Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ From Bad to Worse ( Chapter 9 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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AUTHOR'S NOTES: Chapter Nine's music came thanks to an AMV I had seen, which used a really good copy of Christopher Field's “Gothic Power” (if you've seen any of the `Lord of the Rings' trailers, you've heard it before). I liked it so much, I not only used it for this chapter, but I did a SAMURAI 7 trailer to it (hit my website's Multimedia page to see it).
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Nine: From Bad to Worse
The moon was barely halfway across the sky when a figure rose from its pallet, donned its sword, and moved silently across the workshop. A quick glance back showed that everyone else was asleep.
“Going somewhere, Nasami-san?” came a soft whisper, and it was only with a supreme act of will that she stopped herself from whirling around and drawing her katana.
Nasami glared at Kambei in the faint light of Masamune's forge. The older samurai was sitting in his usual place near the door to the back courtyard. “Did you have to scare me like that?” she hissed in a barely audible whisper.
“No more than you did to me, moving like a ghost. What in the world are you doing awake at this hour?”
“I could ask you the same thing. I saw you go to bed earlier after dinner.”
“I went to bed, but I couldn't sleep.” He wasn't, however, about to tell her why. “Did I wake you when I got up?”
She shook her head, but even in the dim light, he could see that she looked uncomfortable. “Call it a hunch, but something tells me that things are about to go drastically wrong. I wanted to walk the streets for a while, it usually helps me think.”
“You're not walking Kogakyo's streets alone,” he said firmly, picking up his sword and rising to cross the workshop. “I'll come with you.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Are you saying I can't take care of myself?”
“I'm saying that I could also use some night air and a chance to think.”
For a long moment, the two samurai stared at each other, wondering what the other was thinking, but finally Nasami nodded and turned to leave, Kambei falling into step beside her.
“What about the others?” she asked as they reached the door, gesturing to the sleeping figures.
“They'll be all right for a little while.”
Most of Kogakyo was asleep at this hour, but a few places were still open - certain restaurants, teahouses, or geisha houses were still entertaining clientele. By unspoken consent, the two samurai gave these places a wide berth, to avoid drawing attention.
“So what's this hunch of yours?” Kambei finally asked Nasami.
“Nothing I can put my finger on, it's just this… this nagging feeling I have.” She waved her hands before her in a frustrated gesture. “Have you ever been outside just before a storm breaks, when for just a little while, everything feels still, but you can feel it building up?”
“That's what it feels like for me right now, and I don't know why. Ever since I saw that Envoy at Ayamoro's palace.”
They walked in silence for a little while, and Kambei was aware that Nasami was tense, never looking over her shoulder but alert to her surroundings all the same. He wondered briefly if she had somewhere in mind as she walked, or if she really was just wandering the city aimlessly as her mind churned over the problem.
Then she stopped in the middle of the road, and looked up. He lifted his head to follow her gaze.
Ayamoro's castle loomed above them. And walking along the walls was Hyogo, one of the two samurai that the Magistrate employed as his bodyguards.
Kambei suddenly turned to Nasami, who was staring up at the palace with a grim expression on her pale face, one hand gripping her katana.
“You're also worried about that samurai,” he said slowly as realization dawned. “The one you dueled and who tried to ambush us earlier.”
Then she drew a deep breath, and headed up the path that she and Gorobei had followed the day before to spy on Ayamoro's castle.
“Where are you going?” Kambei asked her.
The samuraiko turned to him in the moonlight, her eyes dark blue and silver and full of shadows, and replied, “You know the old proverb, Kambei-san. `It is always wise to know more about your enemy's fate than your enemy does.'”
Kambei frowned, but followed her on silent feet as she began to climb. It was extremely slow going and laborious, but Nasami and Kambei moved with the grace of cats, taking care with each placed step. At last, they reached the small cliff that overlooked the palace courtyard, flickering with lanterns, and Nasami crouched down to stare at it.
“Ayamoro's either extremely confident or overwhelmingly stupid,” she said softly as Kambei crouched down beside her. “He knows that his assassins and his samurai have been bested on multiple occasions, and yet he's done nothing to improve the security of his palace.”
“According to Kirara, the Magistrate's son and his chief henchman know of the peasants' search, although he doesn't know why they're seeking to recruit samurai,” Kambei replied. “And rumor has it that this has also reached the ears of the Imperial Envoy as well.”
For a while, they watched in silence as Hyogo crossed the courtyard, then Kyuzo appeared and nodded to him. The dark-haired samurai turned and headed inside, while the fair-haired samurai stepped up to the wall and began to make his rounds.
