Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ All Things are Possible ( Chapter 22 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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AUTHOR'S NOTES: The scene with the peasants and Nasami is an homage to one of her best moments in our 'Legend of the Five Rings' campaign. One of the worst battles we've ever fought against the Shadowlands. It's all blood, screams, gore, chaos, Taint, and death; no sleep during four straight days of battle, and the Empire will fall to darkness if we fail. Hell. Kaminari, a friend of Nasami's, is at the front of the fighting, trying to rally the flagging samurai, when he sees a maho-tsukai (evil sorcerer) casting a spell that will obliterate the samurai defending the Great Wall. Thousands will die, and Kaminari can't reach the maho-tsukai in time. Kaminari looks around frantically for Nasami (game mechanic - Nasami's katana Mamorimasu can counter any hostile spell or spell-like effect), but she is 300 yards away protecting a group of shugenja (sorcerer-priests).
The maho-tsukai laughs, and just as the spell is completed, shouts, "Today the Empire falls!"... when an arrow races through the air... and slices straight through the throat of the maho-tsukai. As he falls, the spell dissipates, and Kaminari and the other samurai in the battle look back to see Nasami standing on the Wall, bow in hand. She lifts the bow over her head and screams a defiant prayer to Amaterasu the Sun Goddess to witness the bravery of her samurai, and with a deafening cacophony of shouts, the remaining samurai rally and charge, and annihilate the Shadowlands forces.
I searched and searched for the music for this chapter (and as those of you following the story have already figured out, I try not to use the same source of music twice). But ironically enough, even though I will be using music from SHOGUN: TOTAL WAR for Chapter Twenty-Four… I realized that MEDIEVAL: TOTAL WAR is a different genre of music entirely. And the minute I opened this track, I had my chapter. I love how these things work sometimes... Chapter Twenty-Two's music is "European Mobilization 2," from the game MEDIEVAL: TOTAL WAR.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Twenty-Two: All Things are Possible
Stance, draw, fire. Stance, draw, fire. Over and over again, until the peasants felt as though their arms could never lift a bow again. Kyuzo relentlessly drilled the farmers day and night, group after group. Old or young, it didn't matter; if he could hold a bow, he was taught to use it.
"This is pointless," Manzo moaned one afternoon during practice. "That target has to be over a hundred feet away, how are we expected to hit it?"
"You are expected to hit it, that is all that matters," came a woman's voice, and the peasants and Kyuzo turned to see Nasami approaching, Kambei and Shichiroji walking with her.
Moving with her distinctive limping stride, she came to a stop beside Kyuzo, taking in the peasants still holding their bows, and then looking over at the targets they aimed at. The peasants looked down at the ground in embarrassment.
Nasami glanced at the fair-haired samurai, bowing. To everyone's surprise, he bowed to her as well. "How's it coming?" she asked.
He shrugged. "They're not samurai."
"I understand that. But other than that?"
"Their minds make them weak."
Kyuzo gave her a sidelong glance. "And they think it can't be done."
Nasami turned to him fully, but Kyuzo just stared back her, as implacable as always.
"You might try arranging a more... effective demonstration," Shichiroji murmured thoughtfully. Nasami shot him a look, but Shichiroji looked up at the sky and began to whistle innocently, and her mouth quirked slightly in a smile.
The samuraiko looked over at Manzo. "Take your stance and fire."
Shaking, Manzo did so, but his arrow went only about two-thirds of the way to the target. Unlike before, there was no laughter and good-natured teasing. This time, the peasants were all somber at their poor performance.
"P-please, great samurai... for anyone to hit that, it's impossible..."
"Do it again."
Manzo hesitated and glanced over at her, and she glared at him and shouted, "I said, do it again!"
Startled by her sudden shout, he drew and fired again, and this time he barely hit the target, his arrow hanging slackly.
“Your stance is fine,” she said thoughtfully, “but you do not draw your enemy closer to you. Instead, you recoil in fear. That will do you no good when the Nobuseri arrive.”
Drawn by the shouts, Shino and a few of the other peasant girls arrived, with Komachi and Okara trailing along.
"Come on, Shino, this is boring," one of the farm girls pleaded. "If we're going to watch the samurai, let's at least go watch the cute one!"
Shino ignored her, her dark eyes fixed on the samuraiko standing beside Kyuzo. She took in every detail, from the scars lining Nasami's face to the swords she wore at her waist. The farm girl was awestruck at how a woman could give such an impression of power and strength that one normally only associated with samurai, and male samurai at that.
