Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Fleeting Moments ( Chapter 24 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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AUTHOR'S NOTES: Note: As hard as it is, I love writing combat and fight scenes. I have this fascination with kenjutsu and kata because they are so beautiful and yet so absolutely deadly. Not to mention the fact that so many people enjoy watching Kyuzo and Nasami fight, but I wanted to see what happened if they worked together. Out of that was born the Kata of the Dragon's Flight (and yes, it is entirely original… but wouldn't it be cool if it were animated? Oh, don't I wish).
This chapter is also a nod to o-Mirai-o (or whatever she's calling herself this week) because she is always begging me to have Kyuzo and Nasami together. Well, Nasami's interests (and plotlines) lie elsewhere, but this seems a good enough way for them to share a chapter. Besides, for those who keep telling me that they want a Kyuzo-Nasami story, go read "In Passion's Silence."
For those wanting to know more about the 'Warrior's Creed' that Nasami and Katsushiro are quoting as they train, I will be happy to send the entire thing to you - it really is a beautiful meditation.
The music for this chapter, and especially for their kata, is the opening theme of the game “Shogun: Total War.”
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Twenty-Four: Fleeting Moments
"Dinner time!" Komachi sang out as she, Okara, Tetsu, and Kirara entered Rikichi's house carrying plates of riceballs. Kambei, Gorobei, Katsushiro, Shichiroji, and Kikuchiyo were gathered there, discussing the progress being made on the fortification of the village and the training of the farmers.
"Sorry for intruding," Tetsu said apologetically, but Gorobei waved away her apology.
"Nonsense, you're a welcome sight!"
"I'll say!" Kikuchiyo said cheerfully, squashing Shichiroji to the floor as he leaped over the former pilot to snatch up two riceballs.
"Only one riceball for each samurai, Kikuchiyo," came Kambei's voice from behind him. "The rest will go to the villagers tonight."
The four women looked up at Kikuchiyo, who growled to himself, but he placed the second riceball back on Komachi's plate, and Kirara giggled.
"We're all soldiers here, so we all eat the same," Gorobei agreed as Komachi and Okara came forward to offer some rice to the samurai.
Shichiroji shook his head as Okara presented the tray to him. "Go ahead, girls, eat up!"
The two girls brightened and bowed slightly. "Thanks, Momotaro, you're great!" Komachi said with a huge grin, and immediately began wolfing down a riceball while Okara blushed and smiled at Shichiroji.
Tetsu glanced around the small house. "If I might ask, where are the others?"
"Heihachi is still working on the ballista," Kambei replied, "and Nasami and Kyuzo are continuing their archery lessons with the farmers, but I expect they'll be here shortly."
"Komachi…" Kirara said gently as her sister happily munched on the rice, carefully placing her own tray on the platform.
Komachi started, nearly choked, then swallowed her food. "Oh, sorry, I forgot!" She walked over to Kikuchiyo, who had just finished scarfing his own riceball, and waved her hand to get his attention. "Okay, Kiku, down please!"
"What, am I your pet now?" he asked as he crouched down, and Komachi clambered up him as though she were climbing a tree.
"Thanks!" When she was settled on his shoulder, she pulled a rolled up piece of fabric from her back and held it up proudly.
"Get ready to be impressed, you guys! Ta-da!" With that, she let the scroll unfold down to the floor to reveal a long length of white fabric with two columns of three circles each, a single triangle beneath the columns, and at the bottom a carefully inked kanji.
The samurai all studied it. "My," Kambei said softly. "A battle flag…"
"Well, you did say this was a war and that Kanna would be our fortress, and we all know every army needs a flag," Kirara said with amusement.
"Why don't you tell us what everything means?" Gorobei asked, studying the flag.
"The character stands for 'rice paddy,'" Komachi said from atop Kikuchiyo's shoulder. "That's the farmers."
"And what about the circles?" Kikuchiyo asked, pointing to one.
"They're the samurai!" she told him, and he frowned.
"But there's only six of them!"
"Well yeah, that's what the triangle is for. That's you, Kiku!"
"What?" he said indignantly.
"Well, you're not really a samurai, but you're not a farmer either," Okara explained. "You're both. Of course, I thought you should be a square." And with that, she gave her usual hissing laugh, and the others joined in.
Then Kambei frowned slightly, looking at the flag again. "However, I do not see a symbol for Nasami-san."
