Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ The Calm Before the Storm ( Chapter 30 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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AUTHOR'S NOTES: Oddly enough, this was a chapter that came to me long after I had first watched this episode. I tried hard to think what Nasami would be thinking, feeling, and doing on that last, windswept, stormy night before the Nobuseri arrive once again. Then suddenly it hit me, and out came the chapter. Also, now that I think on it, the scene between Nasami and Kyuzo is almost the reverse of the discussion between Heihachi and Katsushiro.
And when you think about it, even knowing how Nasami feels about Kambei, and knowing that Kyuzo intends to kill him, wouldn't she put her own feelings aside to do what must be done?
Took me ages, but I finally get to use one of my other favorite scores… Chapter Thirty's music is “The Leaving/The Search” from Basil Poledouris' score for CONAN THE BARBARIAN.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Thirty: The Calm Before the Storm
Nasami and the peasants headed for the ridge, where the samurai were slowly making their way toward Kanna. The farmers gave out cries of relief and delight at the sight of their saviors, while Komachi shoved several of them out of the way, calling for Kirara.
“What's up with the bonfire?” Heihachi asked, pointing toward the edge of the village, where black tendrils of smoke curled up into the sky.
“Nobuseri funeral pyre,” Nasami said cheerfully.
“Say what?” Kikuchiyo looked puzzled.
“While you were gone, we were attacked,” the samuraiko replied, slowly coming forward to address the other samurai. Her eyes searched the group, and immediately noticed Kyuzo's absence. As her gaze met Shichiroji's, he tilted his head slightly back the way they had come, and she nodded to show she understood. “The Nobuseri had a contingent of reinforcements nearby, and when they saw the other ship come down, they came here.”
“Any casualties?” Gorobei asked in concern, but the Elder shook his head.
“Thankfully, no… except for Nasami-sama. Several of us were shaken up when the Raiden attacked, but she was true to her word and protected us from harm.”
“You were injured, Nasami-dono?” Katsushiro asked in alarm, moving forward, but she waved him off.
“I'm fine, Katsushiro, don't worry about me. This is nothing that some sleep won't help.”
“How many?” Kambei asked, his voice low, his eyes sweeping back and forth across the area.
“Fifty in all.” The samuraiko's voice was matter-of-fact, but even she could not hide a smug grin.
Kikuchiyo nearly fell over in astonishment. “You took out fifty bandits by yourself?”
Nasami shook her head, and gestured toward the farmers. “No. They did. I just helped.”
“What?” Gozaku said in surprise. “What did we do?”
“You held your ground and didn't panic. You kept your heads and provided archery cover for me while I attacked. You also took down several of those Mimizuku and Yakan, and even a Raiden by yourselves.”
“Don't you believe it, great samurai,” Rikichi said, coming forward to stand beside the samuraiko. “Nasami-sama organized the whole thing, and took down four Raiden on her own! It was unbelievable!” His voice dropped, and he looked at the ground. “And… when I panicked… she… she risked her life to save mine…”
“No life is too small,” Nasami murmured to herself.
“Well done, Nasami-san,” Kambei said at last, but from the tense set of his jaw, she guessed that she would be hearing more on the subject later. “It appears you were right about remaining behind. And that makes our task easier, if we need not worry about Nobuseri reinforcements.”
Rikichi turned his attention to the other samurai. “Great samurai, we can never thank you enough for this. The Nobuseri have finally been beaten!” Then he stopped, finally noticing that one of the samurai was missing. “But… where's Kyuzo?”
“Scouting the enemy,” Kambei replied, and all of the peasants recoiled. It was clear from the looks on their faces that all of them were hoping that they had heard wrong.
“They will be back, you know,” Shichiroji told them.
“What for?” Yohei asked, startled.
“Why would they? Just look what you did to them!” Gozaku added, pointing off into the distance where the second Nobuseri ship had crashed in the canyon.