Slowly Shino moved closer to hear better.
"Rikichi!" Nasami called, and the farmer stepped forward and bowed.
"Yes, great samurai?"
"Stand beside Manzo." Rikichi looked puzzled, but moved to stand next to the short farmer.
Nasami pointed to the target. "I want you to walk to the target, placing one foot directly in front of the other, and count aloud until you reach it."
"Yes, great samurai," he replied, and did as she bade. Everyone watched as he carefully made his way across the field, counting under his breath, until he reached the target.
He turned back to face her. "Eighty-seven of my footsteps, great samurai," he called to her.
"Good," she replied. "Now, pick any direction but the one you walked, and I want you to move one hundred and seventy-four steps exactly as you did when you walked toward the target."
"Twice as far, great samurai?" Rikichi asked in surprise.
"Yes, twice as far. Start walking and count."
Rikichi did as he was told, picking a different direction and walking.
"That's over fifty yards," Kambei reminded Nasami.
"Good point," Nasami replied. "Rikichi!"
The farmer stopped and looked back.
"Go back to the target, and this time, walk three hundred and forty-eight steps."
Kambei, Kyuzo, Shichiroji and the peasants turned to stare at Nasami, convinced that the samuraiko had lost her mind. Rikichi's mouth was actually hanging open, until Nasami looked at him and silently pointed to the target. He immediately closed his mouth, ran back to the target, and began to count as he walked.
"This should be good," Kyuzo said dryly as he watched the farmer cross the field.
“And exactly what are you planning on doing?” Kambei asked her, but she smiled grimly.
"'The arrow knows the way,'" she replied, stepping over to Manzo and turning her gaze toward Rikichi when he finally stopped. "Now, Manzo, do you see Rikichi standing there?"
"Yes, great samurai," he stammered.
Nasami shot a sidelong glance at Kambei. "And how far away from the target is he?"
"F-four times farther than we are."
"Good. Remember that," she said softly, taking the bow and an arrow away from the farmer. No one made a sound as she walked across the field until she stood beside Rikichi.
One by one, Nasami met Kambei's gaze, then Shichiroji's, then Kyuzo's, and then each of the peasants, stopping at last when her eyes met Shino's. Then she raised her voice until it could be heard clearly by all present. "From this moment on, the word 'impossible' will not be uttered in my hearing."
And in a near-blur, she nocked an arrow, lifted the bow, aimed, drew, and fired. The arrow sliced through the air and slammed into the target.
"Well," Shichiroji drawled as Nasami left, "I should have expected that from a woman who's competed in the Bowman's Wager."
"The Bowman's Wager?" Kambei asked curiously.
"It's a competition held among samurai at court each winter to determine who is the finest archer in the Empire," Shichiroji replied. "Being invited to compete is prestigious in and of itself, but actually winning is a high honor."
"A rather archaic practice in an age of firearms."
The peasants were still standing there, mouths hanging open, staring at the target in absolute disbelief. Finally Kyuzo rounded them up and began drilling them again. This time, the change in the farmers' attitude was palpable - they couldn't wait to try again.
As motivation, Kyuzo left Nasami's arrow where it had struck the post, and some of the farmers focused themselves by trying to hit her arrow.
“Remarkable,” Kambei commented. “Kyuzo teaches, and Nasami motivates. If I'd known it would have had this great an effect, I'd have had them teaching together from the start.”
“She is very well-trained,” Shichiroji agreed. “I've heard it said that she views weapons as a means of enlightenment, practicing until it becomes second nature and setting her mind free.”
“You sound like a philosopher,” the white-clad samurai said in amusement, and Shichiroji grinned.
“Speaking of philosophers, we should see how Heihachi's doing. That ballista is certainly going to make the bandits think twice!”
Together they headed toward the clearing where Heihachi and his assigned helpers were working. For a short while, Kambei seemed lost in thought, and his former mate whistled cheerfully to himself as they walked.
"How often did she win?" Kambei asked suddenly.
“The Bowman's Wager. How many times did Nasami win?”
Shichiroji shook his head. "Never. But that never stopped her from entering again."
Kambei smiled wryly. "Somehow, I'm not surprised."
Nasami walked toward the river, her thoughts far away, when she heard someone calling her.
"Great samurai, wait!" Leaving the other girls behind, Shino approached Nasami, breathless from running to catch up with the samuraiko.
Nasami turned to look at the farm girl, who in a rare moment of daring, met Nasami's gaze directly.
