Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Despair, Darkness, and Death ( Chapter 20 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
* * * * * * * * * *
AUTHOR'S NOTES: So many of my favorite scenes in the series are here and in the next chapter- the beginning of Katsushiro's descent into darkness, Kambei and the katana, Kikuchiyo's denouncement of farmers and samurai alike - it was incredibly humbling to write. And oddly enough, I actually wrote these chapters AFTER I had already finished Chapters Twenty-Two through Twenty-Four! In retrospect, I think it's because I was almost afraid to...
(I had originally intended to do this as one long chapter, but it was WAYYYY too long, so I split it in two - this chapter, titled 'Despair, Darkness and Death,' and then the next, titled 'To Do What We Must.')
For a while, I wondered what music to use, and then I realized I had not yet used music from one of my favorite anime films (which is funny, because I resisted seeing this movie at first thinking I would hate it, and ended up adoring the film - okay, John, I admit it - you were right and I was wrong). So the music for Chapter Twenty is the hauntingly eerie "Hallucinations," from the score for VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST.
* * * * * * * * * *
THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Twenty: Despair, Darkness, and Death
Kirara stepped out of the small hut, and as she always did, glanced over to the Water Shrine with a soft smile. She loved looking at the gently flowing water, especially when it sparkled in the light of the setting sun.
Shino saw her emerge, and leapt up from where she'd been crouching near the shrine. “Kirara, you have to help me stop my dad before anyone finds out!"
Kirara's eyes went wide at the sight of her friend so distraught and practically panicking. Surely she didn't mean...
Shino went on, gesturing behind her toward the north cliff. "He's going to betray the village! He's on his way to tell the bandits about the samurai!”
Neither girl realized it, but Katsushiro had just walked past through the woods, holding flowers for Kirara in his hands. But at Shino's words, he froze in his tracks, and then quickly moved to stand behind a tree and listen. He knew that just charging out would frighten Shino into silence, but Kirara could probably get more information out of the girl.
He wasn't as quiet as he'd thought, for Kirara's eyes quickly glanced his way, then returned to Shino's worried gaze. With a calm she didn't really feel, she murmured, “We can't allow him to do that.” And she mentally crossed her fingers, hoping that Katsushiro would understand what she meant - it would take drastic measures to stop Manzo from selling out the samurai.
Shino was sobbing. “But if that quiet samurai finds out about Dad, he'll kill him, I just know he will! Kirara…”
As though reading Katsushiro's thoughts, Kirara knew she had to calm Shino down to get any details out of her. “I will think of something, Shino.”
The relief on the other girl's face was profound, and she clutched Kirara's hands gratefully. “Oh, thank you…”
“Now where is Manzo?”
Shino pointed northward, toward where she had found her father the other night on the way to try and betray the samurai earlier. “He's on the north cliff, waiting for the seven o'clock scout.”
Katsushiro sighed to himself as he glanced down at the flower in his hand. He had hoped, almost prayed, it would not come to this after Nasami and Kyuzo's warnings about Manzo the other night, but it seemed that particular prayer was not being answered.
Then he started as Kirara called him by name, and he emerged from behind the tree.
“You heard all of that, didn't you?” It was a statement, not a question.
Shino flinched, glanced over and saw Katsushiro standing half-hidden in the shadows. Then she stepped backward in horror when she realized that the samurai had heard everything, half-expecting to be cut down on the spot for being a traitor's daughter.
But Katsushiro did nothing... he merely kept his hands at his sides and gazed quietly at the two girls, waiting for them to speak.
“I would like to ask for your help," Kirara said at last.
Katsushiro bowed his head. “I'll do my duty.”
The flowers would have to wait.
Finding Manzo was easy. With all his attention focused on circling the lantern in the signal that the bandits had told them to use if they had information, he never heard his daughter, Kirara, and Katsushiro come creeping up behind him to crouch behind a nearby boulder.
“There he is,” Shino whispered. She couldn't believe what she was seeing, especially after two of the samurai had warned her father against betraying the village.
