AN- Okay, so, here's the next chapter for you guys. I was a little worried that it would take me a while to get this out, but once I figured out certain details, it got done a lot quicker than I expected. Hopefully I'll be able to keep up this tempo. This story is actually starting to draw to a close, as it ends with Shishio's defeat. Hopefully I'll get the story finished in less than four months. Sorry for the long absence, guys, and thank you to everyone who remained a faithful reader after all this time.
Read, enjoy, and please review!
Kenshin licked his slightly dry lips as he stealthily approached the man sitting at the kiln. He only had one chance at this! He darted forward, not making a sound, concentrating on his target, the wind roaring against his face as he got in range, and whipped his sword out of its sheath in a horizontal battojutsu attack, the sword whistling through the air...only to pass through nothing, as the man disappeared. Cursing, Kenshin jinked to the side, narrowly missing the counterstrike from the thoroughly displeased looking man who stood before him. "Baka deshi," the charismatic man the size of a bear muttered, a sneer on his handsome face. "After I took care of that one samurai from the Juppongatana, I thought I told you that I was done doing favors, that I didn't want to see you anymore."
Kenshin said nothing, simply kept light on his feet, sword at the ready position.
"However, I can guess what you are here for. Listen, baka deshi, listen carefully."
Kenshin stilled his breathing, concentrating on the world around him, listening to the rustling of the changing leaves in the wind, the sound of the trickling brook that ran by his master's remote cabin, and overlying that was the distant roar of the waterfall that was nearby. However, when the wind shifted and blew in from Kyoto, the sound of modern battle could be heard. Sano and Saitô were down there now, helping the Americans capture and hold territory, as well as organizing what CRF units and local resistance groups could be mustered. Aoshi and Misao were organizing intelligence gathering and reporting between the two forces fighting against the CIF. It was a stiff battle, and both sides were losing men by the dozens, if not by the hundreds.
"This war is now at my doorstep, and you come, seeking strength with which to kill Shishio Makoto. I never taught you the final secret of Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu, and you will need that to defeat Shishio. You really are a baka deshi." He stopped, glaring at Kenshin contemptuously. "Himura Kenshin, you are not worthy of the succession technique!"
Kenshin could only stare at him in shock. "Demo...Shishou..."
"Silence when your master speaks before you!" Hiko thundered, eyes flashing like lightning. "You ignored everything I ever taught you save for the technique! I told you repeatedly that you couldn't side with any faction! If you do, then you are tied to a political system, not an ideology! How can you protect all within your sight if you are following some fool's orders like a dog? I know what this has done to you, how you have an angel and a demon residing within your mind!"
Kenshin grimaced. "But, Shishou, I couldn't let the people suffer, and there is no officer amongst Shishio's armies that acts out of anything but greed! Choosing the Chosu was the only logical reason, they are striving to build a better world!"
"And what of the innocent people that they have hurt? I know that you've assassinated at least one person who was causing no harm, committed no crime other than opposing the Chosu and what they stand for!"
"At least I didn't sit up on the mountain, acting as a hermit, doing nothing as millions suffered under a mad-man's insane yoke!"
Hiko recoiled a little at that, a look of shock briefly flitting over his face. Then his angry mask was back in place. "If you do not understand my reasons for not acting, that you are even worse than a baka deshi," he snapped bitterly as he relaxed his stance and sheathed his katana. "I will not teach you the secret."
"But, Shishou, if I don't learn the secret then who knows how many more people will die?"
"It is not my issue," he retorted angrily before turning on his heel and making his way back towards his kiln. Kenshin grit his teeth, thinking rapidly, trying to figure out some way to...
"I challenge you!" he shouted out, and Hiko paused. "If I can manage to hit you with my sword, you teach me the secret."
Hiko turned back towards him, a thoughtful expression on his face. "What is in it for me?"
Kenshin grinned, sweat breaking out on his forehead. "You get the chance to beat on your baka deshi to your heart's content."
Hiko smirked. "An interesting proposition. You think you can hit me?"