“They lost!” Yohei went on. “They'd be too afraid to come back, right?”
“That's not how they work,” Kambei said quietly, and all of the peasants looked disheartened.
“Those who have been wounded want only one thing, and that's revenge,” Shichiroji said, looking somber. We have no doubts that they will be back. It's just a matter of when. But they're desperate now.”
Kambei met the farmers' eyes. “Will you be ready to face them?”
No one spoke, but the Elder stepped forward and nodded.
Later that afternoon, as Kambei was leaving the Elder's house, deep in thought, he was distracted by several loud shouts from the clearing where Kyuzo had trained the farmers in archery. Curious, he headed toward the open field, and found Nasami and several of the farmers training once again. This time, however, she was not instructing them with bow and arrow, but in sword and spear technique instead. Kambei stopped in surprise, watching as she led them through the basics - how to hold the weapon, how to position the feet, and standard attack and defense postures.
Some of the farmers held a length of bamboo roughly the length of a katana, others the length of a spear, and the peasants were paired off with one another while the samuraiko moved among them, offering advice. The pace was relentless, and Nasami drilled them mercilessly, but not one of the peasants complained.
“What are you doing?” Kambei blurted out, startled, and the farmers and Nasami stopped and turned.
The samuraiko grinned. “Taking advantage of Nobuseri generosity.”
Kambei looked puzzled, so Nasami pointed off to one side, where on the back of a cart rested several dozen swords and spears. As she did so, Rikichi emerged from the woods, came up to her and bowed. “Great samurai, we've finished stocking the rice we took from the Nobuseri ship. As you instructed, we've made sure not to store it all in one place, in case the Nobuseri find it.”
“Excellent,” she said in satisfaction. “Once the bandits are dealt with, we'll divide it up and send some to each of the surrounding villages. In the meantime, I'd like you to take swords to the men at Gorobei's post. Some of the other men have already been given spears; they will not need swords.”
“Yes, Nasami-sama,” Rikichi replied, transferring a half-dozen swords to a smaller cart and heading off toward the small cliff where Gorobei and some farmers were fortifying Kanna's defenses.
The samurai looked from the weapons to Nasami, then to the farmers and back at her again. “Do I even want to know what you've been up to while we were gone?”
Nasami just smirked.
Just then, Kikuchiyo came dashing through the clearing, chasing several laughing and shouting children, including Okara and Komachi. “RRRAAARRRGGGHHH! I'm coming after you!” he bellowed, waving his arms melodramatically, and the children raced off into the woods with Kikuchiyo hot on their heels. Nasami, Kambei, and the farmers stared nonplussed after him, and then the samuraiko burst out laughing.
“Well, at least someone's having a good time!”
“At any rate, Shichiroji and I are on our way to Kirara's house for a quick meal. Would you care to join us?”
“Certainly, just let me finish up here, and I'll meet you there.”
Shino, Kirara, and a few of the other women were quietly laughing at the water priestess' house about Kikuchiyo's antics when Kambei and Shichiroji arrived. To the women's surprise, Kambei quietly refused to partake of the rice offered; instead, he sat and calmly accepted the bowl that Kirara handed to him.
Shichiroji leaned over in curiosity, “Is that firefly gruel?” he asked in surprise.
Kambei nodded. “I had a certain craving for it today.”
“Are you sure you want that?” Shino asked dubiously, picking up the tray of riceballs and holding it out to him once more. “We have plenty for everyone.”
“White rice prepares a man's body, but only firefly gruel prepares his soul,” Kambei replied, sipping from the bowl, his eyes closed as he focused on his food. Once he had drained the bowl, he sat quietly for a moment, then opened his eyes and looked at Kirara. “Kirara… Shichiroji, too.”
The water priestess started, but then ladled some gruel into a second bowl and handed it to the blond samurai. “Here you go.”