"Please, great samurai, I have to ask... is it true that women really become warriors?" And all of a sudden, the words came out in a rush. "I mean, all my life, the only samurai I've ever seen were men, I had no idea that a woman could carry a sword and fight and be just as strong as a man, and do whatever she wanted without having to slave away on a farm and be chattel for her father to..."
Her voice trailed off in embarrassment as Nasami held up her hand.
"Shino, is it?"
The peasant nodded, and Nasami stepped forward so that she was standing directly in front of her. With one small hand, she reached out and lifted Shino's chin until she could look directly into the younger girl's eyes.
"You have a strong spirit," the samuraiko said softly, releasing her and stepping back. “But courage is not enough to face the bandits.”
"Great samurai, I'm begging you," Shino pleaded, "please let me help fight, too! It's not fair that only the men get to fight for Kanna!"
"Why do you want to fight?"
"Because... because a part of me just refuses to accept that the only thing a woman is good for is marriage," Shino said angrily, waving at the rice paddies behind them. "Not when I've seen that a woman can be more. Sometimes I think that's the only reason my father wants to protect his farm, because of me."
"Your dowry?" Nasami asked, and Shino nodded.
Nasami looked thoughtful, and was silent for a long time.
A normal samurai would never teach a peasant how to handle weapons.
A normal samurai would never work for rice.
A normal samurai would never even look a peasant in the eyes.
Nasami, however, was no 'normal' samurai.
A normal samurai would never work for rice.
A normal samurai would never even look a peasant in the eyes.
Nasami, however, was no 'normal' samurai.
She turned and started walking. "Come with me."
Trailing behind her, Shino followed Nasami to the clearing where Heihachi was creating weapons for the villagers.
"Heihachi-san!" Nasami called, and the mechanic glanced over at her and waved.
"How's it going, Nasami-dono?" he asked cheerfully.
"I was wondering if you might do me a favor."
"Sure, what do you need?"
"I'd like for you to make me two naginata, please."
"Yes, I realize that it's not much time, and they don't have to be perfect, but it's important."
Heihachi looked back at the work that was still waiting to be done, and then back at Nasami and Shino. Then he nodded. "Yeah, I can do it. I'll have them ready for you tomorrow."
Nasami looked concerned. "Don't push yourself, Heihachi, you won't be much good to us if you pass out where you're standing."
"Oh, I'm fine," he said dismissively, but Nasami placed her hand on his shoulder.
"Get some sleep first, then begin work tomorrow." When he opened his mouth to protest, she placed her finger against his lips to silence him. "Go, or I'll knock you out with that wrench in your hand."
Heihachi smiled, and Shino could see just how tired the young samurai really was. "Okay, Nasami-dono, you win. But just a short nap, and then I'll get those made for you."
In the meantime, Nasami paid a visit back to Rikichi's house where she and the other samurai were staying. As Shino watched, the samuraiko began rummaging through her things, and came out with a small pouch. She drew a small seal out of it, along with a piece of paper, an ink stone, and a brush, and began to write. Finally, she was satisfied, and sealed the envelope, stamped with her mark, and handed it to Shino. "Don't lose that. And whatever you do, do not mention it to your father."
"What is this, great samurai?"
"This is, as we say among the samurai, a favor paid for advance." Nasami pointed to the letter in Shino's hand. "The day of your wedding, arrange for a messenger to send that to Kyuden Shiden'issen."
"I don't understand."
Nasami grinned crookedly. "It's a surprise."
The mechanic was as good as his word. The following morning, he set to work forging the blades for the weapons, while setting two of the village men to making the shafts. By the end of the afternoon, he presented the samuraiko with the two naginata, who balanced them easily in her hands and smiled.
"They won't be as good as something that Masamune-san could make," the woodcutter admitted, "but these should at least suit your needs for now."
"Thank you. I'm impressed, Heihachi-san. If you can do this quality of work in a day, I wonder what you might manage if you had more time."
"It was nothing, really." He blushed, pleased by her praise, and she laughed. Turning to Shino, she tossed one of the weapons to her, and the peasant girl caught it awkwardly.
"Are you certain you want to do this?" Nasami asked her, meeting her eyes with that intense gaze. "Because if you begin training with me, I will not let you stop until you are ready, or until the Nobuseri arrive. The training that the men are going through with Kyuzo will be nothing in comparison."
"I..." Suddenly Shino felt as though she couldn't breathe. Everything around her seemed to stop, and the only things in the world were herself, the samuraiko, and the naginata she held in her hand.
