Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Know Thine Enemy ( Chapter 7 )

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

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AUTHOR'S NOTES: I will answer the prevalent question right now - yes, the original seven samurai are going to Kanna Village; I am not leaving one out or killing one of them just because Nasami is coming along, too. And canon will not be drastically rewritten, for those of you who already know the story. I'm just… adding to it. Besides, who's to say that the Seven wouldn't have been more successful if they'd had a woman along?
Chapter Seven's music was a little harder to find, as I wanted something to convey that frantic feeling of all hell breaking loose... then my husband suggested "Zodiacal Sign" from AQUARIAN AGE, and darn him, he was right... I love him anyway.
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Seven: Know Thine Enemy
“So, you're bringing Kikuchiyo along today, too, hmm?”
“At this point, I'd accept help from a cat,” Kambei told Nasami with no small amount of exasperation. “We need more samurai, and we're running out of time.”
“True,” she admitted, getting to her feet and stretching. “So what's the plan?”
“The plan is that you and Gorobei-dono will continue scouting out Ayamoro while the others and I look for more samurai to recruit.” A grim smile touched his lips. “After all, as far as I've heard, the Wandering Crane can be quite good at spying when she wants to be.”
She frowned, then turned away to pick up her daisho. While her back was still to Kambei, she said softly, “You're never going to let me forget, are you?”
“That you are Sasuraitsuru?” he replied, checking his own sword where it hung at its side. He glanced up and saw that the others were studiously ignoring the conversation, but it was clear that all of them were listening. At last, he looked over at her, but still she stood facing away from him, her hands at her sides in loose fists. “How can you forget who you are? That name is as much a part of you as the name Nasami.”
“And it was something I tried to leave behind when I left my family.”
“You could have said something.” The accusation was out before Kambei could stop himself, and Nasami swung around to glare at him.
“Why should I have to? All I ever did was what was expected of any samurai who serves a lord and the Empire. It doesn't make me any better than anyone else.” She reached up and grabbed a handful of her own white hair. “What would you have me do? Dye my hair back to the black it was before?”
She clutched the pommel of the katana at her waist. “Abandon the weapon that has saved my life more times than I can ever count? Yes, I am Sasuraitsuru, the Wandering Crane, bearer of Mamorimasu. Yes, peasants and courtiers alike sing songs about me. Yes, I have fought and bled and damned near DIED for my lord and my emperor!”
By now she was shouting, and ignoring the others in the workshop who stood staring at her, she strode up to Kambei so that she was barely inches from him.
“But I am still NASAMI!”
For a long moment, the two samurai stared at one another, neither looking away, grey eyes locked on dark blue eyes. In the end, Nasami turned on her heel and strode out the door with her slightly limping walk.
“Let's go,” Kambei told the peasants and other samurai. “We have a great deal to do. Komachi, you'll stay here with Masamune-san and help him.”
“Don't you think that was a little harsh?” Gorobei asked Kambei quietly as he moved toward the door to follow Nasami. The white-haired samurai was as serious as any of them had ever seen him.
“It had to be said.”
“Why? In the end, she's right. What difference does it make?”
Kambei sighed. “In the end… it makes all the difference in the world.”

