Chapter 1128: Truth

Though she did not understand what Vahn was trying to do, the one thing Kenshin knew for sure was that it was surprisingly comfortable. She had expected the intimacy between men and women to be more ‘fluttery’ and ‘startling’ as, from the few female vassals she was close to, they had often told her how pleasant and exciting the event could be. From her experiences with Nobunaga, where it felt like fireworks were going off in her mind, her expectations had actually been rather high. Now that Vahn’s wandering hands only brought her comfort and a bit of warmth, Kenshin wasn’t quite sure what to make of the situation as the red face of Nobunaga made considerably less sense to her. As a result, she could only focus on what Vahn had told her to do, watching her own reflection and following his hands as they slowly moved about her body in slow and practiced movements…

Seeing Kenshin slowly enter a dazed state, Vahn continued his actions with a slow and unhurried rhythm. Though he rarely used such skills on the people he was closest to, Vahn was trying to lull Kenshin into a more receptive hypnotic state, something made easier than expected by her complete lack of inhibitions. She followed everything he said and did very closely, meaning Kenshin was easier to hypnotize than most people, especially since she completely lowered her guard around him. Vahn felt a little guilty about what he was intending to do but, as it was the only thing that came to mind when he was thinking of ways to help her, he pushed forward regardless. The only thing that getting in the way was Kenshin’s ankle-length hair, cascading down from her head like a waterfall of white and black strands that had a satin-like quality to them…

After running his hands slowly up her sides, Vahn slowly slid his hands toward her back, running them up her surprisingly firm shoulder and neck muscles before scooping her hair in his hands. Since it really was getting in the way, Vahn kept in mind that there was no need to rush the process at all. As a result, he began the long process of methodically braiding Kenshin’s inordinately long hair, a therapeutic experience for both of them. Grooming was one of the most instinctually calming and subtly intimate behaviors that seemed to apply to most species, especially mammals. Whenever he would help one of the girls by brushing or styling their hair, Vahn noticed they would always be very relaxed and, so long as he was careful with his actions, any tensions they had in their body would slowly fade away into nothingness.

When Vahn was finished with the forty-minute long process, Kenshin had a rather uniquely styled braid that actually suited her far more than he expected. Seeing the mix of black and white hair interlinking was certainly abnormal but, with Kenshin’s tall and subtly muscular body, she pulled it off as if it was perfectly natural. He could even imagine her using it as a weapon in the future, much like how he would use his tiger-like tail whenever he was in his Baihu form. With Kenshin’s level of skill, she would undoubtedly be able to pull it off without any significant difficulty. During her fight with Scáthach, her hair had flowed smoothly behind her with every movement she made so it was obvious at a glance that she was very proficient at maneuvering it in a way that would never inhibit her fighting style…

Setting aside such discussions until later, Vahn stared at Kenshin through the mirror and saw that her golden eyes had completely lost their focus. Unless they had something protecting their mind, even powerful humans were susceptible to hypnosis if they were in a deep state of relaxation. Though the smallest fluctuation of malicious intentions would cause her to snap out of it, Vahn knew he was a little ‘too’ good at putting people in such a state. Even they were his enemies, he could eventually force them to answer his questions if he exploited his Petting Laws ‘seriously’. The hardest part of the process wasn’t their resistance against his attempts but adopting a mentality where he no longer wished to hurt them. Fortunately, he was far more attuned to the idea of bringing comfort to others than forcing pain upon them, making the process one of the few things Vahn had an extreme degree of proficiency at…

Since this was a good opportunity, Vahn was intending to explain his intentions to Nobunaga but, after looking over at her on the sofa, even she had an absentminded look on her face. It could have been the result of her boredom but Nobunaga had fallen into an associative hypnotic state just by watching him put Kenshin under. In the books Vahn had researched on the topic, this wasn’t all that rare so he wasn’t too surprised since Nobunaga had been in an unstable emotional state lately. This was one of the reasons he had been so worried about her and, while he could have gone to almost anyone else, Vahn had chosen Nobunaga for his most recent summon. Asking her directly what the problem was hadn’t yielded any results so he figured having someone else she could confide in would be the best way to tackle the issue…

Deciding to follow up with Nobunaga a bit later, Vahn turned his focus back to Kenshin, whispering, “Raise your arms…” in a soft voice that had a slight reverberation to it. Since she would have listened to him even in her normal state, Kenshin raised her arms without any discernable hesitation as Vahn rolled up her shirt, pulling it past her head and down her long braided ponytail. This was enough for him to decide on making all of Kenshin’s future outfits the type that zipped up or could be tied together as pulling her hair through a t-shirt was surprisingly troublesome. Fortunately, removing the [Aegis Mk 5] top was much easier as, much like a bra, it had a clasp on the back that could be undone before sliding it off the arms. This left Kenshin standing in nothing but a pair of tight white shorts, allowing her lean and athletic figure to be reflected in the mirror with all its glory.

