June, 1861

CLANG!

Kenshin's eyes followed the swing of Hiko's nihontou, allowing him to raise his wakizashi and block the swing, albeit still being sent stumbling back by the sheer power of the move. Kenshin stood up, gripping his sword and glaring at his arrogant master.

"Kenshin, I've a question for you," said Hiko.

"Oro?"

"How were you able to block my swing just now?" asked Hiko.

"By raising my sword," answered Kenshin, eager to get back to their spar.

"That's not what I mean. How did you know when to raise your sword and where to move it to block?" Hiko elaborated.

"Because I saw your swing," answered Kenshin, annoyance beginning to set in.

"So you relied on your vision?"

Why was the Master asking such an insulting question?

"Yes!" Kenshin finally snapped.

Hiko smiled inwardly. Any display of willfulness was welcome because it meant the boy was gaining strength and spirit.

"You have confidence in your vision. That's a good thing, but..." said Hiko, tearing a strip off one of his sleeves and holding it out.

"Oro?"

"Take this and tie it over your eyes. I want to see how well you do when the sense you rely on the most is taken from you," explained Hiko.

"But if I can't see you, how can I fight back?" asked Kenshin.

"That's what we're going to find out," answered Hiko, still holding out the cloth.

Realizing there would be no talking the Master out of this, Kenshin reluctantly accepted the cloth and tied it over his eyes. Perhaps he should have just answered the Master's earlier questions instead of getting angry...

As soon as the cloth was tied, Hiko lunged forward and attacked Kenshin with a battoujutsu.

WOOSH!

Before Kenshin could react, he felt himself being hit in the arm by the flat of the sword's blade and sent staggering.

THUD!

"Master!" Kenshin cried in alarm as he struggled to his feet.

Senses reeling, Kenshin heard the footsteps coming toward him and leapt to the side clumsily as the sound of the sword cutting the air again reached his ears. Then a second cutting sound was heard. The sheath! The Master was attacking him with the So Ryu Sen!

Kenshin quickly raised his wakizashi and heard the clang as the steel of his blade blocked the iron of Hiko's sheath from striking him in the head. Kenshin jumped backwards, landing clumsily, but keeping his footing.

Over the next hour, this continued. Hiko charged, swung, slashed and thrust. Each time, Kenshin found that he was able to more easily discern the nature of his master's attacks and from which direction they came. Throughout the workout, Kenshin was able to feebly and clumsily block and dodge most of the attacks, learning quickly to avoid those that did connect.

'This kid is a quick study at this stuff. But let's punch it up a level,' Hiko thought with a smirk.

"Enough!" he barked.

Kenshin stopped, sheathed his sword and raised his hands to take off that accursed blindfold, only to have them batted away by the sheath of Hiko's sword.

"Master?!" the boy cried, irritated because he couldn't understand what his master was aiming for.

"I didn't say we were finished," said Hiko, tearing off two more strips from his tunic. "Hold out your hands!"

With a huff of annoyance, Kenshin held out his hands, into which Hiko placed the strips of cloth.

"Stuff those in your ears. Then stay right where you are," commanded Hiko.

"Master?"

"Just do it, stupid!"

Kenshin stuffed the fabric into his ears, cutting off the sounds of the world around him; the wind, soughing through the tree leaves, the chirping birds and flowing river, simply disappeared.

'I don't like this!' Kenshin thought in alarm.

If he couldn't see or hear, what chance would he stand against Hiko? Not that he ever stood one really, but without his hearing, it would be even worse, as he would be unable to block or dodge the Master's attacks.

With a smug nod, Hiko disappeared from the clearing into the surrounding foliage and began circling, always keeping the small redhead in sight. Hiko could sense the apprehension in his student's ki. This was unlike any training he had as yet put the boy through.

Kenshin stood in the middle of the clearing, gripping his sword tightly as his body shook and sweat poured down his skin in rivulets. Somewhere out there, he knew the Master was stalking him. Kenshin felt very much like a deer when it knows it's surrounded by wolves and it's only a matter of time till the attack. The sword at his waist gave him little comfort.

