Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ A Time For War ( Chapter 25 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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AUTHOR'S NOTES: I wanted one last quiet scene before all hell breaks loose, and I like to think that I got it. But man, writing battles is a hassle. I just hope I got it right. I love the opening moves of the war… all of a sudden, it all comes together and just sweeps you along. I was on my feet cheering at my TV when that ballista was fired, let me tell you, just laughing out loud.
Also, as a further attempt to push my creativity, I designed something I think is uber-cool - go check out the entry of my LiveJournal (over at samurai-ko.livejournal.com) called "Samurai_ko Does Desktops!" to see the 'cover' I did (with some help) for 'The Sword of the Soul'! Isn't it awesome? Go me!
And someone just sent me the link for the 'new' opening credits of SAMURAI 7 - the opening song is "Justice" by Coming Century? When did this change? And if there's a God, PLEASE let these be on the upcoming DVD! That shot of Kambei with the bow? Oh my God, does he look HOT!
The music for Chapter Twenty-Five is the track “Revenge,” from the movie BRAVEHEART. Thanks for being patient.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Twenty-Five: A Time for War
Heading toward the Mikumari house, Nasami and Shino walked through the fog that had settled over Kanna Village that morning, the peasant girl in high spirits, the samuraiko more somber.
“You look worried, sensei,” Shino said at length, looking at Nasami. “Is something the matter?”
Nasami smiled slightly. “Just thinking.”
Nasami waved one hand, lightly dispelling the fog in front of them. “Fog is a most useful ally, but also a dangerous enemy. Every advantage that it extends to you, it also offers to your foe.”
Shino thought about that, but had never really considered the mist around them in such fashion. “What do you mean?”
“Well, for one thing…” Without a word, Nasami took a few steps away from Shino into the fog, moving on silent feet, and the farm girl stared as the samuraiko seemed to vanish.
“Great samurai?” She took a few hesitant steps forward, looking left and right. “Sensei? Where are you?”
“Right here,” came a whisper from just behind her, and Shino nearly leapt out of her skin as she whirled around as Nasami laughed.
“Now do you understand? You cannot fight the enemy you cannot see. Or hear, for that matter.” Shino realized that the samuraiko was right - the fog seemed to muffle much of the sound that normally filled the forest in the morning. “But this is fine - the bandits will not know that you and the other farmers understand the value of mist. And that ignorance will cost them dearly.”
Then for a moment, Nasami stood quietly, her eyes closed, drawing in slow, deep breaths, then she opened her eyes with a long, soft sigh. And without another word, she began walking along once again, Shino trailing behind her.
“Good morning, Nasami-dono, and to you, Shino,” the two women heard, and Nasami saw Katsushiro standing behind a tree nearby, Komachi and Okara with him.
“Good morning, Katsushiro,” Nasami returned, smiling and nodding to the two girls. “Why are you hiding here in the trees?”
“We're on a covert operation!” Komachi piped up cheerfully, pointing further down the road where Kirara and Kambei were talking softly.
“Is that so?” Nasami said dryly. “You do realize that eavesdropping is rude, right?”
Katsushiro blushed slightly.
The samuraiko glanced from him to Kambei and Kirara, then back again. “Let me guess… they're talking about you.”
The young samurai nodded. “Sensei is concerned about… about how I will react once in battle again. Now that I've taken a life.” Then he glanced after the couple walking away down the road. “But… Lady Kirara… she told sensei that `if any blood should fall on me, she would be the one to clean it off.'”
Then he started slightly as Nasami's eyes grew cold. “Nasami-dono… what's the matter?”
Nasami didn't reply, and Komachi and Okara watched her with wide eyes as she stared after Kirara, one hand tightening on the pommel of the katana at her waist.
“Sensei?” Shino said softly, afraid of angering the samuraiko, but then Nasami looked back at them, the chill in her eyes fading.
“Do not worry about me,” Nasami said at last, and the other four let out breaths that they hadn't known they were holding.
Abruptly she lifted her head, like an animal scenting something on the air. “Something is coming…” she whispered. “Katsushiro, take the girls back to the Mikumari's house, and make sure they stay there. Shino, come with me.”
“Yes, sensei,” Shino said with a small bow, and the two women vanished into the fog.
“Why do I always get left behind?” Katsushiro asked in frustration.
Arrows raced through the air to strike their targets solidly, and the farmers cheered and clapped for themselves… or most of them did.
“It happened again,” Yohei moaned.
“Most of us are getting pretty good, but not you, Yohei,” Gonzo said cheerfully.