Using slow and easy to follow movements, Vahn wrapped his arms around Kenshin’s body without too much contact, the only exceptions being the fingers of his left hand pressing into the connecting point of her clavicles while his right hand’s middle finger slowly traced up the line of her body from navel the diaphragm. His caress was so gentle that, other than feelings of general comfort, even the sensation of being touched would escape the awareness of his patient unless they could see what he was doing. The idea behind this was to make Kenshin’s imagination produce phantom sensations that matched his hand movements as it was possible to greatly increase a person’s sensitivity when they were their mind was already focused on enhancing non-existant sensations. To make sure his method was working, Vahn eventually removed his fingers from Kenshin’s body, watching as her muscles still twitched in a subtle way wherever his hands moved, even without direct contact.

With Kenshin being in an extremely deep state of hypnosis, Vahn asked, “What do you see…?” in the same dreamy tone as before. In response to his question, Kenshin took a few seconds before finally answering in a dull tone, “I see myself…and my Master…” Vahn lightly shook his head in response to this, passing his hands over various spots of Kenshin’s body without touching her as he whispered, “Even though you may be able to see my hands and sense my presence, I want your awareness of these things to slowly fade away, replaced only by the sound of my voice and the sensations your body is experiencing…” Since telling her she couldn’t see or sense him would potentially break the hypnosis, as this would be a contradiction of truth, Vahn knew it was better to use her receptive state to make suggestions that she could follow without noticing any incongruities.

After waiting for several minutes, Vahn once again asked, “What do you see…?” This time, Kenshin took even longer to answer but eventually stated, “I see myself…” Since there were no major signals firing off within her mind, nor did her heart rhythm change in the slightest, Vahn knew that Kenshin was still in her hypnotic trance. This caused him to release a small sigh, tinged with a bit of warmth since this process wasn’t exactly easy for him. Each and every one of his movements had to be measured in accordance with the subtle reactions of Kenshin’s body, all while observing her with his [Eyes of Truth] and an intense degree of focus. Though his [Will of the Emperor] would protect him somewhat, it was possible to even hypnotize himself if he got too into the procedure…

Now that Kenshin was deep enough, Vahn figured it was time to begin his actual treatment, tracing his hands less than half a centimeter above her skin as he said, “You are currently Uesugi Kenshin, a forty-nine-year-old warrior maiden who has never known defeat in battle…” Then, after snaking his right hand to just above her heart, Vahn added, “From this moment onward, my voice will take you back in time. Though your physical body will remain unchanged, your image within the mirror will reflect your true self in accordance with my words. Every time I complete a cycle and bring my hand over your heart, you will have stepped back in time a full year…” Since he could even pull her from the past to the presence, it actually wasn’t a stretch to convince the current Kenshin that he could reverse time all the same. In fact, if he had waited for her Loyalty to increase a bit more, it would have actually been possible to reduce her physical age through the Modify function…

Following his own words, Vahn began moving his hands around Kenshin’s body, almost as if he was physically shaping it which, from her perspective, wasn’t far from the truth. When his hand came to a stop over her heart again, Vahn asked, “Who are you…? What is your name and age…?” In response to this, Kenshin remained silent for an expected amount of time before answering, “I am Uesugi Kenshin…age forty-eight…” Then, for a brief moment, her head began to slowly tilt to the side until Vahn’s reverberating voice ‘commanded’, “Make sure you stand up properly…trust in my words…” Since most people would be confused if they were suddenly a year younger, Vahn wasn’t all that surprised that Kenshin had almost slipped out of his control. Fortunately, she was a dutiful and loyal woman so, after hearing his order, she stopped questioning him and just went along with the flow of events once again…

