Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Trust and Betrayal ( Chapter 14 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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AUTHOR'S NOTES: The music for Chapter Fourteen (the longest chapter so far) only became obvious as I was finishing the chapter - from a little known soundtrack with phenomenal music, the track is “Hanging” from PLUNKETT & MACLEANE.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Fourteen: Trust and Betrayal
Kyuzo looked Hyogo up and down as the dark-haired samurai approached, taking in the blood on his face and his broken arm. "So you lost."
"And to a woman, I hear?" the bandit Sobei rumbled in amusement. "I'm surprised, Hyogo, I would have thought that Ayamoro would have hired more proficient assassins."
"Shut up," Hyogo hissed as he entered the fortress. "This hurts enough without your added sarcasm."
Kyuzo said nothing, but helped Hyogo out of his trench coat in order to examine his broken arm more closely. Sobei leaned forward to peer at the assassin. Up close, he could see where Hyogo's nose had been broken, he'd nearly lost a few teeth, and his cheek had been gashed open.
"Not bad... she's better than I thought, if she was able to defeat you this thoroughly." The bandit glanced at Hyogo in surprise. "What happened to your sword?"
"That white-haired whore broke it."
"She did what?"
Hyogo grimaced. "She shattered the blade clean in half with a single stroke and then left with the two halves. Satisfied?"
"Perhaps we should be working with her instead of you," Sobei said in amusement.
"Not Sasuraitsuru," Kyuzo stated. "She won't do it."
"And what makes you such an expert?" the bandit demanded.
Kyuzo shrugged. "She's samurai, not ronin."
"She will be if her clan ever finds out about this," Hyogo said with relish. "Defying a local magistrate, assaulting the magistrate's men, aiding wanted fugitives..."
Hyogo turned to Kyuzo, startled. "Be grateful for what?"
"She didn't kill you."
"I'm glad she didn't... I want to be there when they force her to commit seppuku."
"Where is the samuraiko now?" Sobei asked.
"I don't know," Hyogo admitted as Kyuzo bound his broken arm, and hissed in pain as the bindings were tightened. "Damn her."
Suddenly one of the Yakan combat flying machines came in, and a stocky warrior climbed out, holding a small lizard in his hand.
"We've just received word from our spy that the peasants of Kanna Village have hired samurai to protect them from the Nobuseri, and that they are now taking shelter in the caverns of the Shikimoribito."
Hyogo and Kyuzo both turned.
"You mean the samurai and peasants we encountered in Kogakyo are headed to Kanna?" Hyogo asked, and the man nodded.
“Including that mechanical oaf that we took captive. Excellent," Sobei rumbled. "Genzo, take some of your men and head to Kanna Village. Give them a chance to give up these samurai to us. If we can save ourselves some trouble, I see no reason to ruin a perfectly good operation if I don't have to. Besides, we can always wipe them out for insubordination after we've taken their rice."
"Did the spy provide any other information?"
"Yes, sir. The samurai are apparently planning to head out tomorrow morning. Our spy will be leading them out of the caverns using the southeastern cavern exit."
"Good. Go and prepare your men to deliver my warning to Kanna."
"Yes, sir," Genzo replied, bowing. He climbed back into the flying machine and headed into the interior of the Nobuseri's flying fortress.
"Well, now we know where they're going," Hyogo said in satisfaction. "Now all we need to do is deal with the samurai."
"A task you have so far proven yourself woefully unable to carry out," Sobei reminded him, and Hyogo growled in frustration. "And now that you have no weapon, you are hardly in a position to stop them."
"I need no sword, Sobei-dono," Hyogo replied smoothly, moving toward the wall where the Nobuseri kept weapons stashed for their men. He lifted down an enormous cannon singlehandedly and turned back to Sobei, the huge weapon balanced easily on his right shoulder. "This will do just fine."
While Hyogo and the other Nobuseri planned their ambush of the samurai, Nasami watched closely from where she crouched hidden, searching for a way to enter the fortress undetected. After besting Hyogo in combat, she had made her way toward the Nobuseri's fortress as fast as she could, overtaking the bandit and their samurai captive, thanks mostly to Kikuchiyo's loud swearing and constant struggling.