Kirara's face fell. "Well, at first, we weren't sure if we should, since nobody's supposed to know she's here…"
But then Komachi grinned. "But then we had an idea." She pointed to the background. "Did you notice the color?"
"It's white, so what?" Kikuchiyo said with faint derision.
"Of course…" Shichiroji murmured. "Most battle flags are colored. And Nasami-dono, of course, is known for her white hair…"
"So you're saying the white represents Nasami?" the big machine samurai asked, a new note of respect in his voice.
"Always there in the background, never noticed, but something that makes the other symbols more noticeable," Gorobei said, approval in his voice. "An excellent idea."
Kambei smiled, and bowed his head slightly to Kirara and the others. "Thank you all for your thoughtfulness."
Kirara bowed back, as did Tetsu and Okara, while Komachi and Kikuchiyo grinned proudly as they held up the official Kanna Village battle flag.
"It's unbelievable," Mosuke whispered in amazement, looking over the village.
"I almost don't even recognize it," Gozaku said admiringly.
From where they stood near the bridge, they stared at the rock wall that had been erected on the near side of the bridge, and then down at where Shichiroji had placed several mock ballista armaments in the canyon walls. Flying bravely over the Elder's house was the battle flag that Komachi and the others had designed. In the distance, they could still hear the ringing of hammers on anvils where a group of farmers were forging the parts Heihachi needed for their ballista.
"As I said," Kambei replied with satisfaction, "Kanna has become a fortress. The Nobuseri will not find you the easy target they had thought before."
"That's for certain," Shichiroji said, looking pleased with himself. "Granted, with more time, we could have done more, but this will certainly go a long way toward making their lives difficult."
The farmers were quietly cheering to themselves, and as they headed back to their homes, the chant of “Kanna, Kanna, Kanna” came drifting back toward the samurai.
“It's good to see their spirits high,” Kambei said quietly. “They'll need it when the time comes.”
"Well, I don't know about any of you," Heihachi remarked, rubbing his stomach, "but I'm starving. Anyone else up for stopping for dinner?"
“You and your rice,” Shichiroji laughed.
“Everyone fights for something,” Heihachi replied with a smile. “Some fight for glory, some fight for honor… personally, I think fighting for rice suits me just fine.”
"Sounds good to me," Gorobei answered, leading the way back to Rikichi's house. "Kirara, would you mind finding the others and letting them know to take a break?"
"Of course, great samurai." Kirara bowed and went off to find Katsushiro, Nasami, Kikuchiyo, and Kyuzo.
She soon found three of the four by the stream, where Nasami was teaching Katsushiro and Kikuchiyo some basic techniques with the katana. For a moment, she stopped in the shadow of the trees, watching Nasami gently instruct the two samurai, sometimes demonstrating a particular strike, other times offering a quiet word of advice or quote to illustrate an idea. Kikuchiyo was clearly frustrated with the task of restraining his normally wild attacks, but Katsushiro seemed to be doing well under the samuraiko's instruction.
"I have no armor," Nasami declared, swinging around and blocking Katsushiro's attack.
"I make benevolence and righteousness my armor," the young man replied, twisting his sword around and stepping back.
"I have no castle," the samuraiko called out, bringing the katana around in a graceful arc.
Katsushiro moved to counter her, and replied, "I make immovable-mind my castle."
Nasami dodged his counterattack, and brought her sword up in a defensive stance. "I have no sword," she stated.
"I make absence of self my sword," Katsushiro answered, drawing back as well to imitate her posture.
"Excellent," Nasami said with satisfaction, and Katsushiro bowed, pleasure lighting up his face.
To Kirara's surprise, Shino was also there, practicing with the naginata as Nasami had taught her, and Komachi and Okara watched in fascination as she awkwardly swung the great weapon around.
“Hey, great samurai, I want to learn that, too!” Okara was saying cheerfully, pointing at Shino.
Nasami laughed. “Perhaps when you're older, Okara-chan. But for now, my katana is taller than you are.” The others laughed with the samuraiko, even Kikuchiyo.
Kirara smiled and bowed. "I'm sorry to disturb you, great samurai, but Kambei-sama asked me to tell you that dinner will soon be served."
Nasami stopped and looked over at the girl. "Thank you for letting us know, Kirara."
