Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ The First Step Into Death ( Chapter 15 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
* * * * * * * * * *
AUTHOR'S NOTES: After an interesting discussion on another author's forums about Mary Sues, I realized that I desperately did NOT want Nasami to fall into that category. Hence this chapter, which I think underlines really well the nature of a relationship, and not just in the romantic sense.
The title of the chapter comes from a quote that goes, "The first step into death is the hardest." Given what they face in Kanna, not to mention the ramifications of Hyogo's accusation, Nasami's future is very bleak indeed. It is also a foreshadowing of what Katsushiro will get himself into once he and the others reach Kanna... but that's another story.
The music for this chapter is “Ghost City,” from the anime GHOST IN THE SHELL. As always, please review! I can't improve things otherwise!
* * * * * * * * * *
THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Fifteen: The First Step Into Death
Nasami stood near the cavern entrance, staring up the stars with a melancholy look in her eyes.
“Tomorrow, we must leave at dawn,” Kambei had said soberly. “The Nobuseri know too much, and we cannot afford to lose any more time. It is vital that we reach Kanna Village as quickly as possible.” He looked at Katsushiro. “By tomorrow, that injury of yours will be able to handle the walk, and we will need to be rested and ready to go.”
“We could leave now,” Gorobei had replied, but Kambei shook his head.
“No, we should plan first, or else we'll be caught before we ever reach Kanna.”
“Especially since now they have a real reason to be looking for us,” Katsushiro had muttered, trying and failing to keep from shooting an accusing look at Kyuzo.
Nearby, she could hear the faint sounds of the others as they slept, and the soft sighs of the wind. Exhausted after their earlier battles with the Nobuseri, the samurai were sleeping deeply. Most of them, anyway... she knew that at least one of them was currently on watch after the ambush earlier by the bandits. She also had the feeling that they no longer trusted Honoka after her betrayal of them, even if Kambei had won her support by promising to reunite the peasant woman with her abducted sister.
“It's not his fault,” she had protested, gesturing at Kyuzo. “Hyogo would have shot him in the back, and would never have let us leave the Shikimoribito's lair alive.”
“But you are already wanted for the murder of the Envoy, and Hyogo's death will not help matters in the least,” Kambei said softly. “If you run now, you will appear even more guilty.”
Nasami growled. “I should have killed him when I had the chance.”
“No.” Kyuzo's reply was soft, but firm. “You could not have killed him.”
She turned to him angrily. “He was on his knees, with a broken arm, a shattered sword, and no pride.”
“That is why you could not kill him.”
Nasami shivered in the clothes she had borrowed from the other samurai. Used to traveling with male samurai across the Empire, she had occasionally dressed as a man to gain access to unfriendly places. Kambei and the others had deemed it too dangerous for her to continue to wear the armor that she was so often seen in, and she had reluctantly agreed to remove it. However, it felt distinctly uncomfortable not to have her body encased in the familiar steel and silk that she had worn for so long.
Kambei had turned his eyes to Honoka. "Lady Honoka, I need your word that you will not turn Nasami over to the Nobuseri. You heard what the Guardians said - no one can know she is going to Kanna."
Honoka nodded. "You have my word."
Heihachi looked sulky where he sat sharpening his sword. "How can you be so sure that we can trust her?"
Gorobei gently put a hand on Honoka's shoulder. "She knows what she stands to lose if she does tell the Nobuseri or the Magistrate's men. And sometimes you just have to take things on faith."
Nasami turned her head to look at each of them, and then as silently as a ghost, she turned and made her faltering way out of the cavern. As she left, however, dark eyes watched her progress, and a figure slowly began to follow.
She had been walking for less than an hour when a voice came from behind her. "Where are you going?"
The voice was soft, but firm, and Nasami stopped walking.
"I'm going to Kanna Village," she replied without turning around. She kept her hands at her sides, however, rather than reaching for her sword, knowing full well that she could still most likely react faster than any assailant could imagine.
A slender figure stepped out from behind a tree, hidden within the dark shadows of the night. "Why leave now?"
"I travel alone."
"What good will that do?" The figure slowly approached until it was standing almost directly behind the samuraiko.
"I won't endanger the others," she said softly. "Not even you, Kyuzo-sama."
She turned around at last to look at the fair-haired samurai who had followed her. "Why did you follow me?"
"You shouldn't go alone."
Nasami shook her head. "It's too late for that, Kyuzo-sama, and we both know it. With Hyogo dead, my guilt is almost certain in their minds."
"It wasn't your fault," Kyuzo reminded her. "He threatened to kill you."
She turned her back on Kyuzo, clenching her small fists, and began walking again, Kyuzo following her. Together they walked in silence until they reached a small rocky outcropping. And beneath it was a recently dug grave.
From within the folds of her clothes, Nasami drew forth the broken pieces of Hyogo's katana. Then with a long, ragged sigh, she knelt and drove them into the mound of dirt over the grave so that they stood up like grave markers, the blade and the pommel crossing each other. "I hated them both. If there ever was divine justice in this world, I pray that their souls never find peace, not in any life."