For over an hour, she had watched as the fortress had hovered, waiting for the return first of the Nobuseri and Kyuzo with Kikuchiyo, then later when Hyogo arrived. Even several years after the Great War, she was still disgusted at what the Nobuseri had turned themselves into, and what they had done with their power. “How they ever called themselves samurai…” she said to herself in contempt. “I've seen eta with more honor.”
Slowly she stepped out from the overhanging where she'd been watching, but had only gotten a few steps when a sudden flaring of red light began sweeping the local area.
Nasami cursed and dove back toward the overhang just as the beam crossed where she had been standing only moments earlier.
“Oh, this is just what I need. Counter-intrusion measures.” She watched and began counting as the beams criss-crossed back and forth across the ground beneath the fortress, waiting for a moment of opportunity.
“Now!” She sprinted for the fortress as fast as she could, ignoring the burning pain of the wound Hyogo had opened across her ribcage and the familiar ache in her knee. Finally, nearly out of breath, she came to a stop at the base of the fortress and looked up. While there were numerous handholds she could use to climb, she could see several weapons clusters positioned all over the structure to prevent anyone from scaling it from the outside. This, however, was no challenge to her after her years of studying the fine art of covert warfare, and she carefully began to climb, pausing every few moments to make sure that she wasn't seen. After what felt like ages, she was able to see inside, and saw Kikuchiyo tied up and hanging from the ceiling, as well as Hyogo, Kyuzo, and the Nobuseri she'd seen earlier.
“So what is the plan now?” she heard Hyogo ask, and her eyes filled with scorn when she saw the cannon he was carrying.
“We may as well plan a welcoming committee for the samurai when they exit the caverns from the southeastern exit,” Sobei replied. “Since we know where they'll be, we'll wait for them to emerge. But I don't want them dead just yet. I want to see just how strong they are first.”
“Wouldn't it make more sense to just kill them outright?”
“Perhaps,” the Nobuseri mused. “But if they are as formidable as that samuraiko you faced, then even an ambush will not be enough. And besides, even if they get away, Genzo and his men will have turned the farmers against the very samurai they hired before they even get there.”
Kyuzo gave the Nobuseri a barely concealed look of disdain, then turned and left the chamber.
“I grow tired of his insolence,” Sobei said, his voice low.
“Do not worry, Sobei-dono, I will deal with Kyuzo in due time,” Hyogo replied, hefting the cannon meaningfully. “After all, accidents do happen in battle.”
“No…” Nasami whispered. As much as she hated the idea, she was forced to admit that rescuing Kikuchiyo would have to wait. For now.
As night slowly gave way to dawn, she made for the Shikimoribito caverns. In the dark, finding the specific exit that the spy had named proved incredibly difficult, but she finally thought she had located the correct one, and carefully made her way inside.
“After all,” she said aloud, “it won't do us any good if the samurai are caught before we even get to Kanna.”
A sudden loud rustling above her caught her attention, and she whirled around and looked up at the ceiling. The stoic gazes of several Guardians were focused on her as she carefully backed away from them, but they said nothing as she turned and stepped into the slowly flowing water to reach the others. From the outside, she had compared the location of the cavern to the one she had exited hours earlier, and was fairly confident that she could find her way back to the samurai and the peasants.
But after two hours, she slowly came to the horrified realization that she was lost.
She tried to retrace her steps back to the mouth of the cavern, but only succeeded in wandering down another tunnel that looked totally unfamiliar. A noise from the ceiling startled her, and she nearly lost her footing in the stream.
She looked up at the ceiling again, where the Guardians hovered like so many bats. “Shikimoribito-sama,” she called, uncertain if they could even hear her or understand her. “Can you please help me find my way back to the main cavern?”
No answer came, and she growled to herself. “Damn… fine, I'll get back there myself. Somehow.” She started down the tunnel again when she heard voices coming from farther in.
“It's this way, great samurai, we're not far from the exit now.”