Over the process of nearly an hour and a half, Vahn slowly rewound the clock for Kenshin who, at least from her perspective, seemed to get progressively younger in her reflection. After twenty-five cycles had passed, Vahn once again asked, “Who are you…? What is your name and age…?” This time, Kenshin’s response had been different as, instead of answering ‘Uesugi Kenshin’, she lazily stated, “I am Uesugi Terutora…age twenty-three…” At this point, Vahn could feel Kenshin’s heart begin to beat a little faster, not because she was at risk of breaking the hypnosis, but due to the emotions the name and identity brought her. Kenshin had adopted the name Terutora in honor of the 13th Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiteru. During that year of her life, she had led several campaigns to clear bandits from the region and had even led a troop of five-thousand men just to pay homage to the reigning shogunate…

With one more cycle, Kenshin’s name had changed from Uesugi Terutora to Uesugi Masatora, the name she had taken upon herself after being adopted by Uesugi Masatora and obtaining the title of Kantō Kanrei, the deputy-shogun of the Kantō region. Going back even further, Kenshin’s name became that of her original identity, Nagao Kagetora, the fourth child and first daughter to Nagao Tamekage. At this point in her memories, Kenshin was steeped in the affairs of the Echigo Province after assuming the position of Clan Head from her brother, Nagao Harukage. Around this time, Kenshin’s expression became serious as she stared at the image of herself in the mirror, her eyes lowered slightly as she looked into the dark black irises of her past self, a young boyish woman who was several centimeters shorter than her present self…

Vahn knew he was getting to the formative years in Kenshin’s life so he made his actions even slower and more deliberate than before. These were some of the most important year’s in Kenshin’s life as, after becoming the Lord of Echigo, even the memories of her various battles were more of a haze that blended together and became almost indiscernible from each other. It took him a full twenty minutes to go back five more cycles, to the point where Kenshin was still a Junior Master at the Rinsen-ji Temple. When she saw her past self in the mirror, Kenshin’s eyes became even duller than before as, during her final year at the temple, she had been growing weary and resentful of the fact that she was prevented from being a Master solely as a result of her gender. Since her reflection was nearly naked, Kenshin could clearly see two of the physical representations of her gender, something she had kept painfully bound in a vain attempt to appear more masculine…

Sensing the complex emotions Kenshin was experiencing, Vahn used a guiding tone as he said, “You wanted others to recognize your efforts…you wanted them to judge you based on your capabilities, not your gender…isn’t that right?” In response to this, Kenshin had the usual pause before answering with a bit of emotion in her voice, “I memorized every scripture…every verse…even Master’s three times my age…were unable to best me…it isn’t fair…” Though she wasn’t supposed to be able to ‘see’ him right now, Vahn nodded his head in understanding but, instead of outright agreeing with her, he asked, “What are the qualities of a Master…? What is it that Zen Buddhists seek…?”

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This time, it took much longer for Kenshin to answer as, while staring at herself in the mirror, her complexion paled slightly as she sheepishly answered, “The quality of a Master is the ability to pass on their teachings to others…the pursuit of Zen Buddhism is Enlightenment…the perfection of personhood…unity with all things…” As this was the answer he wanted to hear, Vahn couldn’t help producing a small smile as he asked, “If that is the case…how can someone who hasn’t accepted themselves become a Master…? How will you teach others how to seek Enlightenment by hiding from the truth and burying everything beneath things like ‘accomplishments’ and ‘capabilities’?”

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As she was in a state where falsehoods were almost impossible to form, Kenshin was forced to face the truth contained within Vahn’s words directly. She had actually heard similar words from the other Master’s but, as a result of her own mentality, she had believed they were just suppressing her. This wasn’t actually far from the truth, as her presence within the Temple was the source of many issues, but they had still made her a Junior Master at a very young age and never exiled her, regardless of the fact that she was a woman. It was hard to see things from the perspective of others but, now that Vahn was guiding her towards the ‘truth’, Kenshin felt an extreme amount of guilt that caused her to pity the reflection of herself in the mirror…

With things proceeding even better than expected, Vahn continued the process of slowly guiding Kenshin further back in time. At this point, her head was tilted downward quite a bit, staring into the eyes of her past self when she was only around 115cm tall. Since Vahn knew he was getting close to the most important memory in Kenshin’s mind, he spoke in the same guiding tone, “When you reach the point just before you cut your hair, you will no longer be able to go any further in time. This is the memory that formed the very core of your being, the ‘anchor’ of your true self…though you had been unable to become a Master later in life, even a child is capable of reaching Enlightenment if they accept themselves…” By the time he was finished with his words, Vahn knew that Kenshin was staring at her seven-year-old self, the little girl who had abandoned her femininity, not in the pursuit of strength, but to ‘escape’ her weakness…