Nasami drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to calm herself, but her hand went instinctively to the scar over her stomach - the mark left behind from Yashiko's treacherous assassination attempt. Her fingers curled into her skin, remembering the burning chill and agonizing pain from the poison that had nearly stolen her life.
“You tried to abduct an innocent woman, attacked my friends, and almost killed me. Your sister caused my brother's death, tried to assassinate me, murdered three honorable samuraiko, and nearly killed the Magistrate I was serving at the time... I should kill you right now. A single thrust, and you would be dead at my feet.”
Then suddenly she glanced back at him, startled out of her thoughts, and Kyuzo met her gaze directly.
Kyuzo stared into Nasami's eyes, and she gazed back at him unflinchingly. “She is Sasuraitsuru. You can't kill her.”
"You knew," she breathed as realization dawned. "You knew who I was, and you knew why Hyogo wanted me dead."
"Did Hyogo tell you?"
"No." His eyes dropped to her waist, where her katana rested in her obi. "Only one samurai wields Mamorimasu."
"Is that why you let me go?" she asked. "Because of who I am?"
He shrugged. "No."
"It's what you are," he said quietly. "One of the only honorable samurai left in the world." Kyuzo reached out and took Nasami's hand, forcing her fingers open to reveal the scar on her palm, and she gasped at the unexpected heat of his skin. "You risk your life and your honor for those in need. I could not let you die like that."
She tried to snatch her hand away, but he held onto it. "And yet you intend to kill Kambei-san when this is over. How is that any more honorable than killing me?"
Kyuzo smiled a cold smile that sent chills down Nasami's spine. "I reserve the chance to finish my duel with Kambei-sama."
"But if you win, you will kill him." Her voice was flat.
The fair-haired samurai nodded.
She went totally still, and stopped trying to pull away from him. The samuraiko knew perfectly well that of the two samurai, Kyuzo was the more skilled duelist. With that and the advantage of being younger than Kambei, the outcome of their fight was virtually certain. Then slowly, as though exhausted, she bowed her head.
"I understand," Nasami said at last, sadness in her voice. "I cannot stop you." She looked over at the grave. "After all, look what happened last time someone tried to interfere."
She gently withdrew her hand from his, turned and began walking away again. But before she turned away, Kyuzo was startled at the pain he saw in her eyes. "So it's true..."
She looked back at him. "What is?"
"You have feelings for Kambei-sama."
Nasami did not answer, and Kyuzo knew her answer from her silence.
"Do you love him?"
She stopped. "It doesn't matter anymore, Kyuzo-sama."
It was the first time he had ever seen her look so... defeated.
"Would you spare his life, out of respect for another samurai?" She only barely managed to keep her voice from shaking.
"I will fight him because he is samurai," Kyuzo stated, but Nasami shook her head.
"Not out of respect for him... but for me."
And Kyuzo understood what she meant.
"I see." She started walking again.
She looked back at Kyuzo standing in the road.
"I am sorry..."
Nasami nodded. "As am I," she said, her voice barely a whisper, and began walking away once again. Kyuzo stood on the road and watched until even the glimmer of her white hair disappeared into the darkness, then he turned and faded back into the shadows, heading toward the Shikimoribito's caverns.
When the others awoke the following morning, they were shocked to see Nasami gone.
"Why the hell would she turn tail like that?" Kikuchiyo was stunned. "I thought for sure that she would still be coming to Kanna with us!"
Before anyone could respond, Kyuzo had his sword out and was pointing it straight at Kikuchiyo, his pale face grim.
"Take it back."
The big machine samurai fell back a stop. "Hey, what are you-?"
Kyuzo advanced on him slowly. "I said... take it back." He forced Kikuchiyo all the way back to the wall of the cavern.
"Nasami-dono did not run. She is going to Kanna alone."
"What!" Katsushiro blurted out. "But how do you know?"
"We spoke last night. She left to protect us." Kyuzo's voice was calm, but he never took his eyes off Kikuchiyo.
"And you didn't try to stop her?" The young samurai was outraged at the thought of Kyuzo letting Nasami make the potentially dangerous journey to Kanna Village by herself.
"Would it really have done any good?" Kambei said with a sigh. "We all know how headstrong Nasami-san is, and she is more than capable of taking care of herself."
"It does make sense, in a way," Gorobei admitted. "We've already got a large group, and another person might make things more of a problem. Not to mention that she is, well..."
"Well trained in more subtle methods?" Shichiroji finished with a smile.
"Something like that," Gorobei agreed.
"I certainly hope so," Heihachi said somberly. "If what the Shikimoribito said was true, and Nasami's been accused of murder, the Magistrate's men and the Nobuseri are going to be combing the countryside for her. Samurai usually don't just blend in, and Nasami-dono more than most."