“Excellent. You were right, Lady Honoka, with all the twists and bends we would not have been able to find our way out.” Nasami recognized Kambei's voice, and was aghast to realize that Honoka was the spy that the Nobuseri had mentioned.
“KAMBEI! GO BA-” she started to shout, but in an instant, one of the Shikimoribito had dropped from the ceiling and clamped its hand firmly over her mouth before she had time to react. Nasami struggled wildly, but she was yanked off her feet and dragged up toward the ceiling where the other Guardians lurked, out of view of the approaching samurai.
The sounds of their splashing through the waist-high water abruptly stopped. “Did you hear that?” she heard Heihachi say.
“What's wrong, great samurai?” Even from here, she could hear the worry in Rikichi's voice.
“It must have been our imagination,” Kambei replied at last. “Let's keep moving, the longer Kikuchiyo's off on his own, the more trouble he's bound to be in.”
“And what about Nasami-dono?” Shichiroji asked as they passed underneath her. “Komachi said she'd be back by now, but it's been hours without any word from her.”
Nasami kicked and fought to get free, but the Guardian's grip was like iron, and she flailed helplessly as the samurai and Honoka waded past her toward the exit.
“I'm sure she's fine, she can take care of herself,” Gorobei said in amusement.
Eventually, the sounds of their passage faded away, but still she fought to get free from the Shikimoribito's grasp.
“Do not struggle.”
She stopped suddenly, her eyes turning to meet the Guardian's gaze, his hand still over her mouth.
“Yes, we do speak. No, do not try to free yourself just yet. The samurai must reach the cave entrance.”
Nasami frantically shook her head, trying to speak.
“I will release you, if you will swear on your honor as a samurai not to cry out and warn the others.”
She shook her head again, anger gleaming in her eyes, and she renewed her struggles to break loose. But then a loud thundering echoed down the cavern and she froze, her eyes turning to the tunnel that the samurai had followed.
“Excellent,” the Shikimoribito said in satisfaction, and suddenly Nasami found herself being lowered to the ground, along with several other Guardians. As soon as his hand was removed from her mouth, she rounded on them in fury.
“You knew Honoka was a spy!” she shouted, her katana instantly in her hand. “You knew that the Nobuseri would be waiting outside to ambush them!”
“We did,” her captor said quietly.
“Then why in the name of all that's sacred didn't you try to help them? Are you that close to the bandits that you would betray honorable men?” She advanced on them, but the Guardians did not back away.
Without warning, one of the other Shikimoribito reached out and took her by the wrist, pushing up the sleeve so that the tattoo on her right arm was revealed. “With your schooling, you should know that `you cannot fight a foe you do not know exists.'”
Nasami went still. “What do you mean?”
“We are aware that Honoka is a spy for the Nobuseri. But the Nobuseri do not know that we are aware. In using Honoka as a tool for deception, they have given us a tool against them as well.”
“But you're using the samurai to strike at the Nobuseri!”
“Yes. Which is why we could not allow you to warn them. If the Nobuseri suspected that we knew Honoka was a spy, they would cease using her for information, and our ability to gain information from that source would be lost.”
“We understand your frustration. And we sincerely apologize for putting you in this awkward position. It was for this reason that we used a pharmaceutical dart on the young samurai Katsushiro, so that he would soon be well enough to fight alongside the other samurai. Please forgive us.”
The Shikimoribito bowed as one to the samuraiko, who after a long moment, bowed in return.
“So what happens now?” she asked, resheathing her sword.
The Guardians stepped aside and gestured down toward the main cavern. “If you will come with us, we have much to discuss.”
Nasami nodded, and one of the Shikimoribito placed his arm around her waist and fired a grappling hook at the ceiling. Swinging their way along the cavern, Nasami and the Guardians vanished into the darkness.
The Shikimoribito had been right. The samurai easily bested the Nobuseri who had tried to ambush them, even after Hyogo fired a shot at Kambei that nearly took his arm off. But when Kyuzo arrived on the battlefield and started dismantling Nobuseri with his swords, in the end, the remaining bandits and Hyogo retreated to the safety of their fortress while the samurai regrouped in front of the cavern.
