Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Following In My Footsteps ( Chapter 16 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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AUTHOR'S NOTES: I had to do it, I really did. -laughing- I liked Ran from Motokonobaka's story KEN NO RONIN on the FanFiction.net site so much that I wanted her to make an appearance here, albeit a brief one. And what better place to have them run into each other than on the road to Kanna? And really, their whole trip to Kanna is generally filled with weirdness anyway (cross-dressing, merciless teasing, and the like), so why not add a bit more?
The music for this chapter is "Becoming a Geisha" from MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Sixteen: Following In My Footsteps
Nasami glanced skyward and squinted at the sun, then back down at the road. At the rate she was walking, she guessed that she would be arriving at Kanna Village just before sundown. Fortunately she had managed not to encounter too many people along the way, but then again, she had been careful to pick a road that was traveled enough for her to blend in, but not so crowded that she wouldn't be able to make good time. But her limp made the long walk difficult, and she felt rather self-conscious for not wearing her usual armor. However, Mamorimasu was still carefully resting in the obi at her waist.
Suddenly she whirled, yanking her katana and its saya from her obi, and parried a sudden and unexpected boken attack from behind her. With a graceful shrug, she side-stepped and brought the sheathed katana into her assailant's stomach, sending the attacker backward to land on the ground with a loud thump and a muffled curse.
In a flash, Nasami had the katana out of its saya, the blade pointed at her assailant, but then she gasped and stepped back in surprise.
Sitting on the ground ruefully rubbing her stomach was a gawky-looking teenage girl. She wore all black, right down to the sandals on her feet, with an odd basket hat on her head and her long dark hair pulled back in a foxtail. One boken was clutched in her hand, another was thrust into the sash at her waist.
"Have you no sense?" Nasami hissed, replacing the sword in its sheath, her heart pounding from the unintentional scare. "I could have killed you!"
"Not me!" the girl said cheerfully, getting to her feet. "I'm a samurai! Master of the sword! Never been beaten!"
No sooner were the words out of her mouth when with a single stroke, Nasami sent the girl's boken flying.
"Except for just now," the samuraiko said coldly, replacing her katana at her waist.
"Well, yes, that's true," the teenager said, unfazed as she dusted herself off and went to retrieve her boken. "I guess you could be better than me. But you never heard me coming, did you?"
"Samurai do not sneak," Nasami chided her. "It's dishonorable."
The girl opened her mouth to argue, but then seemed to think better of it and closed it again with an audible snap.
"I suppose you're right," she said, sticking the other boken into the sash at her waist.
Nasami eyed the girl with interest. It was true that she had been remarkably quiet when she had crept up behind the samuraiko.
"What is your name?"
"Ran," the teenager replied. "And you are?"
Nasami couldn't help grinning. It was rare that she wasn't recognized these days. "Nasami."
"Pleased to meet you, Na-… hey, wait a minute!" Ran's dark eyes flashed to the samuraiko's white hair, then to the katana she wore in her obi. "No… no, you couldn't be the same Nasami."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Nasami is supposed to be this incredible samuraiko, Sasuraitsuru, undefeated in battle, legendary swordsman and all that," Ran said, waving her arms. "She's been my inspiration since I was old enough to walk. But you're barely the same height as me, you don't even wear armor, and you walk with a lame knee. You can't be the same person."
She never even saw the samuraiko move.
Suddenly Ran was flat on her face, coughing up dirt, and Nasami was standing behind her, one of the girl's boken in her hands.
"You were saying?" the samuraiko asked, leaning on the boken.
"It's… it's not possible," Ran coughed. She got up again, slapping her hand against her clothes to get rid of the dust, and drew her other boken to round on the samuraiko. But as she looked at Nasami again, the samuraiko straightened to her full height and shoved back her sleeves, and Ran took in the scars, the tattoos on her arms, and the skill with which she wielded the boken, dawning realization appearing in her eyes.
"It's true… you really are the samuraiko Nasami!"
Nasami nodded, and Ran immediately bowed, absolutely horrified. "I'm so sorry, I swear I didn't mean any disrespect!"
The samuraiko waved her hand in dismissal, and handed back the boken. "Rule number one - Never judge on appearance. You never know who you might be talking to."
"Yes, Nasami-sama, I'll remember," Ran said gratefully, straightening. "So where are you going?"
"I can't tell you, but speed is vital at this time. So I must be going."