“All right, if you insist,” Shichiroji said reluctantly, taking the bowl and a pair of chopsticks. As he ate, he grimaced at the taste, and Kambei gave a faint smile.
“The people of Kanna Village are like this firefly gruel, Shichiroji; a simpler food often ignored or thrown aside for the heartier grain. And we samurai are the cup - a symbol of our duty to protect those less fortunate than ourselves. Understand?”
“I understand that you're as kind as ever,” Shichiroji replied, and Kambei grinned ruefully.
“Perhaps that's why I keep losing battles.”
Meanwhile three of the village boys were cheerfully scarfing down riceballs, enjoying the rare treat of white rice as Shichiroji laughed.
“I wanna grow up big and strong so I can be a samurai like you!” one of the boys said cheerfully.
That got Kambei's attention. “And why do you want to become a samurai?”
“Because you samurai are really strong!” announced one of the boys, waving his arms in his enthusiasm.
“And you can totally kill all of the bandits, easy!” chimed in another.
“You really think you want to be like me?” Kambei asked in quiet surprise, and the boys stared.
“You're surprised?” came Nasami's voice, and Kambei, Shichiroji, and the others glanced up to see the samuraiko standing in the doorway. She sighed and shook her head, her foxtail swaying from side to side. “You never learn, do you?”
Kirara bowed to her, then shot a sidelong glance at Kambei, holding up the ladle. “Should I…?”
“Yes, please serve Nasami some as well.”
Nasami arched her eyebrows, but Kambei indicated that she should accept it, so with a shrug, she approached, and Kirara offered her a bowl of firefly gruel.
“If you prefer, sensei, we also have rice,” Shino offered tentatively.
“No, thank you, Shino.” With a smile, Nasami lifted the bowl in a silent toast to Kambei and Shichiroji, then sipped at the gruel. Like the blond samurai, she grimaced slightly as she drank.
“So what is it that I never learn?” Kambei asked her, while Shino, Kirara, and the other women excused themselves to deliver the riceballs to the village men, the boys trailing after them demanding more rice.
The samuraiko shrugged, ladling herself more gruel. “Why should I bother telling you? You wouldn't listen to me anyway.”
“You don't know that.”
“Yes, I do.”
“And how do you know?”
“You don't listen to Shichiroji, and he's been your best friend and fellow samurai for how many years?” Then she focused on her meal, giving every indication that the conversation was closed.
Kambei just sat back and watched her, while Shichiroji looked from one to the other, wondering which of them would give in first. At last, Nasami finished her gruel, set down the bowl, stood, bowed to the two samurai, and stepped off the platform.
“Well?” Kambei asked just as she reached the door.
Nasami stopped in the doorway, but did not turn around. “There is a saying my sensei used to quote to me. `True nobility comes not from being superior to another man…'“
She paused, then glanced back over her shoulder. “`…but from being superior to your past.'“
With that, she left.
Meanwhile, Katsushiro was making the rounds of the cliffs, giving what he believed to be motivational speeches to the farmers there. However, in mid-speech, a voice came from above him.
“You know you're just making them nervous, right?”
Katsushiro looked up, as did the farmers, and saw Heihachi come sliding down the scree to land beside Katsushiro, smiling placidly.
“Heihachi-dono, how can you act so casual?” Katsushiro protested. “Sensei told us the war is not yet over!”
Heihachi ignored the question, however, to turn to Gozaku and the other two farmers who were holding their spears and looking overwhelmed. “Are you guys scared?”
The three peasants nodded.
Katsushiro scoffed and looked away. “Fine, but I'm not scared!”
“No?” Heihachi asked softly. “Then you must not be seeing things very clearly.”
That drew Katsushiro's attention back, and he looked at the woodcutter with a puzzled expression.
Heihachi sighed to himself, recognizing a lot of himself in the younger samurai. “Katsushiro… when you have taken a life, you've never looked your opponent in the eye, have you?”
“What's that got to do with anything?” Katsushiro asked defensively.