Suddenly Kambei caught his breath, and she turned to him in surprise. “What's wrong?”
“Look there,” he whispered urgently, pointing along the east wall. Nasami narrowed her eyes and tried to see what he was looking at. Then she saw it as well, and her eyes widened.
A lithe shadowy figure was making its way along the outside ledge of someone's room.
Holding a sword.
“Oh, no,” she breathed in horror, rising to her feet, but Kambei grabbed her wrist and yanked her back down.
“Are you completely mad?”
“You're not telling me to just sit here when someone's about to get killed!” she hissed, wrenching herself free from his grip, but Kambei tightened his hold. “Let me go!”
Nasami again tried to pull herself loose, and on the third try, succeeded. She immediately turned to go sprinting back down the path, but Kambei tackled her, brought them both crashing to the ground, and clapped his hand over her mouth.
“There's nothing that you can do, Nasami!” he insisted through gritted teeth. “If Ayamoro or his men catch us up here, it doesn't matter how noble our motives were, we'll all be executed-” He cursed as she bit him, yanking his hand away.
And in that instant, Nasami brought her hands to her mouth and let out a piercing, complex whistle. Once, twice, a third time.
Kambei and Nasami froze as far beneath them, Kyuzo's head came up to stare at the cliff above him. Then he suddenly turned and dashed back inside.
“What have you done!” Kambei whispered in dismay.
“Old habits die hard,” Nasami said grimly where she lay trapped beneath him. “That was the signal that one's castle has been infiltrated. Kyuzo had no choice but to react to it as if it were true, which in this case, it is. With any luck, they'll catch the assassin and keep him from reaching his intended victim.”
“But now Kyuzo knows we're here,” Kambei cursed, pushing himself up off the ground and dragging Nasami to her feet. “You've endangered us both because of your damnable honor.”
With surprising strength, Nasami backhanded him full across the face, and Kambei reeled backward from the force of the blow.
“Then go ahead and run,” she said, her voice as icy cold as Kambei had ever heard it. “Spend the rest of your miserable life knowing that a death was on your conscience as surely as if you'd wielded that sword yourself.”
The samuraiko turned on her heel and started making her way back down the path, but then stopped. Without looking back, her voice came drifting up to him, low and full of regret. “You disappoint me, Kambei.”
He stood there for a few moments in the moonlight, his hand against his cheek where she had hit him, and wondered why even though she had struck him across the face, it was his heart that ached.
Neither Nasami nor Kambei told the others of their late night foray to the Magistrate's castle, but the truth came out the following day, as Kambei, Heihachi, Gorobei, and Rikichi went looking for other samurai. Katsushiro had stayed behind at Masamune's to protect Kirara and Komachi, while Kikuchiyo and Nasami each went off on their own separate ways.
Everywhere they went, news was being carried of the murder of the Imperial Envoy at the Magistrate's home, and of the citywide samurai hunt that ensued as a result.
“It would seem that Ayamoro's bodyguards were not able to stop the assassin in time,” Kambei mused, and Gorobei and the others turned to him in surprise.
“How do you know that?”
Kambei winced inwardly. “Last night, Nasami-san and I went on another spying mission to the Magistrate's house. We spotted the assassin making his way into the castle, but there was nothing we could do to stop him.”
“I see,” Heihachi said slowly. Gorobei said nothing, and Rikichi looked down at the ground.
Kambei was in no mood to start giving details about his wanderings last night with the samuraiko. “At any rate, we'd best get moving. If the price on our heads really is that high, the last thing we need to do is stand here and invite trouble to come find us.”
The four agreed to split up temporarily to hasten their search - Rikichi with Heihachi, Gorobei with Kambei.
Kambei wandered along without saying much, and the street performer watched the samurai brood in amusement for a while.
“Real romantic, Kambei-dono,” came Gorobei's dry comment, and Kambei turned around in confusion.
“What are you talking about?”
“Come now… a pretty samuraiko like Nasami-dono, and all you can think to do in the moonlight is go on a spying mission?”
Try as he might, Kambei couldn't help reddening, and Gorobei's constant chuckling behind him didn't help.
But both samurai sobered as unfriendly eyes followed them everywhere they went, and it was clearly becoming obvious that the odds of finding samurai skilled enough not to get caught were diminishing rapidly.
“You may have spoken too soon,” Gorobei sighed as they went to meet up with Rikichi and Heihachi. “Any samurai smart enough not to end up in jail right now has probably gone to ground. With the exception of us, that is.”
Sure enough, they saw that Heihachi and Rikichi had also failed to recruit any samurai, and despondently they made their way back to Masamune's workshop.