Nasami was cursing to herself most of the way to Ayamoro's castle, and Gorobei was torn between smiling at her choice of epithets and frowning at her mood. But after a while, she finally wound down and stopped in the middle of the street.
“Oh, this is ridiculous,” she said flatly, and Gorobei turned to look at her.
“What is?”
“Me being angry. It gets in the way of clear and rational thought. But that man just drives me mad, he's so… so…”
Nasami threw him a sour look. “Yes, he is… in the best sense… and the worst.”
“Very true,” he replied. “So what do you intend to do about it?”
She suddenly grinned. “Challenge him to a friendly sparring match with boken when we get back to Masamune-san's workshop.”
“Do you honestly think that's going to help matters any?” Gorobei said in exasperation as she began walking again.
“Probably not, but it might make me feel better.”
The samurai shook his head. “You've got to be kidding.”
The two of them walked in silence for a while, carefully familiarizing themselves with the layout of the city. Both had spent a great deal of time there, and knew of a few remote areas that would allow them to spy on Ayamoro without drawing too much attention.
Soon they were perched on a high outcrop that would allow them to look down into the courtyard of the palace. From where they stood, they could see the magistrate strolling through his gardens, followed by his two bodyguards and a handful of servants and other men.
“Ayamoro and his bodyguards,” Nasami mused thoughtfully as Gorobei handed her the binoculars.
“One of whom you already know,” Gorobei said wryly. “I wonder if he's told Ayamoro about you yet.”
“Knowing Hyogo, I doubt it.”
Again, Gorobei wondered exactly what history the samuraiko shared with Ayamoro's bodyguard. “Why do you say that?”
“He's the type of man who doesn't share information unless it suits him to do so. And unless it were of some benefit to tell the magistrate that the Wandering Crane is in Kougakyo, he'll keep silent about my presence here and my threat against his son. Know anything about the samurai in red?”
“Kyuzo-dono. A first-class swordsman, and a deadly samurai. He and Kambei have already encountered one another and fought. Kambei-dono is determined to have him join us, but I'd say that convincing that man is going to take some major work.”
Nasami looked over at him. “Why?”
“Because Kyuzo wants to kill him.”
“That does make a working relationship difficult,” she chuckled softly. “Pity that a samurai of such caliber works for Ayamoro.”
Suddenly the samuraiko's attention was drawn by a flurry of activity near one of the gardens in the courtyard, and she saw Ayamoro bow to another man dressed all in golden fabric.
She drew in a sharp breath. “An Imperial Envoy.”
“What?” Gorobei was surprised, and she handed him back the binoculars.
“That man that Ayamoro is speaking to, he's one of the Emperor's `messengers,' carrying the words of the Emperor to daimyos and magistrates across the Empire.”
He looked over at her as she leaned in for a closer look. “Do you recognize him?”
She shook her head. “Yes and no. He looks familiar, but the Emperor's court shifts so often that keeping track of every envoy and courtier is as futile as counting every grain of sand on a beach. He's well placed, I can tell you that.”
“So what's an Imperial Envoy doing in Kougakyo?”
“Probably checking up on the city's progress,” she murmured pensively. “Not to mention making sure that we of the samurai caste aren't causing too much trouble. It makes the merchants look bad.” Her eyes narrowed as she studied the two men with the magistrate, as well as the others who trailed behind them.
“Of all the men there, the two samurai are the only real threat. That other with the pipe and perpetually sour expression is a glorified lapdog, with no real skill.”
Gorobei shook his head in wonder. “You really are something else.”
They watched Ayamoro bow again to the Envoy and escort him inside, along with most of the others in the group. The two samurai remained outside for a while, and Nasami and Gorobei saw Hyogo say something to Kyuzo, then turn to leave.
“I wonder what he said,” Nasami remarked.
“Whatever it was, I'd say Kyuzo wasn't too happy about it. But it looks like Hyogo's leaving the castle.”
Suddenly his hand tightened on the binoculars. “Damn.”
Then she saw several of the Yakan flying machines that often accompanied the city guardsmen around move into formation behind the dark-haired samurai.
“Where is he going with reinforcements like that?”
She and Gorobei looked at one another, and then immediately turned and started running down into the lower levels of Kougakyo.