"Excellent," Kikuchiyo rumbled, and an instant later, his stomach growled loudly. "It's about time!"
"What was that you and Katsushiro were doing, Nasami-sama? It sounded like a poem," Kirara said admiringly.
"It's called the Warrior's Creed, written by an anonymous samurai centuries ago," Nasami replied. "I memorized it when I was a child."
The samuraiko looked over at Shino. "Shino, stop and rest for a while, you've been practicing all day."
"Yes, sensei," Shino said gratefully, resting the weapon on the ground.
"Have any of you seen Kyuzo-sama?" Kirara asked, looking around.
Nasami smiled and pointed. "He's actually standing right behind you."
The water priestess whirled around and saw the red-clad samurai just as he turned and began walking toward Rikichi's small house.
"Why does he always do that?" she said in frustration.
"Do what?" Katsushiro asked as he resheathed his katana and bowed once more to Nasami.
"Sneak around like that."
"It's harder to fight an enemy you don't know is there," Nasami replied, also resheathing her blade and starting down the path back to the village.
Katsushiro moved to sit beside Nasami, bowl of rice in hand. “Tell me, Nasami-dono, how long did it take you to develop your swordsman skills? You fight like nothing I've ever seen before!”
“Years,” she said simply, savoring a sip of sake. “Our family has a saying - `Learn to do one thing well, and you can do all things well.' Every chance I had, I practiced. When I wasn't sparring with my fellow students or my sensei, I was practicing kata. When I wasn't practicing kata, I was studying all the treatises on kenjutsu I could find. My oldest brother used to say that I always had a sword in one hand and a scroll in the other.”
“So you grew up in court?” Heihachi asked around a mouthful of rice.
“Wow, it must have been beautiful,” Kirara said wistfully. “Surrounded by finery, never having to work, never going hungry…”
“It was a privileged life,” Nasami agreed.
“So why become a warrior?” Kikuchiyo asked as Komachi and Okara climbed up to sit on his shoulders. “A woman like you should be married by now, I would think.”
“The courtly life is not for me,” she replied quietly. She set down the cup, and pushed up her sleeves all the way up to her shoulders to look at the tattoos inked into her arms. Rich swirls of blues and blacks, bright golds and silvers coiled and danced along her forearms. “A cage of gold and jewels is still a cage.”
Kambei leaned closer, and peered at the tattoos. On her left arm was a crane with one wing curving around an unsheathed katana - the mon of her Clan. On her right arm was a crane with wings outstretched, its clawed feet holding a yari with a snake coiled along it - the mon of her school. And above each of the tattoos in elegant calligraphy was Nasami's own addition -the kanji Kansei.
Slowly, he smiled to himself, for the kanji meant many things - among them, completion, accomplishment… and perfection.
“So you have brothers and sisters, great samurai?” Shino asked, and the samuraiko nodded.
“Mmm. There were five children. My sister, Meiko, is the oldest, and happily married to a courtier from an allied Clan. Next is my brother Muyuko, an artisan and performer in the Emperor's troupe. Very handsome, and something of a ladies' man like our friend Momotaro here." Everyone laughed at that while Shichiroji grinned at her. "Muyuko taught me a few things about becoming an acrobat when I was a child, and it helped when I fell during practice, I can assure you.”
The other samurai laughed. “Come on, Nasami-dono, I can't see you being anything other than graceful,” Shichiroji said gallantly, but she shook her head.
“You're wrong. Even though my older sister and I both learned the courtly dances expected of samurai women, Meiko was always better than I.” She smiled ruefully. “I also have a younger brother, Chisora. He is studying the ways of the spirit, and has joined the ranks of the priesthood.”
“That's four of you,” Gorobei pointed out. “And the fifth?”
The samuraiko's smile turned sad. “My elder brother, Yoshio. Our parents called us `twins separated by birth.' He was a duelist of exceptional caliber, and he taught me a great deal. But he was killed in a skirmish with an enemy clan by a woman who had held a grudge against me since I was fifteen. She couldn't get to me… so she went after him instead.”
After dinner, Shichiroji brought out his shamisen and tuned it. He began a lively tune, and Heihachi immediately got to his feet and began to dance, several of the peasants getting up along with him, followed by a chuckling Gorobei.
Laughing, Kirara pulled a startled Katsushiro to his feet and led him to where the others were dancing. Komachi and Okara bullied Kikuchiyo into joining them.