“Come on! Come on, kill me already… you afraid to spill a little oil?” Kikuchiyo ranted at Hyogo as he hung in the cavern after the dark-haired samurai had returned. “Come on, you soft-handed weakling chicken bastards!”
“Silence!” The machine samurai's cursing stopped abruptly as Hyogo rammed the end of the cannon against his helmet. “You know, I really do enjoy this gun. It has a versatility that a sword simply lacks.”
“Oh, a samurai with a gun, you're a disgrace!” Kikuchiyo, however, knew full well how Hyogo had lost his sword, his pride, and nearly his life at Nasami's hands, and wished that the samuraiko were there so he could thank her personally for taking the assassin down a few notches.
Hyogo laughed. “Keep it up and you may just get your wish after all. The young master did make a request for your head.” He pointed the cannon at Kikuchiyo's face, but the machine samurai merely growled.
“Your men are incompetent.” Sobei was glaring at Hyogo, still fuming that their ambush of the samurai had not gone quite as well as he had planned. “We were told there were five samurai besides this one.”
“There were,” Hyogo insisted.
“Kyuzo, was it? I'm surprised Moro would employ such a traitor.”
Hyogo turned angrily, clearly resenting the slurs against both his lord and his comrade. “You should watch what you say about my lord, though I'd be curious to know where you get such detailed information.”
The Nobuseri laughed, well aware that Hyogo hated not being in control of a situation. “I'm sure you would.”
The dark-haired samurai growled in frustration, glaring daggers at the bandit.
Kikuchiyo, however, was laughing at the obvious friction between the two. “Fight! Fight! Kick him in the gears!”
Hyogo immediately rounded on him again and hit him again with the cannon, sending him swaying back and forth. “Owwww, ow, ow… sorry,” Kikuchiyo muttered.
Hyogo turned back to Sobei, his face determined. “Rest assured, Sobei-dono, I fully intend to correct that mistake, but I think we should stop those peasants and their samurai first.”
“Agreed,” Sobei replied thoughtfully.
Kikuchiyo was rapidly becoming bored and somewhat aggravating at being ignored by the other two, so he began trying to get loose. “Hey, you guys… you better finish me off now! Otherwise you're gonna regret it!” His laughter again rang through the chamber, echoing off the walls until the bandit leader cursed and approached.
“Just kill him already. He's annoying.”
Hyogo, however, did not move, but instead considered the machine samurai thoughtfully. “Not yet… he may still be of use to us…”
At the mouth of the cavern, the samurai had just learned of Honoka's betrayal, and the merchants' attempted theft of the Shikimoribito's technology. While Heihachi was all in favor of executing the peasant woman for her treachery, Kambei quietly overruled him, vowing to reunite her with the sister that the Nobuseri had abducted.
Suddenly a loud explosion shook the ground beneath them, and the samurai, peasants, and Guardians all ran to see what had happened. Below them was Kyuzo, standing in the wreckage of a bandit he had destroyed, along with several flying machines.
But no sooner did the samurai recognize him than several shots were fired, and Kyuzo dodged out of the way of Hyogo's attacks before being surrounded by several flying machines with swords drawn. Hyogo was berating the samurai for killing the bandit, as well as for pursuing his intention of dueling and killing Kambei.
“Kyuzo-dono,” Kambei murmured.
“He did all this?” Shichiroji said in amazement. He knew he shouldn't be surprised, after watching the stoic samurai carve apart a Nobuseri piece by piece, but he was still impressed by Kyuzo's skills.
“Looks like they're not the forgiving type,” Heihachi observed. Then they noticed another flying machine coming up behind Hyogo, dragging a large and familiar shape that was cursing loudly.
“Kikuchiyo-dono!” Heihachi exclaimed, and Kambei headed down the slope to help Kyuzo.
“Are you sure that's wise?” Gorobei called, but the others ignored him, and he followed them down into the fray. Before Hyogo realized what was happening, the samurai had taken out over half of his force.