“You know, before we fought the bandits, I'd never taken a life either. It's no secret that you and I have less battle experience than the other samurai; that's a bond we share. And like you, when this war began, I was seeing things through different eyes. I couldn't see the enemy clearly. But something in my memory poked to the surface. You know where it came from? The battlefield… Long ago, I was in a place just like this. When I realized that, I felt at ease. It was like.. I was home again. You know?”
“Now you can see… your enemy?” Katsushiro asked softly, hesitantly.
Heihachi nodded. “Yes… and I have no more doubts. That's where you and I differ. You're growing more passionate, and I'm just growing more cynical.”
“But Heihachi-dono, you'd never end up as bitter as Honoka or Manzo.”
Heihachi's mouth twisted into a bitter smile, and he rested his hand over his heart. “Betrayal leaves a wound far worse than any sword, Katsushiro. Regardless of the reason, it can never be justified. The pain of betrayal remains in the traitor's heart, and it never goes away.” Abruptly he lifted his head and turned to look above him, as did Katsushiro and the farmers, to see Kambei and Shichiroji standing there.
“Sensei!” Katsushiro called out in surprise.
“When did you get here?” Heihachi asked, slightly embarrassed.
“Oh, around `like I was home again,'“ Shichiroji said with a chuckle, and adeptly, he and Kambei slid down the rock to land beside the other two samurai, Shichiroji expertly holding a tray in one hand with two bowls balanced on it.
“Man, you guys are everywhere,” Heihachi said with a grin. Then he peered closer at the tray. “Is that…?”
“Firefly gruel,” Shichiroji said cheerfully, and the farmers groaned. “Don't worry, it's not for you,” he reassured them.
“A samurai toast before battle,” Kambei explained.
“A samurai toast?” Heihachi was intrigued, but as he reached for a bowl, a faint clattering caught his attention. In an instant, the four samurai had their hands on their weapons, while the farmers shrank back against the rock face. Kambei carefully crouched down to peer through the fences they had built, Shichiroji leaning over him protectively, while Katsushiro and Heihachi stepped back to protect the farmers. The clattering grew steadily louder, slightly uneven in rhythm.
“What is it, great samurai?” Gozaku asked hesitantly, but Kambei hushed him.
Shichiroji listened a few moments longer, then murmured, “He's alone.”
“Yes…” Kambei replied quietly, peering into the mist below the plateau, when suddenly out of the fog sprang Kyuzo, an enormous cannon across his shoulders, and the blade of one of his katanas held between his teeth. Gracefully he came to a landing atop one of the posts, perfectly balanced, almost as though waiting for applause, were it in his nature. He did, however, momentarily enjoy the surprise on all of the others' faces before tossing the cannon to Heihachi, who staggered under its weight.
“Kyuzo-dono!” Katsushiro blurted out, astonished, as the red-clad samurai leapt down and resheathed his sword.
“Think we can use it?” he asked Heihachi, who was already peering at the weapon.
“I'll check it out!”
Kambei nodded his greetings to the assassin. “Good work, Kyuzo.”
“I took out a Raiden,” Kyuzo replied, all business despite his clear exhaustion, and ignoring the wide-eyed admiration he was suddenly getting from Katsushiro. “Thirty remain, mostly Yakan and Tobito. A few Yoroi.”
Kambei looked thoughtful, balancing that information against the damage that they had already done inside the Nobuseri ship, and what Nasami and the farmers had faced earlier. “When will they be here?”
“By tomorrow. I need sleep.” And with that, he scaled the steep incline, leaving the others behind.
Kyuzo stalked along the path, heading for the sacred grove where he could have a few minutes of peace and quiet. Along the way, as he passed several of the peasants, many of them just bowed and continued with their work, sensing that the samurai was in no mood for conversation, praise, or questions.
As he entered the woods, however, he passed Nasami as she patrolled along the ridge, and her eyes brightened when she saw him.
