Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Preparations for Battle ( Chapter 19 )

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

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AUTHOR'S NOTES: It wasn't until I started writing this chapter that I started thinking about something that another author had told me… about how from this point out, there is precious little humor, precious little laughter. From what I've seen (as of today, March 11th, I've watched to the point where Kambei leaves on his own for the capital), she's right. The feeling I get is the slow, inexorable pull toward destiny. You know what's going to happen, and no matter how you try, there is no escaping it.
From here on out, there is betrayal, anger, frustration, blood, sorrow, disillusionment, and death. The scent of the battlefield - `the unholy, unburiable smell of Armageddon' - will soon cover Kanna Village and everyone in it.
Which, of course, meant that Chapter Nineteen's music had to be "Dawn Burial," from the film REIGN OF FIRE.
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Nineteen: Preparations for Battle
Manzo walked quietly through the bamboo forest, heading for the north cliff, a lantern in his hand. Every now and again, he checked over his shoulder, but as far as he could tell, none of the other farmers had seen him leave, nor had the samurai. He knew that they wouldn't approve, but all he wanted was for both the Nobuseri and the samurai to go away and leave Kanna alone.
If he couldn't have that, he'd settle for just having the samurai gone.
He looked back over his shoulder one more time, thinking that he'd heard footsteps behind him, but there was nothing there.
Or so he thought, for as he turned back around, he came face to face with Kyuzo and yelped in panic.
The fair-haired samurai stood quietly and just stared at Manzo, who lowered his eyes guiltily.
“Oh, I was just… uh… going to see how the rice field was doing,” the farmer stammered, and tried to walk around Kyuzo.
In a flash, Kyuzo had one of his swords out and slashed straight at Manzo, who fell back with a startled cry. The blade neatly sliced through the lantern, which fell to the ground in two parts. As Manzo landed on the ground, the still-burning wick caught the rest of the paper, until a little fire started on the path.
In the firelight, Kyuzo's eyes glittered like the sword in his hand, which he then carefully resheathed with a very deliberate motion.
“The war has already begun,” the samurai said, his voice colder than ever. Never once did he take his eyes off the terrified farmer.
And all Manzo could do was stare.
“What were you doing?”
“N-nothing, great samurai!”
“Kyuzo-sama, is there something wrong?”
Both Kyuzo and Manzo turned to see Nasami coming from where she'd been patrolling along the north cliff. She stopped in surprise at seeing Manzo on the ground, a small fire that had apparently once been a lantern, and Kyuzo standing over the farmer.
Kyuzo nodded once, then tilted his head to indicate that she should come with him. But before he left, he turned back to Manzo, who was still sitting on the path, staring at him with wide eyes.
“Go home. Now.” Manzo practically leapt to his feet and dashed along the path toward the bridge, running as though Kyuzo were chasing him all the way home.
As he ran, though, he failed to notice Shino standing off to one side behind a tree, where she had overheard everything. Shino sighed to herself - she should have known her father would have done something this stupid, but to get caught at it just made her feel even worse.
For a moment, Nasami and Kyuzo glanced her way, but Shino held herself absolutely still, and eventually Kyuzo resumed his rounds, Nasami walking with him in silence for a short while.
"You were right," Kyuzo said eventually.
“About what?” Nasami asked.
“Attempted betrayal.”
“Then I take it that was Shino hiding behind the tree?” she asked.
The samuraiko sighed, running her fingers through her long hair and rubbing her eyes tiredly. It wasn't until now that she realized how much she had been hoping her brother had been wrong, but it seems that hope had been in vain.
“Thank you.”
Kyuzo glanced at her. “For what?”
“Stopping him. I hate to think what would have happened if the Nobuseri had learned we were here before we even had a chance to do anything.”
“It's not over yet,” he said flatly. “He will probably try again.”
“Probably,” she agreed. “The more important questions, though, are when… and if anyone else will help him…”

At dawn the following day, Kambei gathered all of the samurai, along with all of the villagers, in front of the Elder's house. Most of the peasants viewed the samurai with open trepidation, others with curiosity, but some like Komachi and Okara were too exhausted to care.