“Just ignore him,” Gozaku said consolingly, proud of his own greatly improved shooting. “It was a pretty decent shot for having your eyes closed the whole time!”
Yohei turned to him in frustration, holding up the bow in his hand. “It's not my fault, it's the bow!”
“Yeah, sure, blame the equipment,” Gonzo laughed.
“That's not fair!” Yohei wailed. “I work twice as hard as the rest of you guys!”
All of the peasants laughed at this, until Kyuzo glanced down at his feet, then abruptly dropped to the ground and pressed his ear against the soil. The farmers' laughter stopped in an instant as they stared at the samurai lying facedown on the ground.
“Great samurai?” Gozaku said softly, but Kyuzo held up a hand to silence him.
He was listening to the earth, trying to track what had set the soles of his feet tingling, even through his sandals. As he pressed his cheek more firmly against the ground, he felt it, the barest of tremors moving beneath the soil.
“It's time,” he said finally, and the farmers gasped.
“It's quiet… too quiet.”
Gorobei was kneeling inside one of the cutaway caverns in the mesa beneath Kanna, binoculars raised to his eyes as he scanned the countryside. He breathed in deeply once or twice, then grinned.
“They can hide the sound, but not the smell.”
Shichiroji turned from where he was checked the bows that he and Nasami had stashed in the cavern a few days earlier. “What's that mean?”
Gorobei chuckled. “It means that this evening's program has just been altered.”
Shichiroji came to stand beside him and picked up the binoculars. Far off in the distance, he saw two enormous shapes, and a mass of dark grey and black shifting and moving along beneath it like a malevolent living shadow.
Two of the enormous bandit transport ships, and several divisions of Yakan soldiers.
Long used to assessing distance from his days as a pilot, Shichiroji mentally tagged a few distance markers, sighted along them, and nodded. “Oh, yeah. About seven or eight miles off.”
And with that, Gorobei picked up a metal pipe and a nearby stick, and began banging one against the other with the stick braced against the stone of the cavern floor. The sound reverberated around the cavern, and against the canyon walls, until it began to echo all the way across Kanna Village.
Kikuchiyo and Rikichi heard it where they had been practicing their sword technique.
Kirara and Kambei heard it as they walked along the path from the Mikumari house back to Rikichi's.
Katsushiro, Okara, and Komachi heard it on their way to Komachi's house.
Nasami and Shino heard it, and began running toward the bridge.
The Elder heard it where he had been meditating in front of his family shrine. “It begins…”
Heihachi heard it where he sat astride the ballista tightening a winch, and he glanced down at the crew that had been assigned to him. “Okay, that looks good!” he shouted. “Let's get to our battle stations!”
The farmers stopped their work and immediately moved to their assigned locations as they had been drilled on for the last several days.
Preparation time was over.
“I want you two to stay here, or Nasami-dono will have my head,” Katsushiro warned Komachi and Okara as he left them at the Mikumari home. “Just this once, please do as I say, all right?”
“We will, Katsu,” Okara said seriously, and Komachi nodded, her eyes wide in her face.
“Good girls. The other women and children will be here any moment. I'm going to find sensei.” Katsushiro took off running down the path toward the village. A few minutes later, he passed Kirara on her way back to her house.
“He's heading for the clearing in the center of the village,” Kirara told him, and he thanked her with a nod. “Katsushiro, wait!”
He stopped running long enough to look back at her. “Yes?”
“Be careful,” she whispered.
“I will,” he promised, and he disappeared into the trees.
He reached the clearing just as Kambei was directing the farmers as they'd discussed days earlier. “Get the women and children to the Mikumari home immediately!” he shouted. “I want all of them off the street when the fighting begins!”
Farmers bid their wives and family goodbye as the women and children began heading toward the home of the water priestess. Nasami and Shino arrived a few moments later, the samuraiko giving orders to Shino as she approached.
“Shino, I want you to escort them,” Nasami was saying. “Keep the women moving, the children quiet, and your weapon close, but don't use it unless you have to. I don't want the other women and children frightened at the idea that the battle could come that close.”
“Yes, sensei,” Shino said, swallowing hard, but her hand tightened around the naginata shaft and she bowed once to the samurai. Then she turned and joined the moving stream of women and children.
“Will she be up to the task?” Kambei asked the samuraiko.
“We'll find out, won't we?” she replied blithely, shouldering her own naginata.
Kambei nodded, then glanced back at Katsushiro. “Katsushiro, come with me. Nasami-san, you know your place.”