“Kyuzo-sama… I'm glad to see that you're all right. But you look exhausted.”
“I need sleep,” he admitted. “I'll be in the grove if you need me.”
“Of course,” she said quietly, reaching into the folds of her robe to draw out some of her rice rations and a flask of water. “Here, take these. I'll get some more when I return to Rikichi's house.”
Kyuzo opened his mouth to protest, but she shook her head. “You need to eat more than I do right now. It's either you take these, or I come to the grove in a little while with a tray.”
The fair-haired samurai nodded at last. “Wake me in two hours for my watch.”
Two hours later, Nasami moved quietly through the sacred grove. Eventually she spotted Kyuzo sleeping beneath a tree, arms folded across his chest, and she stopped several feet away and just watched him sleep. For a moment, her eyes became sad, and she sighed to herself, then she carefully sat beside him. To her considerable surprise, he did not react when she approached, nor when she sat down, but instead continued to doze. However, as she watched, his eyes slowly opened, then turned toward her. His brow furrowed momentarily, clearly surprised that she had been able to approach him without him sensing her presence, but the look disappeared almost as quickly as it had come.
“Clever trick,” he said softly, and she smiled.
“You said to wake you in two hours,” she replied as he sat up, but although he tried to hide it, she caught the flash of pain in his eyes. “What's wrong?”
He debated telling her, then with a sigh, he drew back the folds of his trenchcoat, and she could see where he had taken a stray shot along his side. Blood had caked along the wound, sticking the dark material of his bodysuit to his lean frame. Her breath caught in her throat, and she moved to peer closer at the injury.
“Why didn't you say anything?”
“It doesn't hurt.”
She didn't bother answering that one, merely contenting herself with glaring at him as she studied the wound. Then she got to her feet and vanished into the woods. Kyuzo leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes again, and about five minutes later, Nasami arrived again, this time holding a small pot of steaming water and several bandages.
“I don't need help,” he said curtly, but she pushed his hands aside and began to tend to the wound.
“It'd be just your luck to avoid getting ambushed, cut down, or having a Raiden fall on you, only to die of septicemia. Now hush and let me work.”
Kyuzo shot her a glare that she ignored, but when he realized that she wasn't going to go away, he leaned back and let her poke and prod.
“Damn,” she cursed abruptly, her fingers encountering a lump that shouldn't have been there, “the bullet is still in there. I'm sorry, but it's going to have to come out.” Her eyes met his directly.
For a long time they stared at one another, then he turned away and presented her his side, gripping the saya of his katanas tightly. “Do it.”
She carefully drew her tanto and cleaned it using the hot water she had brought, then with a deep breath, she placed the edge of the blade against his skin where the bullet was embedded. His breath hissed out between his teeth and his eyes closed, but he made no other sound as she worked. Finally after what felt like hours, chanting a soft prayer to Amaterasu the entire time, she worked the bullet free, then carefully cleaned the wound, sewed it up, and bandaged it.
“Finished,” she said faintly, and Kyuzo nodded. It had actually been surprisingly painless once she had begun, and he felt remarkably better. But suddenly he was startled by a faint thud, and as he turned around, he was surprised to see that Nasami had dropped the tanto to the ground and had her arms around herself, shaking.
“What's wrong?” he asked, cautiously sitting up and staring at her. Her eyes were huge with pain and exhaustion, her face pale in the fading light of the evening.
“N-nothing, I'll be f-fine,” she gasped, nearly doubling over.
“Like hell,” Kyuzo hissed, reaching out to place a hand on her shoulder and force her upright. His eyes swept over her, but he saw no sign of injury, nothing to indicate what might be wrong. In a flash, his eyes searched the grove, wondering if a Mimizuku assassin had managed to infiltrate the village somehow, but there was no blood, no wound, nothing other than this sudden pallor and fatigue on her face that hadn't been there when she started.
