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June, 1859, Hour of the Horse

Hiko's Mountain

Kenshin had been training in the basics of battoujutsu for three weeks now and had done very well with it. After watching Kenshin repeat his 100th battoujutsu in a row, Hiko decided it was time to begin teaching him the battoujutsu forms.

"Your battoujutsu's come on well enough. It's now time for you to start learning some of the actual forms," Hiko announced to his pupil, who had just resheathed his wakizashi.

Kenshin's eyes lit and fixed on his Master. If there was one thing that could get the boy's attention, it was the prospect of learning a new move.

Hiko went over to a large training post, which was a log with rope wound around it at the top. The Master pulled his sheathed nihontou from his belt and held it at his side as he crouched down in battoujutsu stance.

Kenshin wondered why the Master had pulled the sheath from his belt. Up till now, battoujutsu had always been performed with the sheath in the belt. What could be gained from holding the sheath in one's left hand?

Hiko quickly yanked the nihontou from the sheath, slicing the training post clean in two. In the split second while the top was suspended in the air, Hiko followed this move by swinging the sheath in his left hand after the nihontou, obliterating the top of the training post before it could hit the ground.

Kenshin's jaw dropped. He had already figured out that this Hiten Mitsurugi was a very powerful sword style, but he had had no idea any sword style could be so powerful and deadly.

Hiko straightened up and couldn't help but smirk at the look of dumbfounded awe on his pupil's angelic face.

"That was the first of the battoujutsu forms, the So Ryu Sen, Twin Dragon Strike. In battle, it's useful for disarming and then finishing off an opponent at close range. You can try it on that training post while I go make a new one," he said, pointing to another training post beside the one he had destroyed.

Kenshin walked over to the other training post and slowly drew his sheathed wakizashi from his obi, clutching it in his left hand. He played back Hiko's So Ryu Sen in his head. He had to quickly slice the post with his sword, then follow through by striking the severed top part with his sheath. He had to be lightning fast, or the top would fall to the ground before it was struck.

Kenshin crouched down, staring straight ahead at the post. He then stood absolutely still, centering himself. When he felt ready, Kenshin yanked his wakizashi free of the sheath and swung it at the training post... only to have it stop halfway through and move no further. Kenshin strained his arm to the right, trying to follow through on his slice, but that sword wasn't going anywhere.

'Oh no! Why didn't it go through?' he thought in alarm. 'What will the Master say when he sees this?'

Working his sword back to the left, Kenshin was able to get it back out. He resheathed it and crouched down again.

'I have to finish this move!' he thought with determination.

Again, Kenshin centered himself, staring at that obstinate training post. When he felt ready, he again yanked the blade from the sheath and slashed at the post. Since it was cut halfway through, the sword sliced through it more easily this time. Kenshin quickly swung his sheath to the right, but not quickly enough and the sheath met with the air as the top of the post had already hit the ground.

'I failed!' Kenshin thought with despair as he resheathed his sword.

"Couldn't get it on your first try?" Hiko asked as he dragged a section of the tree he had cut down back with him.

"No. I got my sword stuck halfway through the post on my first try. On my second, I was able to slice through, but was too slow to hit the top part," admitted Kenshin.

"Ha ha! That's because your arms are like match sticks!" Hiko grinned as he effortlessly picked the log up and shoved it into the ground in a single move.

Kenshin flashed a glare at his Master, then looked down at his arms and sighed because they were scrawny girl's arms. How would he ever be able to perform the So Ryu Sen with such arms?

CRUNCH!

Kenshin looked back up at his huge Master settling the training post into the ground. As the boy watched, Hiko raised his huge arms and punched the training post down several times until it was firmly embedded in the ground.

"Get me some rope from the hut," Hiko commanded.

Shaking himself from his reverie, Kenshin nodded and retreated to their hut to fetch the rope. Once he had returned, Kenshin watched as his Master deftly wound the rope around the top half of the training post and tied it off.

"Well, that's that one. Now we need to make a new post to replace the one you destroyed. You can help me," said Hiko.

Kenshin nodded and fell in behind his Master as they returned to the dark forest. The two walked until they found a sturdy tree. Hiko drew an ax out of his cape.

"Watch closely," he said.

As Kenshin watched, Hiko swung the ax a few times to show the boy how it was done.

"You get that?" Hiko asked.

"Yes, Master," replied Kenshin.

Hiko held the ax out to Kenshin.

"Oro?"

"It's time for you to learn how to make a new training post," said Hiko, still holding out the ax.

Kenshin took the ax and had to struggle to hold onto it, as it was every bit as heavy as a sword. Correcting his grip on the ax, Kenshin approached the tree and held the ax back to take a mighty swing at it.

"Chirp chirp chirp!"

Flutter flutter flutter!

Violet eyes traveled up, up, up into the branches of the tree and beheld a nest with two warblers perched around it, staring down at the two humans, wondering if they were going to lose their home.

Kenshin lowered the ax.

"Why did you stop?" asked Hiko in irritation.

"Not this tree, Master! There's a family of birds in it," pleaded Kenshin, pointing up to the nest.