Without another word, the samuraiko vanished into the mist again, heading for the bridge. For a long moment, Kambei watched her go, then he offered up a silent prayer, and went to meet Heihachi.
“HEAVE! HEAVE!” Heihachi was yelling, urging his crew as they and the pack animals dragged the enormous ballista forward. Carefully, they maneuvered the huge weapon into place based on the calculations the mechanic had done days before.
Not too far away, Kikuchiyo and Rikichi emerged from the trees to see the bandit force approaching.
“Oh, yeah, they're here!” Kikuchiyo cheered. “The bandits are finally here for their ass-beating! Come on, suckers!” Then he stopped as the sheer size of the Nobuseri group approaching became clearer. “Why are there so many of them?” he wondered aloud.
Rikichi swallowed. “There are a lot more of them than we thought.”
The rest of the farmers were thinking the same thing as they stood lined up at the wall, their bows in their hands.
Mosuke, arriving slightly later than the rest, stopped to catch his breath. “How's it looking out there?”
The others stood in shock, so he turned as well, and let out a yelp of disbelief. Kyuzo stood by them impassively, staring at the approaching Nobuseri force with quiet patience… and contempt.
Until he saw Manzo take a step forward in horror.
“We did make the bandits angry, they're going to kill us!” he wailed. “I just know it!”
“Manzo, how can you say that after all our work?” Gozaku protested, but Manzo turned and waved a hand at the bandits.
“Are you kidding me? Just look how many there are! There's no way we can beat all of them, no matter what the samurai have taught us!” He looked pleadingly at the others. “Maybe we should go beg for mercy now!”
“And you think they'll forgive us after we've been training so long to defeat them?” Yohei said in disbelief. He raised a fist in defiance. “We have to make sure they aren't alive to punish us later!”
Just then, Kambei and the other samurai arrived, all save Heihachi and Kikuchiyo. Kyuzo turned to look behind him, then back out at the approaching bandits, as Kambei studied the enemy force.
“There's more than expected, but our mission is the same.” With that, the samurai headed off toward the ballista to meet Heihachi and Kikuchiyo.
“Sensei? What about Nasami-dono?”
“She's where she needs to be. Now we must do the same,” Kambei said, his voice quiet but firm.
Up at the ballista, Heihachi's team was fastening the ballista down as the samurai approached.
“You've done good work!” Kambei called up to Heihachi, who easily slid down from the crossbeam to grin at the group.
“Hey, did anyone order some bandits? Because there's a whole army of them headed this way!” he announced cheerfully.
“You worried about them?” Kambei asked dryly, and Heihachi winked.
“Why should I be? I've got nothing to lose!” Then he glanced around. “Hey, by the way, have you seen Kikuchiyo around?” He and the big machine samurai had already worked out how to nock the enormous trunk that armed the ballista, but Kikuchiyo had yet to arrive.
“I'm right here!” came Kikuchiyo's voice, and the group turned to see him and Rikichi come sprinting out of the trees. “Sorry to keep you waiting!”
“You know your place,” Kambei ordered quietly, and Kikuchiyo started heading down the length of the ballista toward the winch.
Rikichi began heading for the wall where the other farmers waited, but Kambei stopped him. “Rikichi!”
The young farmer stopped and turned to see Kambei take a few steps forward, a grim smile on his face that reminded him eerily of Nasami. “You will fire it.”
The older samurai nodded. “You wanted revenge… didn't you?” he asked, his voice soft, but full of meaning.
Heihachi jumped down from the ballista to land behind Kambei. “Don't worry, it's easy, all you have to do is knock off the clasp. It's just like hitting a nail.”
For a long moment, Rikichi stood silent, his hands clenched into fists. Images were flashing through his mind in quick succession - working in the rice fields, watching Sanae taken by the bandits, cowering as the Nobuseri took the rice, searching for so long in Kougakyo… and screaming defiantly as a Nobuseri passed within bowshot in the Shikimoribito caverns.
Yes, he wanted revenge.
His eyes met Kambei's, and he nodded.
And Kambei smiled.
Then the samurai turned and shouted, “EVERYONE! MAN YOUR STATIONS!”
The order was repeated until it reached the farmers down by the wall, who took up their stance with the bow just as they had been taught. Along the cliff face, a group of peasants fastened down the enormous clasps of the chains and ropes that would anchor the ballista in place.
