaikou, Chiki, Amakakeru No Hirameki1, Maeve Riannon, Ayashi1, Chibi Mo, and Eeevee. Ever wonder if it's worth taking the time to write that review? Let me tell you, we authors live for those reviews (even if you're skewering us)!
Co-Conspirator's Note:I wish there were a note from good old Co-C., but since the first week of the new school year, she has been buried under an avalanche of work. So, I'll just send a ^_^ from her to you. Ja ne!