Kirara, however, stood with the samurai, clearly indicating her spiritual approval of their presence in Kanna, which reassured some of what they were about to do.
Of all the samurai, only Nasami was not present. Instead, the samuraiko was patrolling the area around the mesa at Shichiroji's request, making certain that the Nobuseri didn't pay a surprise visit, especially in light of Manzo's actions the night before. She and Kyuzo had given the other samurai a quick rundown of the events of last night, and so the samurai decided to try and reassure the farmers that they really were here to help.
Kambei looked over the peasants with an assessing eye. He could tell they were frightened. But as he already knew, fear wasn't the only way to lead.
"The preparations for our defense begin now," he announced. "We have been told the Nobuseri have forty units. Has this changed?"
The Elder nodded.
“Mmm. We've heard from the other villagers… ten more big units, and maybe sixty more footmen in Yakan combat shells.”
The samurai looked at each other. Kambei's original assessment for needing seven samurai had been based on the earlier assessment of the bandits' fighting force. On the other hand, with Nasami there as well, there was still a chance.
Kambei looked thoughtful. “We should send out a scout soon for exact numbers.”
Gorobei nodded.
Kambei glanced back at Heihachi. "Heihachi-dono, you'll be on weapons detail." The mechanic grinned and bowed.
"Shichiroji, I trust you know what to do, right?" Kambei said wryly.
The blond samurai chuckled. "Just leave it to me!" He'd already done some of his own assessments yesterday, and couldn't wait to get started.
Kambei turned next to Kyuzo, who stood quietly staring at the farmers and taking a grim pleasure in watching Manzo edge farther and farther away from him. "Kyuzo-dono, I want you to gather the village men and teach them to use bow and arrow."
Kyuzo nodded slightly. "Understood."
Gosaku and some of the other farmers swallowed hard. The idea of actually taking up arms against the Nobuseri was not what they'd had in mind when they had hired the samurai, but it was too late to back out now.
Katsushiro stepped forward eagerly. "What should I do, sensei?"
"You'll be on guard duty."
Katsushiro's face fell. "Oh, great, guard duty."
But Kambei stepped forward and studied him with great seriousness. "Do not let any enemy scout get away. They cannot know about us before defensive preparations are complete."
Suddenly the young samurai realized just how much trust Kambei was placing in him, and he stood much straighter. "Yes, sir!"
Kambei and the samurai turned back to the farmers, and the former commander raised his voice so that all the peasants could hear him. “If we do not work together now, we've lost this war before it's begun! Let us band together against the Nobuseri and defend Kanna Village!”
At first there were one or two ragged cheers, but they were quickly silenced. Then, to the astonishment of both the samurai and the peasants, a loud defiant shout echoed in the morning's still air.
The Elder's head was thrown back, screaming at the sky.
Komachi and Okara quickly joined, as did Rikichi and several of the other farmers. Soon all of the peasants were shouting and yelling, all of their pent-up frustration, resentment, and anger coming out at once until the rice stalks trembled.
As the peasants began to disperse though, heading toward their assigned duties or their homes, Gorobei approached Kambei. "What about Nasami?"
"Shichiroji has already requested her assistance in preparing our defenses," Kambei replied.
"I wonder why," Gorobei mused. "As quiet and as skilled as she is, I figured you would have assigned her to guard duty along with Katsushiro."
"That was my original intent, but as Shichiroji pointed out, given Nasami's military training, our cause is better served with Nasami helping him, so she will help him."
Gorobei frowned. “Her military training?”
Kirara and Katsushiro looked equally confused.
Kambei arched an eyebrow. “You mean you don't know where she studied, Gorobei-dono?”
And suddenly Gorobei smiled. “You're right… I'd forgotten about that.”
“Forgotten about what, great samurai?” Katsushiro asked.
“Our samuraiko friend, in addition to being a phenomenal swordsman, is also very well trained in the art of covert warfare.”
“Covert warfare? What does that mean?” Kirara asked, puzzled, and Shichiroji came up, grinning.
“It means that the bandits are in for one hell of a time.”

Soon it became a common sight around Kanna to see peasants assembling weapons, gathering supplies, or training. The samurai seemed to be everywhere at once, providing instructions and guidance.