Kambei and the others strolled through Kougakyo's streets, searching for samurai to join their cause. Kikuchiyo was in high spirits at being “allowed” to come along, when he noticed a samurai lounging casually against a nearby support.
“Hey, you there, you got a minute to spare?”
Even as he approached the samurai with a cheerful shout, Kirara, Rikichi, Komachi, Katsushiro and Kambei stopped in dismay. All five recognized the dark-haired samurai from two days past… when he'd crippled Nasami and nearly killed her.
“Hyogo,” Kambei murmured.
“Shouldn't you say something?” Kirara pleaded as Kikuchiyo approached the samurai, but Kambei just looked at her.
“Why? He wouldn't listen.”
“CHALLENGE!” Kikuchiyo yelled, lunging at Hyogo, but faster than he could track, the dark samurai dodged and suddenly the mechanical samurai found himself cut off from the others by one of the flying machines of the city guardsmen.
Hyogo smirked. “Sorry, I have no interest in machines.” He moved toward the others, his eyes on Kambei, and the white-clad samurai knew instantly that Hyogo recognized him as well from the other day. Then Hyogo started insulting him, and Kambei knew that the other was just itching for a fight.
This was too much for Katsushiro and he moved in front of Kambei, drawing his own katana to challenge the dark samurai on his sensei's behalf.
“STAND BACK, CHILD!” Hyogo thundered, and Katsushiro found himself falling back a step before he'd even realized what he had done.
From behind him came a soft plea. “Katsushiro, don't.”
The young man gritted his teeth, clearly galled at having to give in. “I'll back down, but only to protect you.”
Kambei never took his eyes off Hyogo. “Noble words, but the task of defense…”
“… is much more daunting than attack,” Katsushiro finished. “I know, sensei.”
Kambei nodded. He had no intention of letting the insult go… nor did he plan on letting the attack on Nasami go unavenged, either. Slowly he drew his katana and advanced as Hyogo did the same.
For a moment, they stared at one another, and then Hyogo charged. Kambei quickly found himself being forced back by the dark samurai's unorthodox style, but quickly dropped to a crouch and lashed out with his foot, knocking Hyogo off-balance. An instant later, he grabbed at the assassin's groin, causing Hyogo to wince in pain, then sliced viciously with his sword. Only by leaping into the air and somersaulting out of the way was the assassin able to dodge the attack, and he landed with a vicious curse.
Kambei quickly got to his feet, and he and Hyogo again began circling one another, then they lunged at the same time, bracing their blades against one another. He was dimly aware of the machine fighting Kikuchiyo, of another one ambushing Katsushiro and the others, of Heihachi dashing downstairs clutching the mechanized crank. The rest of his attention was on the dark-haired samurai, and his mind was filled with images of Hyogo thrusting a katana at a helpless Nasami.
“I won't let you stop us,” he gritted through his teeth. “And I won't let you touch Nasami-san.”
“And how do you plan to stop me?” Hyogo laughed. “After I finish off you and the others, I'll send that whore to Jigoku after you.”
Kambei's eyes blazed. “I'll kill you for even thinking about her.”
For a moment, Hyogo's concentration was broken, and Kambei went on the attack, circling behind the assassin. But Hyogo quickly got his wits about him again and dodged, parrying Kambei's attacks one after another.
Then the ground dropped out from underneath their feet.

“What the…!” was all Kikuchiyo got out as he shoved the machine off the end of his sword. Immediately he, Kambei, and Hyogo drove their blades into the ground beneath them to keep from being thrown off balance. Kambei glanced over and saw Heihachi standing at the top of the stairs, his mechanized crank reeling in the cable, and suddenly he realized that the engineer had looped the pulley around the supports on the level below theirs.
Then Kirara slipped and fell, tumbling down the incline and right off the edge.
“NO!” Katsushiro yelled, diving after her without a thought for his own safety, barely catching her hand in time as she slipped free. He plunged his katana into the ground and tried to brace himself enough to pull her up, but as the slabs beneath him shuddered and dropped, he too was pitched over the edge.
“Katsushiro-dono! Here!”
Fortunately, Heihachi snagged him with a well-thrown cable, looping it around his arm and preventing a deadly fall to the ground far below.
“Kambei-dono! Heads up!”
A second dowel and cable was tossed to Kambei, who caught it with a gleam in his eye as he turned back to Hyogo.
The white-clad samurai yanked his sword free, got his footing, then charged down the incline at the assassin. Hyogo's eyes went wide as he realized what Kambei was about to do, and he also pulled his blade free to parry Kambei's slashing attack.
Then he realized that Kambei wasn't trying to get past his defenses.
He was trying to knock him off the edge.
Hyogo desperately tried to change the angle of his defense, but Kambei's sword came sweeping at him, and with a single strike, sent him flying backward over the edge and toward the ground below. Only a mid-air twist and somersault to a crouch saved him from a broken neck or from impaling himself on his katana, and he stood to stare angrily at the samurai standing above him.
“I'll send the two of you to hell together, samurai,” Hyogo cursed.
High above him, Kambei glared down at the dark-haired assassin. And he silently wondered how far Hyogo would go for revenge…
… on Nasami… and on them all.
To be continued