"Before you go," Ran said hurriedly, "I've heard stories about your swordsmanship, and I was wondering… can you take just a moment to show me how good you are? Please?"
Nasami was about to refuse, but the plea in Ran's eyes was too strong to ignore. "Very well," she sighed, and reached into her robes for a piece of rice paper from the sheaf she carried with her for writing. "On one condition."
Nasami's dark blue eyes locked onto Ran's dark ones. "Tell no one you saw me."
"No… one. Swear on your honor as a samurai," Nasami said softly.
Ran looked miserable at not being able to tell everyone she had met the famous samuraiko, but nodded. "I promise."
Nasami held up by one corner in front of Ran, then tossed the paper into the air, drawing her katana in a swift movement in the same instant. Before the girl even drew a breath, Nasami stepped forward, swung her katana, spun the blade around, and resheathed it.
And Ran's eyes went wide as two pieces of paper, exactly the same in size as the original but now half the original's thickness, drifted to the ground.
Nasami's smile slowly faded, and she turned and began walking down the road once more.
"Just you wait, Nasami-sama!" Ran called cheerfully. "One day I'll be just as good as you are!"
"Miracles do happen," came the samuraiko's reply as she disappeared from sight.
"To hide a tree, put it in a forest; to hide a person, go into town," Gorobei said cheerfully as he, Heihachi, Rikichi, now dressed in rather gaudy clothes and hats, walked along the main road heading into one of the towns between Kogakyo and Kanna Village. “The main road is the most obvious route to Kanna, and the last they'd expect us to take.”
“Blend in by standing out,” Heihachi agreed. “But aren't these outfits kinda pushing it?”
"I really don't feel very comfortable with this," Rikichi muttered. He walked along with his head down, trying his hardest to pretend he wasn't there, and certainly not dressed like a performer.
“Come on, man, comfort is for the stagnant,” Gorobei proclaimed. “If anyone asks, just tell them, `We are a traveling troupe of merry men, with a hearty joke and a joyful song!' And you have to say it like that,” he added.
“But I can't,” Rikichi protested miserably. “I'm just a farmer, rice is all I know. I don't know how to perform!”
“Of course not,” the entertainer replied. “None of us do. But the point is you're not you anymore, you're the… sickle master Maguso Koedayu!”
“And I'll be the man who breaks blocks to break his bread,” Heihachi said gleefully, lifting his hands before him like a martial artist about to split a board in two. “Wood-chopping master Hoho Eminosuke!”
Gorobei studied him with a smile. “You know, the name kind of suits you!” Then he and Heihachi started laughing at the idea.
Rikichi, however, saw no humor in the situation, and stopped walking in dismay. The woodcutter noticed, and stopped as well, although Gorobei kept walking, humming to himself.
“We shouldn't be laughing, this is life or death!” Rikichi said quietly, all of his fears in his voice.
Heihachi understood his concerns, but he also knew that the farmer had no idea that this was how samurai lived - each moment for itself. “We're laughing because it's life or death. It's Gorobei-dono's style, you should try it out.”
The mechanic began walking along after Gorobei, and after a few moments of wishing the ground would just open beneath him, Rikichi followed.
If he had known what was coming later, he would have skipped wishing for the ground to open up beneath him, and gone straight to praying for lightning to strike him dead where he stood.
Heihachi soon caught up to Gorobei. “So, how do you think the others are doing?”
“Honestly, I'm not sure,” the entertainer said, all humor gone. “With Kambei-dono in one group and Kyuzo-dono in the other, I'm sure they'll be safe. Actually, I know it sounds strange, but I haven't been worrying about them at all.”
Heihachi nodded. “I know… I'm worried about her, too, but I'm sure that she's fine. In all truth, she'll probably have the easiest time of it, you know?”
Kirara reached the bend of the road, and saw spread out below her the rice paddies of a village that adjoined Kanna.
“Those are our neighbors down there,” she said, breathing hard as Shichiroji and Kyuzo came up behind her. “Kanna Village is not very far beyond them.”
“It's a difficult climb, Lady Kirara, and you're out of breath,” Shichiroji said kindly. “Why don't we take a break here, just for a few minutes?”
The water priestess was about to agree when she sensed someone watching her, and turned to see Kyuzo staring placidly at her, the black mask covering the lower half of his face. His features completely unreadable, he just watched as she clenched her jaw and deliberately turned back to Shichiroji.
“No thanks,” she said defiantly. “We can rest when we get there. My people are waiting for us, they need me.”