Nasami moved forward until she was standing so close to Shino that the peasant girl could feel her breath on her face, and no matter how hard she tried, Shino could not look away. "Are you afraid?"
"Yes," the farm girl admitted. But then Shino squared her shoulders, straightened to her full height, and tightened her grip on the naginata, her eyes blazing with a sudden light. "But I will do it anyway."
And Nasami smiled.
"It is said that to master fighting, one requires 'one hundred days of hand, one thousand days of spear, and ten thousand days of sword.' You, however, do not have that much time," Nasami stated matter-of-factly as she walked with Shino to the sacred grove. "So, we will do what we can in the time that we do have."
"Yes, great samurai." Shino stopped for a moment. "How does one refer to one's teacher?"
Nasami chuckled. "The term you would use is sensei."
"Ohhhh, so that's why that young samurai is always calling that quiet samurai that."
"Well, theirs is not a formally accepted teacher-student relationship, but I understand Katsushiro's reasons. Even though Kambei-san is not actually training him, Katsushiro is learning a great deal from him."
Finally they entered a small clearing in the forest, and Nasami turned to face Shino. "Now, one of the first things to understand - the naginata is not a katana, nor is it a yari or a bo. It is an amalgamation of all of these, combined into a more powerful weapon. It is also traditionally the weapon wielded by women of the samurai class." She took a few steps backward, then began demonstrating its use, twisting and turning the naginata this way and that. "Its primary advantages are its reach, and its momentum."
Shino watched enviously as the samuraiko handled the naginata with skill. "You make that look so easy."
"Oh, it took me a long time to learn, and a former companion of mine was truly gifted with one of these. But he really did lack the finer control of the weapon that could have made him unstoppable. And you've seen Shichiroji-san, he's truly a master." Nasami stopped swinging the naginata. "However, what I will be teaching you is strictly for defense, not attack."
"Why not?" Shino protested. "I... I think I could be brave enough to..."
Nasami shook her head. "It has nothing to do with bravery. It is not your role to kill. That task is for samurai, not for farmers." Her dark blue eyes were somber, and Shino fell silent.
For a moment, the samuraiko was quiet, but then she visibly roused herself. "Now, to begin. Hold the naginata in both hands, parallel to the ground, at about head height, like this." She demonstrated, and Shino copied her. "Good. This is the position for when your attacker comes from above." Abruptly, she whirled and brought the naginata down in an overhead slash, and Shino cried out and dropped her weapon, crouching on the ground.
“Pick it up!” the samuraiko growled. Shino scrambled to pick up the weapon, just in time to see Nasami swing the naginata at her again. Once again, she yelped and backed away.
Suddenly Nasami stopped, and leveled the naginata at Shino. “If you back away a third time, there will not be a fourth. Are we clear on that?”
Shino nodded, gulping.
"Then defend yourself!" Nasami shouted, bringing the naginata around again and attacking once more. This time, Shino growled and raised the naginata, and Nasami's blade clanged squarely against the shaft of Shino's weapon. The farm girl gasped at the impact and almost fell, but she kept her footing and held the shaft of the naginata above her, preventing the blow from falling. Nasami smiled grimly, stepped back, then moved suddenly and attacked again in the same manner, until hours later, Shino's arms were trembling from the effort.
"Good," the samuraiko said with approval. "Just so you understand, all other defensive stances are just variations of this one. Your concern is not letting their attacks connect." Suddenly she smiled. "And believe me, your arms will hurt from absorbing the force of their blows, but I'm sure you'd rather have sore arms than a sword stuck in you."
"Yes, I think so, sensei," Shino agreed with feeling. She dropped the naginata to the ground and began rubbing her arms, until she saw the samuraiko frown. "Is something wrong, sensei?"
Nasami pointed her naginata at the weapon lying on the ground. "If you expect that weapon to save your life, treat it with respect."
The peasant girl nodded, chagrined, and picked up the naginata, then carefully leaned it against a tree.
"Better. Now, go and get something to eat, I know you're hungry. Rest for one hour, then I'll meet you in front of your father's house."
"You have a lot to learn, Shino. If you're not sleeping, eating, or helping the other samurai, you will train with me. Otherwise, you'll never be able to defend yourself when the bandits come."
"Yes, sensei." She bowed to Nasami, picked up her naginata, and turned to leave.
The peasant turned back to the samuraiko. "Yes, sensei?"
"After today, never question an instruction from me again. You do not need to understand why something must be done, you need only do it. If we survive this battle, you can ask your questions then."
Shino shuddered, but kept silent and only bowed, then turned and headed back to the village.
To be continued...