Katsushiro frowned and placed his hand on his sword, hoping against hope that the bandits wouldn't notice, that Manzo would change his mind…
That one of the samurai would come along and find out...
And then, to their horror, they heard the wheezing and clumping sound of a Yakan combat machine climbing the cliff. As the lid of the shell opened, Shino bit back a gasp when she recognized the same bandit who had terrorized the village a few days earlier with the announcement that the Nobuseri knew of their planned rebellion.
Manzo bowed deeply, and not without a little fear. After all, he was about to do something terrible, even if it was to protect his land and his daughter. “Sir, you honor me with your presence.”
Genzo dropped to the ground and stood over Manzo. “Are there any changes in the village?”
The terrified farmer bowed even lower. It had seemed so easy before, the idea of just telling the bandits about the samurai and Nasami being here, but the words suddenly wouldn't come.
“What is it?” Genzo demanded, his hand resting on his sword.
“I… I'm sorry!” Manzo prostrated himself completely as he tried desperately to summon his courage.
Genzo hung on to his patience. He was fairly certain that he knew what the peasant was about to say, but he wanted to hear it from Manzo's own mouth. “Just tell me what happened…”
“S-s-s-samurai came to the village!” Manzo finally blurted out, his voice breaking.
Outwardly, Genzo looked thoughtful. On the inside, however, his mind was racing furiously, assessing his subordinates' combat readiness, planning the time it would take to notify the Nobuseri, wondering how many samurai there were...
Wait a moment.
Manzo had not said, "A samurai..." That meant there was more than one... “Samurai? How many of them?”
“So it's those samurai… they travel fast." Genzo both rejoiced and cursed at the same time. He and the others had been warned, thanks to Hyogo and their spy, that a group of seven samurai were on their way to Kanna, and it seemed that the information was accurate. However, he'd hoped to also catch the samuraiko Nasami here, but that would have raised the count to eight. "You've done well.”
Manzo let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, sir!”
Cursing to himself, Katsushiro silently drew his sword. Inside, he was both terrified and exhilirated, knowing that he could finally prove himself to Kambei in the fulfillment of his duty.
Shino, however, thought that the young samurai was planning to not only kill Genzo, but her father, and turned to him, her eyes pleading. “Great samurai…!”
“Don't worry, Shino. I won't hurt your father," Katsushiro promised, although he wished he could beat the man senseless for what he was doing.
For all her faith in him, Kirara suddenly felt a surge of doubt. While the young man had killed the two kidnappers sent after her before, he'd had Nasami there to help him. This time, he was alone... against a much more competent-looking opponent. “Can you defeat him?” she whispered.
At Katsushiro's pause, she abruptly realized that he'd been thinking the same thing. But in the end, there was no room for doubt. He would either succeed... or die trying. “I must.”
Genzo started to climb back onto his Yakan shell, when suddenly Manzo looked up.
The samuraiko. He had forgotten all about her.
"Sir, there's more!" he stammered, and Genzo turned. "There's something else!"
Katsushiro, Kirara, and Shino gasped. Surely Manzo wouldn't... he couldn't...
"A woman... a s-samurai woman is also here."
Genzo whirled around. A samurai woman... who had already been seen traveling with the seven to Kanna. It would seem that luck truly was with him, if the Wandering Crane had been so trustingly foolish as to come to the village.
"What is her name?" the bandit demanded, and for a moment, Manzo hesitated. "TELL ME HER NAME!"
But before Manzo could do so, Katsushiro sprang out of hiding, and unleashed a loud kiai shout.
Both Genzo and Manzo turned, Genzo with caution, Manzo in panic.
While Kirara and Shino cowered behind the rock to watch, Katsushiro charged, then leapt into the air to attack Genzo standing on the arm of his Yakan machine. But the wily bandit deflected the attack easily, and then kicked Katsushiro in the ribs, hard enough to drive the breath from his body and knock him back.
The young samurai, however, held onto his wits and his balance long enough to land on his feet, wincing. “I can't let you leave here alive!” he said bravely, holding his side and gasping in pain. If Genzo left here knowing not only that samurai were here, but also Nasami...