“Move, move, clear a path!” Kikuchiyo yelled as he and Rikichi ran toward the winch. “The trigger men are coming through!” The peasants scattered out of their way, and Kikuchiyo took up his position by the crank. Heihachi climbed back up onto the ballista with Gorobei's binoculars and began sighting to get the range, then he called, “Load the ballista!” Three of the peasants standing along the ballista passed the order back until it reached Kikuchiyo, who waved and called, “I'm on it!”
With a loud bang and a cloud of steam, he began winding the cable, which slid along the length of the tree trunk. The metal of the crossbeam groaned as the cable tightened, drawing it back farther and farther as the samurai watched.
But down by the rock wall, Manzo watched in horror as the bandits moved roughshod right over his home, destroying it.
“That was my house!” he whimpered, then all at once he was yelling. “That's my house!” he shrieked, half-climbing over the wall with a mad idea to stop them, but Yohei and Gozaku stopped him.
“We'll build you a new one, okay?” Gozaku pleaded, pulling him back down, but Manzo crouched down and began to sob, tears streaming down his face.
Around and around went the crack, back went the cable, back went the crossbeam until it looked so tightly wound that the slightest jarring would snap it, and finally Heihachi yelled, “That's good, STOP!”
The call went back, and Kikuchiyo stopped winding, collapsing to the ground with a grunt as his chest heaved. The clasp slid home into the gears with a loud `thunk' as the cable slid neatly into the notch hewn at the base of the tree trunk.
Heihachi looked down at Kambei, but raised his voice so that all present could hear him. “Ballista armed, and ready to fire!”
Rikichi came to stand beside Kikuchiyo, a large hammer in his hand. All of his attention was on the clasp - a single piece of metal that spelled revenge against the bandits, for Kanna… and for Sanae.
The farmers stood behind the rock wall, bows at the ready.
Heihachi's `engineering' crew stood at the cliff face, hammers over their shoulders, prepared to strike.
The samurai stood beside the ballista, staring implacably out at the Nobuseri.
Nasami stood with her bow in her hand, her eyes closed in meditation.
Heihachi stood just behind the crossbeam, like a general surveying the battlefield.
And Kikuchiyo sat beside Rikichi, his eyes glowing, eager for battle. “Come on,” he dared softly.
“This is no idle threat,” came the booming voice of the Nobuseri leader, as though in response to Kikuchiyo's dare. “Drop your weapons and cross the bridge one at a time.”
Kambei lifted his head, and though his voice was soft, it carried through the air like the clear ringing of a bell.
Shichiroji turned and shouted the command. “Fire!”
Another peasant took up the cry. “Fire!”
And with a scream that rivaled the one he'd cried in the Guardians' caves, Rikichi swung the hammer down with all of his might.
Slowly at first, so slowly that some watching began to doubt if it was even moving, the gears of the winch began to turn, and the crossbeam began to exert its pull forward once more.
Then Heihachi's team struck as one, slamming their hammers into the posts driven into the cliff face, which crumbled beneath their strike, and the boulders that rested on the tenuous ground dropped into the canyon, pulling the enormous bolt forward even faster.
Smoke rose from where it slid along the length of the beam as it gained in speed until it was moving even faster than the freight elevator train in Kougakyo, and it just kept getting faster. It roared past the farmers standing on the ground, raced past the team that had fastened the ballista down, swept past Heihachi who seemed oblivious to its passage, until it practically leapt into the sky.
“There it goes!” Kikuchiyo crowed, getting to his feet.
From where she stood, Nasami looked up, and saw the huge ballista bolt sweep across the sky, and smiled to herself.
Down by the rock wall, Manzo and the other farmers let out cries of amazement as it shot overhead, arcing into the air up over the canyon. For a single instant, every farmer there wondered if the bolt would ever come back down, and then slowly, its trajectory changed.
On the other side of the canyon, where they swarmed all over the plains, the Yakan soldiers and the Raiden units stared up at the sky in absolute disbelief. They had come expecting to fight farmers, expecting only token resistance even from the samurai, but they were clearly not expecting this.
But before they could react, the bolt neatly arced downward, moving straight toward its intended target.
One of the Nobuseri transport ships.
And watching from the ballista crossbeam, Heihachi grinned.
With uncanny accuracy, the ballista bolt slammed straight into one of the ports of the Nobuseri ship, plowing through it as though the ship were nothing more than an origami figure, and driving it to the ground with a deafening crash.
The Yakan soldiers were frozen in disbelief.
The Raiden soldiers stared at their fallen ship.
By the rock wall, the farmers were all standing with their mouths open.
And above the chaos, one sound became clearer than the rest.
The sound of a woman laughing.
To be continued…