At one point, Nasami asked for two dozen volunteers to join her on the other side of the bridge for additional preparations. From the Kanna side of the bridge, a few of the peasants watched their friends digging in the fields in the far side. Nasami was standing on a high rocky outcropping, surveying the land, and shouting to the peasants.
“Hey Momotaro, what is Nasami doing?” Komachi asked Shichiroji.
“Planning a few surprises for our bandit friends,” the blond samurai said cheerfully as he directed his own assigned farmers on building a wall and arranging for wood to be brought for creating defenses.
“Such as?” Okara asked.
“If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise, sweetheart,” he said, winking at her, and the child blushed.
Two or three days later, he joined Nasami in one of the abandoned houses that they were using for stashing raw materiel, and together they began mixing chemicals up.
Kirara came by to see what they were doing, but as she inhaled, she gagged and stepped back. “Ugh, that smells awful! What in the world are you making?”
Nasami glanced up from where she was carefully sealing a barrel with hot pitch. She smiled at the water priestess and began ladling a foul-smelling, grayish-yellow mixture into another barrel. “Something that my sensei taught me.”
“What is it?” Holding her nose, Kirara entered the house. She carefully reached out and touched her fingers to the substance - it felt slightly grainy, like a very fine sand, but oily at the same time, and it clung to her fingers.
Shichiroji picked up a spare arrow and dipped it into the compound, then he stepped outside. He carefully lit a candle, then touched the candle to the mixture on the arrowhead.
It immediately burst into flame, and remained burning for quite some time. “A useful little trick for keeping your enemies at a distance,” Shichiroji said.
On the other side of the village, Kyuzo was drilling the farmers in the use of the bow. They stood five abreast, holding bows in shaking arms as the samurai stood to one side.
“Hold your breath as you draw the bow,” he advised Gosaku, who was standing closest to him.
“Okay,” Gosaku said, drawing a breath and trying to hold it.
“See your enemy as closer to you than he really is. Draw him to you, then fire.”
The farmers let their arrows fly, or at least some of them. A couple dropped their bows, and Gosaku's arrow went straight up, then came right back down as he dove out of the way.

And yet… the peasants were not convinced.

“First the samurai come, then they bring a wanted criminal with them, and now we have to fight alongside of them!” Manzo groused. “This whole arrangement just keeps getting worse! What should we expect next?”
“Hush, Manzo, the samurai will hear you!” Gosaku whispered. “Besides, there's nothing we can do about it now!”
“That's not true… we can always get rid of them,” he said dangerously. “After all, there are only eight of them.”
“We're just rice farmers!” Mosuke said, with a fearful glance at Kyuzo and Nasami. “We can't hurt them!”
Manzo's attention was suddenly caught by the sight of Nasami walking past the clearing where Kyuzo was training them, and his eyes narrowed. All at once, a rush of anger and frustration filled him as he looked at the woman - not only was she samurai, but she was a fugitive, and a woman who clearly had no idea what her place was.
And suddenly he had an idea.
But then by coincidence, she glanced over, and her eyes met his. He paled, and took an involuntary step backward.
“I don't care what the samurai say,” Manzo said stubbornly as he and two other farmers later crossed the bamboo forest after trying to train with Kyuzo. “There's no way a few rice farmers with arrows can beat the Nobuseri!”
“They're machines!” Kanzo agreed, nodding and wringing his hands.
“We don't even stand a chance,” Gonzo said soberly.
“We should beg them for mercy,” Manzo said, but in the back of his mind, he still remembered the cold fire he'd seen in Kyuzo's eyes the night the samurai had caught him in the woods.
“Yes, I agree,” Kanzo said. He didn't really think that the Nobuseri would listen, but it had to be better than what they were going through now.
Manzo pushed the thought of Kyuzo out of his head. “A bandit patrol will be here around seven o'clock. Maybe if we were to go and appeal to them right away…” But then he remembered how it felt when he'd seen Nasami walk by, and wished that he could hand her over to the Nobuseri personally. After all, if the bandits promised to spare Kanna just for handing over the samurai, what would they do if they were to give them the woman wanted for murdering an Imperial Envoy?
