Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Sparring Practice ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

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AUTHOR'S NOTES: Well, the story continues, for better or worse! No way to know what people will think until you try, I guess…
Each chapter of the story is written to music. The music for Chapter Two is "Combat Training" from LADY DEATH.
Note for all the music hunting fans: the music for THE SWORD OF THE SOUL is available on the Multimedia page of my website as a Windows Media Player playlist file. Everything from Nasami's theme all the way through the latest chapter is now accessible. Enjoy!
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© August 17, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Two: Sparring Practice
“Still no luck, great samurai?” Rikichi asked as Kambei and Gorobei returned from another fruitless day of searching for samurai. Wearily they entered Masamune's workshop and sat down, resting their katanas beside them.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Kambei replied, nodding to Kirara as she handed each samurai a bowl of rice. “But we will persist. We have five more samurai to find.”
“Four,” Kikuchiyo boomed from where he sat. He glared at both Kambei and Gorobei, leaning over to scratch himself. “Don't forget, you've got me.”
“As if we could forget,” Gorobei said with resignation.
Komachi giggled. “And Kiku is big enough for at least two samurai!”
“As I have said before, Komachi-chan, we will not be taking Kikuchiyo with us to Kanna Village, nor Katsushiro for that matter.” Then Kambei glanced around the workshop, suddenly realizing that the young man was nowhere to be seen. “Speaking of which, where is Katsushiro? Not still searching for samurai?”
Suddenly a loud ringing sound came from the small courtyard behind Masamune's shop, and Kambei and Gorobei both started in surprise.
“Katsushiro's outside sparring with Nasami-dono,” the mechanic said, coming over from his forge where he had been reworking Kikuchiyo's giant sword.
“Is that so?” Kambei said with interest. “Whose idea was it?”
“I believe it was Katsushiro's, Kambei-sama,” Kirara said respectfully. “Nasami-sama was practicing outside… at least, that's what I think she was doing. I'm afraid that I'm not quite familiar with how samurai train. But it was quite graceful, almost like a dance, actually.”
“Excuse me?”
“From the way you describe it, it sounds as though Nasami-dono was practicing kata, a stylized form of practice that is used by samurai for meditation through the sword. For some, it is more difficult than just straight training with the katana, for the mind's focus is even more intense upon the body and the weapon than it is in combat.”
“I see. Anyway, Katsushiro was watching her. He asked if he might join her in her practice, and they've been outside now for some time.”
“Really?” Gorobei said with amusement. “This I have to see.” He strode over to the back door of the workshop, Kambei and the others following him.

As they looked through the door facing the courtyard, they could see Katsushiro and Nasami circling one another, katanas held in guard position, their eyes fixed on one another. Both had removed their bulky cloaks and seemed oblivious to the chill of the evening. As Katsushiro moved back slightly, Nasami moved forward to close the distance between them, then they both struck with loud shouts, their blades braced against each other as they struggled for control. Nasami, however, quickly dropped down into a crouch and lashed out with her foot, knocking Katsushiro's feet out from underneath him and he tumbled to the ground, his katana clattering onto the cobblestones.
“Damn it, that's the fifth time, Katsushiro,” she said with exasperation. “How long are you going to keep holding back when you fight me?”
“I don't understand - you say that you want to be fully trained as a samurai, yet you hesitate at the most crucial moments.”
“With all due respect, Nasami-dono, it's not seemly for a man to attack a woman,” he protested weakly.
Nasami's eyes flashed angrily, and as the others watched in surprise, she had the katana pointed at his throat.
“What did you just say!” she shouted, and the fury in her voice washed over them all.
“Nasami-dono, please, I meant no offense…”
Holding the katana in one hand, she lifted the other to her chest and pulled the folds of her gi aside.
“Look at me, Katsushiro.”
Katsushiro blushed scarlet and averted his eyes, but she placed the very end of the katana under his chin and forced his head up.
As he lifted his eyes, he saw that a narrow swathe of cloth bound her breasts, but what really made his eyes widen were the scars.
Her torso was covered in them.
“Great samurai…” Kirara breathed, all of them moving nearer to stare at the samuraiko who stood unflinchingly beneath their gaze. “Your body… your beautiful skin…”
As Katsushiro looked closer, he could see pale scars crisscrossing her upper body. She had clearly been slashed numerous times, and unless he was mistaken, she had taken no less than four direct stab wounds from a katana - one in her left shoulder, one just missing her heart, another just under her ribcage, and the fourth through her stomach.
“Wow…” whispered Komachi.
“Holy crap,” was all Kikuchiyo could manage. The others turned to him. “What? It's a miracle she's not dead right now.”
Nasami shrugged the rest of the gi from her shoulders so that she stood naked to the waist, and all of them could see now how the scars also trailed down her arms, glimmering faintly among the tattoos inked into both forearms.
“My left arm was broken in battle. Both my legs, at least two times each. Arrows in both knees. Another arrow through my right shoulder. A machine samurai caught me across the face with a fist like broken glass. He also nearly shattered my ribs.” Her voice was filled with pride as she named each injury. “But I have seen a dozen battles, and more duels than any five samurai I know. And I have come through them all.”