"That also could be a blessing in disguise," Kambei pointed out. "If they are all busy looking for her, our odds of reaching Kanna Village undetected are improved somewhat."
"I still can't believe you're agreeing with Kyuzo-dono letting her go," Katsushiro said stubbornly. "She nearly got caught the last time we split up."
"I did let her escape," Kyuzo stated.
"After you wounded her," Katsushiro shot back.
"That's enough," Kambei said loudly. "This arguing gets us nowhere, and like it or not, Nasami has gone on without us. We know where she is headed, at least, and we can catch up with her at Kanna Village."
"So what happens now?" Kirara asked from where she had been packing up their few belongings in preparation of the trip.
"Now we leave as well. And we pray that Katsushiro is wrong about Nasami's luck running out."
"Well, I for one feel sorry for any idiot crazy enough to take on Nasami-dono," Kikuchiyo said cheerfully. "Don't worry, Katsu, she'll be okay. Besides, if she's anything like Kyuzo here, we can just follow the destruction."
The samurai and the farmers took a few minutes to handle last-minute concerns, and as the sun fully appeared over the horizon, they set out across the desert toward Kanna Village. But as they walked, Kambei was deep in thought on how to get the entire group to Kanna safely. Between the Magistrate's patrols and the Nobuseri, too many people now knew about the group as a whole. There was also the problem of too many people fighting in the same place, as it would increase the chances of one of the farmers being hurt in the process.
“We'll need to split up,” he said aloud, and everyone stopped to look at him.
“What do you mean?” Rikichi asked, Komachi skipping along behind him.
“We can't go to Kanna in a group this large, we'll be caught before we ever cross the desert. We should proceed in groups no larger than three people.”
Kambei and the others started walking again as Gorobei considered the idea. “A three-way split? That's a bold move, old man,” he said, mockingly echoing Shichiroji's own nickname for the white-clad samurai.
Heihachi, however, was all in favor of splitting up. “Big groups attract attention. We'll have a better shot this way.”
Kambei nodded soberly. “That's my hope. The Nobuseri know too much about us now. We must play against their expectation however we can. Now we'll need a rally point near the village. Any suggestions?”
Kirara was walking with her head down, dowsing with her crystal to find the best route back to Kanna, and she glanced up at Kambei's question. “There's Wing Rock on the way to the bridge.”
“Wing Rock?” Katsushiro said in surprise, and Kirara nodded, picturing the enormous rock in her mind.
“It's an old boulder that's been weathered down into the shape of a wing. It's impossible to miss.”
Komachi came scrambling up over a small hill behind Shichiroji. “When me and my friends go play, that's our secret base!”
Kambei quietly chuckled. “Well, that settles it then.”
Shichiroji turned and looked at the rest of the group. “So, how should we split up?”
“One farmer per group,” Kambei said, also assessing the others. “They know the land and can guide us.” Komachi, Kirara, and Rikichi all nodded - they could easily find their way back to Kanna Village from here. The ex-commander then looked at the other samurai. “Two samurai go with each. Katsushiro, you're with me,” he said before Katsushiro could volunteer. Kambei glanced at Komachi, who gleefully ran ahead to catch up to Katsushiro and smiled hugely at him, especially when she saw the crestfallen look on his face at not being able to travel with Kirara.
“Great, I'll take the woodchopper,” Gorobei volunteered, and he reached out to grab Rikichi by the collar before the farmer could sidle off. Kirara stifled a giggle, knowing how the entertainer loved to tease Rikichi mercilessly.
“That'll work.” Shichiroji glanced over at Kyuzo, who gave a faint nod, and then back at Kambei, who turned his gaze quickly to Kirara as a hint. He bowed extravagantly to Kirara, who smiled and moved to walk beside the former pilot.
“Then it's decided,” Kambei said in satisfaction. “We'll walk three paths, and converge near the village soon. Fortune be with you all.”
Kikuchiyo had been waiting patiently for Kambei to include him in a group, but when he realized that he was left out, protested loudly, “Wait, you forgot me! Who do I go with?”
Kambei just kept walking. “That is not my concern.”
The big machine samurai huffed indignantly and blew an enormous cloud of steam in frustration. “Oh, I see. Fine, then, I'll just go wherever I want!” And he promptly stomped off, muttering under his breath. Komachi wanted to go after him, but a firm look from Kambei kept her walking forward.
As they cleared the low mountains ringing Kogo Valley, the three groups parted ways with bows and wishes of good luck. Katsushiro watched in mild aggravation as Kirara left with Kyuzo and Shichiroji, and glared daggers at Kyuzo's back, but he resolutely did as he had been told and followed Kambei and Komachi.
"Stop worrying, Katsushiro," Kambei said, cutting across the young samurai's thoughts, and Katsushiro looked up, startled. "Kirara will be fine with Kyuzo and Shichiroji. So will Nasami, wherever she is."
"Yes, sensei," Katsushiro said in resignation.
Trying desperately not to think about Kirara.
To be continued...