With a roll of his eyes and a sigh, Hiko turned his back on Kenshin and walked silently away, with his pupil falling in quickly behind him. It wouldn't do to traumatize the boy all over again by evicting a family of songbirds from their home. They walked until they found a stout, medium sized tree. Hiko looked down at Kenshin.

"You see any birds or other little animals here?" he asked sarcastically.

"No, Master," chirped Kenshin with a smile of gratitude.

"Then cut at will," said Hiko.

Kenshin approached the tree, swung the ax back, then bit into the tree's trunk. He barely made a scratch. Kenshin looked back at Hiko.

"Keep going. As scrawny as you are, this could take all afternoon," said Hiko, stretching out under a nearby tree and pouring himself some sake.

After flashing his Master a dirty look for the comment about his underweightness, Kenshin nodded, pulled back the ax and again swung into the tree's trunk. The ax went in a little further this time.

'I can do this,' Kenshin thought as he again extracted the ax's head from the trunk, pulled back and swung in with as much force as his lithe body could muster.

Sipping his sake, Hiko let a smile dance briefly across his features as he watched his tiny pupil's determination to conquer that stout tree.


It did indeed take Kenshin all afternoon to cut through that tree trunk. The boy was dead set on doing this and kept swinging without once complaining of being tired or asking for a break. As the hour of the monkey stretched into its second half, Kenshin finally heard the telltale crunch of the tree's trunk giving way.

'I did it!' he thought exuberantly.

"Get back from the tree, stupid!" Hiko called.

"Oro?!"

Kenshin jumped back just as a bunch of wooden splinters flew up at him as the tree keeled over away from Kenshin and Hiko, hitting the forest floor with a good, satisfying THUD!

"Now you can cut off the top part with all the branches," Hiko commanded.

Kenshin nodded, went over to where the branches grew out of the trunk, raised the ax and brought it down. This task took nowhere near as long as the first had, Kenshin cutting with vim and vigor borne of tiredness and a growing desire to get this chore over with.

With a nod of satisfaction, Hiko got to his feet, walked over to the tree and effortlessly shouldered it. He would have made Kenshin carry it back himself, but he knew there was no way this scrawny pup could manage that, not today, likely not ever.

Hiko and Kenshin soon arrived back at the training grounds, where Hiko effortlessly drove the log into the ground, smashing his fists into the top of it to get it settled in properly. While Hiko did this, Kenshin retrieved more rope from the hut, which he helped his Master wind around the new post.

"Now that that's done, you go practice the So Ryu Sen in the field 1,000 times to build up your arms," Hiko ordered.

Kenshin groaned inwardly, as his arms were throbbing from having cut down the new training post.

"Or would you rather cut down another tree?" Hiko asked when his pupil was hesitant to obey.

Kenshin shook his head and quickly trotted out into the open space to practice his So Ryu Sen. Hiko watched as the boy dropped into his battoujutsu crouch, then unsheathed his sword, swinging it out to the right and immediately following with the sheath. Kenshin certainly had the form of the move right; he just needed to build his arm strength up to the point where he could use it effectively.


Over the rest of the week, from dawn till dusk, with only short breaks to answer the call of nature or to eat, Hiko had Kenshin practicing the So Ryu Sen on the empty air. Over and over again, the boy swung his sword and sheath. With each repetition, Hiko saw the move become more and more fluid as Kenshin's body adapted to it and finally embraced it. As the fluidity and grace of the move improved, so did the power behind it. Even by the third day, Hiko thought he detected a bit more muscle mass in the boy's arms.

For his part, Kenshin was tired and frustrated, not understanding why the Master wouldn't allow him to use the new training post yet. However, he knew if he argued with the Master, he would be given onerous chores to do on top of this relentless training, so prudently kept his mouth shut and arms moving.


As the sun rose, exactly one week after Kenshin's failed So Ryu Sen, the boy unhappily followed his Master out of the hut and toward the training grounds, anticipating yet another day of slashing at empty air. Imagine his surprise then, when Hiko didn't stop at the field, but instead plowed right along toward the training posts. Hiko didn't stop until they arrived at the training post Kenshin had cut down a week ago.

"Attack at will," the Master commanded.

'Finally!' Kenshin thought as he dropped into his battoujutsu crouch.

The boy stared straight ahead at the post, blocking out all outside distractions and centering himself. When he felt ready, he lunged forward, yanking his wakizashi from its sheath and slicing to the right.

He saw and felt the blade slice clean through the post and quickly followed through by swinging his sheath to the right and smashing it into the top half before it could fall to the ground.

WOOSH!

KAPOK!

'HITEN MITSURUGI RYU - SO RYU SEN!'

Kenshin stood still, still leaning forward in his battoujutsu stance.

'It worked!' he cried happily in his mind.

"A slight improvement over a week ago," said Hiko coolly as he poured himself a saucer of sake.

Inwardly, he was quite proud of his apprentice's fine execution of his first of the Hiten Mitsurugi forms.

"Thank you... Master," sighed the boy.

"Now you can go into the forest and chop down a tree to replace the training post you just destroyed. When you finish with that, you can cut down some smaller trees for kindling because we're getting low," said Hiko, walking back to the hut.

"Yes... Master..."

'Slave driver...'

~Owari~

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