"Come on, Nasami-dono, join them!" Shichiroji called cheerfully.
The samuraiko shook her head. “I'm sorry, I don't dance.”
“But why not?” Komachi asked, and Nasami touched both her knees.
“Being lame makes the grace required for dancing a bit difficult. Don't mind me, I'll watch for a while."
Kambei studied the samuraiko thoughtfully as she watched the others dance. It was rare to see something she could not do well, or even do at all, and the wistful smile on her face made his breath catch.
After an hour, though, Heihachi came over and took her by the hands, but she dug in her heels.
"No, Heihachi-san! Let go!"
"How come everyone else gets to have fun but you?" he chided.
"Kyuzo-sama's not dancing either, in case you hadn't noticed," she replied. "Neither is Kambei-san. Go bother one of them."
"But you're prettier than they are," Gorobei teased.
"No, I'll just make a fool of myself."
“Then perform a kata,” Kambei suggested. "I've seen you practicing them, and you're more agile than you give yourself credit for."
Nasami looked thoughtful.
“Which one?” she asked finally.
To everyone's surprise, Kyuzo looked over at her and asked, “The Dragon's Flight?”
“I haven't done it in years,” the samuraiko admitted. “It really is best with a partner, and not that many samurai I've encountered know the kata.”
To her astonishment, the red-clad samurai got to his feet and moved toward the fire, then turned and held his hand out to her.
“Are you sure about this?” Nasami asked, looking alarmed. “I mean, if I do this wrong, I could very easily kill you by mistake.”
“You won't,” was all Kyuzo said, so she got up as well.
“I'll need a second sword,” she asked the other samurai, and Kambei drew his own katana and handed it to her. For a moment, she stood there and lightly caressed the blade, then smiled at him.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “I will try to do it honor.”
“You honor it just by wielding it,” he said so quietly that she was the only one who heard him, and she bowed. Then she moved to stand back to back with Kyuzo.
Although he was taller than she by several inches, she stood so proudly that they almost looked the same height. His coat and her robes rustled lightly in the evening breeze, their shadows in the firelight seemed to twist and writhe.
"What is the Dragon's Flight?" Rikichi asked, looking at Kambei.
"It's a kata taught by certain kenjutsu schools to train samurai in working with a partner. It's not very well-known, as few schools teach the use of two swords as general practice. The kata can be extremely dangerous unless both samurai are very skilled with the blade."
"Where does it get the name?" Katsushiro wondered aloud.
"Watch, and you'll see."
Then by some unspoken signal, in the same instant, Kyuzo and Nasami moved.
Both samurai dropped into a low crouch, heads bowed, backs pressed against one another, one leg drawn close, the other extended. Very slowly, they drew their swords, keeping their arms outstretched and the swords as low to the ground as possible without letting them touch the earth. Then they twisted slightly, as though trying to look over their left shoulders while keeping their heads lowered.
Then slowly, through the kata, they began to tell the tale of a dragon.
They drew the swords toward themselves while straightening slightly, tilting their heads back to look at the sky above. In a lazy, graceful arc, Nasami and Kyuzo moved the blades over the ground, then, leaning against each other for balance, they rose to their feet, swaying like flowers in the breeze, as the dragon awoke and flew into the sky.
First one pair of swords was lifted toward the sky, the other following it like birds in flight, before coming down again and then rising once more, as the dragon stretched and danced among the clouds. Kyuzo took a single step backward and to the left, Nasami following his movement so that now they faced in the opposite direction from where they'd started. Both lunged forward, keeping their left feet still touching behind them, swinging both swords in their hands upward. Nasami kept the katana in her right hand aloft, Kyuzo his left, and each samurai brought the other down and backward, so that the blades crossed behind them.
All at once, Kyuzo stepped back and whirled around, thrusting his blades just over Nasami's shoulders so that he seemed to be looming over her just as she brought the katana in her left hand forward once more.
The peasants let out a collective startled cry, not at all expecting the sudden movement of the dragon lunging at its prey, baring its teeth, but the samuraiko did not flinch.
His chest against her back, Kyuzo followed her movement as she swayed backward and then forward again, his swords paralleling hers as they traced twisting movements in the air.