“You think they'd let us go?” Gonzo said in surprise, turning to Manzo, but then a loud rustling from the bamboo startled them.
All at once Kikuchiyo emerged from the bamboo forest, holding several cut lengths of bamboo under one arm.
“Hey, that's what I call good timing!” he said in high spirits. He studied the three farmers carefully, then selected one of the bamboo lengths, and pointed it at them. All three peasants yelped and took a step back from the giant machine samurai.
“Yeah, that should do for now,” Kikuchiyo said in satisfaction. “All right, let's begin!”
“Begin what?” Gonzo asked, still staring at the length of bamboo that Kikuchiyo was holding like a staff.
“Your training!” he replied, sounding surprised that they even had to ask. “All right, listen up! From this moment on, I am your commander! Stop whining and follow me!”
Gonzo and Kanzo were too shocked to say anything, but Manzo immediately fled into the bamboo forest, unwilling to be part of this any further.
Later that evening, Shino was preparing the evening meal when she saw her father heading out the door.
“Dad, where are you going? Dinner is almost ready!”
“I have to take care of something first.” He wouldn't meet her eyes as he pulled on his sandals.
Shino was about to ask him what it was he had to do, when suddenly she felt a chill race down her spine.
“Wait… Dad, you're not… you're not going to…”
“It's none of your business what I do, Shino. You'll stay right here.”
In that instant, she knew she was right, and she gasped. “The samurai!”
“Be silent!” he shouted as he got to his feet and stepped outside, but Shino could not just sit idly by while her father got himself, the samurai, or anyone else in the village killed.
“Dad, wait! Don't go!”
Manzo pushed her out of the way. “Move, girl!”
Shino, however, had finally had enough of her father's cowering. After spending the last several days watching the samurai, seeing how they were trying so hard to help, doing everything they could to fulfill their promise, it broke her heart to stand by and do nothing. She had to make Manzo see reason, so she put into words what her father would not admit to.
“You're gonna sell the samurai out to the bandits, aren't you?”
He rounded on her. “Did you know they're going to destroy the bridge? That we'll be isolated from the rest of the village?”
She stepped backward in surprise. Obviously Manzo had been doing a lot more eavesdropping than she'd realized, but it still didn't justify his actions.
In his mind, however, it did. “If we're going to lose our farm anyway, what was the point of hiring the samurai in the first place?”
Shino refused to back down. “If it will help save the village, we have to make that sacrifice!” she pleaded.
“I'm doing this for you, girl!” Manzo said angrily, frustrated that Shino was oblivious to something so important. “Once our farm's been destroyed, who will want to marry you?”
The farm girl straightened up proudly, thinking of a woman with white hair and unflinching courage. She had seen firsthand just what a woman of will could do, and even though that dream might be nearly impossible to reach, she would dare just once to imagine what life beyond the rice fields could be like. “What do I care? I'll marry a samurai!”
Her dreams were rudely shattered as Manzo slapped her full across the face.
“Foolish child, you will never disgrace me in such a way!” he shouted, but his daughter did not look at him, nor did she give in as she had so many times before. There was a time and place for familial piety and obedience, but this wasn't it.
“I hate you!” she cried, pushing her father aside and fleeing before his hopelessness and anger could contaminate her. She ran as fast as she could, her feet pounding across the bridge as she ran, tears stinging her eyes. Even as she cursed her father, she still loved enough to try and protect him… and she knew full well what would happen if the quiet samurai who'd discovered her father the other night found out what Manzo was about to do.
At first, she tried to find the samuraiko Nasami. Sure, the woman was samurai, but she seemed to have a kind heart; surely she would understand. But although she searched and searched, she couldn't seem to find her, until at last she reached the Shrine of Water, exhausted.
“Why… why did I come here?” she asked aloud, as the water trickled and flowed down the shrine.
Then it made sense. Being unable to locate the samuraiko, she had managed to find her way to the home of the only person besides her who understood what the samurai truly stood for.
Kirara would know what to do. She had to know.
Or else Kanna - and the samurai - would be done for.
To be continued