The ringing of steel against steel and Kenshin darted to the left, swinging again. Hiko blocked the strike effortlessly, the same cocky look on his face. The next few minutes were spent in deadly concentration, blades flashing as Kenshin tried to find an opening. There! He swung, and-
He was on the ground, trying to breathe. Hiko stood over him, smirking victoriously. "You're going to have to try harder than that, baka deshi. Get up, I only kicked you in the stomach." Groaning, he rolled up onto his knees, gritting his teeth at the pain. He'd fought through worse pain, but he wasn't fighting his master in those fights. Sucking in a deep breath, he charged forward, trying to fake a sweeping attack. Hiko began to swing a blocking move, and Kenshin leapt as high as he could. "Hiten Misturugi-ryu, Ryūtsui-!"
"Baka." Hiko was above him, and Kenshin was already committed to his strike, he couldn't shift to the defense fast enough! The sudden shock of an impact against his left collar bone as Hiko struck him with the dull side of his katana, hard enough to leave a bruise, but not hard enough to break anything. He hurtled to the ground, and slammed against it in a painful heap. He rolled out of the way as Hiko followed up his attack with a heel strike to the ground, the ground cracking under the strength of the blow. "You have to try harder than that to hit me, baka deshi! What's the matter, have you grown weak since we last crossed blades?"
The Battôsai is anything but weak! came the scream from within his head, and Kenshin couldn't do anything as Battôsai took over, rushing forward with a feral scream. Hiko only gave a wider smirk as he jumped up and back, blade raising for an attack. Battôsai snarled as he prepared to counter the sword attack, and then crashed to the ground again as Hiko snapped a kick into his side. "Just because my blade is raised doesn't mean that I'm going to attack with it, baka deshi! You should know this already."
Battôsai sprang to his feet, prepared to make a witty retort when Hiko loomed in front of him, sword sheathed, saya free from his belt, and he knew that he faced the two part Battojutsu, the Sōryūsen. His actions were swift, and completely accurate as he brought up his sword, one hand resting on the blade itself as a means to provide more stability from when Hiko actually struck his waiting sword. There was a crash that jolted up his arms, and he looked down at Hiko's still sheathed sword. Wait...what?
"Hiten Mitsurgi-ryu...Sōryūsen Ikazuchi!" Hiko shouted, and there was a starburst followed by a crashing clamor of noise as Hiko struck him in the side of the head with the flat of his blade. He collapsed bonelessly, on the ground for the fourth time in as many minutes. He rolled over, head swimming as he fought the urge to vomit. Kenshin groaned as he realized that he was now back in control of his body. "You won't be able to beat me as Battôsai, baka deshi. You will need to defeat both him and the Rurouni before you will be able to learn the secret." Kenshin slowly clambered to his feet, his usual grace gone. He couldn't quit. Every moment that he stay on the ground was a moment that more soldiers died. He would learn this secret even if it killed him!
The cycle continued for hours. Slowly, grudgingly, Kenshin realized that he had to commit everything into a single strike. Hiko was simply too good, was too skilled. If he didn't commit to one attack, he was never going to learn what he needed. Gathering his waning strength, he leapt into the sky, closely followed by Hiko, who still bore the same smirk. "Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu!" they both shouted simultaneously. "Ryūtsui-!" "Ryūshō-!" "-SEN!" A flash as bright as lightning, a roar as loud as thunder, followed by darkness as dark as pitch. Kenshin knew no more.
12 September; Hiko Seijūrō's Clearing, outside of Kyoto, 1907hrs; Himura Kenshin's POV:
He awoke with a start before sitting up, clutching his aching head. "Owww," he muttered before glancing to his side. "N-nani?" His sword was broken, cut in half, a result of the last attack.
"Finally you did something intelligent that also showed you truly are a baka deshi. You concentrated everything on the last attack, and as a result you hit your head when you fell down. However..." Hiko trailed off, and Kenshin glanced at him, immediately spotting the shallow scratch on his forearm. "You still hit me. I guess I have to teach you the final secret now."
"But, Shishou...my sword is..."