Slowly, Nasami lowered herself into a crouch, Kyuzo following her movements like a shadow. They took a low, stealthy step forward, pulling their swords back toward their bodies while keeping them pointed ahead. They twisted right, then left, moving in perfect unison. No matter how quickly she moved, he was always there behind her, stalking her as the dragon sinuously wove its way through the clouds.
Abruptly, both whirled around, Kyuzo twisting his grip on his swords so quickly that it looked like he had dropped them and then snatched them out of the air again, Nasami doing the same, so that now she was behind him, her chest to his back. She thrust both katanas forward beneath his outstretched arms just as he lunged forward, the very image of the dragon breathing fire. The fair-haired samurai swept his katanas around in a series of whirling, graceful spirals, executing an intricate series of steps, Nasami matching him move for move from behind, moving as though to a song that they alone could hear.
Kirara and the others gasped, for Nasami's swords were moving dangerously close to Kyuzo, and one false move could injure or even kill Kyuzo. But the two samurai never stopped, never slowed, and twisted and whirled together in their graceful, deadly dance.
Then Kyuzo turned again, lifting both swords to point at the sky, but Nasami did not turn away. Instead, she lowered her katanas to point to the ground, and now they directly faced one another, not even a handspan apart, as the dragon encountered another of its kind. He brought his swords down, she brought hers up, his arms just over her shoulders, hers passing his ribcage.
And samurai and peasants alike watched in astonishment as the two samurai took turns leading, the other copying the motions exactly but in reverse. Nasami took two steps forward and leaned toward Kyuzo, one sword thrust forward, the other poised over her head as though prepared to throw. At the same time, the blond samurai took two steps back, leaned backward, thrust one of his swords forward past Nasami's body, and twisted his other katana to point behind him just as Nasami's did.
Kyuzo straightened, as did the samuraiko, then he suddenly dropped to one knee and arced both his swords forward and down toward Nasami. In the same breath, she dropped to her knees, moved both swords so that her hands were just behind Kyuzo, and lifted them so that they rose behind him, the katanas following the curve of his body.
Slowly, Nasami arched herself upright again, Kyuzo following her motion, until both were on their feet again. With infinite care, they placed their feet so that they circled one another, always remaining a breath apart, always moving like mirror images of one another, evocative of the dragons circling one another among the stars. Their swords came within inches of the other's body, but not once did either flinch or hesitate.
Kyuzo and Nasami never took their eyes from one another, but stared with absolute focus as their four swords seemed to move with a life of their own, their bodies swaying in rhythm.
Then, at last, both slowly lowered themselves to the ground, one knee forward, the other leg extended behind them, their swords low and parallel to the ground, but this time facing each other and so close that his breath rustled her hair. Finally, both bowed their heads so that her forehead rested on his shoulder, while his rested on hers, and the dragon was again at peace.
For a long time, no one said a word, and then the peasants were on their feet, cheering and shouting their appreciation. The samurai joined in the applause, equally impressed by their rendition of the kata.
"That was absolutely amazing…" Katsushiro whispered, his green eyes huge in his face as Nasami and Kyuzo rose and resheathed their swords.
"Unbelievable," Gorobei agreed, applauding the two samurai's performance.
"I thought I knew what you samurai could do after watching all of you fight outside the caverns, but this…" Rikichi breathed. "I've never seen anything like it."
"What I want to know," Shichiroji said in an undertone to Kambei, "is who taught her that kata. Unless I miss my guess, that's associated with a rival school from hers."
Kambei frowned. Shichiroji was right - most kenjutsu schools religiously guarded their secrets, including their kata. Someone from that school owed Nasami or her family a significant favor… or else had given her the training as a gift that went beyond price. Granted, given her swordsmanship talents, at the very least, she could do the kata honor. But who could she have known that would have studied the same technique as Kyuzo?
Nasami moved back over to Kambei, handing back his katana with a bow.
He resheathed the blade at his side, but then he reached out, gently took her by the wrist, and pushed one sleeve up to reveal the kanji tattooed there.
"Kansei, indeed," he murmured, and Nasami blushed from the compliment.
Then she turned to face Kyuzo, and the two samurai bowed to one another.
"Thank you, Kyuzo-sama," she said softly. "It was indeed an honor."
"For me as well," he replied, then he turned away.
For a moment, he paused and was silent, then he glanced back at her. "Kuroshin would be proud of you."
And as Nasami went pale, he walked off into the darkness, leaving her standing by the fire watching him go.
To be continued…