Genzo scoffed at him. He'd been expecting a threat, and instead found himself facing an untested child. “And how will you stop me, little boy?”
But even as his caution about Katsushiro dissipated, anger appeared in its stead, and turned to Manzo. “You betrayed me!”
Manzo, hoping he'd been forgotten when Katsushiro had appeared out of nowhere to challenge Genzo, went straight past panic into absolute terror. Like all the other farmers in the Empire, he knew what happened when the Nobuseri believed themselves betrayed. Few, if any, survived the aftermath. “No, great one! That samurai just followed me on his own, I swear to you I didn't know anything about it!”
Ignoring Katsushiro, Genzo climbed back down from his Yakan shell, hand on his sword, and stalked toward Manzo, his katana drawn and pointed at the farmer's throat.
“A pitiful excuse!” he rumbled, drawing back to strike the terrified farmer.
At the sight of her father being threatened with death, Shino forgot her own caution and screamed. “FATHER!”
"Katsushiro!” Kirara pleaded, and yelling, Katsushiro charged Genzo once again as the bandit prepared to kill Manzo.
Again, Genzo deflected the attack away, much to Katsushiro's extreme frustration. He swung wildly several times, shouting, but the bandit was too experienced to be taken in by his untrained strikes. In fact, he was laughing as he dodged, not even bothering to parry the young samurai's flurry of swings.
After a while, Genzo remembered that he had information that should be reported to his superiors, so when Katsushiro attacked again, the bandit blocked, twisted the katana around to move Katsushiro's aside, whirled quickly and decked Katsushiro across the face, sending him flying and landing face down in the dirt.
Katsushiro gasped in pain, dazed by the fall, and Genzo resheathed his sword. But it was not enough for him to defeat the young man in combat... he wanted to make sure this young samurai would never be a threat. “You're like a child, swinging a stick. Children cannot kill… they can only play pretend.”
Ignoring the danger of Genzo standing nearby, Kirara rushed over to Katsushiro, who had managed to sit upright and was staring blankly ahead, as though in a daze. “Katsushiro, are you all right?”
Chuckling to himself, Genzo hopped back into the Yakan with the parting shot, “Find another job, kid,” then pulled the lid shut.
Neither Manzo nor Shino could speak... they could only stare at the departing bandit, knowing that this time, there would be no mercy, no second chance.
But Kirara was too angry to give up now. Angry at Manzo for betraying them, angry at Shino for involving her, angry at herself for not being able to fight for herself.
And angry at Katsushiro for failing.
But it's always easier to blame someone else when things go wrong, and she grabbed Katsushiro by the shoulders and shook him hard. “Get a hold of yourself!”
Katsushiro's eyes open wide, glittering in the light of Manzo's lantern,and as clear as day, images slammed into his mind.
The peasants' rice paddies burning...
The farmers rounded up and executed...
Kirara taken by the Nobuseri...
The samurai cut down from behind...
Nasami executed for murder...
The farmers rounded up and executed...
Kirara taken by the Nobuseri...
The samurai cut down from behind...
Nasami executed for murder...
All reason vanished as the bloodlust took hold.
And Kirara realized too late what she had just done.
Genzo had turned and was preparing to leave, but all at once, Katsushiro was on his feet, snatching up his sword, and shouting, “NO, YOU DON'T!”
Time seemed to slow.
Genzo looked back to see Katsushiro bearing down on him, screaming in fury, when all of a sudden Katsushiro leapt once again, this time his aim true, and swing at him…
Kirara cried out, but it was too late.
Katsushiro's katana sliced straight through the Yakan shell… and Genzo inside of it.
The bandit couldn't believe it. In an instant, the eyes of the young samurai had changed from naive youngster to battle-mad berzerker.
“Impossible,” he choked as he died.
Blood and oil and filth spewed everywhere, including all over Katsushiro, kneeling on the ground in the last position of his attack. The samurai's eyes were huge, filled with agonizing pain, guilt, and shock, but he couldn't have moved if his life had depended on it. All he could do was hold his sword in trembling hands, his shoulders heaving with repressed sobs.