“Damn it,” Hyogo cursed, but Kikuchiyo only laughed.
“Dirty tricks like using a hostage don't work on him, you powder-faced freak!”
Hyogo glared at him. “Shut up!”
Kikuchiyo, however, would not be silenced, and taunted, “Didn't you know? He… no, they are samurai! And real ones, too! Not gun-toting fancy dressed fakes like you, you follow me?” The pride in his voice for his samurai comrades aggravated Hyogo immensely, and he waved away the flying machines and gave Kyuzo an ultimatum - duel Kambei now, and either kill him and be redeemed, or die at the samurai's hands.
And while Kyuzo turned to face Kambei, Hyogo lifted the cannon and aimed it straight at the blond samurai's back.
But before he could fire, a shadow from above distracted him, and he turned in dismay to see Katsushiro, now healed, leaping down from the cliff above to slice through the rope holding Kikuchiyo. Instinctively, the dark-haired assassin yanked the cannon around and fired, but he missed the young samurai, who cut Kikuchiyo free and landed beside him.
Hyogo turned, and had barely an instant to recognize the figure charging him, swords drawn, and murder in his eyes. “KYUZO!”
His swords barely whispering as they moved, Kyuzo carved straight through the barrel of Hyogo's cannon with one blade, and through Hyogo's torso with the other.
As Kirara and the other peasants arrived with the Shikimoribito, Kambei and the samurai approached Hyogo where he lay dying.
But Hyogo, in the end, had the last laugh. “You've… fallen for our trap, samurai,” he wheezed. “Right about now… Sobei-dono should be arriving at the Upper Shrine. Soon all the Nobuseri will know of your plan.”
The samurai all recoiled in dismay, their last hope of catching the Nobuseri by surprise lost.
With the last of his strength, Hyogo looked at Kyuzo. “Why… Kyuzo… why did you-?”
Kyuzo looked down at him, meeting his gaze. “Because… I wanted to live.”
“You're a hopeless fool…” Hyogo's voice faded away as he died.
For a long moment, peasants, samurai, and Shikimoribito stood in silence for the fallen samurai, then Kambei turned to Kyuzo. “May I ask you to come with us?”
“When do we leave?”
“Immediately.” Kyuzo nodded, and the other samurai were pleased at the addition of the swordsman to their ranks.
“We will be sorry to see you go,” one of the Guardians stated, and Kambei turned to face them.
“The Nobuseri know about our mission now, so I'm afraid that we have no time to spare.”
Honoka stepped forward hesitantly. “Great samurai…”
Kambei gave her a reassuring look. “Don't worry about what happened. You wait here.” It was also vital that the Nobuseri not realize that the peasant woman had turned against them in the hopes that the samurai would save her sister.
But Honoka was not yet finished. “My little sister and Rikichi's wife… the bandits are probably keeping them both at the Upper Shrine.”
Kambei nodded. “Let's go.” But no sooner did he start walking than he found Kirara standing before him, her eyes fixed on Kyuzo.
“That man is our enemy,” she said firmly, but Kambei would not be dissuaded.
“Before you go, samurai…” The group turned back to the Shikimoribito, and saw that another had arrived. With him was Nasami, who looked pale but composed.
“We must apologize to you. It was necessary to keep her away from the Nobuseri until they had been dealt with.”
“Why?” Kirara asked.
The Guardians turned to her as one. “The one called Hyogo has betrayed her, and has sent word to the Magistrate and the Emperor accusing her of the murder of the Imperial Envoy.”
Katsushiro went white. “You can't be serious… but… she's innocent!”
“But whose word will they believe, Katsushiro?” Kambei said wearily. “The word of six ronin and a handful of peasants, or one of the Magistrate's bodyguards?”
“But Hyogo's dead, what kind of threat can he possibly be now?” Kikuchiyo asked.
Nasami looked at Kyuzo. “His death makes me appear even more guilty, as it could be construed that I killed him as revenge.”
The Shikimoribito nodded. “We must warn you all - no one can know that she is in Kanna.”
To be continued…