At his confusion, she smiled weakly. “My d-duty is to protect. But s-sometimes the only way I c-can protect someone is t-to give that person my s-strength.”
Suddenly it hit him - her quiet chanting, the lack of pain, and her own sudden exhaustion and weakness. He didn't know how she had done it, but somehow, in those long minutes where she had removed the bullet and treated his wound, she had literally given him her own strength so that he could continue fighting, but for her to do it for him…
“Why?” he whispered, staring into her eyes, even as her eyes began to drift shut.
“B-because… you're the… b-better swordsman… if s-something happens… they'll n-need you… more than… they'll need m-me… Wake me… in t-two hours…” With that, she slid to the ground, unconscious.
“Damn you,” he said softly, even as he caught her when she fell. For a moment, he was surprised at how light she was, but he carefully guided her down so that she was lying in the curve of the base of the tree. Then he picked up her tanto, cleaned it using the water and remaining bandages, and placed it beside her hand so it was within easy reach. A quick glance down showed that she had treated his wound well; with luck, it would leave only the faintest of scars, and she had managed to bind it in a way that would not restrict his movements too much.
Then, with a sigh, he leaned back against the tree and looked down at her.
Much later that night, Katsushiro was walking alone through the woods when he came upon Kirara. For a moment he stopped, just quietly admiring her in the moonlight, when she suddenly turned and saw him.
As they walked together, Katsushiro told her about the conversation he'd had earlier with Heihachi, and his own struggles to understand what it meant to truly be samurai.
“And then Heihachi-dono said, `You've never looked your opponent in the eye, have you?' And he's right. My hands still don't feel like they've killed. I get this rage, and my body's on fire. I can't feel my feet on the ground. And I…” He tried to make sense of what he felt, deliberately forcing his mind back to those terrible, eternal moments during battle when the song of the sword and the screaming of his own rage blotted out everything else.
For a little while, they walked in silence, and then he went on. “I guess it's better than nothing, but I should be calm… like sensei is. Like Kyuzo-dono is. Like Nasami-dono is. But I don't think I'll ever be able to wield my sword like them. I'll never be… strong like them.” The reality of it all hit him all at once, and he stopped in mid-stride, watching Kirara as she walked a few steps on when she suddenly realized that he had stopped, and she turned around to face him. Then her eyes widened, stunned at the absolute sorrow and longing she saw in Katsushiro's eyes, even as a cloud drifted across the moon and cast his face in shadow.
“And that's why… why I can't let you fall with me any more…” Katsushiro whispered, every word breaking his heart a little more.
For a long, long time, neither of them spoke, the sadness between them so strong it was almost tangible in the air. But then suddenly both of them lifted their heads to gaze toward the sky, as the storm that had been building all evening finally hit.
Then Katsushiro started running.
Near the riverbank, Kambei and Shichiroji were also watching the sky as the first raindrops began to fall, then Kambei walked over to the cart that he'd had brought here from the clearing where Nasami had been training the farmers. One by one, he began shoving unsheathed swords into the mud, sticking them upright to make them easier to grab.
Kikuchiyo saw him and wandered over. “Whatcha doing?”
“In case our own swords should break,” Kambei replied. Then he looked up at the big machine samurai. “I want a good battle.”
Kikuchiyo saluted him. “Right… you can count on that.”
In the woods, Kyuzo became aware of the rumbling of machines, and through the fog and rain could just barely make out shapes approaching Kanna. He reached down and shook Nasami, and like the seasoned warrior she was, she was awake in an instant, her hand reaching for her katana. Following his gaze, she also saw the approaching figures, then she turned back to him and nodded. He pulled her to her feet, and together they began to run.
“SENSEI! THEY'RE HERE! SENSEI!” Katsushiro shouted as he ran, sword in hand, for he had also seen the enemy making its way toward the village.
Kambei remained still, his eyes on the skies, and drew in a single deep breath, then let it out.
To be continued…