SNAP!

Kenshin felt something that he couldn't describe. Though he couldn't see or hear, something in his mind screamed out that there was a threat just in front of him and to his right. In a single fluid motion, Kenshin yanked his wakizashi from its sheath in battoujutsu and felt it hit something hard, the blade of another sword.

SNAP!

Kenshin leapt into the air as he somehow sensed that something was trying to take his legs out from under him. While in the air, Kenshin swung his sword down in a Ryu Tsui Sen and felt it meet the other sword's blade.

The next thing Kenshin knew, he was airborne. He twisted his body just quickly enough to be able to save himself from a complete wipeout and felt the ground under his knees.

SNAP!

Instantly, he raised his sword and blocked the other sword's swing. He pushed up against it as much as he could. Just when he felt his strength giving out, he tucked and rolled back, quickly getting to his feet and blocking again.


For his part, Hiko grinned with the sheer evil enjoyment of attacking his blind and deaf pupil. He also had to admit to himself that he was amazed by the boy's seemingly natural ability to sense his presence, although Hiko was making it easy by projecting his aura at the boy as he attacked him.

Deciding it was time to put an end to this, Hiko shut down his emotions, cloaking his ki. He watched as Kenshin, suddenly unable to sense his presence, swung his head around this way and that, scarlett ponytail flying out behind him as he tried to regain what he had lost.

Hiko lunged forward and snapped Kenshin up by the collar of his shitagi.


Kenshin realized he could no longer feel the energy nearby. He whipped his head about, trying to pick it back up, but was unable to. Suddenly, he felt his feet leaving the ground.

"Oro!"

As Kenshin swung his sword wildly, the sounds of the flowing river, wind in the tree leaves and chirping birds suddenly flooded his ears as the plugs were removed. He then felt the blindfold slip away, revealing the chiseled face and steely gray eyes of the Master.

"Oro?"

"Not bad, dummy," said Hiko with a smile before unceremoniously dropping Kenshin to the ground.

THUD!

"Oro!"

"Now, I want you to tell me how you knew where my attacks were coming from since you couldn't see or hear me," commanded Hiko.

"Oro? Well... I don't know actually. I just... felt... something coming at me each time," explained Kenshin, unable to find the words to describe what he had experienced.

"Mhmhm, what was it you felt?" Hiko pressed.

"I don't know," reiterated Kenshin. "Just... some kind of... pressure in my mind."

Hiko nodded.

"What you felt and what allowed you to respond to my attacks was my kenki, or sword spirit," the Master explained.

"Swords have spirits?" asked a confused Kenshin.

"Not the swords themselves, dummy; the men who wield them. All who train diligently and master the sword to a high level develop kenki, both the ability to project it, as I did with you during our spar, and to sense the kenki of other swordsmen, which is what you were doing. They also develop the ability to repress it to keep from being read in battle," explained Hiko.

"Which is why I suddenly couldn't sense you!" Kenshin realized.

"Exactly," smiled Hiko, pleased that his little pupil was understanding so quickly.

"Will I ever be able to do what you did?" asked Kenshin.

"Eventually, with much hard work. Your ability to sense me and fend off my attacks just now means that you have some natural ability already. You just need to learn how to harness it and make it work for you," said Hiko with a smile.

Kenshin nodded.

"Which means back on with the blindfold and in with the earplugs. We still have a lot of daylight left, so we might as well put it to good use," said Hiko, gripping his nihontou's wooden sheath.

"Ulp..."

Kenshin tied the blindfold back over his eyes and wadded the fabric back into his ears. Not even a second later, he felt the Master's heavy kenki snap at him and leapt into the air to avoid the swing of Hiko's nihontou at his legs, trying to take his feet out from under him.

For the rest of the spar, Hiko watched in silent amazement as this slip of a boy so quickly picked up the basics of sensing and responding to an enemy's ki. Hiko himself had taken many bruises and broken bones from his own master when he had endured this training, only starting to sense his master's ki three months after the training had started.

‘At the rate he learns, this kid is going to be great,' Hiko thought as he and Kenshin continued their spar.

~Owari~

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