Katsushiro lowered his eyes, their normally vibrant green dimmed with misery. “My humblest apologies, Nasami-dono. It was never my intention to offend you.”
“I understand, Katsushiro. But being a samurai is much, much more than the code of bushido or the art of the sword. When I trained, it was often with a katana in one hand and a book in the other. Mind and body, fighting as one.”
“I see.”
“I doubt it. Get up.”
Katsushiro scrambled to his feet, and Nasami practically threw him his katana. But he watched in surprise as she then she slid her own katana into its saya with an ominous hiss, thrust it into the obi at her waist, shrugged back into her clothes, and picked up a long piece of wood from near the door of the workshop.
“What… what are you doing, Nasami-dono?” Katsushiro asked in confusion as she turned back to him.
“Making sure I minimize the risk of killing you by mistake,” she said shortly, then she glanced over and saw Masamune standing in the doorway.
“Masamune-san, could I trouble you for a moment to carve me a boken?” She tossed the piece of wood at him, which he caught easily. He turned it over in his hands thoughtfully.
“Certainly, if you give me a few minutes.” He headed back inside, and Nasami turned to the others standing near the entrance of the courtyard.
“Kambei-dono, Gorobei-dono, may I ask you a question?”
“Of course, Nasami-dono.” The two samurai stepped out onto the cobblestones, the peasants trailing behind them.
“When you fought in the war, did either of you ever encounter samuraiko in battle?”
Both men nodded.
“Did you ever hesitate to engage one in combat?”
“In all truth, that is an unfair question, Nasami-dono,” Kambei replied. “While women certainly do make capable samurai, they are admittedly rare. In fact, that momentary hesitation was often something that samuraiko would take advantage of in battle. Or did you never use that imbalance to your benefit?”
Nasami suddenly smiled. “Oh, I did. But after the first time you fought one, did you ever hesitate?”
Gorobei and Kambei looked at one another, then back at Nasami. “For my part, no,” Gorobei said quietly. “To be honest, it was a samuraiko who gave me this.” He traced one finger along the long scar on his left cheek. “After that, I learned to keep my guard up around a woman who carried a weapon.”
Kambei slowly nodded in agreement. “I, too, have fought samuraiko, and killed them in the war. It was not easy, but when it was my life or theirs, I fought to protect my own and to serve my lord.”
“You… killed a woman, sensei?” Katsushiro said in astonishment, unsuccessfully trying to keep the censure out of his voice, and Kambei turned to him with cold eyes as Masamune came back outside, holding the boken he had crafted for Nasami.
“It was honorable warfare, Katsushiro, not plunder and rape. I fought them as I would any man that was my enemy, and I treated the dead with honor.”

Nasami lifted the boken in her hand and pointed it at Katsushiro. “Now listen to me, Katsushiro. You cannot hold back against an opponent because of gender, age, or status. If you've drawn swords, you had better be prepared to fight with all your heart. Anything less dishonors the sword.”
“I don't understand,” he said, lowering his own katana.
“Show me your stance.”
When he hesitated, she frowned.
“Show me your stance!” she snapped, and instinctively he responded to the command in her voice, taking the appropriate stance with his katana as he had been taught. The samuraiko stood before him, her eyes assessing him from head to toe, taking in everything about him in one long glance. The young man thought he could feel the weight of her gaze as it slowly studied him, measuring the tension in his wrists, the angle of his knees, and the focus of his eyes.
“Now close your eyes,” she ordered, and this time Katsushiro didn't hesitate. As he closed his eyes, she moved on silent feet to stand behind him.
“Concentrate on the katana in your hand,” she said, her voice soft, nearly hypnotic. “Feel the weight of the steel. The silk of the wrapping on the pommel. The cold of the tsuba.” She leaned in close, so that her breath faintly rustled Katsushiro's hair. “The katana trembles in your grasp, singing its song of battle and honor. Its steel gleams in the sun, or glimmers in the moonlight. It whispers as it slices through the air, or screams as it cuts down your enemies.”
Katsushiro trembled from the nearness of her, but kept his eyes closed as she moved even closer.
“Every inch of it resonates with what it means to be samurai. Bushido is embodied in the blade, waiting to be demonstrated in the hands of its bearer. When it parries, it leaps to your defense; when it attacks, it draws you into battle; in meditation, it is a path to satori, that single instant of clarity for which the samurai lives and dies.”
“What is she doing?” Kirara whispered.
“You have been taught to venerate the water,” Kambei replied, his voice barely louder than a breath. “Nasami-dono is teaching Katsushiro to venerate the sword.”
The samuraiko slipped around Katsushiro to stand before him, slowly lifting the boken as she did so.
“The katana is an extension of your awareness. With the sword in your hand, there is no threat that you cannot anticipate, no danger from which you cannot defend yourself, no attack…”
In a swift gesture, she swept the boken forward, aiming straight at Katsushiro's head…
… and it was blocked by Katsushiro's sword. He opened his eyes, startled by the weight of her boken against his katana.
“… that will ever catch you off guard.”
She smiled slowly when his eyes widened as they took in their crossed blades. Behind them, Kambei and Gorobei nodded in mute approval as the peasants and Kikuchiyo stared in amazement.
“What… what just happened, Nasami-dono?” Katsushiro breathed in astonishment. He could not take his eyes off where his katana had parried her boken. “My katana… for a moment, I felt… I was…”
Nasami nodded. “You were samurai.”
To be continued…