Slowly, the Yakan fell over, splitting apart, and Genzo's body tumbled out into the mud
“DAD!” Shino ran tearfully to her father and embraced him, while Kirara stood behind Katsushiro and stared. The young samurai was on the verge of a breakdown, holding his sword and gasping in deep, shuddering breaths.
And she had pushed him into it, driven him to kill because of her own cowardice and weakness.
“Oh, Katsushiro,” she whispered, but he never heard her, never heard the apology in her voice over the roaring and screaming in his own head.
Katsushiro continued to stare at his sword and at the destruction he had wrought, fighting to hold back tears. As time seemed to move again, his mind was bombarded by the memories of what he had just done. There had been no elegance, no satori as there had been when he'd fought at Nasami's side.
There had been only madness.
Somewhere in the back of Kirara's mind, she was dimly aware of Kikuchiyo's arrival, drawn by Shino's screams and Katsushiro's shouts.
Then Heihachi appeared, his eyes wide at the scene. "What the..."
Kirara turned to him. "Manzo... he... you... Nasami..." was all she could get out, so upset was she at what she had forced Katsushiro into.
But as Heihachi glanced over at Manzo, who cowered away from him, he knew exactly what had happened. And he strode to stand over him in a cold fury, his entire body tense.
In that instant, Kambei came sprinting from out of the forest, staring at the body of the bandit on the ground, as Shino and Manzo flinched, Kirara turned in dismay, and Katsushiro knelt oblivious to it all.
“Kambei-dono…” Heihachi said, his voice angry, and everyone turned to the samurai as Kambei took everything in, his expression stony.
Finally, he stepped forward to stand beside the fallen bandit, Katsushiro kneeling in the blood and much beside him.
“Let me explain,” Kirara pleaded, but Kambei ignored her to stand over Katsushiro. He looked dispassionately at the dead bandit, then back down at the young samurai. Even knowing he had told Katsushiro to do exactly what he had done, he also knew that samurai do not have the luxury of regret.
At last, Katsushiro looked up, his eyes pleading for absolution, but Kambei struck him full across the face, knocking him to the ground and sending his sword flying to land in front of Manzo and Shino, who fell back with a cry.
Kambei walked over to pick up Katsushiro's sword and stared at the blood and filth on the blade. He could tell Katsushiro tried to care for his sword, but hadn't the faintest idea of how to do so. The edge was ever so slightly dull and uneven, and the flat did not gleam.
He might not be able to repair the young man's soul, but he could repair his sword.
Then he glared down at the peasants, who winced and drew back even further. Then without a single word, he walked away, back the way he had come.
Finally, Katsushiro picked himself up and reached out for Kambei with a shaking hand and the anguished cry of, “Sensei, wait!”
Kambei did not stop, nor did he turn around to acknowledge the young samurai's plea.
“Kikuchiyo, deal with the body!” he said coldly, and vanished into the darkness.
Kikuchiyo came over to stand beside Katsushiro, grousing and pointing his katana at the young man. “Why do I have to do it? He's the one who killed the guy!”
Katsushiro flinched at his words, but he could not look away from his retreating sensei's back.
“Ass… always giving me the grunt work,” Kiku complained as he shoved his sword into the ground, started his motor, and began digging. Soon dirt was flying everywhere as he excavated a hole large enough to fit both the body and the Yakan shell.
While his back was turned, Heihachi grabbed Manzo by the back of the neck. “Let's go!” he ordered, beginning to drag the farmer back toward the village.
Shino might have hated her father, but she could not just stand aside and watch him executed for treachery. Summoning all of her courage, she approached Heihachi.
“Great samurai, please wait!”
Heihachi was in no mood to listen.
“Don't talk to me, girl.”
Shino gasped at the venomous fury in the young mechanic's eyes, but Heihachi went on. “I don't need any more provocation… if I had my way, I'd take his life now.”
Manzo immediately started panicking again and tried to free himself, but Heihachi's grip was too strong.
“Don't you dare!” Kikuchiyo shouted abruptly, standing in the hole he'd dug with his hands on his hips and steam blowing.