After letting her ruminate over her own memories, Vahn brought his lips close to Kenshin’s ears, asking in a warm voice that seemed to reach directly into her mind, “What do you feel…?” As she was already trembling slightly, Vahn knew the answer without asking but it was important for to admit it of her own volition. Thus, after several seconds passed, he gave a small nod when she stammered, “I am afraid…” Following this, Vahn asked in a gentle and guiding tone, “Why are you afraid…?” while placing his hand just above Kenshin’s abdomen. He still wasn’t touching her, as any contact at this point could break the hypnosis, but that didn’t stop Kenshin from ‘imagining’ his touch. As a result, she flinched a little before eventually answering, “I miss my father…I don’t want to be here…why did my Onii-sama kill Onii-chan…I don’t understand…”

With another understanding nod, Vahn answered Kenshin’s concerns, stating, “People can be very complex creatures. They sometimes act in incomprehensible ways that even they themselves are unable to understand. Some people simply can’t deal with pressure and responsibility well, causing them to act in ways they never would have under normal circumstances. If they feel their status is threatened, even siblings could turn against each other for no greater reason than to have ‘control’ over an already chaotic situation. This is not your fault, Kage-chan…you did nothing wrong…”

Knowing it was the death of her father and the actions of her siblings that served as the catalyst for Kenshin sealing away her emotions, Vahn wanted her seven-year-old self to realize it wasn’t her fault that everything had happened. The fact her memory of standing in front of the mirror was the clearest, while everything proceeding it seemed to be outright repressed, was all the proof Vahn needed to know he was very near the heart of Kenshin’s trauma. Since she couldn’t even understand her own family, Kenshin convinced herself that she was unable to understand other people as well. The only thing that mattered from then onward was escaping her weakness, a vain attempt to gain some semblance of ‘control’ in her own life when she lived at the mercy of others…

Hearing Vahn’s words, Kenshin’s body began to tremble even more as a fair amount of moisture began to build on her eyes. She was currently in the mentality of her younger self, before covering her body and killing her emotions. Hearing someone tell her that it wasn’t her fault, Kenshin felt a strong urge to cry but, after crying almost every night for the last month, she tried suppressing the tears before they could fall. She might have succeeded if not for the fact that Vahn very gently embraced her as he whispered in a comforting tone, “It is okay to cry, Kage-chan…emotions, even sadness, are what give people the strength to overcome themselves. True Enlightenment isn’t the denial of your humanity, but the acceptance of everything you are…opening the way towards a future of limitless potential…so cry, Kage-chan, so that you can be even stronger from now on…”

Though the sudden contact was enough to break the hypnosis, it wasn’t as if her brain would rectify all incongruities instantaneously. Vahn was using a ‘shock treatment’ method to connect the seven-year-old Kagetora and the forty-nine-year-old warrior Kenshin. By reminding her of the person she was before, all while guiding her with his words, Vahn hoped to reconcile the two and reawaken the emotions she had buried deep within her heart and mind. The chance of success wasn’t all that high, especially with Kenshin’s strong personality, but Vahn was actually banking on her dutiful nature and her awareness of his desire to reconcile her past and present selves to greatly increase the odds…

For several long seconds, there was only silence within the room but, hopefully indicating at least a small amount of success, Kenshin’s body had continued to tremble slightly even after the hypnosis had been broken. He knew she must be thinking about everything that had happened, trying to sort her disorderly mind that was currently lit up like a billion fireworks being set off all at once. Then, just as it seemed like she might be on the verge of recovering her composure, Vahn embraced Kenshin with a bit more strength as he could see a crystal clear drop of liquid fall from her veiled face. Since she had leaned forward slightly, her bands had obscured her eyes but, with that one drop, Vahn knew he had succeeded, at least a little bit. When several more began to drop immediately following the first, he couldn’t help but hug her body tightly in his embrace as he used the same guiding tone to repeat, “It is okay to cry, Kage-chan…”

(A/N: No alternate titles this time. I’d like for this chapter to speak for itself since I put a lot of effort into it xD…)

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