The former pilot wasn't fooled though, and grinned widely. “And I thought your motivation was getting away from Kyuzo-dono here.”
Kirara sensed the silent reproach, and turned her gaze away. “I'm not going to pretend that I like him, great samurai. I honestly can't tell what he's thinking, and I don't trust men like that. He told Kambei he wanted to kill him, doesn't that bother you?”
“I don't know,” Shichiroji began, when a sudden chill made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Kyuzo tensed in the same instant, and both men resolutely did not turn around.
“Scouts,” Kyuzo said softly.
Kirara gasped and began to turn around, but Shichiroji's hand on her elbow and a soft whisper of “Don't” kept her facing forward.
The two samurai listened intently, senses attuned for combat. Then Shichiroji knelt down in front of Kirara and held out his hand.
“Give me your foot, like I'm your servant,” he whispered urgently. When she hesitated, he glanced up at her and ordered, “Just do it!” Clearly uncomfortable, and not at all sure why he was doing this, Kirara lifted her foot and placed it in his hand.
Kyuzo, however, was well aware of the potential threat behind them in the form of the mechanical spy, and was about to draw his swords when Shichiroji shot a fast glance at him. “Want to start a fight?”
The red-clad samurai didn't bother to answer, but reached up to draw his two katanas from the sheath on his back. Kirara got there first, placing her hand on his shoulder to stop him from pulling the swords free.
“Great samurai, please don't! I'm begging you!” she pleaded. “You'd only put us at risk for a fight that could be avoided!” Kyuzo glared down at her, and she nearly stepped back, but continued. “Getting to the village should be our top priority! Let's not take lives when we don't need to!”
To her surprise, Kyuzo let go of his swords and began walking past her. As he passed Shichiroji, the pilot groaned and rubbed the back of his head in frustration, but also turned and started walking again, Kirara trailing after him.
Shichiroji caught up to Kyuzo and said softly, “Do you think they were looking for us… or for Nasami-dono?”
Kyuzo shrugged, and Shichiroji sighed. “Perhaps you should have fought them… if they were looking for Nasami, at least then we know they wouldn't find her. But I guess it's too late now.”
Kikuchiyo had caught up to Kambei, Katsushiro, and Komachi earlier in the day, and now the four of them were passing over a stream that came from the runoff of a waterfall. Kikuchiyo, with Komachi sitting on his shoulder, waded stoically through the stream, while Katsushiro lightly hopped from stone to stone behind Kambei.
“He's still thinking of sister, he's still thinking of sister,” Komachi chanted in sing-song, a huge smile on her face as she thought of Katsushiro pining after her older sister.
Reaching the next stone, Katsushiro turned around in exasperation. “Would you please stop with that!”
“Oh, you can try to hide it,” Komachi said confidently from where she perched on Kikuchiyo's shoulder, “but I can tell that you are totally in love with her!”
That got Kikuchiyo's attention, and Katsushiro's gasp and immediately reddened cheeks stopped the big machine samurai in his tracks.
“Oh, I think you might be right, sprout!” he crowed, laughing. “Look at him blush!”
Katsushiro turned away in a huff, even as the blush deepened. “Laugh all you want, it's not true!” he said defensively. “I took an oath, all right? I swore I'd protect her, that's all I'm thinking about! Period!”
Kikuchiyo wasn't fooled in the least, and laughed even louder. “Oh, ho, ho, look how mad he's getting! Pretty obvious now, huh?”
Komachi, however, was struck by a sudden thought. “I don't know, though… are samurai even allowed to fall in love?”
Katsushiro rounded on her. “Nobody's falling into anything! I told you, it's not like that!”
Up ahead, Kambei turned around with a smirk. “You've lost this battle,” he said to Katsushiro, chuckling quietly to himself, and Katsushiro turned to him in dismay. Kambei crossed the stream, with Kikuchiyo and Komachi behind him, still laughing to themselves. Katsushiro stayed where he was for a moment, then called after Kambei, too angry and embarrassed to think about his next words, “So how is what's going on with you and Nasami-dono any different?”
That brought the other three to a halt, and Kambei turned around to Katsushiro with a look on his face that the young samurai had never seen before.
Raw, nearly uncontrolled bitterness.
“The difference, were it any of your business, Katsushiro, is that unlike you, I am not hiding behind a lie.”
The older samurai turned on his heel with such finality that even Komachi and Kikuchiyo fell silent, and somberly, the other three trailed along behind him, their earlier laughter forgotten.
To be continued…