"Catch!" The sword came hurtling towards him, and he snatched it out of the air reflexively. "This was in a shrine inside of Kyoto, and after Shishio took over I went and rescued it. Had to beat some weirdo with a broomhead for hair, but he was so easy to defeat that he ran away like a little girl after I beat on him for a while." Kenshin slowly drew the blade, shocked to see...
"A sakabatō?" He tested the balance and the grip, surprised at how natural it felt. "It feels...right." He remembered Kaoru's plea to spare as many lives as possible. Maybe with this sword, he could truly adhere to that promise.
"I did some research. You have heard of Arai Shakku, yes? This is his final sword, unequal to any other blade forged by human hands. Though a sakabatō, you could not be more blessed to have that blade in your hands."
"Now come, you have to be taught the succession technique," Hiko ordered briskly, and Kenshin stood, wobbling slightly on his feet before following his master. "There, stand there. If you move a muscle, you will die. You remember all the nine sword strikes, yes?"
Kenshin blinked, and nodded. "Hai...there is the head, the Karatake...the left and right shoulders, the Kesagiri and the Sakagesi. The right and left arms, the Hidarinagi and the Miginagi. The Hidari-kiriage, the right leg, and the Migi-kiriage, the left leg, and the groin, the Sakakaze. Finally, there is the chest, the Tsuki."
"I'm glad you remembered at least that much. All of the sword strikes falls into one of these regions. The defense revolves around these areas, as well. And yet..." Hiko exploded into movement, and Kenshin couldn't move a finger as Hiko blew past him, skidding to a halt in the mountain dirt. All nine regions of his body had been hit in an instant. "Hiten Misturugi-ryu, Kuzu-ryūsen. With the godlike speed of our style, all nine areas can be struck simultaneously. Unlike the 'Dragon's Lair,' Ryūsōsen, all nine strikes of the Kuzu-ryūsen are fatal. It is a charging attack, therefore difficult to dodge. It is my greatest attack." Kenshin swallowed dryly. "Now that you have seen it, do it!" Hiko ordered, and Kenshin nodded before taking up that stance.
You can't dodge it, but not because it moves beyond the human ability to see...I could see all the strikes very clearly. Therefore... "Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu...KUZU-RYŪSEN!" To his surprise, he flowed into the attack. All other moves that he had learned had been learned through pain, through getting beat up by Hiko until he learned properly. He rocketed towards Hiko, who only smirked his maddening smirk. To Kenshin's surprise, he did the same move right back at him, and they collided. Kenshin's attack was overcome by Hiko's, and he hit the ground, sliding to a stop. "But..." he gasped, "what went wrong?"
"Absolutely nothing, baka deshi. Physics worked against you. I'm bigger, faster, and stronger than you, so therefore my attack will always defeat your attack."
"But then..." Shishio was a master, he might be able to counter the Kuzu-ryūsen.
Hiko grinned. "There is one move that can beat the Kuzu-ryūsen, baka deshi...the succession technique for Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu."
Kenshin stared at him with wide eyes, flustered for a moment. "Eto..." It was like Hiko to lead him on like that. "Hai, shishou."
"The Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu, Amakakeru Ryū no Hirameki, the Dragon Flight of Heaven. The Kuzu-ryūsen was originally created as a test of initiation, not as a means of battle. Now think...what is the one way to defeat the Kuzu-ryūsen?"
Kenshin paused, and then grimaced, sheathing the sakabatō. "It would have to be Battojutsu, a strike to land before the Kuzu-ryūsen does." He dropped into the null form, and Hiko glared at his questioningly.
"Back to the river, eh? Reckless, to give everything you have to this. Is that such a good idea?"
"I have no choice, Shishou. I must try for the secret, even if I die as a result."
Hiko stared at him for a few moments before sneering. "You really are a baka deshi! If you don't understand what Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu truly stands for, then you will die here. You have the night to discover the fault within your soul. If you fail, you will die by my hand." Without another word, Hiko turned around and made his way into his cabin. Kenshin only stared after him for a few moments before making his way over to the kiln, where he would spend the next thirteen hours brooding, listening to the Rurouni and the Battôsai squabble.