“Has anyone seen Kikuchiyo, by the way?” Heihachi asked after a few minutes.
“No, why?” Kambei replied.
Heihachi smiled ruefully. “Well, he is kinda hard to miss, and I figured with him roaming around on his own, he'd have brought the city down around our ears already.”
But the woodcutter's answer came sooner than he'd thought, for no sooner did the foursome arrive back at the mechanic's place than Kikuchiyo came dashing up, with a group of ragtag samurai behind him.
“Look, Kambei! Now you can have your pick of the litter! Almost too much to take, huh?” he said proudly.
“That's one way to put it,” Heihachi said, wincing.
Gorobei sighed with disapproval. “And just where did you find them?”
“I broke them out of jail.”
Kambei and Gorobei looked over the fifteen or so samurai standing behind Kikuchiyo with a practiced eye, then Gorobei shook his head. “Losers, every last one of them.”
At his comment, the samurai growled and drew various weapons, but Kambei stepped before them, his hand on his katana. He had been looking for a reason to fight, and demonstrating to Kikuchiyo the ineptitude of the samurai he'd brought with him would suffice.
Then he attacked. For a handful of moments, all that could be heard were the various curses of the samurai as Kambei dealt with them, the ringing of sword on sword, and the thuds of bodies hitting the ground.
Then it was over, and Kambei was standing in the middle of a circle of bodies lying groaning on the ground, and he sheathed his sword with a deliberate and disdainful gesture.
“You see?” he said to Kikuchiyo as Kirara, Komachi, and Katsushiro arrived. “Useless.”
Things really started turning bad when Masamune arrived with the news that the Magistrate's men were on their way, and just got worse when Nasami came sprinting back to the workshop with the news that the letter carriers had betrayed Kirara and Katsushiro.
“They know,” she gasped as she nearly bent double from the effort of running nearly the length of Kogakyo. “Ayamoro and the others… they know we're going to Kanna…”
“It doesn't matter that they're still looking for samurai,” Nasami said later as they sat around the fire in Masamune's shop. “We'll have to leave Kogakyo and fast - there's no way we can stay here now.”
“The trick is going to be leaving without getting caught,” Kambei reminded her.
The samuraiko sighed, and turned to look at the peasants sitting nearby. Although they said nothing, she could tell that despair had begun to settle in at having to leave without all the samurai they needed, and as wanted fugitives, at that.
Nasami was dimly aware of Kambei and the others planning to use the freight elevator train to escape into the lower levels of Kogakyo, in order to bypass the checkpoints out of the city. Her mind was awhirl with information, ideas, tactics, things that she had learned from years of wandering the Empire.
“Go without me.”
Her sudden remark brought all conversation to a halt.
“What do you mean, go without you?” Heihachi asked her, and Nasami turned to him.
“The Magistrate's men are still hunting for samurai, and someone in this city is bound to have told them that the Wandering Crane is in Kogakyo. Even a samurai as above reproach as myself will still be held under initial suspicion, at least until my true identity is confirmed. I can draw off some of the watchmen as you make your escape to the elevator train.”
“That's crazy!” Kikuchiyo said in surprise. “Why the hell would you deliberately let yourself get caught?”
“Didn't you do the same thing earlier, just to break those samurai out of jail?” she asked pointedly, and Kikuchiyo fidgeted. “My point is, if I can distract even some of the city guardsmen while the rest of you escape, I can meet up with you later.”
“Where did you have in mind?” Gorobei asked.
“The Village of Respite is between Kogakyo and Kanna Village,” Nasami replied. “It's a busy enough place that I can meet you without it being conspicuous, and it's theoretically beyond the jurisdiction of Ayamoro.”
“It's still a terrible risk, great samurai,” Kirara protested. “What happens if you get caught?”
“Even if I do get caught, Ayamoro will throw me in jail temporarily, but as soon as my true identity is discovered, they'll have to let me go.” She waved her hand dismissively. “That is, assuming they actually do catch me.”
“You do realize that his two samurai have it in for you now,” Kambei said coldly. “First you bested Hyogo in a duel, and then you nearly get caught by Kyuzo while spying on Ayamoro. Exactly how many times do you intend to risk your neck?”
“As many times as it takes,” she replied cheerfully, getting to her feet. “Well, then, I'll see you in the Village of Respite. Good luck!”
“Nasami!” Kambei called as she reached the door, and Nasami turned back. He stared into her eyes for a long moment, and then lowered his head. Suddenly the thought of losing the samuraiko was enough to take his breath away. “Be careful.”
Nasami smiled, and then disappeared into the twilight.
To be continued…