“Great samurai, please, he's my father, forgive him… I beg you!” Shino touched her head to the ground, practically sobbing.
“She's on her knees, show some mercy!” Kikuchiyo urged Heihachi, but the engineer ignored the weeping girl at his feet.
“Kambei-dono already gave you a job, just do it and leave this to me." Then he smiled, but it was cold and grim, nothing like his usual warm and open smile. "And don't worry, I promise I'm going to take really good care of him.”
He walked off, dragging Manzo, who continued to protest and stammer, “I'm sorry, I'm sorry!” over and over again, even as Shino cried out for her father.
Kikuchiyo growled, but returned to digging the grave. After all, that was what Kambei had told him to do, and he would do it, even though he hated it.
And through it all, Katsushiro stared blindly forward, and all Kirara could do was watch.
Kambei walked through the bamboo forest, barely seeing any of it. He didn't notice the moonlight in the trees, or the gentle murmur of the night breeze. Nor did he notice the woman approaching him.
Nasami had heard the commotion on the north cliff and had decided to investigate, when she saw Kambei coming down the path toward her, back toward the village.
And he was holding Katsushiro's sword. The samuraiko's eyes went wide when she saw the blood on the blade.
“Kambei-san?” she whispered as he walked past, but the samurai didn't even look at her.
Then she started running in the opposite direction.
The water priestess turned to see Nasami come stumbling into the clearing. “I just saw Kambei-san walking back toward the village holding…” The samuraiko's voice trailed away at the sight of the bandit's body, the Yakan shell split in half, and Katsushiro covered in blood and on his knees. Kikuchiyo was off to one side, busily digging a grave to hide the body and the wreckage of the Yakan combat shell.
“Oh, God, no,” Nasami breathed. “What… what happened?”
Sobbing, Katsushiro staggered to his feet and bolted past the samuraiko.
“Katsushiro, wait!” she called, but the young samurai ignored her, heading back down the path after Kambei.
“Manzo tried to betray us,” Kirara said softly. “All of us. He came here to tell this bandit about the samurai in the village. And… about you as well.” The girl's face was filled with anguish. “I couldn't stop him, so I asked Katsushiro to help me. And…”
“And he had to kill him,” Nasami finished for her, looking after the young samurai. “Where is Manzo?”
“Heihachi dragged him off,” Kikuchiyo informed her as he dug, sending dirt and gravel flying. “And he's looking pretty torqued off, just grabbed Manzo by the collar and started hauling him toward the village.”
“Great samurai, I'm afraid that… that Heihachi-sama will kill Manzo,” Kirara whispered. “And maybe even Shino, too. He could have gotten us all killed!”
“Kirara, go after Katsushiro,” Nasami said, her voice firm. The water priestess opened her mouth to protest, but Nasami just pointed down the path. “He needs you right now. And you need to understand why he is reacting the way he is. Go.”
Kirara bowed and walked off into the forest, and with a sigh, Nasami came to stand beside the hole Kikuchiyo was digging. The big machine samurai was cursing a blue streak as he continued to tunnel further into the ground.
“I'll finish this, Kikuchiyo, you go on ahead. You need to use that anger of yours productively, not just for digging a grave.”
He stopped digging and looked at her. “What in the world are you talking about?”
“I know that you're angry because you feel powerless… powerless to tell Kambei-san no when he set you to digging a grave. Powerless to stop Heihachi from carrying off Manzo. Powerless to spare Katsushiro from having to kill.” She gently reached out and touched one of the enormous shoulder plates on the samurai's armor. “Powerless, even though physically you're the strongest of us all.”
Kikuchiyo turned to her in amazement. “How… how did you-?”
“I'm not an idiot, Kikuchiyo-san.” She smiled sadly. “And in a way, I think that, like Katsushiro, you are also going to have to confront things about yourself. But you have a much more important task right now.”
“Yes.” She stepped back and gestured for him to follow Katsushiro and Kirara. “It's time, Kikuchiyo-san. You must bring the truth to light… all of it.”
To be continued...